My Daily Journal in Federal Prison

Day 82

Aside from watching full-grown, scary looking men perfrom synchronized aerobic routines in the morning rec yard, my other moments of silent amusement typically come from some of the prison lingo, of which there never seems to be a lack of material.  Some of my favorites:

1.)  “I caught my case…” — I would venture to guess that the vast majority of the individuals here are guilty of SOMETHING, considering that the overwhelming number of federal criminal cases never even go to trial; So, the fact that they describe their case as something that they had “caught,” as opposed to something that they, in fact, PERPETRATED makes me giggle.  They make it sound as if they were innocent bystanders in the midst of a highly contagious disease, i.e, “I caught a case of the bank robberies…and I’m feeling kind of flush.”

2.)  “How you feelin’?  You alright?” — This may be one of the most melodramatic greetings on the compound.  In typical, daily usage here, it is used as a replacement for “Hey man, what’s up?” or “How’s it going?”  Yet, it comes out sounding more like they learned the terrible results of your fate, long before you did.

The first time that I heard this phrase uttered, I was incredibly confused and I was paranoid that some kind of misinformation or rumor was being circulated about my general well being.  “How am I FEELING?  Am I ALRIGHT??”  What have you heard?  And why such overreaching compassion from someone I barely know?

3.)  “You goin’ down to git some of that?” — Translation:  Are you going to the Chow Hall?

4.)  Finally, this is more of a physical communication than a verbal one, yet it never fails to amuse me.  There is a little tic that inmates perform upon finishing their meal and prior to vacating their table in the Chow Hall.  They deliver a quick two-knock rap of their knuckles on the table, to which all of the other inmates, still seated, reply with their own two-knock rap.

On the first occasion that I witnessed this, I thought to myself, “What the shit is going on around here??”  Apparently, this is the caveman way of notifying the table that you are done with your meal and it’s time to go.  I guess it is poor etiquette if you don’t identify the end of your meal, or if you fail to return another inmate’s signal.

Once I figured all of this out and tried it out on my own, I rapped my knuckles with just a little too much excitement and managed to startle the rest of the inmates who were enjoying their meal.  The proper way is a gentle RAT-TAT…and not an “I’m-coming-through-the-door-with-guns-a-blazing”-bravado.

(I imagine that one day, with the ever increasing percentage of Americans finding their way to Federal Prison, I will be sitting  outside at a charming little cafe, when a gent across the way from me will end his meal with an all-telling KNOCK-KNOCK on his table…)

On a day when I’m feeling especially courageous, I thought it might be fun to respond to the KNOCK-KNOCK with a “Who’s there?”  Or maybe even an “Orange you glad to see me?”  Especially when the Knocker is big and scary.


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