By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
I keep my back to the wall, pray, and wait to see the judge.
Another dry run, no reason to be in court today.
We get back to Super Max and strip all the way down, then bend over one after another and cough -- so the cops can see if anyone's got a shank keistered. This safety procedure comes with the added pleasure of routine verbal abuse from the cops. I actually breathe a sigh of relief when I walk back into my dorm and can hit the rack. Close my eyes and escape for a few hours.
Another court trip, and I'm held over for a few days at Main County. I'm in a four-man cell, stuck there around the clock. There's no freeway time because of all the stabbings. The food is wheeled to the cell, which holds me and three Paisas, none of whom speaks English. One of them has made pruno (wine) out of the garbage available to us and offers me some. It smells great, but I pass. I stare at the bars and do pushups.
The dudes in the next cell got some ice, a crystal-clear form of meth. They stay up all night babbling insanely. Fucking speed freaks going a million miles an hour in a 6-by-12 cell.
The mainline is not separated by gang or color. Different crews of Crips have their own tank somewhere, as do the Bloods. Gays and transsexuals are kept together. Then you got the Nazi Lowriders and the Aryan Brotherhood, who aren't getting along right now, and a couple of neighborhoods that fucked up with the mob, like the Vineland Boys and MaraVilla. All these different groups have their own tanks; some because they're killers and some so they won't get killed -- like the straight P.C. cases who are scared to hit the mainline at all. P.C. stands for "protective custody"; supposedly it helps keep known enemies apart and protects the weak. But seeing some of the obvious victims makes you wonder.
On the mainline, you got South Siders, Paisas, Blacks and Woods. Asians don't walk the mainline at all because they got a complete green light, whack on sight, which means it's okay to beat them to death or stab them, with no questions asked from the South Siders. Everyone else is going off so hard they may segregate the whole little city that makes up the L.A. County Jail system.
After my four days at county, I get called to catch the chain back to Super Max.
Now it's time to make a decision: try and get classified as a head case and get psych meds and relatively easy time, or say fuck it and hit the mainline. I decide to avoid the withdrawal drugs. If I can pass on drinking pruno, which I like, I may as well stay clean. Head drugs aren't clean, even if you're taking them to break your addiction.
Hit the 700 dorms at Super Max, which are overpacked with 120 men by my count -- though I'm told the county says the number has never been higher than 75. Whatever. This kind of crowding increases the politicking. South Siders and Blacks are waiting to kill each other; the Paisas stay low-key. South Siders are gang members or riders from anywhere south of Bakersfield, mainly Latino, second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans, and a few White Boys from the barrio. Paisas are non-gang-affiliated Latinos: Mexicans, Salvadorans, Puerto Ricans, etc.
I'm a Wood -- short for Peckerwood. Once upon a time, to be considered Wood you had to be about something. Willing to stand up. Now that's what all White Boys are called, regardless of how they carry themselves. Addressed by inmates and guards alike as Wood. I shave my head and start letting my chin-long mustache grow back.
Since I'm staying mainline, I'm going to play the role as taught in Tough Guy 101, doing pushups and dips off a bunk and getting ready for the next riot. The rules for Woods are very simple -- hang mostly with your own. The color lines inside are harder than the steel that surrounds us. South Siders and Paisas are all right. If shit kicks off, we roll with the S.S.ers.
You're fair game if you fuck up, like say you run away during a riot, hang out with Blacks, back down from a confrontation, whatever. I'm old school; I follow the rules. I gamble, keep my personal commissary together and hope to get out someday.
DECEMBER, A FEW DAYS LATER
Ex-cons play pinochle. The new guys who haven't done much time -- called "fish" -- play spades. Gamblers play poker. I'm making my living in here from poker, playing pinochle for fun. Got a good knuckle partner, Mr. Mouse from S.M. (Santa Monica). A youngster with old-school attitude, he's the right-hand man in this dorm for the South Siders. Chili is the shot caller. My back is covered. That's a real good thing because there are only two other white guys in this dorm. One's a San Fernando Valley banger and a straight maniac. The other one's scared to get off his bunk.