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.

K is for Kite

Kites are associated with the early Spring. Colorful, ariborne reminders that winter is over and another round of beautiful, warm weather laced with fluffy clouds, gentle breezes and blooming flowers is just over the horizon.  But wait!  That might not be the case if you are talking about Kites Behind Bars.

Behind Bars, it’s always March or November.  Storms are always brewing on the horizon, gloomy gray walls and the booming noise created by slamming doors made of metal against concrete block walls, accurately imitates the late winter/early spring atmospheric conditions.  Sometimes a leaking roof or a broken water pipe might even emulate the rain within the buildings regardless of the weather outside.  You can bet that somewhere a false gale generated by the hot breath of the rumor mill is affording ample opportunity for flying prison kites.

Prison kites are notes, usually thrown, tossed, kicked or swept from one offender to another.  Sometimes they might actually have strings attached (literally and physically) when offenders on the second tier lowers the kite to the window or walkway below.  These notes cover a wide range of topics, but like almost everything else Behind Bars, flying kites is a disciplinary infraction.

Prison staff members are charged with the responsibility of intercepting these kites and reporting who wrote them, who read them, who the “Postman” was and who the intended receiver might be.  These things might include a seemingly innocuous message such as “See you in the Commissary line, Homes.  I gots something for you.”  However, this could be interpreted to mean a variety of things.  The originator and the recipient must be considered in respect to the content before a clear interpretation emerges.

For example, let’s say Offender Irksome is trying to let Offender Bounty know that he will meet him in the Commissary line and pay off a debt by giving him a pastry or a soda or a stamp.  Cool, you might think, debts should be paid off, right? Right!  Except that such an action Behind Bars is considered trafficking and trading and is illegal and punishable under the rules and regulations.  Offender Bounty might be black-mailing, co-ercing or threatening Offender Irksome and the ‘something’ might be payola for protection.  Another, even more seriously illegal action.

Or this same message might mean that Irksome is going to meet Bounty in the commissary line to settle a different type of debt.  Irksome might be threatening to give Bounty a beating.  More trouble, right?  Or it might simply mean Irksome has a Bible verse book that he wants to give Bounty to help with his spiritual revival in order to help with his personal salvation.  At any rate, the kite itself is against the rules and the message is always suspect, usually not good news and definitely worth paying attention to if you don’t want to find yourself in the middle of a fight, a riot or a stabbing.

J is for Johnny

An outsider (one not acquainted with the prison setting) might find it strange to hear comments such as “Hey, Bossman! My Johnny is short!” or “See if you can get 150 Johnnies in one trash bag and call me back.” or “Give him a Johnny, if he gets hungry.”

Well, these might sound rather insulting, uncomfortable or even dangerous for whoever Johnny is, but don’t be mistaken.  Johnny is not a person, it is a thing.  A sack lunch to be precise.  These can come in a variety of flavors depending on who the recipient might be.

If a Johnny is prepared by offenders, it is usually a fairly good representation of a nutritious meal served in a brown paper bag.  If it is prepared by staff, sometimes, it may not be quite as nutritious, especially if the staff in question is bored or pressed into service during lockdowns (offenders are kept locked in their cells and only taken out for emergencies or showers), emergencies (such as hurricanes, escapes, power outages, etc.) or given to offenders, who have lost dining hall privileges due to misbehavior.  The Johnnies made by these unhappy individuals might be a bit less quality assured than necessary to meet the requirements set forth by Food Service authorities.  It is the responsibility of the Food Service director to make sure the Johnnies are prepared and delivered according to plans, procedures and protocol (excuse the alliteration). It is impossible for the directors to inspect every single Johnny leaving the Food Service Department.

What, you may ask, is included in a Johnny?  Normally, it would have a couple of sandwiches, some dried fruit and if the offenders are lucky… milk to drink.  The calories contained in the Johnny is carefully documented in order to make sure no one is going to starve and a sample Johnny is kept for a few days just in case some question arises.  Sandwiches might be made from bologna or salami and cheese, peanut-butter and jelly, tuna or chicken salad or even a hamburger or a fried fish sandwich.  Dried fruit includes raisins and prunes since it is almost impossible to put fruit cocktail or sliced, canned fruit in a brown paper bag without great expense in packaging.  However, everyday Johnnies for work crews and persons on medical fasts, for example, may also include milk and cookies, but these must not be confused with Diabetic Diets.  These diets are usually assigned by weak medical personnel fed up with Offender Whiner, who simply wants an extra snack to trade with other offenders.  (I understand that here in Texas, the prison system is supposed to be going to powdered milk, which would be impossible to package for an individual sack lunch and I’ve heard rumors that there will be no more desserts served at all, but I’m not sure if this has happened yet.)

So, as the price of packaging, milk in cartons and food continues to rise, the contents of the traditional Johnny might go through some radically ingenious changes as the Food Service Departments try to cope with rising demand and shrinking budgets.

“I” is for Instigator

Instigator is an interesting word defined by Encarta dictionary as #1 get something started (to cause a process to start).  The second Encarta dictionary definition is more appropriately applied to the term “instigator” as used Behind Bars.

An instigator is someone in the prison setting who always manages to find a way to “start something”, but the something he/she manages to start is trouble for someone, somewhere, though usually not himself.  These are annoying people to say the least, but they are highly motivated and usually fairly intelligent.  They are motivated by the personal desire to cause as much chaos as possible while they are incarcerated simply because it is not their fault they are Behind Bars, but rather the fault of society in general and the prison staff in specific.

Instigators know how to work the system; by this I mean they have been incarcerated long enough to have not only learned the rules, but have been taught or learned through self-study, all the holes, loops, dots, jots and tittles within the rules and regulations and they know how to use the system against itself.

I say they are usually intelligent because it takes some modicum of intelligence to understand the rules in the first place and it takes a bit of creativity and innovation to use the those rules in order to promote their own agendas while avoiding any backlash or repercussions.  In this light, one must have respect for the ‘Instigator’ since he/she must have a set of highly evolved skills in order to be successful.  They must have intelligence.  They must be flexible, persuasive and endearing when necessary.  And they must be able to quickly point fingers and shift blame on demand, and last but not least, they must be able to believe their own lies… with conviction, of course.

Does this sound familiar?  Does this sound like the job description of an American politician, perhaps?  No, of course not.  I had no intention of drawing any parallels here.  Really!  I’m serious.  Instigators are weasels, wheedlers, whiners and wimps unlike our politicians, who are truthful towers of integrity.  But I am getting off the subject.

Behind Bars, being labeled as an instigator is not flattering and will bring trouble no matter how well the accused’s defenses are built.  I believe it is quite possible the term instigator might well be applied to anyone who sits behind the scenes, urging you to break the rules because you are victim of this, that or chicken fat.  Again, a tempting opportunity presents itself here to draw parallels, but I will refrain and save it for another day.

H is for Hog

Hog is a noun, right? Sure it is, but wait… there’s more. There is also a verb form of the word. Hogging: to hog something and/or someone, as well as, hogged, the past tense. Hog, hogging, hogged. Yes, and these words actually have nothing to do with the four-legged mammals, which go so willingly to the slaughter in order to provide bacon, ham and pork chops for those of us who are Non-Vegans/Non-Muslim/Non-Jewish, etc. In keeping with my Behind Bars theme today, I am using the term Hog as representative for the letter “H”. Inside a prison unit, you will hear this term used freely and frequently by both employees and offenders. Even though the State of Texas uses a great deal of pork (not to be confused with Political Pork or ‘Porkulous’) to feed the growing inmate population and has a vast pig-farming operation that supplies the pork in bulk and offers a variety of offender jobs in the maintenance and care of said facilities, the offenders and staff are probably not talking farm/shop or bar-be-q techniques when they speak of hogging using such statements as “I been hogged, Bossman!” or “You tryin’ to hog me, Homes?” or “Say, say, say, man, stay away from Officer Whozit or he’ll hog you for a soda, man. Know what I’m sayin’? Can you feel my pain?”

The act of hogging, is usually something that one offender does to another offender, but it is not strictly limited to the offender population. Bosses (staff) may hog offenders, offenders may hog bosses and bosses may hog each other. Hogging is applied to the act of taking something forcefully, or against protest, from someone else. Normally, in the Free World, this might be referred to as ‘stealing’; ‘robbery’; ‘larceny’; ‘theft’; ‘extortion’; or ‘rape’, depending on what was taken, of course, and is considered serious disciplinary infraction or, in some cases, criminal activity. Normally, it is good practice for the staff to be on the alert for acts of hogging since such things can and often do cause serious repercussions, if carried to the extreme. Some of the nastiest situations Behind Bars have been caused by so-called ‘predators’ hogging weaker offenders for food, property and/or sexual favors. Some of it is blatant, some of it is done in jest and some of it is done in large scale operation with rules, regulations and by-laws and falls under the general heading of ‘Gang Activity’. Although it may sound funny or humorous in some context, it is definitely a serious problem and one both offenders and staff must deal with on a daily basis Behind Bars.

G is for Grille

The Encarta English dictionary says a ‘grille’ is crisscrossed bars as in a lattice pattern of bars, especially in front of a window. Now this definition seems appropriate for the use of the word ‘Grille’ in a prison setting, but that is not what I’m going to talk about.

The second definition given by Encarta is the word as used to denote the metal grating that allows cooling air into the radiator of a vehicle’s engine. This definition is more appropriate when applied to today’s Behind Bars A-Z topic since it is more compatible with the prison usage. Inside the Big House, ‘Grille’ refers to a part of the human body and so in in this connotation, if you think of the mouth as the intake for the cooling air entering the lungs, and the lungs in comparison to a vehicle’s radiator, the word ‘grille’ as used Behind Bars (pardon the pun) refers to a specific part of the body.
Whenever someone behind bars is overheard saying something like “Man, why you all up in my grille?” or “She got a fanchee (cause his teeth are gone) grille!” or “Somebody done knocked out his grille!”, they are talking about teeth (or toofuses). Yep, your ‘grille’ is your teeth. This has also come into common use outside the prison setting, having made its way over the fences and walls and into the neighborhoods (or hoods, as the case may be, not to be confused with ‘hoods’ as in gangsters, AKA ‘gangstas’)! Whew!

And this part of the anatomy’s maintenance landed many offenders in the Food Service Department in trouble for stealing of or possession of Baking Soda to scrub their grilles (not to be confused with the cooks, who scrubbed their Grills without the “e” or the gold).  Furthermore, these particular golden grilles were removable and were often often shared and/or borrowed on special occasions such as birthdays (birfdays) and such.

So it’s a given: A good grille is a golden grille that glimmers in the glare, so if your grille is glittery, the more your homeys stare -Prison Poetry (added bonus material).