My First Minute in Jail


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Last year for Christmas I wound up spending the night at my dad’s house and after everyone else went to sleep I stayed up drinking glass after glass of Irish cream as I finished writing what I think is the most important story I have ever written, a true story about the day I went to jail for selling weed and had 28 hours jam-packed with eye-opening experiences. Since I finished this story on Christmas day, 2009, and the very first story I ever wrote, Austin Station, I finished on Christmas day 1996, I think it would be fitting to release my jail story, called Stockholm Syndrome, on Christmas day 2010. Here’s a teaser:

We took an elevator up a couple levels and the guard sent me through two sets of doors and I entered alone into a wide room with two levels of cell doors lining one side and a series of tables made of concrete staggered across the open space in front of me. In most of the seats sat other men in the same orange outfits.

They all stopped and for just a moment everything went silent as they looked at me.

“New guy!” shouted one guy as he slammed a hand of playing cards back on the table. “It’s my turn.” He pointed at the man across from him as he pulled his legs out from under the table. “This guy is mine. It’s my turn.”

And as he came jumping toward me, all sorts of scenes from prison movies ran through my head… and all the prison advice I’d heard as jokes on sitcoms. I’m gonna stand my ground, I told myself. Don’t back down. Don’t be nobody’s bitch, but also don’t fight. Act tough, but don’t fight… because I knew I’d get my ass beat. But it’s all about appearances, I told myself. Just look tough and don’t let them fuck with you… but also do everything you can to avoid acting like a dick… and always remain calm and collected… don’t let them get to you.

He stopped just in front of me and I stared him down, unmoving in my poker face, not knowing if I should smile and try to make friends or glare and intimidate.

But this guy was nearly a foot shorter than me, and up close, he was just a skinny white teenager wearing a goofy grin.

“Hey New Guy!” he said. “Welcome to the beautiful D-3 block, the most hard-core block of the lovely Whatcom County Jail. I’m Kurt, and I’m gonna show you around… get you orientated and situated.”

“Um… okay…” I said.

“Have you ever been in Bellingham jail before?”

I shook my head.

“Ever been in jail before?”

“Nope.”

“Well, wonderful then. I’m sure you’ll enjoy your stay. Can I show you to your room?”

And just for kicks, here’s another clip:

“I’d say maybe 65 to 75 percent of the people in here got in a fight with their wives or girlfriends… smacked ‘em around or something.” Abdul explained.

“That’s funny because I see almost everyone so eager to talk to their girlfriends on those phones.” I replied.

“Yeah, that would be them. I can’t think of any one of them whose girlfriends actually left them.”

“So do they go to counseling or something during the day?”

Abdul laughed. “What… like bring in some relationship counselors and have some group therapy… a little role playing… talk about your feelings… address the real problems and talk about ‘em with your loved ones… is that what you envisioned happening in jail?”

“Well, I figured there would be some kind of counseling or mental health… I don’t know… something… at the very least a wag of the finger and someone saying ‘you really shouldn’t do that again.’”

“Nope. Not at all,” he replied. “We just do this all day… shoot the shit and play gin rummy. You gotta pay through the nose if you want counseling… and even then it doesn’t help your case.”

“We haven’t even seen a guard since I got here like eight hours ago,” I said. “I thought jail was supposed to be about rehabilitation and convincing people not to re-commit.”

“Yeah,” Abdul replied, “that would make too much sense.”

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