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 Super Friends: January 2009

Saturday, January 31, 2009


I shaved today. All of my facial hair is now gone. As you can see in the photo of me, I had until now been rockin' the classic goatee which I'd had since the age of 18. But in the two years which had passed since this picture was taken my goatee had grown out to a glorious 5+ inches in length and was usually kept in a tight braid. Or sometimes just loose and fluffed out, which, due to the unusual curliness of my facial hair, would cause it to puff out like a chin-Afro.

The decision to abandon this beloved hairstyle was not one reached without extreme provocation. My beard has been too kind to me for me to just forsake like a maggoty chicken gizzard. You see, in two months I will be tried in federal court for a very serious crime which I am innocent of. I mean, seriously innocent. And as it is I've got about as much faith in this country's criminal justice system as I do in General Motors stock. Facing an uphill battle already, walking into a courtroom with a chin-'fro just doesn't exactly scream "innocent."

Resolved by necessity to do what must be done, I tied my beard together with four small rubber bands. With eyes closed and scissors held to the base of my chin, I used the pulling-off-a-Band-Aid approach and let one lethal snip sever all but the roots from my face. My heart winced as I heard the scissors clink together and felt the hair come free. Since I've had it, my goatee has become more than just a hairstyle. Both literally and figuratively it had become an extension of my body; cutting it off was like cutting off an appendage.

Because of this hair's value to me while still attached to my body, my intention had at first been to send the tied-up hair home or at least save it, thinking it would serve as some sort of nostalgic memento. But as I held that bundle of whiskers in my hand after doing the deed, what I saw disgusted me. Like I was holding the tail of some mutant sewer rat. The revulsion was not just visual, either. There was some sort of instantaneous mental stigma attached to this hairy abomination which I'm not sure how to interpret. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the almost two years in which I've had the extended goatee have fucking sucked.

American consumer confidence is gone; Bush is gone; and now my goatee is gone. Not all the change we're seeing is good. But watching that rat-tail swirl down the toilet was to me not unlike getting front-row seats to watch W. walk out of the White House for the last time on 1/20 glumly clutching his moving box marked "Curious George books." The hatchet finally buried on 2008 and the end of a miserable era.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Heil Eli !

Where did it all go wrong? How does a nice kid from a nice family go so far astray? It is impossible to pin down a specific reason or event in my history which could have set me on the path which brought me to cell B-212. There are many laps the responsibility could fall into, mine own the most likely. But wait! A suppressed memory surfaces. Yes, it's all coming back to me...

Young Whitney was a bit of a handful as a child, this I will not deny. To go as far as calling me a terror would be an exaggeration. But describing me as an occasional brat would not be off the mark. I retain vague memories of using the family car's emergency brake as a toy one day, with near-catastrophic consequences. School years were plagued with forgotten schoolbooks, undone homework and countless parent-teacher conferences. So, in retrospect, the fact that my bad little butt was shipped off to summer camp most summers, giving mom and dad a much needed reprieve, is not much of a surprise.

As a middle-class family, the choices for summertime activities were vast. Yet foregoing all the traditional and popular camps, for a week during two summers my sister and I were sent to an Amish farm. That's right, Amish. Hair-in-a-bonnet, raise-a-barn-in-a-day, visit-the-outhouse-with-a-lantern, Amish.

For a young boy whose accomplishments in life thus far in life included beating Super Mario Brothers faster than any of his friends, this was a very scarring experience. My memories of this are fragmented and stuttering, but what I do know is that I was never forced to wear suspenders or some sort of ridiculous hat, and my sister never outfitted with an ankle-length dress. If only we were so lucky. In the sweltering July heat all the "Outsiders" had to wear thick, gray sweatsuits which were only bearable in the cool dawns as everyone was roused from their communal bedrooms by the long-bearded warders. From bed, everyone marched to a large dining hall for a breakfast of peculiar granola cereal and warm goat's milk straight from the tit.

Days in Amish camp were spent doing activities supposedly typical of an Amish lifestyle. These projects were suspiciously limited to "heavy" activities. Like walking down some unpaved road picking up rocks which were then heaved into a buggy drawn behind us sweating kids, being driven by a couple of rough-looking Jebediah-types holding whips, supposedly for the horses. Or mucking out horse stalls; I shoveled a lot of shit in those days.

Nights on the farm were frightening. This was an alien environment filled with strange odors and noises. The goal was to fall asleep in those itchy wool blankets as quickly as possible so that one more day would have passed. But in the middle of one night with my bladder ready to burst, returning to slumber was an impossibility, so I resigned myself to the fact that I must abandon the relative security of my top bunk in order to relieve myself. Climbing off of my bed and creaking the heavy wooden door open, the need for a bathroom almost became a need for clean underwear as I was confronted by the massive glaring figure of Eli (OK, I made his name up), the head farmer or whatever, who had been sitting guard outside the door on a stool he'd undoubtedly constructed as a 4-year old.

"Where are you headed, boy?"

"Bathroom, sir."

"Pot's third door down. Be quick about it."

"Yes, sir."

So there were sentries posted everywhere. There was no escape from Amish camp. Had us city folk unified and been able to subdue ol' Eli, our battle would have been far from over. I'd been told that by the time an Amish boy reaches manhood he can already throw a pitchfork 100 yards with deadly accuracy. And besides that, the compound was heavily fortified. Us kids witnessed that first-hand as we dug post holes and dragged heavy cedar beams to build and repair the massive fence which contained us. Prisoners constructing their own prisons. Oh, cruel irony.

Think about it... drab uniforms; minimalist living conditions; substandard and sanitarily questionable food; guards. You can serve someone a cat-poop sandwich and call it a B.L.T. if it makes them feel better. But it's still just a few turds between two slices of bread. and just because my parents paid some ridiculous amount of money to some country swindlers doesn't make my experience one of a summer camp. I was sent to prison.

I've expressed my concern in an earlier post about becoming institutionalized (see "An Oral History of My Future"), and those fears are genuine. But what's clear to me now is that it's a moot point. Why should one worry about becoming institutionalized when one has already been so since the tender age of nine. Even now I feel it: the addict's clawing urge for rocks being gripped in my blistered fingers; for the scent of horse manure being shoveled into a rusty wheelbarrow; the repulsive textures of crunchy, semi-sweet granola mixed with unpasteurized goat's milk. Practically my whole life has been some subconscious quest to return to that electricity-deprived prison I once helped construct.

There's only one conclusion I could have possibly arrived at after this interior monologue with myself. And that is to join the hordes of my peers and even elders who are rapidly making the American pastime not hamburgers or baseball, but blaming our parents for all of our problems. Oh why, why, why did you send me off to that freaky farm? Why did you set off a domino effect of catastrophes in my life by sending me to that American Auschwitz? This is the only explanation for how my life turned out which makes any sense. How could it be otherwise?

The only other possibility would be that I'm simply a moron.


Monday, January 26, 2009

And step, two, three, four

Ouch, man, pain really sucks. For real, this isn't cool at all. Working out today, I was doing shoulder exercises when I pulled a muscle in my shoulder/neck area. Or maybe I sprained it. Hell, I don't know. All I know is that I'm in serious pain. Ow, ow, ow.

But the worst part of this whole situation isn't the pain. The highly dangerous exercise which has led me to this miserable state is "the shrug." A shrug involves holding a reasonably heavy weight at one's side and then, well, shrugging. Brad was eyeing me as I did my reps and noticed that my shoulders rotated as they shrugged.

"You know," he told me, "rotating your shoulders like that is horrible for your rotator cuff and really increases your risk of injury."

The thing is, I'm kinda hard-headed in general and this is especially true during work-outs. Something about an increase in testosterone levels or something.

So I responded with "Whatever, dude. I know what I'm doing. You just sit there and look pretty while Big Dad works out."

Two minutes later my shoulders feel like there's a welding crew doing their thing on my right trap. The chances of my rotator cuff having anything to do with this are slim, but that comes nowhere close to stopping the cheeky smirks and "I told you so"s Brad's been shooting at me all afternoon. Why is good advice sometimes the hardest kind to take?

The possibility that this will be an extended injury is depressing to think about. Unless I feel like working my legs 7 days a week, I'm pretty much out of commission until everything's healed. Which really sucks, because exercising is an important part of every day for me. Obviously most of my exercise routines are limited to calisthenics like push-ups, crunches, squats, etc. Although some weighted exercises are possible by using a plastic garbage bag I've filled with around 8 gallons of water, tied shut, and wrapped in a bed sheet like some sort of oversized hobo knapsack. You know, the kind tied onto the end of their stick as they strolled down the railroad tracks in those old cartoons. A thick, rolled-up magazine serves as a handle. This contraption is ideal for curls, dead lifts and - when done properly - shrugs.

This water bag is no creative innovation of my own, of course. There are no weights of any kind here in the prison, so some variations on the theme are filled with sand. And a few of the really big guys just use the littler guys as weights. Whatever works, ya' know.

Some of these people take their physical fitness a little more seriously than they probably should. I once overheard one guy telling somebody he works out so much because "It's a lot harder for a knife to go through a set of six-pack abs than it is to go through a bunch of flab." Huh. I mean, don't get me wrong, there does seem to be some validity to that statement. It's just that I've always taken the stance that my set of six-pack abs pretty much just looks cool. But the whole knife argument works too, I guess. Tomato, tomahto.

A lot of the gangs actually make a certain number of physical fitness sessions a week compulsory for their members, a couple even going so far as having military-style group training with the "drop and give me 25" and everything. Black gangs are usually the funniest to watch because the younger members all have disgustedly bitter looks on their faces, as if their mom just told them they had to eat their vegetables. Then during the jogging portion a few always manage to trip over the pants hanging down to their knees.

We SuperFriends exercise as little or as much as we like. As the #1, I do my best to encourage all forms of personal fitness. Some of the offerings here amaze even me. The spinning class held in the gymnasium was unfortunately short-lived due to lack of enrollment.

The step aerobics class, however, was a huge success from its inception. The group was led by a 50-year old black gangbanger named Streeter, who learned what he knew about step aerobics from a book he had read a few weeks before the first class. Those of use secure enough to attend caught a few snickers from the non-participants who wandered into the gym only to find around 30 grown men sweatin' it out to a Madonna CD. But we were dedicated and had a good time.

No step aerobics classes in the hole. I've been known to do a few step-ups onto the toilet seat whenever "Material Girl" comes on the radio. But somehow it's not the same. My new kick is actually yoga. Man, yoga is the real deal. I was introduced to the practice by a good friend of mine who has been kind enough to mail me pictures and descriptions of poses along with instructions for the various Pranayama breathing exercises and routines like Sun Salutation. Despite having only been practicing for a few months, I am already a life-long proponent of yoga. With the benefits to mind and body, there is no doubt this is ideal for someone dealing with the stresses of incarceration. Anyone who knows someone incarcerated should strongly encourage that person to take it up.

Despite yoga's benefits, I still sometimes feel the need to exercise caution (no pun intended) when performing some of the more provocative poses. Some I flat-out refuse to do. Not that I am unconfident in any way with my sexuality, and I can confidently say the same is true for Brad. But when you're as dangerously good-looking as I am, shifting one's body into the wide-legged forward bend is just too much like playing with a loaded gun.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Whoever hired Warren needs a kick in the ass

Was it just me or was that a truly pitiful inauguration? Granted, my experience of the event was nothing more than an audio feed broadcast on NPR. Still, if that whole ceremony was intended to inspire and restore confidence in America's future, it failed. And I just don't see how adding faces to the voices would have changed much for me.

How is it that no one from Obama's staff even bothered to have Aretha Franklin audition for such a significant engagement? An even scarier possibility is that someone actually did hear the Queen of Soul squeal out her terrible rendition of "My Country Tis of Thee" and thought to themselves, screw it, she's good enough.

And how about Joseph Lowery, aka Reverend Mumbles? Surely this brave and intelligent civil rights leader could have written a more profound benediction by avoiding such phrases as "... until brown can stick around..." and "...when white will do what's right..."

Obama. Obama, Obama, Obama. You're my dude, but how could you botch the oath? THE OATH! After your bumble I overheard a couple of the white-power fellas yelling to each other that this 'goof' was an undeniable indication that you're truly an Islamic sleeper agent after all and could not faithfully recite the oath because your god would be insulted. The rest of the country I'm not too sure about, but it seems this mistake has severely damaged your approval rating among the Nazi demographic. Sorry.

Regardless of this unimpressive gala, today, January 20, is when 2009 really begins for me. I pay no taxes; I cannot vote; all by my basic rights have been stripped away as I stew in a concrete box. Yet with all the giddy enthusiasm within me, I cry out that Barack Obama is MY president.

Oh, and there is a vicious rumor circulating that Super Friends has been nominated on BlogNet as Diarist Blog of the Month. If true, this is a thrilling honor. And in a message to all who read this, three words popularized by the ultimate rapper mogul Puff Daddy - "Vote or Die."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

One-Eye Samurai

Brad and I are still living together. A move had been set which would have taken me back to the floor where Hawks and Sleepy still reside. Long story short, turned out my would-be cellmate was some sort of Luciferian with a fondness for self-mutilation; not exactly qualities which are very high up there on my list of "acceptable celly" specifications. I had a kibosh put on the move.

So here the two of us are, together riding out the tempered shit-storm of hole time. I've taken the potential transitional catastrophe as an indication that the brownish grass on the other side of the fence really isn't all it's cracked up to be and have decided to stick around in cell B-212 even if it means having to wrangle with a demonic shower occasionally. Brad's happy about the news. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I'm a pretty cool roommate.

We've spent this averagely mundane Sunday afternoon talking poetry (seriously) and tattoos. While I've got quite a few on my back, left arm and right leg, Brad is what some refer to as a tattoo virgin. And while I must admit that if there's a "type" of person for body art, and Brad isn't it, this fact hasn't stopped me from attempting to sell the idea of having a large butterfly tatted on his chest. He is not quite convinced of the wisdom behind my suggestion yet and has even decided to begin hitting below the belt by suggesting that I have a butterfly drawn over my Samurai's crotch. Cute, Brad, real cute.

My Samurai's crotch is a topic which has come up with alarming frequency lately in my conversations and correspondence. And is quite a testament to why it is important for a person to use caution when having any permanent alteration done to one's body. In the spirit of confession and raising awareness, I will impart the story of my Samurai's crotch. There are only two characters in this narrative, myself and my friend Diggity, who has since been released. Diggity is a tall Nordic type with a philosopher's mind and true artist's hand; arguably the best tattoo artist Terre Haute has ever seen. Oh, and he was a big-time junkie.

Not a Superfriend but a friend nonetheless, I accepted Diggity's offer to work on me at a ridiculously low price. Keeping in line with the strengths of his artistic abilities, we eventually decided on having a dragon done on one side of my right calf and a Samurai figure performing a seppuku, or hari-kari, ceremony on the side opposite. My buddy drew the sketches and a session was penciled into his schedule.

The dragon came first. Following my direction, Diggity patterned a sort of hybrid creature with an Asian dragon's long, serpent-like body but a European dragon's horned crown and long snout. When all was said and done, my dragon was perfect. Lines as black as night and curves to make a Maserati jealous. His secret? Throughout the session Diggity was in his "creative state." In other words, the dope man had paid him a visit.

Several weeks went by before we were able to sit down for the Samurai session. When we finally both found the time and I strolled into his cell with my leg shaved and pant-leg rolled up, Diggity's already pale Icelandic skin was a ghostly white with perhaps just a hint of nausea green.

"What's up, homie? You feeling alright?" I ask, concerned not only for my friend but also for my bald calf which was about to be punctured a few thousand times.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm good. Just a little dope sick," he 'reassured' me, meaning he was experiencing mild withdrawal symptoms after binging for a couple of days. "Won't affect my work at all. The pattern's already drawn so there's nothing that can go wrong." Famous last words.

And 5 hours later when all was once again said and done, it initially appeared as if things actually did go according to plan. Besides the ink turning out to be a very dark gray instead of a jet black because of a few too many drops of alcohol being added to the base ink powder, the piece looked fantastic. Admiring his skill as Diggity disposed of the needle and sanitized the gun, I noticed how perfectly the hands, which I've been told are the most difficult body part to master in any art form, gripped the hilt of the sword. And how realistically the legs tucked under the kneeling body.

Then I noticed something which concerned me.

"Hey, um, what's this?"

"What's what?" he asked, looking up from the fragmented CD player which powers his gun.

"Right here, in the crotch" I said, pointing to my disturbing discovery.

"I don't see anything."

"Look harder."

"Oh shit. I mean, um, oops."

Permanently etched into the folds of my Samurai's robes was the vague but very discernible outline of a penis. One has to really look to be able to notice my little ninja's package, but it's certainly there. And according to my tattoo, the stereotype of Asian men is definitely not true.

The convenient placement and strange configuration of lines in the offending region should almost guarantee that the member was some kind of vulgar prank on the artist's part. Although anyone who knows Diggity would immediately dismiss that as a possibility. He just does not joke around. Diggity hates having fun so much he dropped out of school because of recess. I'm afraid the moral of the story is nothing more than to make sure your tattooist has had his daily ration of illicit narcotics.

Joke or honest mistake, what's done is done and my tattoo is packing some serious heat. Correcting the error is only a matter of adding a few lines and a bit of shading. At the time we had no fresh needles, so the rectification session had to be put on hold until some new ones were made. Unfortunately Diggity ended up failing a drug test and, before he could return to my cellblock, was released. So probably until my release Samurai will have three eyes: his right eye, his left eye and his one-eye.

And whenever we start firing taunts at each other, Brad will unfortunately have this as ammunition.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Til Death Do Us Part. Or When I Throttle You

So Proposition 8 passed in California last November, rescinding the right for gays to legally wed each other. And because of this the gay-rights cause has rallied all over the country and it's not unreasonable to expect new gay marriage bills to begin appearing on ballots nationwide. I personally believe, given the long overdue liberal direction our country is heading in, that gay marriage will be customary in all states within the next two or three decades.

What is the federal government's stance on the issue, or do they even have one? Sure, weddings in a legal sense are usually state sanctioned, but all of Washington, D.C. is a federal district; surely people must be allowed to marry there. What happens when Rove and Cheney come out of the closet and wish to walk hand-in-hand down the aisle? Is there some sort of federal legislation specifically prohibiting them from marrying? This bizarre line of questioning was inspired by something I recently read in the Rules and Regulations handbook I was issued upon my arrival here in Terre Haute. Section B, Article 8 states that with the warden's approval, marriage services can be performed inside the prison. But that's a little vague, isn't it? I mean, this is technically federal land, so would the marriage certificate be issued by the feds or by the State of Indiana? And what about the eventuality that gay marriage becomes legal; there certainly is no stipulation written in my book forbidding inmates from marrying each other. There have been a few times when I've noticed Ruby [see post "The belated bio"] shakin' that little ass of his/hers and thought to myself "Now there's one who's the marryin' type; one I could bring home to mom." Could I marry Ruby? After all, what's more beautiful than when two men find true love in prison? Or how about my roommate? What would the warden say if I submitted a request to marry Brad? In the off-chance that the request should be approved, there better be a pre-nup, because I'm filling out the divorce papers right friggin' now.

Seriously, we may not be getting divorced, but it's time for me to find a different roommate. I've been with Brad for well over two months, and that is easily a record. Describing me as a picky celly would not be unfair. Actually, it wouldn't be unreasonable to call me an outright asshole. The average roomie of mine lasts anywhere from 3 hours to 2 weeks before he is strongly encouraged to find another place to live.

Brad, though, has been an excellent guy to share a cell with. He's intelligent, generous and extremely respectful. We get along spectacularly, yet I still feel a strong compulsion to leave the cell. For really no good reason. We've had our disagreements like any two people would in such a circumscribed environment, but nothing major.

One we had not long ago was especially petty. We've got a steel shower in the cell which has the habit of occasionally turning on by itself (it operates via a push-button) and will only turn off when someone pushes the button again. Last week the phantom shower does what it does as I am up in my top bunk writing a letter and Brad is down below reading a book. Because it's much easier for the guy on the bottom to stand up, push the button and sit back down, tasks such as button-pushing logically fall on bottom bunk residents. Now, our shower is nothing if not hot, so as Brad remained in his bunk while the water steamed and the cell fogged and the walls started literally dripping with condensation, the thought suddenly struck me that perhaps Brad wasn't going to push the button.

"Hey, Brad," I said, "you think that you could, um, turn that shower off?"

After a moment of deliberation he said, "Why? I didn't turn it on."

Can't argue with that logic.

That was nothing though. A man with even a moderate amount of magnanimity would brush it off as nothing. And I tried. But an inattentive reader may have forgotten that I am a self-professed moron and I've allowed the phantom shower affair to sprout within me a seed of aggravation. I will certainly not find a better cellmate, so it's not as if the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence. Appears a little browner, if anything. I just crave change... That's the best-looking brown grass I've ever seen, this green crap has lost its appeal.

Time may change things. Switching cells isn't as easy as snapping your fingers, so a move may be more trouble than it's worth.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Superfriends

Sometime within the next year I'll be transferred to another one of the other fine federal penitentiaries scattered across this magnificent country of ours. It's a crap shoot as to which one I'll end up in. There are a few in Pennsylvania which are prime candidates. Also a couple in central Florida. Florence, Colorado wouldn't be bad in the summer. Victorville, California would undoubtedly have great weather all year 'round, but I've heard that that prison is seriously messed up. Rumor has it that the feds even have a prison on one of the Hawaiian islands. Surely there's no private swimming beach for inmates, but compared with Terre Haute, it's gotta be paradise. I have a vision of being dropped from a low-flying helicopter onto a deserted shore wearing nothing but a loin cloth and equipped with only a shovel and Bic lighter, forced to fend for myself by foraging coconuts and hunting spider monkeys. Paradise.

In a way, I'll be sorry to leave my current locale. I've been here for more than 3 years and have encountered quite a few interesting characters. Puerto Rican freedom fighters, Italian mobsters, an Irish bomb maker and more backwoods meth kingpins than you can shake a stick at. I am sorry to report that 90% of the people I've met are complete pieces of garbage. Interesting, yes. Enigmatic, some of them. But all of them shrewd villains at
heart. There is a small portion of that remaining 10%, however, whom I just might, under the right circumstances, call my friends.

After I was taken to the hole back in January '08, t
hese comrades of mine managed to finally all be in the same place at the same time (a feat never before performed) and had a series of pictures taken, one of which you see here (you can click on the image to enlarge it)...

Starting in the back row left, I'm unable for various reasons to mention the name of the individual in the stocking cap.

Standing next to stocking cap is Jamie. In the early 90's, when Jamie was 20 years old, his brothers killed a couple of guys during a drug dispute. The feds made him an offer he couldn't refuse - testify against his brothers or else be charged as a conspirator and possibly get the death penalty. Apparently it was an offer he could refuse, because Jamie kept his mouth shut and at 21 years old was sentenced to 3 life sentences. In spite of and because of these hardships, Jamie is a man I esteem more than most I've met.

To the right of Jamie is my DUDE, Tiny, a.k.a. Big Fat Delicious. At around 500 pounds (he claims 450) it might surprise you to learn that at one point Tiny was only the third heaviest man in Terre Haute. I say "was" because not long after this picture was taken, Tiny's security level was reduced, resulting in him being shipped to a medium-security institution. One day B.F.D. made the mistake of showing me his court transcripts. In them, the teller at the bank he robbed testified that, in addition to all the money in her cash drawer, my friend also demanded that she relinquish to him her lunch (which was a bag of Arby's if I remember correctly). Tiny, of course, denies making any such demands. But c'mon, look at the picture. Who are you going to believe? I think he actually went in for just the Arby's at first and then decided to grab the money only as an afterthought.

Next to B.F.D. is Wes. In actuality, Wes' only friend is Jamie, whom he's been doing time with for over a decade, ever since they met each other in the infamous Leavenworth penitentiary, which has since been shut down. Unlike most convicts, Wes has only one tattoo: a depiction of Dr. Suess' The Grinch on his right arm. I like Wes a lot, and laugh at some of his delusions. Despite having two life sentences for some hit-man related incidents, every year since I've known him Wes has been thoroughly convinced that he will be released by Christmas. You gotta hope for the best I suppose.

Kneeling at right is Brad... you know a little about him already.

And last but certainly not least ... can I get a drum roll? .... it's the Vroomster in all of his glory. Behold before you the, according to him, best looking white man in Terre Haute. It is a claim which is hard to dispute.

So that's the gang. No doubt I'll find a new crew wherever I go next, even if it's just those damn spider monkeys. But I'll certainly miss these fellows here.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Reunion

So, we meet again.

How long has it been? 8, 9, 10 years? Except for that brief fling we had at University of Cincinnati, I was sure that I had seen the last of you when I dropped out in the 9th grade. Didn't I make it clear to you that we were through; that whatever we may have once had is gone? Being locked away I was convinced that I was out of your reach. But you've found me, following me like a plague even here, haunting my life like some twisted, paper-cutting demon. Look at you, staring at me from my desk, looking so smug with your uncreased pages and crisp, unbroken binding. With all of your sophisticated words divided into "chapters" and "lessons." You really think you're hot shit, don't you? You think you can just come strutting in here after all these years and begin dictating how I'm going to spend my days! You're crazy if you do. You're nothing more than a glorified S.T.D. pamphlet to me and I'd just as soon use you as toilet paper than pay attention to what you have to say for even a second. Fuck you and that UPS truck you rode in on. I told you to kiss my ass in high school and I'm telling you to kiss my ass now. Only idiots read textbooks.

I'm back in school now. Figuratively speaking. Figuratively writing. Through Ohio University's Distance Learning Program I've just enrolled in two courses, Writing and Reading 152 and Critical Approaches to Poetry 202, as a degree candidate. Yes, folks, this is highly advanced material I'm going to be studying, but Mensa will not consider my application until these are completed.

In all seriousness, a) we all gotta start somewhere, and b) 95% of the offered courses require a proctor to supervise the exams, so my course selections are currently limited to the remaining 5%, since providing proctors is not exactly something the guards in the hole consider a priority. No big deal, these two classes are prerequisites for the upper-level English and humanities courses anyhow. Hey, I'm just thrilled to be back in college at all. This is long overdue.

For a while it appeared that the probability of me being able to take courses at all was looking very small. The head of education here is a short and miserable-tempered woman with one of the most ridiculous wigs I've ever seen. The first time we spoke she gave initial verbal approval to my request to enroll in the program. Which was why it was especially frustrating when, after getting all my ducks in a row and submitting the paperwork necessary for official approval, she developed a sudden selective amnesia by denying that we had ever spoken or that she ever told me such a program could be done in the hole or that we had ever met at all. During our next encounter I attempted to convince this creature of her error in an impassioned yet controlled manner. But perhaps I used too little control and too much passion, because after 15 seconds of my speech she turned and walked away as I was in mid-sentence.

After soothing my rage by verbally abusing Shit Bag Ron, my roommate at the time, I regrouped and came up with a new plan to gain approval for these classes. To make a long and insipidly boring story short, after a good deal of paperwork, request forms, whining and just generally making a nuisance of myself, I was eventually given the documented approval I sought.

Never before have I encountered or even heard of a greater resistance being mounted against a man trying to educate himself. Clearly the administration theorized that once I learned the intricacies of poetry I would immediately utilize my skills by mesmerizing the guard in a gun tower with recitations of Baudelaire, eventually convincing him to look the other way as I scaled a fence. Damn, how was my plot uncovered? Those prison officials are certainly more clever than they appear. Which isn't saying much.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

My reading list (updated 3/18/09)

This is a partial list of what I've read over the past couple of years. Inmates aren't allowed to receive books sent by private individuals, rather only those shipped directly from publishers and booksellers like Amazon. Many of them were ordered for me by my dad, aunt Carolyn and my grandmother, and include both titles I requested and some that were not requested but greatly appreciated. Thanks also to Michael Millard, Scott Ainslie, and Nina, whose picks are always right on. The list is in no particular order, nor does it include titles - mostly thrillers and such - that have simply floated around the prison like letters in a bottle and made their way to me.

I'll keep updating the list as time goes by (which it does, however slowly....).

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier
The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too, James Galbraith
Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, Edward Craig
Up in the Old Hotel, Joseph Mitchell
The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve, G. Edward Griffin
Stock Investing For Dummies
The Story of Art, E. H. Gombrich
The Middle Ages, Morris Bishop
Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, Daniel Goleman
The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice For Beginning Poets, Ted Kooser
Delights and Shadows, Ted Kooser
Northern Ireland: A Very Short Introduction, Marc Mulholland
Making Sense of the Troubles: The Story of the Conflict in Northern Ireland, David McKittrick
Hello, I'm Special: How Individuality Became the New Conformity, Hal Niedzviecki
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, Al Franken
Consider the Lobster : And Other Essays, David Foster Wallace
Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts
David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
Wisdom of Our Fathers: Lessons and Letters from Daughters and Sons, Tim Russert
8 Minute Meditation: Quiet Your Mind. Change Your Life, Victor Davich
The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, Dylan Thomas
All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot
All Things Bright and Beautiful, James Herriot
Happiness : The Science behind Your Smile, Daniel Nettle
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers / Walden; Or, Life in the Woods / The Maine Woods / Cape Cod, Henry David Thoreau
The Sedona Method: Your Key to Lasting Happiness, Success, Peace and Emotional Well-Being, Hale Dwoskin, Jack Canfield
Russka: The Novel of Russia, Edward Rutherfurd
London, Edward Rutherfurd
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book) Teacher's Edition: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction
The Insanity Defense: The Complete Prose, Woody Allen
Consolation of Philosophy: Revised Edition (Penguin Classics), Boethius
The Ballad of Typhoid Mary, Jörg Federspiel
Naked, David Sedaris
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl
The Dawn of Human Culture, Richard G. Klein
Tunnel in the Sky, Robert A. Heinlein
Introduction To World Religions, Christopher H. Partridge
The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions, Huston Smith
It's A Magical World: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection, Bill Watterson
The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, Bill Watterson
Magical Thinking: True Stories, Augusten Burroughs
Why Choose This Book?: How We Make Decisions, Read Montague
The Complete Pelican Shakespeare (Pelican Shakespeare)
American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America, Chris Hedges
Hunting for Hope: A Father's Journeys, Scott Russell Sanders
Mind Performance Hacks: Tips & Tools for Overclocking Your Brain, Ron Hale-Evans
Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews -- A History, James Carroll
The Glass Castle: A Memoir, Jeannette Walls
Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
Veronika Decides to Die: A Novel of Redemption, Paulo Coelho
Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey--The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World, Holley Bishop
Mapping the Mind, Rita Carter
A Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe: Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science, Michael S. Schneider
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell
The Odyssey: A Dramatic Retelling of Homer's Epic, Simon Armitage
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Michael Pollan
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Barbara Kingsolver
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield
God Does Have a Sense of Humor, Rob Ballister
Rasputin and the Fall of the Romanovs, Colin Wilson
You've Got to Read This: Contemporary American Writers Introduce Stories that Held Them in Awe, Ron Hansen
Old Christmas, Washington Irving
Ant Farm: And Other Desperate Situations, Simon Rich
Stuff White People Like: A Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions, Christian Lander
The Complete Sherlock Holmes: All 4 Novels and 56 Short Stories
The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley
Harry Potter books two, three and four

The Story of Edward Sawtelle, David Wroblewski
Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett
The Road Home, Jim Harrison
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thomson
No Exit, Jean-Paul Sartre
Families and How to Survive Them, Robin Skynner and John Cleese
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace, Greg Mortenson
Barry & the Boys, Daniel Hopsicker

The Oedipus Cycle, Sophocles
Working, Studs Terkel

Friday, January 2, 2009

G'd up from the feet up

G.Q. Magazine's current slogan is "Look Sharp - Live Smart." So whose bright idea was it to run a feature article on the über-successful rapper Lil' Wayne in this month's issue? I mean, a man doesn't look sharp just because he's wearing a thousand dollar pair of jeans. Not if they're hanging off his ass. And yeah, he's a multi-millionaire, but does G.Q. mean to imply that anything Wayne does is "living smart"? C'mon, that's a lil' bit of a stretch.

Regardless of the whole sharp/smart argument, the profile's author, Devin Friedman, certainly paints an interesting picture of the multi-platinum selling artist. Not that he has an especially challenging task in doing so, because Wayne is nothing if not interesting.

And despite his relatively young age (26), he's certainly no stranger to success in the music industry. Back in the late 90's when a southern rap style known as "Bling" was popular, Wayne was already turning out hit tracks even I listened to. "Pop X and drink Crys', my life is the shit" he spat in one of his songs. Yes, indeed, Wayne, your life is the shit.

Since the millennium he's kept his record label, Cash Money, but ditched his style. Or at least tweaked it. And whatever he did to tweak it, he did it just right: his last album, released in June, "Tha Carter III", went platinum in a week and triple-platinum not long afterwards.

Lil' Wayne sure has the life: a massive entourage; "girl delivery service;" personal recording studios in his tour buses, apartments and mansions; at least a million dollars worth of diamonds, gold and platinum around his neck; two Bentleys and a Maybach. Even though he hasn't driven in 4 years.

Friedman describes the world around Wayne as a system. A delicate balance which needs to be meticulously maintained. The man has a chubby Mexican personal assistant whose primary responsibilities include replenishing his stash of pre-rolled blunts and refilling his cup of liquid codeine. But the only time the assistant does so is when Wayne isn't paying attention, perhaps to keep up a fantasy that the supply of drugs replenishes itself by nothing less than an act of God, sorta like Jesus feeding the 4,000.

Apparently Wayne goes through engineers like dirty underwear. He's just begun making his own beats, even playing the electric guitar and producing his own music videos. Of course his skills with these practices are nowhere equal to that of his rapping abilities. It's only understandable that he would take his shortcomings out on his technician flunkies. A couple of these spats are detailed in the profile. They're certainly nothing everyone who's had a crappy boss hasn't had to deal with. Just a little more whiney. And of course there is no real argument. The engineer of the hour only calmly licks his lips and does what he thinks his employer wants. "The system is not set up for discourse."

One can easily imagine how Wayne's days pass by in a semi-conscious and wholly-inebriated daze. In addition to the dozen or so blunts he reportedly smokes a day, the promethazine cough syrup he drinks like water is some really potent shit. It was prescribed to me after some dental work I had done and even the recommended dose was enough to get me stoned at a level describable only as That State. Combine this with the excessive consumption of hard liquor and Ecstasy he bragged about in his late-90's songs, and there's little doubt that Wayne's mind is the egg after the frying pan treatment in those "This is your brain on drugs" commercials.

And what kind of celebrity would he be without a completely self-centered concept of time and scheduling!? If Wayne shows up for performances or interviews at all, who can complain if he's one, two, ten hours late? A fellow rapper put it best in one of his songs: "You should be honored by my lateness / That I would even show up for this lame shit."

Devin certainly does a convincing job of portraying Wayne's life as a dreamy cloud on which he sits in his throne hazily surveying his kingdom and subjects. What happens when a song is played that he doesn't like? "What the fuck is THIS!? Get this off! Get this fucking OFF! Whose computer is this!? This is the stupidest computer I've ever heard of!"

Quite the drama queen, it's anybody's guess what exactly molded Wayne into who he is today. Certainly he wasn't playing the prima donna at age 11 during his first recording session. His descent/ascent into this delirium was a gradual and steady process of concerning himself with the only concerns he absolutely had to concern himself with and dealing with only the issues no one else could be paid to deal with. Wayne certainly isn't the first man whose goal is to go through life being carried on a palanquin like some modern-day Hindu potentate. But, as Devin points out, "the world tends to resist."

After reading the profile, I felt it important to be objective about what I had read. Take into consideration any biases the author may have had against his subject, possibly created as he was being pushed around, bossed around and rescheduled numerous times during a month period. This sort of treatment could understandably color the picture that was painted.

Having taken all that into consideration, I am still 100% convinced that Lil' Wayne is a narcissistic madman. His perception of reality is like a deregulated market going through a bubble which is eventually and inevitably going to burst. And when it does, I doubt it will be pretty. Not that the time until it bursts will be pretty either. Wrapped in his cloak of drugs, fame and megalomania, his tolerance for interaction with lesser mortals and the irritation they cause will undoubtedly continue. Probably until he goes bat-shit crazy.

Lil' Wayne doesn't concern me. He can tie his own ropes. What does concern me is why this is even newsworthy reporting. G.Q. isn't exactly the N.Y. Times, but it's still a respectable publication. What purpose does the profile serve? Does it teach us anything? No. Does it shock, disgust or surprise us? It didn't me. Is it inspirational? God help us if so. Is it a story anyone over the age of 16 hasn't already heard before? Not unless they're Amish.

The fact that this well-written yet completely shallow profile was made public kinda disturbed me. It is a reflection of our society. Wayne is American pop culture's championed anti-hero, a projection of our youth's capitalist fantasy land. The fact that his envied lifestyle is self-destructive and doomed for failure is irrelevant. Wayne's still living the dream.

And not only does it reflect America's slothful greed, Wayne's world-wide popularity says less about his talent than it does about how Americans are perceived in the international community. Do we really want the world to think of us as nothing more than uncultured, self-centered Greedheads? Well, we've got a hell of a poster boy.

Lil' Wayne's music video producer says: "It's Wayne's universe and we are all little stars constellated around him." Although that is true, Wayne is still our creation. Americans expected such behavior of him, even demanded it. So party on, Wayne. And we'll all party vicariously through you.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

I Saw Carlos Killing Santa Clause

Ho Ho Ho! Christmas afternoon in Terre Haute. Imagine my disappointment this morning when I woke up and beheld that the cozy area under the lopsided Christmas tree Brian had scribbled on a sheet of writing paper and taped to the wall was devoid of any brightly colored packages topped with flowery bows. There was absolutely nothing under that rendered pine tree, not even any dark lumps of coal I had been dreading. Not only that, the milk and cookies I had spent an hour making out of candy bars, trail mix and peanut butter were both undisturbed. Well, partly undisturbed; Brian apparently got up at four in the morning and the temptation of a cookie was too much for him. So Santa never made it to cell B-213. How could this be?

There's only one possibility which makes any sense. In the absence of a chimney, Tubby Clause obviously uses ventilation systems to make his deliveries. In order to reach the second floor where my cell is located, he would first have to make his way through the 3rd and 4th floors .. Death Row.

So that's the end of old St. Nick. There's no telling what those animals on Death Row did to that jolly fellow when they got hold of him. Yelling up through the vents, I've had a few conversations with those maniacs up there and, man, I'll bet Kris Kringle didn't have a very merry Christmas if Carlos the tri-state decapitator was the one who got him. Poor bastard.

It's quiet around here. Too quiet. Except for the guards coming on the run to hand out our lunch of Cornish hens, there hasn't been a peep all day. This is highly unusual because for most people, any prolonged quietness is unsettling, so during any lapses in activity there's almost always a few people exchanging small talk with each other by yelling through their doors or roommates arguing over a card game. But today a person could hear a pin drop.

I've never been in the hole for Christmas before, but I imagine this is probably what it's like every year. I'm a taciturn individual even under normal circumstances and today I am finding myself even more reticent and introspective than usual, which is probably something everyone is feeling. General population offers plenty of Christmas-day distractions. Like the traditional Christmas morning craps game where anyone who feels like it can gamble away their holiday cookies or candy bought from the prison commissary. Even if a person isn't a big gambler, it's still fun to watch, and spectating is allowed and encouraged. On top of the dice game there are the tournaments sponsored by the recreation department. Inmates sign up to compete in anything from horseshoes to spades to basketball to Scrabble. There are prizes. Usually something silly like a box of sugar-free Kool-Aid. Certainly nothing more valuable than bragging rights.

Back here in segregation, there's nothing. At least nothing except that Cornish hen and a roommate who cheats when we pull on the wishbone. But actually, I'm kinda appreciating the opportunity to be stuck back here with nothing to distract me from the thoughts of what I'm missing by being in prison. There's something to be said for a day of forced meditation on the good ol' days of Christmas trees and dinner at my grandmother's. Of being jealous about my sister getting a cooler gift than I did and hoping the snow melted soon so I could try my new bike. There's something almost healthy about such painful reflection, it seems. Kind of like a fast for the mind.

Life isn't so bad. For all the whining I do, the sorrow associated with my memories of Christmas Past haunting me during Christmas Present certainly provide a greater appreciation for Christmas Future (to vaguely and poorly reference Dickens), and also for life in general. At least I've got some good company to feel sorry for myself with. Even if he does cheat at the whole wishbone thing. Jerk.