So I was released about two weeks ago after serving 32 months in California. I was thinking about just typing up the experience in its entirety but I figured I’d be better off asking questions. If I typed it all up I’d have basically a 100,000 word story.
Yes, I saw and was involved in legitimate prison riots with people getting stabbed with broken broomsticks and hit with locks inside of socks. Yes, I witnessed more drug use than I ever have before. Yes, I witnessed people get beat within an inch of their life. All that.
I should mention that for the last 8 months of my sentence I did my time in a fire camp right by Fairfield. I spent the past summer being a wild land firefighter, saving countless houses & acres (or trying to at least). I was on the Wragg fire, Rocky fire and the Jerusalem fire just to name a few. I’m talking fires that burn 50,000+ acres and just destroy everything in its path. I saw some SHIT doing the firefighting thing. Imagine being on a mountain, like a 25% incline underneath your feet and you’re surrounded by 60, 70, 100 foot tall trees and EVERYTHING around you is on fire. There are trees falling 50 feet from where you’re standing and it’s really terrifying. On top of that you hiked 7 miles up that slope with a 50-60 lbs. pack on to get to that point and now you have to cut a 4 foot wide line into bare mineral soil through the woods. Oh and you have about 3500 feet of line to cut so you’ll probably be working for 18 hours through the entire night.
Like I said, I could literally type up a novel with details about the past 32 months but I’d rather just answer questions from you guys.
I didn’t want to spend money using a cell phone (it costs $5 for an hour) in there but at the camp they had so many that no one cared if you used it. We took a few phones out when we went on the fires so I was able to snap a few pics.
I also realized that I’m an amazing artist. I got locked up never even drawing anything more than a stick figure and just progressed and progressed and got to the level that I’m at. Check out those pics too.
Go ahead, and ask me anything.
My certificate: Imgur
What contraband items were most desired for? How did inmates get them?
People are ALWAYS getting high, whether it be meth, heroin, weed, whatever. Everyone is also VERY interested in having a cell phone. Tattoo guns are made without an issue by taking a cd player apart and using the motor.
To get stuff in, you either find that one correctional officer (c/o) who you can pay to bring it in for you or you get a drop and bring it back. I was never on a level 4 yard (maximum security) so it’s prob wayyyy harder there. But for where I was, they have inmates who go outside of the walls of the prison and set something up before work with someone on the outside. That person then comes to the prison and leaves a bag full of whatever in a set spot. The inmate then figures out how and when to grab it without getting seen and brings it in. Some guys shove it up their ass, yes. But others will do things like hollow out the sole of their boot and just fill it to max capacity and make it back to the dorms just fine.
I was at a fire camp and at the camp there are no fences or walls surrounding you. If you wanna run, go for it. You probably get like 2 hours before they figure out you’re gone and start the hunt. Because of the layout of the camp it’s REALLY easy to run out to the road, pick up a duffle bag and run back. People would get drops ALL THE TIME. Drops would typically have tobacco, alcohol, phones, meth, weed and spice. They started doing a lot of drug testing and you get 30 extra days that you cannot get back if you pop up dirty for weed, 90 days for meth or heroin, and so people started replacing weed with spice. Spice doesn’t pop up on a drug test. So what’ll happen is people will get a drop then give the c/o’s a medical excuse that will get them transferred back to the yard for a week or two and then they’ll go sell whatever they can fit up their ass for exorbitant amounts of money. A cheap flip phone that you can get for $15 at walmart will go for like $600 there. A touch screen? Like $1100. You want weed? Ok no problem but you only get a chapstik cap full and it’s gonna cost you $50. You want meth? Also no problem but it’s gonna cost you $300 for a gram.
How do inmates afford a drug habit if they have no income and it costs that much?
They find a hustle. For some guys it’s artwork, for others it’s tattooing. What happens a lot of the time is these guys will call their family and friends and tell them that they need money for whatever or that they owe a debt and they’re gonna get seriously hurt if they don’t pay it. Their people will then go to 7-11 or walmart and buy a prepaid visa card and give the inmate the number. That inmate will give someone that number to cover whatever expense is required at the moment. You can also go straight to the jpay website and put money directly on someones books.
Addicts do some strange and desperate things sometimes….especially in prison. It’s really bad some of the things that those guys tell their families to feed their drug habit.
How would inmate smoke weed without being noticed by officers?
You’re in a dorm with 29 other guys. There are 4 dorms between you and the office where the officers hang out and there is someone with their arm out of the window holding a mirror so they can see when the cops are walking by. As soon as that person sees a green outfit walking anywhere within sight, they holler out that they’re walking. Problem solved. They can’t really sneak up on you because there’s always someone watching for them.
How’s food taste?
In county jail, it’s beyond miserable. Breakfast consists of: bland oatmeal or cream of wheat & circle egg patties that are obviously not natural. That’s 3 days a week. The other days you get either pancakes, waffles or hard boiled eggs. Dinner is always terrible. If you’re not getting money put on your books or hustling somehow you’re gonna hate life. When I got to prison it got better though. We would get a HUGE cinnamon roll for breakfast alongside a bowl of oatmeal and fruit on Thursdays. Wednesdays it would be biscuits and gravy. Sunday it was what they called the “grand slam”, two fried eggs with bacon, potatoes and toast.
When I got to fire camp, the food got MUCH better. The cooks are only cooking for about 100 people so they can pay more attention to what they’re doing and put a bit more care into the food. We would be out on a fire, come back and get what they call a “fire meal”. Fire meals are the greatest food in the entire prison system. I would get racks of ribs, tri tip and coconut shrimp, brisket sandwiches, spaghetti w/ meat sauce and garlic bread, sodas to drink, drumstick ice creams, etc.
A fire meal sounds better than my regular dinner.
Well it’s not on accident. They have us out there fighting these insane wildfires, working for like 12-20 hour shifts. They feed us all that because we WILL burn obscene amounts of calories. I think most of the fire meals contain about 5000 calories.
Don’t get me started on the lunches they give out for a fire. Inside you will find roughly 4 lbs. of stuff. Bags of beef jerky, skittles, oreos, clif bars, uncrustables, cans of tuna, dried fruits, sandwiches on par with subway, etc.
Can you describe your first day in there?
Fucking miserable. Drunk. Depressed. What the hell did I do? How the fuck do I escape? I’m going to kill myself right now. Why won’t anyone answer my phone calls? I need a cigarette.
What where you in prison for?
Well I was going through a tough time and needed money for my rent. My roommate came home from work one night with some coke and an armful of high life 32s and we drank and did lines. Got late, he went to bed and I was still up and I figured out the solution to my problems. I went and robbed a house that I knew the garage code to…with people upstairs sleeping. I got caught some time later, did 5 months in county and got a strike and probation.
I got out and couldn’t live there anymore so I got my stuff and left. I wound up staying with an acquaintance on the couch inside the garage he was renting. Some nights I could stay and others I couldn’t. The night I got arrested I couldn’t stay there because his landlord was coming by in the morning and he wasn’t supposed to have anyone staying there. I wound up going down to the beach and met up with some people I knew, all of whom were not old enough to buy booze. I bought them a bottle of Popov ($5 plastic bottle vodka) and we started drinking. It was misty but not raining and we went back to Victoria’s condo to get inside. She has a rec room on the bottom floor with a pool table and TV and couches and all that but it’s her grandparents condo so we couldn’t go inside but we went to the rec room and drank. Bottle is gone, I go get another and come back. She went to bed, kicked us out and by this point in time I was blacked out. I broke into a car in her parking lot and went to sleep inside. They charged me with vehicle burglary and hit me with 4 years because of the stuff I was on probation for.
Is it true that once you enter prison you have to join a group of some kind to avoid being fucked with? Or is it better to keep to yourself?
Well everything is racial in there, at least in CA. If you’re white, you stick with the white guys. You need something? You go to a white guy first. You don’t eat or share food with blacks, asians or northern mexicans (mexican dudes from northern california). Indians are cool though for whatever reason. You can talk to, shake hands with, joke around with all those races but they have areas on the yard that you cannot touch. There are physical lines in place that let you know where you can and cannot go. If you cross any of these boundaries, you’re going to get DP’d (disciplined), which basically means that 3 guys of the same race as you are going to beat you up for 23 seconds. Any minor infraction to this racial dynamic will result in a DP, which is scary. Your own people (by prison standards at least) are going to beat the shit out of you…
You can keep to yourself and stay out of the mix as well and no one will give you too much of an issue. If there is an issue that involves your race or area though, you’re expected to take part in it. Like if you’re from the Los Angeles area, there will be maybe 30 other guys from the same area. They call that a “car”. Like the LA car or the San Diego car. If one of the dudes from your car gets into a drug debt or a problem with another race and there’s gonna be a riot, you NEED to be there and at least try to help. If you don’t wanna help, or you run from a riot and don’t fight, you’re going to get either DP’d or removed. Removal is basically saying that you can’t be with the general population and that you need to be in protective custody. That equates to 2 or 3 guys beating you until the c/o’s come and mace everyone. Being a PC is like being scum of the earth. Rapists, child molesters, etc. are all PC. You do NOT want to go to a PC yard because it will stick with you and if anyone finds out that you were there and sees you again, you’re going to be attacked on sight.
How do Asians/others fare in prisons down there? Do they just not get involved or something?
Well the Asians run other, which is with the blacks. So if a riot ever popped off and both of those races were involved against, say, the white or southern Mexican races, they would be required to jump in if at all possible. The racial mix still kinda baffles me. But they have more lax racial politics going on on a daily basis.
From what I saw the Asian dudes in there always have money on their books for whatever reason. The Asians are always making huge meals together at night. Most of the stuff they’re cooking comes out of a package, which you get 4 of a year. Super premium stuff as far as what you have access to in prison.
You can go order someone in prison a package from access or union supply, among others. The package can contain up to 450 ounces of stuff. They have basically a 7-11 snack isle, good hygiene products, CD players and CDs, clothes, everything. Whatever you want, as long as its 30 lbs or less, you can get.
What was the hardest thing about being a fire fighter?
Having to listen to a captain that REALLY likes to work. You’re still an inmate and the captains know that and some like to use it to their advantage. Like if you’re tired and you sit down when you’re not allowed to, they’re going to call the c/o’s to come get you and take you away in handcuffs.
The work is alright, just excessive. I have never worked that hard in my entire life. I hiked RIDICULOUS amounts with a heavy ass backpack on up some of the steepest slopes I’ve ever been on.
How did you find the transition between prison and outside life?
You know, I never let the prison mentality get to me. I never fully surrendered to prison ways and I would be stubborn about certain things. Because of my mentality during the whole term I did I had like NO problems with transitioning. I went back to the real world and it was just like I was coming back to california again. That’s the best way I can describe it. I feel like I never went away at this point, besides the fact that I’m rebuilding my life.
What do you think could be done to reduce the amount of violence in prisons? What kind of penalties did prisoners face for misbehaving/violence?
Nothing can be done to reduce the violence. It is going to happen regardless of the circumstances. It’s all racially motivated and that just isn’t going to die out at this point in time.
Even when people are in the hole they manage to send out and receive notes (called kites) to others keeping them informed on what’s going on and putting out their orders if they’re in the upper echelon of things.
When you are sent to jail what happens with all your stuff? By example if you are renting what happens to your possesions after you leave that apartment? What happens to all your services and subscriptions? How did you deal with all that and now do you have problems sorting out your suddenly interrupted life?
When you go to jail you’re in a bad position. Unless you have someone out there to go and handle all of you affairs, you’re going to lose it all. Your house, car, clothes, laptop and HD with 200 GB of music on it? All gone. Your landlord is going to either sell the stuff or throw it out. They’re not going to hold on to it for you unless you can talk to them and figure it out. All of your services will continue whatever delivery you have paid for until you can contact someone to handle it and stop it.
I didn’t have anything to deal with really. I had a suitcase full of clothes and that was about it. No rent, children, car, etc. It was an inconvenience and something that I stressed on in the beginning but in comparison to others, I had it easy. The problems I dealt with have pretty much all but been solved for the most part. I’m working on re-building my wardrobe and have found Ross to be AMAZING.
What do you think will help to keep people out of prison and/or keep them from going back?
There is nothing that will succeed in doing that besides the person themselves. Real talk.
After spending time in prison, what are your thoughts on the prison system in general? Are people reformed after their time in prison? How would you change things if you could?
Prison is what you make it. You either leave bitter that you were there or better. Every single person there is an individual with their own world of problems going on, inside and out. I realized my true potential and stayed focused on positive things and thoughts. Realized what I did and did not want out of life and how I could realistically accomplish those goals. I’m making progress already. I’ve gone to the school and gotten enrolled and figured out all my financial aid stuff on my own. I’m going to go for my bachelors in software development and start making apps for IOS and droid, either contract work or with a firm that will hire a felon with skills.
As far as my thoughts on the prison system…I think it’s an absolutely mandatory thing in society. People are there for a reason – because they fucked up somehow. There are legitimately innocent people in the system doing time for stuff they didn’t do but that’s probably like 1-2% of the entire inmate population.
They will take care of all of your medical and dental issues. I had 2 teeth pulled, a full cleaning, 4 cavities filled and all of my vaccines. They will give you surgery if you need it. They take care of you to say the least. I give the system that.
They offer college classes for people with a diploma or GED. The problem with that is it’s not a real college class; they give you a packet and a book with all the answers and tell you to bring it back to them completed. You’re not really gonna learn anything that way and that certificate or degree that you get at the end of it is good for nothing, in my eyes at least. It serves as a sense of accomplishment for a lot of people and more power to them, but for me I’m not going to be happy with that. They could definitely implement some kind of actual class that you attend with a teacher in the room. There is no rehabilitation process though. Some facilities offer a re-entry program but I never spoke with anyone who was doing that so I can’t really speak on it. They just have you serve your time, give you $200 when you parole and basically expect you to go out there and figure it out. They REALLY need some sort of reformation in that regard. They need to offer resources and help you put together a solid plan at least 3 or 4 months before you parole. They don’t do that.
What are your plans? Do you think it’s going to be difficult finding work?
Well currently I am living with a friend in Los Angeles, right in Chinatown. I got the whole school thing set up to start in January so I’m just focusing on that right now. I took care of every single formal thing I needed to do. Went and got my ID, social security card, etc. Now the problem is finding a job. I have no doubts that I will find one but I’m currently without a “job interview” outfit that I can wear. I haven’t even put together my resume yet so I still have a few things to do but I know I’m on the right path. I’m concerned about what type of work I can obtain at this point. I’m a convicted felon, though you would NEVER, EVER guess that if you saw or conversed with me. I don’t bring it up with people that I meet now. I’ve actually met two different girls in this short time and neither one of them has a clue that I was ever locked up.
If anyone has a job of any sort that I can do without a degree, please send me a message. I’m open to all opportunities and I will gladly start tomorrow. I can type like 80 wpm, I’m well spoken, very presentable (so long as I get an outfit) and I can handle all receptionist level work. I also have experience in restaurants, both BOH and FOH. I’ve been everything from a server to dishwasher to a prep cook.
As a criminal defense attorney, I’m really curious to hear your opinion of your attorney and the work s/he did on your case. What is your opinion of your attorney and his/her work?
I couldn’t afford a lawyer so I was appointed a public defender. Fucking terrible. They are so overworked it’s unbelievable. You’re just another case on their desk that they want to get rid of. I would try and call my public defender so many times and never be able to get through or I would leave a message and would never hear back. When they start talking about you’re gonna serve years in prison you want answers and someone who can help you, at least for peace of mind.
If you have a paid lawyer, you’re going to have a better outcome with your case, point blank period.
Why were people getting beat in prison?
When I got to reception there was this one black guy from NY. He was arrested for being drunk and backing his car into a kid. They found out what he was there for and treated him accordingly. It’s a big building with the first floor and a second wrap-around tier with bunks all along it. He had to make it from one end of the top tier to the stairs, down the stairs and out the front door. There was like 25 dudes throwing punches and kicks at him the entire way, including when he was trying to make it down the stairs. Someone pushed him down the stairs and he almost broke his neck on the way down. He made it out the front door and was never seen again. Crazy thing is the C/O that was working in the dorm knew it was gonna happen and went out for a smoke right before.
Any kind of crime against children is BAD. You can hit your wife and it’s accepted but if you hurt a child, no bueno.
People get beat up for various reasons. Typically it’s that they have a drug debt or they seriously disrespected someone.
How about prison rape? Was that a worry?
I never witnessed anyone get raped but I’d imagine it still happens.
What was your view of the corrections officers?
They’re there to do a job. Some do, others don’t. Some are just lazy and don’t care if they see someone smoking or tattooing because it’s paperwork they don’t wanna do. Others will write you up for being out of bounds somewhere. I feel the same way about them that I feel about any of the other inmates. The ones that treat us with respect get it back, the ones that don’t get treated like shit by the inmates.
What kind of music do you enjoy?
Oh god, I missed music so much. I would write the few people whos address I had and ask them to send me song lyrics just to get a taste. When I got to prison they let you have cd players so I was able to start listening to whatever cds I could get my hands on. I went an entire year without listening to anything I’m into….crazy long time for someone who agrees that music is a necessary requirement for a happy life.
I have a VERY mixed list of artists that I listen to. I usually have it on shuffle and you’ll hear everything from eminem, from autumn to ashes, afrojack, meek mill, brand new, frank sinatra, red hot chili peppers, 311, alkaline trio, drake, lana del rey, kid cudi, nas, the weeknd, etc. There’s too much.
When I was locked up I made a list of every artist that I listen to regularly and I wound up with 355 different artists to download music from to re-build my music collection that I lost.
How old you are?
I’m 27 now.
What is your plan? Both short term and long term? Also, thank you for your work fighting fires. You made a difference doing that and should be proud of that.
You know sometimes we would be on a mountain literally in the middle of nowhere cutting line when I can’t even see the fire and it would feel like hell. But other times we were out there in neighborhoods saving houses where people are out there with their garden hoses trying to save their home. That’s when I would feel appreciated, when I can see the joy on someones face and knowing that I was the cause of it.
Short term, find a job of some sort and school. Long term, further my education and eventually get a bachelors, maybe a masters and have a career instead of a job.