| 'Prison turned my life around'
another Dagger interview
C68209 was an inner-city punk. In 1983, when
he was 21 and "under the influence of alcohol, cocaine, heroin and
a shot of testosterone," he went to score some pot from a woman
he had been diddling. He came on to her and she tried to put him
off; her husband was sleeping in the next room. He was too loaded
to pay attention. The husband woke up, they got into a brawl, he
grabbed a kitchen knife, the husband died. C68209 was convicted
of manslaughter and spent four years in Chino, Tracy and San Quentin
State Prisons. Today he is a nice guy, with a family, a good job,
good attitude, etc. He says that his prison experience turned his
Tell me about what you were when you went in,
what you did in there, and what you were when you came out.
Well I went in at the age of 21, weighing about
125 pounds, picked up a welding trade in there, and I've been welding
ever since. It was a really violent place...somebody getting stabbed
all the time.
Were you subject to a lot of violence?
Oh yeah! We were always getting in some shit with
somebody. But as an individual I never had any problems; it was
just as a group.
Were you in a gang?
Not per se, but you could say it was a network
of gangsters, since almost everybody in there is gang related. So
I wasn't really in one particular gang.
Prison really turned my life around. I think I
told myself, well I'm in here for x number of years, I've got no
other choice. So I think from the very beginning I told myself,
if I don't come out with a little more than I went in with, then
it really will have been a total waste of time.
It was a pretty crazy place. A lot of people hooked
on drugs. That seems to be the main source of crime in one form
or another ... drug abuse. I would say everybody--at least as high
as 95%--it's drug related, in one form or another. I guess I just
persevered ... there were a lot of guys who would just give up.
It's real easy to give up, because it's so hard to make it once
you have that kind of thing on your jacket.
So you learned a trade. When you worked in
jail, were you making money?
Yeah, about 18 cents an hour as a welder. Then
I went up to 45 cents and hour -- top pay scale!
Were you doing prison related things or outside
Mostly making tables and beds...they call them
cookie sheets because they're just a solid metal sheet that they
bolt up to the wall to hold a mattress.
Learning a trade was the main thing that enabled
me to stay out of jail. I didn't always have the best job, but I
always had a job, always had money in my pocket.
Did you live in terror all the time you were
in jail, or did you relax and get used to it?
Yeah...you have no other choice. You live as much
of a normal life as you can. The only time you could fully relax
was at the end of the day when the door closes on your prison cell.
That's the only time you can relax. You're always on alert. You're
not living in terror...Some people live in terror in that place.
Why? What determines that?
What determines it is if you have any type of
fear or weakness, it will be exploited. I mean everybody's a little
scared...you'd be lying if you said you weren't, but not to the
point where you can't function under their rules.
When you say "their rules," do you mean the
gangsters or the guards?
The gangsters...the convicts run that place; the
guards don't run that place. The convicts do everything. They do
all the administrative work, so they know who you are and what you're
about before you even get there. If you're a rat or a child molester
or something like that, they know about it before you get there,
and they're waiting for you. They've actually killed some of them...stick
a big knife up their ass...it's got these barbs so when it comes
out it takes everything with it. But for the most part, what it
all seems to come down to is if there's any trouble--which there
always is--are you going to be there or are you going to run?
And what's the right answer?
You've got to deal with it...hang in there and
stick it out. And once they know you're not a pussy, and you're
not going to take off running, then it gets a little easier. For
myself, they could tell that I wasn't a gangster, that I was just
pretty much myself, and they didn't like it. If you weren't a gangster
going into it, then you weren't shit. But once they saw that no
matter what happened, I was there, regardless if I was a square
or not, then its ok. And people that I got bad vibes from, I just
stayed away from. Because there's a lot of people there that are
never getting out of prison. Young, too, when they went in there.
So you really gotta walk light. And maybe a little bit of luck.
And my mom praying for me. It made a big difference in my life.
I'm definitely blessed to come out with the GED that I got in prison,
really no other work background, and I pretty much have made it
to the pinnacle of a welding career...
Was it weird getting out?
Initially I didn't think it would be, but it definitely
takes time to adjust back to the real world, because the rules are
Do you think these prisons, as you experienced
them, are the best way to deal with our delinquents?
You know the prisons have some really good training
facilities if the individuals will take advantage of them, but you're
living in a 100% violent environment, so it's a day-to-day thing,
it's never a long-term thing you can plan, "I'm going to get a trade,"
or "I'm going to get a degree." You never know what's going to happen.
I think most of the people there really deserve
to be there.
You deserved to be there, right?
Definitely. I probably deserve to still be there.
What was the most horrible experience you had
I think it was getting caught ... going outside
my building to tell this guy the football score, getting caught
outside in my boxers, right when a riot between the Mexicans and
the Blacks was ready to kick off. So I had no clothes on, no place
to hide a weapon, nothing. Boxers and shower thongs, and I walked
into the middle of a riot! For ten or fifteen minutes, it was like
being in the middle of a war zone in your underwear!
Were you injured?
No. Never. I came out of that place without a
scratch. Thanks to the Lord, brother. I know you don't believe in
God, but I do.
Well, I believe in giving thanks!
It's crazy. It was a very sobering experience
for me. It changed my life. Most people, it doesn't, because they
get out, and it's very hard to persevere. Some people don't have
the intestinal fortitude.
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