25 May 2015

A Sit-Down with Soprano

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I’m not being manipulative when I say this: I don’t really know what it means to be manipulative. I’m still pawing through all my experience to define it.

imageAt its base, manipulation is lying to get what you want, so I believe everyone would have to cop a guilty plea to manipulation at some point in their lives. But, at least in a prison, nuance crawls all over the word and the behavior becomes wily, feminine, astute, persuasive. It amazes me that we use the word so often to describe female inmates and criminal defendants, populations that are obtuse, transparent and totally unconvincing.

Flattery is manipulation’s main set of wheels. Fawning compliments preface requests for favors all the time. “You know you’re my best friend” or “You’re the only one I trust here” reached my ears so many times during my stretch that, if I had a dollar for each of them, I would be writing this from my private jet on my way to the Caymans to check on my offshore accounts. You know, manipulating the tax code.

imageIf flattery is manipulation’s vehicle, then circumvention is its map. Presumably, everyone in a prison would be manipulative, at least in theory, since circumvention is the kinder, gentler word for breaking the law. Manipulation as circumvention can be registering your car in another state, listing property in a business name to save it from garnishment, using a runner or a straw man to complete your drug deals and face the headlights when a bust pulls in. But lawmakers, not breakers, build exemptions and exceptions into every law to enable circumvention so that they can avail themselves of the loophole later. That’s real manipulation.

While they never need to make empty campaign promises to keep their jobs, some guards and lieutenants are as dishonest as dirty politicians. Inmates can report the worst misconduct and before the ink of a captain’s felt-tip blue pen can dry on an incident report that libels that inmate a liar, they will have whitewashed their colleagues’ darkest sins. At least politicians build in legitimate loopholes to their rules. Prison staffers just carve the loophole around the misconduct.image

“Lieutenant, that guard just stabbed me in the stomach with a rusty butterknife because of what she read about my case online. Is that allowed?”

“I’m sure that officer was acting in her discretion…”

“Captain, the C/O in my housing unit just told me to fingerpaint his cock. Do I have to do that?”

“You do exactly what your unit officer orders. If he tells me you didn’t, I’ll fuck you with a flagrant [disobedience ticket].”

Of course, these exaggerations don’t recount specific real-life examples (well, not my real life). We don’t have butterknives here, only Sharpie markers in the kitchen. Similarly, we have no paint, especially for fingerpainting genitals; the paint might allow her to leave prints on him, objective evidence of his impropriety.

imageWhen Officer Harrey confiscated my legal papers again, documents related to the checks written in my name in Best Buy stores across America while I sat here in prison, I knew that reporting her would only invite justification. “Officer Harrey has been authorized to break the rules forbidding undue familiarity!” I found on the walkway a lieutenant I had always pegged as a creep; he has that I-have-a-teenaged-boy-chained-to-a-radiator-in-my-basement vibe but he was also the only person around with a gold lieutenant’s badge. With all the poised politeness I still have left in me, I approached.

“Lieutenant. Good afternoon. May I ask you a question?”

“G’ahead.”

“Thank you. I’m experiencing a problem with identity theft. I’m the victim and it’s been extensively documented. Can I ask you or one of the officers to sit down and explain some financial terms that I don’t understand?”

“Absolutely not. That’s your fuckin’ problem. We can’t know and don’t wanna know about your problems because we don’t care if someone stole your identity, all right? The C/O’s here – their only job is to make sure you don’t die in here.”image

“OK. So… then… why did Ms. Harrey just run off with a folder of my I.D. theft documents?” I asked, pointing down the walkway to the scene of confiscation. He said nothing as he realized how expert my skullduggery was. Then he lifted one leg to start the sprint of a cartoon character, those instances when Wile E. Coyote takes off well before his torso. He came to my housing unit to return my papers within an hour, bent over and breathing heavily from the sprint to collect my stuff.

“Thank you, Lieutenant, for all your help,” I deadpanned, unsmiling but satisfied. I had expertly maneuvered him. He was daft but I was deft.

I didn’t remain satisfied for long. My legal papers are always lost, ripped, delayed, opened and, amazingly, sometimes even delivered to me. Because mail and investigations fall into his bailiwick, Soprano, the Administrative Captain and I share a lot of face time. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that Soprano must have pissed off some higher-up to be appointed the official Bozelko-liaison. I could see our showdowns stretch the distance between the double captains bars on his lapels.

image“Bozelko, why do I always need a dictionary whenever you write me a request form?”

“How would I know, Bozelko? You know the directives better than I do.”

“Bozelko, I don’t even know what that word means.”

Because I document and record misconduct with my legal papers to a fare-thee-well, I write requests and meet with Soprano a lot. After the most recent incident of document tampering, he said:

“You’re probably going to haul me into court for this. Probably going to haul me into court for all of these things,” referring to the facility’s five-year history of postal hijinks.

“I’m not hauling you into court for any of this. Do you think I’ll have nothing better to do when I get out than to growl at you over a witness stand?” I asked. I was a little insulted that he thought he was that important to me.image

He looked a little surprised and I realized right then just how prison had misunderstood me. My frantic attempts to document my diligence were, to Soprano and his mob, a giant scheme, a manipulation to squeeze a civil suit out of the Department of Correction at the ass-end of my sentence. I can’t say I don’t feel wronged by York; I do. But litigation against DOC and its various employees is a battle I choose not to pick. I think if I had been more upfront about what my exact strategy and end game were – to assure that I lost no opportunity to appeal my convictions – the prison might have treated me better. I was never trying to fool them. I just assumed that no one cared enough about me or my plight to care why I needed my mail. Assuming that I was insiginifcant to them made them think I believed I was more important, more potent than they are. The prison might not have manipulated me if the entire staff understood that I was not manipulating them.

I think I was subconsciously aware of Soprano’s and others’ fear and probably chose words that suggested that Armageddon-type proceedings might come after I left. I never had any intention of suing them and certainly did not try to cause them personal consternation but I’m sure I did. The truth is that I don’t entirely regret anything that caused me to be misunderstood. That’s probably manipulative in itself, but I never understood it that way until that November meeting where Soprano (perhaps) no longer felt so vulnerable. And in the paradoxical reality of a prison, a culture of constant defense, people expose their vulnerabilities only when they realize they are no longer vulnerable.

image“Look, Bozelko, it’s a big system with a lot of different people. Some of them do their jobs right and some don’t. I know…I know you got screwed a lot. I’ve told the staff, you know, to behave but, at the end of the day, I can’t force them to follow the rules. If I saw any of them do any of this [referring to the five-year history of postal hijinks], I’d ding ‘em [Soprano’s word for discipline] but there are limits to what I can accomplish, even as a captain,” he told me.

“Good enough,” I assented, realizing that somewhere, someday, I might have to concede that Soprano is a fair and honorable man who just happens to occupy the unenviable position of leading investigations into what really happens in a women’s prison, an impossible task given the problems the inmates and the staff both have; he has to call a winner when both the staff and the prisoners are losers. Usually, Soprano protected his own, making this quasi-acknowledgment of responsibility to me very unusual, so unusual that I’m not certain that he wasn’t manipulating me. I still can’t tell what manipulation really is.

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READER POLL

From KJRH.com: Testimony Links Theater Gunman James Holmes’ Medication to University of Colorado Doctor Expected to Testify Later

The prosecution in State of Colorado v. James Holmes introduced evidence last Thursday that the defendant had been prescribed and was taking generic Zoloft prior to the July 20, 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Studies have confirmed that all but four mass shooting have been linked to anti-depressant use.

Did the prosecution just hand Holmes' attorneys another defense?

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18 May 2015

You’re Scarring Me

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“So, Chandra, this is the mental health evaluation for your parole hearing,” the social worker said.

“I’m not going to parole. There’s no hearing,” Chandra said.

“Well, you’re going to have to bear with me because I have to complete this paperwork anyway, OK?” the social worker said.

“Fine,” Chandra said.

“So, how has this experience been for you?” the social worker said.

“This interview?” Chandra said.

“No, being in prison,” the social worker said.

“Do you really have to ask people that question?”Chandra said.

“Yeah, it’s…I know. Many women feel scarred by this place. Is that what you’re saying?” the social worker said.

“You tell me. I don’t even recognize myself anymore,” Chandra said.

 

scars4

 

 

READER POLL

richard-right1

From politico.com: Why Boston Is Queasy About the Tsarnaev Death Sentence

The Richard family lost son Martin, lost daughter Jane’s leg, lost mother Denise’s sight and lost father Bill’s hearing. They publicly protested the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

When the victims are opposed to a defendant's receiving the death penalty, should we just honor their wishes.

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11 May 2015

Catch Me if You Care

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“Chandra, can I ask you something?” she asked me.

I had just completed 16 of the 18 hours that constitute a trip to court from prison. I was exhausted, filthy, baffled at how she knew my name and how to pronounce it. I wanted to say: “Not now” but it came out as “OK.”

I had seen this woman leaving the prison the day before on “T.S.”- transitional supervision, a type of short-term parole. As soon as she arrived home, an argument with her girlfriend erupted over a hair-dye kit and summoned the neighbors’ attention. The neighbors called the police who took the fresh freebird back into custody, dark roots and all.

“Does your family send you money?”

Not this shit again, I thought. She’s going to ask me to buy her something off the commissary because she gave away all of her property yesterday when she left…

“Someone told me they did,” she continued without letting me answer.

“OK, so…” Why did you ask? I thought but my mental question was broken off by her continuing script.

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Someone else’s kids.

“Do they know anyone who wants to buy pictures of kids?” she asked.

Why would my parents or anyone they know want to buy pictures of someone else’s kids? Images from Anne Geddes’ line of greeting cards popped into mind, the kind where she dresses up an overly-rouged but perfectly adorable infant like a head of cabbage or a rosebud. Then heat rose into my face and adrenaline started thumping in my ears as I realized: Holy Shit. She’s talking about kiddie porn.

I was thoroughly disgusted but somehow atingle, and not at the thought of the pics. I can take this bitch down! I assured myself silently and quickly scanned my mind for a response that wouldn’t scare her away from divulging more. The theme from Mission: Impossible played the entire time in my head.

“I can check into it. What kind of delivery time are we talking about?” I asked like I knew how to negotiate a kiddie porn sale.

“Remember Dippy? She worked in the property? She can get them – digital or prints – in like a week.”

I did remember Dippy; she was already on the streets, released months before.

“Ok, I’ll try,” I promised her.

“Thank you so much. This isn’t an easy hustle.”

I should hope not.

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Ineffectual. No wonder so many children are missing.

Even though I was totally sleep-deprived, I stayed up that night writing letters and Inmate Request Forms.  I wrote to the Inmate Legal Assistance to request the addresses of America’s Most Wanted (the show’s founder, John Walsh, hates sex offender creeps), The National Center for Missing Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia, the FBI, Connecticut State Police. I wrote to the administrative captain to report the incident. When I marshaled together all the addresses I needed, I sent each agency a letter requesting that the appropriate person contact me to commence an investigation. At 4AM one day, as I headed to my prison job, I dropped the stack of envelopes into the mailbox and expected – at least within the month- to hear “Bozelko, professional visit” from one of the guards, signaling that an attorney or detective came to the prison to see me.

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Dude, you never wrote me back.

No one ever came.

So I wrote a second round of letters. This cycle included the United States attorney for the District of Connecticut but brought the same number of inquiries, a nice round number called zero. The bus proposition happened in January 2010 and, to date, [June 2012] no one has formally documented it.

I hardly expected that law enforcement would arrest this woman on my word, especially now that I was overloaded with felony convictions. But I did expect someone to take a report, assign a case number and forge a paper trail. None of that ever happened. Having the report might make the difference between a no-knock warrant and a regular warrant that will let them slip away.

When people say that a picture is worth a thousand words, they must mean the thousands of words that prosecutors, police, politicians and private perverts spew about being anti-crime, about keeping the streets safe, about protecting our children, about sending a message, about zero tolerance for sexually-based offenses. One snapshot of a child in a sexual pose or being raped is worth all of those words but didn’t warrant the one thing that overspeaks those hollow phrases: action.

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Apparently, he doesn’t take reports from inmates.

But we’re not really talking about pictures when the subject of child pornography rises into conversation like sewer gas. We’re talking about people. And if victim’s advocates around the country truly care about preventing victimization and punishing it when prevention fails, they should push for a law that requires that an official report be taken whenever someone communicates an encounter with this system of sleaze. Investigation of every possible chance that someone is peddling this smut.

Now it’s more important than ever to prevent pornographic pictures of children from being taken then surfacing. Courtesy of the internet, everything vile now goes viral and the pictures get duplicated digitally thousands of times. You never hear of someone getting caught with six pieces of child pornography. Instead it’s always 1500, 5,000 pics; perverts aren’t half-steppers. Children who suffer a rape on film have legions of fans who call them porn stars. The National Center on Missing and Exploited Children, the same agency I wrote to request assistance, has a database of over 5000 child pornography victims. I wonder if any of those 5000 ever met the woman on the bus or whether children who do meet her will end up in the computer database, too.

I did something; I have tried for years to stir up some action on this woman and what she does to children. I will cringe if I ever find out about her continuing criminal enterprise but my conscience will be clear, clear in a system that doesn’t really care who’s doing children dirty.

P.S. If you’re wondering why this woman’s inquiry centered on me and my family like I did, please know that she didn’t focus on me alone. She asked every inmate who she thought had a cash flow – donations from family and friends deposited into an Inmate Trust Account – and might know other people who had positive cash flows. Apparently, a lot of perverts are rich. And a lot of inmates didn’t report her.

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READER POLL

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All right, lock up already.

 

From pennlive.com: Guards Carried Out ‘Fight Club’-Styled Abuses at York County Prison, Lawsuit Alleges

This is a switch; the York prison getting heat is not the one where I lived for six years. As many as 22 guards are alleged to have set up and bet on inmate fights, forcing inmates to eat ‘soups’ of spoiled food and cleaning chemicals or snort spices in a Pennsylvania prison. This allegedly happened for approximately five years. Three of the guards have already been charged with official oppression, a crime in Pennsylvania.

What is an appropriate sentence for the guards in Pennslyvania criminally charged with 'official oppression'?

  • Less than a year in prison, followed by 10,000 hours of community service with victims of violent crimes and developmentally challenged individuals. (50%, 1 Votes)
  • Ten years each. No parole. They were paid well and trusted to take care of a vulnerable population. How does it feel? (50%, 1 Votes)
  • Diversionary program. It's probably the first offense for each of them. Working as a prison guard is emotionally exhausting and they probably just 'lost it' temporarily. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 2

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4 May 2015

Being Motherfuckin’ Nice

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LaToya almost killed a motherfucker.

“It doesn’t pay to be motherfuckin’ nice,” my cellmate, LaToya, advised me before she asked to ‘borrow’ (she had no means of repayment) Gatorade, tuna fish, two pickles, a bag of Werther’s candies and my Crest Pro Health Anti-Tartar Rinse even though, without teeth, tartar has no place to call home in her mouth.

And LaToya would know about being nice since her former friend Helen refused to share anything with her. Helen, I learned, was a victim in one of LaToya’s crimes when LaToya stabbed her so deeply that the knife tip punctured Helen’s lung.

“I forgive you for calling 911 that day,” LaToya told Helen as pavement – certainly not payment –  into Helen’s junk food storage. “Sometimes people just make mistakes,” LaToya continued to Helen but she wasn’t referring to the stabbing. She was talking about Helen’s ‘mistake’ of calling for an ambulance, a vehicle that brought along with it a police cruiser that carried LaToya to the Hartford Police Department. LaToya was being motherfuckin’ nice by forgiving Helen for arranging her arrest. It didn’t pay for LaToya to forgive Helen because she didn’t take away a stash of food from her attempt at being motherfuckin’ nice.

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This is motherfuckin’ Nice.

It rarely pays to be motherfuckin’ nice in here. It’s almost strategic to be an asshole to everyone because so many inmates are looking to get over on someone. But I still try to be nice and help other inmates when I can, even if – especially if – they would never return the favor. I gave LaToya what she asked for. I ‘lend’ things to inmates who can’t afford them. I help them with legal paperwork. I tutor those in college classes. If you look at them closely, my every act of being motherfuckin’ nice has been motivated by guilt – guilt at having advantages growing up that the other women never had, guilt about my education, guilt about having a home when I leave – not because I am nice. My noblesse oblige pushes me forward to help other inmates. I feel more duty-bound than generous.

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This is how I walked around the motherfuckin’ prison.

Part of my guilt trip is helping worthy inmates secure jobs where I work.  Food Prep is considered one of the better jobs in the facility and, when we need new workers, it helps the supervisors to know if they are going to reel in assets or assholes.

“You know J. Harrison?” Giants asked me, eyeing a list of potential hires.

“If it’s the Janine Harrison who was my roommate a few years ago, then yeah. She’d be quiet. Won’t cause trouble. Definitely an asset.”

He nodded and called her in. Hired her immediately. I saw her the next day at work.

“I hope you wanted to work here. I thought you might so I said you’d be good. You like it so far? At least it gets you out of the [housing] unit, no?”

“Actually, I do like it so thanks,” Janine said, seeming genuinely grateful.

“You’re welcome.” See? It does pay to be motherfuckin’ nice.

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Even my motherfuckin’ spares were gone.

After Janine Harrison worked Food Prep for about a week, I went to change out of my boots into the black Reeboks, the ones that had barely escaped being larceny victims weeks earlier. My New Balance’s  had not been so lucky; someone walked out in those but it hardly bothered me because I still had my spare Reeboks. Until someone swiped them, too.

“My sneakers were stolen. Again,” I announced to the supervisor who collared the perp in the attempt on my footwear.

“You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me.”

“Nope. They’re gone.”

“Those goddamnned Reeboks had better turn up quick! No one’s eating ‘till they do!” Green Bay yelled. The shoes didn’t turn up but someone was turned in: Janine.

Janine had already left for the day so the usual theft procedures were followed: supervisors called her unit and told the officers to search her cell. No Reeboks. Nothing.

“Sorry, Bozelko. She probably already pawned ‘em off to someone on her tier and they’re not going to search every cell,” Green Bay said, regretful that he couldn’t get the stolen sneakers back this time.

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Skippies are motherfuckin’ dangerous.

“I need something to wear then,” I pointed down to stocking feet and was eventually presented with a pair of the despised Skippies in which I padded back to my unit, pissed. The backs of the shoes kept slipping off my heels as I climbed the stairs to my floor.

“Can you unlock E6?” I asked the guard. Usually when you ask a guard to open your door remotely, you’re near the guard and not near your cell. The door stays unlocked for about three seconds so you need to beat feet to catch it while it’s open. I started my little ten-yard dash forgetting the fact that I now tread in Skippies. I’m unsure if I sprained, pulled or tore it, but I did something to my left calf that shot searing pain through my muscle like, well, like LaToya was stabbing it. For days I went everywhere with Tylenol and a limp.

“What happened?” my supervisor, Bengals, asked me when I reported to work.

“Motherfuckin’ Skippies that’s what,” I said, seething. All the supervisors laughed in exasperation. This type of crazy shit happens all the time and, collectively, they have worked for corrections for over 60 years. They reminded me: “You’re lucky you didn’t get really injured.” And unable to work for us.

“And you know what else? I’m lucky that I know what to say when I hear ‘Can you write me a letter?’ or ‘Do you have any cough drops?’ or ‘Can I borrow an envelope?’ NO! Even if I order shoes today, it will be weeks until I get them.” I explained and then yelled to the entire kitchen: “So thanks ladies, you did it to yourselves!”  And then to the supervisors: “I’m not going to be nice to any of them anymore. ”

“Good,” said Bengals.

“I don’t blame you,” said Giants.

“Right on, sister,” said Green Bay.

I limped away and for the following four days. Every day I kneaded my calf in my cell and massaged my conscience. I knew it wouldn’t be easy for me to rebuff the pleas for help once I heard why something was needed, so I stopped them before they could even get a shot off.image

“Can I-?”

“No!”

“Do you have -?”

“No!”

Every week at mass Deacon Dolan reminds me that people who do good must expect that bad things will happen to them. The bad’s not a probably. Not even a maybe.  For people who do good, it’s a buckle-up-and-make-sure-you-have-clean-underwear-on-because-eventually-you’re-going-to-get-hit. If there were no downside to general Samaritanism then everyone would be good and the world would be different: no lawyers, no bullet-proof glass, no revenge porn. But you can get slapped with a civil suit for helping at the scene of a car accident, you can get shot on your way into the inner-city HIV clinic where you volunteer and pics of your caboose can still appear on some fringe revenge porn website even if he dumped you and you’re the one who deserves some get-back. You can also get someone a job and she can turn your workplace into a crime scene when she steals your shit.

You can also give up, quit being good to others to reduce the risk of being victimized assuring that, if no good deed goes unpunished, then you will go cold turkey on good deeds. But bad deeds get punished, too. So do deeds of omission, those times when you knew you could help but you flaked. Getting fucked is inevitable no matter what you do.

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A motherfuckin’ riot.

BAM. BAM, BOOM. BAM came the banging on the tier’s glass wall. The last time I heard these uneven thumps a woman was jerking in a seizure at the end of the hall so I hobbled out of my cell only to find everyone on the tier slamming on the glass and shouting to the lobby below.

“Bitch, run them motherfuckin’ shoes up here now!”

“Yeah, this is how E-tier roll! You don’t fuck wit one o’ ours!”

“Fuckin’ with Chandra like that! Our Chandra? What’s wrong with you?!”

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Even a motherfuckin’ petition serves as a riot in prison.

People assume that prison riots resemble Attica melees but the riot standard is actually pretty low. The commissioner can label any organized effort by prisoners as an attempt to start a riot. Circulating a petition for better food or complaining that a certain counselor fails to arrange legal phone calls in a timely manner is, technically speaking, starting a riot. Riots are very unlikely in here because organizing and uniting the women is next to impossible. In a collection of a thousand women who suffer from emotional problems, there will always be one – at least one – who will sabotage group, either by informing the authorities or fomenting dissention.  If a petition could be a riot, then the riot label would surely stick on an incident where fifteen inmates pounded on glass and screamed. An incident where my name was in the middle of it.

Shit.

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Who wouldn’t want motherfuckin’ krugerrands?

“Whoa! Whoa! Stop! What are you doing?” I shouted and dragged my injured leg to the glass only to find Janine standing silent witness as two guards dumped her property on the lobby floor, searching for my Reeboks. Janine was moving out of the unit when one of my neighbors spotted what she thought was Janine’s getaway. She banged to get the guard to stop the move. Others joined in.

“Listen! Stop! They’re going to say you’re starting a riot. Wanna go to seg?” I screamed.

“Yeah, ma. I’ll go to seg for you. You help everybody. And that bitch is with the bullshit stealing your shoes,” said a black woman from cell four.

“We can’t just let her get away with doing that to you, of all people. Uh-uh,” said cell three’s bottom bunk.

Janine still didn’t have the Reeboks so all the ruckus was for nought. But this un-unifiable group of women united to return my property to me.

I was touched, so touched that I told my family about it. They didn’t understand but I finally did: it might pay to be motherfuckin’ nice but I was waiting on the wrong currency. I wanted Krugerrands  and all the inmates have to offer is wampum. Being motherfuckin’ nice might not pay on time or even in full but it won’t leave you totally in the red, despite the fact that you may need to buy another pair of black Reeboks.

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Most of these motherfuckers can offer only wampum.

Later on an inmate who was not an architect of the quasi-riot pushed my cell door open and dropped three pairs of sneakers – grey Nikes, some strangeness called “V-Force” and white Reeboks.

“These aren’t mine,” I said.

“I know. We took up a collection.”

“I ordered another pair. I won’t need them,” I declined.

“Then do what you usually do with stuff. Help someone else out.”

I juggled all six shoes on my walk to work and left them in the communal clothing cabinet. All three pairs vanished by the end of my shift. I hope they cushioned the feet of someone who understood how motherfuckin’ nice the other inmates were to me so she could snag a new pair of shoes.

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Be motherfuckin’ nice.

 

READER POLL

Still only a handful of voters but we press on…

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From slate.com: Why the CVS Burned: The rioting in Baltimore wasn’t hooliganism. It was a protest against the depredations of the ghetto economy

Will we ever look back on Freddie Gray's death and the Baltimore riots as not being about race?

  • No. Whenever we talk about poverty, prisoners or police, race will always be part of the discussion. (80%, 4 Votes)
  • Yes. The violence in Baltimore was really about economically disenfranchised people taking to the streets. I didn't see any rich black folks throwing anything. (20%, 1 Votes)
  • Yes. Freddie and the Baltimore riots are about law enforcement's limitless power and how we treat prisoners. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 5

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