“Am I in it?”

This was by far the predominant response from correctional officers after they found out about my book and website containing tales of my prison experiences. I had been thrown in Segregation and accused of several things including making prison staff look bad. After I’d been released from Seg and all charges were expunged I still expected to be vilified and targeted at every turn for my writings. Instead it seemed that many COs were genuinely curious while others curiosity had ulterior motives.


The first time I saw CO Medet after my visit to Seg, he sidled up to me in the chow hall and asked his question in a confidential tone. His specific concern was whether I had chronicled the yelling match that had very nearly turned physical between him and CO Ralyon. I assured him that I had ever written about it. Two COs only screaming back and forth but almost boxing may have made for a good story, however it was the psychology behind the confrontation which I found more interesting.


CO Ralyon displayed his prejudice and racism like badges of honor. He freely and often slurred an inmate’s race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and sexual orientation. On one such occasion CO Ralyon verbally abused two transgender inmates. His language went far past merely unprofessional. It was filled with obvious disgust and ugly hate. No human being should have to be subjected to such undiluted vitriol. The two aggrieved inmates reported Ralyon.


The disagreement between Ralyon and Medet arouse largely Medet told the truth about the incident. He refused to lie on an official report in order to protect CO Ralyon. Obviously, the image of two officers nearly throwing punches is not great optics. However, the fact that a Neanderthal racist bigot like Ralyon is an employee of the Department of Corrections should shame the powers-that-be to no end. CO Medet was not only justified in feeling outrage over Ralyon’s behavior, but should feel a sense of pride in doing what was right even if it meant bucking the system and going against a fellow officer.

I told CO Medet that I’d never written anything about this incident. I suppose I can’t say that anymore.

A Despicable Side Note

Numerous lawsuits have been brought against CO Ralyon for his discrimination and harassment. In other circumstances his actions would be characterized as hate crimes. In this case a representative of the Attorney General of the state negotiated agreements to resolve lawsuits by paying several thousands of dollars to the complainants. CO Ralyon was placed in a different job assignment before eventually being promoted to a position where he works one-on-one with inmates to assist them in extremely personal and sensitive matters. Specifically he will have to interact with some of the same inmates who are actively suing him.  Grievances have already been submitted. I predict further lawsuits to come.

Some Others

Several COs, after asking their questions, were upfront about having checked out my writing, and were largely complimentary about the content and my talent. Officer Sum is one of the most easygoing, funny, fair, and cool COs I’ve ever come across. He told me not to write anything about him until after he retires. I told him I’d never seen him do anything to be worried or of which to be ashamed. CO Sum he wasn’t concerned about that, but rather he didn’t want it getting out how smooth and relatable a person he is—there was comedy in his retort, but truth as well.

Different Perspectives

CO Westin asked if I had written about him, and when I answered in the negative he followed with this: “Well, what do you write about? Nothing happens around here.” I’ve battled a similar sentiment both from without and within myself. I grinned slimly, knowingly, and tried to explain what I’ve written about as well as my general endeavor to provide an unvarnished glimpse into everyday prison life. His response left me both insulted and flabbergasted. “How can you write about being in prison when you’re not really in prison?”

When I stared at him, mouth agape, utterly dumbfounded, he explained himself. Apparently, to his mind, since I reside in the minimum-security portion of the prison and am not constantly locked behind a steel door, I’m not really in prison. CO Westin went on to declare that his job is basically that of a glorified babysitter and nothing much ever happens to make my life difficult, so therefore, I’m not really in prison. His comment that “nothing much ever happens” was a reference to fights and outbursts of violence. This provided me valuable insights into the inner workings of a Correctional Officers mind.

As calmly as possible I explained to CO Westin that, while I was afforded a certain degree of movement outside my cell, I’m still in prison since I can’t leave the building at will, and certainly cannot walk off the prison grounds at any time. He reluctantly agreed that was true, as if I had somehow caught him in a technicality. CO Westin seemed to have romanticized the idea of violence and confinement as how prison is meant to be. I didn’t bother wasting my breath on CO Westin by telling him that I had served nearly a decade of that constant confinement and abrupt violence, and that I didn’t believe for a second that officers like Westin would’ve lasted very long before becoming victims of the violence. I’m not advocating this, but his attitude would’ve made it an inevitability.

Best For Last

When I informed CO Lodes that I hadn’t written about him, he told me that I had changed his life forever. In a good way. It caught me off guard. His explanation of this rather provocative statement came swiftly and unsolicited. I had seen Officer Lodes in probably a year or more, and it felt like he had been just waiting anxiously to see me so he could tell me.

At one time I’d been heavily involved in practicing a ketogenic diet. It’s next to impossible with prison food and takes an enormous amount of willpower to maintain this high protein, high fat, low carb regiment. However when I stuck to it, I felt better and was losing weight. I confess I became something of an annoying proselyte of this dietary lifestyle, and it was in this capacity that I talked to CO Lodes. I loaned him my book which described in short no-nonsense chapters the whole science and history behind the keto life. Not long after that CO Lodes was moved to a different post within the prison, and as usual every few months or so, and I moved on with life—didn’t give it any more thought.

What CO Lodes later confessed was that after I had been the one to open his eyes, he became obsessed with the ketogenic lifestyle. He availed himself of the numerous resources, recipes, and communities that he found online, and immersed himself in the keto way. It became a huge part of his life, and he became an avid advocate. When his mother began experiencing health issues, he counseled her in changing her diet to ketogenic.

One of the primary effects of the ketogenic diet is a more stabilized blood sugar level absent the unhealthy spikes. Thankfully this helped his mother, and CO Lodes attributed her improved health to me because I turned him on to the ketogenic diet. I was quite literally rendered speechless by his effusive gratitude to me.


In hindsight my fears of retribution were largely unfounded. Most officers who admitted to having visited and read some of the content of this website tell me that they didn’t see anything wrong with it. Many nodded in agreement and had a good laugh over what they were reading. They said I captured prison life pretty well.

It seems that Correctional Officers are surprisingly more well read than I imagined. I suppose I will continue giving them something to read.


Personally, I never understood what the big deal was.

Labor of Love

As far as hustles go it wasn’t a particularly lucrative one since the cost for ingredients was rather considerable. Beyond that, the time and effort expended in gathering other essential materials, and then the actual mixing and manufacturing of the product, all made the entire endeavor more of a labor of love than a viable business model. And yet, everywhere I go, there is inevitably at least one enterprising individuals who is making homemade suckers.

Something Different

When I tried to explain these signature sweets to someone who had never spent any time in prison they just couldn’t understand what the appeal was. Since my sweet tooth has never been much for fruity flavored fare I’ve been a fan myself. However, the best I can explain, is that prison is a free market economy based on the law of supply and demand.

I have sold a bar of soap that cost me forty-five cents for two dollars. A buck-fifty bottle of shampoo went for a nickel (five dollars). When I bought the package of thirty hair-ties for a dollar sixty-five I was sporting a buzz cut and only intended to use them as rubber bands to hold sealed my partially eaten bag of chips or peanuts. Instead I sold the whole pack for fifteen dollars.

Why was any of this price gauging possible? Because I bought these items from another penitentiary, and they were all new and unavailable. The security of supply drove up demand and guys were throwing money at me. The quality or original price of the products didn’t matter one bit. They just wanted something different. So too when it came to these custom candies.


Many of these candy makers derived a real pride from their work and take it extremely seriously. It’s not merely melting and mashing a couple candies together. First, one needs to find a mold to use. The most commonly by far is the butter cups given at most meals. They are perhaps a quarter inch deep and a little smaller than a silver dollar. They are collected, smuggled back to one’s cell, and cleaned. Some confectioners will melt all the flavors of candy into a massive mess of hot liquid sugar, while others take a more targeted and time consuming tactic by choosing two or three specific flavors to melt into what they perceive to be some kind of genius proprietary blend of taste sensations.

For many years I used to see a Q-tip, having been clipped of its fuzzy ends, stuck into the gooey concoction so that it hardened around the stick to create a proper sucker or lollipop. This has fallen out of fashion in recent years as consumers just want the sugar fix without the aesthetic affectation.


The only things limiting any inventive sweet maker are the types of candy available for purchase on commissary, and the boundaries of their own imagination. Of course, with it being a business, and with one’s pride at stake, there can often be a healthy competitive aspect wherein the most unique or complex product is held in high esteem.


Jolly Ranchers are sold at most every prison and are therefore usually the base for these bootleg bonbons. I have seen these melted and poured around a chewy chunk of now and later center. Spicy cinnamon fireballs have been used as a centerpiece atop the disc of reformed fruit candy. Powdered drink mix has been added to the recipe for color and flavor, and is often dusted across the surface of the finished product to make it less sticky and therefore easier to handle. Whatever the design, these treats are finally wrapped in squares of plastic garbage bag, tied off, and sold for fifty cents or a dollar depending on the size and complexity of the creation as well as market saturation. While these specialty items are completely harmless, they are, by any definition, most certainly contraband.

The Gunslinger

Any CO or other security staff member who has spent a year or more in corrections has most assuredly come across one of these manufactured morsels. Sergeant Shroder had close to thirty years on the job and seemed to gloat with a sickening satisfaction over his ability to flush out even the tiniest infraction of the rules. He moved with a stoop-shouldered, cock-hip shuffle with his hands at his sides like he was some kind of third-rate gunslinger in a B movie western. This cowboy impression was accentuated by the poor approximation of a bushy blond moustache. For some unknown but undoubtedly bizarre reason he managed to always smell like mustard. Shroder was universally disliked by the inmate population, and by all available accounts, he was viewed as a joke by many of his colleagues and had few fans amongst them.


Each of the six men in the cell froze as Sergeant Shroder slowly ambled in with his congenial “Hello, gentlemen”, meant to disarm anyone who wasn’t already privy to his reputation. Slow in speech and manner, but his agile eyes missed little, and in this instance they fixed upon a couple colorful discs sitting on the shelf next to Flick, who was sitting on his bunk trying to project the perfect picture of innocence. Sergeant Shroder wasn’t buying it.

“What are these?” Shroder asked, cradling them in his palms and staring with a perplexed interest as if he had never before in his long DOC tenure encountered anything like them. Which, of course, he must surely had.

“Candy,” Flick replied with understandable unease and trepidation.

“They don’t sell these in commissary.”

“Ah, no. No. They’re . . . homemade.” Each word was distinct from the last, a verbal tiptoe through a minefield. Flick knew that the trap was set, but was helpless to do anything but play the scenario out.

“So you made it?” wily Shroder queried.


“So then who made it?”

Flick was no snitch, so he replied not a word.

“Hmmm . . .” Sergeant Shroder examined the treats, making more inquisitive sounds and blowing exasperating breaths through the strands of his anemic stache before speaking again. “This looks like drugs to me.”

Flick’s face swiftly flipped through confusion and outrage before setting into acceptance that he was almost certainly screwed.

An Artisan

The name of the candy-maker in question began with the letter “S”, and he was one of Flick’s good buddies. Flick wasn’t about to rat him out, neither could he exactly dispute the fact that what Shroder held in his hand could be construed to somewhat resemble drugs. Fruit punch drink mix had been artfully swirled into the center of the colorful but largely translucent slab and could, theoretically, have been crushed up pills of some kind. Embedded into the surface of the candy was a single Skittle that had been painstakingly pressed into the confection as it began to harden so that the stamped “S” was clearly visible. It was the artisan’s signature. With a bit of stretch in logic and good sense it could also be perceived as a pill of some kind. The high quality craftsmanship of the candy was Flick’s undoing, but still he tried his best to dig himself out of a hole that Sergeant Shroder had thrown him in.

The Gunslinger Gets His Man 

“That’s not drugs, it’s just candy. Look, that’s a Skittle on top.”

“Well, I know you guys call pills Skittles sometimes. So, maybe it’s one of them kind. I’m no doctor.” Shroder was being deliberately dim, and it was working to get on Flick’s nerves.

“You don’t need to be a doctor,” Flick replied, not quite yelling, but almost. “It’s just candy, that’s all. Are you freaking kidding me!” Now he was yelling. “See look.” He snatched one of the sweets from Shroder, unwrapped it with a practiced twist and flip to deposit it on his tongue. “See? Candy,” he managed to mumble around the substantial chunk he had quickly shuttled into the hollow of his cheek.

Sergeant Shroder’s belligerent bullying ploy had worked, though in all likelihood once even the possibility of drugs was voiced, Flick was doomed to a seg-term, even if only for a brief time to investigate the “suspected illicit substance”.

Sergeant Shroder’s moustache twitched with delight as he smirked his satisfaction. “Destroying the evidence. That’s alright, I’ve got this other one.” Shroder’s fist closed around the second candy before dropping it into his shirt’s breast pocket. “We’ll see what this really is. Go ahead and turn around for me.” With that he reached for one of the four sets of handcuffs dangling from his belt, and in doing so, sealed Flick’s fate.


This happened on a Friday, so Flick remained in segregation over a long holiday weekend. As soon as the details of the situation were heard by the adjustment committee and investigating officer on Tuesday, Flick was released and put right back into the same cell. Sergeant Shroder faced ridicule from all directions, but he received no type of censure for the egregious abuse of his authority.

Window Seat to Freedom


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This excerpt is from Candy and Blood. Available for purchase on Amazon now.


My starving eyes saucered as they attempted to watch it all at once. They’d been deprived of simple beauty and had grown lazy on a steady diet of televised facsimiles. Freedom breezed past me at 55 miles per hour in the form of green fields, trees, farm-houses, and tiny communities littered sparsely across the land.

Traveling on the prison transfer bus is an especially hellish ordeal. The discomfort and disorientation that the ride places on a convict is exacerbated by the fact that most of the buses, except a few older models still in service, have a barrier of sheet metal where the windows should be. This allows only a thin trickle of light and air to come through a three-inch wide perforated portion of the metal that runs along the top of the side walls of the bus. Due to the restraints that weigh down an inmate in transit, it is difficult and painful to stand and look through this slim window on the world—not to mention illegal—and a C/O managing a transfer bus is quick to write a ticket. This barrier serves to keep the degenerate criminals within from glimpsing all that they’re missing, and the public from having to put actual human faces on the idea of incarceration.

photo by dan
photo by dan

There is, however, a coveted seat that affords the weary convict a view during his travels.

In nearly all my transfers and writs, I was always seated somewhere close to the middle of the bus. It’s not like the C/O had asked for my opinion or let me choose a seat to my liking. Only once in twenty trips was I ever blessed to be placed in the one seat—at the front of the bus in the row of seats opposite the driver—that had bars across the window instead of the metal barrier. The bars did little to mar my view. The world I was so far removed from felt somehow foreign. I felt like a stranger moving through a strange land. In opposition to this vaguely unsettling notion rising within me, there was a welcome familiarity to my road trip.

In my youth, I’d traveled endless highways on family outings to visit distant relatives and to lay down roots in new towns. The idea of exodus and ease of movement is part of the bedrock and backbone of America. There is something especially inviting about an open road stretching out before us; it speaks to infinite possibilities and the freedom to come and go as we please. That freedom was taken from me by my own bad decisions. However, for a brief moment on the transfer bus, the highway spread out before me, and I got to watch from my window seat as the beautiful summer sun blazed down on the world. The view consumed me, the carriage that carried me was of no consequence, and I was just another sojourner in this life. For a few fleeting hours as I perched on my window seat, I transcended my tragically drab surroundings and found a sense of freedom, if not freedom itself.


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Razorblade Horace


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This excerpt is from Candy and Blood. Available for purchase on Amazon now.


It was strange and surreal to have a selfless act of kindness return to try to stab me in the face.

As Horace swiped the razorblade toward my face, time seemed to slow momentarily, and I froze. It was obscenely surreal, this scene I’d suddenly found myself in the middle of, but even as the slim weapon swung ever closer to slicing me wide open, I couldn’t help thinking of the irony that I had actually provided Horace with the object he was attacking me with.


It was a big misunderstanding and miscommunication, really. Once tempers flare, though, none of that matters—especially when a blade becomes involved. Horace, besides being saddled with such an unusual and unfortunate name, looked like a caramelized Truman Capote. His voice even bore a similar, strangely effeminate lilt as the late Mr. Capote. These facts tended to make him appear less than formidable. That is, until he started swinging a razorblade at me.

Before the excitement, I hadn’t been paying attention. My mind was a million miles away mulling over something or other as I was racing to the shower to beat the rush of post-yard would-be bathers. There was no sound of water running and no towel or other paraphernalia to indicate that anyone was in the shower. I counted this as a stroke of luck, so I pulled back the curtain on the nearest shower stall.

Horace was standing there, fully clothed, with a towel around his neck and a mesh bag of necessary shower accoutrements dangling on a string from his limp wrist. “Damn,” I exclaimed reflexively as my heart leapt into my neck and my pulse chased after. “That’s my bad. Sorry, man.”

I had only a passing but cordial acquaintance with Horace, mostly because he had been my neighbor briefly before he moved to another cell. With his demeanor, appearance, and voice, Horace was suspect by default. On top of that, I knew he had spent time in a part of the joint reserved only for those with serious mental health issues and that he was on the medline twice a day to get his skittles.

Armed with this knowledge, I didn’t believe his loitering in a shower stall to be in any way overtly egregious or malicious. Standing behind a shower curtain while fully clothed, as if lying in wait, is certainly considered odd, especially since homosexuals often use the showers for illicit carnal liaisons. However, since there hadn’t been any exposing of intimate bits involved in our brief interaction, I dismissed the whole thing as no big deal and moved on to the next shower stall.

It was my fault, and I took full responsibility for it. Unfortunately, Horace didn’t feel the same way. The situation quickly escalated.

What the hell is wrong with people?” he muttered, as if talking to himself, but plenty loud enough for me to hear. “I’m sick of all this fag stuff. People trying to catch a peek and pretend like they’re not. Nuthin’ but a bunch of fags here.” I was immediately offended and angry, and like a reflex I checked him.

Whoa, whoa, hold on; it was my fault, I said I was sorry. It’s my bad. But you can keep all of that homosexual stuff. I ain’t got nothing to do with it, and I don’t want to hear any more of your fag…”


His scream of rage was so loud and unexpected that it startled my flesh into goose bumps. My heart began banging angrily against the confines of my chest. Horace had left the shower and begun to walk away before I’d spoken up to defend myself, but after his outburst, he immediately dropped the bag then dropped to his knees like a penitent of some sort. Instead of reverent prayers, though, he let loose a torrential litany of anti-gay curses while rummaging through the meager belongings he’d brought to the shower. When he rose to his feet again, he was brandishing the razorblade.

I caught a glimpse of his weapon as he brought it to bear on me. He had secured one end into a piece of cardboard to act as a handle so he wouldn’t slice himself. It was a tiny thing and looked almost comically absurd pinched between his surprisingly meaty index finger, middle finger, and thumb. Small as it was, I knew how easily it could move through skin and the tissue beneath. But when Horace advanced on me, I just stared back, stuck to the floor.

Horace’s outburst had brought a few guys rushing to the area, one of whom was Horace’s cellie. He recognized the situation at a glance and stepped between me and the blade. In an authoritative but soothing tone, he talked Horace down from his intended act of violence, repeating Horace’s name several times to try and snap him back to a semblance of sanity. He had his hands up in a calming gesture that reminded me of a lion tamer, and I had the distinct sense that he had more than a little experience dealing with Horace’s unpredictable and disproportionate temper.

One of the other nosy lookie-loos grabbed my arm and gave me a tug. My feet followed along. It had all happened so fast that I was left flabbergasted. My dumbfounded state had been so complete that I suspect my face would’ve been ravaged into ribbons of flesh and rivulets of blood if Horace’s cellie hadn’t shown up.

I couldn’t shake the strange sensation that I had nearly been the architect of my own disfigurement.

When Horace had been my neighbor, he’d heard that my hustle was sewing and had inquired about how I cut my fabric. He fancied himself a bit of a sewer as well. Being a good neighbor, as an act of kindness, I provided him with a razorblade, since I had one I wasn’t using. If I’d known I’d be staring it down as it was waved menacingly by a man with a history of violence and mental illness, I might not have been so kind.

I steered clear of Horace after that, but only had to duck him for nine days because he was hauled to Seg for getting into a fight in the chow hall. In that instance, Horace proved to be far more formidable than his appearance belied—it took two white shirts and two sarges to pull him off his victim and subdue him. What was the fight about? What exactly set him off the second time? Someone compared the spilled milk on Horace’s shirt to ejaculate, insinuating that he had recently performed fellatio. The smart-mouthed idiot who said it needed stitches—and that was from damage inflicted only with fists. I shudder to think what Horace could have accomplished with his razorblade.


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Everything in Its Right Place


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This excerpt is from Candy and Blood. Available for purchase on Amazon now.


Watching Anthony make his bed was almost hypnotic. I had a rough time looking away, mesmerized by my own bewilderment. Staring at the complex process, I couldn’t help but silently ask myself: What is wrong with this guy?


To say that Anthony is particular or fastidious is an affront to the English language. Neither description accurately describes the level of his neuroses when it comes to needing everything to be in its right place. His box and living area are obsessively organized, but nowhere are his anal-retentive proclivities more apparent than when he’s assembling his sleeping mat. It could almost be considered a thing of beauty, I think, if there wasn’t something so desperately sad about it.

He begins with a bare mat, with the thick plastic cover he has elected to keep on it, though many convicts illegally alter their mat by removing the cover and discreetly discarding it. The covers are uncomfortable, and in the heat of summer they manage to become both sticky and slick. Inspecting the mat carefully for imperfections, Anthony finally decides to flip the mat and then gives it a series of karate chops before kneading it rigorously, like he’s giving it a complicated and thorough massage.

photo by David Castillo Dominici
photo by David Castillo Dominici

Once he’s satisfied the mat is properly rubbed down, Anthony takes a blanket and crisply folds it so it is precisely centered on the top of the mat—a half inch clearance on all four sides. Then he does it again with another blanket. And again. All these blankets make a thicker sleeping surface, and provide a place to hide the extra blankets, which are considered contraband. Next, having manhandled the metal bed away from the wall, he drapes a sheet over his top bunk and lets it settle over the sides, like a dainty tablecloth.

What follows always reminds me of a bizarre solo session of duck-duck-goose. Anthony starts moving around the bed—tugging, smoothing, tapping, and pulling at the sheet. Round and round he goes. Then, he darts back in the opposite direction, all while trying to ensure that the sheet hangs just right, with the same amount of material hanging on each side and at each end. This process takes close to ten minutes, during which he’s constantly crouching down then standing on tiptoes, to make tiny nudges and corrections. When he finally gets it laid out to his own personal specifications, Anthony tucks the long sides of the sheet under the mat, but always ends up pulling them back out several times to start over and smooth out wrinkles before trying the process again. Eventually he gets all four sides tucked in and the sheet corners at the foot and head of the bed tied together, so the mat is fully ensconced and the sheet secured to it. Anthony caresses his handiwork like it’s a longed-for lover, smoothing any barely perceptible imperfections he might detect.

Anthony then takes three large bath towels and lays them one at a time over the immaculate sheet, carefully matching their edges so they’re perfectly aligned. This not only adds extra padding to the thin mat, but also keeps the sheets safe from any careless spills of food or drink. (A towel is easier to clean and to replace, but DOC policy allows for new bedding only once per year. In reality, it usually takes longer than that.)

Fluffing his pillow before slipping it into the pillowcase involves more karate-chopping. It’s quite the cardio workout. Once it’s in place on the bed, Anthony then piles two blankets and three towels, all precisely folded and properly perched atop the pillow, until the entire structure stands nearly three feet tall. All the while, there’s a constant smoothing and caressing going on, like Anthony can’t stop his hands from touching what he’s done. All told, Anthony’s bed-making process takes the better part of an hour—forty-five minutes on average.

Anthony never spent time in the military, so that can’t account for his particular and specific bed-making technique. If I ever needed a laugh, the next show was just around the corner because Anthony would strip his bed every single day and wash his sheets. I think he did it just to kill time and give his day some structure. Whatever the reason, seeing him relaxing on top of his freshly made bed with a satisfied grin made me feel a bit mischievous.

One day, walking into his cell, I struck up a conversation and casually rested my hand against the edge of his mat. After a brief pause, I managed to get a finger under one of the towels he was sitting on and nonchalantly curl the edge of one towel under itself. Still talking, I watched as Anthony became more and more uncomfortable until he couldn’t hold eye contact any longer. His gaze darted down to the offending bulge, his fingers quivered and his hands clenched spasmodically as he fought the urge to fix it.

Call me cruel, but I found his obvious turmoil hilarious. A dozen times his eyes roved back and forth, from me to the wrinkle, as he nodded distractedly at our conversation before surreptitiously sliding his hand from his lap and fingering the towel back into place, all while trying to make the motion seem natural. Inside, I giggled with delight.

Shortly after my harmless bit of torture, I ended our talk and pushed off the side of his mat as I left the cell, leaving my handprint disturbing the previously pristine sheet. When I got to the door, I turned and saw Anthony meticulously petting the offending portion of sheet to erase the evidence of my presence. I had to smile at the absurdity of him needing to have his things look just right.


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Quality Healthcare


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This excerpt is from Candy and Blood. Available for purchase on Amazon now.


I thank the good Lord above from the depths of my heart that I’ve never had to deal with a hemorrhoid. Of all the various maladies and embarrassing afflictions that have been visited upon me, the dreaded hemorrhoid is one I seem to have dodged entirely.

Billie Iris, on the other hand, did not enjoy my good fortune.

It’s not the kind of medical issue that a macho guy wants to admit to or have to deal with, but once a bloody pustule starts proceeding from the anus, a person’s priorities shift and their proclivities for modesty evaporate. Billie Iris got himself on the sick call list as soon as possible and assumed that a severe situation such as his would be handled delicately and professionally. Instead, after the doctor stared into Billie’s anal area for a suspiciously lengthy period of time, he instructed his secretly terrified patient to finish stripping and gave him a bedsheet to wrap around himself like some kind of prison toga before leaving the dingy exam room.

photo by ponsulak
photo by ponsulak

When the doctor returned, he wore gloves, held a scalpel, and had a nurse in tow who had a stack of gauze in her gloved hands. He didn’t secure his patient’s verbal permission or have him sign anything. The only explanation given of the procedure was, “We have to take care of this now,” before he instructed Billie to lay his chest on the exam table, put his butt in the air, and relax. Excellent bedside manner. There was no sterilization of the room or the region about to be operated on. After the cutting was done and the area had been excised, they taped some gauze to his ass and sent him on his way. They provided no pain meds, ointment, replacement gauze, or any instructions on how to wash and care for the area. The doctor simply told him to get dressed and go back to his cell house.

Billie Iris awoke the next morning with his boxers and bedsheets covered in blood. This was enough to convince the C/O that he had an emergency situation on his hands, and he hurried the understandably freaked-out Billie back to Healthcare. When Billie returned to the house, he was loaded down with plastic bed covers, gauze, plastic undergarments (essentially diapers), and the generic answer to all prison maladies: Ibuprofen. Each passing day saw Billie, who was usually a fairly easygoing guy, become more worried and frantic. He couldn’t get any relief. He was constantly making trips back and forth to Healthcare for resupply and to complain about the pain and unsanitary nature of his predicament, but he could never get a straight answer from Healthcare staff as to what his affliction was, how serious it was, and how best to care for it and/or treat it. After a week of this, in desperation, Billie Iris sought my aid and opinion.

As I’ve said before, I am not a medical professional. I don’t know what it is about me, but people seem to seek out and value my feedback on a plethora of issues and topics. It’s not that I act like a know-it-all—at least I don’t think I do. I hope I don’t. Regardless, I have that effect on people. In the case of Billie Iris, my approachability apparently made him feel secure enough to ask me to have a gander at his sphincter. Lucky me! Since I’m sympathetic to those who suffer at the hands of the largely callous and indifferent prison healthcare system, I agreed to lend my friend my eyes. This was not something I particularly wanted to do or ever thought I would be doing, but that’s the price you pay when you’re such an amiable guy.

We’ll do this quick, okay? On the count of three.” Billie Iris was facing away from me, his shirt pulled up to the middle of his back. His thumbs were tucked into his pants, ready to drop them, but he craned his head around at the sound of my voice. We made eye contact, and it was awkward. He was scared. I was scared and freaked out, too. He nodded his head at me. “Okay, let’s do this quick,” he agreed. With a deep breath to steady myself, we began.

One.” I didn’t know why I was doing this. “Two.” He leaned further forward so his butt was higher in the air. I really didn’t want to do this. “Three.”

After a moment of hesitation, his pants dropped to just below his cheeks, and I got to witness his affliction in all its brutal glory. I gagged and retched in my mouth before rather indelicately exclaiming: “Dude, that is not good at all. That is nasty. They gotta do something for you.” It didn’t exactly put him at ease, but I was merely giving my knee-jerk reaction to the horror show before me.

I honestly can’t say what I had expected to see, but I doubt my darkest nightmares could have prepared me for the view before me. Protruding from the wrinkled flesh adjacent to his puckered anus was what looked like a bloody tongue, or a sloppy flap of pastrami. It flopped and wobbled almost three inches out from the surface of his skin.

Due to its position, it was entirely impossible not to soil the protuberance during defecation and the wiping process afterward. It appeared to be a perpetually bloody open sore. This suspicion was confirmed, as it left red smears against his pale white ass. Somehow mesmerized, I stared at the monstrosity as if looking into the face of some alien evil. I might have continued staring if Billie Iris hadn’t pulled up his pants and broken the spell the malevolent little bugger seemed to have on me.

Yeah, man, they gotta do something for that. Stay on top of them, man,” I said. It’s the best I could come up with. Then I got outta there.

For months, Billie Iris was in a battle with Healthcare, constantly seeking further medical attention that they never provided. The doctor merely told him to push the unnatural bulge back inside his body and leave it alone. He was strung out on pain meds and laxatives to make his evacuations less traumatic and lessen his straining from constipation, which I suspect may have been a factor in creating his nasty anal node in the first place. Through it all he continued having to sleep on plastic, wear diaper devices to catch his blood flow, and slather the ugly thing in hemorrhoid cream.

The experience changed his easygoing personality. He constantly talked about his medical woes and the latest news on that front. As much as I felt sorry for the guy, it got to the point that I dreaded him coming around because I was sick of hearing about it. Once he contacted a law firm that does pro bono medical malpractice cases. He requested copies of his medical records, which he was entitled to under the Freedom of Information Act. In reviewing these documents, he was flabbergasted to find that there was no record of the illegal surgery performed on him, on site and without his permission. This apparent conspiracy and cover-up only provided fodder for his ranting complaints.

Billie Iris went home six months after I had peered into the face of evil erupting from his sphincter, and I was glad to see him go. I was glad not only because someone going home always reminds me that I too am leaving one day, but also because I wouldn’t have to listen to him prattling on endlessly about his problems. When he left he was still bleeding from his ass and planning a big lawsuit. I wished him all the best, told him to be good.

I wish this type of medical malfeasance were an aberrant occurrence, but when a man is reduced to a number, a faceless commodity, it becomes easy to justify treating him with a shocking level of indifference.


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This excerpt is from Candy and Blood. Available for purchase on Amazon now.


I was caught in Healthcare, stuck there during a scheduled institutional count. What’s worse is that my visit was an unscheduled one made necessary by a gaping wound on my finger that had resulted when I accidentally slammed my hand between two dumbbells. Dumb indeed.

Because this was an unexpected situation, I hadn’t been able to plan ahead and bring a book to pass the time as I waited the hour or more for count to clear and movement to resume. That meant I only had a few fellow inmates, who were also unfortunate enough to get caught, to keep me occupied with gossip and varying degrees of intelligent conversation. I was mostly content to sit silently with my own thoughts as entertainment, augmented perhaps with a bit of eavesdropping on the handful of guys assembled in the Healthcare waiting room. Enjoying my own silence was not to be, however, as David sat on the bench next to me.

There were plenty of other spaces to sit, so I was immediately wary of his mental well-being. In hearing the chatter between C/Os over the radio, I knew that at least some of the men stuck with me were from the psychiatric portion of the prison. Without trying to perpetuate a stereotype, many of these inmates have a signature look comprised of jittery body and eye movements and generally appear to be drugged. Having difficulty staying focused on one topic of conversation during a discussion is another big indication that the inmate’s mind may be muddled by a mental health issue, psych meds, or a combination of the two. In this way, these inmates can be like big children—and like children, they too can be difficult to deal with. David began normally enough, which put me somewhat at ease.

What’s up, man? What happened to you?” he asked, indicating the gauze cocooning much of my hand.

Oh, lifting weights,” I replied. “Got it pinched between two dumbbells.”




A couple.”

Not bad.”

Think I saw bone,” I said, a bit of bragging in my tone.

Niiice,” he said with a good-natured chuckle. I joined with a muted grinning guffaw of my own. Male bonding at its finest. Suddenly we were buddies.

It turned out that he had arrived at this particular facility three days before, and as such, he still had numerous practical questions about how things were run at this prison. How quickly does commissary run? What’s the selection like? What are gym and yard like? How are the weights? (Heavy and painful). What are the C/Os like, in general? How about the shakedowns? Compliance checks? All essential information for a convict to procure. David’s line of questioning let me know that he had served time at some point, and before long he began to give me the background on how he ended up back behind prison walls.

It wasn’t exactly a unique tale. In fact, it’s one that I’ve heard in various variations countless times. He was on parole—doing well, staying clean. He’d gotten a job, was paying the bills, and was living with his wife, who had seen him through his first prison stint of two years. Perhaps not particularly thriving, but surviving—doing better than many parolees. Then he faltered, violated his parole, and was sent back to prison once more. Here, however, is where David’s narrative became a tragedy all his own. He divulged it to me, a relative stranger, as if unburdening himself of knowledge he felt too tired to carry any longer. His blunt honesty and openness made me uncomfortable as he reached out in pain and grief.

photo by David Castillo Dominici
photo by David Castillo Dominici

My mom got sick,” he began, and I felt the pit of my stomach fill with heavy dread; I knew his story couldn’t possibly end well. “It was cancer. Her and my sister both have it. Had been fighting it. Then, it was sudden, my mom…she was just gone. She went to the hospital, and never came back out again.” David paused, his eyes glassy and staring off at the terrible memory for a moment before continuing. “So I went and got good and drunk. I don’t really think I’m an alcoholic, never been to A.A. After I got out of the joint the first time I had a few beers sometimes, but it was no big deal. After my mom…that’s why I’m back. DUI.” There was a brief pause as he gathered his thoughts, but I didn’t dare intrude on his account, which had taken on the hushed tones of a confessional.

I was at the intake joint for two weeks, waiting to be shipped out somewhere. I missed my mother’s funeral. When I called for the weekly ten-minute phone call they let you have, my dad told me my sister had died. She was only thirty-two. It was the cancer again. I guess it came back.” David took a deep breath and sighed it out in a huff before pressing forward with the final awful portion of his story. He tried to finish it before emotion overtook him and his tears began to fall.

It’s been ten days since then. I just got here three days ago, was finally able to get on the phone yesterday. My dad answered, and I could hear that he was crying. First thing he said: ‘I’m so sorry, son.’ My wife,” David’s voice broke as he uttered the words, but he swallowed past it before he continued. “She had an abscess in her lung. She’d already had surgery. I thought it was all finished, everything was fine, but…something about complications. My dad said she had just died the day before. She was thirty-eight. I’m writing the warden now to see if I can get permission to go to the funeral, but I don’t think I’ll be able to get the money in time. It costs like a couple thousand to go.”

David stared at the floor for a while before looking up to meet my eyes, and I didn’t dare look away. “I lost them all in under a month.” His voice was a hollow, hoarse whisper. He wasn’t raging to the heavens and asking, “Why me?” or blaming his misfortune on anyone or anything. He was just hurting, and reaching out for human compassion in a cold, unloving place.

Sometimes words seem so incredibly inept at conveying what we feel, but words are all I had. “I’m so sorry, man. I’m just…so sorry.”

He accepted my paltry condolences with a nod of his head. Yeah,” was all he said.

I think of David sometimes, and I pray for him. At the risk of sounding self-centered, his many losses remind me all the more of everything I have to be thankful for, the blessings that constantly surround me—even behind prison walls.


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Shower Deprivation


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This excerpt is from Candy and Blood. Available for purchase on Amazon now.


You don’t even know me!” Even as I spoke, I could hear the wild, angry hysteria in my voice—but I couldn’t stop. “What are you talking about ‘we?’ There’s no ‘we.’ I’ve been in this building with you for two years now, and you have never said a single word to me, but now that you need me, it’s ‘we?’ And ‘we’re all in this together?’ I don’t think so!” My muscles were tense and my heart thrashed its way up into my throat, giving my voice an unnatural tremor that I fought to control. I wasn’t myself. Shower deprivation can be a dangerous thing.


It had been almost two weeks since the lockdown had started, and a week without a proper shower—nothing but early morning bird baths that barely sufficed to keep me from getting too musty, but never left me feeling completely clean. Sitting in my bunk on lockdown all day, I had to combat that not-so-fresh feeling. By 3:00 p.m. on Friday, the whole deck was sure we’d be getting showers that shift. The previous Friday we’d gotten to shower, and on a lockdown inmates were entitled/legally mandated to be provided a shower once a week. So the odds were good for a repeat.

shampooI could hear through my door when other guys asked the C/O as he passed if he would be doing showers. His lackadaisical response was, “Not yet.” That reply was ambiguous, so when he passed my cell, I put the shower question to him as well. I got some clarity for my persistence. “Yup, just not yet.” That “yup” was the most beautiful syllable in the world to me. The “just not yet” was a little disconcerting, but within ten minutes I heard something that put me at ease.

The wheels on the bottom of the carts that carried our food to us began to rumble their signature sound. Similar to Pavlov’s poor pooches, my stomach involuntarily growled for whatever sloptastic dish was heading my way. (It was tater tot casserole—not nearly as tasty as it sounds.) In the past, the C/O had preferred to keep traffic on the deck to a minimum so he could monitor inmates as they went to the showers. Thus, it stood to reason that once chow had been passed out and a little time afforded for eating, he would start letting guys out for their shower. I was confident that I’d finally get a proper shower and go to sleep feeling fully fresh and clean.

Unfortunately, reason doesn’t always have a place in prison.

It was nearly seven before the first shower was started, and the C/O, who was known to be a bit of a Robocop, didn’t seem to be in a hurry to make sure everyone got a shower before he went home. In the past, he had put strict limits on the length of one’s shower and personally shuttled inmates from cell to shower and back again to ensure there was no stopping to check in with a buddy in another cell. Today, however, he was letting guys take their own sweet time in the shower and lollygag on the deck afterwards. I held out hope for a shower long after common sense, reason, and experience had conspired to let me know that showers were done for the day. I laid down for sleep feeling dingy, scummy, and grungier than ever.

My habit as an early riser paid off the next day. I was one of the few guys awake when the C/O came and let people out for showers. This move on the officer’s part was completely unexpected, but a wonderfully welcome morning blessing. My cell just missed the cutoff for the first round of showers, but we were next in line, and I still had all my shower paraphernalia set out from the night before.

I waited with bated breath, fantasizing over all the cleanliness I was about to enjoy. My hair felt dry and stiff as straw. I couldn’t wait to lather, rinse, and repeat. Oh! I was going to repeat so much! The thought of soap suds caressing my skin was practically erotic. It had been a while for me. (Since I’d showered, I mean.) The eager anticipation I’d harbored the night before, only to be disappointed, had made my yearning for a cleansing all that much stronger and more difficult to deny. I planned to scrub every inch of myself, shed spent skin cells like corn husks, and let the hot spray work its rejuvenating magic. It was going to be an epic shower.

By the time the C/O came for me, I was practically shaking with enthusiasm, like a dog that has been cooped up in the house alone all day when his master finally arrives to let him out for a walk. The only thing that kept me from running to the shower was that it might have gotten me in trouble and caused the C/O to refuse me a shower as punishment. So I walked, but quickly—I couldn’t get there fast enough

All I did was hurry up and wait because every shower was in use. Anticlimactic, I know. I was next, though, while my cellie and neighbors filed into the small communal shower room after me with a strange mix of sleep and excitement in their eyes. They may have been slumbering when the C/O opened their door, but everyone desperately wanted a shower. As we all crowded into the enclosed space, the accumulated aromatic funk of our combined BO made it clear that everyone also desperately needed a shower. I was so jittery with anticipation that I couldn’t even sit on one of the wooden benches worn smooth from the friction of innumerable inmate asses. Instead I bounced back and forth from foot to foot, ears pricked up, and tried to hear when one of the showers was turned off. This would indicate that my wait would be just that much shorter.

Hey man, let me get ahead of you real quick.”

I was so lost in my daydreams of a luxurious shower that it took a moment for me to realize the voice’s owner was addressing me. Once I looked at who it was, it took another long moment for me to figure out who it was. He wasn’t my neighbor; in fact, he lived on the other end of the deck, and if the C/O continued on the same course he’d begun, the inmate who was currently addressing me most likely wouldn’t get his shower until after lunch. I don’t even know how he got out of his cell. After a stretch of silence, I realized that he expected me to respond to whatever it was he was saying.

What?” I asked, ever the eloquent one.

Man, I said I’m out here bogus; I’m gonna just jump in the shower real quick, like five minutes, and then I’m up. Cool?” The longer he talked, the more I recognized who he was, and the angrier I got. His was one of the faces that passed by my window each morning of the lockdown because he was a cook in the chow hall and, therefore, deemed essential enough to be pulled out despite the restricted movement. This also meant that he’d washed a load of laundry and showered every single day for the past week while I was feebly splashing around in the sink, scrubbing my clothes out with a bar of state soap and hanging them on a shoelace strung across the window. I didn’t hold this against him or begrudge him the special treatment he got because he had a job. I just found the very idea of him showering again before me to be offensive and profoundly unfair.

No,” I said succinctly and definitively.

What do you mean? Why not?”

You’ll get your shower; he’ll come around to your cell.” I tried to remain logical and calm.

You don’t know that. What, are you the police now?”

What the hell did you just say?” I reflexively squared off on him as I asked the question, and my voice rose to a threatening tone. He had asked a stupid question, almost akin to accusing me of being a snitch or a collaborator with the authorities. It was a jab meant to get a rise out of me. And it did.

photo by John Kasawa
photo by John Kasawa

You don’t know if he’s gonna give me a shower later. You don’t know that.” The cook was adamant, and I had no response, so he continued. “How could you know what he’s gonna do? I just want a quick shower. I’m out here bogus so I’m gonna get in, get out, and quick get back to the cell before the C/O can see me.” This was a declarative statement, not an interrogatory one. He was stating his specific intentions, not asking permission to jump ahead of me.

No, you’re not,” I said, my voice calm and serious, angry but in control. “You’ve been going to work all week, right?”

Yeah, so?” he replied, on the defensive.

So, you had a shower yesterday at about two o’clock, right?”


You’ve been waiting overnight for a shower, and I’ve been waiting over a week for mine.”

So what? Who cares?” His face was all scrunched and twisted in on itself as if he had gotten a strong whiff of something extraordinarily foul. “What’s your problem, bro? This is how we do it.”

What’s my problem?” My voice was rising again.

Yeah.” His voice rose to meet mine, and his tone became more aggressive.

Whoa, whoa, come on, guys! We’re all gonna get a shower. You’re out here bogus, so you go ahead before me.” It was my neighbor, Jordy, telling the cook to go before him. Jordy wasn’t exactly my road dog, but I thought I was cool with him until he stepped in to cut me out like that. He turned to me and continued to present what I felt was an ill-conceived solution to our argument. “It’s not that big a deal, man, so just chill.” I felt I was being ganged up on, and I pretty much did the opposite of “chill.”

What are you talking about? I’m next!” I said. “I don’t care if he goes before you, Jordy, that’s on you, but I’m next!” I couldn’t control my voice. “In fact, this ain’t got shit to do with you, Jordy, so stay out of it.”

Hey man, he just knows how it is.” This, from the cook. “We’ve been doing this for some years, and he knows how we do it. We gotta look out for each other, you know, we’re all in this together.” That’s what finally pushed me over the edge.

You don’t even know me!” I screamed. “What are you talking about ‘we?’ There’s no ‘we.’ I’ve been in this building with you for two years now, and you have never said a single word to me, but now that you need me, it’s ‘we?’ And ‘we’re all in this together?’ I don’t think so!”

After my outburst, I walked out of the shower room, livid, and checked to see where the C/O was, and whether or not our raised voices (mine mostly) had attracted his unwanted attention. They hadn’t; in fact, he was nowhere in sight. I was muttering under my breath; a few choice curses even made their way into my quiet tirade, and my fists were clenching and unclenching painfully, as if to release my rage through my palms. Instead, that rage was feeding on itself, growing stronger, until I felt I was going to really, finally, fully, and completely lose it with the cook. It seemed inevitable. Into that mental maelstrom a still, small voice from within informed me that I was being irrationally irate and allowing myself to get all bent out of shape over something that was essentially senseless. Or, something that wasn’t worth going to Seg over. Of course, knowing that I’m being unreasonable and actually putting a stop to my borderline idiotic behavior are two separate things.

I took a few deep breaths before walking back into the shower room. I felt mostly calmed, but an undercurrent of ire and indignation lay just below the surface that was again threatening to bubble up and overtake my better judgment. I took a seat on the bench. I was no longer jittery with excitement. When the next shower came open, I nodded at the cook. “Go ahead, man.” He tossed his clothes on the bench beside me and nodded back to me before going to the shower. I only had to wait a couple minutes more for the next one to become available. Once ensconced in the stall, I took a luxuriant twenty minutes to soak and wash and let the steaming stream loosen my tensed muscles. The experience was partially marred by the turmoil in my mind over behaving like such a complete idiot. While I felt I was still correct about the cook having to wait his turn, I knew I’d been way out of pocket for losing my temper that egregiously.

When I was finished showering and about to leave, I noticed that the interloping cook had left behind his sweatshirt in his haste to retreat back to his cell before the C/O could detect his unauthorized movement. I could have stolen it, thrown it in a shower, or even just left it there. I had several shades of petty to choose from. But I went ahead and swung by his cell and made sure he got his sweatshirt back. This act didn’t make me the bigger man, or even a better man. It doesn’t mean that I’m not petty either. I’m just not that petty. It may be that shower deprivation brings out a person’s true colors. If this is true, not all my colors are very pretty.


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Rocco and The Hamster


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This excerpt is from Candy and Blood. Available for purchase on Amazon now.


For all his woofing, I honestly don’t think The Hamster actually expected Rocco to answer his challenge. His surprise slipped through his bravado just before the chink in the armor was cinched closed, but I spied it all the same. A touch of fear accompanied his surprise, and as the six-foot-five-inch, 280-pound behemoth crashed down from the top bunk like Jack’s infamous giant, I didn’t blame the five-foot-five Hamster for being afraid. That’s not to say I felt sorry for him—after all, he had brought it all upon himself.


At the time, I was living in a dorm-type setting with six men in the cell. It made for some tense times, as different personalities tended to clash, and neither conflict resolution nor intelligent conversation was likely to occur. In this particular instance, The Hamster took umbrage at the smell emanating from the ass of the inmate on the bunk below Rocco, so he tried to remedy the situation by pointing his fan at the stench. The offensive smell didn’t bother Rocco; what did bug him was the fact that the cold air of the fan was hitting him, and we were smack dab in the middle of the coldest January in one hundred years. That isn’t hyperbole.

Rocco told The Hamster to turn the fan away from him. The Hamster tried to explain about the noxious fart fumes, but Rocco was adamant about getting the fan turned so the air wasn’t hitting him. The Hamster put his shoes on—an implicit threat that he was readying for a fight—then he flat-out challenged Rocco to climb out of the bunk and make him turn the fan. Rocco wasted no time doing so, and the ground nearly shook as he alighted heavily upon it.

As I sat on the six-foot high top bunk over The Hamster’s bunk, Rocco could nearly look me straight in the eye without tilting his eyes up at all. The Hamster’s tiny head barely reached the level of the top bunk. He was nearly the height of Rocco’s monstrous barrel chest. Initially, it seemed certain to be a massacre, with Rocco dismantling the little guy with embarrassing ease, but there was no backing down now. Without further preamble, it began—and then stopped almost as quickly.

The Hamster was 54 years old at the time; Rocco was 57. Neither was in any semblance of physical fitness or in their prime. The Hamster swung first, quickly, trying to catch Rocco off guard. The punch connected with Rocco’s fleshy cheek but did not faze him. Rocco brought down a sledgehammer fist that glanced the side of The Hamster’s face. The Hamster lowered his head and wrapped his arms around Rocco as far as he could, then pumped his legs to propel his opponent backward. Rocco was forced to retreat a couple of steps, but he rained down haymakers on The Hamster’s exposed back as he did, making solidly hollow thumping sounds. The Hamster began to stand, and Rocco pushed him away as if he had no heft whatsoever. There was a ragged and painful sound coming from The Hamster as he struggled to breathe. Rocco, too, was doubled over and fighting to suck oxygen into his lungs.

Wait! Wait!” The Hamster hollered, his hands held up in front of him to ward off an attack that wasn’t coming.

Go ahead,” Rocco replied, “catch your breath.” This he uttered between gasps of his own. Neither was much prepared to go on; it seemed like the altercation was done before it’d really begun. But it turned out The Hamster had no honor or sense of protocol. This wasn’t terribly surprising to me.

The Hamster had sunk to his bunk while Rocco slumped into a chair, both of them gathering their breath after their brief burst of violence. Suddenly and without any forewarning, The Hamster flung himself across the three feet of floor and cracked Rocco in the face, connecting cleanly with his orbital socket bone, which would eventually bruise and swell into a black eye as evidence of the fact that The Hamster stole on him. I assume that The Hamster was hoping for a knockout punch; instead, his breaking of the agreed-upon truce only enraged the beast.

metal_bunk_bedRocco roared (literally, it sounded more like a roar than a yell) and burst from his seated position with a barrage of fists that The Hamster managed to mostly dodge or deflect so that they landed on his shoulders and arms rather than his pea-sized head. The Hamster had leaned forward, and Rocco clocked him with a vicious uppercut square in the center of his wee forehead, and I could tell that the punch had made The Hamster weak in the knees as he sagged forward. He managed to wrap his arms around Rocco’s ample middle (though he didn’t have a prayer of actually making those arms reach all the way around Rocco’s considerable circumference) and held on for dear life.

Rocco squirmed against the little leach that had latched onto him and managed to wrap his fleshy arm around The Hamster’s scrawny neck. Their struggles had taken them all around the available open area of the small cell, but as Rocco yanked on The Hamster’s head and neck like it was the cap on a bottle of pop he was trying to twist off, they were positioned right next to my bunk, just below me. With each successive attempt at decapitation, Rocco rose up, and his broad shoulders hit the edge of the bed upon which I sat and sent the whole thing up onto two corners. With each repeated yank, the bunk bucked and leapt like a rodeo bronc. All I could do was hold on for dear life as it came crashing down and tilted in the opposite direction before Rocco knocked it back again.

The Hamster was making some truly tortured choking sounds but still managed to squeak out: “Stop, stop!” Rocco relented. “Not my neck, bro,” The Hamster explained. “I got shot in my neck.” Apparently there were now rules to this particular throwdown.

From then on it was a laughably “civilized” conflict. They wrestled and swung at each other for a minute or so, then sat down to recover a while before heading into the lazy fray once more. After four rounds of this slow descent to peace, The Hamster finally conceded victory to Rocco. In truth, the fact that The Hamster had managed not to get his head ripped off probably made him more of a victor, but that’s not how the win was calculated. They both had a few abrasions and a bit of bruising, which they washed and nursed.

It was necessary to avoid the eyes of C/Os and snitches for a few days while they healed. For weeks, there was only a polite quiet that passed between them, but then the barrier began to melt and eventually the men were best of buddies as they talked, laughed, cooked, and ate together. I freely admit to being flabbergasted by the outcome.


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Animal Tendencies


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This excerpt is from Candy and Blood. Available for purchase on Amazon now.


I have spent time in a foreign country that in some areas literally had Third World toilet facilities. Those far-off “lavatories” often consisted of little more than a hole in the ground. For the more sophisticated and fanciful ones, a slab of concrete had been poured and a hole punched through it, or, more accurately, a crack had been made and then widened enough to allow various human waste products to pass into the tiny trench. There were no sinks or running water of any kind to speak of. Despite these appallingly archaic crappers, they were generally immaculate—not a smear or drop of anything to mark the presence of the previous user. The same could not be said for what awaited me one morning in the officers’ bathroom.

toilet paperAt the time, I was a sanitation specialist, a designation used in some prisons for a glorified janitor. Cleaning the filthiest areas, like showers and communal toilets, is the biggest part of the job. In this instance, the prison had just come off of lockdown, and I was running around like a maniac trying to do a dozen things to get the cell house back into some semblance of reasonable and organized shape. Bags of dirty laundry were piled up, garbage was strewn through the dayroom and hallways, and scum had accumulated in the showers. Trash that had been collected by the C/Os on the lockdown, mostly consisting of the Styrofoam trays that our meals had been served on, was piled just outside the front door of the house—fifteen ginormous sour-smelling bags, all waiting to be carried one hundred yards to the dumpster. We had been on lockdown for two days. Two days!

Several hours sped by as I leapt from one duty to the next until I felt I had things under control. Once I could take a breath, I gathered supplies to clean the private bathroom for correctional officers. In general, this commode only accommodates the needs of the floor officer and bubble officer, but any other members of security staff who may feel nature’s call are welcome to use it. This room is always locked, so Officer Brody approached with his keys and a pair of latex gloves. I knew something was off immediately; Brody usually had a laid-back demeanor and was quick with a smile and joke. Now, he wouldn’t even look me in the eyes.

C/O Brody spoke to my chest as he handed me the gloves. “I’m gonna warn you: it’s bad,” he sheepishly reported. “I don’t know how long it’s been, but…”

Well,” I interrupted, “a couple days. I cleaned it before the lockdown.”

Yeah, well…” That’s all Brody had to say on the subject. He keyed open the door and retreated with more haste than was usual or necessary. What did he know that I didn’t?

Oh, dear Lord!”

While it may seem comical or even contrived, that was my actual response upon witnessing the horror of the toilet and surrounding area. It was my singular and solemn job to cleanse and sanitize the region in question. I briefly entertained the notion that wild animals had found their way into the private bathroom and had their nefarious and feculent ways with it, but that was pure fantasy. Human beings, of a sort, had done this. The thought (and sight) baffled me to no end.

It looked like someone had taken a balloon, but rather than filling it with water, had instead opted for liquid feces and then popped it, splattering the contents against the inside of the toilet bowl, the outside of the toilet bowl, the toilet seat, as well as the wall and floor. It was atrociously disgusting. If I had made that mess, I would’ve been too ashamed and too well mannered to simply leave it behind. Apparently, not everyone was raised with sensibilities such as mine.

The bathroom was warmed by a dry heat that usually provided it with a certain pleasant coziness, but with two days of accumulated fecal funk wafting through the air it had become, essentially, a shite sauna. Squelching my gag reflex that was ignited by the superbly awful aroma, I set to the tedious task before me.

As I began, I was further disheartened to find that much of the fecal matter had hardened and crustified, while some was still fresh enough to wipe away like gummy brown Jell-O. From this, I could only conclude that the toilet had been abused at multiple and various times over the course of the two-day lockdown. (Two days!) My mind reeled at, and rebelled against, the notion that a grown adult human being would just drop trou and defecate in an already abysmally filthy toilet. Unfortunately, the proof was in the poop.

Perhaps I am overreacting, but it felt like there was something bestial and abhorrent about the entire predicament. Civilized individuals do NOT behave this way, and I shudder to think what the bathroom would’ve looked like if the lockdown had lasted a week. Or, God forbid, a month. Jackson Pollock couldn’t conjure worse. I tried to take some slim, twisted comfort in the fact that it wasn’t only prison inmates who had the capacity to be nasty in their hygiene habits; C/Os could behave in equally deplorable fashion. But this didn’t change the fact that I still had to swab up another man’s shit.


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