Living with a cellmate is hard, but getting a new prison roommate can be stressful.
Getting a new cellmate is stressful. If people living with roommates fight over rent, parking space, noise late at night or early in the morning, or for bills, can you imagine living with a violent stranger in the same room, a stranger with different culture, morals, beliefs, etc.? In prison, it does not take much to start a conflict under these circumstances, since the grand majority of people that end up in prison have a bad temper to start with, many with violent tendencies.
Throughout the years, best of male friends have confided in me how horrible it can be to live with a woman. These women can be entirely unpredictable.They complain about the toilet seat being up; scream at you for coming home five minutes late; ask who the new number belongs to in your cell phone memory; deny you sex due to a sudden headache when you just popped a Viagara pill. With some women, they maintain, you can’t even fart without her being suspicious. You really find out about somebody, and who they really are, when you live with them. Some of my outside friends claim that living with a woman is like being in prison. They retain control of only a small portion of the house while the woman controls the rest. She’s the WARDEN with rules and regulations. To violate any rule is to be on sex restriction, with no appeal!
So you thought you had it bad, dealing with the menopausal mood swings or monthly hissy fits? At times you felt like “going off” on her and nearly did? Don’t do it! Read what it’s like to live in prison. And, before I get into it let me stipulate that not every cell partner is bad. There are good men in prison, men who give respect, who use common sense. However, the majority I’ve encountered are intolerable, horrendous.
DOPE FIEND FREDDIE.
In 1996, having transferred to New Folsom, a Level IV maximum security prison, I started my life sentence as a young, naive 26 year old. It was my first time in prison, so I didn’t know what to expect. Everything was a new experience, and every cellmate a new challenge.
When assigned to a cell, the cage door opened and I was greeted by “Freddie.”
“Hey, Holmes watcha, this is your locker, you can put your things here. Where you from, eh?”
Freddie was a Chicano from San Fernando Valley, had the homie look. About 40, tattoos everywhere, slick black hair, a chain smoker. He had great charisma, a trait I found in most convicts. Everything you heard, you believed. He delivered stories with such theatrical drama. We spent the first few hours getting to know each other through conversations. I began to be overwhelmed by the cigarette smoke. I felt like I was in a hole in the wall bar.
As I looked around the cell, I noticed Freddie had no TV, no radio, no property in his locker except a few articles of state issue clothing. As I started to place my minimal property that I accumulated in three years inside my locker, he kept the conversation going: stories of his best burglaries committed, his best sexual escapades with women. I began to think this guy could write a book. Hours passed and it was time for bed. As I laid on my top bunk closing my eyes, I could hear the sound of crinkled plastic below.
Freddie got up and asked me, “Hey, Holmes, can you hold this for me?
He wanted me to hold a belt, tight, which squeezed his arm, exposing a vein, to which he drew a hypodermic needle, hidden inside a felt tip marker and began “to fix.”
Freddie stayed up the entire night pacing back and forth, enjoying the high. When the sun rose, he slept all morning. On the way to breakfast, I asked the officer for a cell move, since I saw an empty cell open on the third tier. The officer didn’t ask why. I’d later find out that Freddie couldn’t keep a cell partner. Officers knew his kind. I understood that Freddie had nothing in his cell because he sold everything he owned for dope. And he stole from cell partners. Like many men I’d meet over time, Freddie was an addict, trying to escape the misery of doing time.
When prison rules prohibit drug use or drug paraphernalia one wonders how it gets inside the walls. Regardless, it’s impossible for officers to effectively regulate or enforce. I learned that if I ever moved into a cell where a guy had nothing, it was a sign he was an addict.
FLY GIRL GINA
Due to a riot which required prison officials to move an entire cell block of inmates to another, I was moved to a cell where I’d confront an “X file.” As the cell door opened, there was a gorgeous chick inside! Shiny, healthy long black hair down to the waist, a perfectly rounded ass, about a C cup breasts, a light, flawless complexion, luscious cupid lips with dark red lipstick, a beautiful voice.
“Hi, I’m Gina,” she said, as a shiver and goosebumps went through my body. I felt like I was being set up. What was a chick doing in a cell?
I had been placed in a cell with a full blown transexual who was temporarily housed for a few days at New Folsom, en route to Vacaville prison, which exclusively houses such inmates. It was awkward to be face to face with such beauty when it was not a woman. Gina was on me immediately. “So handsome,” she cooed. “Are you married? Do you have a girlfriend?” She had a voice like Janis Joplin — sexy but rough.
As our conversation flowed, I put my property in my locker. Gina held intelligent conversation on politics, history, and entertainment. We were interrupted several times by curious inmates who came to the cell door window to catch a peek at this freak. The word got out quickly. Gina told me, “Watch this!”
She began to hustle interested inmates into getting what she wanted in exchange for a close shot of bending over or a blown kiss. She accumulated a couple books of stamps, a lighter, sewing kit, used clothing, used tooth brush, and Kool Aid packets. Gina was very creative. She burned a black toothbrush to create ash, which he used as eye liner. Used cherry Kool Aid to create lipstick. Sewed and created fashionable tops out of used Levi jean shirts and sweats.
Gina felt comfortable with me and started to vent. Molested by a priest, and later by a stepfather, she developed a desire for abuse. She enjoyed the power she had over men, became a “hustler,” made enough money to get a sex change. She was doing time for drug possession, with a long rap-sheet for prostitution. Her breasts were real, from hormone injections. She took hormones to eliminate all facial and body hair. Had no penis or testicles. Gina wanted to conquer me, a straight guy with no queer eye. But my pride would not allow me to give in, even for curiosity sake. Gina was a man.
I was once told by an old timer convict to stay away from three things in prison: drugs, homosexuals, and gambling. All prison riots, stabbings, murders, derived from these things. Homosexuals in prison create drama. Men become jealous, envious. Men who are open to homosexuality fight over those who are “seducers.” And then there is HIV/AIDS/Hepatitis C. So when I get a homosexual cell partner, I get out quickly.
Gina ended up in Vacaville. My fellow inmates asked me later, “Did you get any?”
CONTROL FREAK STEVE
When the cell door opened, I was confronted with a cell that was immaculate, looked like a museum. The stainless steel toilet was sanded down to shiny chrome, looked like a mirror. The entire cell floor had so much wax you could see yourself in it. The cell was customized, even had drapes for the cell window.
Over the toilet, there was posted a list of rules.
1. After urinating, spray disinfectant on toilet rim, flush after wipe.
2. After defecating, spray disinfectant on toilet rim, wipe, then use bristle brush to clean inside toilet, spray disinfectant, then flush.
3. For cell schedule, see sign over your locker.
4. Don’t go through my shit. I’ll kill you.
Steve was out in the prison yard, so I waited until he came back to put away my property. Steve arrived and was a Type A personality, looked like an educated middle aged Chicano who kept checking the time on his watch. By the looks of his locker and bed, he could have been prior military. Everything was folded and pressed neatly.
“Hey, Why didn’t you disinfect the toilet rim after you pissed?” he yelled.
“Where’s the disinfectant? I just got here.”
For the next two hours he explained the rules of the cell.
1. No TV or noise past 9 p.m.
2. No use of toilet past 9 p.m. Use Folger coffee jar to urinate in. Close lid.
3. Take off boots or sneakers before entering cell. Wash soles in toilet to remove dirt or pebbles.
4. No farting, belching, or masturbating when I’m in cell.
The next morning I moved in search of a new cellmate.
PETTY THIEF ANDY
The cell door opened and in came Andy, a Mexican national with the hardened, sun damaged, deeply wrinkled face of a field laborer. He came in with only one bag of property; dope fiend, I thought. Turned out he was just poorer than the rest of us. Never got mail, no visits, didn’t earn chump change since he had no job. I asked him why he was in prison. “Petty theft with a prior,” he said with the heavy accent of somebody learning English.
Over time, I made it a habit of finding what guys were in prison for, because their criminal behavior was bound to repeat. Drug offenders still use and sell. Thieves steal.
While living with Andy, I noticed that I’d run out of canteen items quicker. I began to keep careful track of my canteen, even marking the levels on the side of a bag or container. I discovered that when I went to the yard, Andy was stealing small portions of my toothpaste, coffee, creamer, chips, candy, as a small mouse does, just a little at a time. If he wanted something, all he had to do was ask.
In prison, you couldn’t confront a criminal when you caught him dead-bang, otherwise he will fight back. Why go to the hole over a career criminal stealing petty amounts. You have to be smarter than that. What I did was replace my coffee creamer with a very strong laxative. Andy started taking dumps five times a day.
Every prison cell partner presents a new discovery, a fresh personality to understand. The petty thief cellmate steals to feel “power,” thinking he is “getting over” on some one. Most prisoners deal with the struggle for power on a daily basis, learning to survive learning to manipulate guards, family, doctors, fellow convicts. In free society, men and women do the same things to some extent. They fight over power and control. The key to making it work when living with someone is to be patient, to compromise, to communicate, never to lose control and do something you will regret.
Who would you choose? Freddie? Gina? Steve? Or Andy?
Written by anonymous while doing time in California.