When I first came to prison, I went to a level 1 (the level one side of the prison I’m at now). Level 1 is wide open. The housing units are called cubes because it’s just a pole barn with drywall forming cubes of four bunk beds, or eight guys. Each person gets a locker for their personal belongings. A stand-up locker like from high school. There are usually 160 guys per unit, and eight units per facility. The unit opens for movement at about 6 am and doesn’t close until midnight. The front and back yards are open all day.

Even though it was only ten years ago the whole dynamic of jailin’ was completely different. Prison back then was tougher than it is now. With it being so open you were always vulnerable. There was no place you were safe if someone really wanted to get you –  whether it be to hurt you, rob you, get your personal information from your paperwork (to extort you), or make you do something for them like take a hit and to make someone get off the yard. You had to maintain a constant state of being consciously engaged and aware. I learned quickly how to read body language, how to pay attention to every little detail about everyone, and how to look for any signs of anything being off to the point that it became instinctual.

One thing that was unique about prison ten years ago was that they allowed guys with two years flat in prison. If you got charged with felony firearm it’s two years period. No minimum or maximum. No seeing the parole board so they could do whatever they wanted.  No possibility of doing any more time. Basically, no incentive to have good behavior. These days, now they make guys with two flat do it in select county jails.

They were a lot of young guys who were doing prison time for the first time and didn’t care about learning anything or even bettering themselves. They were out in the streets wild and came in here acting the same way. They would rob anybody, fight anybody and do whatever they wanted. There was no holding them accountable because they didn’t have anything to lose. It made things wild and that’s without taking into consideration the ignorant slimeball mentality of a lot of the prisoners in general. There weren’t any cameras in the units either, so it allowed us to handle our own situations which is the way it’s supposed to be.

We were supposed to be left to govern our own, because we understood ourselves better than the CO’s ever would, because they haven’t walked in our shoes. It’s unfortunate but it’s now considered an “old school” mentality. You were supposed to have a sense of community, a sense of honor and self-respect. The older guys were supposed to help teach the younger generations and add some structure and discipline to their lives. When you have someone who’s been down for a while, who’s been standing up for themselves in a respectable way, who’s been there and done that it makes younger guys just coming in be more receptive to the knowledge that they’re trying to pass down.

It isn’t like that anymore. There were some older guys that saw that I had heart when I first got locked up. I wouldn’t take shit from anyone. I was respectful. I wouldn’t tell. And I had honor and they took me up under their wing. These guys taught me a lot of game. Getting locked up at such a young age, (I was 17 when I caught my first case) behind bars, was essentially where I learned to become a man at.

The philosophies and ideologies of a prison mentality aren’t exactly the most effective to be successful out in the world because they go against what society has considered lawful. What dictates the way I handle things is based off principle and logic. Sometimes it’s smart to be tough and sometimes it’s tough to be smart. You can’t convince me that it’s right that if someone puts their hands on me that I’m supposed to run and tell, like the MDOC expects you to. You can’t make me believe that if someone steals from me, that I’m not supposed to go teach that person and everyone else a lesson and fuck that person up. But that I’m supposed to snitch instead? There are just some things that I’ll believe are right and handle the way I see fit no matter what the consequences are, even sometimes resulting in violence. (see my post “The language of violence”).

As I mentioned in my “The Language of Violence” post, when I came back to prison, I went to level 4 because of my time and my misconduct points for fighting.

You get screened for your security level based on factors like:

  • Time
  • Property Risk
  • Violence Risk
  • Escape History
  • Misconduct points (from catching tickets)
  • Security Threat Group (STG) designation

I was sent to St. Louis, which is one of the most violent prisons around. It was def different from the time that I had done before. You only get three hours out a day and they keep you much more segregated in smaller group of people. It was much more serious and uptight there and someone was getting either stabbed or buck 50’d every day.

When there was big yard, which is the only time that the whole unit had a chance to have contact, you could just expect something to pop off. You had to be on point at all times, because you don’t wanna be in the wrong place at the wrong time and end up getting caught up in something that doesn’t have anything to do with you. Something else that you have to be ready for is to ride with whatever group you’re associated with, whether it’s a gang, a religion, the side of town you’re from, or whoever it is you hang out with all the time.

There were probably three different times while I was there that at least 50 people went to the hole for fighting over riding for their group. The first major one was about five months after I got there. The first time it popped off there were about 25 guys that popped off on and we got put on lockdown for about four or five days. As soon as we were off lockdown another 15 or so guys popped off and we were put on lockdown again. For even longer this time. As soon as we got off that time the remainder of the guys left popped off, (10 guys or so) and of course we got put on lockdown again.

Another incident happened that was big enough that it was on the local news. Whenever anything about prison is broadcasted, they always block our news stations. Within about two days 90 guys ended up going to the hole. Something happened in one unit and it spread across the whole compound.

Anyways, I’m getting ahead of myself. When I rode into St. Louis the water there was rusty brown and if you let it sit there would be sediment in the bottom of the container. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, in level 1’s and most 2’s there are public bathrooms. In level 4 you have a toilet/sink in the room with you. You’re basically locked in a bathroom that’s smaller than the bathroom you have at home, sharing it with another guy, 21 hours a day.

But it was a problem with the city’s water, not the piping at the prison. They said it was safe and forced us to drink it, but there were local newspaper articles saying otherwise. It was bad enough that the community donated bottled water to the prison, but guess what the MDOC decided to do? Sell it to us. None of it was “given” to us as was intended. If I remember right it was 2015 when they ended up building a new water tower to fix the problem (but if it was safe for us to drink why spend the money to do that?) that was visible from the big yard.

Then one of the worst things to happen to the MDOC happened that watered down the whole system. The state got a grant to improve security and they put a shit ton of cameras in everywhere. At that point they handed the MDOC over to the snitches. Even most of the CO’s didn’t like that they put all the cameras in, because now even if we do try to handle things on our own (and they originally wanted to let us do this) they can’t because it’s going to be on camera and they’re forced to involve themselves so they don’t get in trouble. As I said before, I believe that guys should be held responsible and accountable for their actions, but I also believe that we should be left to govern our own. So, with all these cameras guys can’t get into a fight and get whatever difference they had off their chest and come to an understanding without going to the hole.

We’re human, we’re men, and we’re already stuck in an oppressive place where we have almost no way to blow some steam off and now you took away about the only option we had left without severe consequences? You can also expect to catch a new case and get some more time if you stab someone because it’s all going to be documented via video.

For an example, let’s say someone knows that someone else is going home soon. Because he knows that the guy going home soon isn’t going to want to risk his parole, or if he does chances are it’ll just be a normal fight, he’s going to take advantage of that fact and rob him. Now if there weren’t cameras and the guy who got robbed could have a good chance to seek justice and still go home it would make the robber think twice before doing it, because now he risks getting stabbed. The thing is that there’s almost never any random acts of violence, it’s almost always because someone did something to cross a line and did something he wasn’t supposed to. I know that this isn’t the general perception, but that’s because when it was like that, most guys didn’t tell, so the administration would come up with their own reasoning and context to describe situations that would make them sound like they were stupid.

As in my “the language of violence” post, I’m not trying to glorify violence but the principles that are backed up by violence in certain situations are necessary.

I was supposed to leave level 4 after three years but ended up staying an extra year and a half. Right around the time I should have rode out, I went to the hole for possession of a weapon, so they took me off the transfer list. I beat the ticket, but they put a note in my file saying that I only beat the ticket on a technicality, which is against their own policy. The ticket system is set up in three classes. One being the lease severe and three, the most severe 3. As of right now I’ve only been found guilty of one class two ticket since October 2016, when I went to the hole for dangerous contraband.

I eventually rode out and went to Saginaw level 2. That’s another story for another time.

There are a lot of aspects to a lot of different things that have happened and what they mean so I’m sure I’ll be talking about some situations more than once.

Dakota Turn

Source of featured image: GLEN STUBBE • GSTUBBE@STARTRIBUNE.COM

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