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.