Bert has been in and out of prison his entire adult life for petty drug offenses. While trying to live inside the law, Bert finds that he might not be able to overcome his self-diagnosed disease: the disease of dumbness. In part two of Jailbert, we watch as Bert tries to move on with his life after his latest incarceration.
After reading articles like “Don’t Stick Dominoes in Your Dick” and “’Ruff Buttlove’ and Other Prison Raps,” we knew that Bert Burykill, our prison correspondent, would translate well to video. Drugs remain a problem for Bert, and he consistently fails urine tests which send him back to jail over and over again. In this two-part series, we examine Bert in his most vulnerable state as he tries to stay on the straight and narrow.
Part two will air Monday, April 22.
KILLING UP CLOSE -
THE DEATH OF WILLIAM WOLD
Below is an excerpt of TheThings They Cannot Say’s opening chapter, which chronicles the tragic demise of Marine William Wold. Kevin Sites first interviewed William while covering the Iraq war in 2004, only minutes after the 21-year-old corporal and his fire team gunned down six insurgents inside a mosque in Fallujah. Back then, William was wired for combat, calloused from killing and watching friends die. This excerpt picks up with William’s story seven years after meeting Kevin in Iraq and explains how the decorated Marine’s life was irreparably broken by the things he saw and did in the name of his country.
We’ve paired the text with photos from artist Nina Berman’s Purple Hearts series, which is comprised of portraits and interviews with American soldiers who were seriously wounded in the Iraq War, focusing on their struggle to find identity and purpose after returning home. For more information about the project, visitNoorImages.com.
William Wold seemed fine initially when he came home from Iraq, according to his mother, Sandi Wold, when I speak to her by telephone seven years after my conversation with her son in Fallujah. Wold had begged his mother to sign a parental-approval form when he wanted to join the Marines at 17, taking extra online classes to graduate a year early in order to do so. But after four years of service, he had had enough.
“They were going to promote him to sergeant, but he didn’t want to reenlist. He just wanted to be normal,” she says, echoing his own words from our videotaped interview. His much-anticipated separation from the Marine Corps would come in March 2004, but in the interim, she had promised to treat him and a couple of Marine buddies to a trip to Las Vegas as a coming-home present. She and her second husband, John Wold (William’s stepfather, whose last name William took), met the three Marines at the MGM Grand and got them adjoining rooms next to their own. Sandi was elated to see her son home safe and in one piece, and she wanted to see him leave the war in Iraq behind as quickly as possible.
“There’s no way I can show you how much I appreciate your willingness to die for me,” she remembers telling the three. But she tried her best anyway, going so far as to hire in-room strippers for them through an ad in the Yellow Pages.
“They talked me into buying them suits and renting a stretch limo. These guys show up and they go out partying that night, these guys are pimped out, I’m spending so much money it’s stupid,” she says, laughing at the memory. “Those Marines swam down some drinks, just the three of them. The hotel called my room—‘Do these Marines belong to you?’—as they’re stumbling down the hallways.”
When the strippers show up at the Marines’ room, Sandi says the sound of partying was like its own war zone. Then around midnight there’s a loud banging on the adjoining door.
“The door swings open and it’s Silly Billy, drunk and laughing, and he introduces us to them [the strippers]… I could’ve gone a lifetime without meeting them,” Sandi says.
“He says, ‘Mom, I’m going to need an extra $1,200.’ ‘Dude,’” she remembers telling him, “‘you gotta be fucking shitting me.’ But I’m counting the money out, he’s dancing around, happy as can be.”
The whole trip, she says, was indicative of the closeness of their relationship. He would always stay in touch with his mom even while he was in Iraq.
“He would hang out with the snipers at night,” Sandi says, “because they always had satellite phones, and he would make sure to try and call me almost every week. It would just be, ‘Hey, I’m fine, can’t talk long, love you. Bye.’”
“He was through and through a mama’s boy. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t share with me,” she says. “Sometimes I had to tell him I just don’t want to know.”
But Sandi says she began to sense something was wrong after William made a trip back East to see a woman he had met while doing presidential-protection duty at Camp David. He had called her his fiancée and said he planned to marry her, but the relationship ended after his visit.
“He flies back there and doesn’t last 24 hours,” Sandi says. “He lost it. He calls me and tells me to find him a flight home. ‘I can’t close my eyes, I can’t sleep,’ he tells me, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I think he knew he was so unstable he was going to end up hurting her.”
The extent of his post-traumatic stress became clear to Sandi that summer after his discharge.
I Sold My Used Panties for Heroin
All photos courtesy of the author. These are some of the images she would send to her potential customers.
I started using heroin when I was 16 years old. I had played with every other drug at my disposal, but noticed an affinity for opiates in tenth grade when a friend suffering from cancer gave me some morphine. Within one year, I was shooting up in the parking lot while other kids were decorating the gym for pep rallies. My addiction continued for nearly ten years because, simply put, heroin made me feel fucking great.
Heroin addicts are constantly in need of money, and I was no different. I had heard people talking about the dirty panty market in Japan, and wondered if a similar demand existed in my northern Virginia suburb. After a quick Google search I found that this market was indeed real and thriving in Old Dominion. The need for money overcame any inhibitions I might have had, and I started responding to ads on Craigslist almost immediately.
My first customer offered me $100 for a pair of my panties. Not sure if you’re plugged into the going rate for old underwear, but that is on the high end of the spectrum. During our first meeting, which took place in a parking lot, he hopped in my car and handed me the cash. I removed my lacy black panties and let him slap my ass a few times. He didn’t even take the panties with him, as he was afraid his wife would find them. I drove away and laughed hysterically. I was $100 richer, and was about to get high. I had opened up the floodgates to a whole new world of possibilities. I didn’t feel exploited; I felt like the greatest hustler on Earth.
Meth Heads Are Robbing Peoples’ Graves
Grave robbing—or tomb raiding, or pot hunting, or fucking around with archaeological sites—occupies a strange corner of our culture. Part Tomb Raider, part cartoon horror punk, traditionally it’s been the territory of savvy locals who’ve wanted to make a quick, immoral buck selling historical trinkets on the black market. But more recently, digging up dead bodies to steal their shit has attracted a different breed of asshole, as keyed-up meth-heads have been lured out into the sticks to spend nights on end searching for ancient loot they can flog to fund their habits.
To get more of an insight into the kind of people who dig up the graves of the deceased and rifle through their stuff, I spoke to the archaeologist Delfin Weis, who has worked on digs across the country.
VICE: Hi Delfin. It seems like grave robbing goes on quite a lot. When did it start up?
Delfin Weis: General grave robbing has been happening forever, but meth-fuelled looting started in the late 1990s and got really big in the early 2000s. Archaeologists started noticing it in the field around then.
How would they notice that? They’d show up at a dig and see it had been looted?
Yeah, either that, or they’d see tweakers at the site, or find that tweakers were following them to the site. Of course, on meth, you have to do something, so these guys have nearly limitless energy and time, giving them the ability to dig holes all through the day and night. They can also keep surveying the site until they find something worth taking. They have the time, they have the energy, and they have a drug addiction that they need to fund.
So the meth gives them the energy to fund their habit?
Yeah. There are areas where pot hunting goes on without meth, but this is just another dimension. Meth addicts who grow up near burial grounds and other archaeological sites know the area and know they can make money from it.
Nine Months Living With a Junkie
Editor’s Note: The name of the author and all the names in this story have been changed.
I didn’t know Clark was a heroin addict when he moved in with me. I had only met him in person once before, actually. We had an online relationship—he added me on Facebook, and every month or so we’d send some dumb videos to each other. This is how you find roommates in the 21st century. I needed someone to split rent with, he didn’t want to live in his old apartment, and things fell together. Before I knew it, he’s unpacking several carloads of clothes, trinkets, decorations, and household miscellany into my living room. He has these awesome leather-bound suitcases, the sort of thing Humphrey Bogart would use on cross-continental train trips. The house is starting to look better with him living in it. He knows way more about how to make a house a home than I do.
THE FIRST MONTH
He might have had good taste in luggage, but Clark’s a man of peculiar habits. He plays these bizarre noise records, he’s got a weird fixation on wire hangers, he likes to walk around downtown recording overheard conversations with a handheld microphone. He begins a kind of Banksy-lite street-art campaign all over town. This is fine, it gives the house some character, but I’m realizing that Clark has different boundaries than I do when it comes to drug use. He tells me right to my face that he’d done “a bit of H” last week, and that it was just some stuff he had left over that he was trying to get rid of. He says heroin is lame, and it gets over-idealized in his perspective. I don’t know anyone who ever idealized heroin, which makes me feel somehow uncool. Clark says he had to ease out of the stuff, and he was now done for good. I don’t know how to talk about this stuff, so I smile and say, “Yeah I know that feeling.” I don’t. Not at all.
THE SECOND MONTH
Strange, clattering, vaguely musical noises start coming from Clark’s room at 4 AM, also lots of giggling. I haven’t really met any of Clark’s friends, but they’re all esoteric people. One guy, Jeremy, is missing most of his teeth and wears a business tie on top of a tank top. I also hardly ever see Clark during the day now—the only way I know he’s in his room is I sometimes hear a rough-sounding cough. There’s clearly something seriously wrong going on here, but I don’t want to think about it. I start to lock my bedroom door.
THE THIRD MONTH
I come into my living room one day to find that Clark has pinned dozens of dozens of old black-and-white photographs all over our living room. They’re portraits of stony-faced old people who were staring into the camera without the slightest hint of humor. I ask Clark where he found all these and he tells me he went dumpster diving earlier, and gestures to a stack of moldy old books. He also bought a big black mechanical box that he says is used to grow mushrooms. Once again, I don’t ask any questions. He and his friends have started to shout out these almost cult-like incantations (“BORG-BORG”) till 6 AM. Sometimes I’ll see them hanging with the crusties in the neighborhood. I think they all live in the big old abandoned mansion a couple blocks down the street. They’ll go inside, shoot up, and puke behind the big oak tree in the front yard.
“Amphetamine Logic is coming to an end. I am better and I will continue to get better, and it doesn’t matter to me that you don’t want to believe this, or don’t understand what it means.
I’m almost done with writing about drugs. This was supposed to be the last installment, but we have a column or two more to go: I have to make you understand why I had to tell you all this. I haven’t finished explaining how it used to be.”
Cat Marnell’s Amphetamine Logic: Graffiti, Crackheads, More Cocaine, and Miami (Bitch)
I’m sleeping alone in the backseat of a parked rental car at 5 AM in a terrible neighborhood in Miami when the door opposite me clicks open and a grizzly old black drunk man slides in next to me, shutting the car door behind him. His eyes and skin are the color of urine, and he smells equal parts like sour beer and sweet death.
“AH!” I cried out, half-snapping awake. “NO!”
“It’s ooooo-kay,” the strange old man mumbles, and I am about to scream again when all the car doors open at once, and Mint, Serf, and BC the Kid, a 17-year-old “graffiti intern,” hop in. And maybe Same.
I glare at BC the Kid as he smooshes the man into the middle of the backseat between us. We drive exactly two blocks through this ridiculous ghetto and screech to a halt in front of a liquor store.
Nobody says anything for about ten seconds.
“What the fuck is going on?” I practically scream. The bum and I are pressed up on each other.
Serf turns around in the passenger seat, suddenly very grave in the face.
“Marnell,” he half-whispers. “We need you to give us $2.”
“What?” I hiss. “What did you say? You need $2?”
“Yes,” Serf whispers. “Two. Dollars.”
“Why? For what?” I hiss again. “You know… I don’t care.” I rummage through my purse, hand Serf the money. “Here. Two dollars. Take it.”
BC and the man get out; Serf gets out; BC gets back in. I watch through the window as Serf talks to the man and gives him my two bucks. Then Serf gets back in the car.
Nobody says anything. They know me; they’re waiting for it.
“WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?” I screech. “WHO THE FUCK WAS THAT? DO YOU KNOW HOW SCARED I WAS? WHY DID YOU LET HIM IN THE CAR FIRST? WERE THE DOORS EVER EVEN LOCKED WHILE YOU GUYS WERE OUT THERE BOMBING?! DID YOU EVER THINK OF THAT?! I WOKE UP AND THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE!”
I take a second to breathe. CLANG CLANG CLANG go the spraypaint cans in the back of the car; the sound that has been giving me a headache the entire time I’ve been at Art Basel.
Cat Marnell’s Amphetamine Logic - Dawn of the Dustheads
It’s 5 AM on a Thursday and Same and I are in my apartment in the East Village, high on PCP and surrounded. All of the men are nursing 40 oz. Ballantines and the girls they brought are strangers, looking around at my strange life and into my mirrored coffee tables as they reapply their makeup.
“Can we smoke in here?” They are always extra friendly, overcompensating for being here.
”What kind of cigarettes do you have?” I ask, but really it’s an order, and every girl goes into her purse for me.
“Do you have an extra Adderall?” asks a girl I’ve never met before.
“Not really,” I reply.
Same is in the corner with his eyes rolling back into his head. He is holding but not smoking a lit Newport with an inch of ash hanging off the end.
“I have Adderall,” he slurs in a language only I understand, and I pounce on him.
“I want the Adderall, Same,” I whimper, panicking slightly.
I take his cigarette and ash it into my hand. “I need it. I don’t have health insurance anymore. I will, like, buy it. Do you want money?”
But Same never wants money, and he reaches into his pocket and gives me pills wrapped in a napkin.
I pop one in my mouth and bite down on it like it’s a Sweet Tart. One of the girlfriends stares as I crunch crunch and swallow.
“All of the sparkle is completely gone from my life,” I announced to a rehab group a few months ago. Then I quit a job.
“Justify My Love” is playing over and over from my Bose computer speakers.
I don’t think you know what pain is, purrs Madonna.