No prison blog would be complete without mentioning some of the characters that one encounters while incarcerated. While at the time, many of these “weirdos” drove me crazy and made me want to pull my chest hair out by the roots, what would jail and prison have been without these guys? They are like the buttons on the T.G.I. Friday’s waiters and waitresses. They’re like the grafitti on the wall separating the Catholics from the Protestants in Belfast, Northern Ireland. They’re like the 13-year-old cat, on a leash, walking with the homeless man through Chinatown in San Francisco. Without these oddfellows, my decade-long incarceration would have been dull, drab, colorless. And who wants that?
Below I will briefly describe some of the more memorable characters I’ve encountered on my journey:
WAINSHILBAUM: In county jail, there was this 5’4″ kid with really bad acne. Some of the guys called him Toad. When he was in the dayroom, he was always convinced people were looking at him out their cell widows, thinking bad things about him. He would sometimes yell at a random window, “Stop looking at me!” One day, he wandered around the dayroom for 10 hours mumbling, “Fucking medical, took all my fucking money!” He wanted to hook me up with his mom, who was a store clerk at Wal*Mart. So much so, in fact, that he started calling me “Dad” when we were in the cell together. I told him to stop — people might get the wrong idea. “Ok, Dad, I’m sorry.”
TURTLE: He was called Turtle because of the excess fat on the back of his neck. From behind, he resembled a Turtle. Yes, really. He was mildly retarded, and it always dumbfounded me how the state thought it was appropriate to lock up a mentally handicapped person in a prison. In any case, my favorite memory was when I went to church one night. It was held in a huge visiting room — probably 200 people were in attendance. Turtle was always in the front row. The preacher said, “I’d like to thank you all for coming tonight. I know football season started today so it means a lot you came here, instead.” At this moment, Turtle stood up and shouted at the top of his lungs, “Screw Football! Jesus is more important!”
OSTROM: He was my cellmate both in county jail, and briefly in prison. He liked to stare at female staff members. In fact, many specifically requested to work on units where Ostrom wasn’t living, because he would sit and stare at them for hours. He also liked to shower during pill-call so he could watch the nurses. One day he came back from the gym, excited that he finally made some friends and felt like he was fitting in. I asked what happened to make him feel that way. He said that he played basketball with some guys, and after the game they all told him he was “inadequate.” I wasn’t sure what to tell him, but ultimately gave him a dictionary so he could look the word up, because I thought it would be more humiliating if he kept going around bragging to others about how inadequate he was.
GOERDT: Pronounced “Gurt,” this guy was the king of the narcissists. He’s the guy who would fix his hair and check himself out in the mirror before making a phone call. He’s one of many guys who constantly lifts his shirt up in the mirror, and checks out his own abs. I have this fun memory with him, though. He was working as the janitor for the entire wing of 354 inmates. It was after midnight, and I was up watching the Craig Ferguson late night show. “Newman,” he covertly whispered to me, “there are all these trays of spaghetti out there in the foyer. Are you hungry?”
“Sure,” I said. Spaghetti was one of the better meals — it came with salad, cake, veggies, and a dinner roll. About an hour passed, and here comes Goerdt, with a mop and a mop bucket. He wheels the mop up to my cell, and inside is a garbage bag filled with my spaghetti dinner. He had to THROW everything together in a bag, so there were spaghetti noodles with chocolate cake mixed in, and the butter pads with the paper still on them were hidden in the salad. There was lettuce mixed into the spaghetti sauce. It looked 100 percent like puke. But I figured, how many times in my life will someone roll a spaghetti dinner to me in a mop bucket?! Even before YOLO became a thing, I figured I might as well live a little. So I ate a bowl-full of spaghetti and chocolate cake and salad and butter, all mixed together into one fascinating goulash!
HATROCK: No cast of characters would be complete without the guy who was known for having to have an apple surgically removed from his butt. He was also one of my cellmates, back in 2010. Once, he politely asked if he could masturbate on my bed when I went to chow, because he couldn’t do it on his own bed because he had a top bunk and everyone would see. I said, “um, no, absolutely not.” And he tried to negotiate: “Please? I’m very clean and I promise I’ll put a towel down so nothing will spill onto your bed.” I again said no, but suggested he ask my other cellmate, Art, the old hippie with the other bottom bunk. I figured it wouldn’t go well, but hey, it’s worth a try. So he asked, and was loudly rejected and called something like a sick disgusting pervert..
Side note: I was watching TV one night when Turtle came into the cell to ask Hatrock to be his boyfriend. “Brian, you’re a very handsome man,” Turtle started, obviously nervous. But Hatrock (or AppleBottom, as he is known to most) turned him down. Pretty sad when someone finds an apple more attractive than you. Must’ve crushed poor Turtle’s ego. The whole time Turtle was asking him out, I kept my headphones on, pretending I couldn’t hear a thing!
I’ve encountered thousands of people, just like this, during my 10 years. I’ve written down many of their names and their special quirks. While these stories are often vile, my experience wouldn’t have been nearly as tolerable without them.
Categories: Stephen Newman