If you've never seen cattle herded for butchering this will be hard to explain but the intake process was a lot like it. the men are scared, if only of the unknown, and defiant because of it and the seasoned guards are tired, fast, and pissed. As soon as you enter you're directed to a large room where you're instructed to take off all your clothes. Slippers, socks, underwear, everyfucking-thing. You're asked to lift your balls, tongue, and spread your ass cheeks. Now I hadn't thought to bring anything with me in my ass but apparently number 5 in line did cause they took him to another room. The word was he had dice in there. Dice are used for gambling and in prison are worth $35 for a set of two. I'm not sure about you, but I wouldn't put an easy-fitting 35 dollars worth of bills in my ass, let alone two square lumps of plastic which I would later have to pull out, wash, and convince someone they weren't in my ass, and that they were worth 35 bucks. What if because of supply and demand there was an influx of ass dice and they were now only worth 5 bucks? Hardly worth it.
We were then given jumpsuits, all 2 sizes too small, so we looked like slaves chained together, pant legs up to mid-shin wearing slippers. We sat and looked at each other with tough faces that to me reeked of as much honesty as a ten year old trying to look tough waiting to receive a shot at the doctors office. Within a minute there comes a loud shout of, "NEXT" from across the hall. We all look at eachother and a shout comes again, "I FUCKING SAID 'NEXT' ARE YOU BABY-RAPING PERVERTS DEAF?? ONE OF YOU GET THE FUCK OVER HERE!" It was time to clip my nails and have pictures taken of all my tattoos. I have a lot of tattoos and they draw a lot of attention. Attention is something you do NOT want to draw from intake guards. Besides being woman-beating assholes they consider themselves comedians. "Look at fucking this. You look like a two year old colored you with a crayon. JEE-SUS-CHEE-RIST! Do you fuck men?" I'm not sure what the latter has to do with Jesus Christ, but I assure you, as of this writing I do not, in fact, fuck men or Christ. Now this didn't shake me. I've been used to dickhead guards for years. Boredom and a false sense of security has made them jaded and prison guards are actually the better behaved of the bunch. Knowing that a man has 20 years and nothing to lose tends to make you less of an asshole when push comes right down to fucking shove.
It was the uncertainty that made it maddening. Prison is a new ballgame. Here you are expected to be a grown-up. Unlike county jail, where everything is attended to, everything is explained and structured. Prison is learn fast or spend a week in the hole learning slow. There is more free movement within the walls and you are expected to know where you can be and where you can not be. I'm assuming telepathically, although after a week you've pretty much figured out it's smarter to just go where the people who are dressed like you are going. It doesn't matter where you are, even if the individual doesn't know whats going on or where he's going, the herd does. even if it's at the expense of the few at the front. In the butchering business, they're seen shivering under the eyes of the "Judas Cow."
We were sent to stand against a wall, now holding a plastic bag containing one stamped envelope, a bag - yes bag - of juice, and a peanut butter sandwich. This was the line to wait for the psych. "NEXT!" Nobody moved, "Christ" i said, "go around the fucking corner." I'm a Judas cow extraordinaire. There's a rattling of questions mostly pertaining to how violent you think you are and if you would like to kill yourself. The glass-walled empty room outside the doctors room looked like the place they would put you to do it if you said 'yes'. There was either blood splattered all over it or shit. Either way, I'm glad I've never been suicidal.
None of this happened fast. Well, the interviews happened fast, in between was hours of sitting, waiting for someone to scream "NEXT!" from some unseen area. We were finally directed to the quartermaster where we were to receive our state issue clothes and where we were first introduced to a prison hustle.
The quartermaster is a fenced-in area inside of the old gymnasium. There are convicts working inside this cage with a cutout of your prison number to paint onto the back of everything you own. Three t-shirts, nine pair of tighty-whiteys, two thermal tops and bottoms, four pairs of socks, three sets of prison blues, two towels, a coat, a pair of gloves, stocking hat, and some state shoes, one size too big. All of these items are marked 370865. I'm a number. While you're waiting for these items the inmate workers are beckoning you with alleyway gestures. "Extra socks for that stamped envelope." It begins. Nothing is free on Planet E, especially in a state correctional facility.
You might be thinking none of this sounds particularly bad, and physically it isn't. Mentally, it's much different. Just the confusion, uncertainty, and the idea that you haven't even gotten to your residential unit and you're already exhausted is too much for some. Some break down while they're lacing up their state shoes. My only saving grace is the act of this process isn't new to me. I've been gently molded into accepting and adjusting to this kind of environment for years. this is an admittedly new level but essentially the same. So far.
We are given a sea bag to load our property into and made to line up looking at the inside of the giant wall. We are issued our I.D. cards, which is a picture and our inmate number, and directed to our unit. I am told to go to 1 SOUTH.
I enter into the door apprehensive. I can hear the men from outside, a deafening echo against the interior wall. As I enter I see a set of stairs winding farther up that I can see and a desk with three guards staring at me. I receive a roll of toilet paper, a green bar of lye soap, and instructions that when chow is called I have 4 seconds to open my cell door or no chow. It's my responsibility to be at that cell door. I'm cell 6 gallery 2. There are four galleries with fifty cells on each gallery. To see the fourth gallery, one has to literally have his head in the fully reclined position. Men get thrown or jump off this gallery at an alarming rate each year. One man, a child molester, ziptied his dick to the railing and jumped. I didn't see it, but I believe it. Once you enter this place, all things are believable. My neighbor is doing 25 years for shooting an old man and then fucking the corpse. It takes all kinds.
I shoulder my sea bag and begin climbing the stairs. As I pass the cells I vaguely notice the wolf-like predatory eyes looking out of them. Looking into another convicts cell is akin to peeping into somebody's windows at night, only the people in these houses WANT to catch you. I get to my cell and I'm surprised, genuinely surprised, at how they managed to stuff a bed, locker, desk, chair, toilet, and sink into a room this small. The convict dimensions are this - I can stand in the middle of my cell and outstretch my arms and touch both walls (I'm 6' even) and it's about two baby steps longer than my bunk. About ten or eleven feet deep. If confined spaces and condensed fart aren't your thing I don't suggest you start robbing old ladies. I made my bunk, put away my clothes, and laid on my bunk. I started listening. The white noise of 200 men talking, yelling, and screaming began to clear. I could hear the black kids being tough and making fake gun sounds. I heard somebody crying, hushed conversations between cells. All the voices are ghostly and skewed as the wall of the unit is only 25 feet away and directly across it echoes all conversation from the four galleries seemingly into my cell. It's a haunting sound that takes getting used to. It's true, a man can get used to anything. I couldn't sleep the first night. The noise, the crying, the worrying I'll miss my door at chow, the angle the building sits and the razor wire that makes the slightest wind outside scream like maddened banshees unable to carry away the dead. Now, 35 days in, I sleep too easy.