The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail: There Was a Bad Mutha Who Lived in a SHU

Pronounced like "shoe," in case there was any confusion.

In the last edition of this column, I noted that the powers that be here at the Seagoville Correctional Institution had seen fit to place me in the SHU, also known as “the hole,” without actually accusing me of any particular infraction punishable by time in the hole. Three weeks later, I’m still sitting in what I like to think of as jail-jail, waiting for the internal prison security agency known as SIS to charge me with something or let me go or beat me with a stick or whatever it is that they do here. Incidentally, I’m unclear as to what “SIS” stands for, but I do feel obligated to point out, just for the record, that it’s just one letter shy of ISIS. I’m just saying, is all.

Currently I live in one of the two dozen tiny cells that are situated on either side of the corridor. The cell door sports a vertical grill through which we can see into the hall and communicate with other SHU inmates via the ancient medium of yelling. It also features a horizontal hatch which can be unlocked by the guards so that they might pass us food and mail, and through which we stick our arms so that we may be handcuffed before the door is opened on the occasions when it’s necessary to move us. On weekday mornings, for instance, we’re taken outside for an hour of recreation during which we get to walk around in a large cage. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we’re brought down the hall in pairs for a quick shower. On weekends we don’t leave our cells at all except for each Sunday around noon, when we’re brought out to the patio for our Mimosa Brunch, unless I’m making that part up, which I suppose is possible.

Spending 23 to 24 hours a day in a cramped cell leaves one with a great deal of spare time. Most of the other inmates seem to spend much of each day in sleep, something of which I don’t approve and which at any rate isn’t an option for me since I’m kept awake throughout the day and even a portion of the night by my hatred for Charles Krauthammer. But even these shameless layabouts can’t sleep all the time, and so they’re forced into other, less indolent recreations, one of which is rapping. People rap their own raps or rap other, more popular raps they’ve heard rapped out on the rappity-rap stations or what-have-you. At first I was dubious about all of this, but I’ve since come to see the potential that the genre offers to those willing to accept it on its own terms. And so I wrote my own little rap, which I like to belt out through the door grill every once in a while:


My red-haired Saracen cellmate “D” likes to rap, of course, but he also has a little game he likes to play with his friend Dank, a heavyset black guy from South Dallas who lives in a cell a bit down the hallway. You see, at meals we receive this sugary fruit punch that comes in sealed plastic bags. D drinks these, inflates them as you would a balloon, and then goes over to the door grill to have one of several daily shout-based conversations with Dank. (Like D, Dank is a PCP-smoking gang-banger who’s constantly getting arrested on weapons charges, so the two of them have plenty to talk about.) At some random point in the exchange, D will put his inflated juice bag up to the grill and pop it, producing a deafening blast, and then announce that he has just shot Dank. Dank, in turn, will loudly confirm that D has shot him. Then the two of them laugh and laugh. Sometimes the scenario is reversed and it is Dank who shoots D.

Dank is a great source of diversion for all of us, just as he was back in our mutual jail unit before he was consigned here to the hole for his involvement in an extraordinary fight, which it is now my duty and privilege to describe to you. First, though, I must explain that there exists among the incarcerated a vibrant and highly developed underground economy in which postage stamps serve as hard currency. It will take an entire edition of this column to do this subject anything close to justice; suffice it to say for now that among the numerous and sometimes improbable occupations from which a stamp-strapped inmate may choose is that of pie-maker. How these pies are made is, again, a story for another day. Content yourself with knowing that they are indeed made — sometimes with tragic results.

Back in our jail unit, pre-SHU, Dank was a pie-maker. “LA,” a gangster from Inglewood, was also a pie-maker. One day the two of them got into a dispute over who had the right to display their pies on a particular table in the center of the day room, which I gather was considered to be an especially desirable piece of pie-selling real estate. Harsh words were exchanged, and then the entrepreneurs went upstairs to an out-of-the-way cell on the second tier so that they might privately settle their commercial dispute through the custom of trial-by-combat. At the time, I happened to be taking my evening constitutional, during which I made about 30 circuits of the top-tier walkway, and so by stealthily glancing into the cell each time I passed, I was in a position to monitor the proceedings without attracting the attention of the guard. The first time I passed, the two of them were fighting. The second time, they were arguing. The third time, they were fighting again. The fourth time, they had once more resorted to words. Finally LA emerged from the cell and went to go watch TV, followed a few minutes later by Dank, who went over to where LA was sitting, apologized, and pointed out that in their rush to violence, they had both lost sight of what was really important, which was the making and selling of pies. Just kidding. What Dank actually did was to go over to where LA was sitting and hit him over the head with a padlock swung inside a sock. Later, the guard found out about the fight and both combatants were taken to the hole, at which point the pie concession fell under the de facto control of a skinny white fraudster named Bobby whose pies are now universally acclaimed to be the best the jail has ever tasted. And so ends my tale of this Homeric pie fight, this blood-spattered bake-off.

Naturally Dank is not much better behaved here in the hole than he was in the jail unit. One day, as our lunch trays were being passed through the door slots, he kind of just unilaterally decided that he and the guard were in some sort of conflict, repeatedly denounced the fellow as a “bitch-ass ho,” and proceeded to “jack the trap.” This is to say that he stuck his arm through the door slot so that it couldn’t be closed and locked (or “secured,” in the jargon of a federal correctional officer, to whom an unsecured slot is a very distressing affair indeed). Dank spent the next 30 minutes making declarations of his various grievances, real and imaginary, pausing now and again to engage other SHU inmates in shouted conversations concerning subjects entirely unrelated to the matter at hand, including that of an enjoyable evening he once spent at a local nightclub with his cousin and a couple of her friends, who, we were led to understand, were known to be very sexually promiscuous. “Occupy Cell Door” finally came to a close when a lieutenant arrived and asked Dank what was wrong, to which he replied that he had been asking to be taken to the prison’s law library all day only to have his requests ignored by an assortment of ho-ass bitches. And so he was taken to the law library.

Later that week, Dank once again jacked his trap for reasons I was never able to determine and which were anyway no doubt ephemeral if not altogether nonexistent. For good measure, this time he threw all his magazines into the hallway. Then he proceeded to fill some styrofoam cups he had in there with water and threw them at the big floor fan situated down the hall. This was unlikely to bring the Bureau of Prisons to its knees, but I assume that for him it was a way to kill time. The problem was that it’s difficult to aim due to the angle one’s arm must take on through the slot, so he missed the first time.

“You gotta curve your arm, more like you’re throwin a baseball,” shouted my cellmate, D. Dank filled up another cup and tried again. “Almost had it that time, dawg,” called out a member of a prominent regional gang known as the Mexican Mafia (who, incidentally, is also a really nice guy). Dank threw yet another filled-up cup, this time hitting the fan. Now there was water on the floor. Of course, there was already water on the floor from the previous attempts, because when you throw a cup of water, the water ends up on the floor whether or not it hits a fan first.

Later, an orderly came by, picked up the cups, put them in the trash, and started gathering up the magazines that Dank had thrown out into the hall. I saw that one of them was Cat Fancy.


Bible Verse of the Day: Deuteronomy 22:17
“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if any one should fall from it.”


[Editor’s note: Barrett Brown has been incarcerated since September 2012. He is being held in a federal detention facility in Seagoville, Texas. This is the 11th installment of The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail. Go here to read earlier installments. Go here if you’d like to send him a book or put some money in his commissary account. He is inmate 45047-177. Go here to contribute to his legal defense fund and learn more about the charges against him.]