Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Shank Factory

By Gary Quinn

A guy here recently asked me about my experiences in prison as a gay man. He’s new to this unit and was doing some kind of research on certain programs. He wanted to know about the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), if it helped things. After I told him what I thought, he asked me if I would write some of what I said down. I’ve been locked up more than fifteen years and I’ve never written anything. I said that I wasn’t educated. But this guy told me that this didn’t matter, that truth wasn’t exclusive to people with degrees after their names. So I’m going to try here. I’m sorry if this isn’t better.

On my first day in prison they sent me to the Byrd Unit. I’d never been in prison before and I was scared. I was gay and I think we all know how things can be for gay men in prison. I met this Mexican man from California and he let me check out some contraband porno magazines. I didn’t really want to look at them but I thought I’d better pretend to like that stuff or I might get into trouble. When I was done with them, the guy told me to let my neighbor check them out. Well, this guy tore some pages out and then sent them back to the owner. Cali jammed me up over the missing pages. I told him I wouldn’t have done that. In order to “clear my name” I had to go with him to attack the other guy. I didn’t want to but Cali showed me a shank, so I didn’t feel I had any choice. I was like a zombie. I followed Cali into the cell, where he was already attacking the thief. He ordered me to grab the guy’s legs, so I sort of did this… I say “sort of” because he kept kicking and I never was able to get my weight on them. I remember the sound of Cali’s knife going into his stomach to this day. I couldn’t take it so I ran back to my cell. I guess Cali was content because he left with me. I sat in my cell, folded up in a ball, and listened to the silence next door. The guy eventually hit the wall and asked me to call the Laws. He said he was bleeding really bad. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to help him, but I knew if I did everyone would think I was a snitch. I knew the Law was going to count soon, so I said nothing. Within a few minutes an officer showed up and things got crazy. 

Of course the thief ratted us out, but he couldn’t identify me in a line-up. I thought I was going to be okay. Somehow during the investigation this lieutenant started messing with me. I’d stupidly told the lady at Sociology that I was a homosexual. This lieutenant got my file. He started telling everyone I was a “fag.” I don’t know why. It’s not like he cared about the victim because he’d already gone around telling everyone days before that the guy was “singing like a canary.” He was as good as putting a target on the dude’s back. I guess he just didn’t like gay people. 

Of course things got bad for me after that. When you shower at Byrd, you do so in a room full of other men. Well, I’m 5-foot tall and 120-pounds soaking wet at this point, and now everyone knows I’m gay. I could not shower in peace without someone trying to touch me all the time. I finally told one of the guards about it. He told me to “fuck or fight” and then walked away. I didn’t want to fight. I wasn’t a fighter at that point. So I just let them put their hands on me and pretended that I didn’t notice it. I finally got to talk to a sergeant about the problem. He sent me to classification again. Before they let me in the office, I heard the officer tell the official that I was “the one making all the noise.” The guy told me that they were going to ship me the next morning, that they had a place for people with big mouths. That ended up being the Connally Unit.

At the time, this was one of the ten most dangerous units in the system. Somehow everyone knew I was gay. I don’t know if there was something in my travel card, or if the guards told the inmates or what, but from the first day I was attacked. I didn’t know how to fight yet, so I was raped daily. I started getting passed around to the gangs. I was in shock, I couldn’t move sometimes. I started fighting back, mostly out of instinct, I think. I wasn’t good at it and the beatings continued. I showed up to church one day with two back eyes, a broken nose, and a shattered jaw. I told the preacher I needed help. I think he tried. The system, though, didn’t care. All they knew was I was now a repeat “complainer.” So they shipped me to the Allred Unit. At the time, this was referred to in the media as the “rape capital of the United States,” because it had more rapes reported than any other prison in the country. 

There’s a sound you hear at night in prison. It’s the grinding noise of someone sharpening a shank on the concrete. It’s unmistakable. Sometimes you hear this from all around you, and you know a riot’s about to go down. My neighbor made them for a hustle. He saw me come back from the shower one day. I was bleeding from an attack. He took pity on me and gave me a weapon. It was about eight inches long. I stared at it on my bed for a long time. I knew if I touched it, it was going to change me. I was so miserable, though, I wanted to be changed. I started sleeping with it under my homemade pillow. I slept so poorly in those years that any time a noise would come from outside the cell I would shoot out of bed with my blade in hand. I developed insomnia. The Laws there would open cell doors for groups of inmates to go beat people up. I know that probably doesn’t make sense to you. But it’s like this. Say some inmate says something ugly to a Law. The Law can’t do anything to him, not over words. But it’s not over. The Law knows he has to show he’s the boss. So he’s got certain inmates he looks after. And they look after him. They make sure he’s respected. Because if you fuck with him, you get the shanks of these seven other guys. Sometimes the Laws are ex-gang members from the streets. They’re in there to make money off of dope. This happens all the time. So when a Law shines his flashlight in your face at night, you get up, because you don’t know if it is really a security check or if they are about to bang on you.

If you complain, they show you why you should never open your mouth. I wrote a grievance on a lady once. She turned around and wrote a case on me for asking her to jack me off. When this was investigated I said I was gay. So she turned around and wrote me up for “being out of place” in the chow hall. Being out of place means you are somewhere you shouldn’t be, and this is a major offense. So I wrote her up for lying about the sexual gift offense. Her husband worked there. I didn’t know this. I learned later that he paid some Crips some cigarettes to beat me up. I had my blade, though. I messed up the first guy real bad. His blood was everywhere, a long trail of it from the dayroom to the shower. I had it all over me. The other two got me, though. I looked like I fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. Two black eyes, broken nose, several broken ribs. While the fight was happening, several guards witnessed from the other side of the chain-link partition. They were betting on how long I would last. They got rid of the shank, made it disappear. Because if they witnessed such an attack with a weapon and didn’t do anything about it, they would get in trouble. They simply said they never saw a weapon and never found a weapon, even though there were weapon wounds on multiple people. A real police agency would have noticed this in a second but the TDCJ polices itself. There are no shanks in the system, according to them.

The rapes didn’t stop. I had a cellie put a shank to my neck and tell me I had a choice: “shit on his dick, or shit on his blade.” It wasn’t a choice, really. He raped me and I was hurt real bad down there for weeks. I couldn’t run or hide from him, so I just gave in.

At my last unit a guy I’ll call “Ricky” claimed to own me. He was more than six-feet tall and 200-pounds. He would wait until I went to the shower and then corner me. What could I do? I tried to talk to the people at Medical. I then talked to the Office of the Inspector General. They could have run a rape kit on me at any point, but they didn’t. There are no rapes in the system. So they shipped me off again.

Ricky applied for a transfer and followed me. He started sending kites to my building, talking about how he was going to kill me. I told a SSI about Ricky and he told me that if I gave him sex he would get some of his fellow Bloods to get Ricky. They did, and they shipped Ricky to another unit. So now I’m this guy’s property. I got so sick of the constant violations that I lost my mind. I got a shank. I was going to stab him, maybe even kill him. I don’t know if I can kill a person, but you don’t really think about things like that when you are drowning in violence. But before I could get the SSI, another guy tried to rape me and I hit him in the head with my fan motor. This caused an investigation. I wrote to a private investigator in the outside world to tell him the truth of what had happened. The system was not happy about this and they tossed my cell and found the shank. Then they put me in admin-seg, where I sit today.

You need to understand that they claim that they move people around in order to find a safe place for them. That is a lie. They move you to places in an attempt to get you to shut up. They sent me to seg at Michael Unit. This is one of the most violent seg units in the entire state. All prison units have different types of jobs. One unit might make boxes, another uniforms. Some have slaughterhouses, like this one. But they don’t call Michael Unit “The Slaughterhouse.” They call it “The Shank Factory” because that’s what we produce the most of. Every single cell has pieces of the metal from the bunks cut out. Every one. 

They light fires here every day. The smoke is so thick that when you blow your nose the tissue turns black. You have to clean your fan blades every few days or they turn black and the motor stops working. We’re all going to die of lung cancer. They never installed the intake vents or the blower vents, even though the cells have a space cut out of the metal wall for them. It’s just an empty hole, so the smoke has nowhere to go. The roaches are so bad that you can’t eat without slapping a few of them away. It’s all a weird circle. The Laws are lazy, we are always understaffed. So people don’t get to rec or shower but once a week. Then they might leave you in the shower, in water so hot it’s almost steam, for two hours. People get mad. They assault a guard and the guards get back at everyone by denying more rec. Mostly they try to get the inmates to fight each other. They know these doors can be rigged. It’s almost a weekly thing where someone will come out of their cell and attack someone that is coming back to their cell from somewhere. As long as the guard doesn’t get hurt, they don’t report it. So there are no assaults at Michael. They also figured out that if they don’t use the fire extinguisher they don’t have to report the fires. Now they just use buckets of water. So there are no fires here at Michael either.

The guy that told me about this site keeps telling me that I have to figure out how to make you care about these things. I don’t know how to do that. I don’t think anyone cares. I believe in God but all the Christian stations on the radio here talk about “the homosexual agenda” and about how gays are going to Hell. I read stories about criminals and I don’t understand how the people that write about them don’t understand that repeat offenders commit new crimes because of their time in prison. I wasn’t violent before I came here. I guess I am now. That is hard to say. I don’t consider myself a violent person. But I’ve done violence to survive. I’m condemned for this. But I didn’t choose to be raped. Others chose that for me. And I doubt there are many people out there that would condemn a person in the world for resorting to violence if they were going to get raped.

I don’t know how to make you care. I’ve seen men kill themselves over this place. I was in “Safekeeping” for a while. It’s a place for people that have been sexually assaulted. Except the rapists figured out that there’s a bunch of vulnerable people in Safekeeping, so they pretended to be victims so they could get back there with us. Safekeeping is now easily the most violent place in any prison that has it. A friend of mine got raped there and hung himself from three-row. When the guard saw him hanging, he actually sprayed him with mace at first. But it didn’t matter, his neck was broken. How do you make someone care about that?

I guess all I can say is that people get out. They live in this war zone and then they go home. And then you are going to have to deal with them. If this place wasn’t so evil then maybe when you meet these people you would have a normal conversation and go about your way. But because you didn’t care that they were turned into monsters, a monster is now what you have to deal with. And maybe you deserve that. I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I don’t know you. But I think most everyone out there knows how bad things are in prison. I’m willing to bet none of you have ever done anything about it. I think that means you own the problem. 

I guess the costs are yours to pay for, too. I mean the money costs. When the guards don’t let us rec, we get unhealthy. The food is always unhealthy. Then the smoke. There’s medical costs to pay for all of that. We get staph infections from the filthiness of this place. You pay for that. The AC doesn’t work here so people get wheeled out to medical with heatstroke every day. You pay for that. I don’t know what a trip to the hospital costs, but it’s thousands of dollars. I haven’t even mentioned the guards. Do you actually think that a person can sit and drink a Coke while two prisoners stab each other and not take some of that home with them? I wouldn’t want to live anywhere around a prison. Not because of the risk of the inmates, because of the idea that I might live next to a guard. They are all criminals, you just don’t see it because of the uniform. This place is full of prisoners that were former officers. There are so many of them they aren’t even attacked anymore. If you don’t care about these things, I don’t know how to make you. If you don’t, I think you are broken in a way that makes me not want to live around you, too, once I get out.

Because I will get out. I met a man that I love. I’ll call her Paloma. She prefers to go by feminine pronouns, so that’s how I refer to her. We met here. She’s at a different unit now, but when she gets out soon I have a home waiting for her. She was molested by her uncle. I know what that is like, because I dealt with some of that too when I was young. My mom was a drug addict and prostitute. So I understand Paloma. We found safety in each other. I don’t know what people think about such relationships out there. All I know is I’ve gone to war to protect her. I doubt many people out there can say that about their significant others. And I do mean war. I mean that in every sense of the word. We’ve protected each other from real monsters. In a place where we are hated, we found something decent and good. And I know that my feelings for her mean that prison hasn’t completely ruined me. I know that inside I’m still a good person. I don’t like some of what I’ve had to do but it hasn’t destroyed me. I’ll get out and Paloma and I will go somewhere and make a life. We don’t have any money but we’ve been indigent for years and have made it work so we’ll be okay. If there’s one thing I worry about when I think about that future it’s you, the public. I worry because I don’t know how to make you care. I don’t know if you have the ability left in you. I want to return to humanity but I’m starting to think that maybe humanity’s dead. You just haven’t realized it yet. Am I wrong?

Gary Quinn 01197686
Michael Unit
2664 FM 2054
Tennessee Colony, TX 75886

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Coat

A Story by Anthony Engles

“Where´s my fucking coat, asshole?

Ah, there it was.  Jeremy had just stepped through the door and I knew I only had to wait a few seconds to her those exact words. This was how Butch had greeted him every night for a solid week now when Jeremy got back from work.  The only difference seemed to be a slight escalation in intensity – as though Butch knew the passage of each day made it less likely that we would see the coat every again.  With this escalation came a swell of low-level tension that grew and expanded until the small space where we lived was an eight by twelve pressure cooker.  And Jeremy´s smart-ass responses did nothing to smooth things over.

“Oh, hold on”, he said, “let me pull my pants down and I´ll pull it out of my ass for you.  Here, just a second…”

And then he would actually pull his pants down and pretend to be digging the coat out of his rectum.  It was funny the first couple of times and had great shock value, but now I just sighed and looked away.  I was surprised Butch never attacked Jeremy and took him down when he was in such a compromised position; Jeremy was a big strapping dude—6´3” at least and 230 pounds, maybe.  I´m quite sure this would have been Butch´s best move.

I was sitting with my back to the bars while all this was going on.  Jeremy did not have the coat but what he did have was a strong stench of rancid grease and rotting vegetables that clung to him like an invisible suit of miasmic funk.  Pots and pans was the best job to have in the kitchen if you liked to eat and didn´t mind hot, sweaty work.  This was the funnel point of all extra food –hard-boiled eggs, hamburger patties, powdered milk—all essential if you were trying to put some size on the weight deck.  The major downside was the smell, though.  Jeremy dragging this into the cell with him was not conducive to helping create a more relaxed environment in an already simmering stew pot ready to boil over.

The rest of the cellblock was bedlam, as usual.  Dominos slammed on wooden locker boxes, the loud drack reverberating off concrete walls.  Screams of pain and shouts of anger interspersed with loud farts and raucous laughter seemed to ring off the massive wall of steel cages.  Five or six radios competed with each other – an up-tempo Mexican tune was blasting trumpets and accordions juxtaposed with the heavy bass of self-adulating lyrics of a rap song.  Somewhere in the middle of it all, Tommy Araya from Slayer struggled to be heard, his demonic shrieks all but lost in the pandemonium.

I looked at Jeremy´s empty hands; had he brought the stupid coat that was getting everybody all riled up, I would have snatched it from his hands and kissed both lapels before gently placing it in Butch´s hands to end the matter once and for all.  Only its return would extinguish the fuse that burned closer and closer to the powder keg.

Said coat belonged to Butch who had loaned it to Jeremy.  Jeremy had no coat of his own because someone had swiped it off the rack in front of his GED class.  So Jeremy had hung up Butch´s borrowed coat in the same place the next day and—you guessed it—that one got jacked too.  This happened a week ago.  It was early spring in Walla Walla so the air still had a bite to it, especially in the morning.  The coat was state-issued and easily replaced, but honor was not; this clearly fell within the boundaries of the Convict Code, and in order to save face, Jeremy had to make every effort humanly possible to not only find out who had stolen the coat but retrieve it at any cost.  This in itself would seem an exercise in absurdity if one were to consider the condition of this hideous garment; the coat was the color of a russet potato just pulled out of the ground and just as dirty.  It smelled like a locker room at the Eagles Club that had been used as a break area by chain-smoking bikers.  The holes in the pockets were so big that if you tried to smuggle an orange or apple back from chow hall at lunch, come 3 o´clock you would wish you had eaten it while you had it in your hand.

When Jeremy came in that evening, I was absently watching the TV up on the stand in the back of the cell, above the toilet.  The Simpsons, I think. I had only been in the penitentiary for a few months and I was struggling to acclimate to this new environment where the words and actions of every person was amplified and intensified.  Everything and everyone was heavily scrutinized and the personal status of each individual seemed to be in a constant state of flux. And here was a textbook example of this drama unfolding in front of me, two dudes squared off, neither one willing to back down even slightly for fear of losing a sliver of face, all over this piece of shit coat.  But like I said, I just got here.  I was still blindly groping around for a toehold so I could anchor myself to this new reality, and I wasn’t familiar enough with the rules to know when it was appropriate to voice my opinion as opposed to just minding my own business – or established enough as an elder statesman to be able to tell them both to sit the fuck down and knock this shit off. So my role was to just sit back and let things play out.  Still, we were at the threshold of resolution, it was in the air; every molecule of free space between the two was pregnant with violent intent.

Butch was sitting at the desk in the back of the cell drawing up a tattoo pattern or something.  He was watching Jeremy make a mockery of the situation, having just pulled up his pants after not getting the laugh he had hoped for, and I could see the wheels turning.  Finally, he nodded then laid the pencil down with slow deliberation.  He stood up and turned to face Jeremy who was still eight feet away, up by the front of the cell.  Butch had his shirt off and his arms hung in ape-like at his sides.  He was shorter than. Jeremy but outweighed him by 30 pounds. He was also 15 years older and had a lot more practical experience in this particular arena – as in potential violent prison conflict.  I had seen Butch fight a couple of times, and besides having a devastating left hook in his arsenal, his ability to withstand punishment was impressive.  He just refused to give up, even.  He preferred a torn tendon rather than tap when a cellie had him in an arm bar, I once heard.  His face was a road map of scars and half his teeth were gone from not only fists but also police Maglites, prison guard batons and once even the heel of a shoe thrown by a pissed off ex-wife, so the story went. Jeremy was big and tough too, but I didn´t see him being able to go the distance that Butch would surely take him.  Jeremy would probably have to kill him to beat him.

After a protracted silence, Butch finally spoke.

“Okay, I get it,” he said, “I see what´s going here.  Now I understand everything.”

Jeremy sighed, weary.

“Here we go,” he said, “Let´s hear it. Let´s hear your latest big coat conspiracy theory.”

Butch took a step sideways to position himself in the middle of the cell between desks and just in front of the stainless steel sink and toilet.

“You haven´t found the coat because you ain´t been looking for it,” he said, “You ain´t been looking for it because you´ll have to go head-up with someone in order to get it back.”

Jeremy took a step forward.  He lowered his chin and his eyes glowed like cigar embers.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“It ain´t supposed to mean anything.  I just said it like it is.  You´re scared.  A fucking Charmin-soft pussy.  Don´t worry, though, daddy will go and get his coat back and everything will be all better.”

I had been rolling a cigarette and now it hung suspended in front of my mouth, my tongue sticking out to lick the delicate paper and this is how I froze.  Here it comes, I thought, this isn´t just the usual hateful banter.  Jeremy would not abide this insult without being labeled a full-on coward.  Word would spread like a prairie fire and he would be shunned and ostracized by anyone who mattered.  I didn´t even get a chance to finish rolling my cigarette before shit hit the fan.

Jeremy charged like a bison, knocking the tobacco out of my hand and upsetting our expedient locker-box coffee table with a crash, cups, ashtrays, and all kinds of shit clattering to the floor.  When Jeremy connected with Butch, the fleshy collision vibrated up through my feet from the concrete.  The two grappled for a minute and I caught a glimpse of Butch´s face, crimson with rage and his eyes bulged to the point of bursting.  Both of them struggled to establish an immediate advantage until one of them lost his footing –Butch, I think – and down they went.  Five hundred pounds of punching and clawing man hit the floor, the concrete room shuddering with the impact.  The steel bed frames, sink and toilet rang with an eerie high-pitched hum each time they were struck with a stray boot, fist, or occasional skull.  My cellmates fought like wild beasts locked in a ferocious battle to the death.

My heart was pounding and my mouth had dried up, but I suddenly remembered my role; I grabbed a cassette case off the floor and used it a mirror to check the tier for guards.  So far, all clear.  An inmate walked by and didn´t so much as glance in the cell or show any indication that there was a death match taking place.  I kept watch until the brutal sounds of the fight ceased.  When I looked back to determine the outcome, my heart sank.  This was something I hoped I would never have to see – much les do – during my 30 year sentence, but here it was, and I wasn´t even a year down.  Butch and Jeremy were in the back of the cell, in front of the sink and toilet.  Jeremy was on his hands and knees, wobbling back and forth like an extremely sick drunk person, his head hanging in defeat.  Butch stood over him, his bare chest heaving and sweating.  In his right hand he held two pencils taped together, his knuckles white from holding them so tightly.  Butch glanced over at me, maybe to make sure I was watching, then went to work.

Butch brought his arms high in the air, pencil tips protruding from the bottom of his fist, then down violently with deadly purpose and accuracy.  He truck several times like the sting of a scorpion where Jeremy´s liver would be.  A deep red stain spread quickly on his T-shirt, as fresh blood poured freely from the wounds.  I opened my mouth to speak, to protest – anything – but nothing came out.  I was stunned to paralysis.  I felt like I was in an already bad dream that turned into a horrible nightmare.

Jeremy managed to slowly crawl the three feet to the lower bunk – Butch´s bunk – and sat down.  His quivering hands covered the heavily bleeding area at his lower right flank while he looked at Butch with complete shock and disbelief.  I thought he was going to cry, but not because of the pain or fear of death; betrayal was written all over his face.

“You stuck me?” he said, “I can´t believe you stuck me.”

“Yeah, well, fuck with the bull, you get the horns motherfucker”

They both looked over at me as if they had suddenly realized I had been practically in the middle of a bloody fray.  I was still standing there with my mouth open, holding on to a wrinkled cigarette paper with my hand shaking.  Butch looked at Jeremy then back at me.  I was missing something.  Then I watched as both of their faces transformed.  First, traces of smirks appeared, then became half smiles which slowly turned into full-fledged grins.  I couldn´t understand anything.  Jeremy was bleeding to death while they both stared at me like it was all they could do to not burst out laughing.  They looked at each other again as if to synchronize some pre-arranged cue then said in unison:
“April fools, motherfucker!”

Jeremy lifted his shirt.  Taped to his side was elaborate blood bag they had created using latex gloves.  They told me Jeremy jacked the corn syrup and red food coloring from the bakery.  An ingenious system that implemented thread and tape used the action of the shirt being pulled away from Jeremy´s body to let the “blood” flow copiously at the precise moment.  I know that had he been there to witness the gruesome spectacle, Francis Ford Coppola would have certainly given a somber nod of approval.

While Butch and Jeremy had their laugh, I went through a host of emotions as I replayed all the conversations and coat-related events of the past week.  Finally, a feeling of overwhelming relief washed over me and I chuckled weakly.  I suddenly felt very tired.  Then something hit me.

“Yeah, but what about the coat?” I asked Butch.

At first, the both stared at me, confused.  After a moment, though, Butch nodded and grinned, exposing several vacancies.

“Oh yeah, the coat.”

He reached under his bunk and pulled out a bundle.  Folded neatly and wrapped with a string, laundry slip still attached, was the coat.

“I had to send it in to get it washed,” Butch said, “It was starting to smell like a dead goat.”

Anthony Engles 832039
Coyote Ridge Corrections Center
P.O. Box 769
Connell, WA 99326

View Anthony's artwork here

My name is Anthony Scott Engles, born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1965.  After a brief stint in the Navy, I pretty much roamed around the country, waiting tables and bartending.  I settled in Spokane in 1994, then got pretty heavy into survivalism and related activities.  I got in a shoot out with Stevens County Deputies in 2003 and wounded one of them.  I’m serving a 30-year sentence in Washington State, where I have done the majority of my writing.  I have one short story published and several unpublished short stories and poems.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Hairy Consequences

A Story by Terry Daniel McDonald

The long hairs sticking out from inside my nose were a new development, which I initially missed. My wall mirror at the time was like any other here – polished steel, often scratched, typically blurred and warped. I could shave, covering large areas, but fine detail-work was trickier. That is how I never noticed the boar-tusk like hairs sweeping out…

Until I borrowed a friend's hand mirror.

"What the hell?" I muttered aloud, annoyed. Patches of hair kept cropping up on my ears, requiring razor action. My eyebrows were prone to grow at an alarming rate, producing strands like spikes that seemed to have minds of their own. Now the nose?

When your hair is disrespectful, what do you do?

I leaned in to inspect what was growing out of my nose. Wondering how they got in there, much like I struggled to understand why I kept having out­growths of hair in strange places. But I shouldn't have been surprised. Why?

Because the Pooka usually made an appearance, as if… 

The what, you ask?

Yeah, I know, it is a strange word to describe a spiritual pain in the ass. One I brought upon myself. Another impulsive decision that has led to crazy consequences.

Like having to endure the annoying Pooka sitting near my door, facing away, with its head partially turned, giving me side-eye. I glared at it, but it was unaffected, keeping a disrespectful gleam in its eyes. Its smirk seemed to imply, "You're an idiot" – which is probably true. I'm not sure it likes me, though. Tolerates me? Yes, because it keeps coming back. Partly because I don't think it has a choice.

I have cause to wonder if it is simply waiting for me to kick the bucket. As much as I think it craves to be free of me, it does seem to be particularly pleased when I have "hairy" problems.

The most excited I ever saw the Pooka was the time I woke up, expecting a hairless chest, only to have my eyeballs nearly pop out as they ogled the hair ringing each nipple. It might've been hilarious, had I not been confused. How can inch-long hair sprout like a bush in a perfect ring around each nipple overnight? And why did the hair only grow there?!

As you can see, the nose-tusks were far from being the most shocking.

And this all started with the Pooka.

Okay, stop scowling at the page and I'll explain! They say patience is a virtue, but whatever. A Pooka is a faery. How do you expect me to finish the story if you keep rolling your eyes? I can hardly blame you for doubting, but still. It might be a stretch of the imagination to believe faeries or other fantastical creatures exist, right? Maybe so.
 Hard to have faith in something without substance? I understand.

To be honest, I shared your belief early on. Oh, the stories were amusing, even interesting, but what was the likelihood that a man passed into a faery realm, gone but a day by his reckoning, only to return and find nine-hundred years had passed? Or how probable is it that faery spirits really flit about, helping or being a nuisance? Doesn't it make more sense for those stories to be byproducts of superstitions?

A convenient excuse in the face of the unexplainable?

But what if the stories could be true? Yeah, yeah, your skepticism is noted. Seriously, though, people believe in angels, demons, ghosts, and other spiritual manifestations! So, why not faeries?

Why not a Pooka?

* * *

When you've been an idiot in life (even if quality reasoning exists), landing in jail, stripped away from every connection to the natural world and loved ones, loneliness creeps in. And, like a virus, it begins to take over thoughts, moods, and actions. I felt as if the walls were slowly closing in: a constant threat to fall and crush me. My spirit was beaten down into a well of hopelessness.

As an escape from that despondency, I read.

Each book sent me on a wild journey of discovery, exploring myriad religions, philosophies, and esoteric concepts that have intrigued mystics for ages. I was not after the Philosopher’s Stone or the magical formula to turn iron into gold. Truthfully, I didn't know what I was looking for: I just let my bleary eyes read on; wondering if anything could ever truly help me.

In Jewish mysticism, in the Kabbalah, I read about the Golem. A clay construct rose as a defender. But I didn't need a bodyguard. Egypt's The Book of the Dead, was definitely a key to the Otherworld, but it only encouraged me to leave the dead alone. Mummies were far more terrifying than beneficial, or so I believed. Much like Tengrism's love for the sky was too abstract. I couldn't interact with birds, anyhow. Nor was I down to maintain Zoroaster's eternal flame. I could appreciate the cosmic struggle for balance, but again, not understanding my role deterred my interest.

Then I considered Voodoo, which gave me pause, but it turned out to be too macabre for my needs (and we won't even discuss summoning demons).

Which left what? I did not know. Most belief systems bled together in my mind; some gaining favor, as others lost it with time. But then I stumbled upon Celticism and was enthralled. The stories were definitely part of it. Interactions with faeries: all the myths and legends. I read about druids and dryads and exploits of great warriors and gods leading up to the time of great Roman destruction.

Eventually I stumbled upon what a Pooka was, or what it could be.

Supposedly a friendlier being in the faery realm, a Pooka (phouka or púca), I read, was sometimes a mischievous trickster but also helpful and well-disposed to mortals. To my desperate mind, that description seemed like a magical-potion life-line capable of assisting me while in jail. I lacked physical and mental strength. My hope was for instant gratification and growth, not the transformation that comes from long hours and hard work.

I should've known better, hmm? But, at that point in time, I would've done just about anything for a companion and the books on Celticism gave life to that idea.

R.J. Stewart described faeries as "People of Light" in his book, The Living World of Faery. Sirona Knight, in Celtic Traditions, explained how faeries are divided into two large groups: "Those belonging to a faery race or nation living in the faery realms in an organized society of their own ... and individual faeries associated with a place, or occupation, or household…”

Then she wrote about how faeries "often mingle in the affairs of mortals": giving me hope. So, when I read that a Pooka might be found, or one could be created...

Wait, what?

I could create my own little faery companion? All I needed to do was perform a little ceremony to focus and shape energy?

Sign me up!

* * *

Soon it will be Samhain again. As kids dress up in costumes, and masked balls, haunted houses, and other festivities play out around the world, I will sit here cringing at the prospect of the veil between this world and the Otherworld being at its thinnest.

My Pooka, of course, is already in rare form; especially haughty now, it sits rigidly, seeming larger and more intimidating than a companion should be. With each glance, the Pooka's eyes flash, as if in warning. I think it believes that it has control over my destiny. 

Perhaps hard to imagine, but you don't know where the little pain in the ass faery has dragged me. There have been lucid dreams in the past, where ghostly whispers entwined with inexplicable visions that I know I can't talk about. Other physical changes have taken place, surely with an end goal, but I'm not sure what. I just can't figure out the Pooka's intentions.

Well, besides working to drive me insane!

Wait… is it turning? Standing? Moving?! Ohh...

Sorry, I had to stop writing because the Pooka suddenly appeared beside me with a stern look, no doubt reading the text. The shock of its closeness was one thing. It had never done that before. But then to learn that it can actually read…? My hands were sweating as it seemed to weigh and judge my comments, before blinking out again. That was some five hours ago.

I am still trying to understand what happened and why, but at least it did not pull me into its realm. I was only able to determine that I wasn't locked in a dream by watching the Pooka's swishing tail. In the faery realm, the Pooka has a distinctive switching sound as the hairs on the tip of its tail slap at the air. Or whatever they call it over there.

Now it is late at night, very quiet and still. The lights are dim. Clouds slip across the sky, shading the moon, which is just visible through my small window. Maybe that is why the Pooka is resting. It tends to stay away when the moon is obscured. At any rate, it is probably best to discuss things that won't agitate it. Maybe how I created the Pooka is a safe topic? 

How I likely screwed up the process…

* * *

As I considered where I would put my altar, and what items I could use as "magical tools”, warnings bounced around in my head. "Don't ever fool yourself into thinking you are its master," Ms. Knight wrote. That was easy to discount at the time, because I was seeking a companion, a helper. Perhaps, even a friend? When she stated, "Your Pooka reflects or mirrors you in many ways," this gave me pause, making me doubt my intentions. I mean, I knew I had faults! Many of which I sought to avoid or escape. If the Pooka inherited them, would it actually be what I desired?

I didn't really sit down and think about how the Pooka might evolve and develop a unique personality. My aim was singular and admittedly selfish. Surely if the Pooka would "reflect my abilities" I should be able to focus the best of them into the creative process, right?

All I really considered about the Pooka was what I wanted it to be, how it would live, and what I wanted it to do. I made a list.

Pooka Creation


Food?..........Etheric energy.

Tasks?..........Help me with mental and physical strength.  Protect me from negative energies. Help me with relationships. Help me attract resources to get out of jail.

Form?..........A wolf, like a cooshie (a large, silver-furred elfin hound) with heightened senses of magical, spiritual and physical presences. Ability to heal sick, calm a troubled heart.

Home?..........Now, temporary in a wooden cross, but able to move freely when resting. Summoned by name into a new temporary home on my person, when needed.

Ms. Knight solved my indecisiveness over where to place my altar: "Many things are used from tables, desks, and chairs…" So, why not the slab of concrete (which was a three-foot tall, roughly three-foot wide section in the back of my cell) that my mattress laid on? It would be easy to use one side and even hide my wok from prying eyes, if needed.

For an altar cloth, I settled on a folded-up sheet: roughly two-foot square. “Magical tools” were trickier. For my bowl, I had to go to commissary, order some noodles, and keep the Styrofoam cup they came in. My wand (assuming I needed one) would be a pencil, but I had to do some last-minute trading to make sure I had a new one. For a sword, I'd simply use a new pen (because "the pen is mightier than the sword" right?). If I needed an athame (ritual dagger), I would use the same pen – imagining which one I held. The chalice and wine cup were easier to come by because they passed out small Styrofoam cups regularly. One I left blank – the chalice. The other – the wine cup- I added the Ogham rune for heather on the rim (symbolizing the divine love of the Goddess and God).

I wanted to hold the ceremony on Samhain (Halloween) at midnight. It seemed like that wouldn’t be a problem because I secured everything I needed with a month to spare. All that remained was to prepare my altar cloth with runic markings, and to make sure I didn’t lose it (2006 was a transition year for me, as I was moved several times and still subject to interviews). But everything worked out quite well. 

A week out, I decided to draw the pentagram. Then I placed the folded sheet over it. Using a finely sharpened, but older pencil, I began applying runes. My back wall was south, so the corners closest to me ended up with the rune for the Reed tree. Ngetal, the word I wrote under the runes, would offer healing ability, spiritual awareness/perception, flexibility, and durability to my Pooka. The corners closest to the wall received the rune for the Blackthorn tree. Straif, the word I wrote under these would give cleansing, healing, death (of self), and piercing self-reflection. 

The right side, or west, was the god side: I chose Dagda and Borvo. Near the northern runes, I drew Dagda's magical sword and chalice for his wisdom, prosperity, abundance, and knowledge. Borvo’s sun disc and harp were drawn closer to the southern runes for his healing of unseen and concealed truths, and inspiration through dreams.

The two goddesses I added to the left, or east, were Sirona (partly because the author I followed shared her name), and Dana (the Mother Goddess). Not knowing their symbols, I simply wrote their names. Dana to the north, for her wisdom and the power of creation. Sirona to the south, for her link to the astral plane, the etheric energy my Pooka would need (plus, she was linked to the Sun, which would rise in the east).

As the week leading up to Samhain passed, I found myself growing more anxious, nervous. But I also became possessed with a fervent desire to succeed. I felt strange, full of emotion, until that final day when I woke up feeling preternaturally calm.

Evidently the stars had aligned, because the day went smoothly. At group recreation in the morning, we played handball and I won. The shower afterward seemed more refreshing, cleansing, and relaxing. Most of the guys on my pod were in a good mood for a change. Even the food "hit the spot." I saved the purple-colored juice to act as "wine." 

After That ‘70s Show and George Lopez they began showing movies. Hocus Pocus was followed by Edward Scissorhands, which reminded me of better days at home with my family. Was that an omen that I would soon rejoin them? When they announced a third movie, Movie Time, Movie Time, I turned away and began setting up my altar, folding my mattress back to reveal the sheet. All the drawn runes remained.

Grabbing the masculine ritual tools, the athame/sword (my pen) – I didn't have an incense burner – I placed them on the right side of the altar cloth. My chalice (a Styrofoam cup) with water in it, bowl (a noodle container), and cauldron (a last-minute addition of an empty cereal bowl) – the nurturing tools – were placed on the left side.

Estimating time was tricky because I didn't have a clock. The TV was turned off at 10 P.M., providing the point from where I began to count internally. When I figured two hours had passed, nearing the midnight mark, I took off my sweater, donning the other sheet as a robe.

Please don't laugh. It might seem silly to you, but what else was I supposed to use? I couldn't just walk to a community magic shop and grab what I needed. Besides, the cells were cold. Sheet-wrapping was fairly common practice, so I didn't stand out.

I picked up my pen, imagining it to be a sword. Not too ornate; a weapon of war, well-honed and in good condition. My robe became a deep green, hooded affair in my mind. The cell became a grove of trees, with my altar on a large stone in the center. The Styrofoam became baked clay. The cauldron became iron. I even had candles there, red ones burning on the gods side, green ones for the goddesses on the left. With reverence, I poured water from my transformed – now golden – chalice into the bowl, to mix with the salt. I then picked up a sprig of greenery, dipped it into the salt water, and sprinkled it about my altar in a clockwise fashion. 

My words were meaningful, but little more than a whisper in the cell-like grove: "Be gone from here all evil and foulness and darkness. Be gone from this place in Our Lady's Name!" I imagined a white light edged in cobalt blue clearing the area. I repeated those phrases two more times. Then I cast the sprig aside, and placed the wooden cross in the cauldron. 

The sword I held (already consecrated with water at sunrise) glowed with a pale light in my mind. Facing north, I visualized a bright blue-white flame shooting from the tip of it as I spun clockwise, creating a protected circle around me. Taking up another sprig, I dipped it in the salt water, faced north and chanted, "Ayea, Ayea, Dagda! Ayea, Ayea, Borvo! Ayea, Ayea, Dana! Ayea, Ayea, Sirona! Ayea, Ayea, Ayea!"

To the east, south, and west, I sprinkled more water and repeated the chant. Then I faced my altar and said, "Blessed be! Blessed be the Gods! Blessed be those who are gathered here."

That is when a toilet flushed. I cringed, just knowing a foul stench would creep into my cell soon. Re-centering my mind, I continued: "I consecrate this circle of power to the ancient goddesses and gods. May they…” 

A door slammed.

The guard was making rounds. Bah! I paced, shuffling toward the door and back. Light flashed into my darkened cell, paused, but passed on. I returned to my altar, gritting my teeth.

"I consecrate this…” 

Another flush.

I looked at the ceiling, waited. No other sounds came, so I tried again.

This, of course, is when the aromatic surprise seeped into my awareness. 
"I consecrate this circle of power," I whispered, breathing slowly, using my mouth, "to the ancient goddesses and gods. May they bless this circle with their presence and love.”

Through with that, I knocked on my altar with my hand, in three series of three.

After a quick break, I stuffed toilet paper in my nose. I began calling in the watchtowers, the wards, switching out my pen-sword for the bowl of salt water. I sprinkled salt water to the north, set the bowl down, and picked up my pen again, now imagining it as an athame – a silver-handled dagger with dull edges.

I lifted both arms and said, "Oh, great and mighty one, ruler of the North March, come, I pray you. Protect the gate of the North Ward. Come, I summon you!"

In similar fashion I summoned the rulers to protect the Eastern, Southern, and Western Wards. For the East Ward, I used the imaginary incense burner, waving it back and forth three times. A white candle served for the South Ward. And the chalice, sprinkling nine drops of water, secured the West Ward.

Only holding my athame, I centered myself and chanted, "Dagda, Borvo, Dagda, Borvo, Dana, Sirona, Dana, Sirona, Ayea, Ayea, Ayea!"

I kept calling their names, swaying as I sought to direct the power and energy into the cauldron to the wooden cross.

Then I laid my pen down and began to draw in unmanifest energy, slowly shaping it with my hands. My eyes were closed, as I sought to concentrate deeply on what I wanted the energy to become: a silver wolf.

Then another door banged, I could hear footsteps. I just kept standing there, shoulders hunched, but my train of thought flitted about. I wanted to imagine a wolf, with silver fur, but for some stupid reason I remembered a girl I knew, Tiffany. She had a great body and always wore low-cut tops. Attention grabbers, for sure. But every time I was around her, she had her ugly ass dog laying on them. It was a medium-sized, mostly bald chihuahua, with grayish color, pink-spotted skin. Wrinkles creased its eyes. Tufts of hair sprouted from its head, around its ears, on its feet, and on the tip of its tail.

Long ass whiskers always twitched as it looked around, especially at me with an expression that seemed to say, "look what I got!" Lucky, ugly bastard.

Then as the footsteps paused behind me, while light flashed into my cell, I noticed the energy in my hand take the shape of that dog!

No! I wanted to scream. I tried to pull the energy back – it was lifting from my hands, beginning to float toward the cauldron.

"Come back!" I hissed. The footsteps had receded. "No... No-no-no!"

But it was too late. The energy was now manifest... as a bald, light gray-skinned chihuahua, with slightly darker spots and silver tufts of hair in the strangest places. Just before it dipped into the cauldron (which was pulsing with a blue-white light), Tiffany's voice rippled through the halls of my mind, "Poofy, good boy!"

* * *

Two days later, I woke up with hairy nipples. And that was the first time I saw Poofy, the asshole faery that has been doing its very best... to live up to what I wanted?

Hair has appeared on my hands, feet, lower back, and even my ears. Almost immediately, the hair on my head began to thin, as if it was migrating south, being redirected by another's will. 

When I pointed out these occurrences to Poofy, I was met with side-eye, and that "you're an idiot" smirk. He had certainly developed an individual personality.

Now, twelve years later, I just feel different. I've had to summon Poofy into a new amulet, another wooden cross, because the other one didn't survive my transfer to this unit. The urge to escape back in 2010 was likely his doing, if I am being honest with myself. Why else would I have been willing to sacrifice ongoing appeals... to escape? Idiocy. Wait...

Poofy is smirking at me again. 

So, we are waiting for Samhain. I just know he has something "special" planned for me. Maybe it’s another "vision", or worse, a transformation? I have been having strange urges lately. As the moon cycles pass, I am drawn to them, watching, longing. Poofy suffers from the same attraction, as if he draws strength from the silvery light.
Once he crouched and seemed to raise his head in a silent howl. I seriously thought about joining him, but an annoying bout of itching drew my attention away.

More hair. I don't want it. It is a consequence I could live without. One I have no choice but to accept, though. 

* * *

Today is Samhain. I looked in the mirror and the shock was complete. I was reminded of the movie Teen Wolf.

"Is that what I'm to become?" A full moon was spilling light into the cell.

Poofy loves his side-eye, but Poofy isn't a chihuahua anymore…

He's me.

Terry Daniel McDonald 01497519 (in white, pictured with his father)
Michael Unit
2664 FM 2054
Tennessee Colony, TX 75886