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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Big Baby

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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.
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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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