Freedom & Prison

Since July 4th is right around the corner, I figured I would talk a little about being free.  Although speaking about our nation’s independence is great, I’d like to talk about basic freedoms that we take for granted.  Even though I do live in a subdivision, I have the freedom to move any day that I wish.  At the drop of a hat, I can call up any friend, read practically any news, stay up as long as I want, or go to the store and grab any snack that money can buy.  I’m free within the limits of man made law while becoming ever vigilant of the governance of the state.

I don’t want you to misunderstand me because I do love Texas as much as the next person.  I love the Texan confidence.  I love the fact that most of us from Texas can’t show you your state on the map.  We don’t need to know the name of your state while on the way to and from ours.  We know our history and our heroes.  We have our share of flaws (East Texas), but typically if you ask, we can’t stop talking about all of Texas’ great attributes.

This July 4th, I’m going to think about all the guys and girls that are sitting in a Texas prison.  In today’s world, prison is becoming the norm, rather than the exception.  With the prison rate rising every year in Texas, you are a lot more likely to know someone that has been or will go to prison than previous years or decades.  I can copy and paste all of the statistics from Google, but that would be just as fun as being in prison myself.  Do people not understand the laws like they used to?  Are they stealing more or becoming more violent?  Maybe they just enjoy the riveting conversation.  I think it’s the system.  Let me explain.

I’m sure people that study statistics, behavior, and the criminal justice system can give great speeches about crime rates and poverty levels.  Everyone wants to be hard on crime until it happens to them.  Trust me, I was one of the ones that didn’t care.  I didn’t care until I needed to, but then it was too late.  I ended up in prison, in which I should have, but I left with a lot of knowledge about the system that is learned from listening, not preaching.

There were a lot of bad people inside, but good ones as well.  I was on a work farm so naturally you would find people that were decent, but I thought it odd that I would end up learning so much from each person.  Prison stories can go on for days, so I’ll just try and treat you to a little treat from a former insider.  Like I said, keep in mind that this is intended to be punishment and I did commit my crime for admission.

After spending 30 days in the county jail waiting to go to prison and finally getting to Huntsville, this was my introduction into our great system.

I get out of the the van with about 8 other guys.  We are all wearing orange from the county jail and handcuffed together.  All of a sudden a 6’5″ 300lb guard (not exaggerating probably taller) comes around the corner and mutters something unintelligible.  Something like “out of em” but while you say it, fill your mouth full of peanut butter.  I am observant so I see everyone taking off their clothes, which I later understand is “get up out of ’em.”  Go figure.

We get naked, then he starts twirling his arms around like some type of music director.  The guys that know the dance start twirling, lifting up their feet, opening their mouth, picking up their arms, etc.  All I can do is try to keep up before big man starts to growl.  I find out that the county wants their clothes back, and big boy wants to make sure we didn’t bring in any kind of contraband.

I’ll save you the details of every step but you get the idea, prison isn’t supposed to be fun.  Strip you down, shave your head, talk to you like the scum of the earth, give you some crappy food, then throw you into a 56 man octagon.  56 people in one room that are very happy to be here and are being herded around like cattle.  (They should throw some of those reality TV show chest shaving guys from the Bachelorette into a 56 man octagon to watch them talk about missing out on wax jobs and hair pulling.)  You end up looking around to see if you can possibly have something in common with anyone else there so that if something bad does happen, at least one person knows who you are.

You find out that the guards are one step away from being an inmate in most cases.  The doors are supposed to be locked, but last week you heard that a guard was paid to prop the door open for a rival gang member to come in and beat someone up.  You find out that the guy two bunks over cut his girlfriend up with a box cutter.  You are allowed to go to the gym for an hour where the inmates segregate themselves.  I decide to go lift some weights with another guy that I met, and he introduces me to the “wood pile.”  White boys are called “pecker-woods” for some reason, so having a bunch of us together in one place makes it a “wood pile.”  I actually thought that was clever and funny, so I kind of got a kick out of that one.  The “chow” is usually peanut butter and jelly, but every now and then you get a piece of pork that does kind of look like it.  At this point if you start counting the days, you may as well hang up your boxers and start working the corner as a little tramp because time is counted in years, and the sooner that is real, the better.

This is typical for a transfer facility.  They are there to process us like I’ve processed cattle.  You round them up, tag them, sort them, let the bad ones act up so you know where they are, and load them on trucks.

I didn’t mean to get off on a tangent telling prison stories, but to bring up the hundreds of thousands of people that made bad decisions and ended up where they are today.  I’ll follow up with my intentional post of trying to explain the revolving door and broken parole system.  Maybe I’ll throw in a couple contraband tales and hundreds of worthless guard stories.  What do you expect when you pay people minimum wage to guard inmates whose entire goal is to “get over on them.”  The guards end up being a part of the system themselves, hence growing the prison population even more.  As a test, go find a guard that has been in the system for 20 years and ask him a basic question.  His answer will be riddled with prison slang.  His kids will also use it and his entire life will revolve around snitching, gangs, and drama.  I did meet some good ones, and they know who they are, but they are few and far between.

I will leave it at this for now.  Be thankful you’re not in prison on the fourth.  If you know a guard or an inmate, tell them you are thinking about them, and that we’re waiting for their return to society.  The world is full of people that tell you that you can’t do things, I’m here to show you that you can.

P.S.  If you are a state worker and want to comment about how great everything is or want to quote statistics for some reason, use your time more wisely and stop wasting my tax dollars surfing the net.

"Get up out of 'em."  Looks exactly like the daily ritual after working all day.  That guard is probably checking the inmate's cap for a nail or mushroom.  Photo found on Google Images from Danny Lyon Prison Photography.

“Get up out of ’em.” Looks exactly like the daily ritual after working all day. That guard is probably checking the inmate’s cap for a nail or mushroom. Photo found on Google Images from Danny Lyon Prison Photography.

If you’d like to follow Oatmeal’s prison tales and other oddities, like Lola and Oatmeal on Facebook.

Related posts:


  1. Natalie says:

    It’s funny how when we get older and face tremendously humbling experiences, we appreciate the small things so much more – choosing your meals, who you associate with, where you can go. Thank you for writing about your time – I’m very grateful that you are sharing your perspective with those that may not hear it anywhere else. 🙂

  2. Michael…I am so proud of you! Ever glad you are home…and safe. Love, your cousin, Tricia.

  3. I am glad you’re a storyteller and that you’re willing to tell your story. Enjoy your 4th!

Leave a Reply