One day I’ll write a movie script of my prison days and find some gorgeous (slim) actress to play the part of me! You couldn’t make up the things that happened in there if you tried hard.
I was aware as I rode to the prison in the back of a sherriff’s car that I would have to re-invent myself in order to survive in prison. I have a natural “default” program that I slide into which is “helper”. Especially when I’m afraid, I turn into the most annoying social worker-type you’d ever want to meet. I was pretty certain that being a “helper” with these tough women would probably get me killed. So, in that back seat, I created a new way of being for myself. I would be the possibility of being a person who could be contributed to and could contribute to others. For the next two months (July and August of 2002), that would be the context of my prison stay.
I vowed that I would keep a balance between what I gave and what I received. One day, a woman asked me for help with her herpes problems. I said to her “Sure, I know a lot about herpes and can probably give you some good ideas but what will you do for me?” She said “Well, what do you want?” Prisoners have no money available to them. The $3 per day that is earned by doing work is put into an account and then, once a week, there is a canteen where you can buy various types of junk food, toiletries and odds and ends from the dollar store. The main trading item is bags of microwavable popcorn. Two bags of popcorn will buy you a pretty decent haircut by a licensed hairdresser who is a fellow inmate.
I decided that, with this barter, I would trade ‘like for like’. I asked her “Well, what do you do for a living when you’re on the outside?” “I’m a cocaine dealer” she replied. I said “Okay, I want you to tell me everything I’d need to know if I was going to set up business as a cocaine dealer.” She was a bit shocked because she knew what a square I am but she good naturedly agreed. So, the deal was done. I spent about a half an hour going through with her what her herpes triggers were and what kind of steps she could take to minimize her outbreaks and prevent others from getting herpes. She then spent a half hour teaching me how to fold flaps (little origami envelopes that you put the coke in—usually made from shiny magazine pages), how to make your car look like a florist delivery service to avoid alerting neighbours when you make your drops, where to buy the florist boxes that hold the “delivery”, and more fascinating tips for how to succeed in the drug underworld. At the end of our hour together, we both felt like we’d been contributed to and that we had contributed to another. We sure had lots of laughs while doing this exchange! She told all the other inmates about it and they all thought it was so funny and now I’m making this blog post and I hope you’re smiling from the image as well.