Joey Gordon

My cell door slammed open at 6:30 this morning as always. I walked to the chow hall with Eddie and Stan. My table was full, so I sat down at Stan’s table. Another guy was already sitting there, and he tried to get me to leave, saying the table was full. I asked if he was sure, because all the other times I’ve sat with Stan, there wasn’t a problem. This guy insisted that the spot was occupied. I was trying to be polite, but I wasn’t about to back down. I basically bought some time until Stan arrived and cleared up the matter. Stan introduced us, and it turned out the guy had heard a story about me.

Back in county jail one time, I had loused up the TV reception, so another guy came and rubbed water in my face. I thought that was out of line, so I grabbed his arms and pushed him. He waited until I wasn’t looking and punched me, knocking me down and splitting my lip open. We were going to wait for the doors (to the cells) to open, so we could go into a cell and have a fight, but Eddie noticed that my lip was bleeding quite a bit and was going to need stitches, so he pushed the button to call the guards. They took me to the emergency room to get my lip stitched up. Of course, they wanted me to tell who had punched me, so they could punish him. First the social worker talked to me at the hospital. I told him I wasn’t going to say anything. Then the guards talked to me on the way back to the jail. Then a guard I knew pretty well came in and played like he was my buddy, to get me to talk, but I didn’t want a reputation as a snitch, because then nobody would have anything to do with me. Finally another counselor from the jail came. She was very insistent that I talk and even threatened to put me in the hole. I never would tell them, so finally I was moved into a different tank. When he heard that I was the person in that story, the guy at Stan’s table accepted me. Here, your reputation is everything.

I returned to my cell after finishing breakfast, read a little in my book, and went back to sleep. I woke up again when my door slammed open for lunch. I dressed quickly and stumbled out onto the tier in a groggy haze. I sat at my usual table with Eddie and Mason. Stan joined us as well, since his table was empty. I only ate part of my tray because I was expecting a visit, and I wanted to save my appetite for the junk food they offer in the visiting room. After lunch, I went out to the yard and played some softball with Eddie and a few other guys.

When I got called for my visit, I went to the visiting room and met my mom and dad. I gave my mom a hug, and she gave me her vending card, with which I purchased some Gatorade, jalapeño potato chips, popcorn, pepperoni sticks, and an ice cream fudge taco. We discussed the clothing package they are about to send to me. I argued for some minor changes. It’s a little hard to get them to buy things that will look right in here—they have their own ideas about what they think I should have. Right now, all I have is state-issue clothing, which consists of six pairs each of socks, underwear, and T-shirts, two pairs of jeans, two overshirts, one lined jeans jacket, and one pair of sneakers. Not bad, considering that prisoners used to have to wear striped suits. In one of the other institutions I was in, I was given a red jumpsuit and deck shoes. At first, they didn’t even give me underwear, which made me cold all the time. When I could get away with it, I would wear a towel around my neck to help keep myself warm. Some guys would cut holes in their socks and wear them as sleeves, since the jumpsuits were short-sleeved. These sorts of things, however, were considered contraband, so the guards took them away whenever they caught us. It will be nice to get some summer clothes and some sportswear.

The visiting room has a large supply of games and cards. It is fairly comfortable there. There are tables and chairs and a large play area for young children. Two walls are painted floor to ceiling with outdoor scenes. You can sign up ahead of time to have your picture taken with your family in front of one of these backdrops. The guards are pretty relaxed in the visiting room—sometimes they joke with the inmates, like one time when one guy’s baby threw up all over him—his shirt was soaked, and everybody teased him in a friendly way. If we didn’t know that we were locked inside a maximum-security institution, we might think we were at a picnic. There are the sounds of children playing and people laughing, and couples are walking around the room holding hands and occasionally kissing. There are the smells of pop, candy, and popcorn. I checked out a deck of cards, and my folks and I played three-handed bridge. After two hours, they had to leave, and I had to return to my cell to be counted along with every other prisoner in the institution. After reading in my cell for an hour or two, I was let out for dinner. We had spaghetti, garlic bread, salad, peas, and Jell-O. My appetite was all but spoiled from my visit.

I talked to my counselor about completing my education while I’m here. Because I already have quite a few college credits, there aren’t any classes given here that I can use. I will be taking a job-training program, but I will have to find a correspondence course that can grant me a degree. I started out in computer programming, but probably I will not be able to continue that in here. I can have access to a computer for word processing, but no access to the Internet—I hope I’ll be able to find a program that I can use. It’s pretty hard to plan for a future that seems so far away and so unreal. Mostly, I try not to think about how long I’m going to be in here, I just take it day by day. I try not to dwell on what I am missing on the outside, not just the freedom to do what I want, but getting married and having children.

I went out to the yard at first evening movement. I sat out on the grass for a while watching a softball game. I played catch with Stan to warm him up for his game, then I went and played Hacky Sack for a while and watched Stan’s game. At third movement, I returned to the cellblock. I tried calling my brother from one of the pay phones, but he wasn’t home. Now I’m locked down for the night. I’ll read a bit before I go to sleep.

(Note: All names in this entry have been changed. Also, “Diary” entries are usually posted right after they’re written, but since Joey doesn’t have Internet access, Slate allowed him to write these ahead of time.)