(Adapted from a short story originally written on 6/15/16)
“Newman, pack your stuff, you’re moving to C2,” the officer told me on a Saturday morning in the beginning of March, 2015. C2 was known to the entire prison population as the sex offender program tier. The place where all sex offenders had to go if they wanted to eventually be released on parole, but where few actually wanted to be. C2 was your best friend, your worst enemy.
Upon arrival, I noticed the demographics were much different from the general population. 70 other inmates shared the C2 experience. Most were socially awkward geeks and nerds. Many owned manga books, ThinkGeek catalogs, or the complete collection of (insert your favorite sci-fi or fantasy series here). Several believed that tooth-brushing and using soap in the shower were optional. I’m sure at least 20% were still virgins. (A virgin sex offender, you ask? Read “Lost Memory of Skin” by Russell Banks. It’s more common than you might think.)
I was lucky enough to get a private room. One major difference in C2: all of the doors had been removed. Rumor had it that an inmate was caught masturbating to the TV show, “Dance Moms,” and staff felt it prudent to remove all bedroom doors to prevent future transgressions.
Before I had even begun to unpack, my next door neighbor, a mentally-challenged man in his 40s, was asking, “Hey you got any coffee? Can I get some coffee?” He promised me he wouldn’t tell on me, because he wasn’t a rat. I had been warned prior to my arrival that C2 was very strict, that any small infraction could potentially result in my being kicked out of the program and subsequently not getting a parole date. “No, I’m not gonna give you coffee, you need to quit asking,” I told him.
“Come on, man, just give me a cup and I’ll buy you 4 bags whenever I get my money. My grandma should be sending money this week.” This guy, I later learned, was notorious for making ridiculous offers like this. He also was known for walking through the prison, stopping anyone who would listen — strangers and friends alike — to tell them his latest joke. He spoke fast. Generally, you could only understand the first few words and the punchline. You might hear: “There was a Priest and a Rabbi at the blahlahdaghalanlabla blablasosohala didahadvhergad…and the Priest says, ‘out of what?!!?’ Get it?” The secret was to laugh, tell him how funny it was, then quickly walk away. He left many nurses blushing and mortified, as he would tell inappropriate jokes while in line each night for pill call. Finally, a rule had to be created just for him: No telling jokes to medical staff.
I put a few items into my new locker, when another kid, 20 years old, informed me that he was my mentor. He handed me a packet of paperwork which described the program rules, and told me if I had any questions or problems, he was the point of contact.
Seconds later, my friend Justin, who I knew from ICC (the private prison in Boise) gave me the grand tour. He told me the process for reserving a telephone, he showed me where to get the folding tables, where you can wash your dishes, how to reserve a shower, which toilet you pee in, which one you poop in. He told me that inmates will be coming up to me and telling me things I’m doing wrong. The proper response, he explained, is just to smile at them and say, “Ok, thank you for bringing that to my awareness.” Justin also told me about the mandatory Wednesday afternoon meeting, where I would have to introduce myself to all of C2. At the end of my speech, I would be required to say, “I’m here so that I don’t create any new victims, sexually or otherwise.” He knew that this part wasn’t fun, but said, “We all had to do it when we first got here. It sucked for all of us.”
At this point, another “mentor,” this one in his late 20s and sleeved out in tattoos, told me that “this program is cake. It’s hella easy,” he said, explaining that the most important rule was that we had to be awake every morning by 7 AM and have our beds made (with hospital corners). We had to be fully dressed, shirt tucked in, shoes on and tied, hair combed, teeth brushed, the floor of our bedroom swept and mopped, and this all had to be done before another inmate, the “tier rep,” who was above the mentors on the hierarchy chart, did his morning inspection at around 7:05.
Aside from that, other key rules included: TVs must be off from 7 AM to 5 PM, no lying down or napping between 7 and 5, we could not watch any TV show with kids, cartoons, or anything sexual in nature (like Bates Motel or The Bachelor), we couldn’t masturbate (though the young mentor confessed that “we all do it sometimes, but just don’t get caught,” we had to cancel any magazine subscriptions that might have provocative pictures of women in it, we couldn’t posess any photos of a sexual nature or any photos of anyone under age 18 — this included family photos, and I learned it also included pictures of myself from when I was a kid (in case I wanted to predatorize myself, I surmised). So I sent home hundreds of family photos, and a few pictures of the Rams cheerleaders that I took in St. Louis in 2002.
My first mandatory Wednesday meeting was straight out of the Twilight Zone. 71 chairs were arranged in a semi-circle as the inmates settled in. Staff members typically stood off to the side, supervising. Each week, an inmate was chosen at random to run the meeting. I’ll discuss this more in a future blog. For now, it’s best you don’t get overwhelmed. You’ve had a busy first day. It’s after 5, though, so feel free to turn your TV, relax, and get settled in. But that better not be “Family Guy” on your TV. And if you do decide to covertly masturbate in the shower tonight, you must only imagine missionary position, with your spouse, with the lights off. Welcome to treatment.
Categories: Stephen Newman