Day 5: Haircut, “Chino”, Poker, and “Prayer Circle”

by Brian A. Wilkins
11/20/08

This would be my first Saturday of many in LBJ. I had to start accepting the possibility of not getting out AND losing my job on Tuesday…or getting out AND still losing my job. Either would have been bad, but I definitely preferred the latter if I had to choose. This day corresponds with Saturday, July 26.

“Sup man…your people are first in line for haircuts if you want one.” When Chino introduced himself to me, I asked him why they call him Chino. “I guess because I’m Chinese,” he said. “But your Korean aren’t you?” I asked him. He was surprised I knew his nationality just by looking at him. Chino, the only Asian American in the pod, “ran with the Chicanos” which I thought was hilarious when he first told me that. But apparently it was common in AZ and California jails for Asians, being there were so few of them in jail, to “run with the Chicanos.” I also noticed he could never sit still because of his “G” use. I found out not only that meth is called “G,” but meth is more expensive than cocaine nowadays. I asked him why they call it “G” when there isn’t even a ‘G’ in the word “methamphetamines?” Because the “G” stands for ‘glass’…because that’s what you smoke it out of. Of course, like many others in there, his jail troubles revolved around his drug use (can you say treatment vs. incarceration).


It was 630 a.m. – the only place you could see the time was on the monitors in the visitor rooms – and I figured I should get a haircut since I had court on Tuesday. Even if it turned out bad, I’d have been more than happy to just shave my head upon my release. Since the pisas had first go-round last time the clippers were available (which was supposed to be every Saturday, but it varied), the kinfolks were first this time. Then the woods, then the Chicanos, etc. Usually the jail just bought the clippers out and everybody cut each other’s hair. But on this day, they were only allowing one guy to cut everyone hair, outside the pod. The guy completely messed up my hairline, making it triangular. I really didn’t care though. If I could get out of there it wouldn’t matter. This would be the last haircut or shave I would have until my release. This time I was second in line to get cut. On clipper days though, you could have easily ended up cutting your hair with nasty, dirty clippers, 100-heads later, with no disinfectant. No thanks.


Chino, who had been in LBJ for five months, was standing near the cell when I took morning “chow” back there to try and eat some of it. “I’ll trade you my meat and bread for your slop,” Chino proposed. Since sometimes there was semi-edible ham in the ladmo bags, and there was no way I would ever eat that “slop,” I took him up on it. We talked about our cases, then the conversation turned to poker. Like everything else, the jailhouse poker table alternated between races, as far as who controlled it for the week; this was woods week. The “poker chips” were several decks of really old cards with the corners torn off. Any card with the corners torn off were a chip…a “stack” was 40 chips. You could purchase a “stack” for one “item.” Again, an “item” was a food item which costs more than 75-cents from the commissory sheet. Chino was down 31 “stacks” or “items” but had until next Friday to make it up…follow all that? I watched for a few minutes and left, but the poker table will come up several more times throughout the “55 days.”


My friend Richard came to the jail for a visit later that morning. You can only see people on a computer monitor…it’s not through a glass window like in the movies. We tried talking about other stuff, but the environment made that impossible. I went back to the cell feeling pretty low. Rodney came in after he had a visit from a friend of his. My cell was right next to the visiting rooms. He came in and said, “what do you think is going to happen to me man?” We got into a long conversation about both our situations. Train and Walter both dropped in periodically and Chino stopped for a second to remind me I owed him my “slop” and that he was now up 5 stacks.


After “chow,” I went back to the cell and layed on the bunk. Mario and I were talking about music and women again when Train came in and said “prayer circle time.” Mario joined us, walking to that little “outside” area with about 15 others. The guy who led prayer circle – who when I first saw, I thought he looked pretty scary – would turn out to be “Rev.” I thought it stood for “reverend” for the longest because he led the prayer circle, but it was short for “revelations,” which he had tattoed on his forearm. We all stood in a circle as Rev read a couple passages. Then everyone is given the opportunity to pray aloud. We all joined hands, bowed our heads, and squeezed the next person’s hand if we did not want to speak. Train, Rev, and K-dog all prayed, along with a couple other dudes I had never met. When it got to me I prayed for Rodney and thanked god for my mom and her voice putting me at ease in there. Prayer circle would always end with the lord’s prayer, which I still don’t know all the words too.


It was nice to hear everybody speaking with humility and being positive in that prayer circle. It definitely helped my psyche. At lights out, it was Mario who would be the ump-teenth person to say something like this: “If they give me 3 years of probation though, they can just send me back to prison for four months instead.” He said, like many others, it was too easy to break probation and end up in prison longer. To this day, I still don’t get it. At lockdown, Chino came back to tell me he finished the day down 10 stacks. The Rev, who I didn’t realized to that point was my cell-neighbor, came by and said goodnight; as did Walter. I wrote a poem that night, but I can’t reproduce it here…and you’ll see why in the coming days. Tuesday’s court date has alot to do with it.

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