While Boston and I got along great, both of us knew our paths wouldn’t cross again. We didn't bother trading contact info -- a goodbye and a solid good luck handshake was as far as it needed to go. I glanced over my shoulder as I walked away. Boston was no longer at the window. Ha! Hell, the kid had forgot about me already. I figured I’d better do the same.
General population was nothing more than an elevator ride from the SHU. It would be filled with society's dreads and dregs. Most would have an angle, everyone a story. I wasn't looking to make any new friends. I learned, back in my ‘86/‘87 case, it's best to keep new jail acquaintances at a distance.
The steel door swung open. All eyes in the unit turned toward me. I took in as much as I could as fast as I could. My quick scan revealed no familiar faces.
Everyone enters this prison through the same receiving center where each guard has a specific duty. Escort you in and out of holding cells, take your fingerprints, take pictures, exchange street clothes for an institution issue suit. Finally you’re given bedding. Before you are assigned a unit, you will have one finale interview with a classification officer. His job is to find out how your presence in the facility will affect you and, more importantly, the daily business of the institution. He will examine your charges, determine if you have any gang affiliation, ask if you feel you would be in any type of jeopardy in general population and evaluate your mental state. His finale question may be if you want to lock up -- move to protective custody where you don't have to interact with other inmates.
When you go into general population you are assigned to a unit. That’s when your real evaluation begins and it’s done by the inmates, most likely gang members or career criminals. Sure, the guards have the keys but it's the inmates that hold court and it's in session twenty four hours a day. Everything is done following a strict protocol and racial lines -- a fragile understanding that can spiral out of control within moments if the right people are not in charge.
Whenever you enter a new housing area you are questioned. I was no different. The duty officer said he would find me a bed. What he should have said was that the shot callers in the unit would find me both a cell and bed.
Being a full blooded Greek, I have been mistaken for Mexican more than once over the years. So it didn’t surprise me when the Surenos approached and asked who I was with. In the middle of my explanation a older white guy approached and respectfully explained who I was and stated “He is with us” and that was that. He stretched out his hand and gave me a firm shake and said “I’m Charlie.”
He was about fifty, a lean six feet with a thick head of black hair combed straight back He wore a pair of grey prison issue bifocal glasses. They looked liked something out of the late fifties. His walk was light, slow and commanding. I would later find out Charlie was a professional bank robber.
He explained our paths had almost crossed before -- he had just missed me at Terminal Island back in 1987. He had just done a twenty year bid there for a bank takeover. Now he was here, on a violation.
There are two types of bank robberies: the first, the majority, are done by passing a note to a teller and in turn they hand over the money with no resistance. The second, the bank takeover, usually involves brandishing weapons and some violence. That was Charlie's preferred way of withdrawing funds.
Prison is often a world turned upside down. Conduct that society frowns on can elevate your status in prison and that's where Charlie, along with ties to white prison gangs, garnered his influence. He was definitely at the top of the food chain in this unit. Under normal circumstances I would be in a Q&A session that would make any interrogator proud. My thirty-five years as an outlaw club leader and reputation made me except from what every other new inmate had to endure.
The first and foremost question asked is if your crime had sexual overtones. If it did, it was usually a huge obstacle to overcome. Lying about it made it worse. In the past there weren’t many child molesters and sex offenders in the federal prison system however the Internet, with powerful search engines, has contributed to both an increased crime rate and the ability to identify one. I saw more than one person not only beaten down but forced to ask for protective custody after lying about the circumstance of their charges.
I left all the prison politics to Charlie and he appreciated it. I had enough of my own problems ahead of me -- my biggest obstacle, aside from my six count indictment, was making bail. The US Attorney had postponed my bail hearing several times. Clearly he was preparing one hell of an objection to me fighting this case from the street. The information on him was very limited and over the next two years I would come to realize why. He didn't care about seeing his name in the paper. What he cared about was getting convictions and that made him a very dangerous adversary.
With little information on the US Attorney I turned my focus on the person that would have the final word in the courtroom, Judge Nguyen. She was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the United States Senate by unanimous vote. Our legal team felt that as a Judge she was a good draw for us. Then two things came up that I found concerning. President Obama nominated her for the United States Court Of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and it was rumored she was also on the short list for the United States Supreme court. Would she let politics interfere in her courtroom decisions? The other concern -- in 1975, at age ten, as South Vietnam fell to the Communist to the North, Judge Nguyen came to America as a refugee. Upon her arrival she was placed in Camp Pendleton in one of the many tent cities set up for Vietnam refugees. I could only hope it had been a positive experience for her and her family, for this former war refugee now held this former Marine’s future in her hands.
Boston had absconded from the Feds in Boston. Then, after a two year run in the porn business in Southern California under a new identity, it all came tumbling down in an electronics chain store over his ID, a credit application and a big screen TV.
Boston described the wanna be looking cop behind the counter as a overachiever in every sense of the word. Their exchange had become a battle of will -- over a $3,000 big screen TV. His gut told him to walk away. But like so many of us have done when we get that funny feeling -- he didn’t listen. The police soon arrived and everything began to unravel. When the officers patted him down for their own safety, the Glock was hard to explain.
He was smiling as he recounted the story to me, conceding it was pride and ego that brought him down. That TV salesman didn't deserve one ounce of credit. Under arrest, Boston weighed out his choices: LA county jail or a confession he’d absconded from Federal probation? He chose the Feds and that's what brought us together.
After a quick seat on the toilet to recover his goods, he invited me to partake. Although I was no longer bound by club rules against the use of heroin, old habits die hard -- I declined his offer. He was outwardly disappointed and asked if he was interfering in my sobriety. I explained myself and countered that I didn't want to interfere in his good time. With a wide grin he stated he would accept responsibility if we found ourselves in a shakedown, I replied “Yes, you will.” With that we shook hands and set the ground rules for the cell.
Boston had been here close to 18 months fighting his gun case. Not only did he know many inmates, he had also developed personal relationships with the staff. He had been in and out of the SHU several times between stays in general population and wasn't shy calling in favors. His first order of business was his mail. He told the guard he was expecting some important legal mail from his lawyer to come in. In fact, he had seen it on the guard’s desk just before they moved him to the SHU and he really needed it for his attorney visit tomorrow. If he didn't get it, it would set his legal defense back. Now I don't know if Boston had something on this guard but about a half hour later the rectangular slot dropped open and a guard slid in Boston's legal mail. All legal mail must be opened in the presence of both inmate and a corrections officer to insure no contraband is sneaked in while protecting attorney client privilege. A shuffle of the legal brief and a quick look into the deep heavy overnight mail envelope satisfied the guard and he was on his way.
Boston was beaming as he looked over the legal motion. Then, to my surprise, he tossed the packet on the table and took a seat on the small steel stool. Carefully and methodically he deconstructed the envelope - first each side, then the bottom border -- revealing a generous second border of black tar heroin that Boston slowly scraped into a sizable black tar ball.
Boston called out to the Surenos in the cell next to us.
“Hey Johnny! It's me, Boston!
“Ya, I know. The whole god damn tear knows it’s you.”
“You still mad at me?”
“No, let’s just squash it.”
“Good, I got a taste for you. Let's start over”
Apparently they had been in general population together. A beef between the whites and the Surenos over, what else, some dope, had broken into an all out brawl and half the unit wound up in the SHU. Boston had talked his way back to general population and now was back in the SHU again. With a few simple words the conflict was now officially behind them. A fishing line was cast between the two cells to transfer the dope to our neighbors and needless to say they were very happy. Of course the first one is always free and after that taxation begins. Over the next few weeks the Surenos commissary slowly transferred from their cell to ours, not to mention the outside sources that began putting money on Boston's books for payment, as he distributed his product throughout the SHU via the trustees as well as a few unsuspecting guards.
His next mission was to see what women were in the cell directly above us. I learned that the floor above us housed all the women inmates and that conversations between their cell and ours could be conducted through the sewer pipes. In addition to conversation, you could also drop fishing lines to pass contraband between the two floors and then on to various cells. Many a jail romance began and ended through those pipes. Boston was real Casanova.
Despite the good times it wasn't all fun and games. One evening, everything was brought back into perspective when a high power member of the Aryan Brotherhood came calling. He had been bought in from the United States Penitentiary in Victorville to stand trial for the murder of another inmate and as far as the staff was concerned he was already guilty. It was no secret the Aryan Brotherhood was the premier white prison gang - birthed in the California prisons and later spreading into the federal penal system. When the Aryan Brotherhood spoke the prison population listened and Boston was certainly no exception. This influence extended to many a guard.
It was the combination of boots and keys that first caught our attention and brought us to our small reinforced glass window. Looking out we saw five guards and in the center a small lean blonde man with a oversize mustache making their way down the hall. Flanked with two guards on each side, and a rear guard armed with a oversized billy club - this guy was under some serious security. I can still clearly recall the sound of his rubber shower shoes slapping against the floor was a sharp contrast to the sound of the heavy boots of the guards - all highlighted by the sound of his leg shackles dragging on the cement.
They stopped in front of our cell door and opened the shower door, located directly across the hall. The shower door locked, of course, to maintain security. Two guards held him by his arms, that were cuffed behind him, as his leg irons were removed. He entered the shower and after the door was secured his hands were extended through the small rectangular slot and his cuffs were removed. The slot remained open. As the five man detail prepared to leave, one of the officers opened up our slot. Then all the guards exited.
Clearly this was done intentionally so we could converse. Not in an effort to eavesdrop on our cell but to placate this potentially dangerous Aryan Brotherhood member who had apparently requested to pay me a visit. I think this in-of-itself is a real testimony to the power of underground communications in the prison system.
We exchanged introductions and small talk, then the conversation took a sudden turn. “Hey Boston, I heard you might have something for me.” said the man. Without skipping a beat Boston replied he did and asked him to cast his line. A package was affixed to Boston’s line. It shot across the floor, the two lines intersecting each other and the transfer was complete. It was the first time I saw Boston look unnerved - a little shaken and out of sorts. All the mysterious man across the hall said to Boston was "That's mighty white of you." The guards returned shortly after and our guest was escorted away. Within the hour, the laid back and confident Boston I had come to know returned. The next morning it was back to business as usual.
I'm not sure exactly how long Boston and I shared that cell. I think we were into the third week and I had truly given up on the Warden when the Lieutenant appeared and told us to dress up -- the Warden was coming.
The Warden was a large, robust women with very dark skin. She was no youngster but had no wrinkles or any grey in the jet black hair piled neatly on top of her head. Her deep voice travelled through the glass loud and clear and she got right to the point. “Christie, You want in general population-- is that right?
“Yes, Warden.” As I began to plead my case she stopped me mid-sentence.
“I don't give a damn what the FBI wants.” She said. “This is my house. You get one shot Christie and that's it. If there is any problems I will bury you in the SHU. We understand each other?”
Relief washed over me. And I quickly replied “Warden, you won't even know I'm here.
“Then roll it up." She said. "Someone will be by to get you.”
Silent through the exchange until now, Boston couldn’t hold back his sense of humor. “Ok Warden, we’ll be ready.”
The Warden broke into a deep rich laugh. "Boston, you got nothing coming."
Each day started the same way with the same sounds. First, the cadence of the neighbors' exercise routine that echoed down the hall. Then breakfast -- the clacking of food cart wheels, the clanging of food slots dropping open and the scraping sounds of food trays sliding through the narrow rectangle opening. You could also look forward to a shower every third day and a clean change of clothes every Sunday. It was routine on top of routine. The only thing you had within your control were your thoughts and God help you if you lost control of those. In an oblique way your sight becomes limited in the SHU (Segregated Housing Unit) but your other senses are enhanced and sound becomes very important.
I could hear the Lieutenant walking down the hall. His steps were fast and deliberate, no stopping to inspect the cells or to exchange a quick word with inmates. It had been close to two weeks and I had given up asking the Lieutenant when the Warden was coming. I could tell the Lieutenant was on a business call. I was the last prisoner in this block and I was betting he was coming to see me. I took a seat on my bed and acted unconcerned as he yelled out “Christie. Roll it up. I'm moving you to the next block. You ready for a cell mate?”
“What about general population?” I barked back. He retorted, “Baby steps, baby steps. If you can live with this guy I'll be convinced you can get along with anybody. Just work with me. I need this cell immediately. Let's go!”
Within minutes I had my mattress rolled up, stuffing what little personal effects I had in the center. I carried the bundle up on my right shoulder as we made our way to the next cell block. Each cell we passed had two faces pressed against the glass - each fighting for a position to get a look at the new guy.
The Lieutenant opened the door. The cell was empty so I staked my claim by throwing my mattress roll on lower bunk. The Lieutenant told me to turn around. He cuffed me and said “Hang on, I’m going to get Whitey Bulgur.” Confusion set in while I waited. I didn't have to wait long. The lieutenant returned in a couple minutes, opened the cell door and in a laughing comment said as he introduced my new cellmate “Well he ain't Whitey Bulgur but he is from Boston.”
Here I was, in a cell the size of a large closet, face to face with a man who was half my age, close to six feet tall, and very fit. He was heavily tattooed and his shaved head gave him an ominous appearance. The lieutenant was not about to take of the cuffs till we had some dialog and he was convinced we wouldn't fight.
My new cellmate opened the conversation. “They call me Boston, are we good?”
“Well, why wouldn't we be good?” I replied.
“I'm just saying, we're good right?” he said again.
We circled each other like roosters, sizing each other up. The lieutenant jumped in the conversation “Turn around Christie” and he took of my handcuffs.
Boston, could see I had no intention of picking a fight with him but couldn't resist breaking the Lieutenants balls. “He looks mean, what if he jumps me?” We all laughed and then the Lieutenant relieved Boston of his cuffs. He said “I knew you two would get along just fine.” And, you know, he was right - we did. Boston was half my age but had been brought up old school, with much respect, and you just couldn't help like him.
As the door slammed shut, Boston threw his things on the upper bunk then went straight for the toilet. Boston explained he had been in general population until today’s drug deal went bad, ending in a fight. As the guards came to escort him to the hole he’d had just enough time to pack his safe. For those of you who don’t know what that means he had taken his contraband and stuffed it up his ass. As he retrieved his valuables: a capped needle, his brown tar heroin, and the accessories that went along with it. He respectfully stated “I hope you don't mind.”
The party had begun. This guy was straight outta Boston.
I know there was confusion last week for a few of you reading my blog. I am not in jail or prison and have no legal problems. What I am writing about on my blog is my past experiences. I will continue to write about all my experiences the good, the bad and the ugly.
I have some great news. The audience in the United States and Canada has made our show Outlaw Chronicles so popular thats its spreading around the World. The Outlaw Chronicles is getting ready to premier in the United Kingdom and I am wrapped up doing promotion for the show in the U. K.
So this weeks blog story is from a couple years ago but still very relevant concerning investigations and indictments. Every potential defendant should read this story I wrote. Hit the link below: