Prison 101:4

STOP! This material is NOT edited for content. It is not fiction. It contains explicit language and descriptions of real situations. It is not suitable for minors, and may not be suitable for people who easily disturbed…


I’ve been told it shows. Something in the way I look at a man. Something they see. Something. Whatever it is they leave me alone. The few times I was tried by someone it didn’t turn out good for them. Living on the streets will teach you to fight, and it doesn’t take a lot to make people leave you alone in jail. So I took these guys under my wing. That meant everybody else leaves them alone the same way they leave me alone.

After a while that gets to the C.O. (Correctional Officer), what would have been called a guard in the old days. He uses that information, so that if a guy comes in that needs a little looking after he points them to me. They usually catch on quick. Join the bible study and people leave them alone. Sad but true. Kind of like a Jesus protection racket. I didn’t mean for it to be that way, but I knew it was. I still did the study every day.

It’s the same way in prison. Join the Christian studies and get protected, join the Muslim studies and be protected. Only in prison the Muslims do a much better job at protecting. Touch one of their members and you will get stepped to and told in no uncertain terms to leave that person alone or else. And or else means they will do what they have to. Christians are much more lax, not protective. They will use the excuse that they are Christians, non-violent to not fight. But in my mind, being Christian does not mean non-violent. The Old Testament is full of violence, so is the New Testament. I was not afraid to step to someone and tell them to stay away. I would say fuck off, if that’s what I had to say. You may think that disqualifies me as a Christian right there. So be it, but prison is a different place. The language, morals, everything is different. It doesn’t mean Christianity is different, but it does mean, for me, stripping off all the crap. This is who I am. Yes, I use bad language. Yes I committed a bad crime that bought me here. But the bible doesn’t say I need to do anything other than believe that Christ can save me, and that is what I am doing. It’s more honest than the man who goes to church on Sunday, all pious and forgiving, the perfect Christian it seems, but Monday he is stealing, playing around on his wife and who knows what else. But on Sunday he’s the man. I can’t stand that form of Christianity. I am me all the time. Take it or leave it.

Sometimes a guy would come in with a crime that might make others go after him. In those cases they would put them in P.C. if they could. Or Admin Seg. (Administrative Segregation) we called it. Same as P.C. . With Admin Seg. the guy doesn’t have a say, with P.C. they do, or at least on paper they do. If they are really concerned about the guy he goes, but sometimes there are borderline cases. Or bad cases, but guys that seemed to have their shit together enough to make it. In those cases they put them in pop, sand if they came to my block the C.O. Would come to me and personally tell me what the deal was. What kind of crime the guy had, and ask me to keep an eye on them.

If you see hardcore prison movies you might think C. O’s and Cons have no respect, business, or anything else between each other. Bullshit. Nothing comes into a prison unless it goes by a C.O.. Think about that. Nothing. And nothing happens inside, drugs, alcohol, whatever, unless a Con has a hand in it. That means the two factions work together. I spent a lot of years in a max prison and I always laughed at the new guys who came in spouting shit about cops, (cop is prison slang for C.O.’s), whatever. They hate them. This and that. They have no clue what the real deal is. You see them a few months later and they have usually fallen in line, if not they’re gone. Shipped off by the C.O.’s or stabbed up by Cons (Inmates). Either way, they have decided to buck the system and that doesn’t work. Not only doesn’t it work it causes problems for everyone else.

So the C.O. comes to me one day and says, “Look… This guy will be on the news tonight… Killed his girlfriend’s baby.”

“Allegedly,” I add.

“Yeah… Allegedly,” the C.O. admits. “So I got no space in P.C. I need you to keep an eye on him.”

I just nod. Like I said, it is give and take. He doesn’t say he’ll give me a pack of smokes, or some weed, or whatever. He asks, I do. Someday, he knows, I’ll ask and he’ll do. It works that way.

You might say, “How can you associate with Killers? Killers of babies?” I could explain it, but you wouldn’t get it. The best I can do is tell you that Jail, and Prison more so, are entirely different worlds. The rules we live by out here don’t apply. The moral code is different. Sounds like bullshit, but it isn’t.

Men die in prison all the time. I knew I was going. Maybe I would be one of those that died. Many men hated me for putting myself between the men they wanted to use. Stopping them. They liked the world where they can prey on the weak and there is no one to stop them. They hate anything that disrupts that. So maybe someone would kill me for that. Or the life I had lived. Crimes I had committed. When I really looked at it, it came down to the fact that I was no one to judge anyone. If someone stabbed me for that? So what.

My motto was Iacta Alea Est (Loosely translated to ‘The Die Is Cast.’). And it was. It was cast, all that remained was to live it. So I took the kid under my wing. Big kid. Early twenties. Cried for the first few weeks. Wouldn’t come out of his cell. Scared to death. I put the word around to leave him alone and he was left alone.

He came to me a few weeks into his time. He looked like Hell. He hadn’t been eating, taking care of himself. It looked like he had at least begun to start taking care of himself again. I had talked to him through the bars dozens of times…

“God can help… It’s not over… If you need to talk, even if it’s the middle of the night, tell the C.O. And he’ll crack my cell. We can talk… Don’t do anything stupid…”

That sort of stuff. And I meant it. I wasn’t trying to look at this guy any certain way at all. So he came to me a few weeks into it. He talked. Not about his crime. Not about the weather, or lunch. He came to talk about God. What did I think of God? What did I think God thought of people like us who committed serious crimes and went to prison? I did my best to answer. I answered honestly too. I felt, and still feel, that God loves unconditionally. You can’t get that from people, you can only get it from God.

He came to the studies every day. His demeanor didn’t change though. He never smiled. He never laughed at anything. On the other hand he didn’t seem moody. He just seemed very deep into his thoughts. Probably more than a little depressed too.

Eventually he started asking for time alone. Time after Bible study. He had other questions, he said.

The first few times it was not much. The dance…

“Do you think God can forgive us when we do really bad things?”

“Yes, I do.”

“But I mean really bad stuff.” He looked at me and the tears began to leak from the corners of his eyes.

“You think I haven’t done really bad things?” I asked. It’s where I usually go. It’s safe. I’m talking about myself. It takes the pressure off them.

“You don’t seem like you could have.”

“I have,” I told him.

We talked about life. We talked all around the subject. I knew what it was. I could feel what he wanted to ask, but was too afraid to ask.

“Listen,” I said a few days later. We were in my cell. I was sitting on the bed he was sitting at my little steel seat and table welded to the bars. “I’m not a priest… This doesn’t work that way.” He had come in. Sat down, and told me he had to tell me something.

“I know that,” he said, but even as he spoke the tears started hard and heavy and he lost control for a few minutes. I let him cry. Sometimes it’s best to stay silent. Eventually he got himself under control. “I know,” he said at last, picking the conversation up where it had left off.

“So, if you are about to…. About to say something that is serious, I want you to understand that… You may look at me a certain way… Like someone you can talk to about anything, but, I’m not a priest… I can be subpoenaed… Made to testify… Be careful what you say to me.”

His eyes were red and bloodshot. It looked as if maybe he hadn’t really slept much at all since he had come there. “I know… I know that.”

I nodded. I think I was convinced that he would get back up and leave after what I had just told him. More than once a guy had come close to the same thing, what amounted to, or even was a confession, and had shut up once I said my piece. I thought this kid would too. Or change the subject to something else.

“I did it,” he said. He dropped his head into his hands. “I can’t fuckin’ live with it… I did it.”

The silence lasted so long it seemed to me as though it had always been there. “I wish you hadn’t told me.”

“But I needed to,” he said. His eyes caught mine and I had to nod.

“Well, what do you want to do?” I asked. I knew he had the same lawyer I had.

“I just want to say it… Get it over with… I can’t stand it… I have to say it.”

“So you say it,” I said quietly. I didn’t say that lightly. I understood better than he did what would happen if he did, but I also understood about living with bad shit inside you. It killed you a little every day. It poisoned everything you did. Every relationship. Your whole life. I had an appointment of my own coming up where I would be walking into court and confessing to my crime in exchange for an amount of time that would make most men give up right there. Enough time that I would maybe not live to see the end of it, but I had to do that or I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. With me. What and who I was. So I understood what he needed to do and I understood why, like I said, probably better than he did at that moment, he was unconcerned with the consequences of his confession.

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