Joey Gordon

The barred gate of my cell opened at 6:30 a.m. like it always does, and I rushed to get dressed and out onto the tier before it closed. Meals are optional here, so if you get stuck in your cell, you don’t eat. I sat at my usual table. Mason was at the table with some guy I haven’t met. They were talking and I stayed out of the conversation. After breakfast I was called out of my cell to pick up some property from the property room. Because of having moved several times in rapid succession, I have possessions that I acquired at other institutions that have not caught up with me here. I returned to my cellblock to write a letter.

The cellblocks are huge back-to-back units four tiers high and 40 cells across. With only bars in front, you can look into each living unit. Each cell is unique; the inmates find creative ways to decorate the walls and use the furniture. It is a huge wall of individual homes: It would make for an interesting photograph.

I finished a letter to Mai. I told her about my experiences in the penitentiary. Those might very well remain my best (or worst) prison stories. A riot popped off there within six hours of my arrival. I was walking the yard, still dressed in my orange transport coveralls, and before I had made one full lap around the track, gunshots started going off over my head. A voice came over the loudspeaker ordering everyone to get on the ground. I lay down on the grass and watched as 20 or 30 guys about 200 feet away from me swung limbs and wrestled with each other. It reminded me of one of those cartoon brawls where all you see is a blur of arms and legs and angry faces in a cloud of dust. Gunshots kept going off over my head from the gun towers at each corner of the yard. After maybe 30 seconds or a minute, the rioters dispersed and got on the ground. The goon squad rushed in and put them in restraints. A medical team arrived and wheeled some guy away on a gurney. I heard a few days later that he died in the hospital from a head wound. I had to lie on the ground for over an hour before they took us back to our cells by groups. We were then on lockdown for several days.

I stayed in my cell all morning, filling out my store slip for this week. Each week there is a day when you can order items from the commissary, paid for with money on your account, and you will receive the items the following week. I ordered necessary toiletries, food, and a radio with headphones. Because of moving around so much, it has often happened to me that I arrived at an institution just after the ordering day, so I couldn’t order until the following week. By the time I was to receive my items, I had moved on. I don’t suppose I will ever receive those things. I found out that it is important to have extra food items in your cell. At one institution, all the inmates went on food strike. I wasn’t sure exactly why—possibly to get better food, although the food there wasn’t bad compared to some of the other places I have been. Anyhow, I had not had a chance to buy any food, so I had to go hungry. I certainly wasn’t going to go against the rest of the inmates and go to the chow hall! I put in an emergency call to my family, and my dad came out to visit me and bought me food from the vending machines, so I did have one meal.

I read my book before lunch. When I went to lunch, my usual table was empty, so I went and sat with Lefty and a few of his pals. Lefty has no right arm, hence the nickname. We talked a little about Eddie going to the hole. One of the guys brought up the topic of the recent riot at the penitentiary. I mentioned that I had just arrived from the pen and that I was walking the yard when everything went down. I described the scene, and they mentioned some rumors that the riot was between two Mexican groups.

After lunch I went out to the yard for a couple of hours. I ran into another guy I knew from the county jail. I spoke warily with him for a few minutes. Eddie had told me earlier that he had a rape conviction. I was uncomfortable being seen with him in this yard. You rapidly get identified with whomever you hang out with. I’m still not sure how I’m going to handle the prison politics here. I’d rather be concerned with the person, not their crime or their skin color, but that’s not how things work in here. After a while, Mason came over and sat down by me. We talked for a while about our past drug experiences and then we played some softball.

I went back to my cell during the second movement period and read some more until dinner. At dinner, I sat with Mason and some guy who came on the chain with me from the pen. We swapped penitentiary stories and talked about one of my cellmates there named Savage. Apparently Savage had asked to use this guy’s cell in order to have a fight. At every institution, there are well-known spots that the guards don’t monitor at certain times, and that’s where the convicts go to have fights. At the penitentiary, it was certain cells that the guards couldn’t observe from their booths; here, it’s the gym. Supposedly that’s where Eddie was when he got involved with the fight for which he is now in the hole.

After dinner, I called my sister and then went back to my cell. I received two packages of books from my family, as well as two letters. I miss my family very much, yet I see them and hear from them more than I did when I was “free.” Mail call is the most exciting part of my day, but always the saddest as well.

(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.)