183 | Being in Prison Isn’t Dumb Enough

July 21, 2011
Thursday, 4:00 p.m.
Letter #183: Being in Prison Isn’t Dumb Enough

Dear Family,

I’m sure you’ve seen news stories about dumb criminals. Who doesn’t like to laugh at the misfortunes of those plotting and attempting misfortune on others? A recent convenience store thief dropped the case of beer he stole as he desperately—and unsuccessfully—tried to keep his pants up. Well, that was funny, but an even dumber breed of criminal mind lives in the prison system. Some recent (this week) stories from the front lines of stupidity, La Palma Correctional Center edition:

The General Population (GP) inmates—“Mainliners”—are a special breed. They have placed dozens of additional rules on themselves, strictly adhering to the lifestyle of gangs while living in a bathroom. After all, there’s nothing that says TOUGH like a guy who can proudly state, “I’m big, I’m bad, and I have convenient access to a toilet.” The only people who should be jealous of how we live here, live in unpronounceable villages.

Closely aligned with street gangs, mainline inmates are highly segregated (much like your laundry, the lights and darks stay separated, or else one color bleeds all over). Well, they’re supposed to stay separate, according to gang rules. When a white guy arrived at the prison with affiliations to the Crips street gang, who are not as white, the other whiteys were offended. Naturally. And the best way to welcome our new friend, children? That’s right—an 80-man riot.

Such a smart decision could not go unnoticed for very long, and before you knew it (well, a couple of weeks before you knew it, actually), the entire GP section of our prison was on full lockdown. (For those of you new to prison terms, lockdown essentially means you have 24-hour convenient access to a toilet.) In fact, everything was denied: yard, phone calls, store, and even visits. Gratefully, the fact that not only several IQ points but also several fences separate us from the inmates in General Population meant that visits with my family this past weekend were not hindered in any way. Also this week …

Our building officer, working in another 120-man pod for a few days, noticed that a bunch of the inmates seemed to be more drunk than usual. Suspecting alcohol was involved, she searched cells until she found it. Here’s the issue I have with all this:

For starters, I have no idea why anyone would want to lose control of what tiny mind they possess. Next, I grant you the right to plead temporary insanity if you’re sipping moldy fruit to get your buzz, made fresh in your neighbor’s bathroom (and quite often, toilet). And, I get it that you’re not driving drunk, but it seems that it may not be so wise, with a 120-to-1 ratio, to go skipping through the daisies with the law enforcement so close at hand. Several got disciplinary write-ups, which means an instant three months added to your sentence; in my opinion, a bummer of an ending to an otherwise intoxicating evening.

This week’s final dumb criminal is from my pod. The officers and counselor staff have a few offices within the pod, from which they manage our day-to-day operations. I’m sure it’s far more complicated than the basic babysitting it seems like. Inmates are welcome in the offices when staff is present, but apparently, some sneak in if they find a door unlocked. This can result in missing items, as in the case of a stereo system today. As soon as the theft was discovered, our pod was placed on the dreaded lockdown status. It’s always fun when one person ruins something on behalf of everyone else, isn’t it?

Now, here’s the dumb part for me: sure, you can play the tough guy and even threaten to slap our case manager, Ms. Cully (always a great way to make an impression on the ladies, though not a good one), but didn’t you think that being so rude would only make her suspicious that you’d stolen her stereo? Getting a confession out of the culprit didn’t take waterboarding, either. He confessed, but in some poor attempt at bravado, said he wasn’t telling just where exactly the stereo had ended up. Hey, no one likes a tattle-tale or snitch, but really? Stealing a large item in an enclosed pod is ludicrous. It’s like a 3-year-old swiping his daddy’s radio, as if he could list it on eBay or drive it over to the flea market or hawk it at a pawn shop, when he can’t exactly leave the house on his own. Brilliant move, Genius. It wasn’t too difficult to find, and we’re off of that horrible one-hour lockdown.

Well, those are some of this week’s low-lights … I’m grateful for the fact that I wasn’t adversely affected … other than by association. Yes, all criminals were dumb at one point.