I'VE BEEN SERVED

My Daily Journal in Federal Prison

Archive for prison

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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’.”

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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).

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

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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??”

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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??

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

Day 145

OH-NO-HE-DIDN’T.  (Oh, yes he did.)

Earlier this week, our Counselor had posted a notice in his office window.  A small group had gathered around it, grumbling under their breath.  As I peered over someone’s shoulder to get a better view, I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

To paraphrase:  “effective immediately, you will no longer be able to reserve a seat in the large, multi-purpose TV room.  All seating is first come, first serve.  If I find any newspapers, books, towels, water bottles, magazines, radios, headphones, etc. on a chair or on the tables, they will be confiscated.  If you leave the room, even for a moment, you must take your belongings with you.”

Sometimes I surprise myself at how far I have come in the nearly six months that I have been here, how well integrated and accepted I have been by the other inmates, and how quickly my attitudes have changed regarding certain behaviors.  Shortly after my arrival on the compound, I took real offense to guys “owning” seats in the TV room.  But just weeks thereafter, I came around to the philosophy that there are so few things that an inmate can control while in prison…therefore, why not allow those with seniority the privilege to sit where they choose, and to even claim a spot?  I’ve even taken this one step further by leveraging this system to my own benefit and I often “hold” a seat for myself on nights when there is a movie that I’d like to watch.  In fact, there are even a few spots in the TV room that would loosely be considered as “mine” by me and the other inmates…but I still would never go so far as to kick a new guy out of my seat if I found him sitting there.  Nor would I “gently” inform him of the ownership of said chair, yet still allow him to sit there for the time being.  After all, I hate it when dudes play the “that’s-my-seat-but-you-can-sit-there-for-now” card…then why say anything to begin with??

What’s astonishing to me is that some guy (presumably someone fresh off of the bus) snitched on his fellow man and brought this behavior to the counselor’s attention.  That’s an unforgivable offense.  And whomever said something to the Counselor better hope that they remain anonymous.  I can guarantee that it was one of the chomos, who have been all but banned from that room anyway.

The memo was posted on Monday of this past week.  Guess what has changed since then?  Absolutely nothing.  Not even temporarily on the afternoon that it was posted.  It’s funny, too, because A) the Counselor NEVER goes into that TV room, so there’s no chance that he would have ever noticed this behavior on his own to begin with without someone bringing it to his attention, nor would he ever (moving forward) have the opportunity to enforce this rule and confiscate any items; B) there’s no way that an actual cop would do anything about this because they understand the system that inmates have in place, and C) this was clearly a “Unit” memo, and not a new prison policy, so there was really no way to properly enforce this because the rule doesn’t officially exist.

And besides…even if this new rule WAS enforced, what inmate would be brave enough to dip his toe in the water and actually sit in a seat that was previously owned by another inmate without revealing himself to be the snitch?

Perhaps the Counselor realized all of this himself — or maybe he felt that he did his “part” by addressing the inmate’s concern and posting the note — because the memo was taken down today, not even a full week after it was posted.

Carry on my wayward sons.

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Institution Movie:  “The Grace Card

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Lunch:  Sloppy Joe

Dinner:  Breaded Chicken Patty Sandwich

Day 144

Prison logic can be kind of fuzzy at times.  Snitching is bad.  That’s OBVI.  But you would think that rule would be null and void if someone robs you blind.  Remember the shoe thievery that occurred in my Unit last week?  Well, I have a couple of updates.

For one, the inmates were more outraged at the victim for telling the cop about getting robbed than they were about someone having the nerve to walk into another man’s “house” and take his shit.  In prison, if you get beat up, robbed, or any other form of abuse, you’re supposed to shut up and take it like a man.  Telling a guard is the worst thing you can do — you’d be lucky to not have whatever was done to you the first time done to you again…times infinity.

Oh, and the guy who I thought was busted by being caught in the act on camera?  That wasn’t exactly the case.  Apparently, when the buzz started swarming among the Mexicans, the Whites (or more accurately, the rednecks) had a meeting in their TV room and the guy who took the sneakers fessed up that he stole them and he ended up “checking in” (lingo for turning himself in).  And while he likely would have wound up in the Hole for theft if the cops saw it was him on the tape, the real reason that he went to the Hole was for his own safety.  I think the cop’s exact words were, “We gotta git you outta here.”

The little thief would have been on the receiving end of a Mexican hat dance if he had stayed.

 

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Currently Reading:  “Among the Thugs” by Bill Buford

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Institution Movie:  “Thor“…much better than I expected.

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Lunch:  Fried Fish Patty Sandwich

Dinner:  Beef Stir-Fry

Day 95

You know you have a shitty prison nickname when 3 dudes in the unit go by the same name.  “Flacco.”  For those who don’t speak Spanish, that means “skinny”…and one of these inmates is actually fat.  Another “Flacco” seems appropriately labeled…and an argument could be made for the third “Flacco”, although I find it kind of distracting that he actually shares a cube with the previous one.  There must be some kind of prison law against that.  What’s the point of even having a prison name if it’s not unique, let alone the same name as your bunky??  Someone yells “Flacco” and no less than 3 dudes turn their heads.  Don’t even get me started on “Killer” — there’s TWO of them.

I also take exception to inmates who anoint themselves with their own flattering prison name, e.g., the Napoleonic white dude from Minnesotawho goes by “Mad Dog.”  Personally, I’m thinking about going by “…And You Shall Know Me By the Trail of the Dead.”  Either that or “Bandito.”

Speaking of “Mad Dog,” he and this other guy were in the bathroom the other day and this dude keeps referring to himself by his prison name.  “Mad Dog” says to him, “You sure love the third person”…to which, the guy replies, “Watchoo talkin’ ’bout ‘Mad Dog’?  There ain’t no third person in here…it’s just you and me.”

Apparently, there’s some big taboo against calling people here by their proper, given birth name…the name with which they have been convicted…as if they refuse to be shackled by the identity that the Feds have “forced” upon them.  It’s akin to those who take exception to their “slave names” and shed them to be replaced with an “X.”

As for me, most people refer to me either by my first or last name.  One guy calls me “David Seville” (anyone, anyone?), but that hasn’t caught on yet.  And that’s probably a good thing, since it doesn’t exactly strike fear in one’s heart.

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 84

I started a new job last week.  If you recall, I was working the 3-hour General Maintenance shift which involved sitting in the Facilities Room for the afternoon, reading a book, and then collecting my $5 monthly paycheck.

Last Monday, I began my tenure within the Automated Data Processing group of UNICOR — which is the Federal Prison Industries corporation.  The name, UNICOR, is totally awesome because it is only one “N” away from “Unicorn”…and it sounds as completely generic as ACME or even the fictitious INITECH from Mike Judge‘s “Office Space.”

Most Federal prisons (if not all) have a UNICOR division, however, most are typically a manufacturing plant where they make the vast majority of the “furniture” that you see within the prison.  My particular prison is unique in that there is no manufacturing facility…here we have a Data Processing unit — which is actually more interesting and slightly more complicated than it sounds.  As a matter of fact, I consider myself lucky to have found a job that is closely aligned with my background and experience on “the Streets.”

I have an undergraduate degree in English (Poetry Writing concentration) and my first few jobs in the real world were as a proofreader/editor and as a technical writer or documentation specialist for software companies.

At this particular UNICOR facility, we are responsible for ensuring that all of the patents submitted by inventors, patent attorneys, and patent agents are properly formatted per the rules and regulations of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.  Keep in mind, this isn’t just a matter of cleaning up some punctuation and running a spell check, but everyone that submits a patent for consideration typically does not follow any set format, yet the format accepted by the U.S. PTO has hundreds of rules and just as many exceptions.  The patents that are submitted can include inventions ranging from extremely complicated chemical formulas to everyday household items.

Under my new schedule, I work from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., with two 15-minute breaks and a 45-minute lunch.

While the atmosphere is a bit Orwellian (e.g., bright fluorescent lighting, hundreds of inmates typing away at computer terminals, security cameras, everyone wearing the same uniform, etc.), this gig is a really nice change of pace, with the benefits including nice, comfortable chairs (albeit not Herman Millers), air-conditioning, non-manual labor, getting to eat lunch prior to the rest of the compound while it is still hot…and a starting salary of up to $40 for the first month which, believe it or not, is the highest pay on the compound.  Ultimately, you can make close to $300 a month after you have been there for awhile and after you have been promoted several times.  Because I have fines and restitution, theU.S.government will take 50% of my earnings after my monthly pay is greater than $40 a month, per the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program (IFRP).

It really helps being on a set schedule which makes the time go by fast…and the weekends actually feel like weekends again, minus the end of week happy hour.  Which reminds me…as we were let out after Friday’s shift, our manager advised us to “have a great weekend.”  Um.  Okay.  I’ll try to remember that while I’m in prison.

My favorite moment in our training class was when we were explicitly told by the trainer not to type words like “tit”, “ass”, or “fuck this patent” in the word processor because it will send a signal to the central office and you will be immediately terminated.  Good to know.

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.