By Mwandishi Mitchell
On November 28, 2013, Thanksgiving Day, I was placed in administrative custody, or as it's commonly known here -AC status. I'm in the hole doing twenty-three and one. Except on Wednesday and Friday, when there is no yard.
Compared to the ad-seg on Pelican Bay, this is a cakewalk. I'm allowed to have a chessboard, radio, television, books and magazines in my cell. So far, I haven't requested my T.V. or radio--I've left them packed away with my other personal property. They're distractions for me and I can get more writing done without them.
Unfortunately, though, I'm not housed with just AC status inmates. For some odd reason I'm on a disciplinary custody-DC status pod. The majority of the guys serving solitary confinement (well, I wouldn't even call it "solitary" because dudes have cellmates and you can talk to people in other cells) on this pod have received misconducts. My case is different; mine is a separation from staff. All I'm waiting for is my transfer to another plantation where Ill be placed back into the general population.
I think I'm a funny and jovial person to be around, but as I've seen over the years, there's not many people locked up in here who I'd want to be friends with. I can count on one hand people I'd call friends who I've met over the past eleven years.
Would I be conceited if I said that the reason I don't have many friends is because there aren't many who can converse or match up to me intellectually in here? Maybe it would, but I don't want it to sound that way. But I can‘t learn anything from someone my age (41) who raps Meek Mill, Rick Ross, and whoever else's lyrics all day!? And I'm totally out of touch with the younger guys who are in their early 20's and 30's. I have tried teaching, tutoring, and mentoring them--which turned out to be feeble. For many of them, being a social outcast--drug dealer, stick-up man, murderer, etc… is all they know. And truthfully, this hurts me because eighty percent of them are Blacks and Latinos--and I don't see this changing anytime soon.
Since I've been down here the past three weeks I befriended a man named Omar. Omar is thirty-seven I believe, and he's on DC status serving 90 days for testing positive for marijuana. I had seen him before; he worked the cafeteria where I was housed in general population. I moved into the cell next door to him because, per Department of Corrections policy, you have to switch cells every 90 days. Omar is from Camden, New Jersey, just across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.
From the onset, he seemed like a person that I could relate to: knowledgeable on current affairs and the plight of the recidivism of minorities in the penitentiary system. He has a good head on his shoulders and I was confused as to why and how he wound up in a place like this. I found out from him that it was a drug deal gone bad. He went with someone who he thought was purchasing drugs--but the guy he went with actually intended to rob the guy. The guy he was with shot and killed two people. When he got caught, he told the authorities Omar was with him. Omar went down as an accomplice. Come to find out, we've both been in prison for eleven years, and both of our DOC numbers start with GB!
In the hole arguments can get pretty wild very fast, and many times out of control. You really can‘t get your hands on someone that you are having a disagreement with. While in the RHU (Restricted Housing Unit), you are a level 5 inmate, which means that when you are brought out of your cell for any reason you will be handcuffed. Going to the shower, yard, medical, anywhere. Most of the time it's just a lot of hot air going back and forth, but every so often, you get "Shit Slayers!"
Shit Slayers, are feces throwers. These are guys who take their excrement and urine and put them into empty shampoo bottles, grape jelly containers--any plastic squeeze bottle they can get their hands on. They shake them up and let them sit for days--weeks even, waiting for a potential victim. It doesn't matter who you are, guard or inmate, if you talk trash or get into an argument with a Shit Slayer--expect to be fired upon! I've seen guys on their way to the shower, bang! Hit by a Shit Slayer. In the yard cage, bang! Hit by a Shit Slayer! There are serious medical risks that can occur as a result of these attacks, especially Hepatitis C. Just imagine being covered with feces and urine on your face, getting into your eyes and mouth. You could potentially be an unintentional victim by being in the middle yard cage of two people who are throwing excrement at one another. Fortunately, I have never experienced either or, and I'm not trying to!
Omar gets a cellmate named Dee. I would describe Dee as a repeat offender. He's only thirty-two and he's been in eight different state penitentiaries--eight! A very hostile and combative person who curses the guards at each and every opportunity he gets a chance. Dee will be maxing out from the hole in forty-three days. He doesn't have anything to lose or anything to look forward to once he's released. A fate that awaits many like him and is verified in the pages of Professor Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow.
The economy of the hole is run off of tobacco. Graterford is an institution that makes millions a year from tobacco sales. However, while in the RHU that privilege for the inmate is in abeyance. So, as it‘s not allowed, tobacco that's smuggled into the hole catches a pretty penny. Its value is quadrupled. A $2.43 pouch of Kite tobacco goes for $10-$15 here in the hole.
Well, Omar's cellmate, Dee, decides he's going to pull a fast one (or, what I would call a fiend-move) and put an indigent toothpaste that's given away freely by the institution, into a commissary bought box. The block-runners (workers) do the passing of items back and forth. They're the only ones who are allowed out and not handcuffed down here.
"Hey, man, could ju get me sum'thin' ta smoke for dis toothpaste?" Dee asks the block-runner. I can hear him because he's directly next door to me.
"Yeah, no problem. Slide it unda' tha door," the block-runner says.
About three minutes later the block-runner comes back wearing an angry expression on his face and throws the toothpaste box under Dee and Omar's door.
Look at dis shit! I say to myself.
"Whut tha fuck wuz dat 'bout, cuz?" the block-runner asks Dee.
Another block-runner comes to their door. He says, "Man, whut kind of games are you playin', cannon? Why would ju do dat? On tha streets, if you gave him sum' fake coke and he sold it to sum'one--they‘d cum' back and shoot him, not you! You don't do dat to tha middleman!" the second block-runner says.
The analogy makes perfect sense to me and should make sense to anyone else who knows about the streets. People have been hurt, and many have been killed for selling fake drugs that one perpetrated as real.
"Man, fuck you and whoeva' you gave it to!" spat Dee.
"Where you from out dere, cannon?" the second block-runner asks Dee.
'Norristown," Dee replies proudly.
"Yeah, it figures. You'd be dead already in Philly!" the second block-runner responds.
While this exchange is going on I'm laughing to myself. Dee, is supposed to be regarded as someone who is "thorough." Well, I'm here to tell you that what he did is not a thorough move at all. It's maligned and dishonorable even for prison standards. There is still honor amongst thieves, y'know? However, Dee is respected as having street credibility. People are out there in the streets getting their heads blown off for these kinds of stunts.
The block-runners and Dee exchange more unpleasantries. Then the block- runners storm off. People on the pod are laughing and expressing their opinions about the whole scenario. So, I say as a joke to Dee:
"Damn, Dee, if I gave you a package back when I wuz livin' tha life, I'd have to seal all o' tha bags wit' a lighter!"
The entire bottom tier erupts in laughter.
"Whut are you laughing about, Mitch? You're a rat! Yeah, e'rybody, Mitch iz a faggot and a rat! You ratted on Benny-Do!" Dee hurls on my character.
I don't have anything against homosexuals. I used to--but I've grown to respect anyone for any lifestyle they choose to live. As long as they're not harming and killing anyone--to each, his own--and her own. But in the penitentiary there's two things you don't want to be labeled as (especially if you're not), and that is a homosexual, or a rat--and Dee has given me both.
When he says it, inside I laugh. I'm more amused than upset. My old-head and one of my mentors, Benny-Do, and I were walkies. Ten years my senior, he was like the big brother I never had.
We got out of the hole on the same day two years ago and were on the same block on the new side. He was brought down to the hole a month before me, and they shipped him to SCI Frackville for alleged "fraternization" with staff. The real reason is that he was a leader of men, who knew how to organize men--and the administration feared this.
Dee saying that I ratted on my mentor gets me infuriated! It isn't funny any longer as the argument continues. By him even insinuating something like this is a stab and low blow to my character. So now I'm throwing obscenities at him and we're going back and forth for the betterment of fifteen minutes. I know there is no way I can physically get my hands on him: My only other option is to send him a threat.
"Don't sign up for yard t'morrow, I'm goin' to shit chu' down!"
Now, I really don't mean this. Indeed, Shit Slayers are people who are working with diminished capacities. You have to figure, you've got to be messed up in the head to play in your own feces--especially the process of putting it in the bottle with your bare hands and everything.
"I throw shit, too! You ain't sayin' nuffin!" Dee counters.
Damn, I thought my threat would back him down. Now I have to save face and keep up the facade. Because in no way am I sick enough, or even disturbed enough to play in my own feces.
About two hours later I'm smelling feces from next door. Dee is getting his ammunition ready. Omar is mad at me because he has to be in the cell smelling his cellmate's feces. What Omar should've done is manned up and not permitted Dee to contain it in a milk carton.
The dudes down on the bottom of the pod are getting hyped. They actually want to see two guys throwing feces on one another. They're placing bets on who'll come out of the ordeal the worst. Really, sickening stuff. Gods know I don't belong here.
As fate would have it, the next day Omar and Dee get the last yard cage available, meaning there was no room for me. Because all I was going to do was to try and talk him down. Then I figured--what if I couldn't? So now, Omar and I haven't spoken to one another in three days. What bothers me is that how a person could be so easily influenced? Omar and I have had long conversations at length about doing positive things to uplift ourselves while we were in the belly of the beast. Even planned on keeping in touch with one another after I get to the next plantation. I guess that should tell me, that I trust people too easily. That I shouldn't open myself up to people that quickly. Because his cellmate and I had a disagreement, he sided with him who he's known less than me? But not only that--he knows (as does everybody on the pod) that the move Dee pulled was lame. I guess that’s what bothers me most. Omar has asked me to write letters to his stepmother which he passed off as his own because they were having personal problems. I didn't mind because I felt I was helping a friend. I have to believe in the mantra that friends are not that easy to come by--especially in here.
The nature of the penitentiary is that the sheep get eaten by the wolves. I'm not a wolf; but neither am I a sheep--so I guess I'm in the middle. It is easy for me to straddle the fence. I'm not an aggressive bullying type and I'm not a weakling whom a bully can prey upon. This ordeal I'm going through, this test of the Supreme Being, all has a meaning. Nowadays, I'm kind and considerate of other people's feelings. I feel like I could go into any five star restaurant and ask the sommelier for a sparkling white Bordeaux, and in the same day be at a Phillies game with a chili-cheese hot dog in one hand, and a draft Budweiser in the other. That's the real me. But the wolves usually interpret the nice side of me, and others, as weakness, and I refuse to be a victim.
One thing for sure, and two things are for certain: Mwandishi will not be involved in any feces biological warfare! Knowing where I'm at, I‘ll never use that threatening countermeasure again! Somebody put me to the test and scared the shit out of me--literally. Called bluff--and I quickly reneged, fast and in a hurry. Next time someone else threatens to have a feces fisticuffs with me, I'll promptly reply: "Hey, you got it, man. I don't want no problems! I'm a player, not a Shit Slayer!"
I am resolved to ostracize myself from mediocrity from here on out.
Mwandishi Mitchell GB 6474
P.O. Box 1000
Houtzdale, PA 16698-1000