Prison Hustles Make the World Go Round

Most convicts live month to month on their state pay (a monthly stipend earned from working a prison job). There are jobs for working in food services, the education department, maintenance, recreation, and even in the cell blocks. Everyone here works. There are probably 50 or so different jobs guys can choose from and 95% pay a monthly earnings of $21.00 or less. Think about this for a moment. Twenty one dollars for a month’s work.

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The First Visit

I spend alot of time thinking. Most of the time it’s about current events and happenings in my life, but sometimes I find myself thinking back upon the past. I know I’ve said it before, but time has a way of putting things into perspective. My first year incarcerated was a frightful one. I learned through trial by fire how to survive in This World. You either fight to survive or you fold and are swallowed into oblivion behind these walls. That first year was a lonely one for me. Not so much because I had no one here that I could talk to, but because I realized for the first time that family is all that matters in life.

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The First Fight

My first fight came within weeks of me arriving in This World. Everyone faces this moment at some point, it’s just the nature of the Joint. If you are new, you will be tried and tested by a host of individuals, tricksters, scammers, thugs, and gang bangers; the list is long. If you are young, predators will be after you. The Bubba’s of This World plot and scheme the moment you’ve arrived.

My first fight was an eye opening experience. I learned a number of things on that day, the first being that there are no rules in a prison fight. The second being that you should never fight an opponent that’s bigger and stronger than you in a confined space. At one point I found myself pinned with two thumbs being pressed into my eyes. But the most important lesson I learned was that if you keep company with trouble, expect trouble to find you.

My first cell mate was a bald-headed annoying white guy everyone called “X.” What did X stand for? I don’t know, but someone told me he had earned the name for killing a guy who informed on him while he was on the streets. X was a racist. He had a swastika tattooed on his shoulder and skulls and tribal work that sleeved his arms. X believed that white people are the rightful people of the world and that the country was being overrun by foreigners. He claimed affiliation with the AB (Aryan Brotherhood), a hate group that believes in white supremacy. Here in This World, the AB and gangs are the source of most the problems that occur. They control the flow of contraband into the institution, and they are behind assaults, extortions, and the daily movement of weapons and drugs amongst the inmate population.

I had lived with X for a few weeks at this point and had been subjected to daily rants about the ‘Niggers,’ the ‘Jews,’ and the ‘Chinks’ and the ‘Wet Backs.’ He railed about secret societies and conspiracies and several times had tried to persuade me into seeing his twisted view of the world. Each time I politely resisted his efforts. What I didn’t have the heart tell him was that 1) I thought he was a friggin’ nut job, and 2) I’m not white, but have a mixed Oriental and European background. Frankly, he frequently said a number of things that offended me. If I weren’t so naive back then believing that you could reason with people like this, I’d’ve fled from the situation right from the start.

Then one morning X was up early talking my ear off about the Muslim inmates and how all of them were terrorists, and that Islam was the religion of pedophiles and the devil. What type of religion, he had said, promised virgins for a devout life? But Islam wasn’t the only religion he attacked and misrepresented. The Bible, he claimed, proved that white people were the children of God. He’d cite verse to me and even had a number of publications, photocopied black market hate material, that he used as a reference in his effort to get me to see the light. How he even got the stuff in the first place was beyond me, but he had it nonetheless.

At one point I couldn’t take his ranting any longer and so began pushing back at him. I questioned the accuracy of his beliefs and pointed out that there are many, many good people who aren’t ‘white.’ I argued with him about the inaccuracies in his statements, and pointed out how a number of things he believed had long been exposed as fraud or outright untrue. I argued with him for hours that day, going from verse to verse in the Bible, pointing out how if he simply read the previous verse or the following verse he’d see the proper context. This was a terrible mistake. His attitude flipped from optimistic recruitment to dark hate. I was so naive, believing I could reason with an individual like him. I was about to learn a hard lesson.

Count time came and went, and X didn’t say another word. By now I realized I crossed some sort of red line. By the time count had cleared, X’s entire head was red. I found myself thinking of ways to defend myself if he ever decided to jump at me. He wore a knee brace all day and had complained about his knee for weeks. If I had to, I thought, that would be the first place I strike. X was a big dude. I’m guessing probably 60 pounds bigger than I was. Hell, back then I was all of 150 pounds soaking wet–if that.

When count cleared, chow was called. I hadn’t seen X since the doors broke, and wondered where he’d gone. I went to chow, and by the time I finished eating, I had convinced myself things had blown over.

When I returned to the cell block, I was confronted by a fat, bald-headed white guy I’d never met. He was maybe 5’10” and 220 pounds, and he had a head that was shaped like the bottom end of a bowling pin. I had no idea what his name was, and I remember thinking that he reminded me of a character from The Goonies, so Goony is what I’ll call him. X had paid the guy a carton of smokes to fight me, put a paid hit out on the little New Fish, all because I was willing to disagree with him. X was such a coward that he had to pay someone to do his bidding.

We stepped into a neutral cell and I immediately started swinging. I didn’t know how to street fight back then, no technique, no strategy–nothing. I swung out of fear, and I threw punches as fast and as hard as I could. To my amazement, I caught Goony off guard. I literally landed 15-20 punches before he was able to hit me once. At 150 pounds, I discovered I was fast, lightning fast.

Goony had a glass jaw. Despite my small stature, I’d stunned him. When his legs went soft and he stumbled, I fell upon his neck, choking him from behind. I squeezed with all my might, and for several seconds he made awful choking and gurgling sounds. I laid all my weight on his neck and torso, but to my horror, Goony simply stood back up. With me on his back, he proceeded to ram himself (and me in the process) into every wall of the cell. I was like a rag doll clinging to his neck for dear life and I remember thinking, Why won’t he go down? Why?!

Goony rammed me into the frame of the cell door, and pain surged up my spine. To my horror, my arms grew tired from all the effort, and I was running out of gas. Fighting is very energy intensive. Until that day of my life, the last thing I fought with intensity was a largemouth bass while fishing.

I felt my strength waning.

Goony made another heave, and I was loosed from his back. He turned and punched me in the head and face so hard that I saw stars and heard a humming noise. I felt a gush of warmth down my front side, and when I looked, there was blood raining down onto my white T-shirt. To my horror, there was blood everywhere in the cell. It was on the floor, my hands, my shirt; his hands, face, and shirt; the walls, the sink…bloody handprints and smears all over the place. When I realized that his nose was bleeding, I felt a renewed confidence. It was fleeting however, for I soon realized that most of the blood was my own. My nose was bleeding uncontrollably, so much so it rained down in a spraying torrent.

The next moment I found myself grabbed into a bear hug. My feet lost contact with the ground, and I was lifted into the air and slammed onto the concrete cell floor. Goony came flying down on top of me, knocking the wind out of me. I gasped for air and tried to push him off, but I had literally run out of gas. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. I could barely fight back.

Pinned and unable to move, He punched my head and face repeatedly. Each time I shifted my head away he would punch with his other fist, left-right, left-right, left-right, left-right, left. He kneed me in the groin several times, and the pain made me want to throw up. What the hell?! I thought. He can’t do that! There’s rules to fighting!

I managed to free an arm, and I punched the asshole in the face. His flat nose squished under my fist, and he let out a groan. I felt warmth all over my face as his nose began gushing. He tried to grab my hand, and when he did I was able to free my other arm, punching him in the side of the head. I punched him on the other side of the head with the other fist, alternating again, with what little effort I could muster.

Goony groaned and swore at me before rolling off and away as he tried to protect himself. I scrambled to my feet and was immediately grabbed and slammed to the floor again, except this time he wasn’t just fighting anymore.

Pinned again, and with Goony sitting on my chest, he pressed both of his thumbs into my eyes. I felt his thumbs push into the side of my eye sockets, literally pressing my eyes in and to the side. The pain was excruciating, and I screamed as I thrashed my head left and right, trying to keep him from pressing deeper. Somehow I managed to roll onto my side to protect my face, and Goony bit me on my side until I screamed.

It was at this miraculous point where he literally ran out of gas, too. He’d beat my head and face so hard and exerted himself so much trying to subdue me that he had exhausted his fat ass. At the same moment that he gassed out, I caught a second wind and pushed my way from beneath him.

When I stood up he put a hand up with palm out and said:

“Okay, okay, I’m good. You good?”

What?! I thought. The hell if you’re good!! Through blurred vision and with blood cascading down my face, I soccer kicked him as hard as I could in the chest.

“Fuck you!” I yelled at him. When I kicked him, he doubled over forward onto his hands and face. I kicked him in the head and I stomped both of his hands. “Fuck you, fuck you!!”

I went to stomp him again when someone suddenly punched me in the head from behind. I turn to see the cell door open and two of X’s friends coming at me. One of them punched me in the stomach, and when I doubled over, the other one punched my jaw with a left hook. I saw stars again and fell to the ground.

I curled into a ball to protect myself and was kicked and punched several times in the head and side. One of them stomped me on my neck and head with a booted foot, and darkness closed in on me. When I came through, someone else had come into the cell and he was telling the other guys, “That’s enough.” He then helped me to my feet and asked if I was okay.

I was having a lot of trouble seeing, and I remember thinking, I’m gonna go blind. I don’t even remember what I said, if anything. My mouth and jaw hurt. I was just glad it was over. Both of X’s friends left the cell, and so did the guy who had helped me up. He returned later with clean T-shirts and towels for me and Goony to clean up with.

I looked into the aluminum mirror above the sink and saw myself for the first time since the fight began. My nose was bleeding, I had an inch long gash on the side of my head that looked like a mouth had opened, a gash above my right eye, and scrapes all along the sides of my face. Everything was bleeding. I almost panicked when I saw that the whites of my eyes were blood red, that they were bleeding inside!

When I pulled my T-shirt off, I had dark red welts on my sides from being kicked, black and blue welts on my chest, and a black and blue bite mark on my side. I rinsed my head and face in the sink, using the towel to clean myself up. Goony looked at me and said, “Man, you can’t let anyone see you.”

I know what he meant when he said “anyone.” He was referring to the guards. I didn’t see any way to avoid being noticed other than to try and stay in my cell until I healed. I would need weeks to heal. I was certain of it.

I was, however, happy to see that I had inflicted damage to Goony’s face, hands, head, and chest (the soccer kick). I found satisfaction as I watched him wring blood from his towel when he cleaned up in the sink. Piece of shit, I thought.

I needed stitches for the gash on the side of my head. I was sure of it. I finally got my body to stop bleeding, and I changed T-shirts. Someone else came into the cell and helped me and Goony discard our bloody clothing. He bagged our T-shirts and towels, tucked the bag under his clothing, and left the cell. Someone else came in and said he’d help me make it back to my cell (which was upstairs). We left the cell and Goony behind and made our way to my cell. Someone went to distract the guard so he wouldn’t see me pass.

Once I was back in my cell, X was absent. The guy that helped me said his name was Anthony, and he swore he would get X for putting a paid hit on me. I told him, “Don’t worry about it; it’ll be fine.” He then “stitched” my gash with superglue. He literally glued my skin back together, and I would’ve never guessed in a million years such a thing could work. That day marked the beginning of my 24 year friendship with Anthony.

As the evening wore on, guys came by to let me know that they didn’t think I deserved what had happened. Some guys brought me Ramen soups so I’d have something to eat while I hid in my cell healing. Apparently several guys pulled up on X and made it clear that if anything else happened to me, it was his ass. When he finally returned to the cell, he wouldn’t even look at me. He was not liked by very many people.

The following day, shortly after lunch time, the yard dogs came to my cell and cuffed me. Someone had snitched on me for the fight. I was dragged to the captain’s office and questioned.

“Who did this to you?” the captain asked.

“I fell playing basketball,” I said.

The captain stared at me for what seemed like a very long time. By the time he spoke again, the shift lieutenant and the major had arrived. They didn’t say anything though. They just shook their heads at me.

“So that’s it?” the captain said.

“Yessir.”

“Basketball?”

“Yessir.”

“Have it your way then,” he said. “You’re just gonna go back to the same cell. You know this right?”

“Yessir.”

“I think you should go to medical then. I better not hear about anymore basketball games.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said.

The captain grunted disapproval at me. He then summoned the yard officers again, and they brought me to medical where my wounds were tended to by a nurse. She looked at my eyes and tasked at me at least a dozen times before she finished.

“Do your eyes hurt?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“Can you see fine?”

“Mostly,” I said.

She scheduled me to see the doctor, gave me a baggie of aspirin and ibuprofen, and told me that if my eyes worsened in the mean time to come back to medical immediately.

I was then escorted back to the cell block and returned to my cell. When the evening passed and guys realized I hadn’t given up Goony, I discovered that I had new friends. The fight was a defining moment for me in the sense that it cemented how other guys would see me for decades to come.

While I lost the fight, I passed the test.

As for X, he eventually got beat down by his own friends. I have no clue what he did to piss them off, but I’m sure he deserved it. I couldn’t help but smile when it happened.

Karma.

16 and Forever

Those of you who know me won’t be surprised at what I’m about to say because you’ve heard me say it hundreds of times: life is what we make of it. When we look for the positive, we find positive, and when we look for negatives, negative finds us. One of the secrets of life. So simple, yet so many people never realize this.

Years ago I used to tutor juveniles and eventually transitioned to mentoring. The moment where I realized that mentoring was what I wanted to do, my life changed. It is a beautiful thing to help someone in need and to see them overcome and grow. This is what life is all about. It is the meaning of happiness.

Of the many juvenile offenders I’ve mentored, Tim is one who has overcome and grown into a man with confidence and direction in life. When I first met him, he was a deeply introverted 16 year old facing a long sentence. An eternity for all intents and purposes for a boy of 16 years.

In those early days, depression often seized upon him, and he struggled mightily to move forward from day to day. I remember those times. They were dark days for him. I’d spend time with him daily, mostly us sitting at a table and talking over random subjects like science and astronomy or stocks. Especially stocks. Tim took to learning stocks with eagerness and concentrated devotion. He has been the astute student and to this day drives himself to understand and succeed. I’ve been involved with stocks for 20 years now, and we often discuss trading strategies and game theorize geo-politics in order to discern the future direction of equities. I love our discussions and find them fulfilling and meaningful.

During his early days, when we weren’t engaged in discussion, we silently fought one another in games of chess. When Tim transferred to another institution, we continued our epic chess games through the mail. Tim is a deep thinker, and as time progressed he nourished that through college classes and self studies. Opportunities that weren’t always available to him.

An area of interest for Tim is writing. He has spent his time incarcerated developing his skills, and with his permission today, I am happy to post a work he penned a little while back. It is about his incarceration as seen and experienced by him and presented in his own words. He sees the world through a lense shaped by incarceration, from being a young boy alone in This Dark World, to the adult he is today. It’s a view that’s sometimes shaded, sometimes pessimistic, but always circles around toward hope and understanding. Even now, when I read his words, I am impacted by how much he has overcome since those early days. I am happy to offer this to you, and I am proud of the man Tim has become.

Tim will finish his sentence in just under two years from now, a long journey that he once told me he couldn’t see the end to. His family supports him, and all his future plans include them. I can’t wait to spend time with his as a free man, and do all the great things we’ve talked about doing over these years. Tim is an excellent example of how through seeming impossibility, hope, change, and goodness prevail.

It has been a long journey for him.

I’m proud to count him a friend.

You can read Tim’s writing here.

*If you enjoyed this post, please like and share with your friends. And, if you’d like to leave a comment for today’s guest writer, Tim, know that I will gladly get it to him. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing for you! Also, if you know of other blogs written by inmates, please let me know because I enjoy reading what other guys write. Frankly, it helps keep me sane.

—Christopher

It Is What It Is

I often think about life. Not so much my life, but life in the broader sense. Everything in life moves in cycles, and if you sit still long enough and observe, you will spot them. I see men here dying everyday. Not literally falling down (though sometimes this is the case), but traveling along a path of decline that even they fail to recognize until it’s too late. The sedentary lifestyle, the lack of general movement like walking regularly, and the habit of eating poorly. It’s a common cycle for many guys in This World, a cycle of decline influenced by the larger cycle of pulling time.

As I write, I know deep down with conviction that a few of the guys in my housing unit will not be with us in a few years, because The Reaper will have come for them. The end of a cycle, and the beginning of another. I no longer have to sit and observe to spot the inevitable. Now I listen to my gut because the subconscious mind is always aware. Over a lifetime I’ve learned that my gut is never wrong.

Several weeks ago my gut told me death had arrived, not so much here, but out there. Over several weeks, guys around me began receiving news of the loss of loved ones. First it was my neighbor, then a guy one aisle over, and most recently my bunkmate. It made me nervous, this last one; it’s a little too close to home. More unsettling, my gut still nagged at me. Could there still be more to come?

Then a week ago, death finally cycled away, but not before striking one last time. So today I’m going to share that story with you because it had an impact on me. It’s just another moment of what daily life is like here, and illustrates that no matter who we are or what we’ve done in life, we’re all humans and have hopes and dreams.

Sometimes our dreams come true.

Other times they die before our very eyes.


Mac is a 220lb biker. His arms are sleeved out with tattoos, and a giant skull and bones peers fiercely from his back. His footwear consists of black boots no matter the season or weather, and he doesn’t say much. If he were an animal in the wild I’m pretty sure he’d be a mixture of a bear and a porcupine.

Years ago I watched Mac fight off three men that tried to rob his cell. They were gang-bangers, new initiates no doubt told to target him in order to earn their way into the group. What were they thinking? Of all the people, Mac was the last man most cons would dare to single out. All I can come up with is that they were blindsided by the foolhardy MYTH that they should target the biggest or baddest MF around to earn respect from the other cons. Shit, that’s the surest way to gain your first ever helicopter ride.

The trio dashed into Mac’s cell from behind, slamming the door shut as they did. For a heartbeat or two there was an eerie silence…

Then came crashing–a.lot.of.crashing.

Someone screamed. I’m pretty sure a skull ricocheted off the wall several times in rapid fire succession. Crack-crack-crack!

The cell door unexpectedly banged open, bouncing dumbly off of the brick wall. Two young kids, hell they couldn’t have been older than 20, bloodied and terrified, fled onto the range. The third would-be robber, an older black fellow, lay sprawled out on the floor inside the cell. Mac dragged the perp onto the range, dumping his form there. He eyed the cell block before returning back inside the cell. The door calmly clicked shut behind him.

And so, there the man lay. The body motionless–dead, as far as anyone could tell–for what seemed like a very long time. Finally, to the relief of some, and the disappointment of others, the man awoke and stumbled his way down the stairs and back to his cell.

Mac has always had few friends. It’s not that guy’s dislike him, quite the contrary, but simply stated, he’s not exactly a social butterfly. I’d say that most guys don’t know how to take him. He’s like a puzzle with jagged edges. You know the type, it drives you nuts at first but once you get going things get easier to figure out. Something like that. Get to know him and he’s alright.

Mac is pulling a life bit for murder and is on his 25th year. Time has a way of sucking the life out of you if you aren’t careful, and for most guys pulling long sentences they’re lucky not to be a hollowed out shell come their 25th year. At the very least, time tends to harden you toward the world. Memories erase themselves. Colors fade. Hopes and dreams die off. I don’t imagine that Mac gives a shit though. “It is what it is,” he has always told me.

Yeah Mac, I guess so. It is what it is and life sucks.

A few years ago Mac got married to a woman he’d met since being incarcerated. They were pen-pals for years, eventually her coming to visit and the rest is history. I met her once during a special family visitation event when my family was here. She was a soft creature, and seemed to glow as she sat beside Mac. Her smile was infectious, and she and Mac laughed nonstop that day. For the first time since knowing him, I saw Mac in a different and softer light. He seemed truly happy, a man who had hopes and dreams.

His marriage was the one thing in life that made him happy. Oftentimes he’d tell me stories about his “gal.” His conversations about the future were hopes and dreams centered around her. “She’s awesome,” he’d say, or “We’re going to live together as soon as I get out,” or “she’s coming to visit!” Once he told me, “You know, life is good when you have someone to love.”

Yeah, I guess he did have a point.

Then one day I was walking through the cell block and someone stopped me. Mac, they said, had just received news his wife had passed away. What? That couldn’t be, I had replied, she couldn’t have been but 35. All anyone knew was that there had been some sort of accident.

I immediately went to find Mac. I had no idea how this news would affect him. I imagined scenarios where he simply snapped and went berserk, leaving broken bodies in his wake. Would he crash about in one final rage against the world or maybe strike at a guard? I saw him doing everything imaginable but what he was doing when I found him.

I found him in the bathroom. There he was standing alone, staring across the way at a distant wall. People shuffled past him unconcerned, and there he remained. Looking but not seeing, staring but unaware.

I cautiously walked up beside him. His eyes were red as if they had been rubbed.

“Mac?” I said. “Tell me it’s not true.”

His head turned toward me, and he tried to speak but failed. Tears welled up in the corner of his eyes.

Oh, Jesus, I thought. This can’t be true.

The unit’s laundry room was just around the corner, and I saw that no one was in there. I said, “C’mon man,” and went for the laundry so Mac would have a little privacy.

Once we were alone Mac said, “They said she was in an accident”–his voice was barely audible, it didn’t even sound like him–“She’s gone.”

Before I could reply, his body hitched and he put his head into his hands and began crying. I put my arms around him and patted him on the back and said the only thing I could think of, “It’s okay, let it out.”

And he did. He let out a terrible, anguished yowl, a sound that broke my heart, and literally cried on my shoulder. I patted him on the back several times before realizing that I, too, was crying.

And so time passed.

Some time has passed since that terrible day, and Mac puts on a brave face. As far as most people can tell, he’s the same old Mac, but I know better. Something inside him died that afternoon. I hear it in his voice, and I see it in his body language. He’s in my unit here, and I sometimes see him hugging the dogs a little longer now or staring off into the distance or talking a little less than usual.

Time is cruel to those pulling long sentences. It doesn’t care who you are. In This World, time eventually takes everyone you love away from you. His gal was the last thing he had, and now he is alone in the world.

But time doesn’t care.

It is what it is.

*If you enjoyed this post, please like and share with your friends. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing for you! Also, if you know of other blogs written by inmates, please let me know because I enjoy reading what other guys write. Frankly, it helps keep me sane

—Christopher