T is for Trafficking n Trading

This is a term given to the common bartering that goes on Behind Bars.  Offenders rarely have everything they need, much less everything they want and thus, a huge blackmarket of goods and services goes on in the prison setting.  Trafficking and Trading is a disciplinary infraction and depending on what is being traded or trafficked can pull down various degrees of punishment for a conviction.

You would think that this would be just a minor nuisance and perhaps a good way for things to get distributed among the Offenders Haves and the Offender HaveNots.  Unfortunately, like almost everything else that goes on behind bars, things are not so simple or cut and dried.  The problem arises because this sort of trading goes on in dark corners, vaults, showers, rec yards and work sites and is not like a Flea Market or a Yard Sale where money or other items are traded for things of like value.  No, these dealings are more like Mastercard and Visa and BankAmerica.  The HaveNot doesn’t have what he/she wants or needs.  The Haves have it and they offer it like a carrot on a stick to the HaveNots.  The HaveNots, generally speaking not persons who generally make wise decisions in life, take the carrot on account.  On account of they want it right now and they cannot avoid temptation.  Eventually, the HaveNots owe the Haves a lot of cash, goods or promised services for things that have already been used, eaten or used up some other way.

That is where the problem arises.  The Have’s then demand payment.  The Haves must pay… or else.

The “Or Else” is usually not good.  You can use your own imagination what “Or Else” might be, but be aware of the fact that much of what goes bad Behind Bars is a direct result of Traffick and Trading.

S is for Shakedown

Shakedown is something both staff and offenders alike abhor.  This is an operation that completely disrupts every program, every activity and every job within a prison unit.  When you work or live Behind Bars, you dread hearing the word “Shakedown”.

There are several different types of shakedowns carried out in the prison setting and, unfortunately, all of them are necessary to maintain security and control of the prison environment.  Some might call them ‘necessary evils’, but they are probably ‘necessary goods’.

Shakedown refers to searches.  Searches can be personal or impersonal, small or large, planned or random.  Small shakedowns might be pat searches of individuals coming or going from place to place on the unit such as from the housing area (cells) to the rec yard or from the rec yard to the visitation area.  The offenders are normally searched for contraband items carried on their persons in these cases.  The staffmembers might find money, cigarettes, drugs or any number of items not allowed in the possession of offenders.  In some cases, weapons are sometimes found sewn into the seams of clothing and/or hidden in very ticklish areas on the body of the offender.  These small shakedowns may also include the removal of clothing, called a stripsearch and are normally conducted by same sex staffmembers in private/shielded areas.  But these are normal occurrences and do not generally disrupt operations.

Larger, unit-wide shakedowns require locking the offenders in their cells for two or three or more days while the entire unit is physically searched from top to bottom.  These are usually planned ahead of time, but not generally known to most staff and offenders.  This is the one most offenders and staff do not enjoy.  I say MOST staff and offenders.  Some offenders do not mind because they don’t have to go to work or school and get to simply lay around their bunks all day.  Likewise, with some staff members, if the offenders are locked up, they may have very little to do or may be able to use the time to catch up on work backlogs.  Some staffers use this time to practice what is known as ‘ghosting’ (disappearing off the radar whenever there is work to be done).  Some staff members are experts at ‘ghosting’, others are not so fortunate…

Q is for Quiet

Q is a hard letter.  An ominous letter and most of the words used Behind Bars that start with a Q because they are not good topics in any company.  One of the most ominous words or conditions Behind Bars is the word Quiet.

When things become Quiet, two things are possible and only two things:

Lockdown: a condition where all the offenders are kept locked in their cells twenty-four hours a day and only taken out under escort for essential services or emergencies.  These are usually short-term conditions implemented for emergency situations such as severe weather conditions (we’re talking hurricanes), immediately after escapes or offender uprisings (riots, work sit-downs, etc.) or other situations less exciting like full unit shakedowns (searches of the premises for contraband) or perhaps visits by government officials or VIP’s who cannot be bothered by being exposed to the regular day-to-day bull sh**t that goes on Behind Bars.

The other condition that causes Quiet to descend over the prison setting is worse than any of the conditions listed above.  If the sound/noise level drops suddenly and without warning, it means the offenders know something the staff doesn’t.  This is not a good thing. It’s like the calm before the storm, the evacuation of the animals before an earthquake or that moment of complete silence just before police officer says “Freeze!!!”  This Quiet usually signifies something is coming and it’s not a good thing.  Could be a strike, could be a riot, could be ‘hit’ by one offender on another.  Whatever the reason for this sort of Quiet, staff members should be ready for almost anything.

And now I, unfortunately, will have to be quiet for a day since I will have to post R tomorrow night instead of tomorrow morning.  Adieu for now and remember:  Shhhhhhhhhhh!!!

P is for Perimeter Patrol

Behind Bars, Perimeter Patrol is something that is pretty self-explanatory: Prisons have perimeter roads (normally) and various forms of patrol take place twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  Some of these are walking patrols inside the fence and outside the fence.  These poor, unfortunate officers are chosen at the beginning of the shift and depending on a number of environmental issues, can be one of the best or worse assignments an officer can pull.

For example, as Fate would have it, whenever an officer arrives at what is known as the shift meeting or turn-out where he/she receives his/her assignment for the day without a raincoat and rain-boots, he/she will inevitably draw the perimeter patrol assignment IF and only IF it is raining, sleeting, snowing or hailing.  If an officer arrives at the shift meeting prepared for rain, but without a jacket or other arctic wear in the winter, fall or spring, he/she will ONLY draw the perimeter patrol assignment IF a Blue Norther is expected half-way through or earlier during the shift.  (NOTE: Temperature drops must be no less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the shift).  If the officer shows up without a bottle of insect repellent during a mosquito outbreak, he/she will not only be assigned to the Perimeter Patrol, but will also be required to stand duty on the recreation yard whenever he/she is not patrolling the perimeter.

There is a special kind of Perimeter Patrol found at some of the Texas Prisons that take place after dark.  These are special in that the officer is required to drive one of the most dilapidated trucks, cars or vans in the state for a full eight hour shift, circling the prison unit at idle speed.  This not only requires jackets when it is cold, water when it is hot, rain-gear when it is raining and insect repellant at any given time, it also requires a sleep-deprived officer to drive an extremely monotonous course in the dead of night during all kinds of weather in a vehicle that sometimes has no actual seat, no free-world (regular) radio, no heater, no a/c, no working windshield wipers and sometimes has doors held closed with lengths of twine.  The windshield on these vehicles always have a mysteriously meandering, annoying crack precisely bisecting the driver’s field of vision no matter his/her height. This special Perimeter Patrol is normally assigned to the older, sleepier officers or, if none are available, to the younger, hyperest officers in order to achieve the best security possible.

One more type of Perimeter Patrol that I always found particularly interesting, was the “FOG PATROL”.  The prison units, which have Field Officers (these are work party supervisors that ride horses… yes, horses) located in fog prone areas (we are talking can’t see the end of your hood fog like that found near the Grand Banks off the coast of Nova Scotia, where there probably no prisons, and in Texas on particularly nasty spring and fall mornings/evenings/nights) will send out these Field Officers in the early morning hours on their horses and have them sit at strategic points along the perimeter road.  Again, this must be extremely boring duty, but apparently it is all worth the prestige of riding one of the states ornery beasts in the boiling Texas sun while a group of offenders hack haphazardly at weeds in a ditch or a planted field.

These are the most prevalent sorts of perimeter patrols I have personally witnessed, however there may be more heinous forms lurking out there, waiting for unsuspecting Correctional Officers.

O is for Oh-Gee

You’ve probably heard the term “Oh, Gee” any number of times, usually referring to something that surprises or invokes some sort of emotional response from the speaker, such as “Oh, gee, that sux!” when someone drops their $7.00 Starbucks ® Latte in their lap or on their laptop keyboard.  Lots of times, we heard something a bit more colorful, but that depends on the speaker again and the cirucumstances.  Was it the Pastor’s latte and keyboard?  Or was it his/her own latte and keyboard?

But that is all beside the point when the term is heard Behind Bars.  If you hear someone referring to someone as an “Oh-Gee”, this is simply an anagram for OLD Gangster (Gangsta).  The term is applied freely to offenders who have have spent a number of years Behind Bars.  This can actually be a form of twisted respect for an “old-timer”, someone who has done a lot of time.  The younger offenders or those new to the system are sometimes overwhelmed (usually) by the completely alien world in which they suddenly find themselves.  The “O-Gees” are normally more resigned to their fates, more savvy about how to ‘get-by’ Behind Bars and, therefore, a wealth of information for the uninformed newer offenders.  Of course, everything Behind Bars comes with strings attached.

“Oh-Gees”, depending on their ingenuity, ambition and need and/or greed, can demand various forms of payment ranging from shots of coffee, soda, pastries or other luxuries bought from the Prison Store (Commissary) to much higher payments such as protection, real money, alcohol, tobacco, drugs and/or sexual favors.  Of course, it would behoove the uninformed offender to weigh the value of the information being offered against the price before making the purchase.  Everything listed above is illegal, of course, and may not only result in disciplinary action with varying levels of punishment to retaliation in the form of bodily harm up to and including death if the ‘bill’ is not paid.

“Oh-Gees” are often very friendly with staff, providing diversions or smokescreens for younger/stronger offenders, or oftentimes providing staff with information that may or may not be real or useful, but thereby endearing themselves to the powers that be, which again, depending on the skills of the “Oh-Gee”, can be very lucrative.

One thing for sure, such skills do not come easily, but must be developed over time with many trials, errors and failures.  “Oh-Gees” certainly may demand a certain level of respect from both staff and offenders if for nothing else other than having survived for 20-30 years Behind Bars.

M is for Mule

A mule is a cross between a donkey and a horse.  Another word for donkey is ass.  Behind Bars, a hard-working Correctional Officer is known as a work-horse.  A mule, when referring to a human is someone who carries illegal items from one point to another.  A Correctional Officer or Prison Staff Member who carries contraband (illegal items) into the prison setting is also called a mule and is, by far, the most dangerous breed of horse’s ass.

The one thing that mos successful prisoners have in common is their skill at the art of persuasion, better known Behind Bars as playing Mind Games.  Even the ugliest of brutes, possessed of a silver tongue and a sad story is capable of swaying a sympathetic ear to his/her cause.  This uncanny ability to talk otherwise sensible people into bringing in dangerous items to convicted felons is something that serves the offenders well, providing cell phones, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, money and other unauthorized possessions which can all be used in less than friendly maneuvers.  Some employees have even been found helping offenders plan or execute escapes (AKA catching a rabbit), financing their Behind Bars illicit businesses such as drug trafficking, pornography and prostitution rings, child abuse, etc.  Though it is sometimes hard to believe, otherwise law-abiding citizens become so inured of the heinous crimes committed by the individuals they come into contact with on a daily basis, they see very little wrong with ‘helping them out’.

Certainly, when these Mules are caught, they give all sorts of excuses for their behavior, none of which are valid and oftentimes they are still wondering what the hell happened when they find themselves on the way to prison to join their unlikely ‘muleskinners’ Behind Bars.

L is for Lay-In

Today’s Behind Bars themed blog for the A-Z Blog Challenge is the letter “L” and the word is “Lay-In”.  This is probably a hyphenated word made of the two words “lay” and “in” and could be considered the opposite of the word “Lay-Out” frequently used in the so-called Free World (outside the prison setting.)  However, this is not the case.  In fact, the two terms means the exact same thing.  If you are involved in something, work, athletics, whatever and you are ill or have other problems, you might want to “lay-out” of the activities for awhile in order to recouperate.  “Lay-In” as used behind bars, oftentimes, means the exact same thing if the “lay-in” is for medical purposes, i.e. doctor’s appointment, recovery, illnesses, therapy, etc.  But that is where the similarity ends betwixt “lay-in” and “lay-out” ends.

Behind Bars, a “lay-in” is an extremely useful tool.  And the uses are practically unlimited since the incarcerated mind is unfettered in its ability to soar into the highest altitudes of creative thinking possible for the human mind.  If offenders put as much effort into their creative use of the “lay-in” into other, more lucrative, more productive subjects, most of them would be very, very wealthy individuals and would probably never have been incarcerated in the first place, or at least, they may have gotten away with the crimes of which they were convicted.

For example, let’s assume that a certain individual does not want to participate in the work program.  In the prison setting in which I worked, offenders were required to work in order to be eligible for many of the programs established for their so-called rehabilitation and/or reintegration into society.  And let’s say that this individual has no major medical problems or other conditions preventing him/her from working in the laundry folding clothes, or in the yard picking up trash, or in the kitchen running a dishwasher.  This individual has a problem:  He/she is healthy and… Behind Bars.  Now this is not a good thing because he/she will be expected to not only work, but will also have to participate in educational programs and other programs as well, such as Alcoholic’s Anonymous or Drug Rehab classes or, even expected to take classes to learn English, if they cannot speak or understand English well enough to get along.

It becomes a driving force in the offender’s life to find new and creative ways to have themselve “laid-in” whenever worktime, schooltime or program time rolls around.  In order to cut this short, I will simply list a number of excuses offenders have used to procure “lay-ins”:

Back Injury, Dizziness, Chest Pains, Eye Strain, Allergies, Stress, Paranoia, Hearing Voices, Aversion to Smells, Fear of heights, Death in the Family, Breaking up with girlfriend, wife, baby-mama, Depression, Psychosis, Toothache, Headache, Insomnia, Hemorrhoids, Ingrown Toenails, Hangnails, Nausea, Vomiting, Diarrhea, Sleepiness, Fear of Staff, Fear of Retaliation, Fear of this, Fear of that, etc, etc.

Now I will attempt to list from memory of some of the restrictions obtained from various authorities within the prison system.

Pro-longed walking, Pro-longed sitting, Pro-longed standing, No lifting over ?? pounds, No pushing, No pulling, No reaching, No bending, No squatting, No walk on wet/uneven surfaces, No excessive heat, No excessive cold, No fumes/strong smells, No loud noises, No complicated instructions, No exposure to sunlight (reserved for vampires), No repetitive use of hands, No working around machines with moving parts.

The more restrictions you can get placed on your record, the less likely it is that a job or program will be found for which you are suited.  I was sometimes amazed at the number of restrictions placed on certain offenders and wondered how they managed to get through the day… hmmm.