” Solid Ground… sort of ”

Shot Callers: Part 13

I have promised you three things, one to tell you what happened with the South Louisiana Guys, two, I promised to introduce you to some of the S.I.S. guards at Pollock, and three, to introduce you to some friends of mine – well, believe it or not, today is the day – maybe!

I want to start this by telling you that the stories I’ve told you so far are a little out of sequence; I apologize for that and will try to correct that here today by saying that before the event with Richard and the Youngsters, before the TV drama and before I had a solid handle on the Yard – the first thing on my agenda after officially accepting the Keys to the Yard was to deal with the issue of the white guys from South Louisiana. The result was that we, them and I had a meeting. Most of these guys had been in State Prison before but never Federal Prison. In State Prisons men group up together, not by race, but by city … it’s this way in all State Prisons, but in the Feds, because of the diversity, men group up by race, this was the first thing I explained, then I went into details about why and how important these rules are to all of us regardless of skin-color – then I asked them to pick a side. You ride with us, or you ride with the blacks, “The men around you need to know where you stand.”

I didn’t tell the ones who chose to ride with us that they had to change the way they dressed, talked or wore their hair, but I did explain to them how their appearance reflected upon what I considered a culture that I believed had destroyed the black family and by extension, them. I told them that the way they were carrying themselves would insure that they remained poor and suppressed their entire lives, and then I pointed out to them that they had the power to change not only their lives, but the lives of their children as well. I spent at least an hour with them huddled around me as I sat on a bench and spoke to them like the father most of them never had … I’ll add here that some of them did stay with us, and I was happy to watch them over the next few months as they, probably because they were ostersized by the blacks, saw the wisdom of changing their appearance.

Like I said, most of them chose to ride with their homies – but even those who chose against me, remained close, and went out of their way to speak to me whenever our paths crossed – it was these men and their black homies who eventually gave me a new nick-name, “Mr. Mark”, and that name has followed me here.

Over the next year following this event with the New Orleans guys, other men began to hit the Yard who would become my closest companions; the men that all the others knew they’d have to go through to get to me – men tougher than me. The closest of these men were men I’ve spoken of in prior blog entries; I’ll come back to them, but first I’ll tell you about a couple of other guys, one a Buddhist, and one a Hillbilly from Arkansas.

Ben and Odin

In the Federal Prison System you encounter a lot of different religious practices, everything imaginable. To accommodate this wide variety of beliefs, all of who want their own space to worship, the Chaplain will schedule rooms and times for different practices. For instance: The Wiccan’s might have a room to do their rituals in from 7am till 8am and then the Baptists will have the same room from 8am till 9am; etc. this gives everyone equal access to practice their beliefs. The bigger groups, like Christians and Muslims will have more time slots than say, Buddhists. Anyway, the Buddhists had a weekly time-slot scheduled – I went to it, generally alone. At that time there were no practicing Buddhists. No I didn’t know what the hell to do, I was a prison convert with no one to lend instructions so I went during that time-slot and meditated.

One morning I’m in the chapel preparing to meditate when an Asian guy shows up, truth be told, he wasn’t happy to see some white-boy there, lol … yeah we had a little tension going when the female guard walked in, and seeing the tension between us, asked if everything was, ok. I replied, “Yeah, we’re Buddhists, and Buddhists are non-violent,” this while he and I shot daggers out of our eyes at each other. The irony of course was, that I could tell that he was very capable of extreme violence, as am I, but in Federal Prison, everything is racial, I understood this and turned around and walked out, and did not return.

I would learn that this man’s name was Vo Tran, but everyone called him “Ben” – hell I don’t know how he got the name Ben, I was afraid to ask! 🙂 Anyway, Ben and I became close friends and remain so to this day. He later on invited me to return to the Buddhist service where I continued my meditation and even joined him in his worship service. That’s a brief introduction to him. The Hillbilly I spoke of was a man named “Odin” like the Norse God.

When Odin hit the yard I took note of him, he wasn’t tall like Chopper, he was about 5’11”, about the same height as Ben, but where Ben was a hundred and ninety pounds from years of working out, Odin, was like two-hundred and forty pounds of just big, that Farm Boy big you see ever now and then.

When Odin arrived they put him into the same cell-block as Ben; they might even have been cellies, I will add that this was also the same block that Richard Scutari lived in. Yeah, a big ol’ thick white boy named Odin! Hell that was too much for Richard to pass on – the perfect recruit, and Richard went after him. But that wasn’t Odin’s thing, he was really a peaceful, simple person.

At this time, before I became the lazy bum I am today, I had developed the practice of going outside at 6am and working out, that was generally the only time someone could catch me alone.

There was this isolated corner on the Recreation Yard, down past the Basketball Courts where I’d go and sit on the bench closest to the fence and talk to the trees on the other side … what, yeah, I worked out, too! No I really did! But, before I started my workout, I’d sit and look at the trees, do my prayers, then I’d get up and workout … those were beautiful days … When I eventually did start my workout, I’d put Krishna Das on my MP-3 player, contemplate nature, my children and how blessed I was; that spot was my sanctuary, my temple. Pollock was nice, I was close to God there.

One morning as I sat admiring the trees and wishing to God that I could walk out past this fence and touch one of them I saw Odin heading my way. Hmmm, what could this be about? I’d already heard that Odin and Richard weren’t getting along, I took a swig from my coffee cup then sat it down on the bench, stood up and watched as he approached.

He introduced himself then went on to tell me that he was new in the system and didn’t really understand prison politics. Then in his simple almost childish way he told me that he’d do whatever it took to “Protect me.” This of course, from him, someone I didn’t know, was a complete surprise – so I asked him why, if he was unfamiliar with prison politics, he’d make such a commitment – you’re gonna get a kick out of this – he lowered his eyes as if thinking about how he should answer, then looked up and said, “Well. Ben told me not to let anything happen to you.” The funny part of this was, he was dead serious. I had to smile – Ben was one of the guys I trusted and I could hear his voice in Odin’s words.

Odin wasn’t there very long and I’m a little embarrassed to say that I don’t know what happened to him … I never took advantage of Odin, nor did I use him as a torpedo … Torpedo? Well that’s the same thing as a “Crash Dummy” … Some Speakers consider guys like Odin “Expendable” and send them out on missions, to do the dirty jobs, like smashing someone. No, it ain’t always cruel to send someone on a mission some men want to go on missions, that’s how men earn rank, status in here, they go on a mission, smash somebody and earn a name for themselves … there’s a certain bastard honor that is afforded these men who “Put Work In” and that honor follows them wherever they go. I’m not on of those guys and I hope that you’ve not been mislead by my stories, I’m a peace keeper … at the conclusion of my time at Pollock you’re gonna hear more about that, so I’m not claiming anything, I’m just telling you how it works in here, but even had I sent someone on a “Mission” it wouldn’t have been Odin; he was capable, but his heart wasn’t geared that way, plus, like I said, there are guys who like that kinda stuff.

Mikey and Chopper

Somewhere slightly before or after all this a guy hit the yard who went by the moniker of “Mikey, I call him Alaska Mike, Alaska Mike is from California … yeah, I know, it’s a long story. When he arrived they put him into cell-block F-3, yeah, the one that had the TV issue. Honestly, I can’t remember how Mike and I became friends, but however it happened we became friends and are to this day.

Shortly after Alaska Mike arrived Chopper also arrived at Pollock, I actually have a picture of Mike, Chopper, Ben and I somewhere in my stuff. Chopper likewise was put into F-3, so him and Mikey were together. But, yeah, there’s a fly in the ointment – remember the South Louisiana Boys, yeah, I thought that issue had been put to rest, but, alas, it was not to be.
In F-3, along with Chopper and Mikey was a white guy from, of course, New Orleans, let me add it here, Mike and Chopper literally hated this guy. With that as a lead-in, I’ll tell you his story.

After the meeting with the South Louisiana guys, where they chose their sides, one of them, this guy from New Orleans came to me, introduced himself and told me his story. Right off I noticed that he wasn’t like most of the others, no sagging pants, no corn-row hair, well spoken, educated and … he had a pleasant spirit about him. I liked him.

This man whose name I can’t remember went on to explain that even though he didn’t act like it, he’d been raised in the “Hood” the ghetto by a black family and that the black man who’d raised him, also lived in F-3, and he wanted to move into the cell with him. I listened, he told me, “I’m white. But I love this old man and I want to cell with him.” Of course you can see the dilemma here, in the Federal System, the only whites who live with blacks are Homosexuals, whites in Black Gangs, or whites who consider themselves Black. To my knowledge, he was none of these things; he wasn’t asking to be exempted from the rules, he knew that he’d have to eat with the blacks and to be subject to their rules, he just wanted me to know where he stood; that he wasn’t ashamed of his race, he knew what color his skin was, and wasn’t ashamed of it.

I listened to his story. As I’ve already stated, I liked him and the fact that he didn’t try come off as some kinda bad-ass or even worse, “A Victim”, but as a nice quiet, humble man who had, with his adoptive father ( don’t get me started on the bad influences of that ghetto culture ) been caught up in the ghetto game of selling dope. I, of course, completely understood and gave him my blessing to move in with the old man. Did I mention that Mikey and most especially Chopper hated this guy! Whoops!!! Yeah, well that ain’t the half of it. What I’m gonna tell you next, not even they know about.

Next time I’ll finish this story which damned near resulted into a race-war; I’ll also introduce you to another one of the SIS officers on that yard. Stay tuned. Peace be with you.

Three Rivers, 11-23-18