06 August 06

Coming to Prison

“Arriving at jail and then prison were two of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life,” I told Two Tonys.
“I remember,” Two Tonys said, “at the Walls when the big grey bus drove up with the fish in it. Twenty-five guys from Alhambra would get off the bus, get their chains undone, and walk to Cell Block 1 for orientation. Everybody – the white gang members, the eses, and the blacks – would be lookin’ at the herd of fish. Checkin’ out who’s who, who’s weak, who’s fearful, who’s strong. A fish with fear radiatin' from his eyes, with his shoulders humped and his head down, they’d know they could prey on. A swaggerin’ motherfucker, with his head held high, and all tatted down would be a potential comrade. The gang leaders are always lookin’ for new gang members. If I’m Dubya, I want more Christian conservative Republican members, but I’m not gonna just let anyone in. It’s just the same in here.”
Bomba, a Chicano friend of Two Tonys who’s almost completed a twenty-year sentence, said, “The gang members look at fish as furniture for all corners of the room. Each fish fits in somewhere, whether he’s a chair or a table. A fish may get punked out and be a piece of ass. If he’s comin’ in with jewellery or a Sony Trinatron TV then he’s a source of money.”
“Imagine,” Two Tonys said, “the gang members watchin’ the fish come in as wolves on the side of a grassy hill on the plains of South Dakota watchin’ a herd of elk. The wolves are layin’ there lookin’ for any signs of weakness in potential prey. Maybe a limp in an elk, an old-timer trottin’ behind the herd, or a young elk that’s strayed too far from its mother. Gang members are lookin’ for the same. Maybe a guy with an aura of fear who won’t make eye contact is a cho-mo they’re gonna shank. They’ll approach the fish friendly at first. A probate from the same race will roll up to the newcomer and say shit like, ‘Wassup! Where you from? Let’s go eat.’ Over days and weeks the fish will divulge certain information to his new friend. Whether he’s in for murder, rape, burglary. Whether he’s doin’ two years, five, or life. Whether he likes or hates the other races. If he’s a white guy with a Mexican wife, they’ll know he’s not for them. But maybe he has other uses. Does he get a weekly visit from some sweathog in Chandler who’ll bring in to the prison a pussy full of dope? How much money does he have on his books? And they’re always lookin’ for sexual prey, punks, someone to turn out. At the Walls they were lookin’ for bleeders, people who could bleed twice a week for $6.50 from Cutter Lab International.”
“What if you refused to give blood?” I asked.
“They’d bust your fuckin’ head in.”
“So what kind of body language would you recommend a fish portrays when he arrives at prison?” I asked.
“Make eye contact. Talk to motherfuckers. Keep your head up. Try not to show fear or apprehension – although everyone feels it. Don’t be too polite, but don’t be too disrespectful. If somebody fucks with you, get busy.”

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Copyright © 2005-2006 Shaun P. Attwood

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Angola Prison in Louisiana distributes a pamphlet to fish as they board the bus to prison. It contains many of the items you mentioned -- amd more. An NPR radio show (This American Life) featured some of those former inmates who wrote the pamphlet. You (and your multitude of peeps) might be interested in hearing the episode:

Here's a good description of the whole piece, not just the part about the prisoner-written pamplet:
This hour-long show looks at the lives of inmates and their families, from a call-in radio show for prisoners and their families in Texas, to prison visiting rooms packed with children on Mother's Day. The second-half of the show features a reading of a pamphlet written by ex-con Stephen Donaldson for heterosexual men who are about to enter prison and an interview with former South African political prisoner Breyten Breytenbach, who tells how prison changes all your perceptions, and changes them in ways that last after you've been released.

I heard this piece several years and it is very, very interesting -- and i would imagine a great resource for someone about to enter prison for the first time.

You can hear the audio piece ("Lockup") at thisamericanlife.org (and just do a search for the title).