anyone who's spent any amount of time incarcerated may appreciate the insight ive gained
| It's Tuesday morning, March 21st, eleven am. Not that it matters.
My intention in writing this is to attemp to share with you, in as much detail as I see fit, a day by day account of my experiences in what will probably turn out to be the third or fourth worst situation of my life - although at present, it certainly ranks number one.
Why, you may ask yourself, would you want to read about the average (dare i say trivial) trials and misfortunes of an average (nay, trivial) man? Well, you won't. You don't know me, I don't know you, and it's statistically safe to assume that our paths will never cross. You don't care about me or my trials and misfortunes. I don't expect you to.
This isn't for you.
In all fairness I should tell you that i am beginning this day by day account on day five. I start nearly a week into this ordeal not because I'm a procrastinator, though i am, but because not until just now have I been in possession of a pen and a suitable medium of writing. I suppose I could have used a pencil to write in the margins of books, but I know it infuriates me when some inconsiderate baffoon tramples through the snow in which I've just beautifully scribed my name with urine and I wouldn't begrudge another author in a similar manner. I'm not complaining about the wait for pen and paper though, I'm trying to focus on the positives. It only took three days to acquire a roll of toilet tissue.
I suppose I should bring you up to par on this situation so you can wholly understand where I'm coming from.
I fucked up. They caught me. I'm in jail.
You're up to par.
So here I sit, Tuesday, day five. Back against a concrete wall, sitting on a may-as-well-be-concrete bed, staring across a concrete ornamented bay of bunks at a hundred odd soul-lost, spirit-broken, concrete faces.
The atmosphere today hums with a bit more activity than usual. Today deals are being made, debts are being paid, barters are being arranged. Today is "store day". Twice a week, Tuesday and Friday, inmates with money "on the books" are allowed to go down to the commissary and recieve a previously placed order for various snacks, hygene products, and miscellaneous goods. The day those aforementioned inmates retrieve said goods and return them to our floor is called "store day". It's the jailhouse equivalent of a stock market boom. Trading this for that, sacrificing a lunch tray from the chow hall for a Twix bar, promises of money "when i get out" in exchange for a bag of generic chips. Some of these heartless bastards would trade their own birthright for a bag of M&Ms - with peanuts of course.
I traded some of my snack cakes for an extra pair of boxer shorts, an additional towel, and a tank top undershirt (the infamous "wife beater"). I also gave a small amount away to a couple guys on my "block" (bunks close to my own); and i hope what little after gift and trade isn't stolen.
I've just returned from chow, still Tuesday, and so far nothing stolen. We have a system - more accurately, they have a system and just today let me in on how it works - to protect our newly attained goods. Let me start by explaining how chow works. We leave the sixth floor, down stairs to the first (don't touch the handrail, people spit on it), into the chow hall line, get tray/sit/eat, back up to the sixth floor. Here's the breakdown: 5 min to chow hall, 5 min in line, 3 min to eat, 5 min back up - 2 if we go by elevator (don't touch the walls, people wipe stuff on them).
So, all in all, we are off the floor no more than 20 minutes. Here's how the guard-the-goodies system works. Four of us work as a team to stand guard over everyone's stash on the block. Two leave for chow as soon as it's called so as to be at the very beginning of the line. The other two of us wait til the end and leave very last. The very first two are finished eating and on the way back up by the time the last two are leaving, therefor the goodies are under constant surveilance.
It's sad one has to stand guard over his buddy's snack crackers, but alas there are indeed savages in this joint. As a matter of fact, "Ese"' a.k.a. "Amigo" a.k.a "Sanchez" (I'll leave the nationality detective work up to you) was, last night, robbed of a pair of wet boxer shorts he had hung up to dry. What kind of broken home, un-breast fed, sociopath would steal another man's used underwear? Savages.
Later today I expect visitation from my mother and girlfriend (two seperate entities, NOT the same woman). I should shower. Won't make me look better as I haven't shaved (dont use the razors, they may or may not be sanitary and who wants to risk a blood borne infection), won't make me smell a whole lot better as I have no cologne or deoderant, and won't make me feel better - I'm still in jail. But I will still shower (don't go in there barefoot, people piss in the shower) simply to maintain some semblance of a routine. You always shower before you see your girl. As long as there is routine, there is order. As long as there is order, there is not chaos. As long as there is not chaos, the situation can be controlled. And if the situation can be controlled, then I myself may be able to control it. And ultimately, if I control it, then it cannot control me. So, you see, I must shower so I don't become institutionalized.
I would trade my own birthright for a ciggarette.
Speaking of ciggarettes, here's an interesting tidbit. As I'm told from other inmates, it is a felony to possess contraband in a correctional facility. Contraband includes such items as firearms, drugs, weapons, and yes, ciggarettes. Now let me see if I can clear up a bit of the idocy in this.
Outside this building, exactly two feet away from and six stories below me, it is perfectly legal and acceptable to enjoy a Marlboro brand ciggarette at the age of eighteen. But, where i am now, two feet and six stories from legal, if I light up any brand of ciggarette at the age of 32 it constitutes a felony. Now here's the kicker. Felonies are punishable by time in the state penatentiary... where you are allowed to smoke!!
Again, this is what I'm told. I have not looked into contraband classification and punishment on my own as the library at Hamilton County Detention Center, sixth floor, is not quite as large as, say, the Library of Congress and the reference section is a bit, well, non-existant. So, for the time being, I will have to accept heresay as doctrine.
I must admit I'm a bit unnerved at the moment. Since the time I've started writing this today, all of us inmates underwent a thorough inspection of our belongings. We were herded en-mass into our state-of-the-art recreation area (two basketball hoops and a metal bench) while the COs (which im beginning to think might stand for "competently oblivious") searched our bunks and lockers. So far I've heard of no one being written up for contraband; but everyone's toilet tissue was confiscated (so im giddy with joy over the three day wait for it). Several people had their books removed, and a few even claimed to be missing several items retreived from the commissary only hours ago. Apparently the guard-the-goodies system proves less effective if all one hundred plus of us are gathered around two basketball hoops and a metal bench.
Again about the contraband - several of us transferred here from another facility where we were issued styrofoam cups because the normally issued green plastic cups were out of supply. (Six hundred and fifty dollar toilet seat for the military? GO! Green plastic cup for the convict? NO GO! Misappropriation of funds? I'm sure the opinion of the military and that of the convict might differ slightly. But hey, I can do without drinking life sustaining water as long as they keep the essentials - toilet tissue? - in supply.) Anyway, apparently there was some concern among the COs as to whether or not the styrofoam cups were acceptable items to possess. All was clarified not long ago when a building-wide announcement was made via PA -- "Styrofoam cups are NOT contraband."
Don't start the riots just yet fello criminals. Crack cocain and sawed off shotguns are still contraband. However, styrofoam cups, though bad for the environment, have been deemed by Hamilton County Corrections as safe for jail. Thank God.
It quite amazes me how the barter system will infallably take over in any society that has not the means to produce, or access to, hard currency. Our basic unit of transaction here is called the "Goody". The goody of course refers to snack food in some form - bag of chips, candy bar, beef jerky, etc. The goody is used in every way any other form of currency is used. It can be traded depending on differentiating values of various goodies (one Snicker's bar for two bags of Hot Fries). It can be used to obtain services (three goodies for a haircut). You can even purchase contraband on a faux jailhouse black market (four goodies for a ciggarette). And in some extreme instances, if the price is right, you may even be able to arrange a "jailhouse hit" of sorts. Earlier this evening, after some sort of altercation or other, I could hear Porter (our own Donald Trump of the goody market if you will) yelling something to the effect that he would pay two goodies to anyone willing to "punch that bastard right now." After a few Ebonics embedded inquiries as to whether this was actually a feasable course of action, Porter responed "I got enough mother fuckin' candy bars to get a nigga killed in county." How refreshing is the self-assurance of a man rich in his own right.
I have devised a little plan to grease my own palms a bit if I decide to put it into effect. There are quite a few folks here whom appear to be rather religious. Always reading the Bible, talking about Jesus, communing... I guess. I don't mean to make light of it, it's just that the last thing i need is a dose of jailhouse religion. I akin it to the no-athiests-in-a-foxhole theory. Nonetheless, as few people know, I am an ordained minister. This is the truth. I was ordained between ten and fifteen years ago through a group known as "The New Life Church", via the internet of course. The New Life Church is a typical judo-Christian organization which believes that anyone who wishes to be an ordained minister has already been ordained by God. So to help expidite His Holy Providence, you fill in a form and New Life takes care of the legal mumbo jumbo and paperwork. So presto, I'm a minister. Not in my heart, and not through faith in New Life, and certainly not in the eyes of God. Only legally and binding in this country, its affiliates, and subsidiaries. So basically, though i have less than zero trust or faith in the church that ordained me, I can still perform marriages and funerals. Go America.
Back to my plan. If I say a prayer, with the assumed approval of New Life Church and their deity, over each bag of barbeque pork rinds and beef and cheese sticks and Pop Tart; I can sell my new holy "blessed goodies" at a moderately marked up price. Perhaps that seems a tactic more becoming of a rabbi than a minister (that's right, I said it) and could be considered sacrelige, but i don't think New Life's god exists anyway. Hmmm... an athiest minister with jewish tendencies -- wonder if there's any money in that.
Now I know that you are thinking that no one would ever fall for that, but let me tell you a little secret. A number of the folks here think im in jail for internet fraud. I told them I was busted for selling mounted deer heads on E-Bay. I called them "polycorns", a rare cousin of the unicorn with even greater mystical powers due to their possession of more than one horn. If they bought that, I think my chances of selling "blessed goodies" may be a bit better than nil.
Tony, one of the few I've met here that I'd refer to as friend rather than acquaintance, is going to introduce me to some of the finer cuisine found in today's more posh jailhouses. The two dishes he insists I partake of are the "break" and the "dope-fiend sandwich". A break, from my understanding, is a crushed up mixture of whatever you can find softened up with liquid (generally pickle juice around here), smashed, layed on a heater, smashed some more, and eaten. Bon apetit. And a dope-fiend sandwich is, in essence, a honey bun sandwiched between nutty bars. I will keep you posted of the experience if I make it out of here with all heart valves intact.
Well, it is now Wednesday... I think. I know it's at least a week day, Price is Right is on. My fingers hurt from writing with this jailhous pen. It has no casing. That's right, the Queen City in all her wonder and glory gave me the bodiless soul of an ink pen. I assumed it was a subtle reference to remind me of the souless body I am while here. They do little subconcious things like that from time to time. For example, from the commissary one can order a basic kit of toiletries to get the essentials such as soap, deoderant, toothpaste, etc. They don't call it a "basics kit" or a "toiletries set" or even an "essentials assortment". It's called an "indigent package". Indigent... as in homeless, has nothing, poor, worthless, in dire straits. Again, this is just the meaning as I infer it, not the Webster definition of the word as Webster is not here to consult. I am told however that i can only have the ink tube of the pen because of increasing drug use problems. Pen casings are banned so we can't sniff drugs, lighters are banned so we can't smoke drugs, needles are banned so we can't inject drugs (and possibly as a personal slight against diabetics). It seems to me all of that should be solved by banning DRUGS. And apparently some folks have devised a means to get high by wiping their asses, because i haven't seen a roll of toilet tissue since it all dissappeared in yesterday's shakedown. This is definately a place of innovation. This is where people learn to toilet themselves in Mountain Dew bottles, make bongs out of toilet paper rolls, eat and survive on whatever is available, and ultimately build bombs out of baby powder. I believe McGyver and Rambo must have each spent a fair amount of time in correctional facilities.
If my narrative here seems a bit non-linear from time to time, I apologize. That's just how things are here; as though nothing happens in any particular order. No sequense of events. All asymetrical and chaotic. Not riotous anarchy chaos, but non-linear, random chaos. Days meld together, moments overlap and fold back. If it weren't for windows and clocks, I'd be unaware of the mere passing of time. Let me see if I can cast some light on how this comes to be.
Here is a typical day - no, every day - in its simplest form. Lights on around six am. Chow around seven or so. Quiet time around eight. Let me explain quiet time. It lasts an hour and fifteen minutes. The lights are turned off and everyone must remain in their bunks and silent. You aren't required to sleep, but that is the obvious intent. Ok, around noon or so is chow again. Some days in the afternoon we have recreation time (awesome if you enjoy basketball or sitting on benches). Around three pm, quite time again. Six or so is evening chow and, finally, lights out at nine forty five.
So basically it's wake, eat, sleep, eat, possible recess, sleep, eat, sleep. So maybe you can understand how the time sometimes simply implodes into random happenings of non-linear events.
It is now quiet time. Three fifteen pm on a gloriously beautiful Wednesday afternoon. The sun shines brightly through both windows. All is quiet except for a few hushed conversations and the ever relaxing SQUAWK of walkie-talkie banter among the Fifes (my new term for COs). I can quietly hear the birds chirping, almost smell the trees and grass, I can envision the young boys and girls riding bicycles or playing hop scotch in the park. It would be a perfect spring day except I'm in jail and that sucks ass.
But on the bright side I'm healthy, I have a wonderful family, my girlfriend still hasn't realized she can do better yet, and styrofoam cups are still jail safe. So basically, with the minor exceptions of war, crime, famine, poverty, disease, hatred, terrorism, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, child abuse, mental abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, and Danielle Steele novels all seems right with the world. Big ups to society.
I do have a lot to look forward to though. Tomorrow is visitation so i can see mom and my girlfriend again. Seeing the ones you love twice in one week -- exhilerating. And Friday is store day again and we all know how intense it can be anticipating corn chips and beef jerky. And then there's.... well, no, that's about it. But it does give me two days to find a reason why trying to self induce a six month coma through positive thinking would be a bad idea.
"Breaks" are pretty good. Tasty. I mean, I'm not making reservations for next year or anything, but it wasn't bad.
I may have reached a new low today. I dreamed I was asleep. I can't quite wrap my head around what that must indicate.
Thursday morning, day... six? Well, we are a solemn lot today as we sit in the wake of another shakedown, and apparently no snack food is sacred. There's a rumbling of complaints about stolen M&Ms, honey buns, and nutty bars. However, Allah beamed down his mercy upon us this day as the toilet tissue remained untouched.
I was untouched as well. Since i have no M&Ms, honey buns, or nutty bars (or toilet tissue for that matter) none were taken. As I write this I can see from the corner of my eye (my "Perry Ferrel" vision as my Spanish girlfriend calls it... though I don't understand the connection of my eyesight to the band Jane's Addiction) Porter is pointing my way and saying "They didn't take his shit." To which Muscles replies "Cuz he ain't got shit". How refreshing is the security of a man indigent in his own right.
The newest conspiracy theory is that the Fifes aren't looking for contraband at all; instead, they are staging these shakedowns merely to reclaim a number of purchased goodies, return them to the commissary, and re-sell them right back to us. And I thought I had time on my hands.
I feel especially bad (or apathetic, one of the two) for Porter. He was cleaned out. Not so much as a bag of pork rinds left -- and not two days ago he had enough mother fuckin' candy bars to get a nigga killed in county. Probably for the best, perhaps we've avoided a hate crime.
I recieved some literary items in the mail today. Few books, couple magazines. I assumed, considering the recent wrath of the candy goblin, I should put my name on my personal effects so they could be traced back to me if ever mistaken for a bag of M&Ms and pocketed by a Fife or aforementioned goblin. In hindsight though, I'm afraid it may not prove as effective as I had hoped. Considering the possible range of literacy (or lack thereof) here and the fact that my name is "Conn" it's only a matter of time until everyone thinks my stuff belongs to them. What could I do? Yell "That's mine, it says Conn" amid the numerous other yells of "That's mine, it says con"?
Toby is sleeping, which isn't surprising, yet quite amazing. He is awake perhaps four hours a day. I envy him. I would love to sleep my time away. I try, just not as successfully.
Toby is the resident patriarch of D block. D block is what they call our block. I don't know why. It appears to be what everyone else calls their block as well. I have suggested we change the name of our block to either Willow Way or Azaelia Lane - more homely, ya know- but the jury's still out.
Toby has this semi Clint Eastwood way about him. Always quiet, just observing, learning. When he does talk, it's quiet and factual but you strain to make sure you catch every word because if he's saying it, you know it's something you need to hear. Through him is how I've learned the basic "don't do" list that every inmate should know.
- don't touch the handrail, they spit on it.
- don't touch elevator walls, they wipe stuff on them
- don't touch under tables or benches, same reason
- don't use razors, not sanitary
- don't go barefoot in the shower, piss
- don't sit on the toilet seat without wiping it, piss
- don't touch the urinal handle, piss
Let me expound on that last one. There is uring on the HANDLE of the urinal. That's shoulder high. These savages are crazy. Who urinates upward to shoulder level? When I asked Toby about this he explained that they dont piss directly on the urinal handle. OK, whew, good. They piss on their HANDS and then TOUCH the urinal handle. What a relief, for a second I thought they were crazy savages.
There was a fight this evening. Finally. It's almost been a whole week without violence. I was starting to get discouraged. Thought perhaps the HBO specials had lied to me -- and if you can't trust cable television, who can you trust? The incident was rather humorous actually. A new batch of inmates transferred in (that happens almost daily). One of the transfer-ins apparently had been here before recently and believed that one of the guys already here had stolen from him during his last visit. So new guy, in an effort to even the score, walked right up to old guy's rack, opened his locker, and said "I'll take this, and this, and this..." As you may imagine, violence ensued. The fight lasted rather a long time for a jailhouse brawl, as no guard was around to break it up. Apparently all the Fifes were conglomerated somewhere ensuring the bullets in their shirt pocket still outnumbered the bullets in their gun by one. They did show up eventually and the whole fiasco lasted less than two minutes, but still longer than you'd expect a competent law enforcement body to allow. So I'm assuming this ring-side main event will be the talk of the cell block until the next TP raid or candy conspiracy.
I know I talk down about the correctional officers from time to time, calling them Fifes (an Andy Griffith reference for those of you a bit slow on the uptake) and whatnot, but you must understand that I have a bit of a biased opinion. I'm sure they are all wonderful people and very competent at their work -- though no matter how politely you ask, they won't let you out; not even if you say please, and I find that to be just plain mean.
I wonder if the Fifes have to pass through some sort of Holocaust-era dehumanizing chamber or if they undergo an intense course in "stoic training"; for what they lack in sense of humor they more than make up for in lack of sense of humor. I got out of my rack last night after lights out to use the restroom. As I headed to our semi-private facilities (no doors, no stalls, no barriers; all we need is a dwarf in a tophat with a cane yelling "Step right up. See the convict deficate") the Fife-on-duty said to me "What are you doing?" Subsequently blaming Tourette's Syndrome, I replied "Just running to the market for some smokes and a six pack, you need anything?" In the short moments that followed, the air was so heavy and the silence so thinck I imagined I was in the electric chair and the "governor phone" had started ringing just before the switch was thrown. My heart stopped, I subconciously held my breath, and Fife glared at me with this mixed look that seemed to say "If he's being a smartass I'll fry him... but if he's telling the truth, how the hell...." And then as if it were just too much for his mind to absorb at one time, he turned back to his computer and ignored me.
---- tired of typing, more to come.