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Notes on Jail, Part 1: Damn, He Fucked The Shit Outta Me!

25 min read
This is actually just Alcatraz, but good stock images of jails are hard to come by.

“Damn, he fucked the SHIT outta me!”

Those words, delivered with an enthusiastic combination of elation and awe, thoroughly dominated “the discourse” in the Richmond, VA metro area’s drug, criminal and urban circles in the late-Spring and early-Summer of 2016—the real-life equivalent of something “going viral” on the Internet—to a degree that I don’t remember anything else having done during my years in the wilderness. I first heard them in the Spring. I remember, vividly, when I first heard them.

I’d gone out to dinner with my ex, Lacey, at Longhorn Steakhouse. Lacey worked at the Post Office and mentioned that several people on the job had been sharing the story of a local drug-dealer, D.O., getting penetrated anally by a trans woman. Someone at her job was acquainted with D.O.—her cousin was D.O.’s wife; it seems this cousin already had no small amount of antipathy for D.O. prior to this incident, and the feeling was mutual—and had relished spreading this news, which she knew would serve to hurt D.O.’s reputation if not put him in actual danger. I didn’t think much of it, but then she said that a video had surfaced in the aftermath, and she described its contents in fairly graphic detail and did a pretty accurate impression of the “fucked the SHIT outta me” to boot. The video, Lacey said, had really set the wheels of street drama in motion.

Without wanting to get side-tracked with a long history about the perceptions of masculinity on “The Street,” let me just say that there is a not-insignificant portion of that population that has a rather restrictive conception of what makes a “Real Man.” That perception carries a lot of importance to this group of people. I don’t expect that’s particularly earth-shattering or revelatory to most people who might be reading this, but these rumblings about D.O., and the video that surfaced, were not merely a matter of embarrassment. These rumblings could, in fact, jeopardize his business dealings and, depending on how things played out—what someone on the street said about his manhood or lack thereof as a result of the contents of the video, what someone said about D.O.’s wife and children, etc.—put his life and the lives of others at risk. Even in 2016 (and, doubtless, still in 2020), there are people in that line and in the surrounding community who view “being a punk” as an affront to their sensibilities so offensive that violence, even lethal violence, may be called for; and to be called a “punk” (or something more vulgar), may demand one to act with violence of his own to defend his honor/reputation against the perceived disrespect of the insinuation (or outright accusation).

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Much of Lacey’s rather large family lived (and lives) in and around the projects in the city—Mosby Court, Whitcomb Court, the apartments at Oliver Hill Crossing, etc.—and, she said, they had also been talking about the D.O. incident and sharing the video. She asked, knowing something of my involvement—if not the full sordid story—with the local drug trade, if I’d heard anything about all this. I said no one had mentioned it to me. Then, helpfully, she brought the video up on her phone (on PornHub—D.O. had made the big time!) and, after showing me what we may call “the highlights,” paused it directly after the now-infamous/iconic “fucked the SHIT outta me” line. After being drilled with vim and vigor, D.O. had turned to face the camera directly, in close-up, to deliver the line. I was taken aback. Not by the actual content of the video, of course, or by the realization of how slothful my own fuck-prowess was and is, but by the fact that this was clearly something being recorded on an actual camera by a third party. They may even have been working from a script. This raised all sorts of questions for me. Lacey, too, had a question: “You ever seen him before?” I said I didn’t think so, but he did look kind of familiar… a sort of beady-eyed fellow with a small head and a powerful, stocky build, with several gang tattoos visible on his arms/chest/neck. I didn’t think much of it, though, and just filed it away as “one of those things.” I’ve never really been one for gossip and I sort of felt bad that this would likely come to a bad end for one or more people, to say nothing of D.O.’s wife and child, who Lacey said were inconsolable. One needn’t think too hard to imagine the kinds of things people were likely saying to them about D.O.

There’s a lot of confusion, misinformation and misconceptions about what Heroin withdrawal is like. For many years, it was said to be potentially fatal for addicts. In some of the late great William S. Burroughs’ writings and interviews, he refers matter-of-factly to the junkie’s need for his drug, the necessity of weaning the dope-fiend off the narcotic to avoid death. It turns out that this isn’t true—an addict in withdrawal may die of some secondary cause like dehydration (the constipation of Heroin dependence gives way to severe diarrhea once withdrawal sets in; profuse sweating is also a “feature, not a bug”). The withdrawals themselves do not have any mechanism of their own by which they can kill—unless they are comorbid with some other condition or with the withdrawals from another substance that can be lethal, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines, which can cause seizures. Withdrawals are also not necessarily the melodramatic screaming horror show that you see depicted in movies like Trainspotting (dead babies crawling on the ceiling) or The Man with the Golden Arm (there’s a timely reference), although they are indescribably uncomfortable in their own way; restless legs/limbs that won’t allow the individual to remain still for any amount of time despite the weakness, fatigue and deep, almost spiritual bone-aches if one has a profound enough dependence, alternating stifling hot flashes and teeth-rattling chills which somehow switch instantly like a “Reverse” card has been played in the world’s shittiest game of Uno the instant that you get the right combination of blankets on to beat the cold or succeed in cooling off finally, thoughts that race and mingle free-associatively and are predictable only in the sense that they seem to be drawn inexorably to the most unpleasant and upsetting subject matter you can personally conjure up (and you will find that you are sicker than you’ve ever previously given yourself credit for :-)), all topped off by the worst symptom of all: knowledge that if you scrape together a few dollars or can convince someone to give you same, or can convince a dealer to give you something, that all of this can go away in an instant. So with all that in mind, many jails, including the one I was sent to a couple of months after the Longhorn dinner with Lacey, Henrico County Jail, have “detox wings” for the great many addicts who are booked into its custody to be detained until they’re through the worst of their withdrawals.

I spent most of the two weeks I was on the detox wing vomiting and dry-heaving, sitting underneath the shower-head letting the hot water rain down on my disgusting, smelly, sweaty body until it turned cold, tossing and turning on the shitty wafer-thin green mat that I’d been given, ejaculating instantaneously when the scratchy wool jail blanket grazed my perpetually half-erect dick (Heroin basically nukes your sex drive from orbit and, though it allows you to stay hard for hours at a time on the blue-moon occasions when you do want to fuck, it numbs your senses so thoroughly that these hours-long erections become less a tool for days-long Sting-inspired tantric fuck-fests than depressing, tortoise-like intercourse sessions that usually end without orgasm; as with the constipation giving way to diarrhea, the rebound is having a hair-trigger orgasm reflex—when I would actually set out to masturbate, as in the shower, I’d bust a nut without even getting a semblance of an erection… semen just dribbling out of my tiny, shriveled cock, the nanosecond of “euphoria” giving way to an even more crushing emptiness), fantasizing about throwing myself against and through the foot-thick concrete wall and splattering on the asphalt a few stories below. I was withdrawing, mostly cold turkey,—I was given low-dose Ativan for a few days to stave off potential seizures and a blood-pressure medication to try to help me relax/sleep and Gatorade a few times a day to keep hydrated—from Heroin, cocaine, alcohol, nicotine, sugar and caffeine and mostly in a state of delirious deprivation, but even still, talk of a video about a local drug dealer getting “ass-fucked by a tranny” cut through the death-fog time and again. “If I see that nigga, I’ma KILL his ass, straight the fuck up!” someone would say with the sort of maniacal zeal that only the bigoted true believer can muster. “That’s on my momma. Bet that,” he might then say, as if there had been any doubt of his sincerity.

I don’t have any idea what percentage of the population I mentioned above—the people of what we might call “The Street”—is anti-gay to the point of virulent disgust and at least theoretical violence, but it seems that the prevalence of such folks (y’all, I don’t know who needs to hear this but BEING. [clap emoji] ANTI-GAY. [clap emoji] IS. [clap emoji] BAD. That ain’t it, chief) is a bit higher in jail than out, though there are factors that complicate even this basic observation. Nonetheless, as I began to feel a bit better, and particularly when I moved off the detox wing and into general population, this sort of chatter became more prevalent; it seemed nearly everyone had something to say about D.O. and his adventure, and particularly his famous catchphrase, and most of it wasn’t exactly kind. I went on to one of the lower custody tiers, 217, which was mostly populated by black men quite a bit younger than me, and most of whom were from Henrico rather than the city (Richmond is one of those cities that is considered an independent locality that stands apart from the surrounding county). Of the nearly 300 men on the tier, only about 30 of us were anything but black. While one could say a lot more about structural/systemic racism—I’ll leave the deep analysis to others—there is an element of segregation that persists in most jails, though not nearly to the degree one would see in the average penitentiary, where gangs are formed around racial identity and there is often a strict race line that is never to be crossed; in jail, it’s a less formal matter, but one that does exist and that one should be conscious of without being beholden to. That is, you can mostly talk to whoever you want, but most of the time people keep to themselves to a degree, as when playing cards, eating meals, etc.

There were something like 115-120 cells on the tier I was on. The cells were designed for two people. If you’re any good with math, you may be wondering why there were nearly 300 people on the tier if that was the case. Well, I’m glad you asked: because, due to the Commonwealth’s (and the United States’, more broadly) insistence on incarcerating non-violent offenders for things like failure to pay child support, driving on a suspended driver’s license and, especially, simple drug possession, there was (and still is) a severe overcrowding issue in the jail. So for most of us lucky enough to be on 217 in those days, that meant sharing a two-man cell with not one but two other men! There were bunk beds at the back of each cell, where of course one man would occupy the bottom and one the top bunk; the third—usually the newest addition to the cell in question—would have to put his mat (the same aforementioned paper-thin green one) on the concrete floor, right in front of the toilet. Many a fight has been waged in those confines because someone got up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and carelessly splashed piss on his second “celly” in so doing. Fortunately, throughout the day inmates are generally free to hang out in the open common area of the tier, sit at one of the tables and watch TV, play cards, walk around the perimeter of the tier, use the phones (if one feels like dealing with that whole headache), etc. You can also go and hang out in the cells of other inmates if you and they want—sort of like the world’s lamest, most depressing house-party.

The first cell I was assigned to in the new tier was right in the middle of the first floor—away from the two large AC vents that were responsible for the job of cooling the entirety of the tier, but were nowhere near equal to that Herculean task; summers in “The RVA” are brutal, and the heat and humidity in Henrico County Jail were oppressive, many of us breaking out in what some called “heat bumps” as a result—and, being the new man in the arrangement, I was assigned the aforementioned spot on the floor, which had that stale piss smell about it, adding to the miserable ambiance of the place. My cellies were a tall, powerfully built light-skinned man from the western part of the state with the unusually spelled name “Erin,” who’d been pinched on the charge of pandering, and a thin, brown-skinned guy who I’ll call Bowman who had turned 18 only a few months prior and had a litany of more serious charges pertaining to robbery. Bowman was from Randolph Court in Glen Allen, north of the city, an apartment complex which happened to be near the dealer I most often dealt with at the time and which was where a number of the individuals on the tier either resided or had family who resided. 

Erin became my first friend on the tier, as he was fairly talkative. He had a distaste for junkies, but said—and maybe he was pandering, in the other sense of the term, to me, but that didn’t particularly matter since there was no real future in our friendship and its only real value was in helping pass the time a little more pleasantly—that he respected the fact that unlike most of the junkies he’d known, I owned the fact that I was enthusiastic about my taste for drugs and didn’t try to dress it up as just something that was a need; I told him that there was a definite physical need but that the mental compulsion I felt to use, and the euphoria that resulted from using, was at least as important if not more so. This seemed to convey to him that at the very least I wasn’t an inveterate bullshitter and could be trusted to a degree that many of the others on the tier could not. He also had a marked distaste for what he saw as the posturing of some of the other men on the tier and noted, very astutely I think, that in jail one can be more or less whatever one wishes to be. We talked about a couple of the guys on the tier, such as one nicknamed “Too Tall” (he was about 6’6″ and incredibly gangly and awkward looking) who claimed to be a master thief heavily involved with some very serious people, but Erin had been on the docket with him when they’d both come in and had heard that he had a $2500 bond, which means that for 10% of that—a mere $250—he could’ve been a free man until his court date; surely if he was as important as he’d said, he could’ve either come up with it or gotten one of his Big Important Friends to get him “back on the land.” Then there was the recognized big dick on the tier, nicknamed “Six-Four” (“Six” for short), so named because of his height, who, now in his late 20s (practically an old man by the standards of the tier) had been coming to the jail since his teens and who ran one of the phones and was one of the driving forces of the tier economy; he was 6’4″, as you may have guessed, but unlike poor, pitiful Too Tall, he was quite muscular and known to be a strong fighter by some of the others on the tier. Erin took issue with this and, being a bit backward in his thinking about such things, insisted that Six was a “DL faggot.” For good qualities that he had, Erin was definitely something of a homophobe and had the aforementioned tendency to view those who are gay, bisexual, or anything else other than cishet as worthy of contempt and incapable of being tough, strong, etc.

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This was a source of contention—mostly friendly though occasionally quite heated, such as during our late-night conversations after lights-out—between Erin and Bowman, the latter of whose mother knew Six on the street and, consequently, was sort of under the protection of Six on the tier. Bowman insisted that Erin was himself posturing by talking shit about Six’s manhood, and said that Erin wouldn’t dare accuse Six of “being a homo” to his face. Erin countered that he was due—overdue, in fact, as a result of some sort of snag with his paperwork—to be released any day now and that he didn’t care enough about “this petty bullshit” to jeopardize his pending freedom by getting into a fight with Six-Four or anyone else. He assured Bowman that he was “damn good with the hands,” and that there were only maybe two or three men on the tier he didn’t think he could “whoop up on.” Bowman, in turn, responded that Erin was “soft as sugar” and all but dared Erin to “step to Six.” This led to a conversation about the general perceived fighting prowess of a number of men on the tier, and of a recent fight that had occurred between a reedy little white guy with the almost comically inappropriate nickname of “Smoke” and another guy, Ronson, who was a bit bigger guy than Smoke, weird-looking with pointy ears, and was rumored to be a thief.

As I’ve alluded to with respect to the lack of hard-and-fast gangs in the jail—there were some gang members, Crips and the like, even one white guy nicknamed “Minnesota” who had a number of Nazi/Aryan Brotherhood tattoos that he did his damnedest to keep concealed, no doubt due to being at the aforementioned supreme numbers disadvantage, whatever his feelings of racial animus and/or gang allegiances may or may not have been—there is a pretty marked difference between what might be called the “heaviness” of things in jail versus the type of penitentiary you see on shows like “Lock Up” and so on, but there is still quite a bit of tension that could, in addition to race, be attributed to everything from being a high-testosterone environment, having a bunch of men with histories of criminality confined together in close quarters, or simple boredom with little at hand to act as a release valve. Disputes happen, and—on occasion—so do fights. Most happen as a result of property disputes if not outright thievery, and even someone who doesn’t have the slightest bit of fighting ability or inclination toward physical altercations must, for his own sake, be ready to fight at a moment’s notice. Failure to do so when one’s property has been stolen, or one has been blatantly disrespected is an invitation for more of the same and, if things persist in this direction, the only way out from there is to drop a blue note (request a transfer to another wing). Still, even then, the stink of weakness may cling to one’s person like a particularly rancid body odor, and on top of that, moving to another wing doesn’t address the passivity that is at the root of the issue. Smoke, for his part, had gotten dusted by Ronson—as he had also, apparently, gotten dusted by another inmate in a previous scrap over a Spades game where he was the aggressor—but by simply standing up for himself he had shown that he would fight if provoked, which sends the signal that at the very least you will fight if you’re backed against the wall, and therefore one should seek other prey because there are always people who can’t (or won’t) summon the self-respect to defend themselves, and they’re much easier victims as a result.

Smoke had been called a pussy or something along those lines, which most of us probably wouldn’t give two shits about in the real world, because that sort of hostility is all too common in anonymous exchanges online and so forth, but in jail it’s another matter. “Respect” is the undergirding for the “item”-based economy1One “item” is basically one dollar; a soup—one package of ramen—is the base currency in jail, and without it, your “money” is essentially worthless because no one will honor their debts to someone who is unworthy of basic respect. Being called a pussy—or, yes, a faggot—is a provocation and must be responded to in some way, lest it becomes your brand, and lest you then be targeted as a victim for theft, a message beating or possibly worse.

Bowman and Erin agreed, regarding Smoke, “at least he showed he ain’t no punk.” This led to a discussion about a guy from Bowman’s neighborhood—his late father had been tight with him, and he himself had seen the guy in question around his neighborhood a lot, particularly when he was younger, always with new clothes and plenty of money—who had been outed for a “stone-cold punk.” Erin seemed to be familiar with this story and mentioned that Too Tall and a few of the other guys on the tier had told him about it. He, of course, was disgusted and made that known. Bowman was in disbelief, having trouble reconciling the image he’d had of the individual in question with what he now knew. I asked if it might not just be a rumor, but then Bowman said that there had been a video of him engaging in what he called “some real gay shit.” Yes, Erin added, “He even said something like ‘that dude just fucked the shit out of me.'”

Yes, word of D.O.’s appearance in the video had continued to spread—perhaps, probably, it had even been known to the likes of Bowman and the others on the tier before anyone—and, now made aware of this, some of the chatter I’d been hearing began to make a lot more sense. I had heard people talking about how they “couldn’t believe he did that,” “That was my dude but I can’t fuck with him no more,” “If I see that nigga I’ma kill his ass” and the like, but I had no real context for what I was hearing. Now I did. D.O., who as it happens was from Randolph Court as well, was now a “marked man,” even and especially among what were apparently close (former) friends of his.

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D.O. was in his early thirties, as I mentioned before a stocky and powerfully built man with a number of gang tattoos. He had a brother who looked quite a bit like him, as is often the case with brothers, and they were both said to be responsible for a number of killings over the years, related both to gang violence and drug trade violence; his brother was apparently more of a loose cannon, while D.O. was known to be a “cool dude” until he was crossed. He had moved up the ladder somewhat from being a dope boy who hung out in the hallways and the courtyard of Randolph Court to more of a supplier to a small network of dope boys and street dealers. That explained why this was as big a deal as it was; were it just some random corner boy or something like that, he probably would’ve simply been beaten and/or shunned, with little more said on the matter other than an occasional joke in reference, but with his being an important person in the local drug trade, and with there being a video of the offending incident, this was something that had to be reckoned with, and few were willing to simply say, “Well, let him do what he wants. It’s his life.” The feeling was that doing so would reflect poorly on whoever said so, and so there was a tension not about whether something would happen, but what would happen. His wife was said to be in virtual tatters as a result of the video and the surrounding fallout, completely shocked by it all, while his aforementioned brother had ostensibly added his own name to the list of those who had sworn to do violence to D.O.

As with the gangs, race lines and violence in prison versus jail, there are differing views of gay sex in each environment. In prison, people are often serving sentences of many years, and although conjugal visits do occur in some institutions and for some prisoners, they are rarer than I think many people realize, and as the saying goes, “Men have needs,” so it is generally considered, in a manner befitting of Orwell’s “doublethink” concept, not gay to have gay sex. In jail, people are almost uniformly serving sentences of less than a year or two, and those who are there longer are there either as a result of being enrolled in some sort of long-term diversionary program, or as a result of awaiting trial, sentencing and the subsequent transfer to their state’s Department of Corrections. Because of this, it is not widely considered to be acceptable for people to have gay sex in jail, because that would be gay—duh! Further, because of the general disdain for gay sex in jail, there is a more open sort of contempt expressed for those who are known to be or thought of as being gay, bisexual or otherwise non-cishet.

Erin mentioned that many of the same guys who were talking about the beatings they’d lay on D.O. if they came across him would do no such thing, that they were just peacocking the same way they inflated their statuses as movers of real weight out on the street. Bowman disagreed and said he’d heard rumblings of a plan to hit D.O. when he hit the jail. When, not if; as it happened, D.O. had a distribution charge for which he would soon be arraigned. He was at Eastern Henrico at the moment, but would hit Western Henrico—that is, the branch we were in—sometime soon. There was some question about whether or not he would go to a higher-custody tier or perhaps protective custody (“The Shoe,” as it was known) due to his new-found notoriety. “If he smart he will,” Bowman observed. “These niggas out to kill his ass.”

While all this was going on, there had been some kerfuffle about a person would to most of us—particularly now with LGBT and in particular trans issues being centered in much of our discourse—be known as a trans woman, but was referred to at the time by the residents of Tier #217 as “one of them she-boys.” Erin told me that the individual in question had been in line in the hallway outside the tier while I was still on the isolated detox wing sweating out most of the moisture in my body. The same paragons of heterosexuality that had been crowing about the violence they’d visit upon a former friend/associate if the opportunity presented itself had gone running to the glass to try to get the best look at her, a couple actually even flashing their dicks—a charming come-on favored by inmates who find a woman to subject to their unwanted advances, usually sheriff’s deputies but occasionally female inmates from the other side of the facility—at her, only to be shamed and mocked and then to subsequently express their own embarrassment and self-disgust upon being made to recognize that the trans woman wore the same jail browns as us rather than the blues of the females, thus illustrating the obvious beyond a shadow of a doubt: she had male genitalia. Erin saw this as further evidence of the ridiculousness of our fellow inmates, and I was forced to agree, though I suspect not for entirely the same reasons. “It did look like a broad, though,” he conceded after a moment.

As for D.O.’s former friends and associates who had promised some sort of comeuppance for D.O. at their hands, we would soon find out just what they would or would not do. A batch of new inmates arrived some days later. They usually came in at night, in groups of something like 8-10, though sometimes more or less; after all, people are always being arrested for and charged with crimes, and more often than not, people aren’t able to raise the money for their cash bail before they’re booked into the jail, if at all. Among the new inmates was D.O., grinning from ear to ear, positively beaming. Things were about to get pretty interesting on 217.

You can read Notes on Jail, Part 2 here.

Some names have been changed for reasons that you can probably guess.

1 One “item” is basically one dollar; a soup—one package of ramen—is the base currency

Tags: addiction, drugs, jail, masculinity

John R. Powell John R. Powell (See all)
John Powell lives, works and occasionally plays in Richmond, VA.

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