It was the moment we’d all been waiting for…or, rather, waiting to get done with, so we wouldn’t have to continue waiting for it. We had been anticipating this moment, had heard rumors that it would be happening right after count time on Thursday afternoon, and when the officer opened our door and walked into our room, we knew that Operation PREA Training was in full force.
“So…” the C.O. said, sheepishly, “you guys need to go downstairs for your PREA Training,” as he tried to stifle a grin. About ten minutes later, 45 inmates from my unit (B2) were filing into a tightly-packed chapel, sitting in chairs, facing the projector, nervous energy everywhere.
PREA stands for the Prison Rape Elimination Act. The only other training I had in this department was the initial intake video I was forced to watch when I first entered prison in 2008. It was part of the orientation for all new inmates. Back then, it was more of a joke. They played a video of an inmate finding a ‘free’ candy bar on his bed (it was a PayDay) and walking out into the dayroom saying, “I don’t know who left this on my bed but I’m not interested!” The implication: if the inmate ate the PayDay, he was somehow now indebted, sexually.
At least five times a year, for the past ten years, I have heard jokes about PayDays. Each time an inmate gave another inmate a candy bar, or even a honeybun, a comment would be made like, “I think I saw something about this in that PREA video.” By 2011, the joke had become so widespread that Keefe Commissary was told to stop offering PayDay candy bars. I never liked them anyway. Lately, I’m on a Milky Way kick.
In 2018, after the birth of #MeToo, the PREA video was updated, and the rules revised and more strict. Now, after 10 years of jokes about candy bars, inmates were expected to take things much more seriously.
“I’ve been told this is gonna be the worst unit for sitting through this quietly,” the Deputy Warden, Ms. Anderson, announced to our group. “The video runs 15 minutes, then I talk for 5 at the end. It covers some sensitive and explicit subjects. Keep your comments and your laughing to yourselves.” She added something about how if she heard laughter or snickering, her mean side would come out. A clipboard was also passed around. Each inmate had to sign and date it to prove he received the training. “If you don’t write your name clearly, you’ll have to come down and do this all over again,” Anderson warned.
I’m not a huge fan of surprises in prison, so it was fortunate that I already knew what to expect. Travis, an inmate who works as a clerk in the Language Lab at the school, has a desk just on the other side the (paper-thin) wall where the projector screen in the chapel was. He heard the video played over and over, to one housing unit, then the next, then the next, as he tried to work on his computer. Our unit was last, so before we had even walked down to the chapel, we were informed that there was a comment about “mouth to anus” being a form of sexual assault. Soon, dozens were spreading rumors that the entire video is about “ass to mouth”. Imagine 88 Beavis and Buttheads preparing for a sex-ed class, and that’s what you’d have here on the B2 unit at ICIO. “Yeah, yeah, heh heh…cool…ass to mouth…heh.”
There were no more candy bar jokes, and this video was much more serious than the one I watched in 2008. One key difference is that PREA was now including “sexual harassment” as one of the big rule violations. In 2008, it only referred to sexual assault. Now, nobody is allowed to comment about penis size in the shower. It’s no longer just guys being guys, like it was in 2008. Now, in 2018, it’s harassment.
At the end of the Deputy Warden’s Power Point presentation, we were informed of several ways we could report an assault. One way was to write a confidential letter to the Idaho Sheriffs Association. My cellmate, who loves to dispute, argue, and disagree (and who would, I’m certain, argue with himself if I wasn’t here to challenge him) couldn’t help himself. “The Idaho Sheriff’s Association is NOT a law enforcemment agency, so I’m curious why you’d have us writing a confidential letter to an agency that isn’t an official law enforcement agency? That just doesn’t make much sense to me.” Yeah. What doesn’t make much sense to me is why this guy is wasting more of everyone’s time, asking questions solely to be argumentative (or perhaps to impress us with his law enforcement knowledge — after all, in the Air Force, back in the day, he used to be a cop. And he’s proud of it).
Ironically, less than an hour after I signed the clipboard to confirm my PREA training was complete, I had my first ever Cornhole experience. A most unfortunate name for what is, essentially, a bean-bag toss. But Cornhole is the real deal — you can even watch professional Cornholers on ESPN. It sounds so simple — you toss a beanbag about 30 feet onto a slanted wooden box, and try to get it into the cornhole. Trust me — it’s much harder than it looks. It took me about 30 minutes of relentless cornholing before I even got my first point. Soon, though, I had a teammate (who offered to join me so that I “wouldn’t look so bad’), and then another team of two challenged us. My competitive juices kicked in and I began scoring cornhole points left and right. We won our first match 21-14. Then we lost our second match. Losers had to do 10 push-ups. I hadn’t done a pushup in years. The first 7 or 8 came easy. (Wow, I’m in better shape than I thought!) But numbers 9 and 10 were grueling. Another inmate commented, as my trembling arms struggled to lift my 100 kilogram body, “Hey! Are you doing pushups or trying to fuck the ground?!” I think they were just jealous of my form and technique. Let’s go with that.
Stephen Newman enjoys chess and ping pong. He is 43 years old and lives on a top bunk.
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