Editor’s Note: The first day of being prison, no matter how long an inmate’s sentence is, can be a sobering, intimidating, scary experience. For Alpha Male Ryan, watching an overly aggressive corrections officer bully an elderly inmate – and then making the mistake of saying something about it – meant his first day in prison turned out to be even more painful than he could have expected.
They try to do it all in the middle of the night so you’re tired and disoriented and it psyches you out. They get you off the bus, and take your shackles off and your handcuffs, and they strip you buck naked. They do a search to make sure you’re not bringing anything into prison. That would actually be the best time to sneak something into prison, because they don’t thoroughly check you. It’s just, ‘Squat and cough.’
The building is a closed in warehouse where they pull you in and lock the door. It makes you feel like you’re in prison right away. It’s like a cargo bay warehouse where they load cattle. You get in there and they give you boxer shorts and a towel. The guards are all talking tough to you. Everybody’s a tough guy at that point.
We were standing in a line, wearing nothing but boxer shorts. There was this old man near me, and he had a scar on his chest, that went right over his heart, and it was obvious that he’d had heart surgery. The officer told him to do something, but it was obvious he couldn’t speak English. He was probably in his sixties. The officer told him something about speaking English, but the old guy didn’t understand him.
So the officer walked up to him and punched him in the chest — right where the scar was. The old guy fell over.
I was pretty angry. That’s when I opened my big mouth — and learned better. I said it kind of quietly, but at the same time, I said, ‘Oh, there’s a tough guy for you.’
And I’m thinking to myself, You don’t put your hand on an older man with a scar like that. It’s obviously an old man who had heart surgery. That doesn’t make you a tough guy to do that. I’m watching the officer hit him, and that kind of stupidity isn’t born in you, that’s bred in you.
The guard heard me. He said, ‘Oh, you’ve got a slick-a** mouth.’ I said ‘No, sir.’ I knew what was coming, but I also knew I could take it.
The officer said ‘We got cures for that type of thing here.’ I said ‘Yes, sir.’ He shoved me. He said ‘You want to jump me?’ and he pulled out mace and sprayed me right in the face, and then three or four officers jumped on me and pushed me into a cell and were kicking me in the chest and spraying me with mace. That’s what the guards do. They all fight in packs. Their slogan is ‘We never walk alone.’ They always need their backup.
That’s why, when they took my first photo, my eyes were like that. They’d just maced me.
So what did I do? I balled up. What could I do?
They took me down to the shower, told me to clean myself up. My eyes were burning. It was cold water, so I was trying to get out of there quick. It helped my eyes a little bit.
Next, they take you into a room – and they scalp you. There’s two chairs in the room, and you just wait. When it’s your turn, you go sit down and they scalp you. They take off all your hair with clippers.
You get your prison “blues” to wear, your photo taken, you get your I.D., and they give you toilet paper and a bar of soap, a toothbrush, and a washcloth that’s been used by 30 million other people. Everything you wear has been used by 30 million other people – socks, boxers, washcloth, towel — and it’s the color of a dirty toilet – nasty.
The first place you go is Open Bay. It’s like a dormitory filled with a bunch of bunk beds. They assign you a bed. I was above, because I’m young and agile, and I didn’t try to cheat the system and get a Lower Bunk pass, because I was new to the system. The pass means you get to stay on all the low bunks. Lower bunks are best. You don’t have to jump onto a bunk when you want to go to sleep. Everybody wants lower bunks.
They give you lunch. It was hot dogs and beans, and a cookie. It wasn’t all that bad. It turned out being one of the better meals I got in prison. To drink, they give a Kool-aid type of substitute. It’s some powder you put in water. It’s disgusting. It’s nasty. Even the guards said there’s been some studies done that this stuff is bad for you, that there’s something in the punch they use to polish silver. It was that to drink, or water – and I always went with water.
That was my first ever lunch in prison.
While you’re eating, you sit with everybody else on a bunch of benches in the room. Talking wasn’t really allowed. There was a lot of whispering going on, but no talking. They don’t allow you to talk when you’re getting processed.
Back in the dorm, I socialized, talked to a couple of guys. Beyond that, there’s not much I can tell you about my first night. I was traumatized. Let’s be realistic. I had a baby at home, I had a girl at home, and you’re telling me I’ve got two years left and that’s the earliest I can get out – in years?
I was devastated.
If you’re about to go to prison and you’re scared as hell, my advice is … once you get there, you go to sleep, man. You stop thinking about it. Wake up, do what you’ve got to do to get by, and then go back to sleep. Then just repeat that for as long as it takes to get by, and remember …. you’re not going to be in there forever ….