I was scared to death.

Shot Callers: Part 2

If you have read any of my books you’ve no doubt already heard the story about the way I was treated when I was first transferred from the County Jail in California to USP Florence (Big Boy Prison, the biggest), how the prison administration was so concerned for my safety that they wanted to put me into Protective Custody. No, I ain’t gonna tell it again, stop bein’ such a cheap bastard and buy one of those books! Anyway, to make a long story short, I refused, took my chances and hit the yard.

I think this is an appropriate place to tell you a funny little story. Where? What! … hell yeah its relevant to this story! It’ll give you a little insight as to the reputation that USP Florence had in the prison system … What? … well, I’m gonna tell it anyway! So sit down and shut up.

After I left California they flew me via Con-Air ( no it ain’t nothing like the movie, well that ain’t exactly true, it’s a lot like the movie, without all the cages and masks) to the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City. This is the place where, if you’re new into the system, you’re processed into the Bureau of Prisons. This procedure consists of a medical questioner, family contact information, a short psych evaluation where you are asked the ridiculous question “Are you considering killing yourself, today?” They also ask you if you’re a rat and therefore need to be separated from the masses, I ain’t and said so. Basically they ask the normal things they need to know about a prisoner.

This Transfer Center is also the Central Hub where most prisoners who are being transferred from one prison to another go before being shipped to their new spot. Anyway, about two-hundred of us got off the plane where we stood in two long lines while being unshackled, hands and feet, before being led into huge holding cells where we were forced to stand or sit on the floor awaiting out turn to be processed. I was probably the only NEW guy there, all the others were transfers.

We were called one at a time into a Processing Station and asked all the questions I described. Then the guy doing my interview looks at my paperwork and says with a smirk, “You’re going to USP Florence.”

I had been to Colorado a few years before I was locked up and had loved it. So I thought, “Wow. Ok. I like Colorado.” I filled out the paperwork listing my family contacts, this in case they need to contact your family for any reason – like, if you get murdered! Then I was sent back to the Holding Cell with the others. Hour after hour I stood and watched as each man was systematically processed. During this time I kept thinking about my family.

While in this Holding Cell I noticed that the men in there with me were in groups, Indians with Indians, Blacks with Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Whites, all in groups. Being that I had no concept of the racial politics of Federal Prison, I stood alone in one of the corners with my back to the wall, alone. Now that I look back on it, I obviously looked like a “Fish”, a first timer. And even though I was trying to look hard, I probably looked like I was scared to death. No, I wasn’t scared to death, but being that I didn’t know what to expect, I was on the edge. Ok, I was a little scared.

A couple of hours into this process my attention was captured when one of the White-Boys comes back in from processing looking like Satan had thrown him over a chair and sodomized him; almost hysterical. He was saying to the other white guys, “It wasn’t even my knife! And they’re sending me to USP Florence!” The other guys not wanting to make eye contact looked at the floor as they tried to console him.

Then one of the other guys said to him, “Damn. I’m sorry to hear that. But don’t worry about it, man, you’ll be ok!” On and on this guy ranted about being sent to Florence, all the while I’m ear-hustling and thinking, “Holy Shit! That’s where I’m going!”

After processing we were divided into groups, put into pods with two-man cells to await the next Con Air flight, or, bus ride to our designated prisons – unfortunately I was not put into the pod with the other guy going to Florence. But, over the next few weeks as I waited transfer I asked everybody I came into contact with about USP Florence. Without failure they always looked at me with this, “What the hell did you do!” look. Never, not once did I hear anything good, always the same thing, “That place is rockin'” meaning it was violent, real violent. It was in one of those conversations that I first heard about “The Cowboys”. The Cowboys were a group of prison guards who liked to stage, just to watch, one-on-one prison fights, lots of racial bouts; whites against blacks. Yeah. If you made one of them mad, they’d put you in a cell with someone they’d instructed to beat the hell out you. My councilor at Florence, Mr. Andert, was one of them, in fact, I think, he was the one who finally got disgusted with the over-the-top violence and blew the whistle on them. Some of these animals went to “little boy” jail, others lost their jobs, but most of them went about their business as usual at USP Florence. Yeah, you can read about these guys on the web.

The Federal Prison System has different levels of custody ranging from the fenceless “Camps” where inmates with short sentences are sent. Next you have the “Low Security” facilities which have fences, to “Medium Security F.C.I.s” up to the “Penitentiaries” which are all Maximum Security joints. These “Pens” are called level 4 prisons. At that time, before the riot of 2008, Florence was considered one level above your standard Penitentiary, a level 5 joint.

USPs, United States Penitentiary, is for the most violent, the hardest, the knuckleheads, the real tough guys. Yeah, they’re all considered Hard Time, and when you can’t act right at one of those other Penitentiaries, they ship you to Florence as a last step before being walked across next door to the ADX Supermax which is a segregation prison. By segregated I mean you are locked down in a cell, by yourself. Now you’re gonna hear that the solitary joints are the hard spots, but I will remind you that in those spots, you’re alone, safe from the violence of a USP. Yeah, I know a little something about solitary confinement – like 18 months of something! Give me solitary confinement any day of the week and twice on Sunday as opposed to the violence of a USP!

When I first heard all these things I was a little apprehensive, not scared, but alert, confused. After all, there are other USPs in my “Region” even one in Beaumont Texas, so why was, I, singled out straight outta Court and sent there? For the same reason my handcuffs were “Black-Boxed” whenever I was moved from one spot to the next – “someone” high up had labeled me as a troublemaker – I had refused to plead guilty, and had refuse to “snitch” on the piece of shit who snitched on me. SO off I went!

Well, that’s my funny little story .. I guess it really wasn’t funny after all, maybe you had to be there.

That’s what was going through my mind when I stepped out of the Holding Cell in USP Florence only to be told I was in, grave danger, because I’d been a Mayor. “There are men on this yard who’ll kill you because of that”. Like I said, its a long story, but in the end, I refused Protective Custody, convinced the prison staff I could make it, and hit the yard.

Next time I’ll tell you the real stuff, the stuff you ain’t gonna read about in a book. Hang in there, its fixing to get good!

Three Rivers, 9-14-18