My Daily Journal in Federal Prison

Day 83

The Death of Michael Jackson.  No, I’m not just getting word of the King of Pop‘s tragic demise.  This story came to me second hand, as it had occurred about 6-9 months prior to my own arrival;  it has, however, been verified by multiple reliable sources.

There is a special breed of inmate here non-affectionately branded as “chomos” — that’s cutesy for “child molester.”  (Although, I’ve often wondered why the phrase is not “CHI-mo.”  You might also be amused to learn that their morning rec yard exercise routine is frequently called “choga.”)  To be clear, not all chomos here have molested children, and not all incarcerated molesters are in Federal prison.  The charges with which these individuals are convicted for a Federal sentence have to do with the (typically electronic) manufacture or distribution of child pornography;  however, in some cases the “manufacture” may, in fact, involve the criminal having physical contact with a minor (e.g., a videotaping of the event).  On the other hand, an individual whose ONLY charge is physical contact would not be sent to a Federal facility, but rather, to a state prison.  The individuals seen on shows like “To Catch a Predator” would most likely wind up in Federal prison since they used the Internet to establish contact and then ultimately proceeded with the intent to make contact.

I read a rather alarming article in the newspaper the other day about this type of crime — apparently, in the late ’90s, there were only about 50 convictions across the entireU.S.  In recent years, this number is now near 2,500 annually.

(On a completely different topic, in the same newspaper I learned that Federal employees are more likely to die on the job than get fired.  Talk about job security!)

Obviously, logic would tell us that there aren’t necessarily more perverts now than there were previously but that the Internet better enables both the criminal access to and distribution of the illicit content, as well as the Fed’s ability to apprehend these criminals.

Of the annoying factors about being a white male in Federal prison is that you are automatically assumed to be a chomo until proven otherwise.  (For your info, I am not; as a matter of fact, I made sure that my actual charge was well known immediately upon arrival to prevent any confusion or undue grief.)  This is not the kind of place where you would necessarily be harmed if you were found out to be a chomo, however, you would most definitely be ostracized and forced to fraternize with the rest of them.  The overwhelming majority of chomos often live in the same cubicle and they often eat in the same section of the Chow Hall, which I have since dubbed “Chomo Alley,” which is also the easiest way to identify who belongs to that club if they sit in that area.

Just like how Federal prisons became less “Club Fed” at the onset of the drug war when prisons became overpopulated with, primarily, African American males on trumped up crack charges, these prisons are now becoming nearly equally populated with child predators.

On with the story…there once was a chomo named “Jerry.”  At least, that is what I will call him here.  Jerry was an older gentleman who kept to himself while he was here and really only had one other friend…let’s call him “Tom,” who was also his cubemate.  While Tom fit the profile of a chomo, it was never proven, nor openly discussed.  If anything, he seemed mentally ill.  I am not aware of the specific nature of Jerry’s exact charge.

One day, Jerry contracted scabies (look it up) and had to be sent to “the Hole.”  When he returned, a few months later, his previous bunkmate Tom, had been assigned another bunkmate and Jerry’s bed was no longer available.

(Oh yeah, I forgot to mention.  Jerry was a big fan of the King of Pop and had a picture of Michael Jackson, circa Thriller, taped to his coffee mug.  And in case you haven’t already drawn this conclusion, Jerry, and Tom for that matter, was white.)

Not a single inmate in the unit would allow Jerry to move into an available bed in their cubicle.  In fact, after Jerry was assigned to a new cube, the residents within threatened serious physical harm if he spent even one night in that cube.  Hence, Jerry was returned to “the Hole.”

Let me tell you a little bit about Tom.  Tom is the sole reason that I learned about Jerry and his story to begin with.  In prison, it is pretty rare when an inmate has absolutely NO friends.  The nastiest, meanest motherfuckers on the compound will find each other and will start their own fraternity…as will the chomos, so it was puzzling to me why Tom was always alone.  I’ve always thought that perhaps Tom was a paranoid schizophrenic (and he might be) as he often just stands in his cube all day and talks to himself.

One guy, in our Unit, recently took it upon himself to take on Tom as a personal, pet project of his and to FORCE his unsolicited friendship upon him…a project which ultimately had an extremely short shelf life.

(A favorite encounter of mine was when this guy went up to Tom and said “Hello.”  When there was no response or even acknowledgement from Tom, the dude retorts, “Hey, do you speak English?”  To which, Tom replies, “Of COURSE I speak English…I’M ITALIAN!!”)

It wasn’t until I had recently inquired about Tom and his “story” that I was then told the story of Jerry…which would reveal a lot, not only about Tom, but about the rest of the inmates…and maybe even society in general.

While I, personally, have never seen Tom engage with another human being, or even share the same table in the Chow Hall, apparently he and Jerry were very close and were always engaged in some sort of conspiratorial whisper.

Now back to Jerry.  We left off on his story when he was sent back to “the Hole” as a result of the entire Unit’s refusal to live with him.  I’m guessing that you can probably figure out how this story ends.  And the point is not to shock you with the ending, so let’s just get this out of the way:  Jerry hung himself during his first night back in “the Hole.”

The next day, the entire unit was summoned to the chapel so that the warden could break the news, hoping (I imagine) to instill some sense of humanity and compassion amongst the inmates.

The reaction?  The chapel erupted with laughter.  Shouts of “one down!” echoed throughout the hall.  Everyone seemed to be having a grand ol’ time.  Except for Tom.  Tom sat there silently staring straight ahead without a visible emotion on his face.

Now, I don’t know the specifics of the crime with which Jerry was convicted — he could have been responsible for a truly heinous crime against humanity, but it is unfortunate that the taking of his own life was answered by a laughing fit from a bunch of degenerates.

While I could never, ever, justify any crime against children and I would probably feel differently if I was once a victim of this type of abuse, it’s normally the rule rather than the exception that these predators were at one time likely victimized themselves…and so goes the vicious cycle.  That, of course, doesn’t justify the predator’s crime…but it can certainly explain it.  And besides, why should we leave it up to some knucklehead convicts to play judge, jury, and executioner?

The Man in the Mirror.  The Man on Jerry’s Coffee Mug.  Michael Jackson.  Jerry’s personal hero.  Guess how the inmates had reacted when the King of Pop was found dead two years ago?  Tears.  Reflection.  Solemnity.  Granted, Michael Jackson was never CONVICTED of anything, yet he was facing charges that would have labeled him neatly as a chomo.  Same goes for R. Kelly — another one of their heroes.

For a crowd, like the inmates here, that assumes guilt before innocence, especially as it relates to this type of crime, it’s interesting that both Jackson and Kelly catch a break, due to the color of their skin and their impact on black culture.

In an alternate universe, if these pop stars were ultimately convicted, I wonder where in the Chow Hall would Jackson or Kelly sit?  With whom would they share their bunks?  I’m guessing that the inmates wouldn’t have any problems at all sharing a meal or a room with them.


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