On eggshells. Bunkie scrutinizes every move I make.

You left water in the sink.

I get up and wipe it dry.

There’s a bead of piss on the back rim of the toilet.

I get up and wipe it dry. Try to get ahead of him. Start sweeping the cell. Learn a few things. Like how to do laundry. Acquire a bar of soap. Handwash lime green boxers. County T-shirt with the yellow collar gets same treatment. Socks too. Yellow blouse and blue pants get collected weekly. Issued clean ones upon receipt—washed by trustees working in the system for no pay.  Celly chastises me.

Dry out the sink.

Won’t let me use his clotheslines. Reluctantly teaches me how to make one. Stretch jailhouse T-shirt. Rip from the end and pull. Tears away as a string. Twirl tight. Hang from the bedpost to the sink area. Dried soap acts as glue.

M’s volatile, loud with bass and convict clean. Plays chess most of the day. Rest of his time is spent reading and doing burpees … I hate burpees.

Inmates start the morning reading the “Los Angeles Times.” Two copies delivered by 7 a.m. One for us. One for Crips. Don’t touch their copy. Arts section is best on Fridays. It’s where I find material to draw. Mainly comic book characters from Marvel and DC movies. One Crip likes my work. Takes a liking to me. Looks like Droopy the slurring cartoon dog. Facing 18 to 20 years for armed robbery. Six-year deal on the table. Not his first strike. Got him on video. Has kids. Plans to fight—get a better deal. Sits with me. Talks admirably of my drawings, never hinting at how lethal he’s had to be. Everyone asks you where you’re from in LA County jail. Where you grew up denotes which gang you roll with. Inescapable truth. If you’re from LA, depending on which street your house was on—you’re affiliated. State of California charges a tax for that. Calls them enhancements. Being from Texas immediately frees me from expectation. Almost embarrassed for not being a gangbanger. Grew up with a code. Mostly of my own making. Coming from a gang-heavy city in Texas prepared me for the inner workings of LA County Jail.

Bullshit! Nothing prepares you for LA County Jail.

Metal edges of a broken box sharpens my pencils. Box once housed a computer for inmates to look up court dates. Writing utensils bear a striking resemblance to those used to fill out surveys—kind you find in those plastic boxes from elementary school. Carry at least three lead-filled spears in deep pockets of my pants as a self-defense mechanism. For protection. For filling out numerous complaints on the lack of health care I’m receiving. Skin covering my rib cage is rubbed raw. Each movement on metal beds betrays my side sleeping tendencies, resulting in piercing pain that lasts all day.

Will’s smile reveals a mouthful of missing teeth. Saw me reading a book in my cell. “Still Watch,” by Mary Higgins Clark. Wouldn’t leave until I promised him the next read. Shows me the ropes. Been to prison before. Teaches me how to navigate LA County Jail’s healthcare system with round the clock requests and complaints. On his third strike. Facing several years in prison. Follows me to prayer call. Neither one of us is in the religious mood.

Prayer call attracts an interesting cast of characters. In a pod full of Crips, Brother Wayne’s the only “Piru.” That’s a Blood. Being Black supersedes any beef rival gangs may have in County Jail. At least in D-pod. Wayne’s a leader. Works out every day. Has a program—consists of more than burpees. Boxer. Chiseled. Enforcer. Gravitates toward me. Encourages my participation in prayer call. Wayne’s got two months in county. Probation violation. Knows the game. Grows on me despite setting off my PTSD. Each night that familiar call echoes through the pod.

Prayer Call. Prayer Call. Prayer Call.

Magnetic. Inmates slowly file out of their cells to congregate around a table underneath the stairs. Crip. Blood. Jew. Christian. White. Black. Mexican and Muslim alike all join hands. Something incredibly leveling about being ensnared in the Los Angeles criminal justice system. Weight from walls inside Twin Towers Correctional Facility crushes our humanity in a way that forces us together. Anyone charged with anything, no matter how heinous, shows up to prayer call. Connection provides a spark of strength each night despite hostility toward the god of my youth. Return nightly—even read a passage aloud to my fellow inmates from time to time at the urging of Brother Wayne. Tells me I’ll lead the call one day. Hard to believe. Don’t think I can scream that loud. Haven’t heard my real voice in months. Maybe years.

Guards walk through every fifteen minutes on the dot. Inmates get low or drop to one knee in deference. M bursts downstairs, barking and screaming as they exit.

Why the fuck did you lock me out of the cell?! 

Wasn’t me. Dickhead guard pulled the crumpled plastic stuffed in the latch to prevent the cell door from locking. Slammed it shut. Locked us out. My fault of course. Now we wait until the next walk through to get back in. We’ll have to stay locked up until mealtime. Boiling point between M and me. Submitting doesn’t sit well. M’s refusal to allow me to borrow books or share snacks produces seething resentment. Fat ass. Can’t stand to hear him chew. Smell his farts. Sound of his fear-bolstered baritone makes me want to rip his head off. Almost do. Gang stays out of it. M’s not affiliated. White collar criminal. Grifter. Already sentenced to eight years. Done two. In County preparing for his appeal. I move out. Moisture brims in his eyes as I pack my things. Had me trained. I pick a white bunkmate. John from prayer call. Crips don’t like this. Neither does Brother Wayne.

Commissary arrives. Inmates buzz with excitement waiting for their names to be called. Care packages from relatives and friends bursting with food items known as Zoo Zoos and Wham Whams keep us occupied long into the early a.m. Backdrop for our festivities? Card games. Domino tournaments. Chess. Friday in D-pod is a party. Will’s cell is packed due to his giving nature. Reminds me of a college cokehead using his penchant for scoring to gain friends, realizing at the end of the night he has none left for himself. So it goes with Will’s food and monthly Social Security check. Woman with the tiger tattooed on her tit cashes it for him. Breaks herself off. Puts the rest on his books. After his cell clears, I make sure to chastise him for selling himself short. Take a cookie from him when he insists. Join in what becomes a late-night ritual of dunking peanut butter cream-filled faux Oreos into saved milks. No money on my books yet. Only Dad knows I’m here. Waiting while he finds a lawyer for my approaching preliminary hearing. Been told family would be there when things get tough. Friends, too. Not true. Alone. Not being bonded out. Dad will get the lawyer, but I can tell from our first phone call—he’s resigned to my fate. Prison. Extended stay.

John is in the midst of a drug-induced psychosis. Gray-haired gremlin. Napoleon complex. Been here a few weeks. Cell is untidy. Smaller than the last. No picture of Jesus drawn above my bunk like before. Instead, there’s a wall with a long pencil-written equation only a meth head could write. John confesses to the strangest Oedipus complex. His mother’s been verbally abusive. Blames her for the botched circumcision that’s left him with 2/3 of his penis. Lived on the streets for about three years carrying around a used pocket pussy he found dumpster diving.

Wish he hadn’t shared any of this.

When I’m not helping John solve his meaningless equation. My nights spent drawing a picture of Ed Sheeran for my daughter. Face is hard to get right. Start and stop this project repeatedly desiring perfection for that beautiful little girl.

Haven’t seen her in months. Last time I saw her—already lost my mind. March. Moved away with her mother two years before. Descension into madness started that day. Tried like hell not to let her leaving undo me. Did anyway. Fought to keep my girl near most of her life. Moved three times to make sure we weren’t apart. News her mother bought a house in North Carolina paralyzed me. Too smoked out with California bud to mount a response. Whole move took less than three weeks. Not given much notice. That day in March might’ve been the last time I see her. Watched movies. Saw two that day. Mind rambled. Ruminations bled through my brain. She noticed. Don’t know if she knows I’m in here.



Friday before Christmas. Inmates clutter the stairs. Every time someone’s last name is called, they break through the frenzy to grab goodies. Huddle usually forms around them. Worries me. Package on the way. European girlfriend said it’d be here today. Called the jail several times to check on me. Psychiatrist came to the pod a few days ago. First time I’d heard my name called. Heart skipped. Warm feeling covered me. Thought I’d be set free. Instead, it was a message that my girlfriend put money on my books. Wanted me to call. Left a number. Didn’t want to talk to her. Felt like further conspiracy. Paranoia tells me her calls to the jailhouse shrink are the reason I haven’t been allowed back in gen pop. Got brought to D-pod after complaining about my ribs. Coincided with her calls. There’d been an attempt at an intervention. She came with Dad to take me away from LA. Almost got on the plane. Mind insisted it was a trap. Slipped them both when they joined the ticket line. Bolted to a Big Blue bus. Headed back to Ocean Ave. Got arrested days later.

Sound of my name being called breaks through my thoughts. Glazed over. Almost forgotten my name. Yellow sea parts. Glide to the pod window—unfamiliar with the process. Trustee points to my wristband. We’re numbers in here. Show my inmate ID to the commissary clerk. She’s Latina. Younger than me. Hot. Wonder how she got this job? Trustee hands me a pencil. I sign a piece of paper. Latina beauty hands me the package. Bam! Zoos Zoos and Wham Whams.

Conservation is king. Learned this the hard way. Lost items with each pod move. If it’s not from Keefe commissary—guards take all the extra. Towels. T-shirts. Boxers. Clothes used to make pillows. Jail-provided meals. All gone. It’s a business. Know it from day one. Sold into the system like Black and Brown slaves at auction. Identities stolen. Three strikes. Gang enhancements. High bail. All tools of the New Jim Crow. Mass Incarceration. Never thought it’d happen to me. Where Texas saw fit to slap one on the wrist? Outwardly use the word nigger—then let you go. LA hit different. No N word. Laws that said it for them. Prison industrial complex. Revolving door. Recidivism. Overheard a guard saying we’d be back in three months. Never getting out. How it feels anyway. Michelle Alexander was right. Should’ve read her book. Didn’t think it applied to me. Retire to my cell unaccosted. Tear open the package. Taste chocolate and salt for the first time in what feels like years. No salt in jail food. Barely any flavor. Only thing that helps are the seasoning packets from the overpriced ramen bought through commissary. That’s the main currency. One soup equals one dollar. Anything can be bought with soups in jail. Now I’ve got ramen.



Attire betrays our psychiatric state in D-pod. Yellow shirt. Blue pants. Got a few 5150s before my arrest. 5250 too. Codes California uses to hold for psychiatric evaluation. 5150? Seven days. 5250? Fourteen. What feels like freedom from their matrix to me was reason for evaluation to them. Wasn’t alone. D-pod is filled by inmates with 5150s. Some drool at the mouth. Others shuffle when they walk. Scary shit. Jailhouse zombies. Not one of them. Neither is Will. Uses his medication for social currency. Yellow shirts crowd him after pill call for the hand off. Looking for an escape. Egregious charges weigh us down. Five-hundred-year-old boulder on our backs. Don’t get me wrong. Not everyone in D-pod is a zombie. Crips don’t necessarily partake. Their thing is Pruno. Jailhouse wine. Only one of them seems to have a drug problem. Every two days or so he passes out. Crashes to concrete with a concussion-inducing thud. Stays in his cell a couple days, comes out to repeat the process. Fucking Thorazine.

Will stops by my cell regularly. Checks to see if I’m done reading whatever book he just scored for me. Intellectual discourse spans many topics including our love of writing—and our charges. If Will had a cigarette brand it’d be Chesterfield. Has that air about him. True Angeleno. Close to Hollywood. Friend of the industry. Flirts with writing for big shows only to be stopped by his partying. Before his arrest he’d written a pilot for a show. Had a meeting with Nickelodeon scheduled for 8 a.m. Buddy of his set it up. Decided to celebrate night before with some crack. Never showed up. Lost the job. Wasn’t the first time.

Will’s proclivity for rock cocaine might explain his missing front teeth. Somewhere between then and now Will got into a scuffle with his tranny roommate. They’d gotten into an argument over a pint of ice cream. Will grabbed a hammer. Took a chunk of skull out of his roommate’s head. Correction. Ex-roommate’s head. Claimed it was self-defense. State of California called it assault with a deadly weapon. GBI—stands for Great Bodily Injury. Not his first time. Will’s experience informs mine. I’m charged with a couple counts of assault with a deadly weapon. Attempted mayhem. Few other assault-related charges too. Throwing the fucking book at me. Crazy, considering I’ve never spent more than a night in jail.

Ready to fight. Maniac mutton-chopped munchkin goes berserk. All I did was ask him to keep the cell clean. Screams loudly,

Come on, Motherfucker.

Tempted to strike. Will appears out of nowhere. Pulls me away. Cellys come and go. Part of the system. One day you’re in a pod. Middle of the night, names get called. Pod rotates. Inmates shift cells to fill the empty beds. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. No such luck with John. Fucker went nuts. Crips have a pow wow. Decide I need protection to keep from getting more charges. Assign Brother Wayne to be my new bunkie. Effective immediately.

Wayne moans in his sleep. First night in new cell doesn’t go well. Wet dream. Can’t tell if it’s his fucking moaning or the fact that I haven’t had a release in months. That was only once. European girlfriend came into town to talk me into leaving. Might’ve mentioned that. Bathed me. Gave me a blow job. Months of tension on the streets released. Exploded. Same way it happened in the dream. Too quickly to control. Too many hard legs in the same space makes you wish they really did put saltpeter in the food. More homoeroticism than a straight man can handle. Ain’t for the faint at heart. Refused to touch myself in jail. So every few weeks—wet dream. Feels fucked up ejaculating in jail. Least for me.

Most peace I’ve had since my arrest. More comfortable with Wayne as a bunkie. Caters to me. Does all the cleaning. No expectation of me lifting a finger. Sees me as a holy man. Not how I see myself. Crips enlist Brother Wayne to protect their daily haul. Light-skinned brother with a bald head. Could be in his 60’s. No teeth. Drill sergeant type brings back food every day. Massive amounts of it. Bags full. Wayne’s job is to separate items. Crips sign off on me helping. Jellies, peanut butter, and bananas have high value. Used in jailhouse pies. Pies are luxury in the Twin Towers. How to make one depends on who you talk to. Everyone has their own recipe. Breaks down like this: Layers work best. Creativity determines the rest. New bunkie makes a killer jailhouse pie that rivals anyone’s in D-pod except for Avatar and his fellow Crips who get dibs on ingredients. Their pies are, bar none, the best. Fruit and orange juice have highest value for fermenting and flavoring jailhouse wine. Wayne and I get our cut when Avatar collects for his gang. Abundance. Jailhouse rich. Extra bologna sandwiches get handed out to hungry inmates at night. Makes us popular. Feels good. Apple jelly, peanut butter, and cut up bananas between two pieces of wheat bread washed down with orange juice is my favorite meal. True delicacy. Crips want Wayne and me to store jailhouse wine. Makes me uncomfortable. Wayne and I have a rapport that makes it easy for me to express my concern over alcohol in our cell. If guards find it—we’ll take the fall. Wayne understands. Takes care of it. We’re keepers of all extra food. No Pruno.

Party’s now in our cell on Friday nights. Brother Wayne presides over “the spread.” Spread is a jailhouse ritual. Breaking of bread. Everyone contributes something. Ramen is the main ingredient. Toss in some chips, seasoning packets—anything else that might add flavor. Brings us together. Laugh. Conversate. Take turns coloring in a giant outline of the linked letters L and A from the Dodgers logo. Whomever drew it did so perfectly. Takes up half the wall. Coloring crew consists of Wayne, Will, and I. Becomes our favorite pastime. By the time we finish. Bonded. Brothers. Feel a part of the city for the first time. Christened by its streets. Sleeping on them—and finishing that damn logo. Confirmed by joining my Black and Brown brethren in its corrupted county jail. Los Angeles … my fucking home.

Preliminary hearing hangs over my head. Arrest hangover’s slowly lifting. Remember more details. City closing in on me. Dodgers losing game seven. Picking up cigarette butts in an alley in Santa Monica. Kicking that Mercedes Benz. The fight. Getting jumped after I let him up. Goons pinning me down. Pressing my chest against pavement. Grabbing my legs. Smell of concrete. Twisting. Cartilage stretching. Rib cage cracking. Evidence of their brutality protruding on my left side. Lifted shirt reveals a bone sticking out. Skin’s not broken. Bruised. Reddish purple tattooing dark brown skin. Will attempts to touch me. Nervous system revolts. Jump back. PTSD. Drop my shirt. Can’t be touched. Not by a man. Not by anyone. No recollection of any trauma. Childhood or otherwise. Just uncomfortable. Have been since my best friends confessed to being molested in their youth. Created a distrust in me. Of this world. Of men. Of intimate moments with them. Jail is filled with such moments. Claustrophobic. Environment makes my skin crawl in more ways than one. Want my freedom.



Jailed for the holidays.

Brother Wayne’s time is short. Started as a 10-day flash. That’s when a parolee gets sent to county jail for one to ten days for fucking up. Guess Wayne fucked up again. Been here a month or two. Hard to tell. Feels like longer. Not looking forward to his release. Grown comfortable with our living arrangement. Protected me from the harsher realities of life in Los Angeles County Jail. Haven’t had one fight since moving to his cell. Not one night of hunger either. More laughs than I’ve had in months. Only plus I can see is this becomes my cell once he leaves. That and I’ll get the bottom bunk. When his name gets called in the middle of the night my heart sinks. Solemnly watch him roll up his things. Will and I embrace him as the guards impatiently wait at the pod entrance. Leaves his Long Beach address on a torn piece of loose-leaf paper. Say’s we’re welcome anytime. I immediately revert to heightened alert. Brother Wayne, my protector, lone Piru of D-pod is gone.



Prayer Call grew while Wayne was my bunkie.

Moved from a dark cell to under the stairs. Former celly was right, when the leader of the call gets released shortly after him, Will nudges me forward to make the call. We’ve grown close. His calm meshes with my chronic crankiness. Occasionally curses at me but always returns with a book. Sometimes minutes later. Pray to find my voice to make the call. First real prayer I’ve mustered since night of my arrest. Big Amigo’s got a funny sense of humor. Asked him for a roof over my head. Answered with Twin Towers Correctional Facility. With great trepidation I belt out the words.


One last time with even more baritone.


Expect no one to show.

First inmate to answer. New celly Sean. Came to us in bad shape. Trembling. Asks us to pray for his estranged girlfriend. Being one of the only white boys in the pod doesn’t bother him. Not a coastline kid. Other kind of white. Deemed trash by his own race. Raised by a single mother in Bumfuck, California. System hasn’t made it easy on Sean. Charged him with Felon in Possession of a firearm. First white man I’ve met with a genuine affinity for Blacks. Cast out by a system created to protect him. Doesn’t want to steal, appropriate or take credit. Isn’t being outnumbered that draws him to us. Day brother Wayne left, Sean knocked at my cell door. Asked to move in. Wanted to be my Bunkie. Promised to teach me how to paint murals like the one he’d painted in his cell. Bonafide work of art except for three big-titted blonds with machine guns he’d thrown in last minute. Never gives me a good reason for wanting to leave his cage. Not common for a white man to choose to bunk with a black man in LA County Jail or vice versa. Guess he felt safer with me as a celly. Felt the same way about him. Sean’s searching for a sense of belonging—for a home. Shit—maybe I am too. Decided on the spot. Moved him in that night before the Crips could place another body in my cage.

Tattoos cover Sean’s long frame. Looks more motorcycle mechanic than surfer. Has an easy air mixed with a California country vibe. Keeps me up at night with stories of his ex-girlfriend. Believes she’s his twin flame. Connect with him on this. Believe I’d found mine months before my capture. Chasing her is part of the reason I’m in here. State of California disagrees with me on that. I’d gone certifiable after meeting that French woman. That part isn’t up for debate. Sean similarly spun out, attempting to domesticate his flame who happens to be a stripper. Can leave her body, he says. Visits him at night. I believe my flame’s spirit lives inside my body. Her job is to teach me how to woo her counterpart on the physical plane. Represents all women. Sacred feminine. Yellow shirts? 5150s? We’ve earned ‘em.



When not discussing flames, our cell is an art studio. Sean spends hours teaching me how to paint murals. Key is to not think of the pencil as a drawing tool. Lead is paint. Wet T-shirt held tightly around your index finger is the brush. Scratch the side of your pencil point onto the cell desk. Dip the shirt-covered finger in the pile of lead shavings. Presto. Jailhouse Picasso. Sculptures are more challenging. Collect as much soap as possible. Grab leftover bars from the showers. Barter. Do anything to get more soap. Okay, not anything—it is county jail. Combine wet bars of soap like clay. Let dry. Use water to mold. Portraiture is hardest to learn. Sean tries for hours to show me how to properly scale the human face. Photorealism? Can’t quite get it. Pick up fishing a lot easier. Lesson born out of lockdown days. Never know when one’ll hit. Good predictor? LA Times isn’t delivered that day. Content deemed inflammatory gets held back. That’s what an inmate says anyway. Could be dickhead guards fucking with us.

Sean teaches me how to fish on days like this. Fishing is more recreation than sport in County Jail. Other way around in prison. Couple of items needed. Dental floss or string from a sheet is fishing line. Piece of cardboard or flattened-out core of toilet paper rolls is your bait. Attach the line to the cardboard. Scratch the cardboard against the ground like an old school DJ does vinyl. Push. That’s casting. Cardboard slides under item allowing you to pull it to you. That’s a catch. Got to catch your item before the guards walk through. Sean’s a pro. Takes me a while. Within a few lessons I’m catching fish without casting my line a million times. Not bad for an inmate. Can’t cut it for a convict.

At night Sean and I take turns reading passages out of a 12-Step Recovery book. Sean opens up about his father. Turns out Sean’s got a famous father. Bit of a rolling stone. Died a few weeks back. Never knew him. Before Sean’s mother passed she’d shared details of a fling. Said fling was no ordinary thing.

Sean’s mom copulated with Charlie Manson. Bore Sean shortly after.

Whole story seems like bullshit initially. Then it strikes me. He reminds me of someone. Much taller than I’d imagined. Sure as shit looks like a leaner version of Manson with a jailhouse crew cut. Changes the tenor of the cell. Push it out of my mind. Try to make peace with it. Hate to say it. Truth be told. Sean’s one talented SOB—much like Charlie. Apple falls far enough away from the tree for me. Sean respects time it takes me to get right with the news. Within a few days we’re back to painting like before. Still keep my good eye on him. Never tell a soul. Not until now.



Loneliness climbs on top of you at night in county jail. Slithers under your sheets. Chokes you. Mind wanders. Reminiscing isn’t the word. Missing is more fitting. Missing my former life. My daughter. My freedom. May never see her again. Silence has a sound behind bars. Sings a song. Clanking from other pods. Muffled conversations. Guards’ laughter is a weapon wielded well. That and their damn loud cologne breaks through the blanket of loneliness reminding me of where I am.

Every night around 2 or 3 a.m. names get called. Inmates move to other pods— deeper into the labyrinth that is the Twin Towers of Los Angeles. Survival instincts push back fear most nights except for one. That my name will be called. Forcing me to move. Away from Will. Sean. Hard-fought comfort I’ve found in County Jail. Most nights only one or two names get called. Tonight’s different. Litany of names ring out from the CO’s mouth. Untouchables even. Crips. No secret that guards know Black is in command. Balance is changing. More and more Latinos file in. Few more whites too. Tonight, they’re threatening to tip the scales. Remove Blacks from power in D-pod. Recompense for too many Pruno-fueled late nights, loud outbursts and fights.

Feels like my name’s next. Not the only one feeling this way. Sean’s wide-eyed. More afraid than I. I’m worried he’s right. Or that Will’s next. Worst of all me. It’s him. Sound of Sean’s name ripples through our cell like a heat-seeking missile destroying our art enclave. Paralyzes him. Eyes resembling those of a doe caught in county cross hairs fill with tears as he rolls up his things. No real goodbye. All in the eyes. Will rounds the corner as Sean exits. Relief greater than sadness as we watch him go.



Preliminary hearing’s fast approaching.

Dad got me a lawyer. Spend my days writing letters to my new attorney. Telling my side of things—best I can remember anyway. Will returns from his hearing in a great mood. Can feel the pod breathe a sigh of relief off his look. That’s the way it is in D-pod when someone returns from court. Collective support. Will’s lawyer loves him. Having a hot public defender believe his side of things matters—even more so she likes him. Will wants to be liked more than anything. Has the charisma to make it so. Even I like him. Already the best friend I’ve had in years. Believes my side of things, which is important to me. Coaches me on the process of a preliminary.

Crip who likes my drawings walks in after Will. All eyes on him. Waiting for a sign. Drops his head. One of his fellow brothers asks him what happened. Deals off the table. Prosecution wants twenty-five years. Settled on the spot. Took a plea. Doing sixteen. Going to Delano. That’s in North Kern County about two hours from Los Angeles—without traffic. California’s full of prisons. Convicts know this well. Will doesn’t think I’ll do prison time for a first offense. Hope he’s right.

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