Note: I haven’t told a good jail story in a while. I know this is long, but I think it’s a pretty good story. Thanks for reading.
The story I’ve already shared (read it HERE) about a week-long diet of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups may have been the strangest thing I did in jail, but it didn’t hold a candle to when a few guys who didn’t like me tried to get me removed from our pod. It was by far the wildest thing that happened to me while I was in jail. There’s no porn addiction in this story, but I still think it’s worth telling.
What you have to understand is that everybody in jail thinks they are smarter than they are. The morons think they are slightly less moronic and the geniuses think they are super geniuses. Also, when you put 10-15 men in a room that comfortably fits only 6-8, you’re going to have tensions rise from time-to-time.
By the time I was four months into my six-month stay, I had settled in quite well. I’d wake up early, do my job of cleaning the pod (which gave me time off my sentence) while everyone slept, read the newspaper and write my book or letters until lunch. After lunch, I spent most of the time in my bunk, either reading or writing. I was friendly to the three or four guys who had been there almost as long as me, but it took me a while to warm up to new people, much like it does in the real world.
There was one long-termer who just didn’t click with me. We’ll call him Doug. He was one of these faux-spiritual types who liked to talk about paganism, dark magic, being in tune with nature, blah, blah, blah. He liked to talk about how tough he was, but at 5’11” and 150 pounds, he didn’t seem like much of a threat. He did, however, have quite a bit of charisma.
He was probably in his later 30s, certainly old enough to fit in with the older guys in the pod, but he chose to buddy-up with the younger guys and somehow become their de facto leader. He always had two or three guys who he could rev up and get to believe anything.
In a lot of ways, Doug thought he was the most popular guy in the pod, sitting at the nice table at lunch, dictating who else sat with him, trying to manipulate the TV watching schedule and always doing well at cards. I think he took it as a personal affront I had no interest in learning to play spades.
* * * * * * * * *
Now, you have to understand just how big the media circus was around me during the two years between my arrest and sentencing. Every court appearance came with TV cameras and I was almost assured to be on the front page of the newspaper, even if it was just me saying I understood the charges. I couldn’t enter the courthouse without being harassed by media. I took it in stride, though, since it had once been my job.
Three days before I was scheduled to report, the newspaper ran a big overview story of what had happened to me. The day before I reported, a journalist friend wrote a gut-wrenching column about how he thought he’d seen it all until his friend was nabbed for encouraging a teenager to take her clothes off online.
Both of these articles were in the papers delivered to the pod shortly before I got there. It didn’t take long to recognize everybody knew exactly who I was when I showed up.
One of the guys, Bryan, who ended up being the closest friend I had in there, told me early on that there was a belief I was “protected.” In an ironic twist, when I served on my City Council, I took the place of the guy who was now the sheriff of the county. He and I knew each other in passing, and he endorsed my candidacy, but we were hardly friends.
I was not at all protected by anybody, but I knew that Bryan had spread the belief that I was not somebody to be messed with or they’d all get in trouble. I didn’t do anything to dismiss that belief, but I didn’t play into it until I was forced.
* * * * * * * * *
Around the four-month mark, I had come to recognize just how poorly some people rationed their commissary purchases. They’d go through their chocolate bars or potato chips and have days left before a new order came in. When they got desperate, they’d go to somebody who still had treats left and make a deal that if they gave them one candy bar now, that they would pay back two candy bars later.
I decided to open up a little store and within three weeks, I probably had $500 worth of treats and never needed to purchase anything. I made a killing on two-to-one deals. Members of Doug’s little “gang” were among my best clients, but really hated having to pay me back extra. You could sense how much it pained them.
They stayed up very late playing cards and being loud, less because they needed the recreation, but I think more to assuage their oppositional defiance disorder. It was irritating and I often asked them to be quiet, sometimes not too nicely.
One night, around 1 a.m., I was awoken by a guard who told me to go with him. We went into the hallway where one of the sheriff’s deputies was standing.
“Have you been strong-arming people for food?” he asked.
“What?” I asked, still in a daze.
“We got a note dropped that said you’re strong-arming people for food.”
I laughed. We would send our mail, or other requests on paper under the door. Somebody sent a note about me after I went to sleep.
“I wouldn’t even know how to do that. I think they’re upset with me for making deals their stomach wished they didn’t,” I said.
The sheriff’s deputy laughed.
“Yeah, I didn’t think you did anything, but watch your back with these guys.”
I was let back into the pod and the deputy yelled out, “Whoever is dropping false notes needs to understand we will throw you down into max for wasting our time. Quit your card playing and go to bed.”
Doug and his little posse got up from the table and went to the other side of the pod, probably 60 feet away, and much nearer my bed.
“Nobody here likes you, Shea,” said Doug.
“Yeah, why don’t you ask to be transferred?” said one of his minions, Randy, who also happened to be his cousin.
“Guys, store is closed. I’m wiping your tab, you owe me nothing, and we’re done,” I said, not wanting to deal with their crap.
“You don’t just cancel someone’s debt. What do you want from us?” said Randy.
“Nothing. Peace and quiet at night. I don’t want anything, but please, don’t drop notes on me. If you have a problem, be a man and come to me. The note thing is quite a bitch move and I’m really the last person you want to try to do anything to in here…and I think you know what I mean.”
“You don’t stand for anything. That’s your problem,” said Doug. “We stand for something.”
“if you want to tell me what you stand for, do it tomorrow, I’m going to sleep.”
From the bunk next to me, Bryan whispered, “Well played.”
* * * * * * * * *
Five days later, shortly before dinner, a guard came into our pod.
“Shea, get your stuff, including your mattress, let’s go!”
I was confused. I knew I wasn’t getting out as I still had 7 or 8 weeks left on my time.
The same sheriff from the first time was waiting for me in the hall.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Well, we got a note dropped while you were at visiting hours saying that you’ve been going into the bathroom while guys are taking showers or on the toilet and watching them,” he said.
I laughed out of shock.
“Are you serious?” I asked.
“Yeah, and listen, I don’t believe it. We already talked to Bryan and he told us what’s really going down, but when somebody makes an allegation of sexual nature, we have to take it seriously. We’re putting you into the room across the hall.”
That pod was slightly smaller and had a few less people, but in moving into the new pod, I lost my morning cleaning job. With the time I had left, that meant about 15 extra days in jail I wouldn’t have had to serve.
So, I wrote to the commanding officer about my concern and said that with the fact there is no proof and Bryan’s word, that should be enough. They told me I needed more. Thankfully, there was a guy in my new pod that transferred from my former pod. He left because Doug’s group harassed the hell out of him. He didn’t want to deal with it and refused to point the finger at them when he made his request to move.
I spoke to this guy and in exchange for three packages of coffee and a bag of Doritos, he agreed to tell the commanding officer what happened. With three of us, it was much more believable.
Through the window in our door, we saw Doug’s clique marched out, one-by-one, to the small room near our pods for questioning. They interviewed four guys. After three of them, including Doug, returned to my old pod, they went directly to their bunk, grabbed their things, including their mattress and headed to the elevator. That meant they were going downstairs.
After the four interviews, the door in the pod I spent the last three days in was buzzed open.
“Shea get your stuff,” barked the guard. “You’re going back.”
The irony was, I only wanted to go back for my cleaning job to get out earlier. I actually liked the people in the new pod more. I took two big handfuls of commissary junk food out of my bag and put it on my bed.
“You guys were very cool to me, split this up fairly,” I said.
I think they were sad to see me go, but glad to get the treats.
“These idiots don’t know how to keep their story straight,” said the same sheriff’s deputy that had been handling everything. “Nothing is going on your record, as far as we’re concerned, this never happened.”
“I’m not going to have to deal with those other guys again, am I?” I asked.
“Doug was sent to maximum since he was the mastermind and the other two are in medium. If any of them come back up here, they won’t go in the same pod as you.”
* * * * * * * * *
I got back to my original pod and Bryan came over and quickly attributed my coming back to his testimony, which did help, but also with the fact that I was “protected” from up on high.
“The minute you went to that other pod, I was telling those guys it was the biggest mistake they made here,” said Bryan. “Now Doug gets one 5-minute phone call and he’s isolated 23 hours a day. He deserves it.”
“I’m just glad I have my cleaning job back,” I said.
I didn’t go to the weekly church service, but Bryan returned from it a week or two after this ordeal and told me that Randy and the other minion told him to apologize for them. I didn’t hold a grudge. They got caught up in Doug’s charisma.
Bryan was released about two weeks before I left, which made those last two weeks longer, but many of us joked about the fact those four numbskulls thought they’d get the best of me. The one that didn’t get in trouble largely just kept to himself until he was sentenced to state prison.
People in jail are inept criminals. We all got caught. That’s lost on a lot of people in there who like to posture that they are tougher or smarter than they really are.
A few months back, I was reading the newspaper and Doug was in it. He and his girlfriend were busted for having something like 30 animals in their tiny apartment. They clearly loved them and would take cats, dogs, birds, rodents, reptiles or whatever when somebody moved. Apparently, they broke a ton of city ordinances with their home zoo.
Doug was immediately brought to jail for breaking his probation. I’m sure he hatched a brilliant plan to keep the animals at the apartment. Like his “Josh is watching us in the bathroom” plan, it just didn’t work out as he had envisioned.