Pure Professionalism

Disclaimer and Warning: Some of the language used in this post would be offensive to most reasonable human beings. I know I was shocked and offended when the authority figure employed by the Department of Corrections said them to me. As always, I’ve endeavored to be as accurate as possible in my transcription of dialogue.



“Most of these guys are nothing but a buncha pansies and fags. That or child molesters. I swear damned near every white guy in prison is here for touching kids and it makes me sick of my race. Don’t worry, I know you ain’t one of them. I looked you up.”

I had no idea how to react to that. Gratitude? Indifference? A swift kick to his gonads? If only that were an option. He was definitely deserving of that and so much more. Correctional Officer Jarvis had a lot of strong opinions and ideas about prison inmates. And he didn’t stop there.


“If it was up to me they wouldn’t even be in here. Just kill ’em. That or castrate all of the sick bastards. That would stop them, right? It would make me happy to know they’re walking around with nothing down there!”

Here he paused to laugh uproariously at his own witty phrasing before continuing his rant.

“I know which ones they are too. They have a look about them you know? I can usually just tell. Then when I look them up I’m almost always right. You, I didn’t really think so, but I had to check to make sure. You know that, right? If I was gonna have you working for me I had to make sure you weren’t some kinda baby raper. You get that, right?.”

I nodded numbly. Felt like that was what was expected of me.

“Good. Good. Yeah, you’re here for something way different than that aren’t you?” He wore a knowing grin, like there was some joke that only he and I were privy to.

I nodded again, raised my eyebrows in acknowledgement. Wasn’t sure what to say, or what would come out if I tried to say something.

“Yeah you are!” Another inappropriate laugh.

“Just glad you’re not one of them sickos. You know what though, as much as I hate them, it’s the rest of the inmates who get on my nerves too. They all complain about everything. And they’re so pampered. You guys get better food than a lot of people out in the world. You get free healthcare and cable TV. A roof and a bed. Doing better than a lot of people out there. And all I hear you guys do is bitch about everything around here. Like it’s hard to live in here. You guys all have it so easy. If I were in charge you wouldn’t be getting any of this stuff.”

Racist Ranting

“No TV, no lifting weights in the gym, no hanging out on the yard, no commissary shopping, none of that. Two meals a day is plenty. And you wouldn’t be sitting around just doing nothing. Everybody would be out doing something, working, not just sucking up time.

“Oh! And no fucking school either!! You know how stupid it is that all these dumb blacks and beaners who can barely spell their own fucking names get to take college classes? Pisses me off! They didn’t give a shit about school when they were out there selling dope and shooting at each other, did they? Now they want free college? Fuck them! They’re all just gonna get out and go right back to doing the same shit. Why the hell should they get college? Some of them have more college than I do! Just using the system. They’re not learning anything, just trying to make it look good so maybe they can get out early with some good time. Should have to do all their time.

“Probably just want to get out so they can go bang that white girl they write and tell her how much he loves her. Dumb bitch doesn’t know he’s just using her. And why’s it always gotta be a white girl with these guys? Why can’t they stick to their own race instead of ruining mine?”

C/O Jarvis paused briefly to reflect and catch his breathe.

Delusional Ranting

“You know, all these guys complain, but if I were in here I’d be fine. I mean, it’s not like you guys have it hard. If I had to do, like, a year in prison, I could do it no problem. I wouldn’t even buy a TV. Be a waste of money. I’d go to the library and learn something. Shit, I’d get in school. How you like that?

“But really, if I was in here, you know, doing my time? I could do it no problem. A year? Easy. And I’d make sure I’d beat some fags and niggers too. I could get away with it. Mostly I’d focus on the molesters. That’s easy to get away with. Most of us C/Os don’t give a shit about them. A  lot of us would just look the other way. A lot. Shit, we would love to join in if we could. I might have to do a little time in SEG, but I’m not a pussy, I could handle it. All you guys bitch about how hard you’ve got it, but I could do some prison time, no problem at all.

“Shit, we could be cellies, right?”

He had asked me a direct question this time, and I knew I was expected to respond to him. He wanted an answer. He certainly didn’t want the truth.


What I really think . . .

The truth was that I wanted to call him a racist, sexist, despicable, ignorant piece of shit. I wanted to let him know that he has no idea whatsoever what life is like living inside. He thought that because he came and spent a few hours that he could handle the mental anguish of being locked away from everything he has ever known and loved. That he could navigate the politics of gangs and races without offending the wrong person and being beaten for some seemingly insignificant slight. The privileges he mentioned taking away are by and large mandated by law to promote rehabilitation-although those are in such short supply as to be insignificant-or else they are put in place to keep a potentially volatile populace pacified.

Not all correctional officers, in my experience, are so completely oblivious. There are plenty of this ilk, but not all. But it was this officer who was waiting on my answer. It crawled from my lips in a muffled cowardly chuckle.

“Yeah.” I felt like I had defiled myself.

Poor Justification

C/O Jarvis had a justified reputation for being a colossal prick. I was on his good side because I worked as a porter (janitor) for him and wasn’t lazy about keeping things clean. Nothing would be accomplished, and nothing good would come, from me telling him even a fraction of how I felt about him. All it would do is put a target on my back and be an invitation for him to make my existence a living hell. I have seen C/O Jarvis lie in order to ensure inmates he didn’t like were hauled away for punishment. He was the worst kind of bully-one who has been imbued with authority. Rather than face the potential and far-reaching ramifications I said nothing.

Call it cowardice if you will. But walk in my shoes a while. Sometimes cowardice and self-preservation have some remarkable similarities.


C/O Jarvis was eventually promoted to the rank of lieutenant. It was a move that baffled a lot of people, both inmate and staff alike.

Once I was released from prison I sent reports of my claims of professional misconduct like this to the director of the Department of Corrections, and to the governor of the state. After two and a half months I got a response. Their stance is that, since I am no longer currently incarcerated, the issues I raised are moot. And so abuse continues.

Sunburn In Seg

It had been so long since I had felt it.


My job in the law library kept me busy, sure, but it was also an easy excuse. I could’ve put forth more effort, arranged it with my coworkers who were all amenable, and made it to the yard at least once or twice during the work week. Then on my two days off for the week—what were my excuses then? I had none that held any semblance of legitimacy. I had essentially embraced apathy and made lethargy my closest companion.

This was due, at least in part, to the fact that I had a significant portion of my bowel bulging forth from a tear in my abdominal wall. A hernia, for which, per department of corrections policy, I was refused surgery. Even though surgical repair of the abdominal wall is the only viable treatment for a hernia. I was told by a medical professional that it would go away on its own. That was a lie. When the intense burning pain would flare up I couldn’t walk, could barely stand or sit. I had to lay down. Mine was an inguinal hernia, in the groin area, the most common kind in men. When it became aggravated it would feel like someone had my testicles clenched in their fist and were squeezing mercilessly. And yet . . . the pain hadn’t become completely debilitating at this point, I still had good days. My choice to abstain from all yards at all times was one I made of my own volition. I may have made it to two or three yards in six months.

Scenery Change

I was placed in segregation, at first under investigation, but eventually numerous erroneous and very serious charges were levied against me. Ultimately this was because the warden didn’t like that, to use his words, I had “cast certain officers and staff in a negative light” when writing essays about my personal prison experiences. I imagine what he liked even less was that these essays were posted online and eventually collected together and published as a book.

Segregation is a bleak kind of solitude, and one’s thoughts can stretch out to explore avenues where one ought not be going. Considering the seriousness of the accusations being made, and their potential penalties, it made for a long Memorial Day weekend. Come Monday it was the tiny concrete slab outside my window, no more than seventy feet square and enclosed by fences and razor wire, that was about to become my new best friend. Seg’s version of yard. Two hours a day, Monday through Friday. Other than the thrice weekly showers it was the only time I’d be leaving my cell. It would also be my only real chance to interact with other people.

Looking The Part

I was up and fully dressed in my ill-fitting jumpsuit thirty minutes before it was time for yard. Prison jumpsuits are notoriously hot and uncomfortable, so I had to improvise. I had torn a quarter inch wide strip off the edge of my bedsheet and it became by sash/belt, so I could let the upper portion of my jumpsuit hand down the back and sides to just be wearing them as pants—it’s prison chic, I assure you. I also rolled up the pant legs so that they were cuffed into shorts that fell just below the knee. Finishing the ensemble was a plain white T-shirt, plain white socks, and plain white tennis shoes with the laces removed, and more strips of bedsheet used to tie them together so they wouldn’t flop off my feet. I had captured the look of the hardened con, and was ready to strut my stuff on the yard.


Having been locked in the cell for close to sixty-five hours straight I was nearly thrumming with excitement to get out. Anticipatory adrenaline was squirting and it had my heart humming, my limbs tingling, my mouth grinning. I was giddy with the thought of getting outside. My forced absence had apparently made me grow quite fond of it. When my time came, I obediently relinquished my wrists through the chuckhole to be handcuffed behind the back—it’s how things are done in Seg. Once outside, and the cuffs were removed, my shirt came off so that my too, too pale skin could become sun-kissed.


To all who ask, I took some delight in saying I was a political prisoner caught up in prison politics because the warden didn’t like what I wrote and he was trying to shut me up. It was a freedom of speech issue. I said my writing was counter to their small-minded fascist ideals, so I got locked up for it. I was honestly tickled by the whole idea. I was also worried, nauseous, anxious, paranoid, and terrified, but yeah, tickled pink. I wore it like a badge of honor. No one cared. In Seg, everyone has their own problems to handle. I walked, felt the penetrating heat of the sun on my flesh, and enjoyed my slim sense of freedom.

Pleasant Surprise

Back in the cell I left my shirt on and performed some light calisthenics while my hernia screamed that I was an idiotic moron for doing so. My hernia was right. With my shirt drenched in sweat I waited for the shower. It wasn’t until I was in the shower stall with its low ceiling and light right on top of me that I saw for the first time the Pepto Bismol pinkness of my shoulders, arms, and chest. I’d been burnt something awful and hadn’t even felt it.

Sitting alone in my cell once more, I couldn’t stop smoothing my fingers and palms over my skin, feeling the heat it held, and relishing my first sunburn in years. I was doing mental arithmetic to figure exactly how long it would be until I could go to yard again.

Teddy Bear Throwdown


This excerpt is from Candy and Blood, available on Amazon.com now.
As I watched the two of them pummel each other, with teeth bared in some feral display of rage and dominance, my fellow inmates and I cheered them on. In that moment, I experienced a flash of clarity that shames me to this day.


I had been walking along the edge of the yard, enjoying the beautiful, sunny day and ignoring the admonitions of more seasoned convicts to be careful of the holes hidden in the grass. Then I stumbled over one of them. The prison yard fence that I grabbed to stop myself from tumbling to the ground was discolored by corrosion, so after I regained my balance, I clapped my hands together to rid myself of the rust-colored residue I’d collected. While clapping, I noticed a movement in the grass on the other side of the fence, and my eyes adjusted and fixed on a dark brown furry head nestled in the overgrown grass.

The rumors of a thriving groundhog population were true.

The groundhog crawled toward me, then stood on its two hind feet and looked up at me through the dirty rungs of the fence. His tiny nose sniffed the air to catch my scent. I’d never seen a groundhog up close before, and the dark brown pudgy guy looked like the cutest of teddy bears come to life. Just as I was becoming enamored with the little guy, an even smaller, cuter one appeared from some unseen hole. This new one had a light brown coloring—almost blond—and once he was in view, he started to make his way towards me. The big, brown teddy bear noticed his little blond buddy and lowered himself back to all four feet before ambling off, only to have his friend fall in step behind him. I forgot all activity in the yard. I was captivated by the sheer wonder of the show—my own private teddy bear parade. The pleasant moment seemed to draw itself out as I enjoyed the peaceful scene of prison wildlife. But, as with all tender moments captured in prison, it was precarious and fleeting.

photo by Rosemary Ratcliff www.freedigitalphotos.net
photo by Rosemary Ratcliff

Little Blond took a few speedy, loping steps and leapt at Big Brown, sinking his teeth into the larger groundhog’s rear right haunch. Big Brown reared his head, snarling in pain and rage, before shaking loose from his opponent’s tenuous hold and turning to face Little Blond. They came at each other on their hind legs, paws up, lips separated to reveal miniature but lethal-looking teeth. A higher-pitched squealing growl emanated from each wide-open mouth as they tried to bite each other. I was reminded of footage I’d seen on nature shows of bears fighting for dominance or over a mate in some far-off corner of Alaska. This was no different, except the brawlers were around two feet tall. Tiny, vicious little grizzlies.

Big Brown had a couple inches and at least a few pounds on Little Blond. I’m no expert in groundhog weight classes, but Big Brown was plumper, and he used his stature and girth to his advantage by proceeding with a wicked barrage of paw slaps to Little Blond’s head. This backed Little Blond up, but he countered by snapping his jaws at Big Brown’s throat. He just barely missed his target.

I’ve got a fin on the little one!” someone to my left yelled.

Is you crazy? The brown one’s bigger, he’ll beat the little one’s ass.”

Without my noticing, a crowd had gathered around me and was growing as everyone else on the yard rushed toward the mass of humanity to see what the commotion was. It was shocking to see the men herding mindlessly like that, but not interesting enough to redirect my attention from the teddy bear throwdown just on the other side of the fence.

Little Blond had rallied and was pummeling with all his might, but Big Brown had too many advantages and kept using them against the smaller guy. Twice Big Brown fell bodily on Little Blond and gnawed on his skull and snout for a moment before Little Blond shook loose and scurried away to regroup before charging ahead for more violence. He was a scrapper, that Little Blond, and just kept coming back. Biting, scratching, hitting, tackling—the two of them went at it tirelessly. The sounds coming from them were that of scrappy mutts, or perhaps prepubescent bears. There was a ferocity and fullness lacking in it that robbed the fight of some of its seriousness, but before long even those pathetically unferocious noises were lost in the cacophony of jeers and cheers from onlookers.

We were the rabble at the ancient gladiatorial matches, hollering out expletives of glee and invectives of murder. People pressed against me for a closer look, the fence rattled and shook as guys pulled and pounded on it like they were watching some absurd cage match. The bout was bloody, violent, glorious, and I was swept up in the crowd’s chaotic frenzy as I yelled for my favored fighter—Big Brown. Forget the underdog! It was insanity incarnate, and in the midst of the madness, I had my moment of clarity.



At that point in my bit, I’d been locked up for close to five years. I had developed a personal mantra to remind myself to fight the pressure to capitulate to the violence and rage of prison. “Just because they cage me like an animal, doesn’t mean I have to act like one.” I’d shared this motto with others to serve as an admonishment and encouragement to control their own behavior. However, in that moment by the fence as Big Brown and Little Blond fought for supremacy, I wasn’t so sure my mantra had much truth in it.

photo by chrisroll www.freedigitalphotos.net
photo by chrisroll

In a brief, lucid instant, I captured the scene. More than forty men eagerly watched with faces bent in maniacal shapes, their voices colliding and rising in a twisted orgy of hate and ecstasy. Bestial forms and visages contorted like visions of the damned writhing in hell, issuing sounds like demons speaking in tongues to some unholy thing. We were anything but rational men, all because a couple of groundhogs were fighting.

Emerging from these thoughts, I felt sick to my stomach, disgusted with how seamlessly we’d all been embroidered into the tapestry of mob mentality. I watched the rest of the battle between Big Brown and Little Blond with a grim sense of disdain for myself and the whole situation, while everyone else continued placing wagers and cheering the two of them on.

The two teddy bears stood toe to toe, teeth bared and claws swiping wildly. Their movements had lost some of the speed and intensity they started out with. They were still growling and angry-looking, but mostly they were leaning on each other like two spent pugilists trying to keep from kissing the mat. Big Brown’s fatal mistake came when he got a little cocky. After connecting solidly with two swipes of his right paw, he reared back for a mighty third, but Little Blond seized that moment to unleash an unexpected onslaught of paws that I hadn’t imagined he had the strength for. Big Brown went over in an uncontrolled heap onto his back, exhausted but still growling, until Little Blond pounced and clamped his jaw shut on Big Brown’s throat.

photo by "chrisroll" www.freedigitalphotos.net
photo by “chrisroll”

Instantly, Big Brown went limp. His entire face drooped back to teddy bear; his eyes lost their animal aspect and seemed innocent, human, and almost sad. He licked his lips thoughtfully and blinked repeatedly. It looked like he was waking from some strange psychotic state, only to discover the horrible things he’d done. Little Blond was growling from deep in his throat, his mouth still latched onto Big Brown’s neck. The sound was angry and loud, but cycling down in its volume and intensity. An almost hallowed hush had enveloped the once-rowdy crowd, as if in deference to the somberness of defeat. Big Brown took a few feeble swipes at his opponent’s head, but this only made Little Blond bite down harder, growl more insistently. Finally, Big Brown capitulated entirely and lay still as Little Blond slowly eased his grip and backed away as the victor.

With what little pride he could muster, Big Brown got his four paws under him and began to limp away towards the nearest hole. Little Blond allowed him to get a few feet away before running after him and leaping onto his back. Big Brown collapsed to the ground without a fight and allowed Little Blond to chomp onto his shoulder and growl some more. Big Brown had been fully humbled, and even to the most inexperienced eye it was obvious that Little Blond had just made Big Brown his bitch. Finally Little Blond relinquished his hold and let Big Brown crawl to his hole. Little Blond walked to a hole in the opposite direction, limping and spent, but as the undisputed champion of the teddy bears.

Prison is like that sometimes. Funny one minute, then bizarre and disturbing the next. There’s no way to tell what’s right around the next corner, but the day I saw the teddy bear throwdown still ranks as one of my most surreal.

%d bloggers like this: