So, I was convicted of trafficking narcotics across state lines and given a 5 year minimum mandatory sentence. There was no discretion with the judge. The only way he could deviate from it was if I became a “rat,” which I wasn’t about to do! My number was 24506-013. I STILL REMEMBER IT TO THIS DAY! I got out almost 24 years ago. Funny how some things just stick in your mind……
In the US our government has implemented “minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines.” Meaning if you do a crime, you do the time. They do not take any extenuating factors into consideration……UNLESS you snitch……. You can thank good ol’ Ronnie and Nancy Reagan for this! Remember just say no and the war on drugs? Didn’t work did it? This being said, my guidelines were 5 to 40 years. The judge went with the low end of the guidelines because I was a “first time non-violent offender.” The federal prison system in the US houses a “higher class criminal” than the state prison systems. Mostly big time drug dealers, smugglers, pilots and white collar criminals with a smattering of bank robbers and other crimes that happen on federal property. I’d heard that fed time is much easier than state time and not near as violent, so under the circumstances I felt fortunate. I guess if you’ve gotta go. GO BIG!
I started my “bit” in August of 1993 at Lompoc Federal Prison outside of Lompoc, California.” The flower capital of the world.” But things weren’t very rosy! I was scared s***less……
I remember my first day on the yard. I was a “fish” (new guy) and everyone knew it. As soon as I got out of the van I was immediately approached by a number of other inmates with questions of “What are you in for?” and “Where are you from?” But this one guy seemed especially nice and asked me if there was anything I needed, and I replied that I hadn’t had a smoke in a while. He handed me a pack of smokes, but unbeknownst to me he wanted something in return…….. These two big bikers called me over and said ” Hey red, (this became my nickname for the duration of my stay) you should probably give those back to him. Or he will expect something back from you.”
It took a minute for it to register, but when it did I calmly walked up to the guy, handed him his smokes back and told him politely that ” I appreciate your generosity, but I don’t swing that way.” He said he understood and he just had to try. I later learned his name was “Stovepipe” Mike and he was homosexual. The two bikers, Mark and Billy became two of my “road dogs” and I still keep in touch with Mark although Billy has fallen off the face of the earth. He’s probably dead….. Even Stovepipe turned out to be a decent guy and never made a sexual advance ever again! It’s not like the movies. If you’re a “man” and make that known, chances are you won’t be “hit on.” Jailhouse rape/sex only happens to the weak or the guys that are into that kind of stuff……
I was bunked up with a guy named Boboc. A white guy, a crackhead on the outside who was in for growing a f***ton (which is more than a s***load, which is more than an a**wad) of weed in farmers cornfields. I think it was upwards of a thousand plants. He was a good guy, but I heard he got right back on the pipe the minute he got out. We kept in touch for a while, but I lost track of him also. He was the first of many. It was a revolving door of “bunkies,” some got out and some got in trouble and were shipped off to other institutions for “diesel therapy.” Ever seen the movie Con Air with Nicolas Cage? Trust me, it’s nothing like the movie! I’ve been there, done that…….
It hit me then that I was going to be there a LONG time and I fell into the mundane rhythm of prison life. I cliqued up and fell in with “my own kind.” All white. You see, in prison you only associate with your own race and if you break that rule there WILL be consequences. Keep to yourself, mind your own damn business and do your own time. That being said, I quickly learned the four main things to avoid inside……
- Punks. Prison slang for homosexuals.
- Gambling. Debts will get you hurt.
- Drugs. Self explanatory.
- Gangs. Roll solo. Don’t get involved.
Working helped to make the time pass and when you slept you were cheating the “man.” So I slept as much as I could! Fill in the gaps with working out, eating and reading books the days flew by. I devoured books voraciously, and I had to keep a list of the books I read. Several times I would get 50 or 60 pages in and realize that I’d already read it! I didn’t watch much TV because the TV rooms were where s*** jumped off……. usually it was racially motivated with the different factions warring over who got to watch what. Pure and utter stupidity in my humble opinion!
So the days turned into weeks, then months, then years……..and on and on…….. Monotony filled with a few laughs. I do have some funny memories of stuff that happened and we always were trying to outsmart the “hacks,” the nickname for the guards. Not all of the hacks were bad , but some were downright nasty control freaks on some sort of power trip. Mean, hateful and vindictive. I once got thrown in the “hole” (solitary confinement) for having a soda in my locker. They said they tested it and it was alcohol, but I swore it was just soda! My work boss on the farm sprung me after he confronted the dirty guard and he admitted he had it in for me, and he had never “tested” it….. Another time I was sent to solitary for a food strike that I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH! I was just told not to go to chow, so I didn’t. And neither did anyone else! The long of the short is that I still don’t trust cops to this day and adhere to something I learned in Lompoc. YOU DO NOT TALK TO COPS! NEVER EVER!
My bosses on the farm were Ray Escobedo, Jim Spanne, Dave (can’t remember his last name) and another guy named Art Barboza, short for Arturo. They were all cool as f*** and had seen it all. Nothing fazed them.
I remember the day I reported for work Mr. Spanne said ” Your name’s Claps? You’re red on the head like a d*** on a dog!” I could tell I had found the right guys to work for and I really did love the job, it made the time pass quickly! The rumor was that Jim’s dad sold the land that the prison was built on to the government, and he made sure his son had a job in the deal. The Spanne family was old school Lompoc so I guess that could’ve been true, but I never asked him. All I can say is he was a kind, fair man who treated me with dignity.
Those guys took good care of their boys on the farm crew. Always making sure we had what we needed and they fed us well with beef from the cattle herd and ice cream once a week from McConnell’s Ice Cream in Santa Barbara, who bought the cream from the dairy farm. They even let us have a vegetable garden that would make most people jealous, and we ate extremely well until this hack Officer Spears, (the same one that accused me of having booze) took it upon himself to destroy it…… That pissed Ray and Jim off and since they had the bigger “juice card” and more pull Spears was forbidden to come down to the farm after that stunt, and was restricted to his little power trip in the housing units! His nickname was “miate’.” Spanish slang for a dung beetle.
I kept my head down, did my time, and stayed as busy as I could. I made some good friends in there, some of which I stay in touch with to this very day. I spoke with a guy we called “fish” a few weeks ago. He’s up in Northern California now selling property to weed growers. My how the times have changed and I find it ironic that he did 10 yrs for something that is now legal! Granted, his case involved smuggling a TON, yes 2000 lbs, of hashish purchased from war lords in Afghanistan in the 80’s shortly after the Soviets had pulled out of there. He always had some great stories and we are planning a small reunion with all the “boys” soon!
I remember one day I was on the yard with Mark and Billy. We were kicking it on the fence. Stovepipe and his boyfriend were throwing football, it was absolutely HILARIOUS watching the two gay men play football! Mike made an easy lob and Freelander ran to catch it granny style. It went right through his outstretched hands. Mark yelled across the yard ” Freelander! If it was a d*ck you would’a caught it!” I almost s*** myself I laughed so hard!
This Mexican guy I knew in there was from the next town up the coast. He was a big time coke dealer and had received a 10 year sentence. His brother had been in there with him but had gotten out. One day we were plowing fields and Richy (redacted) said his brother was sending him a present, and if I saw the work boss show up to honk the horn on the tractor. I had no clue what he was doing but kept watch as asked. Come to find out his brother had sent a prostitute for a “bush visit!” Lucky him!
There was another guy (no names will be mentioned!) in there who had “edible letters” mailed to him. The entire letter was a page of blotter acid. Tear off a piece and see what happens! Usually on Fridays, because Fridays were the day of “fry,” some of the boys would take a “mental vacation” and get wasted on acid at work. I’ll never admit to joining them, but as you could probably imagine things got pretty weird…… I could go on and on about the crazy stuff guys did to break the monotony. Jailhouse hooch, gambling rings and lovers quarrels to name just a few! I stayed away from all of it, especially the “stick p***y!” I wanted out and wasn’t going to let any BS hem me up!
Finally the day came that I was a “two digit midget!” Less than a hundred days to go! This was when time started crawling by in anticipation. My last night I went to the weight pile. My last workout! One more wake up and I was walking out that gate. My weight lifting partner was spotting me on the incline bench, and before I knew what was happening all the boys jumped me and duct taped me to the bench and left me there for count time! They told the guard to “count Claps outside, he’s tied up at the moment…..” With a big smile on his face the guard said ” You’ve been counted. Now go drink some vino and get laid. Good luck and try to stay out. I don’t ever want to see you back here…..” The next morning they dropped me at the bus station with fifty dollars and a bus ticket. All I could think was, “What the f*** am I gonna do now?” Damn near 3 years had passed…….