The Hoosegow Abyss-Part 6
Eddie G. transfers from Jackson to Marquette Prison where he becomes a major drug dealer, attacks a corrections officer, and is tossed in long-term segregation. But still lands on his feet.
Marquette Branch Prison
The Michigan Intensive Program Center is located on the grounds of Marquette Branch Prison and the contrast between the two could not be greater. If MIPC was redolent of Anthony Burgess’s Clockwork Orange, with its antiseptic interior and regimented programming, Marquette Branch Prison was reminiscent of Les Misérables, with its acrid dungeon smell of gloom and anger. Guards greeted us with barks and sorted us by number destined for various housing blocks. We shuffled against our leg irons through massive gates with inch and a half thick iron bars coated with generations of paint, into a damp caliginous holding area where we were unchained.
I was assigned to B-block along with one other guy where I was classified Blue Card and the other guy was given a Yellow Card. The cards were displayed on our cell doors and signified the following:
White Card: General population.
Yellow Card: Protection for your own safety, which meant you spent a lot of time in your cell, but not all the time.
Blue Card: The authorities had no specific reason to not allow you in general population, but they weren’t sure and wanted to monitor you before they gave you a White Card. This meant I was allowed in general population for short periods of time until a final decision could be made.
Red Card: Disciplinary segregation. There were two types of segregation: short stays of 3–6 months meant you were on continuous lock-down in a regular cell block; while prisoners serving longer stays, up to and including indefinite segregation, were housed in F-block. Some prisoners in F-block had their cell doors welded shut for 4–5 years!
To my surprise, I was allowed out on the yard my first day at MBP. I immediately noticed a bunch of confused and shocked looking guys staring at me. I was uncomfortable with whatever was going on until a couple of older convicts approached and told me I looked like a younger version of a well-known psychopath who prisoners thought had been murdered by MBP staff. Turns out that the psycho had escaped from the segregation section of MPB, a maximum-security prison, and two hours later was caught and returned to his cell where he was later found hanging from his cell bars, a torn piece of sheet around his neck. Officials claimed it was a suicide, but prisoners who knew him said “no way.” This was a guy who would kill you for the hell of it. In addition, on his return he was placed in a section of F-block called “the cannery” where the cell doors were covered with plywood so no light entered, and the cell was stripped of everything except a 3’X6’ slab of cement used as a bed: no mattress, no blankets, no sheets, no clothes…nothing…yet Johnny Herrera somehow managed to hang himself with pieces of sheet tied together.
When guys asked my name, I said “G” but they heard “Herrera.” When they asked me how much time I was doing, I said, “Three life sentences” and that convinced them I was Johnny Herrera back from the dead. I decided to take advantage of the situation: I told guys I was related to Johnny and the respect and deference I was shown skyrocketed. None-the-less, the situation was not without problems. Back then it was common for a family member in one prison to resolve a problem caused by a family member in another prison, and because Johnny was so violent, he had many enemies in the system. I was extra careful about a week or so until it became evident that there wasn’t going to be trouble.
Hey Buddy, Got a Match?
A couple of weeks into my stay a white prisoner asked to borrow my padlock. Prisoners were issued padlocks to lock their cell doors when they were out of their cells as one method to discourage cell theft. Guards had copies of every padlock key. I gave the guy my lock and he went about three cells away from mine and padlocked the door of a cell still occupied by a Black guy. The white guy had a container of what turned out to be lighter fluid and leather glue (homemade napalm). The white guy lit a piece of cloth hanging from the container and threw the container at the cell causing an explosion. The guards came running but couldn’t unlock the padlock because they didn’t know it was my lock. The cell was eventually opened with bolt cutters while the convict screamed in agony; he was badly burned across his face, chest, and arms, and lost all his fingers on both hands. The white guy was eventually identified, charged with a new crime, and given an additional 3–10 years. It came out in court that the attack was motivated by the victim pressing the other convict for sex. The Black prisoner insisted on getting sex or being paid a protection fee by the white prisoner. I say the white guy did what he had to do. I questioned why he had to burn his tormentor when he could more easily stab him, but that was his choice on how to handle it, not mine. It turns out the Black prisoner was one of four brothers, all in prison and all known sexual predators.
Eventually I was given a White Card and released to general population. I was moved to D-block and given the job of first gallery porter, which entails cleaning the gallery during count time when everyone else is locked down. One day I noticed a Mexican prisoner being escorted through the block for a visit. Normally during count time there is absolutely no prisoner movement except for the cleaning porters. MPB was different in that they allowed prisoners out during count for visits. I attempted to talk to the Mexican but he ignored me and walked on. After making inquiries, I learned this prisoner was a member of a notorious Detroit drug family and was serving for second degree murder. He had killed a young girl delivering newspapers door-to-door, mistaking her for somebody he was told was going to kill him. In Michigan, if police receive information that a crime is about to be committed, they must warn a person believed to be at harm. Police warned this Mexican (I’ll call him Bobby) of an impending hit on him and the killer would be driving a late model Ford. So, when a late model Ford drove up at 4:00 a.m. Bobby was ready. The problem was the Ford was driven by the young girl’s father as he helped her cover her paper route. Bobby paid for the girl’s funeral and bought her father a new Thunderbird. When it came to sentencing, the father pleaded with the judge to not send Bobby to prison, but the judge sentenced him to 7 to 20, for which Bobby served four years and was released. So, if you want to know the worth of a Detroit teenage girl’s life, it’s a new Thunderbird and four years.
In any event, Bobby had heard a rumor there was another contract on his life and barely came out of his cell. For a guy who was supposed to be dangerous, I thought he was a coward. When I finally got to talk to him, I assured him if there was a contract, I would take care of it. He didn’t believe me until other prisoners told him I was related to Johnny Herrera, and that I was claiming Bobby as a cousin. It took a couple of weeks to get Bobby out of his cell and walking the yard. What I didn’t know was that Bobby had shared the details of my helping him with his brother, a major Detroit drug dealer.
Marquette is a long way from Saginaw and my family, so I didn’t expect to receive many visits and I was surprised when I was called out for a visit: the only visits I got were my parents and I knew well in advance when they were coming.
The Marquette visiting room is large to begin with and made larger because the ceiling was two stories’ high. The room was neither bright nor dark, being lit by cold florescent lights hanging on chains from the ceiling, giving the room an ethereal feel. You entered through massive electronic gates and stepped onto a 6’ X 10’ area where you descended six steps to reach the visiting room floor. Immediately right of the steps was a concession stand staffed by prisoners that sold all sorts of junk food to convicts, visitors, and staff. The prisoners handled all the money. The room had two restrooms, male and female, and could be accessible by getting a key from the visiting room guard.
The chair seats were large, well-cushioned, and armless, allowed you to sit close to your visitor. Hugging and kissing were never problems, but if things got carried away the guard would come and tell you to “slow it down.”
Making a Living
I was already seated when a Hispanic guy about my height, wearing a full-length leather coat, a hat, lots of jewelry, and boots with two-inch heels — -in other words: dressed like a pimp — -entered the room and walked toward me. He looked tall, but once down the steps, and subtract the heels, he was my height, about 5’6’. He walked with that home-boy ‘cat’ walk, leaning to one side while swinging his arm as if paddling air to move forward. Back then I thought the ‘cat’ walk stupid, and still do today. His name was John and when he took off his hat his hair exploded into a full afro.
John didn’t stay long, making his business quick and to the point. He was one of Bobby’s older brothers and had heard I was “looking out” for Bobby. I explained it was what I did for fellow Hispanics, whether I knew them or not. He nodded and said he was willing to send me a half-ounce of heroin every two weeks if I continued to look out for his brother. I told him I knew nothing about heroin and had no way to transport it into the facility. He said he would pay someone to bring it into the facility and would cover all expenses at no cost to me. The only caveat was that he didn’t want Bobby to know about this visit or our arrangement. He said Bobby could take care of himself and that he was just placing insurance on the matter. I didn’t tell him I thought Bobby was a coward. Who was I to mess with a benefactor’s illusion?
It wasn’t long after that visit that I was approached by someone willing to bring the heroin inside. I never saw heroin before and hadn’t a clue on how to sell it or what to charge. The guy transporting the stuff shared his knowledge and introduced me to two guys, one Black and one white, who told me everything I needed to know about selling heroin in prison. I quickly hired two runners to distribute the drugs who worked for a percentage of the profits. During one of my stays in segregation at another prison, I read the Godfather and decided to use that as a model for my profit-sharing business. I also provided my runners with $1,000 in legal assistance funds in the event they got caught. My version of an employee benefit. Besides, I was going to provide a service, since the prison population was a cornucopia of needs, where everything had a price, and every price had an enforcer.
I decided Marquette had it all: There was a black-top area of the yard where several dozen gambling tables were set-up. We had black-jack tables, poker tables, nickel-dime tables, and high stakes tables. The Blacks had a favorite game played at what they called the “skin table.” The authorities ignored the gambling, so it was a good way to distribute drugs.
There were prisoner carpenters who for fifty dollars would come to your cell and erect bespoke shelves and cabinets. I had a lazy Susan installed with my cabinets, and a box attached to the front of my cell to hold my TV. I also installed curtains for privacy, which had to be opened during count time. In 1975 we could order hot plates and even bird cages and could purchase our own blankets with the understanding we had to leave them behind if we transferred.
Talented prisoner leather workers made everything from wallets and purses to horse saddles, including gun holsters and rifle cases. MBP ran a store outside the prison where civilians could buy prisoner made hobby-craft items, with a percentage of the proceeds placed in each leather worker’s account.
Dozens of homosexuals in shorts and eye make-up and female styled hair worked the yard willing to take care of you for the price of a carton of cigarettes, back then $2.50. There were gays that wiggled their asses and considered themselves “professionals” providing services (with or without pimps), and there were gays who considered themselves “married;” you could get in a lot of trouble with a “husband” for even talking to one of the “wives.” Marriage ceremonies were conducted, and I got invited to a few. What struck me is some of these convicts were actually in love and showed each other genuine affection. Prison is a condensed and magnified version of the outside world; both contain cruelty and tenderness, but in prison these things are a more intense reflection of each other. My prison experience, plus my extensive reading, lead me to think that groups of men denied normal sexual outlets will rape women first, then children, then animals, and eventually each other. Though convicts occasionally fought over a “queen,” these sexual outlets overall acted to reduce violence.
Guards ate in a separate dining room from prisoners and had their own cook named Wishbone. Guards would place orders with Wishbone knowing their meal would be ready when they arrived. Wishbone ran a catering business where he took prisoner orders and delivered them to cell block front gate, even handing the meal to a block officer and telling him to, “Deliver this to Eddie G.” Of course, nothing came cheap, but money wasn’t an issue.
The Good Life & Pretty Seven
Things went well for months, money flowed, and I spent it as fast as I got it. I expanded the business by introducing various pills and marijuana, which I paid to have delivered to the facility. I had a few problems…three guys tried to rob me once…but nothing I couldn’t handle.
One day I noticed a guy who would often go to a gambling table and ask to “borrow’ money. He always got the money and the ‘house’ man at each table looked unhappy when the guy left. The guy’s name was Griffin, but he was called “Pretty Seven,” and was serving multiple life sentences. He had done five years in a welded cell in F-block for killing a prisoner a decade earlier. His reputation was as a killer who butchered people for little or no reason.
He was called Pretty Seven for two reasons: He had escaped from a Missouri prison after serving seven years of a life sentence: and ‘Pretty” because he was corrosively ugly with a wary yet predatory expression on his face made comical by his strabismus. Pretty Seven was always by himself dressed in shabby clothes (back then we could wear prison issued clothes, or our own ‘street’ clothes) and with stringy, dirty, frizzled hair. I wanted nothing to do with him. If Pretty Seven had a soul, he likely stole it used from a moral rummage sale.
I remember telling the guy who told me about Pretty Seven’s strong-arming, “He won’t get a dime from me. We’ll just stab each other before I give him a dime.” However, the day came when he approached me. I had just received a morning delivery and was on route to give my runners 200 packages of heroin when Pretty Seven stopped me. He smiled one of those crooked cartoon smiles that rode up the left side of his face and said, “G. lend me $100.” I had in my possession $3,000 worth of heroin and my beautiful seven-inch serrated blade honed sharp. I thought, ‘If I stab him, I’ll lose my money.’ I liked my money, so I reached into my pocket and handed him teen packets worth $200, and said, “I know what you’re thinking. You asked for $100 and I’m giving you $200. But understand, I’m asking you to go sell this product and keep $100 and bring me back $100. The $100 means nothing to me because I have $3,000 worth in my pocket.”
Pretty Seven’s smile faded and he walked away. I was relieved he left because just talking to him scared me. In about ten minutes he returned with $200 and gave it all to me. I explained he earned the $100, but he simply asked for another $200 in product to sell. He repeated the same ritual all afternoon until he had sold all the drugs. He had gone to all the gambling tables and sold the product. This way the gamblers were getting something for their money…a product they could resell and earn money, while keeping on good terms with Pretty Seven.
By the end of the afternoon, when Pretty Seven had sold all the drugs and brought me the money, we sat down to talk. He still hadn’t accepted the original $100. When I asked him to explain he said, “Nobody has ever given me the opportunity to make money. You did.” When he asked if he could continue working for me, I employed him on the spot and from that day on he was as loyal as a puppy. He proved his loyalty on many occasions, willing to carry out any request I put to him.
Unlike Jackson Prison and even the Michigan Reformatory, Marquette is a small facility holding about five hundred prisoners. This means that sooner or later everyone knows your business, so it was no surprise that one day I was called off the yard to return to my cell where I was met by the Inspector Bernie DeRoche, a huge man about 6’3” and 300 pounds. Rumor had it that DeRoche worked at San Quentin for fifteen years before coming to Marquette. He was standing in front of my cell along with a sergeant and when I arrived he told me to open my cell padlock and have a seat. DeRoche said he knew I received a package of heroin today and that it was in my cell and he was here to find it.
My Big Fuck-Up
I sat outside my cell for three hours as they emptied every container, opened every cabinet, and searched the mattress and every crack and corner. The day was hot and they were sweating profusely through their shirts, down their pants, wet to the core. I knew they would only find excess tokens, plastic currency we used in the prison; we were only supposed to have $100 worth, and they would find a couple of thousand dollars’ worth in a shoebox under my bed, and I knew they didn’t care about the tokens because they could find those in any gambler’s cell. Finally, DeRoche said, “You can go now.” If they had found drugs I would have been placed in cuffs. DeRoche was flushed pink from the top of his head, down his neck, and along his moist arms when he said, “I’ve been dealing with some of the cleverest inmates in this country and I have to give you credit. You’re right up there with the best.” It made me feel good, what DeRoche said. Not bad for a twenty-year-old. Then he smiled and said, “But I’ll get you G., it’s only a matter of time.”
I laughed and said, “Neither you or your staff will get me because they’re either too stupid or lazy.
“Oh no,” DeRoche said, I’ll get you.”
“The only way you’ll get me is if you set me up,” I said.
DeRoche went on to say he would never set me up and he gave me his word. He held out his hand and as we shook on the agreement I leaned forward and whispered, “Inspector, the drugs are in my cell.” De Roche shook his head, turned around, and walked away.
After the cell search, I made some business security changes. I limited my prisoner contacts and made sure the only people who new delivery dates were me and the guy delivering the goods. I also set-up a simple emergency security system. On delivery days, I hired a prisoner to walk with me, not for physical protection but as a decoy. If a guard approached me on the yard for a search, my decoy’s job was to simply run. When the guard hollered for him to stop, the decoy was to drop to the ground after about fifty feet and spread his arms and legs. While all this was going on I just walked away. I had to use this only once, but it worked like a charm. It cost me $25 for each escort, and the only thing the decoy suffered was a day in the hole; after all, he had nothing on him so there is no way they could charge or hold him.
I thought everything was under control until a new, young, guard by the name of Ted came up to me and said, “You’re just a punk. If I was in prison, I’d make you my kid.” I grabbed him by the throat and pushed him against the wall. Instead of trying to defend himself, he just laughed and blithely said, “I got you G.” I let him go and walked away and within a half-hour two officers put me in cuffs and escorted me to F-block. I was charged with “assault on staff.” The next day the Inspector came to my cell to read me the charges and told me, “You’ll be sitting here in F-block for years to come G., so get used to it.” He explained he had put a bounty on my head and invited staff to collect the reward, which was a week’s extra vacation with dates determined by the winner — -a real prize, particularly to a young officer.
I’d been had! I played the game and lost. I had violated one of my cardinal rules: gratuitously piss off staff. As far as I’m concerned, the Inspector didn’t set me up; what he did was not the same as planting drugs in my cell but was more a mind game, which he won fair and square.
The Inspectors threat about being years before I was out of F-block stuck in my head. Segregation is caustic boredom that rots you mind; each day is the same as the last and no different than the next. Time becomes primitive in the ancient Egyptian sense that each day is divided into twelve hours of daylight and twelve of night. All sounds are sudden and random and startling. Thinking becomes scattered and disconnected from bodily sensation; there is nothing for the body to do so the mind drifts away sometimes to never return. Prison teaches that your precious commodity is time, yet philosophers and scientists say time is an illusion. No doubt those scholars have never done segregation time.
I started to put a plan together after learning one of my F-block neighbors had been in his cell for four years. I remembered that many of the guys at MIPC had come from F-block and decided that was my way out of F-block; after all, a few months at clean MIPC was better than four years in F-block shit hole. I contacted the director of MIPC, and Matt Thomas, the MIPC social worker. I contacted anyone I thought would listen. My Mother contacted the MDOC Deputy Director, Mr. Robert Brown, and three months later I was transferred to MIPC. Inspector De Roche was not happy.
When I got to MIPC I was welcomed back like I never left. I ran through the program in four months and was again transferred to the Michigan Reformatory…my third time at MR. The powers that be at MR decided I was too “experienced” to be kept there with young guys, so they immediately transferred me to Jackson Prison.