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'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 life around.

 

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 work.

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 so different.

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 in jail?

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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