Barrett's most recent mugshot. (He really weighs 150 now.)


On My Recent Return to Prison and Catching Up With Old Friends

Seagoville Federal Correctional Institution was everything I remembered it to be.

A few weeks ago, I was illegally re-arrested on the orders of the Bureau of Prisons after I refused to stop doing interviews with the press, and thereafter placed back in Seagoville Federal Correctional Institution’s J2 detention unit, where I had spent most of 2014 fighting my charges and engaging in mean-spirited literary criticism. During the four days it took before the lawyers hired for me by Dallas fixer Wick Allison were able to find the right person at the BOP to threaten so as to get me released, then, I had a final opportunity to revisit my erstwhile convict lifestyle, as well to collect valuable intelligence on my many enemies.

Before I could begin my sentimental journey back into the Belly of the Beast, I would have to undergo the intake process. This entails being photographed, fingerprinted, and asked a list of questions by which to determine if you might be in danger from other inmates; even if you’ve been here before, the questions must still be asked, and, having been asked, answered. There are exceptions, though. “Have you ever cooperated with law enforcement?” read the staffer. “Oh, right. You don’t cooperate with anyone.” He remembered me fondly, as one does an eccentric neighbor.

Next I was approached by my old enemy Osvaldo Arellano, a Special Investigative Service officer. The first time I met this fellow, he and some other toy fascist had shown me an envelope that had just arrived from my mother and told me that a printout she had included of a photo of lawyers Jay Leiderman and Tor Eckland standing outside the prison after a recent legal visit constituted “possession of an escape accessory” because it showed the prison fence, which is presumably a secret. “I can put you in the hole right now,” he’d announced, before demanding to know why the picture had been in the envelope. I’d said he’d have to ask my mom. “I don’t know your fucking mom,” he’d shot back (clearly he’s not an active member of the Dallas Junior League). Before leaving, Arellano added that a “selfie” I had drawn for Leiderman and which had afterward appeared on VICE’s website, depicting myself as a stick figure saying, “Help I’m in jail lol,” could be construed as a request for someone to break me out of the prison. It was, actually.

Now Arellano made some sort of vague threat regarding “problems” we’d had last time around. I wasn’t sure if he was talking about this fence photo incident, or the demonstration a number of us had held against a particularly deranged guard and for which he’d insisted on ascribing me a leadership role, or the column I wrote regarding a guard who was in the habit of locking black inmates in the shower stalls while bragging about how he’s a member of a whites-only Fort Worth gang, or the time I outed Aryan Circle member George “Tennessee” Pass as an FBI asset only to be shipped to another facility the following day, or my regular habit of adding the word “Story” to every instance of graffiti reading “West Side” I could find. But I assured him that I was just passing through this time and wouldn’t be writing about the jail this time, and certainly not about him.

After I finished lying to the cops, I was placed back in J2, a huge two-story chamber with some 50 little concrete cells running off the sides. This was my home during the most formative year of my life, and now, three years on, I had returned. It was sort of like Brideshead Revisited.

Others had returned, too. I encountered an old friend I’ll call Con-C, after the name he used in the epic pen-and-paper role playing campaign I led in those days. The last time I’d seen Con-C, an up-and-coming meth dealer, he was being taken to the hole after assaulting another inmate (another one of my players, I’m afraid, though it wasn’t over the game). Since then he’d been transferred to the federal prison at El Reno, where he lived the exciting life of a prison opiate addict. Being a gregarious fellow, he’d managed to land a job as a sort of narco-ambassador for El Reno’s Native American faction, which didn’t deal directly with other races and thus needed someone to handle drug purchases (that Con-C himself was not a Native American, and that they’d still be dealing with him, didn’t matter for some reason). Plus he’d managed to acquire the only three syringes on the compound, which he rented out in exchange for a piece of whatever dope was being shot up. For an extra fee, he’d do the injecting himself on those customers who had trouble finding a vein. But Con-C blew his comfy setup when he agreed to buy heroin from the Aztecas on behalf of the resident Triad, using the credit of the Aryans. You can do this kind of thing on Wall Street, but in prison there are consequences for financial chicanery. He managed to survive the fallout, though, and had since been brought back to Seagoville for another case stemming from his original arrest.

Still others had never left. My old friend Lawrence Shahwan, who’d been picked up in 2014 for his role in a synthetic marijuana operation, had spent the last three years in the same cell while awaiting sentencing. Shahwan had once served as “speaker” for the Woods, an amorphous gang comprised of each white inmate in a given facility who’s believed to be “good” — not a snitch or sex offender. It’s not hard to become a Wood. Indeed, I accidentally became one myself years ago merely by stepping into Seagoville, where I was suddenly obligated, for the first time in my life as a junkie loner, to attend regular meetings. But Shahwan no longer had to attend those meetings. To his own great relief, he’d been kicked out of the Woods for being half Arab.

Shahwan filled me in on all the fine prison gossip I’d missed. Some months back, a child molester, or “chomo,” had begun leading daily evangelical prayer meetings in the religious services room. One evening, he and his co-religionists grabbed one of the big plastic laundry carts, filled it up with water, dragged it into the church, and began performing full-immersion baptisms. The guard on duty was visibly shaken; he didn’t know whether he was legally obligated to stop it or to let it proceed. He asked Shahwan what he thought. Shahwan told him to let it be, for everyone loves a good chomo baptism.

If you’re still stuck on the renting-out-syringes thing, I can assure you that they’re sterilized with diluted bleach between uses.

I also ran into a more recent acquaintance. Carlton Nalley had been with me at the Volunteers of America halfway house in Hutchins, where he was in the habit of insisting on his legal rights. Indeed, he had been in contact with the office of Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, as well as his representative from his home district in Virginia, regarding alleged instances of staff misconduct. Returning from D Magazine one day back in January, I found that Nalley was gone. The U.S. Marshals had picked him up that morning, something that usually happens only after a “client” is found, via the formal disciplinary process, to have committed some serious infraction. Nalley had committed none. A staff member had earlier accused him of having a smartphone, but well over half of Hutchins’ clients have them, and neither getting caught with one nor refusing to hand one over to staff constitutes a serious infraction; two other roommates of mine had been caught red-handed with smartphones at earlier points, and neither got in any real trouble at all. (Indeed, smartphones are allowed at many BOP halfway houses, and will be permitted at Hutchins in a matter of weeks.)

Here at Seagoville, Nalley explained that his re-arrest had been due to “concerns that he was suicidal.” In fact, he told me, halfway house director Merrill Wells had simply wanted him out.

I can confirm much of this because, as it happens, I was Nalley’s roommate during these events, and indeed was his bunkmate. I know that he was in touch with Rep. Johnson’s office because he made one of his follow-up calls from my phone a few days before his re-arrest. I know that the halfway house was proceeding with some sort of “suicide” excuse because I was present when a staffer came in to ask him, apropos of nothing, whether he was “okay.” And I know that Wells, though not a terrible fellow in the context of what goes on throughout the American prison complex at large, has no problem cooperating with the BOP in illicitly re-imprisoning inmates contrary to policy and federal law when they prove inconvenient, because that was exactly what Wells did to me — something I documented via audio recordings before my own re-arrest and BOP operations files after my release. Most of all, I know there’s no point in reporting any of this.

And that was the great lesson I learned during my original stay at Seagoville. To be sure, I had other formative experiences. It’s where I read Malcolm Muggeridge’s autobiography. It’s where I had lengthy conversations about Hermetic thought with former Dallas Cowboy Sam Hurd, whom I presented with a biography of Elias Ashmole upon his departure. Here, in my cell, I invented a game in which one throws a rubber band ball into a cup, though there’s more to it than that. I set forth to write a sort of neo-Greek tragedy and got three stanzas into the project before deciding that the world had no need for such a thing. I tried my hand at prison politics. I learned to appreciate Sonic Youth.

But most of all, I realized that journalism will not be enough to save this country.


Get a weekly recap in your inbox every Sunday of our best stories from the week plus a primer for the days ahead.

Find It

Search our directories for...









View All

View All


  • Good Rant Barrett…much love and respect from all of us that realize that more than Journalism is needed to save this country…(its over 9000)

  • Blood Wurm

    People are still too comfortable in this country. The world is in an abusive relationship, with the demi-gods they helped to create. You were released from one prison, welcome to the second.