Wearing a Snitch Jacket (by Guest Blogger Big Jason)

Big Jason was incarcerated as a youth in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Durango jail and the Arizona Department of Corrections Adobe Mountain juvenile facility for assault, attempted burglary, and violation of probation.

“Lights out,” the on duty officer announced with a bellowing call. The command snaked its way down the long hallways of cold polished concrete and tan brick walls. Darkness followed the sound of the guards footsteps as he turned off each individual cell light with a special key. It was time to stop whatever we were doing, and get on our bunks or risk a write-up.

By now most of the inmates had settled in for the night. A few scattered faces remained gazing out from behind the scarred safety glass of their cell doors. Our night-shift guard was a grizzled little man with a silver beard and wire-rimmed glasses. His balding head and liver spots suggested he was nearing retirement. This seemed to have no effect on his ability to take head counts, and bust our balls. He would often crack jokes at an inmates expense, and use the fact that we were on graveyard lock-down to harangue us. None of us ever had any contact with this man or were even out of our cells while he was on shift, but this would soon change.

Locked down for the night, my cellmate and I heard the familiar sounds of our silver-bearded comedian's keys jangling as he walked our row of cells, turning off the lights. Sure enough, I turned my head, and there he was with a sinister smile. Normally, I would be teasing this guy about his last name, which vaguely sounded like the title of a classic 1980's video game “Joust” and he would return the favor with funny jokes about our appearance and ethnicity, and we'd all have a laugh. I looked over to the window, and in good sport said “Hey, Joust, lets play a game,” but something was different about him this time. My joke fell on deaf ears.

His eyes stared back at me cold and angry. “You think you're tough behind that door? “ he asked in a serious tone.
”I handle my own,” I said.
“How would you like everyone in here to know you're a snitch.” He finished his remark with an annoying smirk.
I felt my ears turn red. What the hell did I do to piss him off so bad he would do this? I was never a snitch, and never had problems with anyone. This label can create havoc on an inmate. I could easily be jumped or stabbed. He had said it loud enough for the rest on the wing to hear. Faces had popped up in the doors to see what was going on.

I told the old man, “If you want to push me and start some shit, it is on.”
He said OK with a smile and continued to walk the unit.
My cellmate looked at me with a little suspicion.
I was in shock, and really mad, plotting on how to pay him back. What would I do? Do I shank the guy and pick up aggravated assault charges? How can I get this guy? became my mantra for the next couple of days.

A few inmates who had heard him accuse me of being a snitch asked me about it during recreation time. I told them I was never a snitch, and my reputation was known as a good solid guy, which could be verified through-out the institution. It was agreed upon that he was a being a real dick and we were all pretty tired of his bullshit. None of the guys thought about doing anything to him for it, they just sat and steamed alongside me, offering support. Since this was my beef, I couldn't realistically expect any of them to help me.

After a few days of him walking by smiling and smirking, I lost it. I decided it was time to act. I rigged my door lock, so that I could open it with a comb after lock-down. What I would do when I got out was a different story. I did want to hurt this guy, but I didn't want the time and punishment that would follow. At the same time, I had to save face. I decided to send him a message to let him know that we the inmates can still get to him no matter what and I wasn't the one to be messed with.

I jimmied the lock to my door while my cellmate and a few other guys on the wing kept one-time. The term “one-time” is yelled out to alert other inmates when a staff or guard is coming. Our cell door opened with ease as I pried at the lock with my comb. An intense rush came over me as I tasted a type of freedom. The adrenaline rush was coming on hard as I creeped down the hall to see where the guard was. I spotted him in the next hall over and ducked down to avoid being seen. My heart pounded with anticipation.

Inmates were watching me not knowing what I was going to do but were anxious to see some type of bloodshed or mayhem. It had crossed my mind to smash this guy over the head, take his keys and radio, and try to escape, but I found myself in a quagmire. Only 4 months left, my inner voice said with an unexpected urgency. My reasoning got the best of me, and forced me back to my cell. The journey back along the corridor was a long one with a gallery of faces looking at me in disappointment.

I removed the rigging from the door lock, and shut the cell door quietly. My heart eventually slowed down. It wasn't long before word got back to the guard. Our unit snitch was always busy drumming up some type of shit, and this was probably a holy grail moment for him. I was expecting to be thrown into solitary, and have charges brought against me, but nothing transpired. Maybe he realized he had stepped over the line? Not a word was ever mentioned again and not a dirty look was given from him. No more jokes or anything. I wasn't exactly sure what to think or do.

About 3 months later, my ticket was up. I had served 6 months, and was due for release. The anticipation welled up inside me. I could taste mom’s cooking and smell the fresh-cut grass. I remembered what girls smelled like and how the air used to blow beads of sweat off my face when I was skateboarding. I was going to see all my old friends, and go eat a hamburger and fries. I would be free from Adobe Mountain.

My release date came and went without a word from my case-manager or anyone. When I asked, I was given the cold shoulder, and told I had not yet met the requirements to be released, and that when committed to the state department of corrections, it is always until your 18th birthday. The release dates were optional depending on your behavior while incarcerated. My case-manager said he went to bat for me, but was shut down by two other unnamed individuals. Infuriated and enraged, I suspect the guard ahd prevented my release. I had to bottle up my anger, and not give them any reason to mess with me even more.

Surviving these places in hard enough, but to do it for extended periods of time without catching another charge is even harder.


Shaun Attwood

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