You’d think that the hardest part of prison life is being locked away from your loved ones for years on end. Or the countless hours spent confined in a glorified bathroom with someone you wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire. Or maybe the lack of a woman’s touch as your youth wastes away. No, all three combined can’t compete with the life altering change that occurs from the tremendous amount of violence that is a prison.
“I’ve watched the movies and heard all the horror stories when I was in county jail, but nothing can really prepare you for this,” said Matt, a 30-year-old West Virginia native doing ten years for drugs.
If an inmate’s number is called by one of the shot callers, then that’s the end of it.
Picture your best friend getting slaughtered, with the look of horror in their eyes as they fight for their life AND try to figure out why they’re getting hit at the same time. The heart shattering thing is that there’s nothing you can do to stop it. If you try to tip them off or save them, you’re going to be the next one on the chopping block. It’s a sad, sick world of survival. “I wasn’t even on the yard a week when they came and asked me to put in work,” says Chris, a 31-year-old Ohio native doing 4 years for a firearm violation. Putting in work is the penitentiary way of saying “You’re going to kick this dude’s face off or you’re next.” There’s no questions once it’s laid down by the shot caller. If you try to come up with excuses, one of two things will happen. You’re either going to be looked at as a lame, thus you’re fair game for the vultures or you’re going to be the one getting worked on.
“So I’ve got to get him because he wouldn’t get me!?” Asked Indiana native Bam when he found out he had to put in work on someone that declined the putting in work offer. “Man, this is so fucked up, but I guess it’s him or me.” Bam said as we booted up to get the rebuffed.
The barbarity is always carried out by at least two inmates on one. You never want to give your target any hope of safety. It should be a brutal beat down and the winner should never be in question.
Although the ultimate goal is to beat the life out of a man and THEN get away from the scene before getting caught, this rarely happens. Old school cons like myself were taught that you go until the whistle blows. That whistle comes in the form of concussion grenades, mace and pepper ball guns.
Before the correction officers started carrying gas in 2013, the smashing would last until a swarm of fifteen or so officers made it to the scene and tackled all involved. Now, as soon as an altercation takes place, noxious orange gas is sprayed everywhere. These days, along with a deflated lung from all the puncture wounds to your fragile body, you also get doused with mace.
All of this is just a snapshot in the wonderful world of prison. Next comes your stopover in the last place anyone wants to be, the Special Housing Unit (the hole). Everyone involved will be held outside in a caged enclosure. It’s about 25 feet by 10 feet. As the gas burns greater into your eyes and body, you count down the hours until you can make it to your cell to use toilet water to wash it off.
Regardless who started it you get the same incident report. Along with the ruptured spleen and the stay in isolation for a few months before you’re transferred there’s also the looking forward to not calling your family for six months.
The attackers can look forward to a week or two in the hole and the loss of privileges like commissary, phone, visits, or emails from anywhere between 90 days to two years. You can also earn yourself a way to the year long Special Management Unit. In this fine facility you’ll be locked down in your cell for 23 hours a day with nothing but time to kill as you read whatever novels or magazines make their way under your door. “My family was driving five hours away from Tennessee to come see me when they told me I had to put in work,” says Pete Pretzel. Pete is a 55 year-old con from Tennessee doing time for bank robbery.
This is the worst part. You could be waiting on seeing your family for the first time in years, or calling your daughter on her birthday, when you’re told to go smash out your best friend because of his gambling debt. “It’s almost worse on us than the soldiers overseas. They’re in a war zone, but they’re fighting an enemy. In our war zone, we’re killing our friends.” says Pete.
“After serving almost a decade and a half, it never gets any easier on me when I see someone I consider a friend getting slaughtered. Every time I crawl further back into my shell and tell myself that it’s just what life is. Hopefully I’ll be getting released in the next year. When this happens, I hope to put all this behind me and live a normal life full of peace and happiness.
And when I’m asked if I’m ready to work, it’ll be asked by an employer instead.”
*Words by ‘The Judge’ (alias used for security reasons).
** Art direction by Ainsley Jade.