A lot of people ask me how and what do you do all day, every day within a prison environment? The only way to describe what happens within prison estates is to give the reader a small glimpse and insight into one small social event within a prison and a typical day of how prisoners interact conversation & interactions daily. hundreds, thousands of other events, actions, conversations are also going on within the day of prison life. Therefore, this is just a snippet of the madness that goes on every day within our prison walls. Through this written word…
Ashes Falling Down
I stood staring at Ashes through the rusted metal grill that provides the only way to look into a landing. This unit does have bars and solid steel doors. I stared at Ashes with a look of pleased bewilderment on my face. The result of Ashes just informing me that he will sell me one ounce of ”tobacco” (Subutex medication) for a bag of coffee.
“Fuck yeah man. bring it down to my pad.” I told him.
Ashes smiled at me through the grill. His few remaining teeth were a yellowish brown combination that only comes from years of drinking too much coffee and smoking contraband cigarettes, along with a complete disregard for any type of personal hygiene. It was this lack of hygiene that had given Ashes his name. When a black person’s skin becomes extremely dry it will sometimes form white flaky dandruff that looks similar to ashes, hence the term “ashy.” Some black guys in prison see it as a larger personal affront to their dignity to be ashy than it is not to bathe.
Furthermore, some of them will even forego bathing for days at a time in order to avoid becoming “ashy.” The medical staff only reinforces this behavior by telling inmates with dry skin not to bathe everyday since it is cheaper for an inmate not to bathe than it is to prescribe E45 cream or lotion. This also contributes to the rotten smell of body odour that stings your nostrils from some guys within the prison system.
Ashes didn’t give a damn about any of that. But then again Ashes was a bit unhinged. I believe if he had committed whatever offence that landed him in prison in a more enlightened part of the country other than London, he would have been placed in a mental institution. More a threat to himself than anybody else.
Ashes lived in a cell by himself instead of with a cell mate. No one would live with him. He smelled atrocious and the state of his cell was animalistic. Unknown filth dominated every inch of the cell with the exception of the steel table which Ashes kept relatively clean for reasons known only to him. His skin was so dry it could be seen flaking off of him like dirty polluted snow. He would break into screaming fits and go off on hours long tangents in gibberish. Despite all of this he was still sometimes lucid enough to sell his medication to incautious poly-addict such as myself and 70% of the other addicts on the wing.
I was eighteen months into a 12 year sentence and spent most of my time immersed in a world of negativity, misery and self pity. Subbie proper name, Subutex was a new drug given out by the government to combat heroin abuse. It was another form of Methadone without the effects of Methadone. However prisoners found a way to administer it in such a way it was just as good as pure Heroin and more potent than Methadone. All that mattered was this new drug had something to do with gear (Heroin). All I knew or cared about then was the calming sense of bliss it provided when crushed into a fine powder and snorted. Though other drugs— free world drugs— could be found on the wing the supply was not steady and I had not established myself in the depths of the drug-culture within this jail yet, as I had only been there for a while. Methadone and sleepers was far easier to acquire as it was prescribed by Her Majesty herself along with this new drug called ‘Subbie’.
I was ecstatic as I walked up the metal stairs to my cell on the 2s (i.e. the second floor of the wing). One hundred pills for a one pound fifty bag of coffee! Normally Subbies went for a quarter of snout a piece. I couldn’t believe my luck.
I went to my cell door and told my pad-mate to pass me a bag of coffee. He opened my small locker, retrieved a bag, put the contents into another bag flattened and threw it under the cell door. I grabbed it and was heading back downstairs when I met a young skinny black guy named Flyer coming up.
I stopped walking. “What’s up man?” I asked. Although I was already pretty sure what he wanted. ‘Flyer, was the one who normally sold Ashes’ pills for him. He would also pimp Ashes out every now and again. Ashes was on some type of medication that would sometimes lay him out for hours. Flyer would charge the truly desperate booty bandits to go into Ashes’ cell and effectively date rape him while he was passed out. I never knew if Ashes was aware of what happened to him and sadly I did not care. This is just one of the horrors of long-term prisons that is so underground, it is just not spoken or acknowledged by the majority of prisoners. This is due to either their own fears, anxieties that such horrific acts are taking place so close to where they reside. I don’t think the majority want to believe this is going on around them.
I did know that Flyer must have overhead my and Ashes’ deal though.
“You steppin’ on my toes with Ashes. That’s what’s up.” he said.
I smirked. I knew Flyer didn’t want to fight me or anyone else. He was a coward as most cockroach hustlers are.
“What me and Ashes got going on ain’t none of your fuckin’ business.” I said.
“Come on Birdman. That’s my homeboy. We out the same hood. You know he throwed! You takin’ food out both our mouths. Me and him.”
“Flyer, I don’t give a fuck about any of that shit. Fuck you and him. You don’t give a fuck about any of that homeboy shit. You can run that weak verbal shite game on somebody else. You should’ve given his crazy ass some motherfuckin’ coffee.”
That was the whole deal between Ashes and Flyer. Flyer sold all the pills, Ashes didn’t consume and in return Flyer let Ashes drink all the coffee he wanted. They regularly fought with each other on this issue. Ashes would drink it faster than Flyer could get it.
‘Oh well.’ I thought. Flyer’s loss was my gain.
“That’s how you feel about it?” he said to me.
“Yeah man. That’s how I fuckin’ feel about it. Now get out of my way man ’cause we both know you don’t want no problems.”
He hesitated for a moment then stepped aside. I walked past him, down the stairs and made my way over to Ashes’ cell.
“Ashes, man, I got your coffee.”
He quickly rose from where he had been sitting on his filthy floor. He pressed his face against the grill.
“For real?” he asked. His breath was a putrid cloud of warm repulsion. I leaned in no farther than was necessary to complete our transaction.
“Yeah man. Right here.” I said showing him the bag. “Get my pills man and I’ll slide it under the door.”
He walked to his table and picked up three white paper cone cups that were folded at their tops. He bent down and slid them under the door while I did the same with the coffee.
“Thanks Ashes. Good doing business with you.” I said.
I don’t think he heard me, as he had already begun singing some gibberish song of his with the word coffee interspersed now and again.
I left him to it and made my way to a table on the ones where four of my crew sat playing Poker which is the bread & butter some of the chaps in prison. All of my crew were a cliché of prison white guys; a couple of them with the muscles, shaved heads, and heavily tattooed.
“Ooowee! Y’all ain’t gonna believe what a honky done come up on.” I said in a jokey kind of voice. “What?” one of them asked.
“I got 10 eight mil subbies chaps!”
There were various responses such as “No way” and “No shit?”. After I explained what transpired between me and Ashes we all proceeded to crush up a couple of subbies each and snort them off the ones landing table. We were all feeling pretty mellowed, them playing Poker and me standing around watching, trying to pick up the nuances of the game, when I heard arguing over by Ashes’ cell. It wasn’t so much as arguing as it was Flyer bitching at Ashes. There was nothing new in that, so I went back to watching the game.
Fifteen minutes later a Polish Screw came in to do “Bolts & Bars”. Officers are supposed to do these every day. On association its handy to get your door open while their about the landing. Thus allowing us to go into or come out of our cells. One of my crew decided to go in for a while and have a gouch! so I took his place at the table, my hoard of other couple of subbies safely ensconced behind my foreskin wrapped in cellophane.
I noticed that Ashes came out of his cell carrying a large shower bag— occasionally he would shower and wash all of his clothes. He would occupy a shower for hours scrubbing his clothes on the floor and washing the grease out of his matted afro. He headed up to threes landing. The housing areas on this unit are set up in half hexagons. The showers are in the middle of each of the three rows flanked on each side by four cells. There are two showers per landing. Ashes always showered on three row on these rare occurrences. No one knew why.
The officer left and I continued on with the game after doling out a couple one mils of subbie for snout and treats for my crew. We played for about ten more minutes when one of the chaps that was sitting to my left casually declared. “I do believe that turd is going to hang himself.” I along with the other two players looked up and around.
My eyes landed on Ashes standing in his boxers, dripping wet, tying a bed sheet to the safety rail on three row. These safety rails are nothing more than welded together two inch pipe,,erected about four feet high, spanning the length of the row. Over the years many a’ inmate has gone over that rail and not always of his own accord. The fall being only about twenty feet I’m not sure if anyone has ever died; Accounts vary.
I quickly flicked my eyes over to the control station (office) to see what the officer stationed there was doing but she wasn’t there and it was one of those short moments you get a few times a day when there is no authority, nowhere in sight. She was probably sitting on the floor where guys in the shower couldn’t see her and so wouldn’t be knocking on out over her.
Casting my eyes back to Ashes I saw he had already tied one end of the sheet to his neck. I’m not sure what type of knot he had made but it wasn’t a noose.
Flyer began running up the stairs just as Ashes finished his work on the rail and stepped over, facing the open day-room area below. All was silent as we watched to see if he would really jump.
We weren’t dissapointed. Ashes stepped off the row into empty space about the time Flyer was halfway up the stairs. A split second into Ashes’s fall I knew the entire day-room population had one single thought. Will he snap his neck or will he strangle? Miraculously neither one happened.
As his body reached that critical point in the fall when the sheet becomes taut, the knot tied to the rail came undone. His fall continued unimpeded until his ass, his literal ass, collided with the rail on twos rail. The rail halted his progress all too briefly and then he continued down. He somehow managed to land very roughly on all fours and then sort of rolled over onto his back. How the hell he achieved such a feline like feat is only for providence to ascertain.
Though he appeared severely jarred and a bit surprised he displayed no obvious injuries. Two black inmates walked over to him to see if he was alright but he shook them off and stood up. Robbed of our break in the stupefying monotony which constitutes prison life, the other inmates, myself and Firms included, went back to what we were doing prior to Ashes’s spectacle. Ashes himself walked over to a table and sat down to watch T.V. still wet and with the sheet still tied to his neck. Flyer came down and sat beside him without saying a word.
When the officer came back later for another in and out and saw Ashes sitting there, now dry but with the sheet still attached, he asked a Polish inmate what the hell was up with that guy, to which the inmate replied, “I don’t know man. Motherfucker’s crazy…