Thursday, May 22, 2008

Prison for Dummies...chapter 7....It's just my job.

Everyone in the joint has a job, or at least something that passes for one. So I'm going to give you the skinny on the various gigs to be had , the coveted and the to be avoided, but choose with care because you will be stuck with your decision for a while.

I spent a good share of my sentence working in the school. I tutored, which is laughable because I had neither the desire or talent to do it well. I realized that most of the students were operating on a third grade level at best, and that was cool with them. What made it especially tough was the fact that most of these so called students didn't want to be there in the first place. In the federal system if you have no GED or High School diploma, school is mandatory. What the feds haven't managed to figure out is that you cant force someone to learn. So I spent a lot of time reading and not tutoring. Every once in a great while , some guy would come along and genuinely want to better himself. I wont go so far as to say that those rare instances were rewarding, but it beat pissing in the wind trying to help someone who didn't want any help. As prison jobs go, it blew, big time.

Food Service.
Food service was mainly a job area run by, controlled by and monopolized by black guys. Not sure why, but it's a fact throughout state and federal prisons that the majority of food service workers were black. Aside from the fact that you eat better if you work in the kitchen, I could never see the attraction of rising at 3 in the morning and working in a hot kitchen.

There were jobs painting, plumbing, electrical etc., basically all of the labor trades, these were as a rule , jobs occupied by the white inmates. Again, the best explanation I can give is that prison is one of the most self segregated places in the world. Whites, blacks and hispanics all gravitate toward the same type of jobs in order to stay among their own race.

Now there was another group of people in prison who had to have Jobs, the staff, guards, counselors and square people. While you might at first think that people being paid to work in prison are totally unrelated to the inmates, they share more in common than you might think.

The Guards.

The stereotypical prison Hack that is portrayed in movies, is alive and well inside America's prison, but they comprise a small minority of the guards I encountered. For the most part they were all business, a little aloof, and just trying to get through the day unscathed so they could go home. That is the same attitude most convicts have. There were some hacks who were major pricks. They went out of their way to let you know they were running the show, even though they weren't. These were the same guards that would eventually get beat down or worse, by some con with a bigger chip on his shoulder than the hack had. I saw a few of this ilk get his ass handed to him by some convict who just didn't give a damn, and I cant say it wasn't somewhat enjoyable to see it happen. But for the most part guards treated me with respect, and I did the same in return.

Case Unit Managers.
These guys were combination supervisor, counselor and den mother in the joint. They assigned your job, approved your requests and fielded complaints and grievances. It seemed like a thankless job and they were overloaded. Again the occasional prick aside, they always treated me professionally and I really cant say anything negative about them.


Short of a life threatening medical condition or having something contagious, medical staff in prison could not care less about the various ills, aches and pains of the inmates in their charge. I suppose they just felt like everyone was trying to pull a fast one and avoid work by complaining about some contrived medical ailment. And I'd say that sentiment wasn't unwarranted. The medical attention when given was substandard and often lacked any care or concern on the part of the Doc or the Nurse practitioner. I once had a big cyst pop up behind my ear. This thing looked like I was packing around a Siamese twin attached at the earlobe. The doc was a little vietnamese guy, who spoke pidgin English and had a permanent smile frozen on his puss that reminded me of some crazed lunatic. So I go see him about the cyst. He has me sit at a table and put my head down. Without warning he slices this thing open with a scalpel. I started to come up off the desk as you might expect a person to do when stabbed behind the ear. He assured me the bad part was over, while repeating Solly over and over. Solly translates to sorry, and he wasn't really solly, because he still had that fucking maniacal grin on his face. So I put my head back down, and Hop Sing grabs the weeping , offending goiter with a pair of hemostats, (medical pliers/fish hook remover/ roach clips, and squeezes the shit out of the cyst. Mind you this was done sans any type of numbing agent. I jump up like he just probed my prostate with a garden rake, the hemostats locked on and dangling from my ear like some wacky ear ring. He repeats the obligatory solly while grinning his goofy grin. It was as close as I ever came to smacking the shit out of someone in the joint other than another inmate. I still hate that little fucker to this day.

That's it for this installment of Prison for Dummies. I'll be returning to the joint once or twice a week. Hopefully you will be bored enough to stay tuned for the low down on lock down, and all of the regular hi-jinks and hilarity that ensue here in this dingy little corner of Midtown.


  1. Another great insight into prison life. I had no idea school was compulsory if one didn't have a diploma (or equiv.).

  2. I had similar experience in the army. I had a cyst on my foot from not being used to the boots and the nurse who was another soldier who may or may not have been to medical school just poked and dug it out with the scalpel. I still have a scar to show for it.And painful memories.

  3. This series has been good reading. I have learned a lot (tho I hope I never have to apply it) and been entertained.

    Until today that is, cuz Damn that cyst story makes me twitchy. Those things are gross enough, then to just have him go all Rambo knife-fight on your head... I couldn't have held off. You are obviously in better control than a lot of people.

  4. That sounds like the same treatment I got when going to Catholic school (KtK at 85th and Wornall). I had something stuck in my eye and went to a nun to get it out. I should have just left whatever it was in my eye. I was worse off after she went full WWF eye-gouge on me.

  5. Well written installment.

  6. I really enjoy reading your 'Prison for Dummies' posts. Like most other commentors, I hope never to apply your shared knowledge. I'm sure you have plenty of material you plan to write about; still, I would like to know more about: visitors and mail, group dining halls vs in-cell food deliverly, and exercise areas. I'm sure you're going to dispel a lot of commonly held misbeliefs on these topics and many others.

    Looking forward to the next chapter.