Creative Commons License
Super Friends by Whitney Holwadel Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at whit-superfriends.blogspot.com. Super Friends: 2008

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Payback

I've been a bad boy. Seriously, I've done some really messed up shit in my time. A lot of it was senseless acts committed against innocent victims. While it could be argued that being locked up is an adequate repayment of my moral debts, to me this seems nowhere near a sufficient way of making amends. Perhaps I could turn to Baby Jesus to cleanse my conscience. But, not being religious, a couple of Our Fathers and a few dozen Hail Marys just won't cut it.

What are the alternatives? I can simply wait until I'm released and go spend time in an animal shelter or something, but why should I have to wait? Doesn't it seem ironic that, in a facility designed for the correction of anti-social behavior, there are no programs or options for inmates to serve the society they all hope to rejoin? No ways of donating their time to a charitable cause?

OK, it's not like I can reasonably expect officials to start busing in wayward youths for weekly big brother bonding sessions. And it's not like it's in any way logical to have a bunch of inmates wielding hammers and jigsaws building an orphanage somewhere. But surely there's a form of volunteer work which meets the rigid security requirements of U.S.P. Terre Haute. Stuffing envelopes soliciting donations for flood victims; writing letters to orphans. I don't know. All I know is that if the administration here doesn't want to take the initiative to encourage community service, I'll do it myself.

Problem is, I've got the passion, just no ideas. Does anyone have any ideas for a long-term project which could be implemented behind bars? Possibly an organization I could contact?


Friday, December 26, 2008

A Very Convict Christmas (written Dec. 23)

Brian and I have spent this night before Christmas Eve consuming vast amounts of processed sugar and balls of cheesy fried cornmeal, and bouncing from topic to topic in conversation. My blog has come up as he asked whether I was writing anything about Christmas. I told him I wasn't sure yet. If there is going to be a Christmas entry, he will undoubtedly find out whether I tell him or not, because a couple of weeks ago I foolishly gave him the Web address which he promptly mailed to his sister, who will keep him informed. Because of this I now must present him in the best light, keeping secret certain facts like his habit of washing his bedsheets on a seasonal basis rather than a weekly one. Oops, I mean about his habit of being meticulously organized and sanitary. At an O.C.D. level, really.

We talked a little about what Christmases were like for us growing up, what traditions our families observed. Brad asked me if my family put milk and cookies out for Santa. Of course we did, I told him.

"Well, I felt I needed to ask," he said. "After all, you don't eat stuffing." [See the "Happy Thanksgiving" post.]

You know, I'll be more than a little sad when Christmas has passed. Obviously it's tough to be stuck with only memories of the past and hopes for holidays in the future. And the unceasing profusion of grotesquely jolly and maudlin Christmas songs on the radio is enough to drive a person insane. But it is precisely those elements of the season which pull the Christmas spirit past the razor wire, through the bars and into the thoughts of all of us locked away. Even here in the hole there is an emotional charge in the air, a jovial and vaguely exhilarating energy in the atmosphere which is inescapable. For the couple of weeks before every Christmas just a trace of goodwill and compassion emanates from even the most hardened gangster and down-trodden prison bitch. The Crips and Bloods won't exactly be singing carols hand-in-hand, but perhaps instead of stabbing each other they'll solve their differences with a heated rock-paper-scissors competition. Of maybe a dance-off.

Unfortunately, the day after usually brings with it a general state of something akin to anticlimax. Or maybe it's better described as a sobering reminder of reality, leaving us all just a tad surlier than when we were before the first time that awful "Jingle Bells" was played on the radio.

But while it lasts I am savoring every Merry Christmas I am wished and every courteous act which is performed in the name of the holiday season.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Wrath of Sling Blade

Early this morning, just before breakfast, I was jarred awake by the yells of an eerily familiar voice. It was the grainy, guttural bark which will be forever burned into my memory.
"Sir... Excuse me, sir! My name is Glutton Nickerson! I need a towel, sir!"
Sling Blade was back.

It has been a while since Glutton and I have spoken. The last time, in fact, was when I wished him godspeed and good riddance as he left my cell to go live with some other unlucky convict.

Since that time the legend of Sling Blade has circulated quite a bit across the prison, and more of Nickerson's story has made it back to me, giving a little more clarity to the kid's situation.

As it turns out, Glutton's version of events in which he fought his cellmate (see my earlier post "Sling Blade") to end up in the hole was only partly accurate. There were quite a few elements of the story which were conveniently left out during our lengthy conversations.

Filtering out all of the obvious bullshit and exaggerations, this is the story of Sling Blade:

21 years old and having never been incarcerated before, except in a mental institution, Glutton had no idea what it meant to be in a maximum security prison. It falls upon a new inmate's homeboys (inmates from the same state or gang) to educate a green convict on The Code and what's appropriate behavior and what isn't appropriate.

From what I understand, Nickerson's homeboys did their best to perform their duty, only to find that Sling Blade's interest in how to behave was limited to masturbation etiquette. The rest of their advice was met with a blank, menacing stare and non-committal grunts. Hey, they tried. There was nothing left to do but let the kid dig his own grave.

Sling Blade made it less than a month.

Fighting is a way of life in prison, obviously. And normally a little scuffle between two men with no gang affiliation would pass with about as much fuss as there is for being first in line at the chow hall on gizzard day.

Living in close quarters such as these, it is common courtesy to hang a bed sheet from hooks wall-to-wall while using the bathroom, creating at least the illusion of privacy. Glutton, apparently, was unaware of this policy and, when his roommate encouraged him to modify his pooping habits, Nickerson clearly mistook the advice as an attempt to bully his 6'3" 230 lb. self.

Glutton fought the roommate. The roommate lost.

Under most circumstances, the handling of a dispute, as I said, would be no big deal. But there are exceptions. And the fact that 21-year old Glutton's roommate happened to be 65 years old just happened to be one of those exceptions. Unless they're snitches or child molesters, older men are not to be touched. Perhaps his homeboys forgot to tell him.

Glutton hadn't been in Terre Haute long enough to get a second chance, and he was too much of a weirdo for anyone to be willing to stick their own necks out by speaking up for him. So the next morning a small group of convicts moseyed into a clueless Nickerson's cell and informed him that he had to check in.

To check in is the most cowardly and disgraceful act an inmate can do; it results in a forfeiture of all rights as a convict. Checking in means a prisoner tells a guard he is in fear for his safety and needs protection. The inmate then signs a protective custody order which puts him in the hole for 3-6 months until a transfer to another institution is arranged. But even then the check-in label will follow and will result in being shunned by everyone.

Sling Blade might be nuttier than squirrel turds, but apparently he's not too stupid, because he checked in without hesitation. It wasn't the only option. There was something else he could have done which would have preserved his honor. He could have refused. He would have still gone to the hole and ultimately been transferred. But instead of as a check-in, it would have been as an assault victim. What does it matter if he had to spend a night or two in the hospital; he would have maintained his honor, right? As you can see, life in prison is one long continuous state of between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place.

It was the act of signing the protective custody order that brought Glutton to the hole and into my cell for that short but magical period of our lives. His path subsequent to being removed from my cell has not been an easy one, chock-full of bizarre situations which I cannot detail due to the fact that all of a prisoner's outgoing mail is read and photocopied. But chances are good that his path since birth has been a challenge, so I doubt this is much of a deviation from what he's accustomed to. Poor guy.

At the moment it sounds like he's having a pretty intense argument with his roommate. Which is a little strange, since he's in a cell by himself. Imagine that.



Thursday, December 18, 2008

An Oral History of My Future

Not long ago I finished reading "The Story of Joe Gould." The Story of Joe Gould as told by Joseph Mitchell, a columnist and staff writer at The New Yorker magazine from the 1930's until the mid-60's.

Mr. Joe Gould was quite the enigma. Sometimes monikered "Professor," sometimes "Professor Sea Gull" due to his self-professed mastering of the mightily elusive seagull language.

Born a true Yankee just outside of Boston in 1889, the inadequate son to a successful physician father, Gould constantly felt like an outcast at home, so after graduation from Harvard he left Massachusetts for New York City where he ultimately settled into the life of a bohemian. Of course this was back when Bohemianism could be loosely considered a profession.

Living solely off his friends' contributions to "The Joe Gould Fund," Gould spent his days an eccentric, drinking and interacting with the city's pop society of the time, inviting himself to parties or shocking people with his poetry readings, some of which had been translated into seagull.

But the main focus of his life was a book he was writing called "An Oral History of Our Time," which was said at the time to be the longest unpublished work in existence. Over the years Gould could consistently be found scribbling away in his grammar school composition books which were invariably greasy and coffee stained from his "rugged" lifestyle. He would carry a few with him at all times, while others were stashed in the closets of various friends' apartments. But the bulk of the material was said to be stored in a farmhouse cellar in upstate New York. This stockpile allegedly contained a stack of notebooks 7 feet high. Containing first six, then seven, then eight, then nine million words.

The Oral History was Joe Gould's meal ticket. It was a collection of random essays and commentary on conversations overheard or participated in by Gould and thought by him to be indicative of the state of our country at the period of the Second World War; a piece of literature rivalling Gibbon's "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." In reality, several publishers who had read samples from the hundreds of nickel composition books described Gould's writing as "grotesque" or "childish" or simply "illegible." But Gould himself was thoroughly convinced that in posterity his Oral History, the collection of eavesdropped conversations between diner patrons, ambulance drivers, Bellevue asylum interns and Greenwich Village poets, would be regarded as the principal textbook of American culture. He often proclaimed that his will bequeathed 1/3 of the Oral History to the Smithsonian Institution and the other 2/3 to the Harvard Library. To be measured by weight.

And Joe wasn't the only one with faith in his tome. There were dozens of men and women who supported his long career as a bohemian and who all (or most) had faith that this epic piece of writing would more than justify the years of weekly contributions to the Joe Gould Fund.

So upon news of his death in a mental institution in 1957 at the age of 68, there was a mad scramble among his friends and acquaintances to find these composition books. But where were they? Apart from the ten or so scattered among a few artists' closets, nobody had any idea where the actual collection "a dozen times longer than the Bible" was. It was common knowledge that they were supposed to be hidden away in the farmhouse basement, but Gould had always been vague and cryptic when answering any questions about the location of this farmhouse or the name of its owner. The stash was never found, and never will be. The Oral History does not exist. For lack of a better word, the Oral History was a scam.

Joseph Mitchell had done a lengthy profile of Joe Gould for The New Yorker ; this is the piece I just finished reading in an anthology of Mitchell's contributions to the magazine. Even after the profile was completed and printed, their relationship continued for years. During that period Mitchell had opportunity to read quite a few chapters of the Oral History, except that he found each was only one of 5 different chapters, all rewrites of each other; different formats but clearly the same topics. A sculptor friend of Gould who often stored some of the notebooks told Mitchell that in all the years he had been keeping the chapters, they had all been on the same subjects, only hundreds of different drafts.

It was this oddity and an incident with a publisher Mitchell had tried to set Gould up with that provoked the outburst which consequently revealed that the nine million words simply did not exist. The upstate New York farmhouse was a lie. The Oral History of Our Time was nothing more than a delusion of grandeur.

Not wanting to break the spirit of an old man whose almost entire existence revolved around a myth, Mitchell kept Gould's secret until well after the latter's death, even assisting in the grand wild goose chase for the missing notebooks.

Joe Gould spent decades of his life preaching to anyone who would listen that he was the author of an epic work of historical literature which never existed. It's anyone's guess why he never got past those initial 5 chapters. He may have intended his whole life to eventually get around to writing down the conversation he quoted from memory. But at some point he surely convinced even himself that somewhere there really was a cellar with two meters of stained and dog-eared notebooks stored there. And real or not, the Oral History as a concept sustained him.

In just a few months I will be "celebrating" the milestone of having spent 7 of my 24 years as a prisoner. For 7 years I have done my best to convince whomever will listen that the future of Whitney Holwadel Smith is a bet worth wagering. I've prophesied the college degrees, the good jobs, the on-time mortgage payments and tax refunds. In my rhetoric to family and friends who have all in their own way contributed to the "Whitney Smith Fund," I present a character in a vaguely written play who is unremarkable as a citizen and remarkable as a concept of myself, the two-time felon.

With more than half of my current sentence done and a little over 3 years to go, I should be giddy about the prospect of proving my words to be more than just empty rhetoric. But the mundane nature of my life in the hole has all but deadened my hope and anticipation. I have begun to wonder if all those things I claimed to my "contributors" are real or just a series of fictions which I have even convinced myself of.
I am teetering on the edge of becoming institutionalized.

After spending 3 years in a medium security Ohio prison, a friend of mine once asked me if the time spent there had institutionalized me. At the time my idea of what it meant to be institutionalized consisted of simply forming habits specific to life in prison. So I answered that yes, I had become institutionalized to a certain extent.

But I was wrong. It is impossible to truly know what it is to be institutionalized without actually experiencing it. To be institutionalized means to adapt your mind completely to life enclosed by walls and razor wire. It is the transformation of the outside world from a real place and a goal to simply a novelty; a queer thing that's written about in the newspapers but with about as much significance as Los Angeles has to a poor Ethiopian villager. Institutionalization occurs somewhere around the time when a prisoner says "I can't wait to get home" and is referring to his cell.

I've spent 7 years trying to convince those I care about that I am worthy of their contributions. But are they empty promises? Will the time come to pass that, like Gould's five raggedy installments, I cannot see past the chapters of my life spent in a cage? Will this be the only world I truly know? As my mind becomes slowly wrapped in the wet blanket of institutionalization, I am fearing so.

But my promises and hope are all I have left; I cannot abandon them.

These are the thoughts which consume a prisoner on a daily basis. This prisoner, at least.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Vroooom!

That's right, my buddy Vroom is back here in the hole with me. Just came in last night for "possession of homemade intoxicants." In other words, for hooch. Wine. Toilet whiskey.

"Damn, bro, they got me," he said, explaining what had happened. "My batches [of wine] were going to be done the next day! That cop Eastep went cell-to-cell doing searches for people's Christmas wine and he found mine under the bed."

I offer my condolences and, after catching up on everything that's happened with the two of us in the seven months since we saw each other last, I return to my bunk to reflect on the glory that is my buddy "The Vroomster."

Everybody is unique in their own way, but very few are as unique as Jason Vroom.

I vividly remember the first time we met. He had just stepped off the bus from his county jail. One of the friendliest guys in the world, he introduced himself to me immediately and his face absolutely lit up when he found out that we are both from Ohio.

"My name's Vroom, homie," were his first words and, obviously accustomed to people checking to make sure they heard him right, he added "You know, vroom vroom, like a motorcycle," imitating the throttling of a bike.

"Oh, I see."

This introduction would turn out to be the first of many encounters with the chronic halitosis which is one of the Vroomster's countless trademarks.

Vroom: The man, the myth, the legend is undeniably an odd sight to behold. A lean 5'10" with brown hair and eyes, he is a remarkably well-preserved 38-year old despite a significant history of crack smoking. He is a workout machine. Not a big fan of sports and certainly not of reading, much of his free time is spent exercising, and it is visually obvious that he does. Often 3 one-hour sessions a day. Yet his highly-toned physique is by no means his most distinguishing feature. Not even close.

Due to a childhood ailment with a name I've forgotten, Vroom is unable to see out of his left eye or hear with his left ear. His face is unfortunately not unlike that of a stroke victim. But this unfortunate condition is heavily obscured by the bulky government issue plastic glasses with their ridiculously thick lenses.

However, even this is small potatoes in the entire "Vroom" package. Anyone who knows him will tell you that Vroom's choice in tattoos could break the ice at an Israeli-Palestinian tupperware party. His most recent addition is a portrait of Clint Eastwood, which I admit is only really funny if you actually know Jason.

But how many people do you know with a giant vagina permanently etched into their bodies? Yes, I'm completely serious.

As a tattoo with an artistic value no doubt rivaling Courbet's
L’Origine du monde **, Vroom's vagina is strategically placed around his belly button, with the word "Wicked" emblazoned above the masterpiece.

Then, above "Wicked," a graffiti version of the words "Under Surveillance" are draped across his chest.

But it is not the Eastwood or the vagina or Under Surveillance which define Vroom the most. The piece de resistance is the depiction of Geico's gecko character holding a crack pipe about 8" high down his left side. You know, the cute little green reptile with a British accent. Clutching a still-smoldering glass stem.

Jason has got to be one of the most dedicated crack proponents in existence. His mouth waters just at the thought of what his first hit after being released is going to be like. For Vroom, crack is more than a drug. It is a lifestyle. A philosophy. A religion.

I recall a time when Vroom and I were talking to a reformed crackhead friend of ours named John. The conversation eventually turned to drugs and, as soon as the word crack was mentioned, Jason went off into his own little world, no doubt fantasizing about the fist-sized boulders of rocked cocaine he would be smoking one day.

While John went on and on about the evils of this particular drug, Vroom was paying absolutely no attention to the conversation. This became obvious somewhere around the time when, as John detailed the drug's reputation for rotting the teeth from a person's skull, Vroom whispered to me, or perhaps just to himself, "Man, I love that stuff."

Some might think that I've given my friend a hard time in the preceding paragraphs. But if there's anyone who enjoys poking fun at Vroom, it's Vroom himself. And it is also worth pointing out that his good qualities far outweigh his strange ones. A person really couldn't ask for a better friend. 100% genuine (which seems to be an exceedingly rare quality these days), generous to a fault and unwaveringly loyal. I am honored to be able to call the Vroomster my friend.

The hole is filled to capacity right now, so there's no room to keep petty vintners locked up for more than a day or two. Vroom will probably go back to general population today or tomorrow. I'll miss him. He's excited about leaving because he's just getting ready to start his next tattoo... a dolphin smoking a bong.

** Thanks, Pimp!


Monday, December 8, 2008

Global warming (?)

Global warming: What a scam! For years this region of the country hasn't experienced steady winter temperatures until, well, winter. Sure, there'd be a nightly frost and even a flurry or two before Old Man Winter finally made himself official on 12/21. But generally a person could conceivably walk around in a T-shirt well past Thanksgiving without immediately seizing up in convulsive shivers from the bitter cold.

What's the deal this year? It's been so god damn freezing outside that the one hour a day I'm allowed to leave my cell for fresh air 5 days a week suddenly seems not-so-appealing. Of course if I had some more seasonable clothes to wear out there instead of my issued orange shorts and slip-on "shoes" (which are really more closely related to paper slippers than cloth shoes), perhaps the 19 degree chill might be a tad more bearable.

But I go most days. One of the only truly productive results of the drama in Attica was the creation of a federal law mandating that every inmate in segregation be allowed out of their cell for at least 5 hours a week. So if I have a constitutional right to go out there and freeze my ass off, you better believe I'm taking every second I can get, paper slippers or not.

There are some who don't share my passion for exploiting one's civil rights in inclement weather. A short survey of inmates in my wing of the hole concerning who's going out to recreation will generally yield responses ranging from "It's too damn cold out there" to "We don't have weather like this in Mexico, you white boys are crazy."

A little frostbite doesn't stop the likes of Brian Doliboa and Whit Smith though. We laugh in the face of pneumonia. And so do a few other brave souls as well.

The recreation area is ... um ... it's a little hard to explain. Imagine an empty room of a warehouse with the top half of one of the walls cut away to allow fresh air in. Now imagine ten 20 ft. x 20 ft. empty chicken pens lined up inside. That's pretty much what the recreation area is. As I said, the concept is difficult to explain, but if the image in your mind is excessively bare and depressing, then you've got the right idea.

Five men can be in a cage a time so, in theory, 50 people could be out each session. But individual cages are segregated primarily by race and then further segregated by gang affiliation. It's not an easy task for the guards, figuring out who can be put in a cage with whom. Every so often a mistake is made which results in some poor outnumbered guy having a really bad day.

Anyway, Brian and I went out this morning. There were probably only 15 or 20 guys in the other pens; a light crowd. They paced or exercised or did whatever it is that grown men in chicken pens can do. Things are always rowdy and boisterous. Today, for example, a black guy in the cage to the left of ours got into a shouting match with another black guy a few cages down to our right, leaving the two of us right in the line of fire.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to catch either of their names, but the guy on the left was by far a superior shit-talker. Righty basically just echoed Lefty.

Not all of Lefty's taunts were gems. Some were obviously inspired by the stock of 5th grade yo-momma jokes. "That's why yo black-ass, crackhead momma sleep in Section 8, bitch!" was a prime example.

But when Lefty told Righty that "Lincoln must have been crazy to go against Congress for your black ass, nig-guh," I was stunned. I've heard some wild things said in the heat of vituperation, but never anything remotely like that. If there isn't yet an award for creativity in slander, there should be. And Lefty deserves the honor.

Apart from one black guy telling another black guy his very existence calls into question the judiciousness of the Emancipation Proclamation, the recreation period was uneventful. An hour passed quickly and we soon returned to our relatively warm cells where there was coffee to be drunk and leftover bran flakes to be eaten. Tomorrow is Friday, which is always a crowded rec day. Who knows, maybe some more excitement.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Gizzardology

When I was a kid my parents didn't have any trouble getting me to eat my vegetables. Or any of my food, really. Of course, like every other kid, there were a few exceptions. It was a lost cause putting lima beans on my plate. And any type of stroganoff dish required a little coaxing before I would even taste it. Although lima beans and stroganoff were served on an at least semi-regular basis, another dish that wasn't served regularly which would have certainly been on lima bean status was gizzards. I mean, does any family actually sit down to a meal of gizzards in the 21st century? In the days of the neighborhood butcher this may have been standard fare. But surely in our era of Tyson and Stouffer's lasagna, gizzards are a thing of the past on American dinner tables.

"You know what that is, don't you?" a guard named Hoffman asked me last night as he was passing out the dinner meal, indicating the tray he'd just handed me.

Opening the lid and beholding a pile of dubious breaded meat pellets, I informed Hoffman that I did not.

"Chicken gizzards," he told me. "Real chicken gizzards."

I was a little unsure of how to react to this unsolicited information. These same supposed gizzards had just been served the week before and, although I wasn't happy about it, I ate the mystery meat.

It then occurred to me that I didn't even know precisely what a gizzard is. A gizzard doesn't sound like something exceptionally appetizing, but we've all been warned about judging a book by its cover.

giz·zard \ˈgi-zərd\, n. : The muscular second stomach of a bird.

Perhaps I'm being closed-minded. Perhaps I'm being childish in my tastes. Whatever the case may be, when it comes to my meat consumption habits, I tend to draw the line at anything involved in the digestive or reproductive processes. On "Whitney Smith's Inedibility Scale," gizzards rank somewhere just below tripe yet still quite a bit above Rocky Mountain oysters. Escargot is somewhere right around there too. By the way, can anyone tell me if there's any difference between escargot and snails other than a language barrier?

Sitting down in my usual dining space (the toilet seat), I quietly lamented what I had unknowingly ingested the week before when I had assumed the mystery meat was only some sort of chunked chicken-fried steak. Overcome with grief and a barely controllable urge to vomit, I once again held my tray out to Brad, offering him my gizzards. His own having already been scarfed down.

The poor kid's mom must have whipped him with an extension cord anytime he tried to give food away as a child, because once again I was fixed with that deer-in-the-headlights look.

"Just take them," I said.

"But you ate them last week and they didn't hurt you," he almost pleaded.

In an attempt to convey to him my absolute disgust for this particular dish, I posed to him a hypothetical situation in which Hoffman returns to our door and confesses that as a joke he used his genitals to stir the mashed potatoes Brad had been spooning happily into his mouth. The first few bites he had taken obviously weren't awful tasting, but would he bother finishing the meal after such a revelation?

This seemed to satisfy Brad, because he grabbed the proffered chicken stomach and munched away.

He never finished his mashed potatoes, though.



Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everybody! Well, by the time this is posted, Turkey Day will be considerably behind us. We're now well down that long, cold, snowy, God damn jolly road to Christmas. But do not let the belatedness of my holiday greetings diminish their sincerity. Their lateness is just an unfortunate byproduct of my incarceration. More specifically, my need to rely on snail mail and a blogger surrogate (thanks Dad).

So while countless families all across America sat down at their respective dinner tables to dine from their plates overflowing with turkey and pumpkin pie, I sat on a steel toilet eating knockoff Butterball out of a Styrofoam tray with Brad just a few feet away.

With the turkey we had the traditional stuffing and mashed potatoes along with the not-so-traditional canned broccoli and chocolate cake. Wasn't too bad, I guess. Especially considering the fact that this is prison and all.

Midway through the meal I hold my tray out to Brad and ask him if he wants my stuffing.

"What, you're not going to eat your stuffing?" he asks, shooting me a nothing short of bewildered look.

"I'm not going to eat that stuffing, no," I assure him.

The expression on his face after this declaration can only be described as a hybrid of shock and disgust with just a hint of soul-rending agony.

"That's just not American," I'm told. And this dude is dead serious. It's bad enough when a few years ago members of our society actually began calling french toast "freedom toast" in some sort of absurd spirit of patriotism. But since when did refusing to eat some stuffing that looks like it came out of a tube equate to suggesting that bin Laden probably isn't a bad guy once you get to know him? Does patriotism really have to be synonymous with simple-mindedness?

"Yeah, OK Karl Rove," I say, standing up. "Look, this crap isn't stuffing, it's Play-Doh. Since you apparently don't want it, I'll feed it to the warden." Feeding the warden is an expression used when flushing something down the toilet.

With a dramatic shaking of his head, Brad returns to his turkey thoroughly convinced he's just witnessed an act of treason. Strange fella.

All in all, not a completely horrible Thanksgiving. Mostly horrible, but not completely.

Of course next up is Christmas. Certainly no chimneys around that Santa can shinny his fat ass down to deliver all the wire cutters and presidential pardons everybody's been pining for. Fortunately the Federal Bureau of Prisons engages in the spirit of giving by handing out quarts of eggnog and boxes of Christmas cookies on Christmas Eve to all the bad little girls and bad little boys.

I'd say that the holidays in the Big House suck except they're not a lot different from any other time of year, just a whole lot colder and snowy-er. So prison pretty much sucks in general, and the holidays have no monopoly on misery. It's not exactly supposed to be summer camp here, I guess. Although I really don't see how a few tire swings and a swimming pool would hurt anything.



Correction

To the vast multitudes of dedicated readers; to the thousands of strangers, hundreds of friends, dozens of family members and at least one internet sleuth who choose to support this blog, I owe you the humblest of apology I can make.

OK, I know virtually nobody is reading my blog, but in my election posting I cited a statistic I heard on NPR detailing how the percentage of eligible black voters who actually bothered to show up at the voting stations was around 13%. Common sense obviously should have screamed to me that this ridiculously low number should have indicated that either the announcer misreported the statistic, or that I completely misinterpreted what was being said. The fact that I actually used this number in a publicly displayed piece of writing is a travesty of accurate reporting rivaling Judith Miller, James Frey or any five minutes of commentary on Fox News.

Please accept my commitment to, from this point forward, give, if not always 100% accurate statistics, at least no more insanely senseless ones.



Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Shakedown

It has been a very eventful week here in Terre Haute Penitentiary. For me at least.

I've been moved to a different section of the hole to a smaller cell with a good friend of mine I know from general population named Brian Doliboa. We're homeboys, which in here only means that we're from the same state. Doliboa's from Middletown, Ohio, a small but relatively cultured town about a half-hour north of Cincinnati. As a roommate he's not too bad. Still hasn't completely adjusted to life in prison, but at least he hasn't started using urine as a hand moisturizer yet. (See the Sling Blade post.)

It was an unfortunate stroke of luck, when, the same morning I moved into his cell, a guard was seriously assaulted by an inmate. For some reason the administration frowns upon this sort of activity, so a lockdown was initiated.

Lockdowns are nothing nice. The prison can initiate them for any reason they feel necessary, and they can last anywhere from a day to a month, usually a week or two. All inmates are locked in their cells and no one comes out unless they're in danger of imminent death, and sometimes not even then. Meals are slid through a chute in the cell door and often in rations that could be defined as scraps. So except for the food it's pretty much business as usual in the hole.

During lockdowns related to security like an incident between two major gangs or groups, an investigation is usually carried out, and after everyone has kissed and made up, normal operations are resumed.

But in lockdowns related to disciplinary issues, like a guard being assaulted, a mass shakedown is usually what's on the menu.

A shakedown is just prison slang for a search. As in "Come over here Mr. Smith, let me shake you down," or "Man, that cop Dudley shook me down today and took my porn stash. Bet he took it home with him to use when his wife's out cheating on him."

Mass shakedowns aren't so much about uncovering serious contraband such as drugs or weapons as they are about confiscating all of the petty luxuries accumulated in day-to-day prison life. It is an assembly line procedure with staff and guards swarming from one cell to the next, tossing out clothes and knick-knacks like a dog digging a hole.

That extra pair of socks you bought from a laundry worker? Never to be seen again.

The red pen lifted from the cop at work in the kitchen? Right in the garbage.

A bottle of homemade ink for your next tattoo? Gone for good.

Those big trash bags filled with sand from the volleyball court and used as crude weights? Usually they'll be busted open right over your bed.

Photocopies of the new "Buttman" magazine which was somehow smuggled into the prison? That's right, Officer Dudley now has them under his bed at home for the nights when Mrs. Dudley is out with her "girlfriends."

Contraband in the hole isn't quite as abundant as in general population, but is still a very common presence, so those of us trapped in this dungeon are certainly not spared the wrath of the mass shakedown.

Just a few days ago at seven in the morning, the light flared on in our cell as a voice shouted "Smith, Doliboa! Step to the door and cuff up."

Emerging from the warmth of two blankets whose life expectancy in that room could then be measured in seconds, I saw two angry-looking guards crowded in the narrow door window like a couple of fraternity freshmen peeking into a sorority window before doing a panty raid.

"What's going on," Brian asked me, not having bothered to see what the yelling was about.
"Our cell's about to be raided," I explained.
"Oh... fuck."

As we got out of bed and put our clothes on, the peeping Tom's eyes never strayed from us, ensuring nothing was quickly stashed or flushed.

Cuffed and secure, we two Ohio players were taken down into a holding area with everyone else whose cell was being searched at the time. All of us were still in handcuffs, which really makes it difficult to maintain a casual atmosphere. But we did our best, taking guesses of how wrecked our cells would be on a scale of 1-10. I think 8 was the consensus.

Brian and I were the second pair called back. Returning the way we came, I witnessed the carnage of the search. It was like a war zone. Fragments of towels and carcasses of extra mattresses lay everywhere. The burnt-out remains of a tattoo motor lay smoldering in a corner. Contraband apples littered the ground like so many claymore mines.

Our room didn't fare quite as badly as expected. Yes, all our exercise equipment was confiscated. My extra bedding was gone. Doliboa's hidden stash of trash bags had been discovered. But overall it wasn't so bad; I've experienced much worse. What they missed in the search is hardly worth mentioning. As for what they didn't miss, it'll slowly return until in a few months the team returns to have another crack at my stashing abilities in another part of the prison routine.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Contact information, how I post

No, I don't have access to a computer. So how does this work!? Pretty simple actually. I send the posts to my father via snail mail, and he puts them up on the blog the same day he receives them.

If you have any comments, questions or anything you'd like me to respond to, here are the options:

1. Send an e-mail directly to my dad: jeff.transtech@gmail.com and he will pass it along to me.

2. Simply post a "Comment" and my dad will forward it to me.

Allow 10 days for snail mail to get to Terre Haute and back to Cincinnati.

You are also welcome to write me directly at:

Whitney Smith, 09434-032
FCC
PO Box 33
Terre Haute, IN 47808

Note for those of you who aren't necessarily computer-savvy: to "follow" my blog, just click on "Follow this blog" beneath my photo. This means you will automatically receive an e-mail alert when there is a new post. For a simple explanation of how this works, click here. You can follow either 'publicly,' i.e. by any screen name you make up, or anonymously.

Friday, November 14, 2008

10 November 2008

I just heard from my mother. While a similar occurrence may not have much significance to most people, at least no more so than the other daily, weekly or monthly contacts with their faithful matriarchs, getting something in the mail from my dear mum was one of the most mood-and-mind-altering events in my recent history. The last semblance of interaction with her was right after my arrest in May of 2005. It consisted of me calling her house from the county jail where I was being housed, hearing her answer the phone, then listening as she hung up when she realized who was calling.

Surely it must have been a mistake, I thought. So I tried again.
*RING**RING*
"Hello?"
"You have a call from an inmate in..."
*CLICK*
There are several virtues and qualities in which I am sadly deficient. Taking a hint has never been one of them.

The days rolled on and time numbed all of my other non-legal related pains. Or if they weren't numbed, then they certainly paled in comparison to the legitimate possibility of a sixty-year sentence being given to me (it ended up being 6 1/2). And besides, significant stretches of time between contact was nothing unusual for the two of us; ever since I was 13 our relationship has been off and on. More often off than on.

So after being sentenced and shipped from Grant County, Kentucky to Terre Haute, my days became absorbed by the monotonous routine that makes up life in prison and the absence of my mother dulled from a pain to an occasional, almost natural, ache. Like hunger.

My roommates would often ask about my family. I'd tell them about my father's translating business or my sister's soup-vending operation. For most prisoners the only family member present in their lives is their mother, so I would often be asked about my mom.

After going through the lengthy explanation of the situation between us a few times, it became too personal, too painful and too embarrassing to go over and over again.

Especially when someone reacted by informing me that "Wow, you must have been a shitty son."

Whenever someone asked me about my mother after this, I just told them she was dead. This served the dual purpose of getting people to immediately drop the issue and also assisted me in coping with the situation, because after a while I think I actually started to believe it a little.

Of course this is an exaggeration; I never consciously or subconsciously believed she was dead. But it was a convenient conversation stopper.

Mom would enter my thoughts in waves. Sometimes weeks and weeks would go by when I would be wrapped up in some sort of prison drama or recreation project and would think of her very seldom.

But when the roller-coaster went on the incline, she would consume my mind for weeks, inciting a rainbow of emotions ranging from sorrow to anger to nostalgia to regret. After a couple of years I figured she would respond and we would flip that switch to "on" again. A mix of stubbornness and fear that she still wouldn't respond prevented me from doing so. I can't count how many times I wondered who would "break" first.

I guess this means I won. Funny, I sure don't feel like a winner.

Now I find myself in the miserable position of telling my mom that I can't call her or visit with her because I have been in the hole for nearly a year. Surely this news will reignite the loving, maternal emotions buried deep inside her ever since my career as a dedicated fuck-up began. Right?

I remember my days in the streets when time passed so rapidly that my decisions were made on nothing more than impulse. Now just the opposite is true: With entire days and weeks spent in isolation, every aspect of my life is completely over-thought and over-dramatized. Concerns morph into fears which compound into delusions. I love my mum more than she knows and of course my letter will be well-received regardless of my circumstances. Paranoia be damned.

I hope.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Election

Well ladies and gentlemen, as you all know we have entered a new era: Barack-o-thon. Er, wait, is it Orama-Bama? No, it's Barack-o-Rama. Whatever it's called, bring it on. As much as I respect John McCain and his dedicated, unwavering loyalty to his country, he can take his Straight Talk Express right back to wherever the hell it came from and go boo-hoo about regrouping and fiscal responsibility with all the other Republicans. There is however much to be said for the grace he showed in defeat. With his boiling temperament and history of come-from-behind victories, it must have taken a tremendous amount of self-restraint and composure for him not to start short-circuiting like Darth Vader in a bubble bath as he even went so far as to call Barack Obama "his" president. Bravo John McCain, you've earned my respect.

But not my vote, you creepy old fart.

We all know the issues people took into consideration when deciding who they would vote for. Even prisoners were nowhere near sheltered from the bottomless pit of polls and surveys detailing the political and social tastes of the American public. But what about my opinion? My campaign newsletter never came in the mail; Obama never canvassed this neighborhood. Asshole. What, just because I'm disenfranchised all of a sudden my political opinion doesn't matter?

OK, of course it doesn't matter, but I think I still have my freedom of speech, so I'm calling bullshit!

Since McCain/Palin '08 didn't feel it necessary to hear the voices of United States Penitentiary Terre Haute, I decided to do a survey of my own. Nothing fancy or complicated, just something which would serve as a crude barometer of how my fellow convicts would have voted and what issues were taken into consideration when making their decision.

My results? Well, due to my inability to create colorful graphs or informative charts (don't forget where I'm hand-writing this from), I will only say that my statistics showed Obama winning by more than 10% of the vote. By demographic:
Blacks: Obama 100%, McCain 0%
Whites: Obama 0%, McCain 100%
Hispanics: Obama 0%, McCain 0%
The 10% figure reflects the racial mix of this institution.

And in case it wasn't immediately obvious, the primary concern of maximum security voters was race. I really shouldn't say race so much as blackness. It is no exaggeration when I claim that the blacks I spoke with would have voted for Lil' Wayne if it meant getting a black president just as the whites would happily elect Pee-Wee Herman for nothing more than his light skin. It all boiled down to either putting a nigga in office or keeping a nigger out of it, to use the respective vernaculars.

While our country as a whole may be making serious strides towards open-mindedness, I'm afraid our prison systems seem to be lagging far behind in that race. Pun intended.

Because skin color is such a talked about topic in our society, I'd like to point out a reported voting statistic I found both interesting and surprising. Because 98% or so of black voters chose Obama (no surprise there), I figured the turnout of this particular demographic would have been at least as large, if not larger, than the percentage of whites who voted. But according to NPR news (which has a level of accuracy second only to the atomic clock and a reputation for honesty akin to George Washington post-cherry tree), the black turnout for Decision 2008 was only around 13% compared with a little more than 10% for the Bush/Kerry election. Does this shock anyone else? But I may have misunderstood this figure; if someone has a more accurate one, please let me know. In any case it is true (and I'm confident of these numbers) that the black vote turned out at a rate of 95 percent of those registered and 60 percent of those eligible. Not bad. But then, the percentage of blacks who aren't even registered must be frighteningly high.

I know about as much about black culture as I do kazoo culture, so to get an "insider perspective" on this topic I asked "G," a gangbanger a few cells down with a mouth full of golds but a head full of common sense, what he thought about the low black turnout.

In our brief exchange G explained the proliferation of voter intimidation, lack of faith in the system, a lack of patriotic fervor, and the general feeling that their vote just won't count.

Of course this was nothing new to me. Although these are all legitimate hindrances which need to be remedied, their existence is by no means a secret. But I did realize one thing while talking with G: That I am totally sick of hearing about race. I enjoy talking about race about as much as I enjoy Jingle Bells being played for the millionth time by December 24th.

Look, I've never been prouder to be an American than right now, because my country proved to me that it could pick the better man for the job despite any racial barriers. But the barrier's been broken. The race card's been played so much I think I'm going to ask to play with a different deck soon. Isn't it time we bury the horrors of the past and begin a new culture of individual responsibility? But what can we call this new culture?

Barack-o-Rama.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sling Blade

I just got Sling Blade, or specifically Karl, as a cellmate. Seriously, when the guy first came into the cell last night, I would have sworn he was putting on an act; playing a part until at some point in the night he'd snap out of it and confess, "Naw, I'm just kiddin' man, I'm not really a lunatic."

But nope. It's really Sling Blade.

For those of you who do not know what Sling Blade is, stop reading this now. OK, not right now but at the end of this paragraph. Go to YouTube or some other movie or sound clip Web site and do a search for my man Billy Bob Thornton performing the iconic role. In fact, here's a link. Otherwise it would be impossible for you to understand why I say I've got the worst luck in the cellmate lottery imaginable.

For those of you who do know the significance of the phrase "french fried potaters," it was last night when a guard came to my door delivering a warning that a new roommate was on the way. "A young guy," the cop said, "Real quiet. No problem."

And sure enough, the jingle of keys and shackles echoed down the hallway as my no-problem of a celly was being led down to the cell. I went to the door to catch the first glimpse of the man who's going to be eating, sleeping and (hopefully) showering within a distance measured in inches from me. And there he was ... Sling Blade.

6'3", 230 pounds or so and baby-faced in a deranged sort of way. Chin resting firmly on his chest, his eyes darted from left to right as if he was trying to make sure one of his nipples didn't dropkick the other.

This same magnetic force which was forcing his head to droop like a sack of wet puppies apparently had the same effect on his lower lip, which jutted out at an absolutely cartoonish angle.

The door opens, Sling Blade shuffles in without desisting for a moment the dedicated supervision of his breasts. He begins to make his bed. To get out of the man's way, I return to my bottom bunk and resume the so-so Jeffery Deaver novel I'd been working on. It was not a good omen of what was to come when the 5-minute job of making a bed turned into a 45-minute operation with a disturbing amount of grunting involved. And after the project had been completed, apparently to satisfaction, I noticed as I went to get a cup of water that the top bunk looked like Bush had just declared the end of major combat operations in it.

To initiate what would be the first of many meaningful and philosophical conversations between us, it was time for introduction.
Me: People call me Smitty. What's your name, homeboy?
Sling Blade: Grfminomn Ingoblirnm.
This is the best reproduction of what my roomy actually said in that grainy, guttural, tortured voice of his that I can come up with.
Me: I couldn't hear you, one more time.
Sling Blade: Hrmnomny Andmbtg.
Me: Dude, I don't have a fucking clue what you're saying.
Sling Blade: Glutton Nickerson
The kid's name is actually Glutton. Is this some sort of bizarre ritual where he's from which involves bringing a kid a plate full of paint chips, then naming him Glutton if he eats them?
Me: Right on, Glutton. So what are you in the hole for?
Sling Blade: Fightin'.
Me: Oh yeah, who did you get into a fight with?
Sling Blade: Cellmate
Me: Huh, OK. Why'd you fight him?
Sling Blade: Self-defense. He try to hit me. I fought him. He lost.
Me: That sucks, Glutton, I'm sorry to hear that.
Sling Blade: Hrm.
To keep from laughing hysterically I decided to cut that night's bonding session short and return to the Deaver, at which time Glutton commenced to exercise in the corner. He begins with squats. I watch out of the corner of my eye as he does the reps while glaring at the wall with the fierce intensity and barely contained rage of a great white shark with rabies.

Like driving past a car wreck, there was no way not to stare with twisted fascination.

200 squats or so later Mr. Nickerson abandoned his workout to take a leak. Out of both curiosity and caution I peek over my book to watch every move. OK, business is complete. But instead of picking up one of the half-dozen toilet paper rolls stacked next to the sink to use for wiping the splashes from the toilet seat, my gem of a roomy uses his bare palm to wipe the splatters of piss. The insanity of what I had just seen made the fact that he didn't even bother washing his hand seem like not that big of a deal.

This was too much. There are certain lines of crazy shit which just shouldn't be crossed, and Glutton sailed past about a dozen of them. Sling Blade had to go.

So after some brainstorming on my part and some head-hanging on his, we eventually came up with a way to get him another place to live which will be put into action in just a little while.

Everyone has their own little pet peeves. When two men are forced to be in a room together 24 hours a day, it would be almost impossible not to get on each other's nerves at some point. But there are two characteristics which every convict should have: Clean and quiet. If everybody could just maintain an acceptable level of personal hygiene and keep their pie hole shut while they do so, life in the hole would be 100% better.

In fact, that is my new philosophy of life in general: Anyone around me whose mouth or body odor offends me is immediately going on Sling Blade status.

Monday, November 3, 2008

How I got here: the short version

Having woken up no more than an hour ago and immediately realizing that I had completely neglected to introduce myself yesterday, I decided to take advantage of the relative quiet in the pre-sunrise hours by telling you a little about who I am. For starters, my name is Whitney Smith. My family and most friends call me Whit, everyone in prison calls me Smitty. In addition to being a full-time convict I am also a Luciferian skinhead, dedicated to the eradication of all non-Aryans, with a passion for carving soapstone swastikas and arson. OK, I made that part up.

Born on April 10, 1984 in the mean streets of Cincinnati, Ohio (and by that I mean middle-class suburbs), I developed a need for attention at a very young age. Whether I was regarded with admiration, shock or disgust was completely irrelevant, just as long as people were regarding me. This persisted in varying degrees until just after my 21st birthday when I bit off more than I could chew by botching a bank robbery and subsequently leading police on a high-speed chase across three counties, two states and one Ohio River, ultimately ending with me holed up in, irony of all ironies, the same high school I dropped out of. In retrospect a good defense to use in court would have been that it was only a stunt to encourage kids to stay in school.

Anyway, the twenty news cameras which recorded every second of my skinny bank-robbing ass being hauled away provided me with a new found appreciation for subtlety and anonymity. In court nine months later a judge gave me 6 1/2 years to reflect on what a moron I am.

So that's my story. My name's Smitty and I'm a moron. Admission is the first step to recovery, right?

The life of a moron isn't nearly as fun as it sounds. Contrary to popular belief, ignorance is not bliss. At least not for this dunce. As these big brown eyes survey my surroundings, a small room which could be considered the ultimate efficiency apartment, the sadness of this existence presents itself. For 23 hours a day my scenery consists of four walls enclosing a six-by-ten space containing a bunk bed, sink, toilet and small steel shower. Normally there's a roommate to stew in the monotony with, but for over a week I've been lucky enough to remain by myself. Days are spent reading, writing, exercising or draping blankets from the top bunk and playing fort. Granted, this is a section of the prison termed the Segregated Housing Unit, otherwise affectionately known as "The Hole," while those in general population have far more freedoms and privileges than the SHU does. But this is where I've been rotting for the last 10 months while awaiting transfer to another prison, so this is what you're going to read about.

The structure has four stories, the bottom two strictly "Hole" cells, while the top two levels hold Death Row. Each floor has three wings, or tiers, which splay out to form a sort of "W" and are lined with cells.

Present company on this tier is a motley bunch of convicts with just about every major prison demographic represented in one cell or another. Representing the "white power" group is Hawkes, a stocky man in his mid-thirties who speaks with a stereotypical southern drawl which betrays his South Carolina upbringing. Despite his tough guy appearance and smattering of tattoos, including the words "Solid White" in large letters under his right eye, Hawkes is one of the friendliest and most respectful guys you'll ever meet. Generous to a fault.

Then, who could forget Ruby? Ruby is a Puerto Rican homosexual with a cartoonishly feminine voice. The long black hair and slender build are no doubt features which Ruby prides himself on, however his most distinguishing feature would have to be his breast implants. Even I have to admit that, at a distance, this has a startling visual effect in a men's prison. Needless to say, Ruby is very popular in certain social circles.

A few doors down from Ruby is Jesse, the massive, corn-fed Oklahoma boy whose 30 years in prison has made his 45 years appear no less than 55. Jesse fancies himself as one of the cleverest and most intelligent men in the prison. He seems to be completely unaware that he's about as smart as a Pop-Tart.

All the way at the end is Cobbs, a middle-aged black man who apparently has legs of steel or a very large supply of amphetamines, because hours of his days are spent kicking the door for no reason at all. To keep himself occupied in between kicking sessions, Cobbs will scream inspirational phrases over and over, like "It's a universal blackness," or "See a cracker, kill a cracker; let God sort 'em out."

And in the cell right next to my own is Sleepy, a Mexican-American from Texas with a propensity for setting fires and breaking windows. He and Cobbs share some sort of unspoken bond.

Of course every couple of months the names and faces change. There will be a whole new crew of kickers and such. I'll miss Cobbs when he goes.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My first post

"So how's Club Fed?" someone once asked me during a phone call home. For those who don't know, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has a reputation of providing plush environments for convicted criminals to serve their debts to society, hence the play on Club Med. How could I explain to the person on the other end of that line how rough it really is in here? How could she understand the feeling of emptiness and sorrow in a prison with only a nine-hole golf course? The distress of having to live in a world where new balls for the squash courts are only handed out every six months. And every notion of country club-like atmosphere goes right out the window every week when I'm served my steak without even being asked how I want it cooked.

The real Bureau of Prisons which holds me captive keeps true to the school of thought that incarceration is to be a completely miserable existence. Rumor has it that up until the 90's the B.O.P. was a great place to be a dependent of good ol' Uncle Sam. But the 90's are well behind us of course. That was the Clinton era. A decade of booming technology, budget surpluses, relative financial security and an administration which had a fairly easy time distinguishing its ass from its elbow. Ah, the 90's.

My B.O.P. of the 00's is a completely different monster than it was a decade ago. This is the Bush B.O.P., as in Mr. "Fry-em-first-and-ask-questions-later" Texas governor George W. Bush. I think it is important for the 99 out of every 100 (that's the latest figure) Americans who aren't in prison to keep in mind that it is Congress who pays a few dozen men with dubious high school credentials $65k a year to sling a food tray through my door 3 times a day and to make an at least half-hearted attempt to make sure no one kills me. This is the same Congress who approved the pitching of billions of dollars at major financial institutions like it was spitballs.

To give you a small example of how your tax dollars are working hard to maintain a respectable society (but not too hard), I want to cite a period not long ago when several weeks passed with no inmates getting their weekly issue of 1/2-ply toilet paper. When questioned about the absence of this basic hygienic staple, a representative of the institution said, with a completely straight face, "We ran out and there's no money to buy more."

In all fairness, that situation was eventually remedied and has not repeated itself again. The warden must have sold some toilet paper derivatives.

The penitentiary in question which has fed and clothed me for the past three years is a high-security establishment located among the lush corn fields of central Indiana. Terre Haute is the name of the city I list for my return address. Terre Haute, which ironically enough is French for "high ground," is a lovely little meth factory of a town which is known mostly for its mediocre children's museum, a more highly regarded engineering school, and for being host to the Indianapolis Colts training camp. Oh, and prisons. At last count there were three federal and two state facilities in this town alone. Not to mention a county jail tucked away somewhere among the trailer parks. My Terre Haute prison would kick any other Terre Haute prison's ass. We're bigger and tougher than all of them. And newer. Built on top of a decommissioned industrial waste dump in 2004, so far we've had surprisingly few instances of toxic drinking water and faulty drainage systems. OK, I'm only kidding about the industrial waste, but not about the water. Although I can't say with any certainty that this place wasn't built on radioactive refuse.

We've got about 1200 inmates here, including all the federal death row cases. Lots of gang members. Crips, Bloods and the million other gangs no one who's from anywhere outside the south side of Chicago or uptown New York has ever heard of. Lots of white-only gangs too. D.W.B's, A.B.'s, A.A.C.'s, W.A.R.'s, A.R.M.'s. If you're not familiar with any of those acronyms, trust me when I say that the "A" in all of them does not stand for "African."

I'm considering starting my own prison gang. A brotherhood based on loyalty and a dedication to striking fear in the hearts of heartless killers. The most important part of the gang start-up phase is picking a good name. A name which, when spoken, immediately makes the listener think to himself "Fuck, those guys are lunatics. I'm not messing with them." Keeping this in mind, I named my gang the Super Friends.

My first attempts at recruiting for the S.F. were not terribly successful. One of the major deterrents to joining a prison gang is the fact that a "prospect" must stab someone before they become an official member. To get around this problematic initiation procedure and get my roster up, my first act as Super Friends shot-caller (prison lingo for a head guy) was to make the S.F. requirement not to stab a man but to tickle him. The few men I've told about my organization and its unique rite of passage all looked at me like they wanted to perform a traditional gang initiation on me, resulting in my decision to hold off on recruitment until I can fine-tune The Code and find some men who can handle the rigors and danger of becoming a Super Friend.

Gangs. What a load of crap.