Last week I wrote about the heavenly vernacular. Today I want to share a little bit about prison talk. There is no other place on earth like prison. It has its own nuances, language, economy, caste system, traditions and rules. I’ll try to give you some examples.
Our currency is postage stamps or “flags” as commonly known in prison. The price of each stamp differs between each prison camp. It all depends on how many stamps are in motion within the camp. The more stamps on the yard makes the price come down. The person who decides that, I have no idea, but it seems to just happen at random, and it’s instantly accepted by the mass.
The camp I’m at now the “flags” on the yard go for $.35 apiece. I have been at camps where they have gone down to $.25 apiece, because there was a huge influx of stamps.
Most everyone uses stamps to gamble or buy drugs. I use my stamps for the intended purpose – to send letters. Duh! I send out a lot of letters. So I feel like I save a lot of money with the inflation of stamps. I could go to “the window” (The canteen – our mini store) and buy full price stamps for $.49, like all of you do, but that’d be silly when I can go buy them off the yard for $.14 less. When I buy bulk, I sure do save a lot of money.
I feel like I am doing a service to the prison system though. If I send out 20 letters, that is 20 less stamps guys can use to sin with. The prison should give me an award!
With the number of stamps on the yard, I don’t know who would buy full price stamps out of “the window?” But then I think: “If no one buys stamps out of “the window,” while at the same time I am steadily sending letters, why does it seem like there is never a shortage of stamps!?” It’s my opinion that the prison system itself pumps in stamps into our little economy. We inmates think we run this place, but in reality we are just mice. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but 2 and 2 is just not adding up here.
So there it is, “flags” run everything here. We are only supposed to have 25 or less on us at any given time or we will get a write-up which could mean a number of consequences. Most guys have hundreds of stamps. Sometimes even thousands. It’s ridiculous! Where they hide or keep them, I don’t know. Don’t even get me started on what “suit casing” means… Ha Ha!
Lines are a big thing here in prison too. Lines for the Chow Hall, lines for the Canteen, lines for the barber, lines for the phone, lines for the shower, to get clean clothes, for weights at the gym, to talk to your case manager, the library, to play basketball, to go to church, and even to use the bathroom. Lines. Lines. Lines. There is a line for everything in here.
However, there are rarely ever any physical lines. So when you want to get in line you just yell “Last man!” and some random dude in the crowd will raise his hand. You two make eye contact, so he knows who is behind him in line and you know who is in front of you. It’s as if an invisible string is attached to you both. Now you are the “Last man” so when someone new comes up you raise your hand and attach your invisible string to him.
Often is the case that I don’t know how many people are in front of me without a physical line, but this relaxed line-making does have its advantages. It gives you the freedom to go do something else, or wait in another location, like a shaded area, while the invisible line diminishes.
Once the guy in front of you is done he will let you know it is your turn. Then when you are done, you’re supposed to let the guy after you know he is up.
In a place like prison, you’d think there would be a lot of fights over these lines for people cutting or whatnot, but there isn’t. I’ve never seen a problem come about from the lines. It’s a living miracle really. Everyone just falls right in line, and respects it for the most part.
It is common knowledge that every man has their “hustle” I think that means that everyone has their own little business to earn their stamps, which in turn pays for their vice of choice. There is the guy that can get you art supplies, the guy with the kitchen hookups, or the guy that can get you onions or spices. There is the hair greater. The Drug dealer. The hitman. The bodyguard. The guy that makes birthday cards. A guy that sews. The guy that fixes glasses. You need a new watch? I know a guy. Whatever you need, someone is bound to have a hustle in it; you’ll just have to wait in line. Ha, Ha!
And don’t dare step on someone else’s hustle! They are very protective over their hustle. I remember one day I was sewing a button on my pants and an inmate wanted to fight me because I didn’t go to him first. Button sewing was his hustle. Guys get mad when you can do things for yourself.
At the beginning I tried to figure out what my hustle could be. I can make really cool Scripture cases out of cereal boxes and tape, but no one uses Scriptures like that in prison. So accepted the fact that I will remain hustleless, which is good because I think having a hustle is pretty dumb.
So whenever anyone asks me what my hustle is I always tell them, “My hustle is to have no hustle!” Whatever anyone needs, and I am able to do it (if it’s righteous), then I will gladly give my services for FREE! That’s my hustle! I guess even then service is my hustle.
By far the strangest habit of a prisoner is by the things they say. I have done a mighty job at trying desperately NOT to pick up any of this deranged language. I am afraid, though I let it sneak in unawares like a bad accident.
Like “channel check” means change the channel. Or if you tell someone they have a “phone call” it means someone outside wants to speak to them. If someone asks you “can I ride?” it means they want to borrow your radio. If you drop a radio at any time, everyone will yell “crash!” When someone tells you, “Let me hold something” or asks, “You got anything until tomorrow?” it means they are hungry and want to borrow something until they can pay you back tomorrow.
Everyone says “that’s my word,” which I guess emphasizes the truthfulness of what they are saying, but I’ve come to know it also means the exact opposite. When you’re going to the bathroom and someone yells, “Put some water on it!” they mean for you to keep flushing because you’re stinking up the place. “You’re soft” “Tighten up Bro” or “Get your weight up” means stop making mistakes.
“Inmate.com” is our prison wide web of rumors.
Prison has all but ruined the term “punk” for me. I used to say it a lot before I came to prison as a playful tease. “Punk” in prison means a gay dude that dresses up like he’s a chick. I stopped using that word very quickly. To “sweat” someone means to look at them threateningly. “Woofing” or “selling woof tickets” means you’re bluffing and trying to sound tougher than you actually are. If someone yells “Block hot!” it means an officer is nearby. It’s a warning to everyone else to hide your contraband or stop doing something illegal until the officer passes and leaves.
If you are “strapped” that means you have a shank on you. If you say you are “hot” it means you have a lot of contraband on you and hope not to get searched.
If someone says, “my people” they mean their family and friends. If they say “out in the street,” or “out in the world.” they are referring to the other side of the fence or their home (former life).
Something I never heard until I came to prison, but now hear at least 50 times a day is, “I know that’s right.” It bugs me like you have no idea. The one that takes the cake though, is when I say “What’s up?” to people and they give me the same response every freaking time, “Same stuff, different day.” It’s automatic without failing. It has come to the point where I don’t even greet guys anymore or asked them how they are doing, I just nod my head their way and keep on going. I’ve realized that whole little saying is the exact problem with prisons, it reveals all too well their attitude towards life.
If there is a lesson at all to this post, it must be this: that Heavenly Father in Jesus Christ, have given us this world, this day right here, for our benefit. It doesn’t matter where you are, the environment or society you are in, the people you’re with, or how monotonous life seems, you can be whoever you want to be, do whatever you want to do, and say whatever you want to say.
Your environment does not define you. Your circumstances definitely do not define you. YOU define YOU! YOU have ALL the power within your own agency to “overcome” your world – like Elder Neil L. Anderson speaks about in his latest conference talk “Overcoming the World.” Giving into the ways of your environment and having outside sources define who you are will not do. “When in prison, do as the prisoners do.” Has never been okay with me. Rise above your prison, look to Christ and be born again through His power. “These are they who have overcome the world – who have truly been born again” (Teaching of the Prophets of the Church: David O. McKay, 2003, 1-2). And like Neil L. Anderson said, “Overcoming the world is not one defining moment in a lifetime, but a lifetime of moments that define an eternity.” How do you define your eternity?