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This story was taken from a blog post I made in 2009 and was copied (almost word for word) from an earlier story which I jotted down in a spiral notebook in 1998.
Further, I have only changed the original text for easier reading, and added some links/images to make the story less boring.
Don't you worry about why I was in jail, just suffice it to say I was and it was a long time ago. I spent a bit of my life in the FCCC. That's the acronym for "Franklin County Correctional Center," and it is about the most insane place I have ever been to. Imagine a huge building where the first fifteen floors are courts, prosecution offices, and police departments. Then, on the top ten floors, they have an actual jail. Everything is painted either beige or yellow. The doors are solid wood and the windows have that reinforced wire that criss-crosses diagonally. The people are a pure treat.
When you first find out that you are going to have to go to jail for a non-violent offense, they schedule you a time to meet at the corrections center. At the time of your appointment, they greet you and give you a quick run-down of the center's rules and then they usher you into "admitting." Admitting is where they take all your clothes away, take your picture, fingerprint you, give you FCCC clothes, and then escort a troop of you to an empty cell. These cells hold 24 men, but are usually cramped with 40 or more men and they have to get you a cot to sleep on.
FCCC is guarded by state highway patrol men. Most of these guys are on their way to becoming law officers out on the highways of Ohio, so they aren't very enthusiastic about their job on the inside. They still have to work their way up. It isn't being general when I say that every guard I met or saw on the inside was at least six feet tall and two hundred twenty pounds. They are all built like brick shithouses and because they aren't very enthusiastic, their attitude could be considered about as friendly as a hornet's.
The inmates aren't much better. I think it is rather funny that so many people who are so alike, yet on opposite sides of the law are all housed together in a mash-up of confliction and fear. Most of the guys in my cramped room were black, most of them were much larger than I am, and most of them were in jail because of drug offenses. There were a few exceptions; the little white guy with round spectacles who was in jail for violating a restraining order or the tall, almost razor thin guy who had told a judge to fuck off. His story was really interesting actually, he was homeless and he needed a place to stay. He concocted this plan and it worked the system quite well. He had himself arrested by some silly law like jaywalking and while he was in custody, he had resisted the arrest. In so doing, he was now forced (hahahaha) to face a judge. Of course, he acted as his own lawyer and soon was getting on the judge's last nerve. To finalize this crescendo of irritation, he had told the judge to "fuck off" at the top of his lungs. This earned the skinny man a well deserved count of contempt of court to add to his other charges and it looked like he was going to spend a few months behind bars for what really boiled down to stepping into the road right in front of a cop.
He was playing the system well.
Skinny guy, who was homeless, needed a place to stay during the cold winter months. He told me while we were sitting down to breakfast that he hadn't spent a winter on "the outside" in a few years. He was getting old and really didn't like the cold Ohio weather. So far, and as far as I know now, his plan is still working. His final sentence from the courts let him out in early June.
Batman once said that criminals are a "conniving yet cowardly lot." I have to agree with the first part, I am not so sure I agree with the second part. I learned more tricks and sly craftiness in my brief time in FCCC than I could have learned by watching a thousand cop shows on television. That myth about no contraband in jail is false. Everybody (except me), it seemed had found a way to sneak something into jail somehow. Most of it was tobacco that was the prized item, but I did see some drugs as well.
I can't tell you how these guys got the stuff in, but I can tell you how they managed to maneuver it between locked cell rooms. They use what is called a "car" by some of the inmates and a "slider" by some of the others. What this contraption is, is a envelope of folded paper that is made to hold things. Once you have the "car" manufactured, you then need something to retrieve it once you have slid it under your cell door. The inmates used threads taken from blankets and sheets. Tie about twenty of these threads together and you have a usable slider.
Let's say you want some rolling tobacco. You need somebody to trade with first. To find out who is holding the tobacco, you check all the cell rooms nearest you by tossing your car out and hoping that it goes under the door of another room. Some of the tossers in my cell were so good, they had mastered a curve throw that would send a car around a corner in the hallway. Once your car is in another room, the inmates of that room open it and find it empty. Usually somebody has written something in it that says "smokes?" or "goodies?"
If that particular room has some tobacco in it, the holder of that tobacco then stuffs as much as he can spare into the car and they send it back to its initial room. If the amount of tobacco is sufficient, the car is sent back to the other room filled with "goodies." Now goodies can be just about anything. At the time of my incarceration, the popular goody was Reese's peanut butter cups. The commissary had a bag of them and some of the inmates had money set aside that they could use to buy such things. Everybody had bought up the peanut butter cups and now they were a primo item to have. So, for an amount of tobacco that measured approximately one cigarette, you could get yourself at least two of the peanut butter cups.
But that is just the tobacco. You have no rolling papers and no way to light the stuff once you have managed to make a pipe or something. The sly inmates had devised an interesting way to smoke these "rollups" as they called them. They took an empty toilet paper cardboard roll and had whittled it down so that the individual layers of paper had come apart from the original cardboard. This stuff was almost as thin as cigarette paper and about as fragile. They had taken the layer and had worked it and crumpled it until it was very soft. Then they had rolled up the tiny amount of tobacco into it and they were ready to smoke.
Lighting a rollup cigarette is easier than you think. In my particular cell, they had wall outlets for electric shavers and for reading lights if an inmate wanted to read after lights out. Some enterprising inmate had conceived a way to take the metal faceplate off and had managed to get into the wiring of the outlet. By taking two of the wires off carefully, and then connecting them in a circuit, the wire got red hot and allowed a person to light a cigarette off the burning hot metal.
This was just one way to light the rollup. The second way was to take a piece of toilet paper and fashion it into a forked shape by using water and a bit of sculpting. Once the fork was dry, the two prongs of toilet paper were then inserted into a wall socket or an exposed light bulb fitting. The fork would slowly ignite and a person could then light a rollup with the burning toilet paper.
I got to inhale two drags of rollup cigarette during my entire stay at FCCC. The taste was so vile; it couldn't be considered anything but pure hackwork by anybody on the outside. On the inside it was probably the best tasting tobacco smoke I have ever had. You really have to hand it to those guys, they actually shared some smoke with a person who was known by all to be getting out soon enough. Usually they didn't do things like that. The standard operating procedure in a case like mine was either to ignore the person entirely, or to scare the hell out of the guy until he got out. Luckily I was the latter. I really don't like being scared by huge men who can tear metal outlet faceplates out of a wall with their bare fingers.
Speaking of being scared, there was one guy who terrified everybody in the room. I have no idea what this guy was in for, but I do remember his name...only because people were so worried that "Cade" would stab them for some idiotic reason. Cade was two cots up from me, closer to the door. He claimed to have been a gang member of some sort and had tattoos all over his body proclaiming this and that. The odd thing about his tattoos was that he had decided he didn't like a lot of them...so what did he do? He burned them off with a clothes iron.
To this day, sitting here in my comfortable desk chair and typing on my 2000-dollar computer, I can remember the burns on Cade as if it was yesterday. This guy was so scary he impressed me enough to remember that the scars from his iron burning even carried the steam vents from the underside of the iron. This guy was completely nuts.
During the days, Cade would stride around the room, his prison issued pants half way down his ass. He would wander from bunk to bunk and card game to television…checking up on all the scared people who just wanted him to move along. I don't really know what nationality Cade belonged too. He had a pock marked and light skinned face, but his hair was shaved close and was dark. The only hair on his body that was longer than a fraction of an inch was his devilishly Machiavellian goatee. This, he would stroke as he surveyed the people of the room. At one point, his black eyes fell on me as I was reading a beat up copy of Stephen King's "The Stand" that somebody had left behind. It wasn't the first time I had ever read the book, but it was the only book in the room that didn't have semen stains hidden amid it's pages.
"Whatchu readin?" Cade asked. The cover of the book was torn off so the question was understandable.
"It's a book by Stephen King," I said sheepishly.
"I know that," Cade said angrily. "Which one is it?"
Holy shit, this guy had actually read Stephen King? Looking at him, you would think that the only thing he knew how to read was the opening instructions on a box of nine-millimeter ammunition. I told him that I was reading "The Stand."
"Oh yeah," he rubbed his beard a bit. "That's a good one. Movie sucked though." And with that, he hunched up his huge shoulders, adjusted his drooping pants, and moved on to the next cot. My life flashed before my eyes.
Some of the guards found out that people were lighting contraband cigarettes from the electrical outlets. Their idea of a joke was to turn off the electricity to our room's floor level wall sockets. It was funny for about three seconds, and then the guys with tobacco got mad.
On the streets, in real life, when a smoker is denied his nicotine, he usually becomes grumpy and perhaps a bit hostile. Inside the FCCC, when a smoker is denied his rollup, he goes apeshit. This isn't normal apeshit either; it is crazy apeshit of the likes rarely seen by law-abiding citizens. Somebody figured out that the tract lighting thirty feet above our heads was the only way anybody was going to be able to smoke, so they devised a plan on getting up there to tear apart the light fixture. This involved ripping out some of the bunks from the floor. These bunks, easily three hundred pounds of steel, were bolted to the floor. After several attempts, Cade was asked to lend a hand.
Cade wandered over to the bunk, putting on a show like he wasn't interested, but I am sure he was proud that they had deferred to his strength and his brand of crazy. He grasped the lowest portion of the bunk, right where it was bolted, got his legs underneath himself (lift with your legs, not your back!) and then he simply stood up. There was no grinding of metal, no wrenching sounds. The bunk's bolts simply popped in their holes. Two more bunk beds were ripped out of the concrete and then stacked up.
At this point, everybody in the room was staring at the industrious inmates. No matter how this ended, it was going to end up good. Either the guards would charge into the room and hand out some beatings, or somebody would manage to get a rollup lighted. Somebody turned off the television.
So here we are with about ten guys holding up a stack of bunk beds and another guy playing gymnastics on the top of the stack as he tries to tear apart the ceiling fixture. For some reason, the wire grate over the light wasn't cooperating, so Cade was consulted again. He shrugged his huge shoulders and climbed up to the top of the bunk beds, moved the gymnast out of the way and began to rip the fixture out.
For some reason, the designer of the light fixture had made it all one piece of metal and then had recessed the whole thing into the ceiling above it. When Cade began to pull, little clods of concrete and dust fell down on all of us below. It was simply awe inspiring what happened next. With a screech of metal, the whole fixture came out of the ceiling with a sudden jolt. Cade, who was off balance because he was exerting himself, fell off the top of the stack of bunks. He tumbled down, fixture still in his hand, and hit back/ass first on the floor below. A shower of sparks rained down on everybody underneath the spot in the ceiling where the fixture had been and somebody panicked.
All of the guys who had been steadying the stack of beds jumped back to avoid getting burnt by the sparks. The tower of bunks came down with a loud clatter and I was sure the guards had heard that, but they never came. Everybody managed to injure themselves trying to get that stupid cigarette lit.
The sun came up on my last day inside the joint. I was thinner and I had a new appreciation for human ingenuity. When the guards came to release me, one of the inmates realized that it was me who was going to be leaving. He quickly sided up to me and asked me for my stuff. My stuff consisted of four pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, and two t-shirts...all of this stuff white. The rest of my crap was a bar of soap, a tube of toothpaste, and a razor that I didn't use. With the exception of the t-shirt and the boxer shorts I was wearing, I handed the stuff over to the guy without thinking twice. I was getting out in about ten minutes and I wouldn't ever need that crap ever again.
Once outside, the brisk February air hit me like a bucket of cold water. It tasted good and it woke me out of some sort of slumber I had been in while I was inside. Nobody was there to pick me up and I knew that I would probably have to walk home, a journey that was about ten miles. But I didn't care. For some reason, the walk sounded fine.