I was at work on
the late night clean up shift when I found out that I was on the chain and leaving in a couple of hours. After gathering my property, giving away some commissary to the homeboys, and waiting for a few hours, I went to a holding room where 45 other inmates were waiting. We went through the usual bureaucratic bullshit paperwork, got sack lunches, heard the
chain bus pull up, and three big, sunburned TDC guards came strolling in, like kings of the world. One was sporting six stripes on his arm signifying 30 years with TDC, making awestruck more than a few of the guys. Two set up at a table to do paperwork, while the third gave us each a thorough strip search (the TDC dance, which we were all to become extremely acquainted with) and a terribly ill fitting white jumpsuit. Many of us, including myself, were barefoot. We were cuffed together in pairs, loaded onto The Bluebird (the make of TDC buses), and were off, filled with a strange mixture of fear and excitement, into an uncertain future, watching as our home receded into the black night. Our destination, as we were told earlier, was the Middleton Unit in Abilene, a long way from home, but not as far as I would eventually end up. The date was 9/9/99, one that I never will forget.
TDC. Texas Department of Corrections. Now officially called TDCJ, or
Texas Department of Criminal Justice, but to everyone, even the guards, it's
still simply TDC. Both blatant misnomers. Prison. Penitentiary. I was going
down GP, General Population, just another convict, another number in the
system. No Protective Custody (PC)
like the Tommy Lee type rock stars, no special privileges, no rehab unit, nothing. GP all the way! We rode through the night, arriving at Middleton, blinking in harsh noonday sun, and were immediately surrounded by screaming guards, buzzing around us like angry hornets. Yes sir, no sir...Marine Corps boot camp, but with five DIs instead of one. Strip down, do the TDC dance, take a pair of boxers off the pile, and go sit in the holding cages. Hair, ears, mouth, lift nuts, spread cheeks, left foot, right foot. I would hear this familiar litany many times and almost daily later on. It makes me wonder what type of person would want a job like this, looking up men's assholes and under their
scrotums day in and day out.
What a career move!
We went through all the paperwork and property checks and were given sack lunches, or "jonnies", all the while still packed naked into the cages. Then we got our heads shaved and took showers, always surrounded by screaming guards. I began to know slightly what the incoming
Nazi concentration camp people felt like. Complete and utter helplessness. We were all being herded around naked, with a half dozen female clerks and guards nonchalantly going about their business. Something else I would get used to. After hours of this bullshit, we were given our whites, bedding, and shoes, and were herded down, single file, to our assigned dorms, and finally taken to the chow hall. TDC rules specify a 20 minute time period to eat, but it really ends up being 5 before the guards run you off. You learn to eat very quickly in TDC!
I settled into prison life, which is everything you've heard, seen, and read.
It is an entirely different life from any that you've ever known.
You might as well be on the moon, which is why we called it "The World" out here. On the other hand, once you've been down, it isn't such a scary deal anymore. Don't get me wrong...it still sucks, and is full of predators and sociopaths who should be there, but unless you're a victim (as in The World), you can make it. Rape, also as in The World, is more a power, and especially revenge, thing than a sexual thing. I was never beat up or turned (punked) out. I also rode solo as far as the gangs were concerned, and the boys, including the gang members, always respected that. Being that new units, built on the same model, have sprung up all over the new Texas, most of them consist of two rows of cheaply made structures, containing four 50-man dorms, facing each other down a central concrete slab, called the sidewalk or bowling alley. The dorms surround a locked guard picket, or control room, outside of which is a walkway for another guard, or rover. In back of each building is a rec yard, and the whole unit is surrounded by two concertina and barbed wire fences, one or two guard towers, and a road on which a rover circles 24/7. All tower guards are heavily armed. It struck me that prison, with the absence of a war
at the time and the proliferation of gangs, seemed to have become the modern coming-of-age for many youngsters. Entering manhood
meant going down for your first time.
I started writing the diaries as a catharsis and
to get down on paper as much of my life as possible before it faded into oblivion. If nothing else, my life has been interesting, and I do have a story (many stories) to tell. Everybody that I had been writing letters to (all of which my Mom and Jewel still have) pushed me to start writing in earnest. Mom even had all my notebooks sent to me at Middleton. It helped me to think, to remember, to organize. The Dope Game and prison are such different worlds, so completely removed from this one that we all know, that I needed to put it out there. When I read back through my diaries
now, so much that really happened to me reads like complete fiction. Maybe it will help some people. I know for a fact that many, who were not blessed with my gift for writing, will totally identify with what I have to say.
The dorms themselves are loud and wide open, everything in full view of your cellies and the guards, including the bathrooms. You quickly get used to doing everything in front of a truly captive audience and the many female grey suits. Two mounted TVs run day and night, but you can barely hear them for the noise. Prison is loud! One thing that surprised me was the number of cons who are soap opera fanatics...big, tattooed criminals who know every little detail about their particular favorite and line the benches watching every day. Jerry Springer, of course, is big, too.
At night, various cellies get together and "spread", which is a communal feast, usually with a base of Ramen soups to which is added anything and everything and eaten on tortillas. Spreading is a major nightly social function. Domino games, either partners or singles, are an ongoing thing day and night, with a lot of accompanying shouting and slamming. Rack up time is 10:30 on
weeknights, 1:00 on weekends, and there are several "counts" or "cuentas" day
and night, where the guards come in shouting "rack em up" for a head count.
Despite their best efforts, and contrary to what
they would have you believe, TDC is full of gangs, on every unit. Aryan Circle (AC), Texas Syndicate (TS), Mexican Mafia (La Eme), Barrio Azteca, Pistoleros, EPT, White Knights, West Texas (with whom I was made an honorary member when I "went to the house"), etc. etc. And a whole lot of Crips. All have their own tats, signs, and special handshakes. Aryans sport "third eye", "lightning bolts", and "100% wood" tats, and "hit bolts" when they shake hands. TS has a dagger overlaid with a lightning bolt
or simply a huge a "TS". Pistoleros have guns on either side of their abdomens, so that the handles show over their boxers. Every unit has GI, or Gang Intelligence, but they don't seem to be very effective beyond documenting the tattoos at diagnostics. White boys are universally called "woods", derived from "peckerwoods", or gueros by the Hispanics, who are in turn tagged as eses .
Blacks are derogatorily
known as "toads". There are also plenty of punks, or homosexuals, usually drag queens. We had three in our dorm, two of whom were called Sweet Pea and Miss Apples. Every day, they would apply make up made from colored pencils and a mixture of Kool Aid, hair grease, and candy, and would go swishing around the unit. I'll never forget Sweet Pea's voice constantly shouting, "Oh, baby, look"! Curiously, the cons always let them make it, almost watched out for them, while the guards constantly harassed and badgered them. Sweet Pea was a constant target for shake downs, in which they would completely toss her house. Lots of homophobic guards not yet out of the closet, I think.
Everyone at TDC works, and for no pay. If you
refuse, or lay it
down, you get locked up in Ad Seg, losing all privileges. Work time and good time, for not fighting, or getting a bunch of major cases like "killin'" (masturbating) on a female guard, are supposed to reduce your sentence, but it's all signed away when and if you make parole. In most states, it all accrues and you walk out with no paper. The main job on most units, to which most cons are assigned, are the field, or hoe, squads. Straight out of "Cool Hand Luke"! Strutting bosses on hosses, toting sidearms and gauges and sporting cowboy hats and spurs on their boots. Truly legal slavery, with convict squads, each led by it's own caller/chanter, growing and picking vegetables and cotton on many of the big units. "Head high, head high, lemme see you touch the sky! Smokin' crack and smokin' weed, now I work for TDC!" Shakin' over here, boss! After a couple of weeks of every kind of physical, mental, and educational testing, I finally saw UCC, the Unit Classifications Committee, where I was given my time sheet and assigned a job as third shift, or night, dorm janitor, also known as porters or SSIs (Support Services Inmates). What a relief!
No hoe squad, though that would come later on my next unit.
My SSI job couldn't have been better for me. I
went on shift at 11, after rack up when the dorm was dark and quiet, spent a couple of hours cleaning it and the bathrooms, then slept, read, or wrote until 3:30 breakfast chow, from which I developed a taste for the standard TDC pancakes and peanut butter. The rest of the day was my own to sleep, watch TV, work out or just chill. But as it was a tedious existence, day in and day out, and the guards at Middleton were straight up white trailer trash, and I knew that I'd be chaining out to another unit, as this was a transfer facility, I became restless, waiting to catch the chain to my home unit.
Be careful what you ask for, you just might get
it. I wanted to catch chain
out of there, and they gave it to me on a silver platter. As at Del Valle, which seemed like years ago, the guard came and told me, while I was on late shift, to pack my property...I was on the chain to RZ. RZ? Rogelio Sanchez State Jail, in El Paso, on the Mexican border about as far from home, family, and friends as they could send me. Once again we got naked, did the TDC dance, were put back in the cages, were paired off, herded onto the Bluebird, and driven off into the black night. I slept fitfully, as well as I could cuffed to another guy, and awoke to more blinding sunlight again, as we skirted El Paso and arrived in the middle of the desert at the back gates of the Sanchez Unit. Juarez and the mountains of Mexico could be seen from the rec yards. Through the gates, into an outside cage, TDC dance, welcoming committee complete with barking sergeant, quick chow, and then sit outside in the sun for the rest of the day. Orientation late in the day, learning the rules and regs of Sanchez, the most iron clad of which was that we always, but always, only moved around the unit single file with our hands behind our backs.
This time when I saw UCC, I went straight to the
hoe squads, which wasn't necessarily such a bad thing. At Sanchez, being that we were in the middle of the pinche desert, there was little to do but go out for a couple of hours and shovel dirt
and rocks around, building a road to nowhere around the unit. I didn't mind the fresh air, sun, and exercise, and it sure as shit wasn't picking cotton! Every day the squads would come in, 50 or 60 of us, and go through the now ritual naked dance, with accompanying litany: hair, ears, nuts, cheeks, left foot, right foot, etc. All the hoe squads lived in the same building, with the kitchen, laundry, necessities, and maintenance workers in their respective buildings. As we were the at the low end of the totem pole, the grunts, our dorms were pretty wild and very loud. Aside from locking you in Ad Seg, they couldn't bust you down any lower than the hoe squads! Prison is the ultimate male bonding experience, and I was starting to make some good friends, guys who had my back. I was playing basketball every night with a group of eses, one of the only gueros out there,
spreading with my homies at night, getting to know my way around the unit and it's prison society.
Drawing by one of my
Unbeknownst to me, word was out and spreading
quickly about who I
was via the convict grapevine, which is just a little faster than e-mail. Soon I was signing autographs for all mi homitos, even signing them for moms, girlfriends, family, and guys on other units, while bearing the inevitable "Don't Mess with Texas" jokes (which everyone seemed to think was original to himself). Word also spread to the administration, and after a little over two months with the hoe squads, as we were coming in and doing our naked dance, the sarge came over and said, "Hubbard, when you're done, go see the chief!". Meaning the Chief of Classifications. Holy shit! Not good! What had I done?
Turns out that
the chief, being an amateur bass player, big T-Bird fan, and nice guy, was fixing to hook me up! I got a great job as one of two right hands for the boss of all the SSIs and floor crews (who was a also fan ), did all the daily maintenance work orders in an air conditioned office, was moved out to the cadillac trustee building outside the main unit, and had not a little influence for helping
my homies get good jobs. I also developed my first big boss lady crush on one of the maintenance bosses (who weren't required to wear grays), a bleached blonde West Texas cowgirl with great tits and a great ass, packed into seriously tight jeans. Another cute little chola guard with a pug face, I tagged with the name Zoë, after my female Boston Terrier. Soon, everyone was calling her that, though not to her face. Life in the trustee building was much better.
It was clean, quiet, all cellies working jobs that ran the unit or even went out to the world every day
on trash patrols, and I settled comfortably into my routine. Routine is what gets you through doing time, as any convict will attest to. There were still the inevitable shakedowns, fights, and even one major lockdown of the entire system because of gang wars on other units, but the days were passing much more easily. I loved my cellies, my house, my job, my co-workers, and my boss. Things were all good with my family, whom I had alienated myself from, and I was making amends not only to them, but also to old friends and loved ones who were coming back into my life, including my old love from Atlanta. I was very lucky. I had a big support network out there, got money on my books
from mom, and a lot of mail, all of which are extremely important in prison. Getting mail can make or break your whole day. My heart always went out to the guys who had no one out there in The World. There was always humor and camaraderie in the dorm, and the occasional distraction of things like a rainstorm instead of the usual duststorms. We could see and smell it, cool and sweet, coming in from the mountains in Mexico, and it was delicious when it fell. We also got a beautiful snowfall on Christmas Eve, and although we weren't allowed out, we all clambered up to the windows, in shifts, to watch. The sunsets over the desert were spectacular. There was a ring-tailed cat, a beautiful desert creature who lived on the unit for a short time and always came out at night, nests of baby birds on the rec yards, and a real roadrunner who lived behind maintenance. I made myself always look for beauty in this most desolate of worlds.
Being out in the middle of the desert, we got
quite a few sandstorms that would come in like a fast moving wall, stinging
our eyes and faces, and
coating the dorms with a fine dust.
Rain was rare. We knew when it was coming. The clouds would obliterate the distant mountains in Mexico and we could smell it, heavy and sweet, even in the dorms. Rain was always a good excuse for the rec bosses to cancel rec, and keep us in. But one time it hit as we were all walking to necessities and, elated, we just gulped it in, like starving men. I walked most of the way there and back with my face to the sky, feeling that liquid coolness drench right through me. And loved every minute of it!
One night my boss called us out with the floor crews and told me that I was on the weekly
chain leaving that night, a surprise to us both. I was too short to go to a
pre-release and still had too much time left to go to the house, but this was, after all, TDC, so we said our good-byes and sure enough, I was gone that night. We went back to Middleton to spend the night, stopping at Rockin' Robertson, the huge rock `n' roll unit next door, to drop off and pick up some guys. A rock `n' roll unit, like Rockin' Robertson, is one that has the rep for a lot of violence. Fights, gang wars, and murders of both guards and inmates alike. Usually has a large population of youngsters and guys doing Ag time. The Smith and McConnell units are rock `n' roll units. En route to Sanchez, we had heard that it was rock `n' roll, and to a degree it was, but nothing like some of the other ones.
The next day we
were on the Bluebird, heading for the Holliday unit in Huntsville, by way of the Hughes unit. Upon my arrival, and after the usual dance and cage time, I found out that I was there to see INS. La Migra! What the fuck? I was there four days, walked into migra, and was told immediately that it was a mistake. A computer error. Someone in Huntsville was punching in the wrong codes! Pinche TDC! That night, I was on the chain back to Middleton, with a quick stop back at Robertson to drop a killer off at their huge Ad Seg division. He was in a neck brace and arm cast, completely chained
from head to toe, and kept isolated up front from the rest of us. Usual bullshit, TDC dance and litany, in and out of Middleton, and we were on our way back to Sanchez the next night, by way of the Wallace Unit, soon to be a war zone between TS and Pistoleros. I was relieved, upon my return, to find out that my old house and job were waiting for me.
And so my last few months passed routinely,
as I awaited my short
way release date. You spend forever thinking about it and counting the months, and all of a sudden it's upon you. We had my "going to the house" spread, all the boys signed my pano, or handkerchief decorated with my T-Bird tattoo, said deeply felt good-byes, and I was once again on the chain to Middleton. Same routine...TDC dance, cages, waiting, with one bizarre exception.
I saw the
goon squad up close for the first time, dressed in full riot gear like something out of the movie "Brazil", come marching in cadence to one of the cages to remove
a lone guy who was refusing to leave on his chain. Truly throwed off! We left that night, once again heading for Holliday (Inn) by way of Hughes
Unit, same drill but for one difference. I was goin' to the house!
On those chains to the Walls, I was filled with a
mixture of elation to be
going to the house and fear of going to the house. Although I had decided months earlier that I didn't want the
dope life anymore, all of Austin was a potential trigger. Every neighborhood, hotel, motel, and store was somewhere we had lived or somewhere I had met my connects or customers. Prison really isn't a deterrent. Once you've been down, although it sucks, it's not that big scary place anymore. But it was no life for me, unlike many convicts. A lot of my homeboys there were planning to jump back into the game the day they got out. I didn't, and still don't, want that life anymore. I know, more than anything I've ever known in my life, that if I pick up that first shot, that first hit, I am a dead man. Next time I don't get out alive.
I spent the longest five days of my life waiting
at Holliday. Talk
about time standing still! And finally the day arrived. More of the usual TDC bullshit...waiting in cages, dance, all that. Guess they had to give us one last reminder! On the chain for a quick one this time, just across town to The Walls, through which everybody goes to The World. What a shithole! The original TDC unit.
Ancient and filthy. More getting naked and in cages, then finally to the old, noisy, filthy gym for processing out, which took hours.
At this point, I was close to delirious from
stress and lack of sleep, but so
excited that there was no way! Upstairs through ancient cellblocks and outside into a little courtyard for final parole paperwork and to get our clown suits... horrible, ill fitting polyester pants and shirts. George W was fixing to kill Gary Graham the very next day, all the Huntsville units (and maybe the whole system) were to be locked down, and the press were everywhere, surrounding the Walls like a besieging army. Meanwhile, our mood was one of euphoric elation as we donned our clown suits, and clutching our $50 checks, parole papers, and commissary bags of personal property, we walked out of the Walls to The World and freedom.