The Eastham Unit is fully operational. Inmates are doing time - in the dayroom, at work, standing in the commissary line, and the last group is trickling down the hallway from the chow hall (dinner meal) en route to their respective living areas.
(Intercom announcement): “All inmates, go to your assigned housing areas. All inmates, go to your assigned housing areas. All officers, rack up the unit.”
Mass movement commences as inmates dispersed throughout the unit move quickly like ants in a straight line, one behind the other, as groggy-turned-alert guards order and rush them to their living areas. Friday night plans of inmates going to the recreation yard, work, religious services, making big food ‘spreads,’ and to the crowded dayrooms, where inmates sit on rusty benches watching re-run movies, and tell exaggerated ‘war stories’ about life in the free world, have been forcefully abandoned by the intercom announcement. Me, I’m already confined to my cell, where I choose to be most of the time, peaceful in my serene solitude, staying creative and productive in my own little world as I wait, actively, for the doors of freedom to open for me.
“Rack it up! Rack it up!” the chorus of yelling from guards, male and female, can be heard up and down the halls and tiers in different pitches and tones as they rack up the lines/wings (housing areas) they have been assigned to work on this given day. There’s also a vocal guard in the picket, cranking the heavy-duty metal wheel that is the manual mechanism that opens the cell doors. The human parrots continue to shout repeatedly, “Rack it up! Rack it up!” Grumbling inmates enter their cells with slumped shoulders for what they know will be the next 2-3 weeks. Cell doors clank closed with a colossal crash. In less than ten minutes, the unit is empty and quiet by prison standards, not one white uniform can be spotted lingering in this concrete city of confinement.
6:11 p.m. Lockdown Day 1
My analytical eyes, from a young age, had seen enough criminal negativity and sin to last a lifetime, and this was before I entered the penal system at the age of 17 and was exposed to the crazy, sometimes gruesome lifestyles of institutional living. From birth until I was a precocious 14 year-old, I grew up in a “nice” (dual meaning) home that was financed by my late, hardworking father (gangsters don’t live that long, don’t believe that song), whom I loved and respected, but was a resourceful drug dealer and lived his life in the fast lane, so the corrupt and influential culture of drugs, sex, and illegal activities was normal to my upbringing. I witnessed my dad at his best and at his worst; I watched him succeed and I watched him suffer and deteriorate to death from an AIDS related illness. My dad’s untimely death marked the end of my childhood and the rite of passage to me becoming an adult.
Adopted by the streets, my gang peers, and a few relatives, I foolishly followed in my father’s footsteps down the same path of destruction.
My optical recordings and mental catalog of negative images, seeing mankind at his worst as he openly displays and demonstrates his darkest fears, hatred, and lusts in a place conducive for acceptable mayhem where he has nothing to lose and everything to gain, has grown exponentially while I’ve been caged in this prison zoo. During my entertaining-but-nowhere-near fun nearly 21-year prison journey, I’ve been assigned to six different ID units, had 72 cellies, and endured 65 of these lockdowns. Yes, almost to a fault, I keep track of everything, even when some people think I’m not (conspiratorial grin).
The art of being an effective observer in prison, being aware of my surroundings and individual patterns of behavior, is to absorb the free-flowing intel and info without making it known, like a sponge rock next to a river. As they say, speech is silver, but silence is golden. And, as some guys say in here, “If only these prison walls could speak,” well, they can. My blog writing is the articulate echo you’re able to hear, because I’ve practiced careful listening and observational skills for many years now. So listen to me, my virtual celly, and you just might learn a little something about prison life in Texas. (Wink).
There are three main types of lockdowns in prison: security, disciplinary, and administrative. Security lockdowns are implemented when there’s a severe weather storm in the area, an escape, or if something such as a tool, utensil or officer’s uniform comes up missing. Having previously been assigned to two “gladiator units,” at the “Terrible Terrell” Unit in Livingston, Texas (now called the Polunsky Unit because Mr. Terrell opposes the death penalty, and that is where Death Row is housed) and the Ferguson Unit, I have witnessed the malicious mayhem of gang wars, riots, stabbings, fights, bloodshed, staff assaults, fires, floods, gay sex, guard-inmate sex, drug and cellphone busts, and lesser acts of prison violence and corruption that are grounds for a wing or entire unit being put on a 30-day disciplinary lockdown. I’ve been in a few of these, and let me tell you, they are nothing nice. They can be debilitating to a man’s mind and spirit if he doesn’t know how to occupy his time constructively in a tiny cell for 30 days (sometimes longer because misconduct by one bird-brain idiot can restart the lockdown for everyone to day one).
All I can say is it’s wise for an inmate to keep a locker full of commissary food on standby and have some books mailed from the free world in the event a disciplinary lockdown occurs. The upside is - and this is true of any lokdown - we don’t have to worry about waking up and working for free at our prison jobs and we can sleep until our hearts and bodies are content. (A disciplinary lockdown can be for one day).
The last type of lockdown, which is what we’re on now, is an administrative lockdown. These are routine, standard operation procedure (S.O.P.) lockdowns that occur once a year on minimum and medium security units, like this one, for ‘shakedowns,’ where they search our property for contraband items. The truth is they find more major contraband (drugs, cell phones, shanks) through anonymous inmate snitches’ tips when we’re not on lockdown, than when we are on lockdown. When facing a disciplinary case, some of these characterless clowns masquerading as hardcore gangsters would give up their own mothers if it meant getting a case dropped. I don’t understand why men in prison tattoo their bodies with marks, signs, and symbols that they say are meaningful when the when the marks of integrity and loyalty are absent from their hearts.
Anyway, the administrative lockdowns are protocol window-dressing by the system and nothing more than a mass cleaning of the unit, which I think is a good idea. Lockdowns for shakedown purposes force pack-rat inmates and everyone in general to downsize our personal property, get rid of the old letters, magazines, books, multi-purpose containers, etc., we have accumulated over the past six months, so that our important, can’t-do-without property fits into the roughly two cubic square foot egg-crates they give to us upon arriving to the shakedown area (gym). There’s always an occasional dumbass who gets busted trying to sneak some major contraband item through the shakedown, but most of the illegal items that are found are petty contraband items and various appliances that guards confiscate from inmates because they don’t have the required property papers to verify proof of ownership.
For the average inmate like me, lockdown is our bi-annual unpaid vacation time. (If you recall from my last blog entry, we are not paid for our labor in Texas). Lockdown can be a beneficial time of introspection, time for us to take a personal inventory and evaluate where we are in our incarceration and how we can better make use of our time in prison so that we can get to where we want to be. A time of thinking, projecting, visualizing, planning, revising written goals, praying and meditating. Lockdown can also be a time to kick back, relax, read some books I’ve been putting off, reach out to some loved ones and friends I haven’t written to in a while, exercise, organize - there’s plenty to do to pass the vacation time productively.
The only two drawbacks of lockdown, to me anyway, is the cumbersome task of having to pack my property and carry the bags on my back like a cross to the shakedown area and eating the “Johnnies” that appear at my cell door three times a day. To all you newboot novices out there who may misinterpret that last line as someone name Johnny being eaten - hey, it’s your imagination, not mine (smile). Allow me to translate. You know how some people name their cars and other inanimate objects, well, it’s kind of like that. Johnny is the name of the skimpy brown sack meals they deliver to our cells three times a day while we’re on lockdown that always contain a wet (they whip the peanut butter and jelly together) PB&J sandwich a small bag of either prunes or raisins, and something that’s usually processed (i.e., corn dog, hot dog, burrito, hamburger patty, etc.). I was lucky, I ‘made’ store (proper prison talk) on the same Friday we were locked down, so I’m fortunate to have some condiments and other solid food items I purchased from the commissary to dress up my Johnnies and to use the meats as fillers in my Ramen noodles for my daily spreads. The hamburger patties taste so much better when I tear them up into small pieces, season the meat with garlic and black pepper, let the meat cook in a chip back inside my hot pot, and mix the juicy meat in my soup than when eat the dry meat patty on plain, white bread. Now we’re both hungry (smile). Those inmates who are broke (indigent) or who got caught slipping by having little to no commissary while on lockdown are starvin’ like Marvin (not the name of anything - smile) and are probably shedding some extra pounds they needed to lose.
Well, my virtual celly, I need to get back to enjoying my wonderful vacation. I know some of you are craving the gritty, raw and uncut details of prison life, some of the acts of violence I mentioned in the malicious mayhem list earlier. Be patient, I’ll get to them and share some rather interesting stories with you. (Some stories and topics I refuse to write about until I get out.)
Right now, with my blog, creative writing, songs, letters and book ideas, I’m juggling many writing projects at once as I prepare myself to live the literal next chapter of my life in the free world. I’m gazing out the window and it looks like it’s about to rain, mmm, good. I love when it rains, because besides cooling down the hot atmosphere, rain storms inspire me in multiple ways. I think after my 1,000 push-up exercise session and my dinner date with Johnny, I’ll sit down and give creative birth to this new song that’s been pregnant in my fertile mind for weeks (Either I’m Going Crazy … Or I’m Crazy About You).
Note: I have a few shorter blogs that will be posted on adoptaninmate.org and writeaprisoner.com that I invite you to read.