Real Cost of Prisons Project: Writing from Prison:
"Fear and Chains" by James M. Anderson
"Fear & Chains"
My first day in prison was a nightmare. A nightmare I never thought would end. It was over 11 years ago now. I was 17 at the time and at that point I’d yet to even experience a whisker on the chin.
Labeled a criminal, I was sent “up-creek” for the roughest wake up call one could ever get. I was alone, scared, and I didn't know what to expect. I was a fish if you'd ever seen one, and definitely out of water.
That day began at McCarran, a youth offender facility in my hometown. I was yanked out of my cell around 10:30 a.m. by one of the staff. “The big days here”, was all he said. I knew what he meant. I was shackled from the waist to ankle, almost as though I were Hannibal Lecter himself. I was mortified. The coldness of all those rounds of metal hanging on me was enough to take a person's breath away; and for how tight they rig them I'm sure it did.
Tiny step by tiny step, I made my way to the “Blue-Bird”, which was known by all who entered the criminal justice system as the bus that would take you to one of the state's many penitentiaries. I want you to cry as I neared the “Blue-Bird”: everything at that moment became so real. All at once life as I had always known it ended instantly.
As I struggle to make my way up the bus' steps I realized 30 of the meanest looking guys I'd ever seen we're all staring directly at me. Some laughed, others whistled. I suppose I wasn't very intimidating. I kept my eyes down, not wanting to lock eyes with someone who'd no doubt rip my head off and shit down my neck in a matter of seconds.
I made my way to the rear the bus where the last seat was open. Unfortunately it was next to horrendously rough-looking biker. I thought everyone on the bus, including the armed guards, could hear my heart pounding with in my chest. I was literally on a one-way ride to hell.
During the ride the convicts joked that I looked like all of about 14 years old; and when I puffed my chest out and said, “ nope, I'm 17,” they all laughed and said I was probably getting dropped off at Hillcrest, which is yet another youth facility. What they didn't realize was I was in it for the long haul. I was going to “ Gladiator School”, which is what O.S.C.I. was known as due to the amount of violence it's walls contained.
I arrived at O.S.C.I around noon. We unboarded the bus and stepped single file into a rainy and cold line slowly making our way tiny step by tiny step towards the prison. After a routine strip search, I was handed prison clothes that were three sizes too small and sandals two sizes too big. If you've never been embarrassed or insecure in your life, wearing clothes such as those would surely do the trick, Humble Pie? Two slices please.
The door to the rest of the prison opened and we walk down an extremely long hallway to the units we were assigned. My cell was smaller than the bathroom I had at home, and my cell-mate, a skinhead, had more tattoos than any circus freak I'd seen on “Ripley's Believe It or Not”. He had dozens of nude mags everywhere; I didn't know what to say considering I'd only seen those types of magazines behind the counters at corner markets.
Then an incredibly loud fire bell rang for what felt like forever. I was ready to stop, drop, and roll. But in actuality, and to my surprise, it was just dinner being called. “Wow, prison is brutal”, I remember thinking. I knew things were never going to be normal for me again. Dinner? Haha. It looked like a pack of sick dogs all vomited on my dinner tray; I couldn't bring myself to even taste it. I ate one piece of bread.
I don't remember what hour I fell asleep that first night, but I'm positive it was well after 3 a.m. My nerves, and my inability to calm down, we're like drinking a whole pot of coffee.
“Riiinng.. Chowtime!” I was jolted awake. That stupid fire Bell again. People were yelling, dozens of toilets were flushing all at once, and cell doors were being yanked open and slammed shut. 5:30 a.m. breakfast. It was the beginning of day two. Only 9,124 to go.
By James Anderson
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