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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: November 2008

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.