Lock-down is only an eight letter word, but of all the words that have to do with the prison system it can be one of the biggest. I see a lot of your posts daily that have to do with a lockdown on your loved ones unit. Lock-down can sound so scary, so lonely and confining, yet for most it’s a time we did look forward to believe it or not. For the most part it can be nice counting on you had enough food in your locker and books to read. Having enough writing supplies also was a big plus.
In my 10 years I would think I went through at least 20 lock-downs, on average they last 7 days, and the longest I was involved with was about 24 days, I still remember that one. Of course there were lock-downs for a day or even hours, but we called them just “Rack it up” time. There were also lock-downs that lasted a lot longer than the 24 day one I was involved in. Along with the above mentioned items to a good lock-down, maybe the most important thing was a good cellie.
The funny part about lock-downs was, we inmates knew when they were coming almost to the day. Now I’m talking the normal 2 lock-downs that happened every year, not the lock-downs for riots, stabbings, cell phones, etc. Oh we knew those were coming to, just not exactly when. There were other signs a lock-down was coming too. The minute they stopped serving peanut butter or bread was a pretty good sign, or eggs for breakfast in the chow hall.
Lock-down meals, were called Johnnies. They consisted of a plain brown paper bag with 2 sandwiches and maybe a treat. The morning Johnnie would have a hard boiled egg or two, a peanut butter sandwich, a small carton of milk, and a small cereal. Ever Johnnie had at least one peanut butter sandwich, some had two. You may get a small bag with a handful of raisins at times too, or the dreaded prunes.
Most meat sandwiches could be anything from salami to baloney, to chicken breast (?) or a fish patty. Sadly there was no condiments involved in any of these dry sandwiches. So going back to my earlier statement, having a locker full of stuff was sa-weet. A little cheese here, mayo there, jalapenos thrown in and man oh man you had yourself a pretty good meal.
We also got at times a thing I could only describe as a pound of dough with peanut butter inside. It would feel you up, but along the way would clog you up too. For those wondering this was not a “Fruitloaf” or “Foodloaf” or however they said that. I know, I served them when I worked in the Agg Seg kitchen. They would have made a great rock.
Deals were made within the cell. Some would trade sandwich for sandwich or hard boiled egg for that rock, or not. We also would use the meat in the sandwiches to spread with. Taking a chicken breast and cutting it up into pieces than placing it in a soup bag, and in your hot pot tasted pretty good with a few soups, cheese, peppers, Frito chips, and hot sauce.
We would dine by night light with music playing and it wasn't really that bad a deal for a while. A pastry, also heated up in the hot pot and you would think for the briefest of moments we were not in prison. Prison was such a mind game. For the most part it was you the individual who made or break your day. Yes the other inmates and guards had a big part in it, but during lock-down it was mostly just you and your cellie. Let’s say the lock-down officially started on a Monday, well they might not get to my building till Wednesday or later. You were on lockdown, but not shock down yet. On units with dorms, the dorms were usually shock down first, allowing those inmates with a better line class or classification then the rest of the farm to come up sooner to help make Johnnies and do SSI work. SSI is a prison term for a janitor of sorts.
I remember one lock-down where we were shock down and come up the very same day. So during the first day we would ask the cops what building they were on and for the most part we believed we got an honest answer. They may come in our pod and announce we better smoke all our cigarettes fast cause we were next, when in fact it would be days later. Just another way they would tighten the screws, and why I and some others called them screws.
Having a radio and a supply of books helped a lot. In those 7 days I could go through 2-3 books depending on my mood. I had known some cellies to go through a 500 page book in a day. Some of the cops were even “nice” enough to pass a book or two to another cell. Some would take the book and then throw it in the day-room. You had to pick and choose cops. During the summer lock-down it could be hell in the Texas heat. We would lay there and try not to move, we would cover up the windows to avoid sunlight, and we lived like Vampires at times. During winter we may cover those same windows, but this time to keep the cold out.
Another little interesting tid-bit was where your cell was situated, meaning facing the sun in the morning or afternoon, the heat of the day was brutal? Fans did little good but stir up the heat in the cell, and with very little air circulation it was no wonder inmates were taken to the infirmary on an almost daily basis. Some would “fall out” for a few hours of A/C in the infirmary and who blamed them.
I would think the worse part of lock-down was bagging up all your belongings and dragging them down to the designated shake down area, usually the gym. It was a stressful time if you had none or lost property papers or had bogus ones. Some cops were cool, and some were D…heads. I think they got a kick out of some of us losing property. Be it a few books, clothing, or appliances. There was a box some used, it was about 3 foot by 1 foot, not sure now, but all you stuff better fit in it.
The rest could be taken away to property for a few days until they decided to give it back to you. I guess their thinking was you had too much “stuff”. Now this wouldn't include clothing and bedding, mostly just store items, food. Some of the rules and regulations was so petty that it made for a very frustrated inmate, which would lead to confrontation. Which resulted in cases, which effected parole. It could be a vicious circle.
This whole process could only take an hour or 2 and we were herded back to our cells to unpack. I always though “all this, a whole week of lock-down boils down to 2 hours of actually shake down”. Going back to my comment earlier about most inmates don’t mind lock-down is true I truly believe. Yes there are times you run out of things and during lock-down you do not go to store unless the lock-down reaches a certain day. Now I’m not sure what that time frame is, but after 21, or 28 or maybe longer we were allowed to come up to make store.
One good part about lock-down is you didn't have to go to work, and you caught up on sleep. There was a time on the Hughes unit when I worked the garment factory and they needed workers to finish a contract they had with some outside source. I was asked and said sure. We got a hot meal in the kitchen and were allowed to shower upon returning. Showers were allowed during lockdown, but we only showered on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and fast. Since there were only 5 showers per pod, and as many as 48 inmates per pod, shower time could last for hours.
I remember when I got out in 2011 and took my first shower without slides in 10 years lol, very strange indeed. To use the bathroom alone and with the door shut. No bed sheets needed, no flushing every few seconds. I am not expert when it comes to TDC or prison in general. I can only give you my point of view as I saw it from 2001-2011. My experiences will mirror a lot of your loved ones today, things change yet stay the same.
I’m just a simple man who has seen the ugliness the world can give behind bars, behind walls. Some inflicted by white, some by grey. It is a hostile, unforgiving world in which there are really no winners and lots of losers. At times it is made more difficult by those who are entrusted in our care, and our security. All I tried to do was my time and respect others, but that was hard to do at times.
I want to think I made a lot of guys laugh with some of the dumb crap I did and said, and I hope to do the same now in my writing with you all, outside those cells. I know some of you may say I am long winded and talk too much and say stuff that is irrelevant, but honestly my goal is to reach as many of you as possible with my stories of behind bars. There has been times I just wanted to give all this up and move in a different direction, to forget about my past.
Then I would think if I can touch one person today with my boring ramblings, my thoughts and stories then maybe it is all worth it. I hear you all at times say you cried reading my posts and that makes me think, is that what I want? To make someone who is hurting already hurt more? But then I see and hear that some of you smiled and better laughed at my dumb scrambling of my mind and it makes it worthwhile.
I’m nothing special to you all, I’m just a regular guy with a story to tell, maybe a story that needs telling for someone to understand what their loved one is going through. Hopefully I make a few of you smile and even laugh. So next time your loved one or anyone else says the word lock-down, it may not be all that bad to all those you love. Just maybe they are looking forward to it with a smile.