I woke up this morning and had an itinerary in my bars. I snagged it and read the header: ‘Prisoner Orientation to HIV’. I bolted upright, wiped the sleep from my eye, positioned it under the light, and then relaxed–on the following line was the much appreciated word, ‘Awareness’.
I brought my laundry down fifty-two stairs, learned it was the wrong day, and brought it back up, went to breakfast, returned, stared at the wall, daydreamed, and then phone call time arrived.
It was 9:30 in the morning, but I still talked to two pals, which was nice.
I say “nice” too much. I smile too much.
I need to put on a dangerous scowl if I am going to get out of prison as scheduled.
I also smile at the wrong things. It’s like I flow on an opposite current as the men around me.
Our HIV awareness class lasted two hours and was taught by inmates. They told numerous raunchy jokes, which may have been funny, judging by the others’ reactions, but I was deadpan.
As we left, the guard who signs our pass asked if I needed a haircut; (my head is shaved). I smiled and said, “It is getting long.”
It’s interactions like that which cause major problems. It makes it seem like I’m friendly with the police. I do relate to the maturity level of CO’s more than convicts, but I understand which side of the line I’m on, and I’m far from a rat.
On my first arrest, cops offered to make all of my charges vanish if I turned in any two people. Their only stipulation was that the people have money. Forget the crime, just have assets they can seize.
I lost a good girlfriend by refusing to snitch on people. She begged me to turn in her ex-husband and a guy who stole from me years ago, but you I know more about the subject that she does. The real problem with snitching is what is does TO YOU.
The first person I knew who snitched was when we were in high school. This guy had perfect looks, great smile, good family, and he was smart. He told on people to avoid a weed charge. I saw him five years later in a bar. It was the middle of the day in the middle of the week. He was alone and annihilated. He came up to me and was like, “Bro, I’d never tell on you.” To be honest, I had forgotten the entire incident occurred. He hadn’t.
To snitch, you have to believe or convince yourself that you are more important than other people. Despite what some people who know me might say, I’ve never considered myself more important than others.
Put plainly, staring blankly at multiple jokes told by inmates, and then exiting and palling around with a guard is stupid. So is telling what goes on in here, or speaking on gangs, or coming to the regrettable conclusion that I still carry the Napoleon complex. These all equate to impending trouble.
I had another standout moment during the class: I asked a relevant question, but neglected to insert humor meant to stymie the fact that the main topics of the afternoon were HIV, Hepatitis C, and rape.
I like to laugh, but my humor differs from the majority of the men here. There was a section we all found funny. A video clip showed an older white guy wearing Coke-bottle glasses. He entered his cell and found a Payday candy bar resting on his pillow. He tsked, shook his head dramatically, and then brought it out to the day room. He held the candy bar above his head, and said in the whitest voice possible, “No thanks, guys. I’m not down with that.”
You see, the video was helping us to avoid the pitfalls of being raped. Apparently giving you an item and then demanding sexual payment is a tried and true method. This will be another problem for me. I’m the type of person where if you need something, I’ll give, and if I need, I’ll accept.
No. Not like that…
That line of thinking, my friends, is, from what I hear, a predominant pastime in prison: homosexual innuendos. They call them slips, and the art of inserting a slip is called slip game. I can’t wait…(definite sarcasm).
I’m not used to joking with people I don’t know. I’ve kept a tight circle (yes, that qualifies as slip game, and I think I did quite well for my first attempt). I heard a bunch of these in jail, and to my surprise, I laughed often.
So, HIV is spread easily in prison–blood flows freely due to violence, and semen is also passed through a much less comical version of slip game. They claim that fifty percent of all HIV in America stems from prison (It’s mostly from guys being gay in here and acting normal when they leave. I’ve heard it called, “gay for the stay.” Hard to believe). Fifty percent ladies, so don’t trust a fit man from prison without the blood work. Also, people with HIV are not segregated. Neither we, nor the CO’s are allowed to know who has the virus.
Accompanying the obvious negative attributes associated with having HIV in prison, comes the frightful fact that if you have AIDS and fight (regardless if you’re the aggressor or not, because prison has a no-fault policy), you go to medical segregation for the remainder of your time in prison, whether that be two or forty years.
(Medical segregation is solitude. What differentiates “medical” segregation from “the hole” is a magnet the size of a bumper sticker adhered to the outer door reading ‘Medical’.)
Hepatitis C is much easier to contract, and prison has the highest concentration of the infected in the world (double wow). It attacks the liver and shortens life an average of twelve years).
Finally, there is rape. They played a forty-five minute video dealing with the topic, and though many chuckled, it was the only time no one crosstalked. The inmate consensus is that rape has decreased, yet still occurs.
A guy who I chat with for a few seconds a day received thirteen to forty years. He is perhaps twenty-three, white, skinny, and talks ghetto. He is headed to a Level IV. About a week ago, I told him that if he was pressed by a man too big to fight, that he should pay the twenty dollars, get a banger, and not to be scared to use it.
He looked at me as if I was stupid and said, “Prison ain’t like that no more, yo. No one’s gonna press me.”
I told him he’s probably right.
He is definitely wrong. I’m talking one million percent wrong.
Once you learn that a sort of man exists, like I have, you never forget they are out there, living amongst us.
I’m confident, difficult to intimidate, and have a mild reputation. This has allowed me to deal with: a Jamaican drug lord (whom I only ever spoke with in person, in Jamaica) an organized crime group, and perhaps a dozen caustic freelancers. Many of them thought I was the dangerous one.
Through my criminal associations I’ve learned that some men are very angry, though they may be polite. That some don’t comprehend the concept of ownership, but it’s best not to take what is theirs. That some consider making a mortal enemy for ten dollars today, a sounder investment than having a powerful friend who can make you five dollars a week. Put simply, they don’t give a fuck, or maybe they are animals looking to be humbled. But I can say, without shame, that I never have the compulsion to tame them.
This young man WILL get pressed. It will happen right away, and with fierce conviction. How he deals with it initially will set the tone for the next decade of his life.
I know this because humanity never changes, from a social standpoint. Years ago, when discussing Y2K and the Mayan doomsday calendar, my dad scoffed and told me that people have been saying the world is going to end since the beginning of time. And that someone always gets rich and powerful off of it. True as ever today.
That scoff taught me a valuable lesson about the ages. It is that people HAVE been saying the same things for years. Not just doomsday theorists–it’s the Jews, the price of bread, the crooked politicians, out of control violence, Christian values, and in this instance, it was someone telling this young man that prisons aren’t like that any more.
Inmates say that prison isn’t hard like it was in the eighties, when real killers walked the yard. But what I know, what this young man doesn’t, is that inmates in the eighties were talking about how in the sixties, REAL killers walked the yard, and before that, the forties, and so on. And that’s because people have been saying the same things for years. It’s a truth I hope I can help you grasp, humans do not emotionally evolve. The same stuff happens with different backdrops. To me that says something grand about the universe and existence.
I’ll leave you with two thoughts.
I don’t care for poetry, but I’ve read Ovid’s, The Art of Love, twice. I enjoy delving into the aristocratic world of Rome and getting great advice on how to get a date.
What stands out is that however long it has been, sixteen hundred years or so, we have not changed one iota. Not homo sapiens. Not how we interact. We are carbon copies of our past selves.
We may whiten our teeth with bleach instead of urine, but we are still vain. Sex is still our primary motivation, and those in power still abuse it. Just ask poor Ovid (or yours truly–to a lesser degree).
Lastly, I would like to say that I hope for many positive things in prison, and I pray that many negatives don’t come to pass. But the one thing I fear losing the most is my smile.
I hated it as a child; had no use for it in my teens or early twenties; and finally found it thanks to some old friends, who for now, are current enemies.
I love witnessing major events, reading about our potential, and knowing that regardless of our discoveries or advancements, we will be the exact same sixteen hundred years from now.
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