August 25, 2014

Other than hermit caves, the backwoods and old folks’ homes, prisons are one of the last places in modern America completely cut off from cell phone and internet. Yes, we do have e-mail on a closed system circa 1988. And we have access to wall-mounted telephones reminiscent of pre-breakup Ma Bell’s finest. But our closest contact with actual, modern technology is the occasional glimpse we catch of a guard chatting on his mobile phone or surfing the internet in his office.

Combine that cut-offedness with a closed, hierarchical society in which inmates are always the last to know and the result is an overactive prison rumor mill. I once thought that TMZ, The NY Post, People and the Kardashian’s had a lock on rumor and gossip. Now I know that they couldn’t hold a candle to the average inmate.

The inmate rumor mill is so pervasive and so hyperactive that prisoners even joke about it with tongue-in-cheek references to You see, some years back a rumor swept American prisons that the answers to all prisoner questions and complaints could be found on a magical site to which, of course, we did not have access: Though the falsity of that rumor soon came to light, the reference stuck. Now, whenever some particularly far-fetched rumor comes along, prisoners jokingly say that it must have come from (To readers on the outside: I would be curious to learn from you whether there is, in fact, a site at this address and, if yes, what it contains. If not, I would suggest that you buy up the address immediately.)

For example, a rumor recently circulated like wildfire that they were serving food in the kitchen stamped “not for human consumption”. As I happen to work in the kitchen, I know this to be false, although my protestations failed to sway many minds, including the minds of some of my kitchen co-workers, who should’ve known better. (That’s not to say that much of the food is long past its expiration date, however, or that it’s all of Grade AA quality). Another, stranger, rumor, is that saltpeter is surreptitiously added to our food and that this is done to keep prisoners from getting erections while inside. (If any reader has a bit of time on his or her hands, I would be interested to learn whether this substance actually causes this to happen). If they are, in fact, adding saltpeter to our food I have yet to see them do it. Nor have I experienced its purported effects except to the extent that the complete absence of all women cuts down on my libido. Who knows? Maybe it’s added to our water along with the fluoride.

As you can see, there’s something of a theme here: many rumors have to do with food. Another relates to the relative harm and/or safety of various types of sweetener. Here in prison we have pink and blue (as best I can tell, generic versions of Sweet-n-Low and Equal). Rumor has it that the blue’ll kill you but that the pink can be consumed in high doses. Go figure.

Other rumors relate to our circumstances. For example, in my last post to Justin’s site, I reported that the Lompoc prison camp RDAP program will likely close and re-start at a nearby higher-security prison. This is, in fact, true, because I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth: the doctor in charge of the program here at Lompoc. Since then however the prisoner rumor mill has been rife with new twists and turns: everything from the rumor that the program will be closed before we’re finished to the possibility that will be divvied up and shipped off throughout the country.

Yet others related to who did what. If someone gets sent to segregated housing – a fairly common occurrence – wild rumors soon fly in the absence of hard facts as to his transgressions. Last week someone in our dorm was carted off and I heard stories – all told in complete earnest – that (1) he had a locker full of contraband, (2) he attacked a psychiatrist, and (3) he ran off naked through the woods. I still don’t know which is true.

I could go on and on and on. My recommendation? If you are facing potential prison time, give Justin’s prison advice service a chance. He can cut through the rumors you may be hearing on the outside about prison life, and prepare you for the disinformation you’ll confront on the inside.

Leigh Sprague


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