Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Inmate Out Experiment - A Short Story by Fred Herrman

Someone recently tipped me off to a fascinating account, that when I first learned about it, I could not believe it actually happened.  Yet, I’m sure in the history of the world, this would pale to some of the things that were brought upon people.  But I’d say that this is definitely one for the books.

I was on a hike with several other people as part of my friends’ work-related affair.  It was a kind of bonding on a weekend type of experience for their company, and I tagged along.  We were hiking in the Sierra foothills just outside of Big Pine for the day, and stories were swapped back and forth about places each of us had been to as well as other life experiences.  One of the guys on the hike, who happened to settle into our hiking subgroup, was an ex-military person who was well spoken and descriptive in his accounts.  I must say that I found his varied and detailed experiences in life to be fascinating at times.  His name, I’ll refer to here, as Richard. 

Richard is in his early fifties.  He served in several branches of the military, spending most of the latter part of his career in various special ops.  As he talked, I found I could tell that he was self-editing some of the details, which likely would have revealed things that the general public was not supposed to be privy to.  Richard was still in great shape; slim and athletic, military style haircut and full of the type of reserved energy one might expect in a person with years of special-forces experience.

Towards the end of the afternoon, I suppose with everyone was well oiled with stories and more comfortable with one-another, Richard told us of a project, which was really an experiment, that captivated everyone that day.  He said that, unlike some of the other stories that we would have no way of checking into, any citizen with some effort could research this one.  This was because the information about this account had been made available through the Freedom of Information Act (2002 Amendment).

It was called the “Inmate-Out Experiment” as it was referred to by the few sociologists who knew about it at the time was one of many such experiments that crossed the line into the inhumane. When Richard finished with the story, I was so arrested by the account that I pledged to myself that I would see if I could actually verify it.  I did some research, and over time, I was able to access the government files that contained the information about he project.

There has always been some question about how much criminals can be rehabilitated, and more than that, what exactly is baked into their general abilities from either genetic predispositions, or from social circumstances. It’s the aged old nature versus nurture question.  Apparently in the late 1970’s, some entity of the government took on social science experiments and wanted to test the ability of a repeat criminal, or a “lifer” as they’re sometimes called, to survive on their own.

The files don’t reveal the exact entity of the government that backed the experiment, but the information does clearly indicate that this experiment did occur, and that it was officially referred to as “Deep Drop.”  “The Inmate-Out Experiment,” which was how Richard referred to the project, was apparently the familiar name given to “Deep Drop” by people who were aware of it. It’s likely that those not directly associated with the task were never aware of the official name at the time.  I have posted the front page of the file, along with Arthur’s notes, which are a part of that same file.  To post the whole file itself would be too voluminous and possibly illegal, so I’ll spare myself the possible consequences.

The file notes state that on Wednesday, October 14th of 1981, an undisclosed amount of money was set aside to secure a “lifer” named Arturo (Arthur) Davis from Louisiana State Penitentiary, a maximum security prison in mid-eastern Louisiana.  Arthur Davis, a thirty-six year old man, was in prison on three counts of murder in the first degree from seventeen years prior.  He was a very large man of color who had behavioral problems inside the prison walls.  That is the extent of the government files’ description of him.  A lot of the file has its lines blackened for the portion of it that relates to Mr. Davis’ information.  I find this strange given that they reveal his full name in the file; a name that I was able to verify through other unrelated West Feliciana Parish records.  We will call him by his first name, Arthur, from here on.

But further checking into Fulton County records reveals that Arthur was of mixed background.  His mother was Puerto Rican, and his father was African American. He had a very big build at six feet, two inches and a weight of about 270 pounds.  The county records indicate that Arthur had been in the county system for many years dating back into childhood.  There were many interventions that took place early in his life by police and by the department of child welfare.

Arthur had lived in Atlanta as a young child.  His father was out of the picture at about age two.  Arthur’s mother, who was unemployed, got with a man who did small-time hustling on the streets of Atlanta and was in and out of prison.  Arthur stopped going to school at age eight and started getting into some trouble.  The county records don’t elaborate on this but do say that Arthur had an active juvenile record in Atlanta extending over a span of four years.  At age nine, Arthur went to Baton Rouge to live with his maternal grandmother, who was ill and mostly bedridden.

Arthur’s upbringing in Baton Rouge was dismal to say the least.  He was never enrolled back in school and, instead, found some odd jobs here and there clearing brush from people’s yards, shining shoes and what naught.  According to Parish of East Baton Rouge records, by the time Arthur was in his early teens, he had been charged with several breaking and entering incidents, three robberies, two assault and batteries, and was the center of one arson investigation that was never substantiated.

At age nineteen, Arthur was believed to be the lead in a Colonel Sanders Chicken robbery that ended with five of the store workers shot dead.  Arthur was proven to be one of the two shooters.  The other shooter was also incarcerated, but for only sixteen years.  Since Arthur was also shown to have planned the heist gone wrong, and since it was also proven that Arthur had premeditated the killing of store employees in order to facilitate the robbery, on June 4th, 1964, Arthur Davis was sentenced to three life terms in prison at the Louisiana State Penitentiary with no possibility of parole.  

The government file states that ten candidates were selected as possible experiment subjects.  However, it does not clarify how he was ultimately chosen.  Arthur was released by the Louisiana State Penitentiary into the custody of the United States Military on November 20th, 1981 at 21:03 (9:03pm).  He was transported by a military Sikorsky-MH 53 helicopter to Fort Polk, Louisiana where he was to be given a medical examination.  The file states that Arthur was confused while leaving the Penitentiary since nothing had been explained to him.  One of the briefs in the file describes him as “…seemed alleviated in spirit through about half of the transport, but became agitated when after asking where he was going several times, he was given no answer.”

Though he was handcuffed and strapped, a Second Lieutenant on board the transport ended up injecting Arthur with a sedative to calm him down.  Due to his great size, safety was a concern should he get out of control in the helicopter transport.  This was definitely not out of the question.  Arthur had attacked inmates during prison rivalries resulting in hospitalization for several of them.  He had also attacked several correctional officers during his incarceration, which led to his sporadic isolation terms. 

Arthur had tried to take on a few jobs in prison, but with less than moderate success.  He most likely had what would now be referred to as ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactive Disorder) and simply found it difficult stay on task for anything.  This trait led to successive failures in the ability to follow prison rules, be socially appropriate, or to make any meaningful friendships. 

Arthur stayed at Fort Polk in lock up following his medical exam for four days.  During the medical exam, a transponder was inserted into the back of one of Arthur’s molars, the reason for which will become apparent later in this account. There is nothing in the federal files that indicates Arthur was told why this was happening to him; simply that he was being moved to a new location in the southwest, and that he needed to stay quiet and do what the military personnel say.  It brings into some question Arthur’s clear ability to reason if, as the files indicate, he did not resist anyone while being kept at Fort Polk.  One would think that any person, not understanding being brought into military custody and being transported, would go nearly out of their mind with both fear and anger of not knowing about their situation.  With the exception of the helicopter transport to Fort Polk, there is nothing that indicates that the military personnel ever had to contend with any other major outbursts from Arthur. 

Up to this point, the government files describe the events above as a sort of written prelude or explanation to what was to come.  On the next page the file has a header on the left margin that says,


This header brings us into the actual notes of the experiment as it proceeded. 

Initially, making the connection of “The Inmate-Out Experiment” with the project name, “Deep Drop,” was a challenge.  The acquaintance I had met on the hike wasn’t aware of its official name, but luckily in my search, I was given some information about where to look for such a project.  Once I got a hold of some government abstracts, the story and time frame matched perfectly with the bits that Richard had related to us.  So, after filling out a lot of forms as is customary for ordering items as part of the Freedom of Information Act, I was given access to a photocopy of the government documents on, “Deep Drop.”  I was told that I was exactly the fourteenth person to access these files.  The story is still not widely known. 

This account, hidden for so many years, yielded the basic information to me, for which I could go research peripheral supporting facts.  From here on out is the actual social experiment that was performed and funded by the United States government. 

At 07:00 on Thursday, November 26th, 1981, military personnel arrived at Arthur Davis’ holding cell and took him onto a Boing C-17 Globemaster III military cargo aircraft.  He was seated in a specially made jumper seat that was fitted with restraining belts.  There were five personnel on board; two pilots, and three military officers.  The explanation give to Arthur of where he was headed was not factual.  He was not going to another prison in the southwest, but, rather, was headed elsewhere. 

For a short time during the beginning of the civil war in Rwanda, the United States started to make supply drops for the local people.  They were later halted well before the genocide began three years later.  For cost purposes, the U.S. Government piggybacked Arthur’s experiment onto one of these missions.  The C-17 transport that Arthur was on flew from Louisiana to Recife, Brazil with a four-hour rest stop, then on to Rwanda.  Arthur was given sedatives in his food and slept for most of the way; not realizing how many hours had passed. 

At 7:15am on Friday, November 27th, the C-17 Cargo transport landed in Rwanda, Kigali in the great continent of Africa.  Arthur was out cold.  Supplies were dropped off for assistance to the local people, and Arthur Davis was taken off of the transport and then loaded by stretcher onto a smaller local military plane that the U.S. had pre-arranged.  The file is not clear on this point, but it looks as if only two of the military officers got onto this airplane with one pilot.  They flew about 1200 miles north-northwest to an old dirt airstrip in the Kanem region of Chad, northwest of Batha, and just south of the boarder of Borkou-Ennedi-Tibesti.  When the plane landed, a helicopter, which had also been commissioned by the U.S. military, was waiting.  Arthur, still sedated and asleep, was loaded onto the helicopter and flown about sixty miles north of a point equidistant between the towns of Koro Toro and Mao, which are themselves about a hundred miles from one another.

At 10:30am local time, Arthur was taken out of the helicopter, stripped of clothes, and left with a shoulder satchel made of burlap that contained inside it twenty beef jerky sticks, a notebook pad and several pens.  Two gallons of water, in the fashion of clear plastic milk style jugs, were also left as his side.  Arthur was laid under the shade of some low shrubs, and then the military personnel got into the helicopter and immediately took off. 

One has to assume that when Arthur woke up from his sedation in the shadow of a bush, naked and without any belongings, he must have been completely baffled as to what had happened to him.  There is obviously nothing recorded about this, but what would someone, who had served seventeen years of a life sentence in a penitentiary, who thought he was being transported somewhere, and left out literally in the middle of no-where have thought? 

Had there been some sort of accident during his transport?  Was there wreckage to be found around him?  And why was he asleep?  And probably the most important question; where was he?  He had been told that he was flying west, so perhaps there had been a mishap and he was somewhere in the Arizona or Utah deserts? 

But instead, Arthur was in the middle of a land that had a rich history dating back to 700 BC.  The Kanem region of Chad had several times over been an empire whose prosperous trading routes brought items and slaves from the fertile areas in the Southwest of Chad up through the Sahara desert through to the Mediterranean.  The Kanem Empire either was created by natives of the land, or it may have been developed by people immigrating into Kanem as the former Assyrian Empire crumbled.  It became a hot seat for territorial and religious conflicts for hundreds of years, which included the introduction of and opposition to Islamism into an area that long held traditional religious beliefs.  It was inhabited by the Sayfuwa dynasty, and then later, the site of a mass exile to Bornu. 

Seasonal temperatures range from just above freezing during cold winter nights to one hundred twenty degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.  Those few settlements in the area were third world in nature to be sure, and there were also nomadic bands of people who survived in different areas during the seasonal cycles.  There was often a dull haze to the air; the residue of thousands of small ground cooking pots from hundreds of miles away mixed into the air like drops of milk into a water bowl.  There were sounds of small animals scurrying about and exotic birds calling to one-another.  This was the kind of endless open space that makes one aware that one is in God’s realm. It was a kind of flat and wild land that one doesn’t find in the Americas. Arthur wasn’t in Arizona.

As the day progressed, it’s hard not to think that Arthur started to feel a sense of panic, mixed with an epiphany that he was free, if only temporarily.  His disorientation must have been arresting, and yet the sense that he could go look for an answer or for help in any direction he chose must have felt liberating.  He might also just sit and wait where he was.  It was up to him and no one else in those moments.  And in a philosophical sense, he was free in spirit to determine his own immediate destiny; a taste of existential freedom he had not experience in a very long time.  This must have been almost startling to a man whose world for twenty-three hours per day was a six by eight foot, metal barred cinder block cell.

And as the sedatives that he had been given during transport finally fled his system, his senses must have opened back up to him.  He was naked to the air and feeling the course desert sand on his feet.  Clean, arid air filled his lungs as never been felt before.  He could hear the calls of birds all around, chattering back and forth, and he saw a flat land in every direction.  He smelled the aromas of deciduous trees, tall grasses and marshes carried in from the southern breeze, hinting to his olfaction a lost exotic life just out of his grasp.

Arthur stayed at his drop off spot all of that day and into the second morning of November 28, 1981.  He may have thought that any decision he made, officials would ultimately intercept him, and that he’d better just stay put.  We know specifically of his movements from transcriptions of the transponder that the military hospital inserted into his mouth during his medical stopover at Fort Polk. 

This transponder, marked in the files as “KDT-7901,” was something presumably commissioned out by the government to a specialty company.  In the 1980’s, electronics and technology in general were going through a rapid acceleration in their ability to be smaller and more effective.  There were still many Aerospace firms about such as General Dynamics, Hughes Aircraft, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.  Many of these companies were in the satellite technology business and refined ability to track things on planet Earth.

The way this transponder worked was that it would send out a very high frequency pulse every fifteen minutes, which would be detected by satellite. The transponder’s location was then calculated by a crude form of triangulation using just one satellite at a time, and relayed to ground operations in the States where Arthur’s movements would be mapped and recorded.  The transponder’s location could be detected within one-eighth of a mile distances, or about 200 meters.  At the time, this was considered very accurate in comparison to the quality of tracking that was available just two or three year’s prior.  Now, of course, with advanced global positioning satellite triangulation, one-eighth of a mile would be considered very low accuracy. 

The government account of Arthur’s activities pieced together from three sources; Arthur’s transponder, general knowledge of western Kanem’s topography, and from Arthur’s notebook.   

The temperatures in Chad, though they can very greatly, are not so different from those in the United States in November.  There will be hot days, in the 80’s, and occasional storms will start rolling through.  There is desert to the north of Koro Toro, and there is plush greenery well to the south of Mao, around Lake Chad.

These areas may mean nothing to the average American reader, and in fact, would look like nothing but open space if one visited.  But to the bands of people living and trading in Chad, they are familiar.  Most people have heard of the northern Russians who can tell where they are in the most desolate, flat, snow covered areas of Siberia.  A local tends to know their surroundings with surprising precision. 

To the west of Chad is Niger, to the north, Libya, and to the east, continuing clock-wise, is Sudan, then current day Central African Republic, then, rounding the south east is Cameroon and Nigeria. 

That first night must have been very strange for Arthur.  As the sun sank down past the flat horizon, a dark night set upon him.  There was a new moon, so his ability to see beyond general shapes in his new surrounds was likely very limited.  What he did hear were the movement and calls of very small animals and birds.  There are many types of rodents in this part of Chad as well as a good segment of the bird population that does the majority of their hunting in the darkness.  The sand became cold and damp, and any vague sense of orientation that Arthur may have thought he had his first day was lost on him that night.

The terrain is made up of some low grasses and a mixture of flatland and very small hills; more like slight aberrations in the sand.  If one were to wander a few hundred miles south of where Arthur was left, then one would begin to find larger trees and increasingly jagged country.  And going north, one moves swiftly, and without any geographic knowledge, lethally into the Sahara Desert. 

The first indication of Arthur’s movement from his drop-off spot is at 7:15am on Saturday, November 28th, 1981.  He was tracked moving due north.  This was an interesting choice in that about two hundred miles in front of him was once a very large lake, Erg du Djourab, but is now the site of endless sand dunes with a very small lake that is only sometimes existent depending on the time of year.

With two ten-pound gallons of water that he was presumably carrying with him on top of his body weight, Arthur was carrying a good 290 pounds around the Sudan. He was tracked for two days heading north, the equivalent of 45 miles, much of which he did into the evening and in the early morning.  He must have surmised quickly that setting out on foot during the high sun hours was not particularly efficient.  But again, the question on his mind, the most predominant of them anyways, must have been, “Where am I?”  One would think that if one starts walking in any direction in the middle of Arizona or Utah or New Mexico, that at some point one would happen upon a road, railroad tracks, or some remote campground.  But alas, Arthur was destined never to see any of these things because he was in the middle of the African desert. 

On Monday, November 30th, 1981, Arthur’s direction changed.  It was first thing in the morning, at about 5:30am that his signal was detected moving to the southeast.  He had apparently given his direction a thought over night, and then made a decision in the morning to change directions.  The first thought that comes to mind is that Arthur became disoriented, or perhaps in trying to follow small prey to eat, had turned himself around.  His first movement of the morning was at a sever angle to the direction he had been leading himself up to now.  And in looking at the government file addendum, it becomes apparent that this change was deliberate. 

And this is now where the notebook that Arthur was provided starts to come into play.  Part of the government files on this project is an addendum set, labeled, “Subject Notes.”  The addendum consists of photocopied pages of Arthur’s notebook.  Arthur, after some time, found some sort of relief or self-assistance in his own mind to start making notations at this point.  And it is also clear that this is part of what the government experiment hoped that he would do.

The description in the government files says simply that the notebook was a “black hardcover bound notebook, wide ruled.”  So one assumes that the style of the notebook was chosen deliberately to last as long as possible.  A flimsy, soft-cover notebook would have likely not survived the ordeal.  It is also assumed that whatever writing was expected of Arthur, it would probably happen during the morning or daytime since he had no light source.

On the first page of the notebook is a crude line that starts from the left and moves up in a straight line, which then makes a jagged angle down to the right, forming an interior angle of about thirty degrees.  This was indeed an effort on the part of Arthur to make his first map.  It’s likely that he did so when he changed his direction that day to keep track of where he had been.  The line going up the page is straight, solid, and looks hastily drawn, rather than a continually extended effort over the last couple of days to track his whereabouts.

This makes sense in that when he first started out, he must have thought that it wouldn’t be long until he came upon some help or something recognizable.  When he make his remarkable directional change on November 30th, there must have been a realization in him that he was headed to an area that would not be of any help, and that he wasn’t about to find people going north.  He then decided he should start keeping some kind of track of where he had been with the simplest of drawing skills.

And what could Arthur have been thinking at this point?  Had he actually been on his way to another prison in the western United States?  Why was a military escort and visit to a military base necessary in his case?  Was that normal procedure when moving from prison to prison?  No other inmates who had moved had ever talked about such a transition. 

It’s hard to estimate Arthur’s reasoning skills and critical thinking ability.  He had obviously made some serious errors in judgment in his life to end up as a “lifer” in a state penitentiary.  Yet, out there in the Sudan, it would be simply up to primal instinct.  What was going through his mind at that point?  Was he happy at all to seemingly be free?  Did he think he was escaping from a mishap?  Or was he just trying to find help?  To me, the map, as simple as it is, seems to indicate to me that he had started to become concerned.  For, why would one start to track one’s steps but to avoid repeating them again for fear of running out of time? 

Arthur continued on a south-southeast direction for the next three days.  He was undoubtedly sleeping during the mid day, probably in the shade of bushes he came upon, and then traveling during the cooler parts of the day.  The next entry in his notebook, which he has started to separate by a simple horizontal line, consists of drawings, which looks like small rodents.  There are several rodents that are depicted.  He must have been keeping track of some of the prey he was surviving on.  The drawings either indicated that he was counting the rodents that he had killed and eaten, or that he was trying to differentiate them in some way.  In the past few days, Arthur must have had to make a decision he never thought he would make.  Probably on day four, about the time that he made his change in direction, he realized that he was hungry, had run out of his beef jerky sticks, and had to find food for himself.  How had he done this?  Likely with a simple stick from one of the bushes or shrubs.  He might have sharpened one end and gone after one of the rodents he had been seeing along his way. 

Arthur made his way in this same south-southeasterly direction for the next seven days and is tracked by the transponder to be averaging about 14 miles per day.  We have to keep in mind that none of his notebook journal entries are dated simply because Arthur probably had no fixed date of when he left the Louisiana State Penitentiary since it was all so unexpected to him. However, there are certain entries in his notes that indicate generally where he was at the time.

His next entry contains his first written words.  “Nothing here.  I can’t find no-one.”  It seems to have become clearer to Arthur at this point, if it hadn’t already, that he was really in a serious situation.  For him to write these words must indicate some amount of anxiety in him, and rightly so.  He was somewhere between his turnaround point, and a river to the south-southwest by about one hundred ten miles. 

His transponder indicated steady movement for the first three days, and then became more haphazard both with regard to pacing and direction.   As he headed south-southeast, he was crossing a pretty well defined change in climate and surroundings.  From his most northern point southwards took him from a very sandy and arid area, into what was becoming more green and populated with larger trees.  This meant shade and the possibility of more water.  It can only be assumed that, though he was smart enough at this point to ration his water, he must have been getting low on water by now.  Seeing more green to anyone, including someone who has spent the majority of his adult life in prison, still must have indicated that he was on the right path so to speak.  Though his pacing would indicate otherwise.  Fatigue had likely set in on him.

The next entry of Arthur’s was on about the 4th day after his turn around, so say, December 4th.  We can be pretty sure of this because of the event that occurred as written in his notebook.  His next entry says, “Hyenas attacked me when sleeping.  Fought off with walking stick.  Left side of my ribs is bloody cut.  Using bark and grass to put on it. Weren’t no wild dogs.  Hyenas!”  Then, below this entry is a crude self-drawing of Arthur indicating where his wound was inflicted during the attack. 

The area that Arthur had arrived in was slightly more fertile and had a higher population of mammals, several of which one would not want to come into contact with at anytime, let alone during one’s sleep.  Aside from hyenas, there are also wild dogs, leopards, cheetahs, and lions, to name a few of the monsters of one’s childhood dreams that actually live and feed out there.  Most often, these carnivores tend to stay closer to water sources than where it is presumed that Arthur was attacked, but they occasionally take a nomadic-like sweep out of their normal range to hunt, mark, and expand their territory.

It goes without saying how incredibly lucky Arthur was not to have been killed by the hyenas that night.  He either got himself in the right stance against the hyenas, or the may not have been more than two or three in number, or perhaps they weren’t really looking for prey but were making clear to Arthur their territory.  Another helpful factor was that by December 4th, probably around the night he was attacked, there was a new (quarter) moon out, which meant that he could see better in the nighttime than, say, just a few days before.  Having a better sense of what was around him may have helped him fight for his life.  He was lucky to be alive to be able to write notes about it.

The question would now become how seriously Arthur was injured.  He stayed put for most of this day according to the transponder data.  He was probably trying to rest his body and get a sense of how injured he was from fending off the hyenas. 

Let it also be noted that this entry was the longest so far, and to me, indicates that Arthur wanted to keep some record of what had happened to him, presumably, in case he were to die out there.  The combination of a longer entry and a drawn picture of the location of his wound seems as though he’s documenting this for an outsider to read at some point, rather than for his own review.

Surprisingly, his pacing increased after this incident.  He continued on his way on December 5th, 1981 in exactly the overall direction he had been traveling.  It may be that once he survived an attack like this, he thought that his luck out there was close to running out and that he needed to find someone as quickly as possible.

His transponder went on clocking his south-southwestward movement consistently through to December 7th, 1981, the seventh day after his turn around point, at which time, we can see on a map that he reached the Babr el Ghazal Soro River.  He had completed an over one hundred-mile trek from his most northern turnaround point, and one hundred-fifty mile trek from where he had been abandoned.  

His next entry is, “Water – river – I fill up my jugs with water.”  He is obviously relieved to have found water in this vast land.  The Babr el Ghazal Soro River is a water source that flows hundreds of miles in a north-northeast direction and has shallow banks.  If one were walking from the desert to this river, one would know that they were getting close to water because there is greenery, not plush, but green enough as compared to what Arthur had been through for the past seven days to indicate that the plants one would see were being fed by a plentiful supply of water.  Crossing the river is rather easy as well, which opened up his options in his search for prey.

Arthur made another entry, “Food supply.”  He has obviously found some more sources of food, and different from whatever he has been eating during most of his trip to indicate this in his notes.  I would assume that Arthur was also able to wash his wound in the river, and perhaps find a way to redress it given the increased types of vegetation around him.  It would seem that Arthur has found a place to thrive.  His transponder indicates that he stayed at the river for two days.

This is where this story takes a turn.  Arthur’s next entry is, “Woman washing basket at sunset.”  That’s it, nothing else about this vision that he must have witnessed in the late afternoon.  Neither is there any indication that Arthur ever made any further attempt to investigate the first person he’s seen in ten days.  One has to wonder if Arthur was somehow delusional.  Did he actually see a woman, or did he imagine it.

And I must insert my opinion here that it sure would have been more helpful for us, the readers of this account, if the subject of this experiment had been more able or willing to his about personal experiences.  His notes give us but the bare minimum of his actions with no descriptions, and for this part of the account, no insight into what he was basing his decisions on.  And so we are left with a void in understanding, and perhaps as a result, a void in greater sympathy for his situation.

Arthur’s next entry into his journal is, “Supplies filled, moving on forward.”  His transponder shows Arthur moving slightly away, but skirting the Babr el Ghazal Soro River on December 9th, 1981.  He stays near the greenery of the river for about four hours, and then turns southwestward, moving away from the river. 

And before I give you my added opinion on Arthur’s reality check, I have to let you in on some information, which Arthur was not privy to, but which most people would assume true.  As one moves in either direction along the Babr el Ghazal Soro River, one will find many, as in, hundreds, of small groups of people who live along the river.  It would be akin to how a small highway in the southwestern United States would have little town sprinkled along its route.  Now, Arthur may have happened to land at just a spot where there were none of these small bands of people, but in one’s right mind, one would tend to stay along a river for the possibility of human contact since it’s a natural resource.  Interaction with some of these bands can be dangerous as some of them are indeed not welcoming to outsiders.  Several explores have been killed over the millennia.  However, at that point, Arthur would not have had any reason to think that anyone he came across would be unfriendly.  Again, he still had no idea he was in Africa. 

So, I have to believe, that given his judgment with moving away from a natural water and people source, and in his failing to investigate the women he saw, that Arthur was just not in his right mind.  Perhaps his injuries sustained during the Hyena attack were more serious than he wanted to note in his book, or maybe just didn’t want to focus his efforts on anything but the most minimalist of writing.  Another possibility is that he thought the river ended.  There are areas where the Babr el Ghazal Soro River seems to dry up, but then recedes underground for a while, and then continues hardily on it’s way.  But the peculiar thing about Arthur’s decision is that the greenery near the river never terminates nor fades out.  So there is always some indication that there is water nearby.  We’ll never know.

Arthur continues to move in a southwesterly direction.  The notable thing about his new choice in direction is that between two hundred-fifty and three hundred miles in front of him is Lake Chad.  This is the largest lake in the area and is also populated by about four hundred thousand people.  Lake Chad is actually in the Chad region of Lac, and also boarders the region of Hadjer-Lamis, as well as the countries of Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger.  It is a very large lake.  But it is also very, very far away from where Arthur was at that moment.

By December 11th, probably two days after Arthur left the river, there is a full moon, which means that he is able to see well at night.  In fact, his transponder shows him doing more nocturnal traveling than he had before.  The terrain was not quite as flat in this southwesterly direction.  There were areas of rifts in the land with upturned rocks and canyons along his way, some of which are hidden in tall grass and are difficult to navigate.  One would have come upon no dirt roads or otherwise in western Chad during these years. 

Arthur continued in his new direction for three days.  His next entry is, “Got onto more rocks and watching where the sun goes.  It was very red colored sunset”  Under this entry, he has drawn a crude, but somewhat accurate map of where his trip has taken him thus far.  It shows his first jaunt north, then his hairpin-like change in direction to the south-southeast to the river, then his next change toward Lake Chad where he has drawn his path heading into rocks.  The only inaccuracy in this crude map is that Arthur indicates the river as being close to his latest direction, which it isn’t.  He has veered sharply away from the river and is probably thirty or forty miles away from any water source as this point.  This may have been one flaw in Arthur’s thinking; that he was still somehow skirting the river, and that it was still accessible to him.

I think that what he was writing about on this entry was that he had gotten a little unsure of his direction when he came upon the many areas of large rocks that dot the vast land, and so once he was up on one of these promenades, he tried to observe where the sun was traveling since this seemed to be his basis of self-navigation.  And while in this process, he happened to see an unexpected magnificent sunset. 

In the very early hours of December 14th, 1981, Arthur’s transponder stopped moving.  And to describe what’s likely to have occurred to halt his movement any further forward, we look back to his notes, for though sparse, they tell the story clearly.

Arthur’s next entry is, “Lots of bushes, rocks and canyons here.”  This is followed by, “Fell, trying to move at night.”  This entry is the first of which are not on the ruled lines.  This means to me that he wrote this at night when he couldn’t see, or when he was less than fully capable of writing due to an injury; probably both.  This is followed by, “Ankle broken?”  What an ordeal this must have been; trying to navigate a problematic area at night, and then to fall and break a limb.  Apparently, he had become comfortable traveling at night with the recent full moonlight.  However, Arthur failed to change his strategy as headed into increasingly jagged terrain.  The moon had moved into its last quarter reducing his visibility and making any misstep carry the potential for serious consequences.

Arthur’s next entry is “The stars are all over the sky.”  I suppose from his vantage point, being injured and having nothing better to do, he gazed up and the ink sky and took in all of that great blackness, and the dimensionality of the millions of stars sitting above him during those moments, and he felt awe. I’d like to think that, anyways. A kind of celestial gift for all that he had been through, both in his life, and during this journey.  Maybe for once he had a sense of internal peace.

His last entry is, “Lions.”  Nothing more. 

The government file concludes with some facts.  Arthur had traveled two hundred sixty-eight miles in seventeen days, averaging a bit more than 15 miles per day, in the middle of the African Sudan.  His transponder stopped moving on December 14th, 1981, and his remains were later recovered on January 11th, 1982 by a military team.  It was clear when they found what was left of him that he had been attacked and eaten by African lions just where he lay, and had probably seen his killers face to face by the dim light of the moon’s last quarter.  His satchel was partially shredded, and it’s contents strewn among the rocks and crevices within about fifty feet to the northwest of where he lay.  The map to the lower left show his starting point in green, his route in blue, and his final resting place in red.

And so what are we left with to make of this?  Why did the government set out to perform such an experiment on a human being?  And more specifically, why was Arthur, or someone like Arthur chosen?  One might naturally assume that they chose someone who had no real life left to speak of, unless one is open to calling living in a cell for the rest of his days, a life.  The reason for the experiment, and the decision of how a subject was chosen are not put forth in any of the files.  For those who become aware of this project, there will be conjecture and speculation.  Maybe we can pose our own questions both as to the purpose of the experiment, and as to what Arthur went through.

How would a lifer in a penitentiary react when dropped into the middle of Africa with nothing but a very few essentials?  I suppose that was the experiment.  It was about shocking transition, blatant abandonment, and finally, about pure survival. 

What does something like that do to the psyche?  What does it do to basic decision-making?  Did this man, who all he had to look forward to for the rest of his days being a cell block, find liberty in being in the great outdoors?  Did he find it imprisoning not to know what was going on and what lay ahead for his future?  How did he physically get along being such a large man in such arid and bleak surroundings, and with so far to go?  The most exercise Arthur got was probably playing a short game of basketball in the recreational area or lifting some weights.  But Arthur never engaged in any kind of sustained activities.

Did Arthur feel like he knew himself enough to rely on himself to survive?  Or did he feel at a loss?  Betrayed by his own psychological make up and upbringing and not able to reason his way out of his predicament; not to be able to count on his own resources to survive.  And what of his writing?  He obviously wrote and drew to keep track of his route for himself.  But there is something more; something about the human condition in all of this which indicates that humans want to express their experiences and feelings, as limited as they might be by their own skills.  Arthur, not knowing if he would ever survive or be found, took it upon himself to scribe his life for the two and a half weeks in part, simply to tell other human beings about what he went through.  A simple, yet significant gesture for his species.

What was it like for Arthur to even begin to conceive that the animals that night could be Hyenas, let alone having to fight them for his life?  What really did he make of the vision of a beautiful African woman washing her basket by the river?  Did he in that moment start to conceive that he might be in a very different land?  Perhaps that’s why he abandoned the river the next day.  It was his way of denying the truly exotic nature of what he had just witnessed a day before, and a sense of place that he was beginning to perceive.  And what would have happened had he found a large band of people.  How would he have communicated his need to find out where he was to them?

And finally, what was on his mind the last few days?  Where did he think he was heading?  When he saw that beautiful red sunset, what did he feel like inside?  Was he glad to be lost rather than locked up?  Or did he somehow desire the familiar penitentiary life?  Had prison really become home for him? And finally, did he know he was going to die when he heard the lions?  He must have in my opinion.  Injured and disabled; there was just no other way.  I’m sure you, the reader, can think of more questions to be posed that I haven’t.

I hope that Arthur was satisfied that he successfully survived as long as he had.  He had lived a hard life as a child, and then unrespectable and even despicable life as an adult.  And yet, there must have been a moment when he realized all of that was behind him.  Maybe he was able to encapsulate this journey as a separate experience from everything else and judge his conduct and effort on their own merits.  Seventeen days is not a particularly long time to survive, but then again, Arthur had not been equipped either, physically, nor psychologically, for the journey he was to take.  Not knowing anything about where one has landed is a serious handicap, especially in the wilds of Africa. 

I want to point out once again that Arthur was one half African-American.  He was partially descended from this continent that he tried to survive in, but was a complete stranger to it and was ultimately unable to survive in it.  I find that irony something that is hard to wrap my head around.  It signifies to me that all of us, who were once part of a land weaved in our heritage, have become so removed from that aspect of ourselves that we may not even have the basic instinct to survive in such a place anymore.

As I close the government file along with the addendum of Arthur’s notes, I ask myself, somewhat self-consciously, as cruel as this government experiment that was brought upon Arthur was, in the end, and on a spiritual level, was it better for Arthur to have endured this ordeal or not?  The fact that I can’t give a certain answer gives me pause.