First-World Prison Problems-#5

One iron-clad rule of prison life is never to show weakness, lest you become everyone’s doormat. Besides which- gangs & thug-life, shanks * and cans of pop in pillowcases. (Just kidding about that last line. I think I saw that in a movie once. Maybe true of the big-boy prison across the road, but not in prison “camp”; some of which [I’m told] don’t even have fences, let alone razor-wired perimeters.)

But still, the weakness rule holds. An ugly example I witnessed was between my 66 year old cellie and another guy of similar vintage. It was the night a few weeks back when Michigan beat Chicago Loyola in one of the March Madness Final Fours. The TV room was packed and when my cellie entered the room, he discovered another guy in his chair. I saw him walking up to him, and shuddered to think what was coming next.

You need the TV room explained to you. It is the one place where the baddestness of the baddest of the badasses is clearly revealed. The best seats in the room belong to them, and nobody else. The question is, how in a room with 4 smallish flat-screen TVs do you determine the seat of greatest prestige.

To answer that you need more info.

The purpose of the 4 screens is to minimize the potential for violent conflict due to the collision of criminal wills. One screen is always tuned to Telemundo, for the sake of those inmates who speak more than just English and who hold all the best paying jobs. That station broadcasts both kinds of their culture’s art forms- 1) graphic violence using 1970’s cinematography, and 2) a Spanish version of Judge Judy featuring a brilliant, hot tamale jurist. I usually watch this to learn the thousands of ways one can add nuance to speech using hands.

Another screen is for shows of true crime and fiction, particularly “Orange Is The New Black”, set in a federal women’s prison. For some sort of rehabilitative purposes, I suppose.

The third is almost exclusively tuned to The Big Bang Theory. In the odd hours of the day when TBBT is not on, its tuned to the Discovery Channel’s American Pickers. On weekends this is the NASCAR channel. Oh yes, also- a “reality” show where 2 people- a guy and a girl- are put on a tropical island wearing only a camera crew, for the sake of teaching prisoners survival skills.

The 4th is where the true displaying of the badass pecking order occurs. The pecking order is necessarily connected to those badasses who will be present at every NFL game and who have bet money on each and every event televised on a given day. This means that this channel is always on ESPN, and ESPN affiliate, or an ESPN second cousin. But now I must slightly shift the paradigm.

The original badasses are probably long gone from this prison, but their legacy persists. Their greatness continues to be manifest by their heirs, to whom they willed their seats of honor, or who presume to claim so. I had never seen a claim disputed, but always recognized by all. Until that night.

My cellie stood in front of the usurper, whose back was against the wall. He told him, “You’re in my chair.” Unfortunately the claim-jumper was of equal size and seeming strength, and therefore it was precluded that he give way and move to a nearby unoccupied seat. My cellie stood firm and quickly decided not to litigate the matter further, but to assert his right by virtue of might, or else, advantage of position. After all, until he moved, the interloper could not see the screen. (It would have be a Mexican standoff, but it was the wrong screen.)

A minute passed with no words and no movement. My cellie decided to attack with hurtful word, suggesting his criminality was a lower form than all the rest of us. The drug kingpin on my right seemed visibly shaken by this display of incivility, and interjected with a diplomatic solution. He was ignored by the antagonists. My cellie turned around in place, continuing to block the man’s view. The man stretched his neck to see around him. I left, suddenly remembering a book that needed reading.

After the game, my cellie returned to our suite. (Scratch that- that would make him my “suitie”) He justified his actions by announcing that you just can’t let anybody push you around, and what he did was based on that promise. Lesson learned, I guess.

But that’s not what I’ve come to write about. As appalling as that was, I’m more appalled at my own weakness, which I hope to purge by this confession: YESTERDAY I TOOK A CALLED THIRD STRIKE FOR AN INNING-ENDING OUT…WITH RUNNERS ON BASE, IN A PRISON SOFTBALL GAME!!


*To my embarassment, I learned “shanks” and “skanks” are two different things.