Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

In prison, convicts are plagued by boredom. 

We try to find things to combat the stagnant time. Gambling games like poker or spades tournaments are big. Some read or write horrible poetry or try their hand at penning the next “urban novel,” filling the pages with gratuitous profanity. A lot of us walk around the dorm or the track in the recreational yard along a path carved out by the millions of convicts that came before us. Some do pull ups, pushups, or dips attempting to get “swole.” By the time I’m done with my incarceration, I’ll have walked 5,000 miles twice without going anywhere. 

There are also a lot of deep thinkers in here. You can just look at some guys and see it on their faces. They’re busy in their own heads, working their problems out (either that or they’ve been smoking bug spray). When even the aforementioned activities stop satisfying our unsettled minds, we pull relentless pranks on one another.  

There are varieties of pranks you can pull and as a result, various levels of getting your ass kicked. Putting toothpaste in shoes or on the handle of their locker is an old standard. 

You can also “magic shave” your bunky’s eyebrows off while he trustfully slumbers or short-sheet him to his own bunk so he’s trapped tightly between his sheets and his mattress when Chow is called. You can get ahold of your bunky’s “blues” (the color of our uniforms in FLDOC) and use a marker to write “Backdoor Beauty” on the ass of his pants, or “Peter Eater” on his shirt where his name and prison number is usually displayed. The hope is that he won’t notice, and he’ll walk around the compound to snickers and jibes from inmates and officers. 

Some pranks are more obvious and in-your-face, like going in to ‘dap’ (shake hands, kinda) with an associate and using the sole of your Croc to rake his shin to remove the hair on his leg. You could just outright kick the living shit out of the same leg, leaving what we call “cherries” on his skin. But to really shake things up you have to elicit the help of an accomplice. One such example was a prank expertly executed on me by one “Jah Red” and his roomy. 

Jah Red and I both live on the second floor of our quad, so we’re allowed out at the same time for our four hours of “out and about.” This prank might have been a direct result of the cabin fever we were all experiencing, but I am of the mind that it originated organically from Jah Red, a fervent asshole with a wonderfully twisted sense of humor. 

I was trying to walk the stiffness out of my back when Jah Red pulled me aside with a look of panic and restrained urgency. He waited until we were relatively clear of other inmates before he leaned in solemnly and said in a voice no louder than a cricket fart: “Wolf Man, I need you Bro. I have a serious problem. I’m so scared, man.” 

“What’s going on, Bro? What do you need me to do?” I asked. He let out a sigh with a giant rush of relief at my willingness to help. This made me feel good.

He asked me to come to his room in ten minutes and make sure I was alone. “Try not to draw any attention to yourself,” he said. “When you come… bring the trash can.” 

Do what now?! Don’t draw any attention to myself? As if I could drag a 55-gallon trash can up a flight of steel stairs without being noticed. I tried to question him, “What the fuck do you need the…?”

But he cut me off.  “You’ll see when you get in there,” Jah Red told me. “My curtain will be in the window, so knock when you get there. Please, man. I fucked up. I fucked up.” 

He looked like he was about to squirt tears, so I agreed. It didn’t occur to me at the time that crying on command could be one of his criminal abilities, something that didn’t enter into my head at the time. 

I made myself a cup of coffee in my room while I pondered why he would need a trash can. Did he poop his bed and need to get rid of the shit-stained evidence? I didn’t know it then, but I was half right. I toted the Roughneck trash can as quietly as I could up the stairs and knocked on Jah Red’s door. 

“Wolf? Is that you?” I could hear scurrying and shuffling. 

“Yeesss, it’s me. I brought that can you asked for (asshole).” 

“Thank God, man, hang on a second … all right. Come in, bring the trash can and shut the door quick, but don’t close it, and keep your voice down.”

I probably looked like I was trying to get into the Little Rascals’ clubhouse as I scuttled as quickly as I could into his cell. I saw Jah Red sitting on the toilet with his face buried in his hands. On the floor at his feet laid his bunky, splayed out diagonally and covered in a sheet, his feet sticking out from under. 

“You have got to be kidding me, J.R. Whhhhhat happened?” 

Jah Red looked up, but not at me. His expression was vague and haunted.

“Man, we were arguing, right? I don’t even remember about what, and I told him to get the fuck up out my face and he calls me a fuck-ass-cracker and full on smacks me in the face.” 

I could see his left cheek was scarlet. 

“I tee’d off on him and he was fallin’ and like he hit his noggin on the bunk and fished out and had a fucking seizure on the floor and stopped moving.”

J.R. was shaking at this point. His eyes were watery, and I could see a snot bubble peeking out of his nose. 

“Wolf, I’m ‘posed to get out in 28 days man and now they’re gonna put me the fuck down, man! Charge me with murder, oh God!” 

He said this in a low voice, just on the brink of a yell. 

“Holy shit, J.R., are you serious right now? Did you check for a pulse?” I asked. 

“Yeah, man. He’s dead! He’s been on the fucking floor for 20 minutes, and I didn’t know what to do so I came and got you.” 

I asked the obvious question.

“Soooo, you want to put him in the trash can? That’s not going to work buddy, I’m sorry. They’ll find him in there and rewind the camera and see you and me carrying his ass down the stairs. Hell, J.R, how hard did you hit him? Did you give him CPR or anything?” 

“Look, bro, I clocked the shit out his jib (meaning he punched him squarely in the jaw), and I don’t know CPR or any of that shit. I just tried to shake him awake and threw some water on his face after he stopped moving. I couldn’t feel a pulse, but I ain’t even sure how to check for that shit. His ass ain’t moved, and there’s a huge knot on the side of his head.” 

I gently pulled back the sheet revealing his bunky, eyes half-lidded and staring at nothing. As I went to place my index and middle finger on dude’s neck to check for a pulse, he shot up like a spring-loaded jack-in-the-box.

“AHHHHHH! I’M GONNA KILL YOU CRACKA!!!” 

I scrambled back against the door, knocking over the Roughneck trash can and hitting the back of my head on it while the two fuckers laughed hysterically with tears rolling down their faces. There I was on the floor of their room, holding my chest and feeling very pissy – not because I got “got,” but mostly because Jah Red made me drag the trash can up the stairs while the other inmates looked at me like I had lost my mind. 

But I have to give it to them both. They sold the scenario like free cocaine. His bunky did not so much as show any sign of breathing underneath that sheet. 

So the Academy Award went to Jah Red with his nuanced, boo-hooing routine with his pathetic little snot bubble. 

I’m considering getting back at him by paying RaRa, a six-foot-four, 320-pound guy to grab J.R. and stuff him head first into that damn trash can and roll him down the stairs. But more than likely, I’ll just find me a good bunky and pull the same prank on someone else. 

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Calen J. Whidden

Calen J. Whidden is a PJP contributing writer who is incarcerated in Florida.