People ask me all the time whether I got into any fights while I was locked up in Otisville Federal Prison. I was locked up in a small compound of about 100 guys, so you didn’t see as many fights as you would at a facility with 500 people. Plus I was locked up in a minimum security prison, and fighting would get you transferred to a higher level facility. Most guys didn’t want to risk getting shipped out. But there were a few incidents while I was locked up for almost two years.
When you first get locked up you go through a period of mental adjustment. The shock of being in prison takes some time to wear off. Your entire life is turned upside down. You are spending your entire life with complete strangers. Guys may act nice to you but you always have to be on your guard. You are in prison after all. It takes a while to make friends.
Eventually you get into a routine. Your days are very long. You are always on edge. You are living in close quarters with the same guys you see morning, day and night. There are no rules against bullying. Guys are always looking to take advantage of other guys.
Young muscular punks will ask the new guys if they would be willing to “employ” them for their services. Such services could be personal training, cleaning the cube, doing their laundry, getting them food or cigarettes, or whatever else they needed. This is really just a shakedown. If these guys did this on the outside they would be getting busted all the time and racking up a criminal record a mile long. If they get caught threatening other guys in prison, what’s the worst that happens? They go to the SHU (solitary) for a few weeks. Big deal. Most victims wouldn’t rat them out anyway. Nobody wants to be known as a rat. Guys realize they can do better financially on the inside than on the outside. If they have guards helping them smuggle into the prison, they can really clean up.
Guys talk tough and threaten each other all the time. Guys put each other down. It’s everyday prison language. I started to talk this way when I first got locked up. I insulted my bunkie. I guess he didn’t like it too much. He came up behind me and put his arm around my neck and strangled me. Eventually he let me go. I couldn’t breath and almost passed out. I couldn’t call a guard, or I would be labelled a rat. Even if I did call a guard I would be would throw me in the SHU, ie., solitary confinement, for my own protection. Sitting in the SHU for weeks on end is worse than risking your life in the prison complex. You can go mad in the SHU. Plus you will forever be labelled a rat. It’s safer to speak with the inmates in charge about issues you have with other inmates than to speak with the guards.
Another guy threatened to kill me in the library. He was a big guy. He cornered me in the library and yelled at me. But he didn’t punch me. He pointed at me and touched me with his finger. He talked tough, but he didn’t do anything. I guess he was worried I would rat him out and he would be shipped out of the prison.
At the time I was strangled and cornered in the library it was easy for other guys to push me around. I was new and still green. Guys could sense this a mile away. Towards the end of my 20 months I became hardened. I lost my sense of fear. By the end of my sentence I didn’t care who threatened me. I wasn’t afraid of getting beat up or going to the SHU. I graduated to full blown inmate. I knew that if I was physically attacked I would quickly turn into a very dangerous human being. Other guys could sense it and left me alone. This sense of power was liberating. I could taunt other guys at will, even guys bigger than me. The big guys knew that even a little guy, in a rage, can inflict considerable damage to a big guy.
I had a bunkie who was always getting into trouble with the other guys. He stole their cigarettes, which cost $30 a pack. He squelched on his gambling debts, to the tune of ten grand. When he was out of my cubicle the other guys would rifle through his personal belongings in order to steal anything of value. Bunkies are supposed to protect each other, even if your bunkie is a complete mess. I told one guy to get out of the cube. He gave me a hard time. I yelled at him in front of everyone, and embarrassed him. I went into the kitchen, where I work. Nobody else was in the kitchen. The other guy followed me in and shut the door. He put his hand on my neck. I didn’t flinch. I didn’t even move. I just looked at him straight in the eyes and asked him whether he wanted to go to the SHU because I was going to beat his brains out if he didn’t take his hand off my neck. He looked into the eyes of a crazed human being. He put his hands down and walked away. I calmly went back to making my tomato salad.
One guy had spent about six or seven years locked up. He was a Black drug dealer named Curtis. He wasn’t smart. He had a low IQ. He went around mooching off other inmates all day. His friends and family gave up on him, as he was locked up in the middle of the Catskills, far from civilization, for many years. He had no visitors. He had no skills. He was getting ready to be released into a world where he had no family, no friends and no job. And he needed psychological drugs. He didn’t want to go out into the real world. Living on the streets would have been more dangerous for him than living in prison.
Curtis decided to start a fight. I am not sure if he started a fight because he thought a fight would get him in trouble and he would be locked up more, or whether he started a fight because he was under a lot of stress and was frustrated. Either way in the television room he started to attack another guy. All the other guys tried to hold him back. At one point a guy hit him. He was hit in the eye and fell down. He left the room.
Nothing became of the fight until the next day. Curtis wore sunglasses all day to hide his black eye. But he had an appointment with his psychologist. He failed to show up for his appointment. The doctor tracked him down and told him to remove his sunglasses. She saw the black eye. Obviously he was in a fight. The guards locked down the entire complex. Every prisoner had his arms, knuckles and torso examined. The guards couldn’t figure out who hit Curtis. Curtis wouldn’t rat out the guy who hit him. Curtis went to the SHU. He got more time added to his sentence. A reprieve from the real world.