10:30 P.M – Prison Cell #128
I was lying in bed with the lights off, watching the premier of “Camel Man” – the first Hollywood movie to ever feature a Middle-Eastern superhero. It starred Lightning Larabie – who in real life is a popular camel race announcer-acting as Jay Jamal, a 20- year-old petty criminal, who should have probably chosen a different career.
The movie begins with Jay trying to rob a bank without a mask and a rusty paintball gun. As he bursts into Royal Bank’s central branch and shouts at everyone to “GET DOWN!”, he fails to notice the presence of 10 heavyweight boxers, along with the entire line up of the Toronto Argonauts Football team, who happen to be there for a promotional event.
The next scene shows Jay being carried out on a stretcher. He ends up serving his entire sentence in the prison infirmary.
Since resiliency is an essential superhero quality, just a day after his release from prison, Jay tries to rob a convenience store that’s inconveniently located next to a police station. Since it’s only 6:00 A.M and the store has just opened, the cash register contains only 52 cents and a few rubber bands.
Still without a mask, Jay runs into the store, points his rusty paintball gun towards the cashier’s head, and while channeling his inner Queen Latifa, demands the cash. The Chinese lady behind the counter remains calm, and with grace and composure befitting of a devout Buddhist, smiles and hands over the 52 cents to Jay, as she wishes him good luck with the rest of his day.
Jay accepts the loot with confusion, and as he walks out, is still unsure whether he has just failed or succeeded; and so in order to alleviate his doubts and tip the scales in favour of success, he violently snatches a large bag of pretzels off the shelf as he walks out the door.
The police arrest Jay a few yards away when they find him on all fours, choking on a pretzel.
The next scene shows him in prison again, but this time is different. Instead of recovering in the infirmary, he gets the chance to rub shoulders with real criminals who could teach him the tricks of the trade.
One day while walking in the prison yard, Jay comes across Teez Ala Teez; a 50 year old, red bearded, bald, heavy set, career criminal – who also happens to be a brethren from the desert. The two bond together like bread and butter and soon become cellmates.
On the outside, Teez was a smuggler of every illegal product you can imagine. And since he is serving a long sentence, he needs someone he could trust – or rather manipulate -to carry out his work on the outside. Jay strikes him as the perfect protégé, and like an old wise sage with his devout student, Teez uses each night to teach Jay how to become a professional criminal.
Finally, on the night before Jay’s release, Teez gives him a farewell talk. He tells Jay that he has never met a young man with so much potential to strike it big in the criminal underworld. As Jay beams like a boy who just found out that school is cancelled forever, Teez pumps him with praise after praise until he is like a balloon that’s ready to burst.
“Look Jay, I have a shipload of camel milk in powder form, ready to arrive in Montreal in a few days. I have no one to trust but you. I need you to deliver it to Giuseppe, the Godfather of the Featheroni clan. He should pay you in cash when you make the delivery. Once you have the money, I want you to come back to Toronto and deposit it in this account,” Teez says as he hands Jay a piece of paper with the information.
Jay accepts the job without hesitation, and feels great pride that someone has finally recognized his potential.
The next day Jay gets released. Everything goes according to plan. He travels to Montreal and picks up the shipment using a U-Haul truck. (Since importing camel milk violates Canada’s dairy regulations, the packages are labeled “Real Powder Milk”, which fools everyone.) Only a criminal mastermind like Teez could have come up with such a clever diversion, a smiling Jay thinks to himself, as he drives to meet Giuseppe at an abandoned warehouse.
Jay then delivers the product to Giuseppe, who is flanked by armed guards. (The movie doesn’t explain how a one eyed rooster became head of a crime family, but I guess anything is possible in a Superhero movie). Not a single word is exchanged between the two, and the transaction is completed without a hitch.
With the money secured, Jay heads back to Toronto and deposits it in Teez’s account after taking his 0.001% cut, which he uses to buy a brand new paintball gun. (He doesn’t bother to buy a mask).
With the most successful day of his life behind him, Jay goes to sleep that night grinning from ear to ear. He has finally made it!
An hour later, four masked men kick in his door. Jay wakes up startled, immediately reaches for his paintball gun, and fires off several blank shots in the direction of the unknown assailants (He forgot to buy paintballs). One of the men snatches the gun away from him and swings it back at his head like a baseball bat.
Jay is out on the first strike.
When Jay wakes up again, he finds himself in an open grave that must have been a 100 feet deep.
Thunder booms, signalling the coming of rain.
As Jay looks up at the cloudy night sky, he sees a silhouette of a rooster wearing a trench coat, standing at the edge of the grave. Jay feels something raining down on him that isn’t water. He quickly realizes it’s sunflower seed shells.
“You crossed me!” Giuseppe says, sounding like Al Pacino.
“What do you mean?” Jay cries out like a child.
“The camel milk… the camel milk was cut with goat milk! You tried to make a fool out
“Mr. Rooster…” Jay whines, “I had no idea…Look, I didn’t know!”
“That’s what they all say….” Giuseppe says as he signals to his men to fill the grave with a huge pile of camel shit that he somehow acquired.
“No please!” Jay begs as the first load of dung lands directly on him like a wet blanket.
“Mr. Rooster!” he cries out as a second load lands on him like bad slushy.
Jay struggles to breathe, and as the weight of the accumulating dung becomes overbearing, he realizes that he is about to die. So he begins to think about his life and how he had wasted it; he thinks about all the bad things that he had done, and at that moment makes a vow that if he somehow makes it out alive, then he will become a “reproductive member of society”- a term he misremembers from his time in prison.
A moment of silence follows, then suddenly, lightning strikes the grave, initiating a freak symbiotic reaction. Jay’s face contorts as he yells out in agony and fear. His body begins to transform, as his muscles explode in size and a giant hump bursts out of his
The next scene shows a distant shot of the grave as the night sky unleashes hundreds of lightning bolts. Suddenly, camel dung explodes out of the grave in every direction, as a silhouette of a giant figure with a large hump and a camel head leaps out of it. As he lands on the ground, he looks up at the stormy night and lets out a primal cry.
Lightening strikes all around him…
I don’t know about you, but I tend to quickly lose interest in Superhero movies soon after the genesis part of the story is told. They’re really all the same after that – Villain appears; Hero struggles to defeat him due to inner demons; Hero overcomes his inner struggles and defeats the Villain. The End.
So at this point in the movie, I began to doze off and faded away…
As I slept, I dreamt of Camel Man ripping the back wall of my cell away as if it was a piece of cardboard. He had Camel Joe’s head, the Hulk’s body, and wore a cape-less Superman suit with a “C” emblem instead of an “S”.
I stood there startled, looking at him not knowing how to react.
He extended his hand towards me, and with a sense of urgency, asked me to come with him.
The night behind him was full of stars – and possibilities.
When he saw that I was hesitant, he urged me to hurry up. He said that I had spent enough time behind bars, and that it was time for me to become a “reproductive member of society”.
“Productive” I corrected him, but it just went over his head.
As I stood there staring at his extended hand, time seemed to pause, and I began to think about what being out there again meant for me. I’ve spent the last 14 years buried alive in this grave…that can alter you in ways that can’t be undone; it can make you forget what it feels like to be free. Sometimes I catch myself thinking that there is no place in society for people who have seen too much.
Still standing there at the border between the two worlds, I thought of a passage from a
novel that I once read…It always comes to me whenever I think about being free again.
“When you come home”, Nadya had written. That was the horror of it. For “you” there could be no homecoming. After fourteen years in the army and in jail, not a single cell of your body would be as it had been before. You could only be a newcomer. A new man, an unknown man bearing her husband’s name would turn up, and his former wife would see that her first, her only love, for whom she had waited fourteen years, shutting herself off from the world, no longer existed, that he had evaporated, molecule by molecule.
All would be well if in this new, second life they came to love each other all over again.
But what if they did not?
And anyway, would you yourself want freedom after so many years; would you want to go outside into the frenzied whirl, so inimical to the human heart, so hostile to the peace of the soul? Would you not pause on the threshold of your prison window and peer anxiously out; should I or shouldn’t I go there?”
Finally, I answered him:
“There is no place for me out there,” I said, as I bowed my head and tears began to flow down my face.
His hand retreated and a sad expression began to cloud his face.
“I know exactly how you feel,” He said, and then turned around and took a leap into the dark night…
“…Much as a prisoner rebels at first against the structured carceral environment with all its rules and regulations and rigid routines, over time, he becomes ever more dependent on it. In every aspect of his daily life, he is relegated to the powerless status of a child. Deprived of privacy, he is told when to go to bed and when to get up, when and what to eat, when he can move from one part of the prison to another, when he can go outside, when he can see or speak to his loved ones, and so on. In this extremely controlled environment, the prisoner becomes infantilized, losing both his autonomy and his sense of self-worth as a valuable functioning adult.
At the same time, the prison environment is also extremely hostile and dangerous. The prisoner must be hyper-vigilant around other inmates, adopting a “tough guy” persona to protect himself. Deprived of security, his daily life in this dystopia is shaped by fear, distrust, suspicion, and paranoia. Not only must he abide by the rules of the institution that govern all aspects of his behaviour, but also he must constantly navigate the perilous twists and turns of the convict code of behaviour as well. Adding to this toxic and chaotic stew of power, control, and manipulation is the fact that those who are institutionalized have little or no insight into what imprisonment has actually done to them psychologically and even less idea of how to cope with or begin to reverse this damage after they are released.” –Diane Schoemperlen