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


TheBlackWidow said...

There are many people out here who do care. It just doesn't seem that way when change is so slow or stalls. I'm very sorry.

Unknown said...

You write very well.

urban ranger said...

"I’ll get out and Paloma and I will go somewhere and make a life. "
~ ~ ~ ~
Hoping that comes true for you, Gary.
I wish you all the best.

Lindsey said...

It's not that we don't care, we just don't really know wtf to do about it.

Bridgeofsighs said...

That's a shocking story Gary. Hope you write some more and things improve for you. We live in a society where people are seen as objects and it's even worse if you are a prisoner.