The Conservative faithful have it all wrong. The Big House never has been Club Fed. If you want to franchise the house of detention, the sign really needs to say Gold’s Gym. Evidently that’s why The Arnold, while still governor of California, put so much pump into prison procurements; when not riding the help, he was Looking for Mr. Weight Bar. But while political types large and small sell lockup as the hard edge of law enforcement, truth is, the hardest part of prison is counting the push ups. Especially if you’re counting from the underside.
“I see Blondie found the gym,” said a new lifer named Stan.
And the barber, I mused. Blondie appeared on our tier about a month ago, shortly after Stan. High cheekbones, silky tresses, liquid brown eyes — the kid was Kate Moss with a y-chromosome. The day he stepped off the bus, it almost caused a riot.
Then last week, the 22-year-old über-waif walked into my barber shop, looking for something decidedly more Millhaven than Milan. “You shave heads?” he asked. Right. Asking a jailhouse barber if he shaves heads is like asking Pam Wallin if she’s ever seen an in-flight pastry. I curbed my laugh and offered the young con a seat.
“Where you from? You staying long? First time in jail? Did you find a job yet? Who’s your parole officer?” You might wonder why those of us who lop people’s locks for a living can’t stop talking while we do it. Actually, it’s a safety issue. With 99% of us jacked through the roof on caffeine (or worse), and our hands flitting about your head like hummingbirds in rut (if hummingbirds had 5-inch samurai swords for wings), thinking about what we’re doing would likely reduce tips — as in our fingers and your nose. Studies show that by disengaging our pre-frontal cortex and flapping our lips at a speed relative to the blades, we increase the statistical probability of you leaving the chair with both ears intact. Remember that next time you try to stall your stylist’s extraneous coffee chatter.
I asked the arresting antisocialite if he wouldn’t prefer something a little less Addam’s Family — like a summer flat-top.
“You mean like Bieber? Wouldn’t that be rich? Maybe then the whole jail will try boning me instead of just the freaks. No! Shave it — bald. Like that thing from Lord of the Rings — that thing from under the bridge.
“Sméagol — exactly. Just give me The Sméagol.” The kid slumped into the chair and closed his eyes. In prison, sleep is the great equalizer — coming as tough for princes as for trolls. The boy’s racoon rimmed eyes said everything he couldn’t. Nonetheless, he offered a summary. “I hate this place.” Something about his deeply split bottom lip told me he wasn’t lying.
After 20 years of closely surveying prisoners — including the one whose shoes I wear — I’m now prepared to render judgement. Ready? Brace yourself. A prisoner is… a prisoner. Whether legally incarcerated or criminally kidnapped, a human captive is the sum of only one equation: the innate craving for freedom plus the ability to adapt. For 11 years in a Cleveland basement, 3 young girls said anything — did anything — they thought would win them daylight. That’s all folks. To believe different is to drink from the same Kool-Aid bucket as Ariel Castro did: that a dungeon is a place of love, harmony and personal growth. Good luck with that.
“My god, you should see the gym this week,” said Seagull. “Every chicken hawk in the place is hovering while the kid works out.” From our cynic’s perch in front of 8 block, the 3 of us watched the youngster make his way from the gym towards 10 block. Even far across the court yard, he looked like a Calvin Klein ad — sweat-dampened yellow wife-beater clinging to his androgynous curves.
“And here come the birds…” said Stan. Sure enough, like a horde of prison Paparazzi, a gaggle of the pen’s more infamous flesh feeders filed out the gym door and scanned the horizon for prey. One named George quickly spotted the kid and started a speed-walk in the direction of 10 block.
Better pick up the pace kid, or they’ll have you, I thought. But then boy-candy did something none of us could have scripted. Stopping at one of the courtyard benches, he turned to his pursuers, and with the practiced drama of a Bo Derek moment, peeled away his t-top. The resulting 10-perv pile up was straight out of Monty Python, as the kid draped himself like a mink stole across the bench to soak up September’s last good sun.
“Well, there’s the the ball game,” said Stan. “Looks like he’s figured out the secret of the free chocolate bar.”
Could be. Then again, could be he’s just warming up for the parole board. Who’d know the difference?