Progressive Prison Project
Survival Strategy in Prison:
Watching Charmed on Fog Day
By Jeff Grant
Survival strategy abounds in prison.
At night, the television room was a madhouse - it was not a safe place to be in. But during the day, it was a kinder, gentler place. On a fog day - when the prison was in lock-down because of the fog - I would just camp out in front of a television, put headphones on and use the time to tune out the world. I would also use it as time to read, write, meditate, pray or just zone out. Even more likely, I would watch my favorite four-hour run of shows on the T.N.T. cable network - two episodes of Angel followed by two episodes of Charmed.
On this particular fog day, in the middle of the 8 - 9 a.m. Charmed episode, the guards called a fog count. But I was sitting in the absolute perfect seat in front of the Charmed television - all set up with a book, writing pad and water bottle - in the midst of my full morning of Angel/Charmed episodes. I knew that my stuff on my chair should protect my rights to keep that particular television tuned to T.N.T. for the balance of the morning. The burning question was: should I take my stuff with me to my cube for fog count? Or should I trust that no one would touch it while I was gone? A quick decision had to be made.
It was an unwritten rule in prison that you never touched someone else’s stuff - or his chair- in the television room. It was a sign of disrespect. But it happened nonetheless. I decided to leave my stuff - the lure of my Angel/Charmed position more important than the safety of my stuff. And with that, I trusted God and the cosmos to whatever happened next.
I raced back to my cube for fog count. With that, the guards walked by our bunks, counted us one-by-one, and called "clear." I hustled back to the television room to see if I made the right call. I was relieved to see my stuff still on my chair, and settled in for the rest of morning of Charmed. Perhaps the fog would not lift by 10 am when ER came on next on TNT - a real treat.
Almost everything in prison looked sort of like things on the outside, but were strangely - and warily- different. Watching football in the television room was like that. Mostly, I stayed away when I realized that many of these so-called “fans” were betting big money - money that they could not afford to lose.
There was a whole system of betting going on inside the prison, and the bookies were often the shot callers. They employed some of the largest inmates as muscle to collect the debts from those games. And unfortunately, the debts mounted up sometimes to thousands of dollars. It was not easy to exchange this kind of money inside a prison - perhaps impossible. So instead, it had to be done on the outside in transactions between inmates’ families.
Sometimes the debts got so out of hand that the debtor had to take evasive action in order not to be hurt or killed. He would go to the Head Lieutenant’s office and ask to be put into protective custody. If granted, he would be thrown in the Segregated Housing Unit (the SHU) until orders came in for him to be moved to another prison.
But sometimes the request would be denied and he had to go back out to the compound. The walls had eyes in the prison, and there was no doubt that he would have been seen going into the Head Lieutenant’s office. That would not be a safe night for him. The debtor might have had to start a fight on his own that night with the hopes that - if he survived - he would be thrown into the SHU.
Excerpted from Jeff Grant's book, Last Stop Babylon: The Art of Surviving Prison, due out fall 2013. Your thoughts and comments are appreciated, contact info below:
Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
Social Ethicist, Author
Director, Progressive Prison Project
Director of Prison Ministries
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
126 Washington Avenue, 1st Fl.
Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604