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

The First Day

The bus ride from the reception center was six hours long. I had been at the Lorain Correctional Institution for 30 days. It’s one of two corrections receptions in Ohio. Each inprisons more than 2,000 men who will be put through a series of evaluation tests to determine where you will serve out your time. Corrections is big business in OH. Over the course of a year, each reception center processes thousands and thousands of new prisoners.

We had finally left the interstate and were now traveling down a rural state road. Fields of corn rolled past, and the landscape started to look the same, flicking past like pages in a picture book. At first we passed houses on either side of the road, but now they were far and few between.

The bus hitched and began to slow. Some of the old school convicts stirred from their slumber, and someone said we were close. Close, I thought. Man, this is really happening.

The vehicle rolled up to a feeder road and onto prison grounds. I saw double sets of chainlink fencing with razor wire–rows and rows of razor wire–glinting beneath the sun. Behind the fencing were large brick buildings with white barred windows. They gave the facade a sinister look and reminded me of teeth. I saw people in identical clothing walking about.

“Hey,” said the guy sitting beside me. He hadn’t said a word the whole trip, but had come alive all of a sudden. Both of us were shackled at the ankles and handcuffed and wore the same bright orange zip up one piece emblazoned on the back with the words ‘DRC INMATE.’ “This your first time?”

“Yeah,” I said.

He grunted to himself. “I’m David, but everyone calls me Spider. What’re you locked up for?”

“I shot a cop.”

Spider’s eyes widened, then squinted. They looked me up and down as he took the time to determine my truthfulness. Whatever skepticism had washed over him dried up just as quickly, and his demeanor brightened.

“No shit,” he said.

The bus slowed with a loud pshhht! of the air brakes. I watched as we pulled up to the giant electric gate. Whatever conversations that were found were suddenly lost as everyone moved for a window. I squinted between the metal mesh and bars to see what was happening.

The gate slid slowly open and the bus trundled forward before it creaked to a stop again. The gate slid shut behind us. The driver killed the motor and silence filled the compartment. I heard and felt beneath the floor board the banging of the underside storage compartments being opened, inspected, and then slammed shut again. A big guard roamed about around the bus with a long metal pole in his hand. It had a flat round mirror at the end, and he thrust it beneath the undercarriage as he walked. Someone opened the hood and inspected the engine compartment before slamming it shut.

I heard the radios crackling as the guards communicated and the bus came alive again. Another giant gate in front of us slid open now, and the bus lurched forward and onto the compound. The bus drove up to a back door of a row of buildings that reminded me of what the back of a strip mall might look like.

A guard stepped onto the bus and said: “Listen up, girls. When you hear your name called, step forward. Get off of the bus and follow the stairs up to the door. There is no talking; if I hear you talking, I’ll put your ass in the hole.”

He then began calling names from a list, and the bus started to empty. My name was one of the last ones called, and I was thankful. I didn’t want to be the first person off the bus. I suppose it was my last attempt and desire to not have to recognize that this was really happening. I was apprehensive of what I’d see and experience, and my stomach was in knots.

When I stepped through the door of the building I found myself in a hallway. There were several guards, and they escorted all 30 of us down the hallway to the receiving department and into a large holding room with concrete benches.

One by one we were strip searched and given new clothing, state issued prison uniforms which guys call “blues,” because the pants are blue and the shirt is blue. My uniform had my name and number on the pants and shirt as did everyone else’s. Everyone was issued one laundry bag, two additional sets of state blues, three washcloths, two small white towels, three pairs of socks, three pairs of underwear (“tighty-whitey’s” as guy’s call them), three white T-shirts, a dark blue toboggan, and a cloth belt with a side clasp. All of the clothing was and is made by inmates throughout Ohio at other institutions. I was then given a small booklet outlining all the rules you’re expected to follow.

“When I call your name, come over here to get your picture taken,” said a different guard now. He seemed nicer than the first one. He was motioning toward a corner of the receiving department where stood a camera on a tri-pod. There an inmate was taking the pictures. He had tattoos up and down his arms, and he didn’t seem the least bit worried or concerned about anything. It was a stark contrast to how I felt.

“Hey, man,” said the convict behind the camera. “What’s your name?”

“Christopher,” I said.

“Great to meet ya, Christopher. I’m J.D. and I’m gonna your picture for your ID card. I’ll take three photos. Two looking that way”–his hand motioned left, then motioned right–“and then one looking at the camera.”

“Okay,” I said. The guy seemed pretty cool, and for the first time in a month I started to relax a little. I wondered if everyone else here was like him.

After I had my ID made, I clipped it onto my uniform. One by one we were escorted to another door, this one leading onto the yard. The guard opened the door, and I stepped back into the sunshine.

“Your housing unit is over that way,” he said, and pointed. “Follow the walkway all the way around, and it’s the building on the left.” He then closed the door and left me standing there. I suddenly felt vulnerable and alone.

I followed the walkway across the yard, and I had the absurd thought, Follow the yellow brick road, kid. Just follow the yellow brick road. I had my laundry bag slung over my shoulder. There were guys everywhere, some standing or walking about, and others sitting on bleachers or playing basketball in front of the cell blocks. Everyone seemed to be watching me as I passed. Where, I wondered, were all the other guys that I rode in with? I looked about the yard but saw none of them. It was just me.

I came upon the front door of the cell block, a solid steel door with a slit window and a giant metal handle. What am I supposed to do now? I wondered. Do I just wait here? Do I knock? I peered through the window. I saw steel tables with seats that were bolted to the floor, metal benches bolted to the walls, a guard’s booth with two guards, and 50 to 60 convicts milling about. Some played cards at the tables, other were in groups standing around. Someone in the crowd noticed me at the door and told one of the guards who then let me in.

The cell block had two tiers, essentially an upstairs and a downstairs. A metal railing ran the length of the second tier, and all the cells had steel doors with vertical slit windows. Cell doors had numbers identifying the cell (I was headed for 265). You could only enter a cell by having the guard electronically unlock the door. I couldn’t help but notice how loud it was in the cell block.

I arrived at 265, and the guard downstairs punched buttons on a control panel to open the cell door. There was a loud angry buzz, followed by a heavy lock turning over, and I stepped into my new home. The first thing I noticed was how hot the cell was. The air hung thick, and it felt like a sauna. There’s no air conditioning in the cells. It’s something you eventually get used to.

My new accommodations measured 8’x6′, basically the size of a standard bathroom. There was a steel bunk bed and a stainless steel toilet and sink combo. I had the bottom bunk, which I later learned was a fortuitous event as no one ever gets a bottom bunk coming straight off the bus.

My cell mate was an old school convict that was pulling his 12th year in a 15-life sentence for murder. A big, burly bald headed white guy who was relieved I wasn’t black. I’d learn in short order that he was a racist of the highest order and was affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood. He was also a bit unhinged upstairs, as he clung to damn near every conspiracy theory that he ever heard. Within my first 24 hours as his cell mate he had tried recruiting me toward his stilted, racist worldview. He also introduced me to his distorted religious beliefs, that the Bible says that white people are the children of God. I hadn’t even unpacked what little possessions I owned and he was already cramming this crap down my throat. Little did I know that within the coming weeks my first fight would be with one of his friends over the issue of race.

Later that evening I made my way onto the yard for the first time. I went down to recreation (or “rec” as guys call it) to check out the facilities and the weight room. There was a simple asphalt paved quarter mile track, and around the track were pull up bars, dip bars and push up bars, all permanent and cemented into the ground.

The track was full of cons working out doing push ups or others exercises. Some guys walked and talked, others hung in groups smoking cigarettes or weed. I was surprised at how much drugs there was and how unconcerned guys were about blazing up right there on the yard. There were no guards in sight, save for the occasional passing of the armed perimeter truck. On the yard you were on your own.

That night I lay in my bunk wide awake. You could hear the conversations other guys were having as they either talked through their windows or through the air vents. Eventually the din and the noise of the day slowly faded as guys one by one clocked out.

At some point I found sleep, but it was fitful and filled with nightmares. What did I dream about? Oh, I don’t know. Dreams are fleeting, you know? I’m sure they centered around scenarios of me screaming and running for family, as this was a dream I had for many years. Sometimes I’d wake, heart pounding with a scream in my throat. If I really did scream in my sleep, my cell mates never told me. Sometimes I’d jerk awake late at night, having failed to save a family member or outrun some tragedy, and I’d cry myself to sleep.

For most guys, the first day is more than just a ‘first day.’ It is the beginning of a long journey of discovery, trials, and tribulations. Some men never complete this journey and are consumed by time. Others survive but are for the worse. As for me? The first day marked the beginning of the end of an old life. And like the caterpillar, I have left that life behind me and now fly toward a future that I didn’t believe existed all those years ago.

Time has a way of putting things in perspective.

For better or for worse.

*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

A Cat Called Bump

I recently shared with you all a story about Allie, a dog I trained in the pound rescue program. Now here’s one for all my cat readers.

The pound rescue program periodically received cats, and I had been juggling the idea for months about making a move into the cat section. Eventually I decided I’d spend a year caring for the cats, partly to mix things up, and partly because I’ve always been a cat lover at heart.

I grew up with cats. So when good fortune arose to care for the strays and newborn kittens that the pound sent in, I jumped at the opportunity. I had spent the previous decade training dogs, and I thought this would be a fun change. The program had several cat handlers, and my move from the dog universe to the cat world drew frowns from the dog guys and praise from the cat guys.

Cats are a world apart from dogs. Dogs yearn to be around you; cats yearn to be around you when they’re in the mood. Dogs will eat just about anything (dog food, people food, flip-flops); cats, they eat what they tell you they will eat. Dogs happily play with other stray dogs, but put a bunch of stray cats in a room, and you have a recipe for Fight Night.

Most of the time caring for the cats involved bottle feeding newborn kittens and then potty training them. The cats stayed here until they reached two pounds, and then they were placed for adoption through the pounds website. A wonderful thing about cats is that they are very independent. You rarely need to bathe them (they groom themselves) or tend to a half dozens other things that dogs require. Once they’re a couple of months old and potty trained, you can let them run wild–they’ll be fine.

The program administrator was a wonderful woman named Ms. Campbell. She loved animals. She came to work daily with new and exciting stories about one or more of the cats or dogs she owned (and did not own, for she took care of a number of strays: cats, a dog, a turtle, a duck, and I’m pretty sure there was a raccoon in the mix, too). She once told me that the rescue program was the one thing that kept her coming to work every day. Without it, she’d just assume quit.

Shortly after I started caring for the cats, she took me aside one day and told me about a stray cat she had taken in. It lived in her garage most of the time, she had said, or under her car when it was parked outside. She lived in the countryside and was always coming upon stray animals. I asked her why she didn’t simply let the cat into the house; after all, she had other stray cats she let inside.

“Oh, eww,” she said.

“Eww?” I said.

“Oh, you should see it. It has issues. It’s missing patches of fur all over, and its fur is all knotted and mangy.”

“It probably has some skin issues, that’s all,” I said. “It probably needs a topical and a good shampooing. Hell, it could be allergies.”

“It’s always scratching and”–she quivered, stuck out a puking tongue–“I think it has fleas, and ticks.”

“Aww, the poor thing,” I said. I was a bit surprised at her reluctance. She was never shy getting down and dirty with the dogs or cats we had running around here. She wore dog slobber and cat hair on her clothes daily like a badge of honor! She was always spending her own money on dog and cat flea shampoos, toys, leashes, collars, and you name it, for the cats and dogs here in the program. Yet, she was hesitant to get involved with this cat. Hmm, I thought, ‘Tis a bit of a mystery, this cat.

So I said, “Why don’t you bring it in and I’ll flea dip it, clean its ears, and treat whatever skin issues it has. I’ll also get all the ticks.

She shook her head. “Yeah, that’s a great idea-NOT! I’m not letting it into my car.”

“Take one of the cat carriers home from the pound then,” I said. “Put the cat into the carrier and bring it in that way.”

“Okay, maybe. But the cat’s crazy; you’ll never be able to give it a bath.”

I gave her a look that said yeah right.

“No, seriously,” she said. “It’s mean.”

“It’s a cat,” I said. “Not an 80 pound pit bull. Besides, what’s its name?”

“I haven’t named it.”

“You haven’t named it?”

“It’s just…eww.” She quivered again.

“I’ll think of one then,” I said, more puzzled than ever. “Just bring the cat in. Let me get it cleaned up; it’s probably suffering! Those fleas and ticks and all.”

A week passed before the subject of the cat came up again. I had spent the week caring for bottle feeders-kittens so young that their eyes weren’t open yet. It was an exhausting task. You had to feed them formula every two hours using tiny baby bottles, potty them, and make sure they were set until the next feeding. This of course involved getting up at night every two hours amongst so many other things. It wasn’t uncommon for these young newborns to die before being able to eat on their own. Caring for bottle feeders was stressful, and the thought of one dying on me kept me vigilantly awake at night. I had long forgotten about my conversation with Ms. Campbell. Hell, all I could think of was the sleep I wanted.

Then one afternoon Ms. Campbell arrived at the block looking haggard and worried. The moment she entered I knew something was wrong.

“Christopher,” she said. She was discreetly motioning for me to come to her. “I ran the cat over,” she whispered.

“What?!” I said. “Is it okay?”

“I think so,” she said, still whispering. “It’s not limping or making sounds like it’s in pain. It’s eating and it still meows at me through the garage door.

“You checked the cat, right? Felt around to see if it was hurt?”

She looked around the day room to make sure no one was listening. Her shame was palpable.

“Yeah, I checked; it didn’t seem to be in pain.”

“Okay,” I said. Now tell me how it happened.”

“I was backing down the driveway and I ran something over and—”

“You actually felt a bump?”

“Yeah, right over it”–she skipped one palm over the other to illustrate–“it’s a big cat.”

I started laughing.

“What’s so funny?”

“I just thought of a name for the cat,” I said. “Bump.”

“Bump?” A quizzical look crossed her face.

“Yeah. It’s short for ‘Speed Bump’.”

Her mouth fell open and her hands immediately found her hips. For a moment I thought she was going to scold me! Instead, she started laughing.

“Bring the cat in,” I said, “and I’ll make sure it’s fine and I’ll get it cleaned up.”

“Okay,” she said.

What was this cat? I thought. I’ve never heard of a cat getting run over and surviving. By the time evening came, I had convinced myself that she had imagined running the cat over. It just didn’t make sense. Either way, I was excited. Partly because I was eager to see this cat, and partly because I knew the cat was dear to her, despite her aversion to it. I was determined to get her cat in order, even if it was a stray that lived under her car.

The next day Ms. Campbell arrived carrying a large cat carrier and a plastic Walmart bag with flea shampoos, regular shampoos, brushes, antifungals from the pound, and cat doses of Benadryl. There were also catnip mice and small rubber koosh balls and baggies of cat snacks. Several cans of Fancy Feast cat food clanked at the bottom of the bag.

All of it was for Bump.

“Well,” she said. “Here he is.” She passed me the cat carrier and I took it by the handle. The first thing I noticed was how heavy it was.

“Wow, he’s heavy,” I said.

She snickered, “Wait until you pick him up. He’s all muscle.”

I set the carrier on one of the tables and peeked in through the metal gate in the front. Crammed inside was a giant brown and white cat. The first thing I noticed was that it looked like it had been romping through mud and fields of burrs. They were stuck to its matted fur. It had patches of hair missing from its head, and the scent of dried, putrid pond mud wafted from within. Gawd, I thought, it smells awful. When I leaned in close, it growled and hissed at me.

“Here’s some stuff that you might need,” she said. She passed the Walmart bag. “I’m gonna leave Bump with you for the weekend. So there’s food and toys, too. If you have any problems, have the pound call me.”

“Cool. I’ll get him cleaned up right now.”

“Be careful,” she said again. “He’s mean.”

Mean, I thought. Okay then.

I went to the cell and found my cell mate JT. I showed him the cat and the bag of stuff, told him that Bump would be with us for a few days, and how we needed to bathe and flea dip the cat.

“Ms. Campbell said the cat’s mean,” I said.

“Mean, huh?” he said, a bit humored. He poked a finger in between the front of the carrier, and the cat hissed and spat. “Oh! Definitely a live one.”

“I don’t think we should let it out in here because of the fleas and ticks. So let’s take it upstairs to the porter closet tub and we’ll let it out there.”

“Sure,” he said. “Suit up!”

‘Suit up’ is what we’d say to each other whenever it came to flea dipping and bathing difficult cats. What did ‘suit up’ mean? In This World, it meant that I put on an extra pair of long pants, a sweatsuit top, my sweat jacket, and when necessary, my winter jacket. I have razor thin scars on my arms and legs from previous efforts while not ‘suited up.’ There’s nothing worse than four sets of razor sharp claws dig into your flesh, as 10 pounds of wet, angry cat uses your body to claw itself to freedom. So, yeah, I suited up for this one.

By the time we made our way upstairs, the other men in the cell block were staring at us. It was quite a sight to behold, I’d imagine: two grown men dressed like Eskimo’s with bottles of shampoo, flea dip, and an angry, hissing cat carrier. If I didn’t know any better, I thought I caught looks of knowingness. That look one gives you when you know something is about to turn out bad.

We arrived at the porter closet.

“Alright,” said JT. “You want to hold and I’ll wash, or I hold and you wash?”

“I’ll hold, you wash,” I said.

Holding a reluctant cat under a flowing faucet in a deep porcelain tub was always a perilous proposition. Once the soap lathers, things get slippery fast. I felt more in control if I held, so it was an easy decision.

I set the cat carrier down on the second tier range. This was always a tricky moment. Sometimes you let the cat out and it takes off for the far reaches of the cell block; other times there’s no issue.

“You ready?” I asked.

“Go,” said JT, as he positioned himself on the range to stop any attempt to flee.

I clicked open the front of the carrier, and the door swung wide. The cat didn’t come out. Crap, I thought. I really don’t want to have to reach in for it. I then gently tilted the carrier, and Bump came pouring out.

There on the range sat the largest cat I’d ever seen. Bump had to be at least 16 pounds! He had a white face, a brown chin, brown and white pastel mid-section, paws that were padded brown, and all white legs. All his white parts were caked with dirt and streaks of mud. His long hair was knotted and matted, and he had patches of fur missing on his head and hindquarters. No sooner had this registered did I catch a good whiff of him–pure pond puke.

I stared down at the cat, and Bump looked up at me. Despite his gruff appearance, there was tenderness in those eyes.

I reached down and ran a hand over him. I felt his body relax, and I was amazed at how solid he was. One giant, furry muscle.

“Aww,” I said, more to soothe Bump than for anything else.

I ran my fingers around his head and neck, walked and gently poked and prodded them down and across his mid-section. If the cat had any pain, this is when I’d discover it. I continued prodding down his hindquarters and stopped at the tip of his tail. About halfway down his tail he meowed, and I felt a swollen area. Poor thing, I thought. He definitely got it smashed somewhere.

I made a mental note for Ms. Campbell to let the vet tech know. I then picked him up, the final test of injury, and he didn’t make a sound.

“Well,” I said to JT, “he seems fine enough. His tail’s got a bump, but he should be fine.”

“Good. Let’s wash him. He stinks,” he said.

I hoisted Bump into the porter’s closet. There we had a tall, square, porcelain tub. It was deep; ideal for mop buckets and washing cats. I set Bump in the tub and eyed him cautiously. Bump just sad there looking up at me. Hmph, I thought. He doesn’t seem so mean after all.

JT started the water and found the right temperature. I put my hands around Bump and moved him under the faucet. The water flowed down his back and rivered away in dark flows of muddy dirt and grime. It looked like he hadn’t ever had a bath. To my dismay, I saw fleas fleeing to areas that weren’t wet yet.

JT worked the water into his fur and then squirted cat flea shampoo all over him. No sooner had he worked up a lather did I feel every muscle in Bump’s body tense.

“JT, hurry; I think he’s not liking this,” I said.

Bump cast a wild eye at me, and we made eye contact. Gone was the tenderness I saw seconds ago. His green eyes narrowed to slits.

“JT,” I said.

“I know, I know,” he said. His hands moved and lathered quicker now. Bubbles recklessly accumulated in the tub. JT had used so much flea shampoo that bubbles threatened to engulf Bump’s entire form!

Bump let out a grueling mewl. I felt his body contract ever more, pulling his form into a dense ball. Beneath my palms his muscles felt like stretched rubber bands about to fire.

I tightened my grip and tried to maintain a good hold.

“Murrr,” Bump growled.

“Almost there,” said JT. “You got him, right?”

I felt my hands slipping from all the soap.

“You got him, right?” JT said again.

“Murrr!”

“Dude I’m slipping!”

“MURRR!”

“Rinse!” I said. “JT, RINSE!”

But it was too late. Bump uncoiled from a singularity, exploded, kicking wildly in all directions. I felt the stabbing pain of rows of sharp, angry cat teeth in the back of my hand.

Bump began gator rolling—

-Oh shit, I thought. Shit, shit—

—and rolled again, loosening himself from my grip.

JT’s eyes flashed fear and Bump’s flashed maniacal glee. 16 pounds of soapy, pissed off cat dug forepaws and hind paws into his arms and chest. The beast scampered up JT’s body like he was a scratching post, found his shoulders, and went airborne.

JT screamed like a little girl.

Convict heads rippled across the cell block.

Someone pointed and laughed.

I watched as Bump landed with a squishing smack onto the range. The cat ran for the stairs, making quick work of the steps down to the ground floor before disappearing from sight.

“Shit,” I said.

We eventually located Bump. He’d made his way to the unit’s laundry room and was hiding behind a dryer. By the time we pried him from behind the machinery, he was covered in dust balls and dryer lint. I never realized how dirty the laundry room was until that day.

The rest of the weekend was uneventful with Bump. He hid under my bunk, only coming out to hit the litter box and scarf down his food whenever I fished out a can. Then it was back to hiding in his cave. I tried to coax him out, but he hissed and spat at me each time.

“Fine,” I said. “Stay under there then.”

Bump stared back with disdain.

Ms. Campbell arrived on the unit Monday morning, chipper as always. She was at my cell door knocking before I even realized she was there.

“How is he?” she asked.

“He’s fine,” I said. “He’s got a bump on his tail, probably got it smashed somewhere so you may want to let the vet tech know.” I had picked Bump up and offered him out to her.

“O-oh!” she squealed, “He looks so good cleaned up.” She took the animal from my hands and smelled him. “And he smells so good! Did you have any problem bathing him?”

I looked at Bump, and Bump looked at me. Bump meowed innocently as if on cue. Pfft! I thought.

“Nah,” I said. “No problem.”

Ms. Campbell set Bump in his carrier and gathered up his toys. She thanked me for taking care of him and getting him fixed up. She turned to leave, but stopped short.

“Oh, I heard it took both of you to wash one little kitty.” She gave me a playful gotcha smile. “I told you he was mean.”

“Just try not to run him over again,” I said.

And with that, she was off into the crowd.

*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