Racism, prejudice, and many negative stereotypes are often advanced through ignorance and lack of communication. This truth exists often where two or more groups of people abide by different codes of morality, cultural norms, or even speak different languages. But there is one thing that unifies, a universal language all men in prison speak…that is money.
I don’t think the champions of the civil rights movement pictured prison a place where men no matter their color, creed, political, or gang affiliations, could sit at the tales of poker, spades, pinochle, chess, or dominoes…and gamble with one another. Where men can play fantasy football and draft along side a rival gang member. The reality is many men do these things not out of pleasure, but to afford some of the few luxuries offered in prison and to pass time.
Now I’m not big on gambling because I gambled for a lifetime with some of the choices I made as a youngster. I have risked my life, my health, my families good name, but never would I risk my money. (I remember many times stacking dollar bills into piles by their monetary value so that I can iron them along with my clothes before I go out. I laugh now but this illustrates my former state of mind.)
Early on in life I learned that there is a good and a bad way to hustle. Prison is no exception to this. In prison, just about anything can be a hustle. During times of financial distress I prefer the legal hustles. I used to have long hair (which my mom wasn’t a fan of) early into my incarceration. I not only learned how to braid my own hair into cornrows, but eventually became one of the better braiders in the state. My dad would say, “If you are going to be something, be the best at it.” I don’t think this is what he had in mind.
I also used to cut hair, and I even wrote poetry for my partners who couldn’t find the words to express romantically their love for their significant other. My boy “Shotty” used to hustle by getting on the phone and serenading the wives and girlfriends of some of our partners through song. My Italian partner “Omerta” had his own dry cleaning service where he would wash, iron, starch, and press clothes. Then he would return them to your cell folded into neat piles , underwear and everything. (I’m not going to lie, I was probably his top customer.) These are just a couple of examples of legal prison hustles.
Not all hustles are legal, many are illegal. Not always in the criminal sense, but they may lead to a possible major infraction or a visit to segregation if caught. Some people hustle by continuing to do the same things that landed them in prison in the first place. This makes me think of a partner I did time with some years ago named “Seal”.
Now Seal got his name because he looked like a “tar black Navy Seal action figure”. His words, not mine. Once upon a time he worked as an escort, a male stripper, and could’ve been a professional athlete (he turned down a minor league baseball contract). Somehow on his life’s journey he found his niche…pimping and pandering. Prior to incarceration and throughout his 20+ years in prison this was the life he was fully committed to.
By the time I met “Seal”, he had an institutional monopoly on the prison sex trafficking industry. He would literally send homosexual inmates (or punks) anywhere and just about everywhere to turn tricks. In cells, showers, supply closets, in the kitchen, on the yard. You name it. Their primary customers were typically lifer’s and those who after 2 or 3 decades broke weak and wanted to get their fleshly fix.
“Seal” always kept 6-7 employees on staff and each were doing multiple jobs each month. Then after each job he would collect $60-$100, not a bad profit when compared to the typical $50 gratuity for full-time work.
What was more comical than the homosexuals working names (ie: Mocha Latte, Lollipop, Peaches, Precious) was seeing the way these old school cats’ noses were wide open as they try to satisfy their flesh. To each their own but, at 19 years old, I lost respect for these men not because of what they were doing, rather because they would scream out homophobic slurs off their tier one moment and then be tongue kissing and laid up with a man the next. Prison has taught me to be tolerant of the differences that make us uniquely us, whether anothers actions correlate with my own upbringing, or preferences.
Don’t get it wrong though, “Seal” was running a business. And as a true entrepreneur, he recognized a void and found a way to fill it.
Now it was the start of the intramural basketball season and “Seal” was on my basketball team. In our first game of the season during a timeout, two of his “employees” came over to him. One gave him an iced mocha to drink (the irony was that it was “Mocha” who gave it to him), while the other pulled out a towel and pat dries Seal’s bald head.
Okay, now in my head I’m like, “Yo, you have got to be kidding me.” Externally, I’m looking at my teammates trying to make eye contact with any one of them to see if they are seeing this. I think it was the homie “scrap” that broke the awkward moment by saying, “Seal, cuz. How do I get that lavish treatment? My babies momma don’t even show me love like that.”
There was so much wrong with this picture. First, Seal was getting toweled off as if he was in the NBA but we are in a prison gymnasium not the staples center or the key arena, and he is most definitely no Kobe Bryant or Lebron James. Second, where did Mocha Latte get the iced mocha from? They most definitely don’t sell those in commissary. Not just that, I don’t have a problem with his beverage choice but during a basketball game…really, this was a game in crunch time not a practice.
I try not to subscribe to the institutional hierarchy of crimes where some crimes are deemed more respectable than others, because in all cases someone is victimized, whether the individual or someone else. But I despised pimps just as some people despise rapists and child molesters. That is because they not only objectify, but abuse and manipulate vulnerable women and young girls. Destroying their self-worth, and robbing them of their innocence and virtue.
I’m in no place to judge because I know every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. I can’t judge anybody based on the merits of their past actions. Just as I wouldn’t wan to be judged solely by my past.
In the end, I don’t always agree with the hustle, but I respect the hustle. What I respect more, however, is those who take that ability to hustle and convert that into a legitimate business.