Sunday, August 8, 2010

Smoke 'Em if You Got 'Em

I think Byron Case is wrongfully convicted. The State of Missouri believes otherwise. They feel the case is resolved. I believe otherwise. In the near term at least, probably even the medium term, they will prevail. Beyond that, we'll just have to see.

In the meantime, Byron occasionally breaks free of his mental confinement by writing. He has his own blog, The Pariah's Syntax, subtitled Unbound Notes From An Innocent Man. His posts are understandably infrequent, given that he has no access to a computer. He must relay his work through parties on the other side of the proudly lethal electric fence that surrounds the Crossroads Correctional Institute.

If you wish to get a sense of life in prison from someone lucid and inside, you could do worse than visit his site every now and then. It's not about overt brutalization. It's more about a mundane loss of freedom, one in which prisoner control is more important than cruelty or kindness.

Perhaps on ocassion, I will reproduce one of Byron's posts here as a reminder to myself of work to be done. After noting that Byron doesn't smoke, I'll begin with ...

What I'm about to describe to you is disgusting. As with many of the world's stomach-turning stories — the one about the boy and the sherbet container of frozen chicken fat, the one about the woman's devastating encounter with an airplane lavatory, the one about Orson Welles and the scandalized buffet-counter employee — the information I am about to share with you is also 100% true.

You have heard about the value of tobacco products in prison. You may know, for example, that a pack of cigarettes is considered a fair trade for a book of twenty stamps or a shot of trashbag hooch. You may also know that greater numbers of packs will buy even more impressive things: a cell with a better view, maybe someone named Peaches with whom to share that cell.

What might come as a surprise to you is that there are areas in prison where tobacco is prohibited. These are segregation units, where inmates are confined with even fewer privileges than normal, as a result of a conduct violation. It's prison for the already imprisoned; residents call it the Hole. The prohibitive policies of the institutions do little to curb the tobacco trade in these places, frequent cell raids and strip-searches be damned.

How? Well, this is where it gets unpleasant. I'm talking here about butt tobacco.

Packed tightly into numerous little balls, wrapped snug in the fingers of contraband plastic or latex gloves, then swallowed or, uh, otherwise introduced into one's innermost nooks, thousands of pounds of tobacco is muled, like so much marijuana through US border crossings, into segregation units of prisons across the country. [Source: Arbitrary Statistic Generation Department.]

The idea of passing a bit of smokeable material through a stretch of one's digestive tract might offend some individuals' senses of what's fundamentally right or wrong. Smokers on the outside, particularly, will surely be revolted by the thought of this. Not that it makes it less offensive, but those little balloons are packaged with care, double- and triple-wrapped. It's in the best interests of those at both ends of the supply chain (so to speak). Not even the most addicted smoker wants to fire up a cigarette that reeks of untended nursing home.

Just the same, I know this happens all the time. In the Hole, desperate individuals will pay $5 for just enough tobacco to fill up a standard-sized sugar packet, which is the going rate, and make it last a couple of days. Either they don't care, or simply don't give consideration to the way it reached them. They just roll a pinch of it up in a page torn from their Bible's book of Revelation, light it with a double-A battery and some wire, and breathe deeply. And if, by some chance, there wafts up a whiff of campground outhouse as they take that first puff, there might be a moment's grumbling, but nobody asks for their money back. Refunds are probably a real pain in the ass.