Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Peculiarities Of Federal Prison Life

Prison can seem a little weird. In the beginning, the habits and mannerisms of some people kind of made me cringe. Now that I’ve been locked inside the boundaries of Taft Camp for more than seven months, I’ve become more accustomed to some of the peculiarities of my fellow inmates. Watching grown men eat with their hands or chew food with their mouths open, for example, no longer startles me. I just sit down and take it all in stride.

When I first arrived, I met some people who made me uncomfortable and I actually questioned their mental stability. One fellow with whom I was assigned to share close quarters introduced himself as Big Dog, Wuf Wuf. This person stood taller than 6 feet, 5 inches, had whiskers on his face and nearly every piece of visible flesh was tattooed. If he wore a pair of overalls, he easily could have stood in for an ax murderer on B series horror flicks. We were assigned to clean dishes in the soap-and-suds room and this job kept us only a few feet apart. I hoped that he was stable but when I introduced myself as Justin, he offered a peculiar nickname for himself.

“I’m Big Dog, Wuf Wuf” he told me.

“Okay”, I said, “I’m Justin and I’m new in the dishroom. What should I do?”

“You rinse”.

“Got it. No problem”, I said. What’s your name?”

“Big Dog, Wuf Wuf.”

“Yes. But what’s your name?”

He looked at me curiously as it my hearing were impaired and said, “Big Dog, Wuf Wuf”.

“You mean that’s it, I asked. Your name is Big Dog?”

“Wuf Wuf” he said.

“You mean, it’s the whole thing. I’m supposed to call you both Big Dog and Wuf Wuf?”

“Wuf Wuf”, he said.

I shook my head and began rinsing the dishes. Very weird, I thought. But that was simply part of the routine. While I was drying the dishes, for no apparent reason, Big Dog Wuf Wuf started yelling out to the crowd.

“Two minutes!” He shouted as if he were a drill sergeant, nearly causing me to jump out of my knee high rubber work boots. I felt startled and looked back at him. The sound he uttered was as if someone had just fired a gun. Yet, Big Dog Wuf Wuf kept washing the dishes as if nothing were unusual. No one in the chow hall seemed to pay any attention. I was wondering, however, whether the prison camp was also some type of insane asylum.

Since Big Dog Wuf Wuf continued to wash dishes as if he hadn’t blasted my eardrums with his scream, I ignored him and kept rinsing.

About 2 minute later he again yelled out, “two minutes!”.

I looked at him and continued rinsing. Obviously, Big Dog Wuf Wuf wasn’t talking to me or anyone else. He simply was living the dream, the Taft Prison Camp dream. The yelling, the peculiar nickname and his idiosyncrasies were his way of making it through his time. I didn’t get it then but now, after more than 7 months of confinement behind me, at least I’m no longer startled. Perhaps I am also becoming prisonized.

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