#4. Anything Can Spark a Riot
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We had a riot in one of our facilities over a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The inmates had an issue with the amount of jelly and decided to hold a sit-in, then the sit-in got violent. That's the thing: Even if most of the hundred people in the room are being reasonable, as long as a couple of them are acting crazy, they get to control the mood.
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"It's settled. Today's going to be about poo-flinging."
But that one was fairly minor. This next one wasn't.
We had some out-of-state inmates who didn't like that we didn't allow blue jeans or conjugal visits. They got together in the yard during exercise time and decided they wouldn't leave. We locked them in the yard, so they dragged all the free weights up to the bars and brought them down on the barrel locks, popping them right open. Once free, the first target -- instead of "the guards" or "the front gate" -- was the soda machines, which we had for some reason. The inmates knocked them over, burst them open, and savored the sweet taste of free prison Pepsi.
So now we had a bunch of caffeinated, riotous inmates. They forced their way into the control room, broke out all the windows, trashed the equipment, and only then realized they had no way to open the doors again. So they had to go back to the free weights so they could hammer the door frames into dust and break back out of the control room.
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You don't need a tool kit if you have one of these.
During the riot, one dude who'd switched over from the Crips to the Bloods realized that his new friends didn't really care for him. They chased him down and stabbed him five or six times, but he made it back to his cell and locked the wooden door. Then they burned the wooden door down and stabbed him 15 or 20 more times until he crawled out of the room. He made his way out of his cell and all the way down the hall to the guards, being stabbed all the while. He survived (again -- a human can survive a lot of stabbing) and wound up suing the prison for a bunch of money.
That riot lasted 12 hours and did around $10 million in damage to the prison.
AFP / Stringer / Getty
Good luck paying for that on a prisoner's non-salary.
#3. Prisoner Ingenuity Knows No Bounds
One of the great tragedies of the prison system is that so many young people only realize their talents after getting locked up. You take a bunch of guys with zero college or (legal) work experience, lock them in a big building, and suddenly they're master engineers. I found that if you give these guys a PlayStation controller, they'll quickly make you a quality electronic tattoo gun.
This looks cool, but they could get the same functionality out of a pen, some string, and a needle.
And what about ink? Sure, the stuff inside a pen works OK for a little while, but it fades real quick. Fortunately, some long-ago chemistry savant/coke dealer discovered an ingredient that could make his sweet ink last longer: human urine. Sure, it isn't exactly sterile, but you know what they say: You can't make an omelet without rampant staph infections.
You've probably heard about prisoners being pretty good at turning stuff like spoons and pencils into deadly knives, but that stuff is easy work. A skilled prisoner can make a knife out of literally any solid substance you care to give him. We had one inmate spend days wetting sheet after sheet of newspaper and compressing them together under a small stack of books. Eventually, the paper dried into a rigid cardboard brick. The inmate sharpened this on the floor of his cell, and in about a month he had himself a fine little face-stabbing knife.
Chad Baker/Jason Reed/Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty
There you go, kids -- start creating.
But prison ingenuity is at its best when it comes to the business of getting shitfaced. Each cell contains a bunk bed with a small gray box for that bed's inmate to store his stuff in. And in most cases, "stuff" is a synonym for "personal brewery." These guys will mash old fruit up with toothpaste and ketchup, stick it in a bag, and let it ferment quietly under their belongings. When they open it up, suddenly the building is full of a stench like oranges and puke. Some inmates will cut it with Metamucil so it goes down easier, which does not help matters as far as our noses are concerned.
That's not even getting into what happens when these guys drink the stuff. Once, a huge dreadlocked dude chugged an entire gallon of prison wine (or "pruno"). He got aggressive, and the whole mess ended with two empty canisters of prison mace, three injured guards, and one passed-out prisoner who woke up very confused the next day.
Bill Wunsch / Denver Post / Getty
Black-and-white vision is a common side effect of prison mace.
#2. Most of the Sex Is Consensual
The running joke/warning about prison is about how much you're going to get raped in there (and the HBO show Oz did feature about six rapes per episode). It seems like fear of nonstop rape is what scares people most about prison, not any of that trivial stuff like losing your freedom for years or having a criminal record.
We'll just leave this here.
Well, I worked in prisons for seven years, and I only saw one rape. If you're wondering how all of these males can go without sex for so long, well, who says they do? There are plenty of guys who are willing sex partners. You'd walk by cells and see one guy's head bobbing up and down and just knock on the gates and say, "Hey, you crazy kids, that's enough!"
That's not to say that sexual assault never happens or to trivialize the problem for the people it happens to. But the truth is that between 0.7 and 6.3 percent of inmates report being sexually victimized, and while even one is too many, that's still far short of the nonstop rape frenzy that pop culture portrays. In reality, a lot of prisoners just embrace being one of the, uh, more desirable men in lockup. They grow their hair long, get some sexy tattoos, and start flirting with whoever makes the best pruno and/or knives.
Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images
Beneath that scruffy proto-beard lies the face of desire.
#1. There's No Method to the Madness
Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images
You probably assume that prison is ordered a little like Dante's hell and inmates wind up on different "levels" based on the severity of their crime. Nope! If you make it into a federal prison for a nonviolent drug charge, you might wind up cell mates with Johnny the Cop Stabber, who, despite his colorful nickname, is a serial rapist.
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And head of the Bible study group. He's a complex man.
As a private prison, we were only supposed to get inmates up to a "medium" level of severity. We had a points system, and once they got above a certain number, we had to send them to the state. My job for a while was to do that paperwork, and guess what: The state would fiddle with the numbers all the time in order to dump the inmates on us. I'd go into their records and add up their infractions and realize that these guys were much more dangerous than the state had said. Whenever we wound up with someone who was WAY too violent for our prison, the state would wait forever to take him back.
That means that prison, like America, is a great melting pot. But instead of being a place for people of all nations, faiths, and creeds to live together, it's a place where kids who made one dumb mistake hang out with career criminals. There's a reason our recidivism rate is so very high: Prison is crime college. I had a 19-year-old kid in there who went on a joyride in his grandma's car. She called the police, hoping they'd just put him in jail overnight to scare him. But the DA decided to make an example out of him and charged the kid with car theft. Now he's in prison, learning how to steal cars for real.
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At least he'll stay in shape.
Robert Evans is Cracked's head of Dick Joke Journalism and manages the Workshop Moderator team. You can contact him here.
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