The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Prison

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The seven guys with whom I recently spent two months living in a small room at the Kaufman County Jail while awaiting transfer were in the distressing habit of compulsively watching local TV news, which is the lowest form of news. They would even watch more than one network’s evening news program in succession, presumably so as to get differing perspectives on the day’s suburban house fires and rush-hour lane closings rather than having to view these events through a single ideological prism.

One day, there was a report about a spate of bank robberies by a fellow the media was dubbing the Lunch Money Bandit after his habit of always striking around noon, when tellers were breaking for lunch. Later that week, there was another report on the suspect, accompanied by surveillance footage — and then, shortly afterward, he was actually brought in to our cell, having just been captured when the cops received a tip from a former accomplice who’d been picked up on unrelated charges.

Lunch Money was an affable twentysomething guy from New Orleans who’d lost his two front teeth fighting off a couple of assailants who’d tried to rob his family’s motel room after Katrina and had already done four years in federal prison for other bank robberies. He would have gladly taken a real job if he’d been able to find one, he said. Still, he conceded, “I just love robbing banks.” I couldn’t imagine what there is to love about such a career; this isn’t the old days when a bank robbery entailed brandishing a Tommy gun, dynamiting a safe, and tearing off in a stolen Model T roadster with your hard-drinking flapper girlfriend and a dozen cloth sacks adorned with dollar sign symbols. These guys today just sort of walk up to the teller and hand over a note to the effect that they have a gun (which they don’t — going armed carries a more serious charge, and there’s no point in bringing a gun to a bank that’s federally insured, even in Texas).

Drug dealers find bank robbers to be fascinating eccentrics and tend to pepper them with questions. One cocaine entrepreneur asked Lunch Money, “What if, like, when you handed her the note, the bitch just laughed in your face?”

“Man, that’d be fucked up,” he replied thoughtfully, visibly shaken by this potential revolution in human affairs.

One night, as we all lay in our bunks discussing the wicked world, Lunch Money proclaimed that Magic Johnson had never actually had HIV and that the whole thing had merely been a plot by the CIA, which had paid him handsomely to fake it so that he could later pretend to “recover” and the U.S. medical establishment could take credit for having developed such effective HIV treatments. As evidence, he noted that Johnson was inexplicably worth over a billion dollars. I debated with him about this for an hour. I’m not too bothered by my five-year prison sentence, as it will be neat to get out when it’s over and see to what extent video game graphics have improved while I was away, but I sure would like to get back the hour I spent arguing about Magic Johnson’s HIV status with the fucking Lunch Money Bandit.


The other day I was woken up at 4:30 am, escorted to a small, bare room, strip-searched, put in handcuffs and leg shackles, had a heavy chain wrapped around my midsection, and placed in the back of a dark and cage-lined van that looked like something from one of those Saw movies. But this was good news. It meant that, having recently gotten my ludicrous sentence, I’d now been “designated.” A crack team of specially trained federal prison picker-outers had chosen a facility for me. I was now to begin the multi-stage pilgrimage to the particular compound where I’ll be spending the next one to two years, depending on whether I get into any further trouble (so, two years).

For the majority of federal defendants, this Prisoner’s Progress, as I’m pleased to call it, entails “catching chain,” or being put on the weekly prison bus and taken to the federal inmate processing facility in Oklahoma, where the federal government has been sending its victims since the Trail of Tears. They’ll spend a week or so there before being shipped in turn to their designated prison. Prisons being far more humane than the amusingly horrid little detention centers where most inmates facing charges are kept until they inevitably give in and plea to a crime, this journey is viewed with fond anticipation by federal prisoners, who thus constitute the only population in human history among which it is common to be excited about the prospect of going to Oklahoma.

As for me, I’d rather rip off my own balls and mail them to Stratfor as restitution than set foot in a third-rate state like Oklahoma, regardless of what wonders may lie at the end of that particular rainbow, so it’s a fine thing that I was just going down the road to the Fort Worth Federal Correctional Institution, which will be my home for the next, er, two years. I know little of Fort Worth other than that it’s a lawless haven for half-caste Indian fighters and shiftless part-time cowhands looking to blow their greenbacks and Comanche scalps at one of the town’s countless Chinese-run opium dens, nor am I bothered by the possibility that what little I do know about the town may be 130 years out of date and racist. But I specifically requested that I be sent to this benighted city’s federal prison. For one thing, I’d already “toured the campus,” as it were, shortly after my arrest, when I spent two months at FCI Fort Worth’s jail unit so that the resident psychologists could subject me to a competency evaluation. (Based on their report, Judge Sam Lindsay declared me competent to participate in a trial, which is more than I can say for Judge Sam Lindsay.)

Fort Worth is also the only federal prison aside from FCI Seagoville that’s located near Dallas, and I’m pretty sure I’m still banned from that one, as noted in a prior column, and naturally I want to be close to my parents so that they can visit me with some regularity. My mom, a writer and editor and former flight attendant and South Texas beauty queen who once took me on a vacation to see a swimming pig at a place called Aquarena Springs, is a valuable fountainhead of media gossip, including which outlets are currently going down in flames (The New Republic, as it turns out), and always makes sure to let me know whether and to what extent my haircut is inadequate. Sometimes, if I happen to have a pimple, she insists on popping it right then and there in the visiting room, right in front of the other criminals. Note that I am 33 years old and, arguably, a hardened convict.

Likewise, my dad is my chief source of information regarding plot developments in what I gather to be a popular television program called The Blacklist, new episodes of which he details to me at great length at every opportunity, although I have never asked him for these reports or expressed any interest in the show whatsoever. Incidentally, when I was a kid, he took me on five different occasions to see a film called Hard Target in which the protagonist, ably portrayed by Jean Claude van Damme, finds himself hunted for sport by a wealthy fellow and his mercenary squad of professional trackers, all of whom he ends up killing in turn. My dad also gave me a promotional poster for this movie and, for years afterward, would turn to me and solemnly proclaim the film’s tagline, “Don’t hunt what you can’t kill,” which I suppose is as good advice as any.

Last time he came for a visit, he began to relate to me, apropos of nothing, the nature and potential killing power of some sort of subterranean supervolcano located at Yellowstone and the general circumstances under which it will someday explode and kill a great majority of North Americans, an event which he prophesied with obvious relish. It’s not that he’s one of those ecological mystics who despise humanity and long to see Mother Earth fight back against the ravages of industrial sentience or some such irritating thing. Quite the contrary. In my younger days, he would often drag me around East Texas and command me to assassinate deer and wild boars with rifles he would supply for the purpose, even though I had no ideological differences with any of these animals, and one time, when I was 17, he took me to East Africa to help him exploit the resident natural resources alongside a group of ex-military adventurers with whom we had somehow managed to attach ourselves (this expedition failed rather spectacularly), and lately he seems to have gotten involved in fracking. So he’s certainly no partisan of Nature. It’s just that he’s fond of power in its rawest forms, and if he smiles at the prospect of 400 million deaths, it is only because he feels that man is insufficiently reverent of this particular supervolcano, this god-made-manifest, which therefore has no choice but to lash out against us as punishment. He’s also a longtime pillar of the Dallas Safari Club and on at least one occasion of which I am aware was literally almost eaten by a lion. I could go on and on. Thankfully my parents are divorced, and so I usually only have to deal with these hyperactive Southern Gothic archetypes one at a time these days. Occasionally, though, they set aside their differences in order to come harass me together, and I eventually emerge from the visitation room looking haunted.

I wasn’t taken straight to Fort Worth from Kaufman County, as that would be too quick and easy and cost effective, the prison being less than a half-hour’s drive away; rather, I was taken to the federal courthouse in downtown Dallas to wait for another ride to the Mansfield jail, where I’d already spent much of 2013, and from which I’d eventually be taken to Fort Worth next time a U.S. Marshal happened to be going in that general direction. At the end of the day’s no doubt majestic federal court proceedings, I was placed back in the chew-your-arm-off-and-only-then-shall-I-give-you-the-key van for the ride over to Mansfield. In the rusty cage next to mine were two girls, shackled like I was, who had been to court that afternoon. One had been crying; she’d just been sentenced to eight years for conspiracy to distribute marijuana despite having originally been given reason to expect considerably less time, as she’d cooperated with the FBI. The agents had clearly found her testimony helpful, as they’d met with her a second time, but nonetheless they’d neglected to ask the judge for the sentence reduction they’d promised her in exchange. Like most drug dealers, this girl was in the habit of making and keeping bargains on the strength of her word and expected others to do likewise, but then she’d never dealt with the FBI before.

Just as she finished sobbing out her story, something rather incredible happened: the U.S. Marshal who was driving us back to the jail, having been listening to this account, apparently decided that he was sick of serving as another cog in a fascist system that literally places females in chains and ruins their lives over consensual non-crimes like selling marijuana, because he pulled over, stepped out of the van, came around the back, unlocked the girl’s cage, removed her chains and leg irons and handcuffs, gave her all the cash he had on him, kissed her on the forehead, and advised her to hitchhike to Mexico and then catch a flight to Europe, where she’d have another chance at life, far away from the all-seeing state that had sought to deprive her of her youth and freedom.

Just kidding. Actually he drove us to the jail while the girl cried in her cage.


Quote of the Day:

“Truth does not often escape from palaces.” —William Durant


Editor’s note: Barrett Brown has been incarcerated since September 2012. Go here to read earlier installments of “The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail.” If you’d like to send him a book, here’s his Amazon wish list.

Barrett Brown #45047-177
FCI Fort Worth
P.O. Box 15330
Fort Worth, TX 76119


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  • XTeacher

    Can’t wait till Barrett can come outside and play with us.

  • RAB

    From great injustice blooms sublime art.

  • Robert Stahl

    Lunch Money Bandit needs to see “The AIDS Blunder” for the perspective missing from both sides of that argument. That would have been an hour well spent (half hour each).

  • Dickens Honeythunder

    Barrett’s best column yet. Very entertaining.

  • robogreen

    there are, and i’m not exaggerating here, at least 50 squidillion other humans who should be in jail while Barrett roams free across the great plains, dropping bon mots and…science. #freebarrettbrown

  • Sherry Martini

    Brilliant as usual. You had me going for a minute with marijuana girl. Wish it had been true. Hey, do you need any books? Sherry Talbot Martini (mom of two kids who thanks you for your service!)

  • twitingmachine

    A shame that this is the best that we can put this brilliant mind to.

  • This

    So, freedom of speech applies in prison but not outside of prison. Uh YEAH. What was that about Magic Johnson again?

  • Angel Middleton

    Best ever. If only the facist system’s wheels would fall off, then we might know justice..
    ex oh ex oh

  • spookyandrea

    Some of the best writing I read in a long time. Humour in the face of adversity and fact is always stranger than fiction Keep your spirits up and jolly good show. Thank you.

  • Infinite

    From someone who actually has been in Federal Prison, his take on it is idiotic and only entertaining in how he purposefully exaggerates or indulges in self-aggrandizing portent.

    In short, try to remember it is fiction he is writing. He lies to pass the time. There is nothing funny about his situation. His mind also isn’t brilliant. There are tons of people who could write blurbs like this. In fact, they already do, in their respective arenas.

    I am just a bit sad that you think this is good writing.

    But I am happy you all get a laugh.

    • shrmn

      so where’r all you funny wurds fro prison huh

  • anon

    “If you’d like to send him a book, here’s his Amazon wish list.”

    The list appears to be empty.

  • and beyond

    Bah, I totally agree dude!!!
    But maybe it’s not his particular writing that is bad.
    It is USA culture that is trash.
    so, as you take, his real life is a fiction, war is a moovie, and death is a frozen state.
    Up David! Sure you’re from Oklahoma.
    And he sure ain’t brilliant, I mean… dumb people you are…
    He is just light and so much darkness, pretentious brains.

    It glows!

  • Sonni Quick

    Hi there, I come back every few weeks and see how you’re doing. Not fun but alive and kicking. I also write a prison blog – for Jamie Cummings I have a link to your blog on the site. I recently had a visit from someone who a said he was your Celly for awhile. The brain cell that held his name died 60 seconds ago but the last name started with Brick (er?). Darn, I’ll have to go get it. Nice looking black man if that helps. I’m writing a book now about Jamie’s life and all the horrid things you know so well. I will be back to read again.

  • sonni_quick

    I am not the man in the picture. That is Jamie Cummings in the Wynne Unit at Huntsville Tx. I write his blog. He started at the school to prison pipeline before he was 17. He’s 32 now. I have been reading your blog for quite some time now and enjoy the way your write and also have a link to it on his blog. I lost about a half dozen others because there are so many different experiences. I had never heard of you before, so this has probably increased your reach. There is a big difference between being in a Federal prison and a State prison. I think Fed prisons have more “freedoms” but also the difference between low security in Fed and Ad seg, high security, in State also accounts for many of those differences. He was able to make phone calls for three weeks one time – in 9 1/2 years – 7 to go. At this point a visit is rare. His family wrote him off. They lose so many black people in the neighborhoods that most families are missing someone. He’s never been able to touch his son, age 9, born after he was picked up. So I became “mom”. His story is not unusual. But when you get out you still have your education and friends and a way to make money. You won’t be looked at as scum. They have never allowed Jamie the privilege of even being able to study for his GED. But you will be able to use your experience in a positive way because you do have those contacts and it will help to bring these things further out into the light and hopefully the minds of the people who would rather ignore the amount of slaves we have in our country. You can be sure I will be following you long after this part of your life is over. I think there should be a movie! Until later – enjoy your new friends and all their interesting stories!

  • jaydee111561

    Selling Marijuana is permissible in some states. So why not just release and give amnesty to thousands of prisoners that tax dollars pay to keep shackled. Or is the Obama admin more concerned with it’s financial backers interests, that I believe include the private (for profit) US prison corporations.

  • MY FIRST WEEK ON THE JOB I encountered the Cut Case File. I was the Head Law Clerk at the Federal Correctional Facility at Seagoville, Texas doing a five year sentence for bank fraud. I was back on a Parole Violation for a Dirty UA for smoking Pot. While out on Parole for nearly two years I had obtained a Legal Administrative Assistant, AAS, or Associate of Applied Science or, Paralegal Degree. Right off the bus I went to the Director of Education in the Education Building and showed him a copy of Diploma. As Luck and Fortune dictated, the former Head Law Clerk (there’s usually more than one clerk), had just went to the Hole for turning the Inmate Law Library into his Private Law Office Dewey Beatem & Bad, and charging an Arm and a Leg for routine motions. Motions that never worked…
    #MYAPPOINTMENTWITHTHEDEVIL #ascreechandabang #paradisemontana