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.
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.