I'VE BEEN SERVED

My Daily Journal in Federal Prison

Archive for jail

Day 238 – Part I

I thought I had died and gone to a less marginal prison.  The kind that has a gourmet bakery.

You know those evil muffins they sell at Starbucks that are packed to the hilt with cream cheese?  The ones with muffin tops the size of large UFOs?  Well, they served those for breakfast this morning and I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I don’t know where they came from and I don’t care. I just hope they keep on getting ’em.  A moist, freshly baked pumpkin spice cake surrounded by a plump, cream cheese pillow.  Nom, nom, nom.

*

Is it just me, or is it weird how there’s no holiday songs about prison?

*

HOW TO EAT A BANANA IN PRISON

1. Avoid unnecessary eye contact.

2. Hold fruit below chest.

3. Peel quickly and without innuendo.

4. Break off an inch of peeled fruit with thumb and forefinger of opposing hand.

5. Insert piece and chew with mouth closed.

Repeat.

*

WHY YOU HAVEN’T HEARD FROM ME IN SO LONG

 

I think I’ve become institutionalized…no, not in the ass-raping, tattoo-getting, gang-affiliating way…but in such a way as the things that once seemed so odd and foreign to me here no longer seem that strange.

The fleeting joke of “Hey Mom! Look at me! I’m in prison!” soon became the sharp reality of “Oh shit…I’m in PRISON.”  Not that my experience has gotten any worse since I arrived here last May…au contraire.  In fact, it’s gotten somewhat comfortable (not a good thing, necessarily), yet I’m feeling less like a tourist on some “extreme” vacation than I do an actor playing a bit part. And since becoming ingrained in the prison lifestyle, it’s difficult for me to assume a me vs. them (blogger vs. inmates) mentality…because, for better or for worse, it has become more of an us vs. them (inmates vs. prison) reality.

Which is why I am forcing myself to “come up for air” again and to view this experience as new and fresh…and to remind myself that it is definitely not normal to be here. So, expect much more frequent updates in the New Year. Unless the Mayans‘ prophesies ring true…

Oh yeah, and I owe you some answers to your thoughtful questions from a few months back. Coming soon…and part II of this update later this week.

*

PRISON LINGO

Instead of “thank you,” say “good lookin’,” which is shorthand for “thanks for looking out for me” or “good looking out on my behalf.” (At first I was flattered by all the compliments.)

Example of proper usage:

“Hey brother, drop that stinger.  The cop is making his rounds and will be coming through here in a minute.”

“Good lookin’.”

*

ANOTHER REASON FOR MY SILENCE

I feel totally ridiculous for saying this, but…I’ve been busy.  I know, that may be hard to believe and I’ll be the first to admit that many of you are leading much harder lives making a living and feeding your families.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I’ve been KEEPING myself busy.  Big difference.

It’s very easy to imagine prison as a bunch of lazy degenerates lying around all day doing nothing — and while there certainly ARE elements of that behavior — prison is what you make of it.  If you have the motivation and the spirit, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t come out of here a better person than when you first came in.

So, how exactly have I been so busy? Here’s a peek at my schedule. Monday through Friday, I get up around 5:45 a.m. and go to breakfast.  At 6:30 a.m. I have a 30-minute Power Yoga class (more on that soon).  My job in the data processing unit of Unicor (Federal Prison Industries) begins at 7:30 a.m. and runs through 3:30 p.m.  After work, I go to Chow, and then I work out for another hour or two with my “crew.” By the time I get back to my Unit, it is usually around 7:30 p.m., at which time I take a shower, do laundry, check my e-mail, and call my wife.  Before bed, I write letters and catch up CNN.  I then read until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. Repeat.

On the weekends, I read, exercise, work on my writing projects, catch up on magazines/newspapers in the Leisure Library, and watch the institution movie (if it appeals to me). I don’t watch much t.v., or at least not anything regular.  Wednesdays used to be my t.v. night when I would watch X-Factor and American Horror Story, but both shows have recently wrapped up.  Every now and again, on Saturday nights, I might catch “48 Hours Mystery” on CBS.

Oh yeah, and I’ve also got involved with Hobby Craft — ceramics, oil painting and calligraphy (more on all of that soon).

*

Overheard in the TV room:  “Is that ‘GH’ or ‘One Life to Live’?”

*

I grew a moustache-soul patch combo this past November.  My hispter bros from my hometown were diggin’ it…some  other guys told me to shave it immediately…and a few more said that i looked, um, “ethnic.”

Proof positive — I was at the prison pharmacy filling out a prescription form and a nurse asked if I could translate for another inmate.  She had assumed I was hispanic.  (I guess this is only funny if you know who I am.)

*

An inmate from my Unit was recently selected, at random, for a breathalyzer test.  He registered a false positive because he just ate a honeybun. It contains a high amount of yeast. Just tell that to the next officer that pulls you over.

*

My prison job isn’t that much different than most jobs in the real world.  We typically spend the morning discussing what we’re having for lunch.  Then we find ways to work hard at hardly working — paper shuffling, aimless walking, impromptu meetings, etc.  We return from lunch at the last possible minute.  We watch the clock as if our lives depend upon it.  We invent scenarios that would allow us to leave work early.  And many of these guys would rather sit in a stinky bathroom stall on an extended poop break than sit at their desk feigning productivity.

Oh, and the gossip…anything from which prison employees are having affairs with whom, to which inmate was caught giving another a BJ in the closet.  We have an enormous dry-erase board that details recent changes and updates on standards for performing our jobs.  At the very top of this board, in red, someone  wrote — “If this were GOSSIP, you would read it!”  The same could probably be said for all of the mass e-mails you get at YOUR job, with subject headings like “Corporate Communication.”  Does anybody ever really read those?  It’s so much easier to ask the Office Manager what’s what and then watch her get angry at you for not reading the relevant e-mail.

Although, unlike the cutthroat nature of many jobs in corporate America, very rarely would any inmate throw another inmate “under the bus.”  Because that would be snitching.  And in Prison 101 you learn that a snitch is the greatest severity offense next to being a chomo.  This rule is particularly amusing in my job here at the Federal Prison Industries, considering what it is we do exactly…ensuring that inventors’ patents adhere to the standards of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.  Moreover, we have several layers of Quality Assurance whereby the more experienced inmates check and verify the work of the less experienced, before the patents can even leave our factory.

The QAs are held to a quota of writing a certain number of error sheets — that is, writing up inmates who incorrectly process a patent.  But, of course, a lot of guys refuse to write error sheets because they don’t want to “snitch.”  Can you imagine if the same logic applied in an automobile plant?  “Jimmy forgot to add the brake pads again.  Oh well, I wouldn’t want him to get fired….let’s just pass this one through.”

Oh yeah…and I bet YOUR computer monitor doesn’t just start randomly smoking like a chimney.  True story.

*

PRISON LINGO

“Jack my wreck”, i.e., fuck up my routine, mess with me, play around, make things difficult for me, etc.  Origin = carjack my automobile.

Example of proper usage:

“Man, that nigga coming over here to do pull-ups in in this shower stall when he KNOWS it’s my favorite joint.  Why he always tryin’ to jack my wreck??”

*

Prison Pet Peeve: Why do all of the inmates here insist on typing their e-mails in ALL CAPS…and then never to turn it off for the next guy??

*

Happy New Year.  It was nice not waking up with a hangover this year…although, I did wakeup in prison.

Advertisements

Day 98

Tonight I saw the moon the way it was meant to be seen:  fully pregnant against the backdrop of night.  Don’t ever take this for granted.  Gazing up at the night sky is one of those few activities you can do together with your loved ones…even when you are hundreds of miles apart.

I’m nearly 100 days into my sentence and I haven’t really seen the stars and the moon as often as I’d like…hardly at all.  The long days of Summer and our nightly recall from the Rec Yard at 8:30 p.m. typically tucks me away within my cold, white cinderblocked Unit, right before the night comes out to play.  But tonight, just prior to our 10:00 p.m. stand-up count, I peered out of my window (an amenity lacking from my previous cube) and was held captive by that voluptious body of celestial light.  My window faces east, unobstructed by man-made structures, so I’m often treated to phenomenal sun-ups…but the moon can rarely be seen from my window.  So this was a special treat.

For once, I’m actually looking forward to the time when the days grow short.

Day 97

Where am I?  Prison.  What am I?  A Prisoner.  Sometimes I have to remind myself of this whenever a day like today hobbles along.  A day that sucked.

It all started, I believe, when a storm last night knocked out the power to our double-fenced, razor-wired perimeter.  As a result, there was no movement allowed on the compound, which was unfortunate as I usually take advantage of Sunday mornings to catch up on my newspapers and magazines in the library while most of the inmates are still sleeping (the library normally opens at 6:15 a.m.).  If I had known, I would have been lazy, myself, and slept in late.  Well, at least I could catch up on some e-mails, I thought…think again — the e-mail system was down as well.  I couldn’t even get breakfast as that was closed too.  Most outdoor recreational activities would also be cancelled, due to the weather and the problem with the fence.  What’s funny about the fence is that if they didn’t draw attention to the fact that it was no longer electrified, no one would have even known the difference.  Instead, they basically advertised to the compound that there had been a breach in security.

Thankfully, I didn’t have any visits scheduled this weekend as those were also cancelled at the last minute possible.  And for this I felt bad for the other inmates since many don’t get visits that often and the vast majority of these guys don’t have family anywhere near this place.  I’m assuming that many families didn’t even know that visitation was cancelled until they arrived here and were turned away.

For me, the biggest disappointment of the day, came at brunch.  It’s funny how we tend to sweat the small stuff in here…primarily because that is sometimes all that we have to keep our spirits in check.  When you don’t have access to all the things that would generally keep us entertained and sated on the streets, you have to find comfort in what’s available.  For some, that might come in the form of a regular television program or a workout routine…for me, that often comes in the form of food.

Our chow hall runs on a five-week schedule — with a unique meal served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner during that cycle, repeating over again at its conclusion.  Over the course of those 5 weeks, I would say that nearly everything is edible, however, I have a handful of favorites that I usually await with baited breath…and a few that I avoid like scabies.

One of my favorite meals on the compound is the pancakes that they serve for Sunday brunch…a meal that is very much treasured and not served that frequently…and I was looking forward to this meal all week.  The pancakes are made fresh that morning and are often thin, yet fluffy, and oftentimes filled with fruit.  We get a healthy stack of four or five on top of which is ladled a river of (I think) real maple syrup.  On “the Streets”, I live in one of the largest cities in the country and I eat out quite often, and I’m telling you…these are some of the best pancakes that I have ever had.

But, wouldn’t you know it…because of the storm and the restrictions on the compound, the inmates who work in the kitchen were not allowed to leave for work early enough to start making the pancakes.  Instead of pancakes, we were served “instant” scrambled eggs…which, I realize that someone who was literally starving would kill me for, but for me at that very moment…it was a grand disappointment.

An even swifter kick in the nuts came that evening when I deliberately skipped dinner and ate Ramen noodles in my cubicle.  For dinner, they were serving Chicken Fried Rice, which is typically one of the worst meals of the month.  There are about 3-4 meals that are nearly identical which the prison comically calls something different and serves it several times a month:  Chicken Fried Rice…Chicken Chow Mein…Chicken Stir Fry…Chicken A La King…they are all basically the same pile of slop.  Of course, it only made sense that I overheard the inmates returning from the chow hall going on about how good dinner was and how vastly they improved that typically decrepit meal.

Day 87

In prison, reading is a dirty word.  People look at you funny.  They wonder what’s wrong with you.  Forget all those romantic notions of inmates all curled up with a classic book in their cells. Being a reader is one step away from being a chomo.  I figured this out quickly in the Hole when there was literally nothing to do BUT cozy up with a book.  My celly at the time exclaimed, “man youse reads a lot” and “did youse reads this much on the Streets?”

When I got out on the compound, the inmates weren’t any more forgiving of avid readers.  Thankfully, because I’ve been well accepted in the Unit, I’ve been spared most of the ridicule and nobody gives me much grief.  I’ve since read close to 40 books in less than 90 days.

To give you an idea of what little regard there is for reading here, magazines are called “books” and the most widely “read” books are big booty mags with titles like “Straight Stuntin.”  While nudie mags, or any type of pornography, are not allowed here, the big butt mags are permitted because of the g-string…even if it’s just a little, tiny g.  A Baby Gap g.

I have also discovered a whole new genre of books here (actual books with words and stuff) called “hood novels.”  A rapper named C-Murder wrote the flagship hood novel by which all other ghetto books are measured.  I’ve yet to read one of these although I may have to get indoctrinated at some point because the authors must make a shit ton of money considering that these rags are EVERYWHERE.  It’s the only type of “book” other than big butt mags that the inmates appear to read.  Although, I did find it “cute” this morning when I spied a nice, young brother fromCincinnatireading “Dreams of my Father” by Barack Obama.

When non-readers discover your penchant for reading, they will automatically start offering you anything with a cover that has sentences in between.  It usually goes a little something like this:  “Oh, you like books?  HERE’S a book”…and then they hand you a tome from the Twilight series, or some other such nonsense (not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, but I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re going to take the time to read something, you might as well read something good…by adults and for adults.  I’ve never understood the obsession, for example, with the Harry Potter series by anyone beyond a high school education.  Sorry if I’ve just ostracized several billion people.)

And just think how this same logic would apply in other scenarios….”Oh, you like music?  HERE’S some music.” (C&C Music Factory)  “You like food?  HERE’S some food?” (Swanson T.V. Dinner)  “You like movies?  HERE’S a movie.” (Miss Congeniality)

Day 85

I have a new living arrangement.  Not sure if I had shared this previously, but my 1st two bunkies in my three-man cubicle were a couple of amiable amigos that went by “Polo” and “Durango” (who, by the way, has 14 kids with 7 different women…and he’s married).  They had a weird father/son thing going, as they were both Hispanic, and Polo was in his early ’20s andDurango, I believe in hi mid-to-late ’40s.  While they certainly treated me well, the problem was two-fold:  1.) our cube was way up near the front on the Unit, right by the front door / phones / TV rooms / computers, which could get pretty loud;  and 2.) Durango was running both a “store” (like an inmate 7-11) and an electronic repair shop (you should see his soldering gun built out of 2 AA batteries and some speaker wire); oftentimes, there were no fewer than half a dozen inmates milling around our small cube.

Within all Units, there are two-man and three-man cubes.  Inside each cube, the prime spot (based on seniority) is always the bottom bunk.  In three-man cubes, there are two bottom bunks.  The only way to get a bottom bunk immediately upon entering prison is to have some sort of disability or to be morbidly obese.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, I am without either condition.

With Polo and Durango, I was up on the top bunk and essentially on display for the whole Unit to see when I was up there because the bed, itself, is higher than the cube wall…and since our cube was near the front of the Unit, everyone thought that they were a comedian and always had to make some sort of comment about what I was doing, reading, etc.

Despite the lack of privacy, my top bunk was ultimately a blessing in disguise.  About a month ago, I was reading Tom Wolfe‘s “A Man in Full” and in inmate that I had never spoken to before stopped by to chat because he could see what I was reading from down below and he wanted to ask me a question about the book.  During our conversation, he let me know that he was going to be leaving soon, thus prompting a vacancy in a prime top-bunk spot in a two-man cube with a window featuring an impressive eastern exposure and a view of lush, verdant, rolling hills.  The best amenity, aside from the considerable noise reduction since this cube was out of the way of the heavy foot traffic (we often joked that our area was “the Suburbs” and where I used to live was “the Ghetto), was the desk and stool.  Three-man cubes are without a desk (to make room for a third locker) which basically allows you only two positions in your cube — standing up or lying down, which makes it difficult to do any writing or general paperwork.

Normally, the wait list for a two-man could be several years — and that is just for the top  bunk.  The lower bunk is typically filled by whomever was on top after the dude on the bottom leaves the prison.

The guy that was leaving his two-man cube offered to ask his bunkmate if he had anyone in mind for moving in when he goes and, if not, I was hoping he could put in a good word for me (even though he barely knew me, but word gets around fast if you are disrespectful and/or unkempt).  Turns out, I was in luck.  Nobody was planning to move in and I was given permission to make the move myself.

My new bunky?  His prison name is “Bless” (as in “God Bless”) and he comes to us from New York, but is originally from Jamaica.  He has about 10 years left on a crack conviction and, by the way, is super religious (as if his name didn’t give that away).  Not the kind of religious whereby he crams it down your throat at every viable opportunity, but more of a solitary practice.  For example, he will rise early, read the bible for a bit, and then get on his way; he then goes to bed early as well, usually prior to 9:00 p.m.  On Sundays, he truly observes the Sabbath by resting all day, rarely leaving the cube and refusing to communicate with anyone in the Unit.  (Apparently, he also listens to some extremist religious program on his radio on Sundays and was preparing himself for some sort of “End of Days” earlier this year, the date of which has since come and gone without fanfare.)

Speaking of religion…I found out that you are only allowed to have 3 things on top of your locker — a photograph of a family member or loved one, an alarm clock, and a religious text.  The funny thing about the alarm clock is that it would most definitely be stolen if you left it up there…as for the religious text — who makes that determination?  And what if you are not religious?  Can you substitute it with anything?  Perhaps a book by Richard Dawkins?

Prior to making my move, his outgoing bunky gave me the lowdown on all of his little idiosyncrasies…one of which was the whole Sabbath ordeal.  He also runs a hustle by making a bunch of cheesecakes in our cube and selling them to other inmates.  I was also informed that he snores and sometimes, while awake, make some sort of guttural noise that exists in the ether somewhere between a belch and a growl.  (My neighbors have once threatened to throw raw meat over our wall.)  I’m fairly easygoing and even upon hearing all of these forewarnings, the benefits still seemed to weigh heavily in my favor.

Thankfully, there’s not a “but” or “guesswhathappensnext”…the only other ominous foreshadowing was his warning on my first day in the cube, that he tends to pass gas a lot and, according to his scientific assessments, “sometimes it smells and sometimes it does not.”  His gaseous propulsions have, however, fallen mostly in the latter category and considering that I could probably sleep through the landing of a 747 on top of our Unit, I would never have even known that he snores.

Thus far, Bless have been a tremendous bunky and I have been enjoying the relative peace and quiet down here.  And as unlikely as this may seem, I have seen some of the most beautiful sunrises in my entire life from behind my barred window.

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.

Day 58

Being without your wife (specifically) and the opposite sex (in general) will do weird things to you over the course of a couple of months.  Not in THAT way, silly.  I’m talking about the way that you will react upon catching a fleeting glimpse of any woman (in person, on television, or in print).

At once, ALL of the female news anchors on CNN are smoking hot…the inmates are mesmerized by Casey Anthony (and not because of the verdict)…and every felon in the Chow Hall is rubbernecking at ANY woman on the prison staff that passes by the window — whether young, old, skinny, fat or of questionable sexual orientation (and there are a lot of those); followed by affirmative nods and whispers of “I’D HIT THAT” and eyes that exclaim “DAMN!!!”

There are about a dozen female employees on the compound here — none of which would probably draw much attention from these guys if they were on the street, however, at this degenerate day care, these dudes wear the equivalent of malt-liqour goggles after a three-day bender.  EVERYONE looks good to them.  There is one particular secretary in the Education department that is mildly deserving of the attention…and she knows it…and probably relishes it.  She is always dressed in such a way that wouldn’t be out of place at the club…with the high heels to match.

And just who is she looking to impress?  You can always see her hanging around on the compound for no apparent reason, sporting large, dark sunglasses to prevent the glare of both incoming and outgoing stares.  As local legend tells it, this minx used to be the Secretary in our Unit, but had requested a transfer to the Education Department after having to endure an inordinate amoung of inmage ogling.