8 Years Down
“We who have fallen . . . are still called Angels.”
– S. Page
The elephant in the room
In fact, I think the only thing that really differs in online discussions and meatworld discussions is that online there is a greater willingness to actually ask the questions, and the questions listed below are the ones I most commonly get asked.
So, what does prison have to do with a blog about primal living? Well, perhaps nothing. Perhaps everything. Prison did play a big part in shaping me into the man I have become. But if I were to make a case for it, I’d have to point out that it doesn’t get much more modern or primitive than prison. Also, I learned some of my best impromptu/minimal-equipment workouts there . . . so, as usual, it’s bound to come up eventually.
Were you really in prison?
Yes. I was really in prison.
What were you in for?
This is, hands down, the most asked question of the lot. The short answer is: stupidity.
My particular brand of stupidity ran to the tune of armed robbery, forgery, uttering, fraud, obtaining money by false pretenses, and a host of *lesser included* crimes that the CA tacked on just to make things a little more fancy (I live in a commonwealth state, so CA is not a typo. As any of Virginia’s CAs will quickly point out, “We do not have District Attorneys. We have Commonwealth’s Attorneys.” Yeah, it’s a little nit-picky of them, but I discovered they got really hot under the collar if you didn’t use the proper form of address).
How long were you down?
Within a couple weeks give or take (I don’t remember if it was give or if it was take) I served 8 1/2 years on a 16 year sentence.
How long have you been out?
About 8 years.
Are you still on parole?
Nope. I got off parole several years ago.
Was it hard to find work when you got out?
Yup. But I did. And I’ve been with the same company ever since.
Update: I remained with the company mentioned above for over 8 years. I lost that job in January, 2010 (due to issues completely unrelated to my crimes) and have yet to find steady work because of my conviction.
Updateder: After 10 months unemployed I am now working again. Woot! (In this economy my record became an even bigger obstacle than when I first got out.)
Where were you locked up?
All over. Virginia had just instituted their *no parole* policy (I missed being caught up in that by a mere 3 months) and with no one going home the facilities crowded up quick. So I got shunted to a receiving camp for processing and ended up staying nearly a year. When I left there and found myself on another receiving camp, I knew I was bound for Texas.
Virginia and Hawaii were both shunting prisoners there at the time.
Sure enough I did a fair stint in the Bubba state before getting shipped back home to VA and yet another receiving camp.
I was only there a minute, however, before being sent to one of the few remaining road camps to finish out my time.
What security level were you?
Medium for the first half. Minimum for the second. Though in Texas they had us in with lifers. So, that was fun. The guys from Hawaii often had sentences expressed in hundreds of years and/or multiple life sentences.
Did you ever get in any fights.
A few. Most weren’t all that memorable. I’ve seen a man punched so hard his brain hemorrhaged. I’ve seen a man run through the cell block clutching a hunk of another man’s beard in his fist.
Most fights were quick and dirty.
And almost always one on one. No matter how many buddies you had around you, you usually fought alone. No matter what the color of your skin.
My best defense was keeping to myself for the most part and treating everybody with respect, from the men I called friends to the biggest knucklehead losers on the camp.
Did you ever carry a weapon?
Yes. And to curtail the next question, no, I never used
it them. Though I did use my hands a time or two. And I once fractured a guy’s ankle with my head (guess his momma never taught him, if you’re gonna kick, kick something soft).
What kind of weapons did you carry?
Garrote, fresh sharpened pencils, a bar of soap in a sock . . .
What other kind of weapons can you get in prison?
Get? Meh. Make? Many.
While down I saw sharpened toothbrush handles and comb handles; I saw blades from disposable razors melted into toothbrush handles; I saw guys drop masterlocks or cans of jack mackerel into a doubled up tube sock (think flexible club); I saw guys use pencils as weapons; shoes, belts, bibles . . . I’ve seen all of them used as weapons.
And of course, there was always the ever-present shiv or shank. Filed down spoon handle, 12 inch pin from a mop bucket squeezer, broken razorwire bracket, a mass of pens melted together and sharpened.
Inmates are generally very inventive resourceful people.
What was the worst part about prison?
The boredom. The mind numbing, soul crushing boredom. They don’t tell that side of the story on TV because – well – it wouldn’t make for good TV.
Were you ever raped?
Second most asked question, but the one it takes folks the longest to getting around to asking.
Fact is, I weighed between 250 – 300 lbs during my time in prison. I wasn’t a very attractive target in that respect in that a) I wasn’t a pretty boy and b) I made it known that my 250+ lb @ss would fight tooth and nail if the need arose.
So, no. I wasn’t ever raped.
And it’s not as prevalent a phenomena as movies make it out to be. Not on medium and minimum security spreads, anyway. There’s too many gay guys selling tail for candy and cigarettes to make it worth the effort.
That’s not to say it didn’t happen. But it wasn’t an everyday threat and most inmates never faced it.
Have you ever met anyone you did time with on the outside?
Rarely. Though there is one guy I did about 3 years with who lives in my town. I bump into him a couple times a month. Yeah, we talk. But I don’t invite him home and I wouldn’t accept an invitation to his.
Was it hard being a white guy in prison?
Not for me it wasn’t. Fact is, everyone in there is a minority of one. You are always on your own. Once I realized that, it didn’t much matter that the brown faces outnumbered the white faces. I spent more time watching how people acted and steered clear of the knuckleheads.
What were the guards like?
Meh. A small percentage of them were paladins. There in the name of righteousness and all that. A slightly larger percentage of them were total @sswipes. You know the type. Pushed around and *misunderstood* in high school, grows up[ish], gets some authority, and flaunts it with a sneer and a swagger.
Most of them were just regular guys drawing a paycheck. They’d bring you down hard and fast if you crossed them, but for the most part, if you played them straight then they played you straight.
Texas was the worst.
Those bastards would regularly set individual cell block temperatures at 30 degrees just because they could.
Cross one of them and you’d find yourself hogtied (yes, actually hogtied, ankles to wrists behind your back) and carried (none too gently) to a holding cell where you would wait for hours – face down on the floor – still hogtied – before eventually being sent back to the general population.
Between the COs (Correctional Officers) and the Multi-Lifers from Hawaii I learned to be very, very polite to the people around me.
What was the weirdest thing you ever saw in prison?
A guy fishing through a sewer grate (think 2″ bars set directly in concrete) on the exercise yard with dental floss and a paperclip . . . he actually caught a fish. 3 inches long. He ate it raw. And by raw I mean flopping around and alive.
Same guy killed a seagull with a rock. They caught him back inside plucking the damned thing and getting ready to cook it over a toilet paper candle (think wet wadded toilet paper molded into a cone and allowed to dry; smokes like all get out, but it burns for a couple hours).
Funniest thing I ever saw was a guy who came back from a *medical visit* (he’d been escorted from the block by one of the female COs) with a streak of blood to either side of the corners of his mouth.
Do you regret the time you spent in prison?
I regret the crimes I committed.
I find it harder to regret the time. Was there like a bazillion other things I’d rather have been doing? Of course.
But I learned and grew through that experience in ways I never would have without it. My time shaped me, strengthened me, and (as I mentioned above) in no small part made me into the man I am today.
Have I left anything out? A question about prison you’d still like answered? Drop me a comment or use the Mailbag.