Stir Crazy

// //
“I can’t take it anymore! Gotta get outta here!”

Winn’s voice screeched and cracked as he lost control. His face was twisted and distorted as he pressed it against the small rectangular pane of security glass in the door. He grabbed ahold of the handle and shook with all his might, grunting with exertion, but to no effect. With the edge of his eye, he caught me looking at him with shock, utter disbelief, and even a touch of horror, so he quit his caterwauling. He slapped the door with the flat of his palm and the loud smack echoed around the tiny confines of our cell. When he began to laugh uproariously, I was sure that I was in serious trouble.

photo courtesy of
photo courtesy of

Better than Everyone
Winn had been locked up for just over twenty years when we became cellies, and his extensive prison experience had given him a perverse sense of entitlement, as if he were better than every guy who hadn’t spent the bulk of his life incarcerated. This kind of loopy logic is actually quite common amongst men like Winn who have spent so many years in prison. Winn was so full of pride that he came across as an ignorant, arrogant prick. The extreme degree of his holier-than-thou type attitude made me less inclined to be sympathetic when he began to bug up.

Lockdown Protocol
A lockdown generally means that inmates are completely confined to their cells with meals delivered and no showers allowed. I’d spent the first half dozen years of my prison term in a joint where lockdowns were more than merely commonplace, they were a routine and expected way of life. A lockdown, even a short one of two to three days, was practically guaranteed each month. At least twice a year there would be a month long lockdown. Since I had only fairly recently arrived at the lower-security facility, a lockdown was nothing to me but an opportunity to get some writing or reading done. Maybe watch some TV. The professional convict Winn, on the other hand, was fifteen years removed from the max security prisons where lockdowns are par for the course, and he wasn’t handling it well.

Losing It
At first his mental turmoil manifested as an uncontrollable restlessness. He couldn’t sit still. His legs jittered and shook without ceasing, and he would sporadically walk back and forth across the scant space of the cell a few times before sitting back down to shimmy in his seat for a while. It was only a matter of time until the urge gripped him to pace some more. Around two in the afternoon on only the second full day of lockdown,Winn began to yell and slap the door. He was unraveling. His ensuing laughter sounded insane ,and I’m neither too proud nor too ashamed to admit that hearing it scared the ever-loving hell out of me.
// //

Faking It
“What’s up, man!? How you doin’ buddy?” Winn brayed much more loudly than was necessary. I didn’t, in fact, know Winn very well or particularly like him all that much, so I didn’t count us as buddies. His affable smile was completely disingenuous. I had glimpsed Winn’s legitimate lunatic leanings and he was overcompensating with a forced attempt at jocularity and normalcy. While I wasn’t buying it, I also certainly wasn’t about to let him know that his façade was translucent. I had no desire whatsoever to witness Winn entirely unhinged.
“I’m good, man,” I replied to Winn’s queries. “Just getting some writing done. How about you? You good?” He chuckled and managed to sound somewhat less than maniacal.
“Yeah, I’m good, bro.”
“Shit, man, I was just playin’. I’m straight.” He was not just “playin’,” and I knew it. I suspect he also knew that I knew it, but we both silently agreed to continue faking it.

Following this incident, Winn paced a few more times, but eventually he withdrew himself from everything and ended up laying in bed with the blanket over his head for hours. As the days dragged on, he became more horrified and disheveled, less responsive, practically comatose for long stretches of time. After two weeks of lockdown, his temperament and personality had changed so dramatically that he was unrecognizable from the man I had first met only a few months before. He had lost enough weight for it to be easily noticed and constantly wore a dazed look which gave the appearance that he’d misplaced his tether to reality.

Once the lockdown finally ended, it took weeks for Winn to recapture the heights of bravado and bullshit machismo that he had previously attained, and I couldn’t help but be disgusted by it. I had witnessed a more honest vision of his true self and knew just how fake Winn was.

When it comes to surviving prison, I suppose there are all kinds of different methods that guys use to cope.

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Not Stockholm


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My cellie Kevin and I got along well enough. He worked out too much, in my opinion, but it could just be that his extreme dedication made me feel both shame and guilt over my decidedly more lackadaisical approach to exercise. Regardless, we each had our own ways of doing time, our personalized and unique perspectives, and one day he took me to task for mine.

“You think this is how it’s supposed to be? This place sucks, man! You’re messed up! You don’t even know how bad it is; they’ve got you fooled. You’ve been here so long that you’ve got Stockholm Syndrome. You’re just messed up!”

photo by imagerymajestic
photo by imagerymajestic

This rant was railed against me as a reaction to my stubborn optimism and (according to Kevin) my annoying tendency to focus on the positive aspects of any given situation. Kevin, on the other hand, chose to embrace negativity and complain about EVERYTHING. Stockholm Syndrome, as I understand it, is a phenomenon which occurs when a person has been held captive and subjected to varying degrees of mental and emotional duress until they begin to sympathize with their captors, as a psychological defense mechanism,. In more extreme cases, these individuals actually take sides with their captors and fight to defend them. According to Kevin, I was the hostage, and the prison we were being held in was the entity to whom I showed sympathy.

Sour Outlook
Kevin was practically a professional complainer, and as such, his distorted outlook tended to determine his outcome. In my experience, I’ve found that a sour attitude is a self-perpetuation and self-fulfilling way to approach life. Sometimes I had to find that lesson out through painful experiences, but at least I did learn it. The same can’t be said for Kevin, which explains why he thought that I was suffering some cockeyed form of Stockholm Syndrome.

Differing Perspectives
The prison we were in at the time was a disciplinary joint without much movement outside our cell or many privileges of any kind. This gave Kevin license to take issue with just about everything. When he went to gym, he’d complain that there were too many people and not enough weight machines or not enough time allotted to really get a good workout in. When gym was cancelled for no apparent reason, Kevin complained about being denied his recreation period.

A two hour yard was inadequate to him, meals insubstantial, TV reception not clear enough, available television channels too few. For Kevin, going on lockdown was akin to an apocalyptic event. Seeing only the bad kept Kevin in an interminably lousy mood. He could smile and laugh and have fun, but the undercurrent of abrasive annoyance—like a despicable default setting—was never far from display.

photo by dusky
photo by dusky

Making Lemonade
Where Kevin saw nuisances and aggravations, I identified blessings. Although gym periods were often crowded, that was good motivation to keep pushing through fatigue for the entire hour, because halfway through gym most guys fell off and there were plenty of weight machines available. Two hours of yard was plenty; free TV was lovely. I’d become accustomed to only three showers per week with other cleansings performed while standing over the sink and toilet, so that didn’t much bother me either. To me a lockdown wasn’t a curse, but rather an opportunity to focus on my writing with few interruptions. At times I’d even hope for/look forward to a lockdown because I craved that chance to give my work some undivided attention.

Despite Kevin’s opinion, none of my upbeat outlook was a result or example of me sympathizing with my so-called captor, but rather me making the most of a rough situation. Lemons into lemonade, as the adage goes. In the end I honestly didn’t think we had it all that bad.

Finding something to endlessly complain about is easy no matter where someone lives. From the bedsprings that make your back ache, to the chair that stubs your toe most mornings, to the latest horror show the news has waiting every day; there’s always something to find fault with. Consciously, continuously, and adamantly counting one’s blessings and thereby refusing to get dragged down by the hate and negativity that so insidiously permeate this world, especially enveloping the environment of prison, is an admirable way to live. I daresay—the right way to live.

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Master Craftsman

// //
As a consummate entrepreneur, DJ managed to turn a profit making trinkets and baubles whose only real appeal was in their uniqueness. All of his toilet paper flowers and decorative pillows were quite beautiful, but beyond that they had no practical value whatsoever. While DJ recognized that he had a lucrative business in place, and he certainly enjoyed spending/eating the profits, he was also perfectly aware of how ephemeral and ultimately useless his products were. This knowledge eventually led to a degree of dissatisfaction on his part, which was only countered when he had the opportunity to call upon his master craftsman capabilities.

The Artistry
Both skill and talent were certainly required for creating DJ’s pretty presents, but he was capable of so much more. When he could get his hands on the proper materials, he excelled. His passion projects were tediously time-consuming, but he reveled in the real artistry and true craftsmanship of them.

A pair of old leather boots, which had been discarded as trash, were gold to DJ. He would take a razorblade that he had removed from its plastic disposable casing and use that to slice the leather into pieces and strips appropriate for the works he intended to create. To prepare the tough leather, he would rub Vaseline into it everyday for as many days as it took until it was soft and supple.

Once the leather was ready for his nimble fingers, DJ would commence to crimping and folding the edges, manipulating them and preparing them to receive his stitches. I have no earthly idea where he procured the nylon string that he used to sew his material, nor what he used to dye the white nylon black so that it matched the boot leather. He fashioned his pieces into bifold wallets that could be sent home as gifts by inmates or a more simple holder designed to carry an Inmate ID Card.

The latter was also seen as some kind of silly status symbol. Wristwatch bands were his other specialty and when he was finished, his products looked as professionally produced as anything on display for sale at a retail store. As a sewer myself, I marveled at the tiny stitches and how intricate yet uniform he managed to keep them.

Since wristwatches are prominently displayed on one’s wrist (go figure), they are also something of a status symbol in prison. The watches generally cost about ten to twelve dollars, so it doesn’t really make sense, but that’s how it is, and most guys like to trade up the factory watchband for a prison-made replacement. DJ’s leather bands sold well and lasted for many years, but leather can be hard to some by. Shoelaces, on the other hand, are routinely thrown away, or else are available for purchase in commissary. DJ would deftly slip the outer cloth covering from the rounded shoelace, leaving behind a braided rope. The liberated material he would flatten and, using those astonishingly subtle stitches, he’d sew the two strips into a band approximately three quarters of an inch wide. Using durable plastic pieces that he scrounged from somewhere and Velcro he’d sliced from shower curtains, DJ formed a clasp for these original works of prison art. For an additional fee, using brilliantly colored thread, he could stitch a person’s initials into the band to distinguish it from others of its ilk.

Witnessing DJ’s finished masterpieces, I couldn’t help but be supremely impressed by his enormous skill. There was, however, also a touch of wistful sadness to my impression, as I couldn’t help but wonder why his talent and clockwork intellect were being squandered, locked behind prison walls.// //

Big Baby

// //
Bryan was a big, goofy kid. Actually, at six-foot-six, two hundred eighty-five pounds, “big” doesn’t quite do him justice. At first glance, he gave the impression of an imposing slab of concrete with the ability to tear a guy’s arms out of their sockets, but upon closer inspection, his overall appearance was a study in contrasts.

flyA fine fuzz of fair hair spiked from the top of his head that was so blond as to belie belief. His eyes, too, though hidden behind the ridiculously thick lenses of his glasses, seemed an impossible shade of the clearest, cleanest, purest blue. They were pretty blue eyes, no doubt about it, and I say that in the most heterosexual way possible. He looked to be a prime example of Hitler’s Aryan ideal and so-called master race.

Unlike Adolf’s acolytes, however, Bryan did not appear capable of the same degree of evil and mindless murder with which the Nazi party became synonymous. To put it another way, Bryan wouldn’t (or couldn’t) hurt a fly. To put it yet another way, Bryan was a ginormous wuss. It turned out that he was also a snitch; although personally, I don’t believe the situation was quite that simple or clear—more gray than black and white.

Lopsided Melee
A loud, hollow, thunk was followed by plastic bouncing on concrete, then metallic rattling before the first words were spoken in anger. I recognized each sound immediately. The prison I was in at the time had two hard plastic stools in each cell which were about two feet tall, shaped roughly like a spool of thread, and could be easily moved around the cell. This is what I heard collide with the wall in the cell next to mine before it bounced across the floor and settled against the cell door, making the door shake in its frame.

“You stupid little bitch!”

3029whiteThe voice sounded out clearly through the vent that connected our two cells, and was obviously not the nasal, thin tone of Bryan, but rather the more baritone voice of his cellie who was only five-ten, one hundred eighty pounds—practically tiny compared to Bryan. There were various sounds of struggle—shower shoes scuffling, fists hitting soft flesh and unyielding bone, someone crashing into the wall before crumbling to the floor. By the way it shook my cell, I assumed it was the bigger of the two who had lost his legs and was quickly proven right when voices took the place of the violent noises.

“C’mon! Get up, you pussy!”

“Nnnooo.” Bryan had managed to turn the two-letter word into the elongated whining moan of a small child. “I’m nnnot gonna fffight you.” Between his stammering and sniffling, it was fairly obvious that Bryan was blubbering like a baby.

“Get up!” Bryan’s cellie sounded frightening in his furor and ferocity.

“No!” Bryan yelled back but only seemed petulant rather than defiant. As he whined and wailed, he just sounded hurt and scared, while his cellie beat him about the head and body. Bryan had curled into a ball in the corner of his cell, crying and calling out for his cellie to stop, but the assault continued. It was a sad thing to hear, something truly pathetic. A couple guys in other cells and I called for the cellie to stop, saying that Bryan had had enough. The commotion brought the “fight” to the C/Os’ attention, and they rushed to the cell. Finally, he stopped beating on Bryan.

Unusual Outcome
After the two men were hauled away, the general consensus was that Bryan’s cellie was bogus, and it was too bad for Bryan who would sit in Seg for a while, even though he clearly wasn’t the aggressor. On the heels of that conclusion was a second one, which was that Bryan, indeed, was a giant pussy. No one predicted that Bryan would return the very next day. When he did show up on the deck, no one really knew how to react. When Bryan freely confessed to telling IA everything about the fight—how he cowered and cried—most everyone was at a loss for words, incredulous over how wholeheartedly and freely Bryan confessed to his wimpy behavior and demeanor.


Opinions were pretty evenly split. Some felt Bryan was a snitching piece of crap, while others thought he merely did what he had to do in order to get out of Seg. It wasn’t as if he lied about what happened in the cell, and of the two men, Bryan was the innocent one. By so winningly embracing cowardice, Bryan had come out of the fray with only a few bruises to go along with his tattered reputation.

Ironically, if Bryan had fought back, he would’ve been held in higher esteem for standing up for himself, but then would’ve earned a minimum of thirty days in Seg. He paid the price for his choice as he was vilified and labeled as a snitch by some, and just outright ostracized by others. When a guy gets a reputation for talking to the authorities, it’s a hard one to shake. Choosing to err on the side of caution, I mostly kept my distance from Bryan. The entire incident also served to earn Bryan the title of Big Baby, which I never personally used, but could pretty well understand.
// //

The Wookie


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Living conditions being what they are in prison, it can be an amazing learning experience in multiple and unexpected ways. Being forced to cohabitate with individuals, often with zero time apart from one another, can reveal a person’s most unique or unusual characteristics as well as their most annoying traits. I don’t honestly believe that Benji was intentionally or overtly annoying, but rather that he was just born that way and was dealing with it as best he could. Unfortunately, my more enlightened mindset didn’t make living with him much easier.

Hella Hirsute
Benji already had a fairly dark complection for a black man; dark skinneded is the redundant expression commonly used. His coloring, however, was made even darker by the enormous amount of coarse black hair that seemed to cover every inch of exposed skin that wasn’t covered by his clothes. I myself am not particularly hirsute (I couldn’t grow a proper full beard until I was twenty-five years old) but I’ve seen hairy guys before in movies and locker rooms. Not that I was a great frequenter of locker rooms, but the point is that I had an awareness that some guys are hairier than others. Benji, though, seemed to be some kind of missing link or werewolf boy.

Oddly enough, his facial hair didn’t exactly grow in very robustly, just a few patchy splotches along his neck and jawline. Beyond that, however, he was absolutely covered in a coat of thick tangles. It stood tall from atop his shoulders, crept from his ears, formed one long brow below his forehead. Stepping out of the shower in just his boxers, he looked like he was wearing a damp, dark sweater on his top and leggings on the bottom. The matted hair covered by his boxers was evident through the thin cloth as well as the tufts of stiff scruff sprouting from below said boxers. It was on one of these trips from the shower back to his cell when Benji received his nickname.

Still dripping from his shower and witnessed in all his hairy glory, someone intoned a call onto the gallery that would sound only like strange nonsense to anyone who wasn’t a Star Wars fan, but which was instantly recognizable to me along with all those whom the force is strong with.

“Raaaowwrraaaoogghhr.” I may have misspelled it, but I knew a passable impersonation of Chewbacca when I heard one and was proven right when the impersonator hollered out, “Hey! Chewbacca! What’s up, man?”

Benji ignored his heckler and kept walking.

chewbacca-chewie-star-wars“Chewie!” The call came again, even louder this time, insistent. “Raaaowwrraaaoogghhr!!!” Benji smirked a bit but tried to hide his amusement. “C’mon, man!” was yelled at Benji as a form of encouragement, and he couldn’t help but let loose a laugh before showing off his true wookie.


Cheers and laughter erupted from all around the deck and Benji got in on the laughter as well. It wasn’t the best impersonation, more of an approximation, but he still got points for enthusiasm. Even so, we weren’t so much laughing at him as were all just laughing together. It wasn’t mean-spirited, and from that day forth Benji was known to most as Chewbacca.

False Advertising
While the wookie Chewbacca is Han Solo’s beloved co-pilot and companion in the Star Wars universe, as well as easily one of the coolest characters to populate said universe, I feel that there are some things which aren’t covered in the films. Certain information was left out that would be useful to know for anyone who is living with a walking carpet. Benji had a perpetually damp, musty odor which permeated him and his surroundings. It was not unlike that of a medium-sized dog. The smell wasn’t particularly strong or foul, just persistent, if not interminable.

Then there was the shedding. I was on the bottom bunk with Benji sleeping and living above me. I had to drastically revise my meal preparation and eating habits lest I chomp on a clump of fur. No amount of proactive or preventative cleansing measures on my part, however, could combat the curly castoffs from interloping all over the sheet that covered my mat as well as the floor of the cell. Every exposed surface, in fact, was susceptible to his encroaching hair. It was as if Benji’s fuzzy follicles had a mind of their own and were trying to take over, to cover the cell in its own coarse coat. I suspect that the corridors of the Millennium Falcon were probably a lot shaggier than originally depicted, and as far as I’m concerned that’s false advertising. Shame on George Lucas.

As for my own wookie experience, Benji was a good guy, but I didn’t much miss him when he moved on. Or, at least, I didn’t miss his furry remnants.

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The Shakedown Artist

C/O Sellefft was a particularly thorough and brutal shakedown artist who derived a giddy thrill out of depriving inmates of their belongings. He has been heard to comment that he doesn’t feel right, doesn’t feel like he has done his job, unless he writes at least one ticket per night. To say that Sellefft was “by the book” would be an insult to the book. Not only did he go way above and beyond what his actual duties called for, but he also gloried in the suffering that he caused. In layman’s terms, he was an unrepentant asshole. What’s worse is that his position of authority and the administration protected him from retribution. Like the quintessential coward, C/O Sellefft lashed out and then hid behind his badge.

yes, that's a prison tv.
yes, that’s a prison tv.

The first time he was in the building, he spent two hours shaking down a cell. For a daily routine shakedown, ten to thirty minutes is a good general rule of thumb. That amount of time provides the officer plenty of opportunity to have an adequately thorough look through everything and be satisfied that there’s nothing extremely inappropriate or illegal secreted within the cell. The extreme degree to which Sellefft searched was generally reserved only for annual shakedowns instituted prison-wide and conducted by the tac team members. Sellefft, however, went even beyond that by taking inmates’ property items that he had no right or reason to confiscate. In taking these things, Sellefft provoked a confrontation with an inmate in an effort to goad the inmate into doing or saying something out of bounds and worthy of a ticket. The blatant and overt antagonism from Sellefft towards his wards came to a head when he walked out of a cell with a television cradled in his arms.

Sellefft wore a smug smile as he walked to the bubble with the 13-inch TV set, but he didn’t quite make it there before being confronted by Deeno, the rightful owner of the television. “Whoa, Whoa! What’s up? What are you doing? Why are you taking my TV?” Deeno sounded righteously enraged, but was keeping it under control.

“Stop right there!” Sellefft yelled, holding one arm out towards Deeno in a warding off gesture that was a somewhat comical approximation of the Heisman trophy pose with the bulky TV standing in for the football. Sellefft’s tone sounded much more urgent than was necessary, as if Deeno were rushing to tackle him and was almost upon him rather than ten feet away. Deeno slowed down, but continued taking several faltering steps as he spoke.

photo by Stuart Miles
photo by Stuart Miles

“Why are you taking my TV?” he queried once more.
“It’s cracked,” Sellefft replied with confident superiority.
“What?” Deeno asked indignantly. Sellefft ignored him and continued his retreat to the bubble where he secured the appliance before turning to find Deeno standing right there at the door to the bubble. “What do you mean it’s cracked?” he asked.
Sellefft looked suitably flustered, but managed to maintain his air of arrogant authority. “It’s got a crack on the back of it.”
Deeno appeared to be genuinely confused before it finally dawned on him what Sellefft was referring to. “That?”
“Yeah, that.”
“It’s been like that for, like, four years or something.”
The prickish look plastered across Sellefft’s face wavered slightly, and Deeno tried to seize on this as a weakness. “Nobody else has had a problem with it before, it’s just old.” Sellefft recognized what Deeno was trying to do, and the hard ass glare came back to his face.
“No,” he replied. “It’s altered.”
“Altered!?” Deeno exclaimed, his voice raising to a screechy decibel. “It’s old.”
“No, it’s altered.”
“I’ve had that TV for thirteen years!” Deeno was outright screaming by this point which only served to put a smile on Sellefft’s face and made him cross his arms over his puffed-out chest like he was some kind of tough guy who was not to be trifled with.
“I don’t care,” Sellefft said, sounding like it provided him with an enormous amount of satisfaction to give the pronouncement. Angry and frustrated, Deeno looked desperate, like he wanted to lash out at his oppressor.
“I want to see a lieutenant,” he said, his voice carrying a tremor as he tried to keep it under control.
“I don’t give a shit.” Sellefft positively sneered this last, and I thought for sure it would be the final straw for Deeno.

New Tactic
“Alright then,” Deeno responded, his tone much more modulated than it had just been. “I need a crisis team.”

By invoking the crisis team, Deeno was effectively claiming to be in a state of mental or emotional crisis and thinking of hurting himself. This is an extremely serious claim to be made by an inmate, and Sellefft wasn’t qualified to judge the validity or veracity of Deeno’s assertion. If Sellefft had followed proper protocol, he would’ve called the lieutenant followed by the shift commander and informed them that an inmate was in need of a crisis team and then waited in the lieutenant’s office with Deeno. He didn’t do any of that.
“Prove it,” Sellefft said. Deeno appeared to be about as shocked as he would’ve been if Sellefft would’ve just hauled off and smacked him right across the face.
“What?” he managed to inquire. It came out more as a gasp of air rather than a fully formed word.
“Go hang yourself,” Sellefft replied.
“What did you just say to me?” Deeno asked, leaning his considerable frame towards Sellefft, the implied threat obvious in his body language. Sellefft leaned in as well, meeting the challenge head on.
“Go. Hang. Yourself.” Sellefft enunciated each word with exaggerated emphasis, letting them hover in the air between them for a moment before continuing. “Now, back up.”
He slammed the door to the bubble so quickly that it would’ve cracked Deeno in the face if he hadn’t retreated swiftly enough. Deeno stalked off back to his cell, fuming.

It wasn’t long before Deeno came rushing back to the bubble where he waited for the lieutenant to make his scheduled rounds through the building. Deeno stood and glared at Sellefft while the offensive and unprofessional C/O blithely smirked his amusement.

As soon as Lieutenant Berg entered the building, Deeno filled his ears with all his woes, pointing an accusatory finger towards Sellefft throughout his tirade, and the loo listened attentively. Deeno reported his interactions with Sellefft as honestly as possible, capturing both his own frustrated anger and outrage as well as Sellefft’s arrogant stubbornness.

Being completely truthful turned out to be Deeno’s downfall, however, because he admitted to claiming that he needed a crisis team. Lieutenant Berg was professional and did his job by taking Deeno’s claims to be in crisis seriously. He was as kind as possible about it, and even let Deeno pack his own belongings, but in the end, Deeno was taken to the naked room to spend some time under observation on suicide watch until he could speak to the psych doctor and convince him that he wasn’t suicidal. C/O Sellefft had a good laugh about it once Deeno was gone.

Bad Luck
Deeno was back in GP in a different building in a week, but it took a month of him filing grievances and talking to every lieutenant, major, and warden he could come across to try to get his television back. Ultimately, he had to enlist his people to call from the world and take up the cause for him before his property was returned.

Sellefft’s reign of terror went on for another month for a total of seventy-eight days during which time every single person in the house was perpetually on edge. When he was replaced by a more reasonable officer, it was cause for celebration by all. Well, all but Deeno. Sellefft had been reassigned to the building where Deeno had been relocated to. Just bad luck I suppose. C/Os like Sellefft aren’t necessarily common, but whenever one does show up, he is a serious nuisance to every convict he encounters.


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Untimely Elimination


A thick, smooth consistency. Dark, chocolately brown in color. Rancid, and smeared across the back of my thighs. Not a good way to start the day.

Lifestyle Changes
I’d been doing so very well. Living the keto life in prison isn’t easy, but I had remained faithful to the carb-restricted diet in combination with vigorous exercise six days a week. In three months, I’d lost nearly 25 pounds. I was feeling better, looking slimmer, but hitting a wall of sorts.

It’s not like I had the option to run out to the supermarket as needed for the freshest produce or the meats, cheeses, and nuts that are the main staples of this revolutionary way of eating and thinking of fat consumption. I was allowed to eat plenty of bacon, but there’s not a strip in sight in prison. I miss bacon so much. You could say I fell off the proverbial wagon.

ramennoodlesA minor injury slowed me down in my exercise, then I fell into past bad habits. I ended up bingeing on an overabundance of carb-heavy garbage food. Noodles, rice, chips, cookies, honeybuns. Notice that I used the plural form for each of those items. My digestive system had grown unaccustomed to such trash, especially in such huge quantities, and I would pay for my indiscretion with more than just some simple indigestion.

Sleepy Crapping
At one in the morning, I was awakened from a lovely, deep, dreamless sleep by an enormous pressure and pain in my abdomen, groin, and anus. I threw off the blankets and was assaulted by the extreme chill in the cell. The news said we’d be getting the first frost of the season overnight, but DOC policy is to turn on the heat in the buildings at the latest possible date.

The cold shot through me like a dull projectile and made my guts tense up, which only intensified the calamity centered there. I stumbled, bleary-eyed, to the bathroom and embraced the toilet seat with my butt cheeks, fully expecting to barely make it there in time. A weak stream of urine piddled out, but nothing more, and I was left in a peculiar state of mixed-up agony.

Despite this pain, I vacillated between dozing into a thin sleep and bouts of grunting, groaning, and heavy breathing. After about twenty minutes or so, I had managed to expel a stubborn but hefty amount of compacted crap from my system and felt all the better for it. As I cleaned myself up, I actually entertained the notion that it was a good thing that I had gotten my morning waste elimination out of the way so early because I could still get a few more hours of sleep then have plenty of time to write without having to be interrupted by my poop time. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Crappy Conditions
Several hours later, after my morning prayers and cup of coffee, I was sitting on my bunk, writing and minding my own business, when I suddenly had to handle an entirely different kind of business. A loose fart escaped me as a warning shot and portent of so much worse to come. I was on my feet with all the necessary toiletries in hand in an instant. Toilet paper, bar of soap, towel, baby powder, small bottle of bleach to disinfect the seat of the community toilet before I dropped trou.

miami beach 411Unfortunately, my progress stalled right there as I saw that one of my five cellies had already sequestered himself in our semi-private bathroom. A pinch of panic nipped at me, but I settled back onto my bunk and tried to sit comfortably and take my mind off the impending mass of mess slouching towards my sphincter with an insidious inevitability. Sitting quickly became an impossibility, and I regained my feet once more, instituting the shit shuffle as I danced back and forth from foot to foot while taking deep regular breaths in an effort to both control and distract from the crap coming my way.

I didn’t want to think about what I would or could do if my cellie didn’t come out soon. My options were limited and unappealing. I could’ve deposited my gift in a garbage can in the cell, or tried sneaking out to the showers and put my poop there. Each potentiality carried its own intrinsic, disgusting aspect with it, and consequences for being caught doing either would be a walk to Seg or a beatdown. Possibly both.

I glided gingerly across the concrete, careful not to jostle the load I was carrying, and tapped on the bathroom door a couple times to signal to my cellie that I was waiting on him. “Yeah, hold on,” was his response, and it gave me a glimmer of hope which I carried back to my bunk where I stood and shuffled some more while performing my improvised Lamaze exercises. No amount of hope or heavy breathing could stop what came next.

I felt it coming and panic kicked in hard, but it was a futile feeling, utterly useless in my predicament. With all my might and will, I attempted to squeeze my cheeks against the breach, but the slick sludge slid out unimpeded by my best efforts. I ceased all movements and felt hot, wet waste settle between my cheeks. With some pressure released, I tried to reason that it would be okay, that the offensive fecal matter would just sit quietly in the on deck circle, and I could still make it to the toilet in time, thereby averting disaster.

Unfortunately, once that turd train had begun to travel along the tracks, there was no stopping it. I stood in the middle of my dark cell, completely motionless, but mentally screaming and pleading for it to stop as a quite considerable amount of crap continued to evacuate my body. My boxers filled, and I felt the warm shit sliding against the back of my legs and squish along my inner thighs. It was undeniable official: I was a grown man—at nearly 35 the very definition of middle-aged—and I had just crapped in my pants.

Change of Plans
I had an entirely different problem on my hands, and in my pants, at this point. My knees were pinned together due to the foolish belief that it would somehow arrest any further progression of the poop oozing its way down the back of my legs. I turned awkwardly and carefully gathered supplies, bending at the waist and praying for no further fallout–also hoping for nothing to fall out the bottom of my shorts.

photo by "africa"
photo by “africa”

The pungent aroma of human waste began to permeate the air of the cell, undeniable in its potency, and I could only hope my remaining four cellies would remain sleeping. A change of clothes and bath towel were added to my overburdened arms. Just as soon as I had them all, I had to pile all my cleanup materials into the crook of my left arm and hug everything to my chest as my right hand reached behind me and grasped at the mass that was migrating lower and threatening to make its presence known on the floor of the cell.

All My Glory
When my cellie finally opened the door, he found me standing just outside the bathroom in all my glory. Supplies were piled high in one arm while my feet were pigeon-toed, and my knees were both pinched together and slightly bent so that I could reach the bulge in the back of my shorts. My hand was pressing the shorts against my body, holding the problematic poop in place by smearing it across my flesh.

Thankfully, my cellie just blinked bleary-eyed and got the hell out of my way. There was no way he couldn’t have smelled me, but I tried to remain nonchalant as I sidled past him and shuffle-stepped through the door with a load caught in my pants by a well-placed palm.

A Cleansing
Hovering above the toilet like an accomplished yogi, I had some heavy shit on my mind as well as on my body and clothes. The ever-present nagging issue on my mind was that I had several other guys who would soon be waking and wanting to use the bathroom, so I had to be as quick and economical with my cleansing as possible. For thirty minutes, I worked at dispensing with all the evidence of my accident and was left with a soggy, soapy—but poop-free—pile of clothes ready for the laundry.

At best I felt sort of clean, no longer befouled, which I couldn’t begrudge. I could, however, begrudge the fact that this incident wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have to share a single toilet with so many guys with no viable option in case of emergency. The experience conjured an all-consuming humiliation, helplessness, and shame that I thought I’d left behind me in my childhood years, but prison has a way of making grown men regress. Of course, I never thought I’d revert to my pre-potty trained days, but I suppose every day is an adventure of sorts, albeit, occasionally, a decidedly shitty adventure.