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Featured Article

by Robert McCandless

Featured Article

   Pinky had spent most of his adult life, and I suspect juvenile too, behind bars. he was a gamer. He pulled flams of all sorts on unsuspecting inmates in an attempt to support himself, as he had no family as a source of revenue for cho-chos and such. I met him shortly after I was moved to the Ramsey prison farm. The prison was overcrowded in those days. Three to a cell was not uncommon but whenever you were moved to a new location, you found yourself in that position, on the floor a week or so. Many times I think it was a way of warning you that if you misbehaved you would find yourself back in that situation. I had just received my first GI Bill check for the college classes I was enrolled and for the most part a rich man. I had more money than they would allow me to spend at the commissary. I was new to the penitentiary, had a lot of money, and was immediately seen as a possible mark, unbeknownst to myself. 

   Pinky had the bottom bunk in our cell, meaning he had either been in it the longest or commanded the strength to take it. It was obvious by his name and size that the latter was not the case. Soon as my first check arrived, he proposed a deal. I was to buy some tobacco and he and the other fellow in our cell would roll cigarettes for me and sell them to those with enough assets who didn't want to roll their own. Not knowing how much I was going to get in GI Bill money I succumbed to the idea. Up until this time I had lived on what the state provided and a fifty-dollar income tax return check I had received a year earlier when I fell. My first trip to the commissary I came back with tobacco, coffee, and ice cream and finally, real toothpaste to replace the powdered stuff the state gave out. I had paper to write on, envelopes to mail with and delicacies to eat. Immediate friendships began to form. As for Pinky and my other cellmate, they began to roll, roll, roll. We had a cell full of cigarettes. I saw promise in the operation until I began to see a lot of them going out to Pinky's friends and nothing coming in. I was beginning to suspect that I had been taken, but I wasn't quite sure. I only knew that I was a might uncomfortable with the arrangement. 

   I woke one morning to find my toothpaste missing from the shelf on the wall. I, in my generous spirit had told Pinky and my other Cellie, they could use it. It occurred to me to ask what may have happened to it. Pinky quickly told me that he had loaned it to old so and so across the way and that he would return it shortly. He then gave me a "What are you going to do about it" look. I guess I was too green to react immediately, so I went off to old so and so's cell to get it back. He returned it with a word of thanks, which did not alleviate the anger that was beginning to build in me.

   Having seen and knowing somewhat how the overall game works in prison, it took me the rest of the morning to figure out exactly where this game was going and how I had to handle it. In the joint, taking advantage of someone begins very gradually sometimes and other times suddenly, but it always ends up at the same place. Eventually you get a reputation of someone who's afraid to stand up for yourself in the face of those who want to take things from you. Let's face it; these guys are in here for taking what wasn't theirs to begin with. It ultimately winds up in the patsy being taken for all he has and then some. 

   I stewed all morning at work about it. I knew that if I got in a fight my records would be marked and my change of good time would be in jeopardy. I could lose my privilege to attend school and the money that would come from my GI Bill. Yet, I knew if I didn't, I would be marked as a patsy or worse for the rest of my stay. We all caught out to work that day and I continued to consider my options. 

   It was lunchtime and we were standing in line preparing to be strip searched before entering the cellblocks. It was there my plan began to gel. I realized that I would have to fight, and preemption was the best stance to take. I knew that Pinky would not be the end of it and that I would have to face the building tenders (inmate guards) and the warden if I stepped over the line. But respect in prison, just as in our society comes from standing up and doing something in the face of fear. My dad taught me that many years before. I guess the added dehumanization of taking my clothes off, bending over and spreading them put me over the top. As we filed into the building and back to our cellblock, I waited in the dayroom to see Pinky enter the cell. Quickly climbing the stairs and without word or reservation I entered the door and began to pound Pinky about the head and shoulders as hard and as fast as I could muster. He didn't have a chance and fell to the floor against his bunk where I planned to kick him for a while. Before I could land the first kick, a building tender ran in to break it up. He pushed me out of the cell and down the stairs. I knew better than to swing at him. It would result in an ass whipping that would put me in the hospital or worse. I had seen it happen many times where someone bucked a building tender and his assistants cliqued with him in an onslaught that permanently marred someone. As it was, we were taken to the warden's office where we were questioned before being put into administrative lockup to await trial. Next morning, we were found guilty of fighting and sentenced to the shitter (solitary confinement.) The warden smiled as he pronounced sentence. The shitter is called that because there is nothing in it but a metal bunk with a toilet and sink. The food is minimal. A tablespoon of vegetables, one slice of bread and a 2-ounce piece of meat once a day. We were brought out after several days and told to apologize to one another. After a handshake we were sent back to the same cellblock but given different cells. We both received a job promotion within a couple of weeks, Pinky to barber and I to supply clerk at the furniture factory. 

   The event established the respect I needed to be left alone. Pinky and I got along fine after that, yet I always felt a little discomfort when he gave me a shave with the straight razor, so I tipped him well. 

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