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JUNE 2019

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--- S.H.U. DOG ---
9th June 2019

I recently took a 32 day sabbatical to the Special Housing Unit (a.k.a. SHU, a.k.a. Jail, a.k.a. The Box) for being under the influence back around my birthday. In the words of my buddy Don Corleone, "Whaddya gonna do? It happens." All SHU's are like little worlds unto themselves and this is especially so in a maximum security federal pen. So I thought I'd tell you about my experience. Yes, the SHU sucks, but like everything else, it's largely what a person makes of it. Strangely enough, I had a fairly decent time during my recent sabbatical. So I thought I'd blog about it.

From the time you enter the SHU until the time that you leave, a person must be handcuffed behind their back. In the interest of self-preservation, several years ago I learned how to "Slip my cuffs." It's a skill that I've perfected and can accomplish in under five seconds without the aid of a pick or a key. It's also a skill that's listed on my prison file. When you're forced to go into a cell with somebody that you don't know and who may be hostile towards you, or even worse, crazy as a shithouse rat, it's prudent to be able to be the first one out of your handcuffs, no matter who backs up to the slot to get uncuffed first. If a person wants to be alone in the cell, it's not uncommon for them to uncuff first and then punch you in the face before you've had the chance to uncuff. Luckily, in all of the years that I've been down now this hasn't happened. But this ride isn't over yet so I stay on-point.

When it comes to getting a cellmate in the SHU, it's a total crapshoot. There's a 95% chance or better that the person you'll be put with is a pain in the ass or a nutjob; most likely, it's why they're in the SHU to begin with. My cellie this time was a 35 year old white guy from Arizona who goes by the nickname Billy Goat. He's doing 42 years for killing two drug dealers on a Navajo reservation and has been in prison since he's been 18 years old. Billy Goat's an okay guy who's just been here too long and has become a product of his environment. He gets no money from The World and some of his hustles to survive include drawing, tattooing, and also fucking and sucking. He swears that he's not actually gay; that blowing people or letting them hump him for economical gain is "Just his hustle." I knew this about him before I went into the cell with him, but I consider him harmless and the lesser of all kinds of SHU evil, and better than a lot of the dickheads that they could've tried to put me in with (see The Chinaman at USP Lewisburg). When Billy Goat saw me, he looked relieved (probably that I wasn't a horny 400 lb. black guy). He greeted me by saying, "What's up, fool?" The second that the cell door shut, I responded by slipping my cuffs and blocking his access to the door. I dangled the handcuffs off my finger, and smiled at him, and said, "Just remember, I coulda killed you if I wanted to. Luckily for you though, I don't like dead Billy Goats." I handed the cuffs through the food flap to the cop who was waiting outside of my cell door. Both he and Billy Goat look astonished, and said in unison, "How'd you do that???" I shrugged, and replied, "They must've slipped off by accident." The truth is that I like it when people underestimate my Gangster because it gives me an edge. And that edge of couple of seconds might mean the difference between life and death some day.

As I settled into the cell (which is basically a bathroom with bunk beds), the guys that I knew on the range were hollering at me and asking what I was back there for. Word travels fast in the SHU, so it wasn't but a minute before the guys upstairs were hollering at me through the vent in my shower. In lockup, the main way that you communicate with your neighbors or get things from them is through kites (notes). You make a "Car" out of a flattened empty tube of toothpaste and attach a string to it. Then you sling it underneath the crack at the bottom of your cell door, attach the kite or whatever you're sending, and the guy at the other end shoots out onto the range with his line to retrieve it. (I attach a staple to the end of my car to expedite the retrieval process.) I hadn't even unpacked yet (my shower shoes and two rolls of toilet paper and a one inch Orange toothbrush) when two people shot me kites asking me if anybody had come in with me, and if they did, did they have anything with them? Some people intentionally get themselves sent to the SHU so they can bring drugs back there and sell them at exorbitant prices. What sells for a dollar on the compound sells for ten back in the SHU. These anal-retentive entrepreneurs accomplish this by going back to the SHU with the drugs in their ass. But this institution has countered this by taking all people who are entering the SHU and walking them through a full body scanner (like the ones they have at airports). I responded to the kites, then unpacked my bedroll. Then I threw Billy Goat's mattress onto the top bunk, and told him, "Thanks for the bottom bunk."

According to the U.S. Supreme Court (see United States v. Douche Bag), people in solitary confinement are allowed five hours of recreation and/or fresh air per week. But The Supremes aren't here to supervise their edicts, and nothing is guaranteed in prison. The SHU cops make us go thru a perverse ritual just to get that hour outside. In order to "Sign-up" for rec you have to have your bed made, your cell clean and be up and fully-dressed standing in your door at 5am as the officer comes down the range to sign people up. He intentionally hides his keys and makes the least amount of noise that he can (he makes about as much noise as fog). Why? Because the less people who sign-up for rec, the less people he has to handcuff and the less work he has to do. No kidding; they're that lazy (sorry to put you on blast C.O. Luke). Then they don't actually come to get you for rec for another four hours or so and if they pass by your cell in that time and you've laid back down, they take your rec. I jump thru their hoops to get some fresh air and to socialize. I don't have a choice if I want some fresh air.

There's 10 large rec cages outside and they put five people in each cage. The cops attempt to keep all enemies separated from each other, as well as keep the disciplinary segregation guys (who are going back to population) away from the protective custody guys (who aren't). But this is prison and they do the best that they can. Subsequently, they mix up the wrong people a lot of the time. Because of this, it can get all the way live out in the rec cages. Fights, stabbings, and the occasional murder. Tear gas frequently clouds up the fresh air. The rec cages are also a place of commerce though and where people come to acquire things (cop their fix), whatever those things may be. As I stated, I go to rec in the SHU for the fresh air and not the commerce, but after a few days of watching everybody else get sated, I got a little thirsty and decided that it might be a good time for a toddy (or two).

In the SHU here you are not allowed to have a radio or receive books or magazines. You can order commissary once every two weeks but you can only buy stamps, hygiene, and two food items. They do this to discourage people from "Checking-in" to PC and becoming too comfortable. On my SHU commissary day, for my food items I purchased a freeze-dried fruit mix called California Gold. Why? Because each bag contains 117 grams of sugar and you need sugar to make wine. I used these two bags and 30 or so apples (grated & strained) to reach the requisite 454 grams I needed to make a half gallon of wine.

Making prison wine is something of a science. You wouldn't know it by this particular blog post, but the truth is that I hardly ever drink. Maybe a couple of times a year, and a couple of "Moonshine Nights" where I'll treat myself to a bottle of moonshine after lockdown. I could make the wine myself, but I prefer to buy it ready-made because it's smelly and a pain in the ass to have in your cell. Not enough reward for the risk, in my book. But I was in the SHU and my reasoning was, "Why not? What are they gonna do if they catch me, put me in the SHU?" Also, they can't and won't just open a cell door in the SHU until the occupants are handcuffed and I figured that I could easily drink the evidence before that happened. So I made a batch of hooch for me and the Billy Goat. It cooked off in just 36 hours and was po-tent. I called the batch SHU Dog 20/20.

The main thing that you need to make wine is a germ to make it ferment. We call that germ a "Kicker" back here, and you can use the same kicker over and over. My kicker for this batch was a week-old baked potato that had two jelly packs poured onto it and had been fermenting in a baggie underneath my bunk. To make the batch, I took a clear trash bag and laid it in my sink. Then I put in the Cali Gold's, the apple juice, a few more potatoes (for food to "Feed" the batch), then I tossed in the kicker. In the end, I had an ugly concoction that smelled like wet dog and feet. I tied-off the bag and set it in the sink full of hot water because heat makes it cook. Over the course of the next day the bag kept swelling up as the wine cooked and I had to untie it to vent the batch as I kept reheating it. It cooked so hard that I could hear and see it roll as it cooked. In 36 hours it was done.

I strained the batch by taking the wine (fruit included) out one cup at a time and pouring it into a tee shirt that was over a clean trash bag that I'd laid inside the stainless steel toilet bowl. After the wine had seeped thru the shirt, I would wring out the fruit to extract the last drops of alcohol. When everything was finished, I took the food, fruit, and the tee shirt and flushed it down the toilet. The batch produced 10, 8 ounce cups (white Styrofoam). Somehow the batch had made 16 extra ounces. I immediately slammed two of the cups, then handed Billy Goat two so that he could do the same. The wine was so strong that I felt it burn as it went down my throat and settled into my gullet. I winced, shook my head, and yelled, "WOOOO!!!" at the top of my lungs and turned around and mule-kicked the inside of my cell door, as I yelled, "I'm Rick James...Bitch!!!" (see The Dave Chappelle Show.) Then I hollered at my next-door neighbor through the vent, and told him, "Shoot me your line, Big Herc" and I sent him an 8 ounce neck (what we call a cup) in a Ziploc baggie. I did this by tying the baggie to his line. With that done, I sat down on my bunk and got about the business of drinking. I remember thinking that the only thing missing was a cigarette. I gave up smoking years ago but I still crave one when I'm getting snookered.

Over the course of the next hour or so, Billy Goat and I got properly twisted. Because of his issues with law enforcement, I had to restrain Billy Goat from antagonizing the cops (see talking shit) when they'd pass by the door doing their rounds. And because of his issues with not having sex with a woman since his 18th birthday, I also had to restrain him from talking about blowing me because after about two cups of wine Billy Goat's inner fag surfaced like a Russian submarine. (Periscope up!!! Sorry, I couldn't pass that one up.) When he came onto me, I told him, "I know this is hard for you because I'm so sexy, but I won't be anybody's hustle." Rejected and drunk, the Billy Goat didn't buck. He simply climbed up into his bunk and passed out. I still had some life in me though so I stepped to my door for some entertainment.

In the cell directly across from me was a black transgender who calls herself Amazing Grace. And old girl is black. She's so black that when they take her out to go to rec, the light in her cell goes off. She knew I was drinking, and if she didn't she probably figured it out when I yelled for her to take off her Orange tee shirt and show me her hormone-grown boobs (see laughter on the range). After 10 minutes of my attention, Amazing Grace was telling me that she only dated white men and she was calling me her White Chocolate Cowboy. I didn't even know that I had the potential to be a White Chocolate Cowboy so I wasn't sure whether I should feel flattered or offended. In the end, I just climbed into my bunk and passed out.

Thirty two days and two batches of SHU Dog 20/20 later, I was released back upon the general population. I'm done drinking until my next birthday. I don't want to appear to be having too much fun. The Federal Bureau of Prisons might feel cheated, and we certainly can't have that. So this White Chocolate Cowboy is off his high horse and back on The Wagon. For now, anyways.

* The blog you have just read is biographical fiction and never actually happened. Because this Cowboy doesn't break the rules. No, really.

Jeffrey P. Frye
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