It is rare for guys to make it through a lengthy bid without having gone to the hole at least once. Especially if you start your sentence at a high security level, where the atmosphere crackles with tensions and hostilities.
In my experience, men that walk through years of incarceration without a hole shot or write up for a rule infraction are a special breed. So special that convicts even have a term for men like that. They’re what we call “penitentiary slick.” Con men smoother than silk and more slippery than oil who know how to game the system and manipulate those around them.
For the rest of us incarceration becomes a learning experience. You either figure yourself out and change your life, or you learn nothing and cement in a future of failure. The penitentiary is the perfect environment to discourage efforts at change. If you choose to walk a constructive path, then you will be in conflict with most everything around you.
My first hole shot came within my first 12 months, and like many guys it was for fighting. Fighting over what? Pfft, that’s not a good question. A better question would be, How did you make it almost 12 months without a hole shot? The short answer: I stuck to myself and avoided everyone the best I could. Frankly, it only delayed the inevitable.
Every New Fish is faced with more than the usual day-to-day stressors of living amongst cons. A host of thugs and underworld types are looking to single you out, to “initiate” you into your new environment. You’re tried and tested to see if you’ll fold, and if you are young (or young looking) the Bubbas of the world are always circling. The list of perils is long.
No matter what, when that moment arrives, you must not shy away from confrontation. Refusal signals to all observing that you’re a door mat and afraid to stand up for yourself. Worse, it signals that you are easy prey. Ignore this, and you’ll have cemented an existence in hell for the duration of your incarceration.
There are a number of gangs and hate groups in this environment, and early in my bid I was approached by most of them in recruitment efforts. I turned them all down, and refusal to join any one of these groups is usually taken poorly. The worst of them are the hate groups. Groups existing to propagate ideologies preying on the weak and ethnically different.
I’m white and Asian, but because my complexion is fair I’m often viewed by others as solely ‘white’. For this reason I was once approached by one of these hate groups. Join us, was the mantra, because we are the superior race–yadda-yadda. The spiel is a contorted babble of half truths and distorted thinking based on ideologies long discarded into the trash bin of history. I politely refused. In hindsight I should’ve handled this type of interaction differently, more assertively early on.
There’s no reasoning with the fanatical.
At some point the wolves turned on me. Insults were hurled at me, the usual four letter words that simple minds can only conjure. Somewhere within the verbal warfare the one word I’ve never tolerated was launched at me, an ethnic slander based on my Oriental heritage sharing the same name as a slit in the blinds or flaw in one’s armor. It was the last straw. We fought right there in the middle of the cell block.
Fights like these are met with force of action by the guards, and the parties involved usually end up in the hole. It was exactly where I promptly found myself. For a new guy, the hole was a scary proposition. I’d heard it was the place where they sent the worst of the worse, where men were caged because they were unrepentant savages. The land of the unsavable, or so it seemed. In reality, it’s not quite like that.
The hole was in a separate building from the others on the compound. It was a jail within a jail. We’d been handcuffed and marched unceremoniously across the compound by grumbling guards. It was mid-summer, and I remember one of the guards mumbling about how hot it was and how he had better things to do than escort two assholes in the heat. Okay, I think I earned that one.
The hole comprised 50 large two-man cells. Each had a shower, bunk beds made of 1/4″ slab steel bolted into the walls, and a stainless steel toilet/sink combo bolted down to the floor and against the wall. Flush the toilet and you’d be met with a violent sucking sound akin to what I’d imagine a whirlpool in a mad flowing stream might sound like. You can literally flush an entire sheet in one fell swoop. Yes, the sucking was that strong and yes, one of my cellmates did exactly that.
The first thing I noticed when I stepped into my new accommodations was the smell. Dank mustiness mixed with the odor of unkempt bodies past. A large crack in the floor snaked from one wall to the other, and the Earth was visible. Were those ants?
In a far corner I saw a very small, round 18″ stainless steel table with round 12″ stainless steel seat, both part of a one piece iron unit bolted to a corner wall. Above the table, a full size window encased in a steel frame with heavy gauge steel mesh gave way to a view of the backside of the institution where delivery trucks came and went. The mesh prevented me from making contact with the window, and I’d imagine also served as a “screen” should the window ever be opened (which it never was).
I had looked around in disbelief.
The shower was in an indented corner. The floor was covered in a brown and black stain and the first thing I thought of was, “I’m not stepping on that barefoot.” In the weeks that would pass, I’d shower with my shoes on.
Meals were delivered via a slit in the heavy steel cell door, and if you didn’t get up to eat, you’d pay for this error in two ways. First, you’d be hungry. Second, you’d have to kill and clean up the roaches and ants that found your meals left on the floor. Thousands and thousands of ants, and dozens and dozens of roaches.
A couple of days after arrival in the hole I was seen by my unit sergeant and my “ticket” was read to me. I was then told I’d see the Rules Infractions Board (RIB), and a decision would be made as to my punishment. What? Punishment? I’d thought just being in the hole was punishment enough?
Once a day I was allowed one hour of ‘recreation’ which consisted of being able to walk back and forth in a special four-walled room that had a pull up bar and dip bars. The roof of the room opened to the sky and was covered by a chain-link mesh. At least there was fresh air.
After a week I saw RIB: a three-person rotating panel of staffers consisting of one guard, a case manager from another unit, and a sergeant. Going in I felt confident they would see my point of view, that after hearing the full story I’d be able to immediately return to the main compound and back to my cell block.
Throughout the hearing, each person on the panel made purring sounds of understanding and empathy. At one point the guard told me he was glad I punched the dude, and the sergeant said, “If it were up to me, I’d send you back to the block now.” (But wait? Aren’t you on the panel? It is up to you!) I was told that they knew that those guys were trouble and they were always having problems with them. In the end, I received two more weeks in the hole for a total of 17 days.
To my surprise, I learned from others that 17 days was what everyone received for fighting. In the years that followed I’d learn that RIB was a kangaroo court, where your fate was already predetermined regardless of your culpability. Even in instances where you were innocent and could prove it with certainty.
When my time was finished in the hole I was returned to the main compound and my cell block. I’d never felt so happy to be out of jail and back in jail.