Prison Shot Caller
When I first came to prison, all I wanted to do was die. I was 23 years old and just received almost as much time as I had been alive. To say I was distraught would have been an understatement. My goal was to get wherever I was going, cop a gram of dope, and call it a day. I was a young, dreadlocked, hippie white boy and I figured prison was no place for me.
But slowly over the course of thirteen years I’ve built my name up throughout the system and earned the respect of everyone around me. Not that I’m some bad ass but I carry my weight and when its time to jump, I jump. Now I’m the one that’s involved in the life and death decisions that happen every day in the violent federal penitentiary system.
Growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, I did everything I could to ditch classes in high school. I just couldn’t take being stuck in a room for hours on end. I just knew there was no way I’d be able to do over a decade of my life in a maximum security prison.
I don’t care who you are, the first time you come to prison you’re scared to death. All the stories run through your mind and you know at any minute you’re going to be raped or extorted or stabbed. I’ve actually seen a fish come out on the tier and drop his pants, bend over, and yell out “Just get it over with!”
The terror you feel coming inside is mind numbing, and as a hundred and thirty pound white boy with long dreadlocks, I knew my ass was grass.
Luckily, I started out in a medium security prison. The iron barred cell doors and three hundred pound monsters of the movies were replaced with green grass and white collar nobodies. I could breathe a little easier without the imminent threat of bugary no longer on the table.
I started playing music in bands and teaching myself yoga and meditation. All the prison politics were non existent, and the thought of “I can actually do this” crept into my mind more and more. Then I got shipped off to the penitentiary after getting busted selling weed and cigarettes.
Prison became really real for me once I stepped foot on the yard. All the “hello’s” were replaced with menacing stares. A knife was mandatory, and if you didn’t want to be a part of the hunting, you would more then likely become the prey.
In the pen, everything is broken down into race. You live, eat, and associate with dudes that are the same color as yourself. It doesn’t matter if your best friend is black and you’re white, if you come to a USP together, you’re now enemies.
Inside of your race is your “car”. Your car consists of convicts that are from the same state or area. Sometimes if there’s only a few of you, you’ll click up with a bigger car to keep the predators at bay. Inside of your car you have your shot caller. He’s the one that has the final say over everything. This could range from how much you sell vegetables smuggled out of the chow hall, to whose going to get killed. The shot caller literally has everyone’s lives in their hands.
They also are the ones that deal with other races. If something pops up, it’s on them to navigate the problem with the least amount of casualties as possible. Nobody wants to get into a race riot, and it’s up to the shot caller to make sure it doesn’t happen.
The last responsibility of the shot caller is dealing with the administration. It’s on them to try and get cons out of the hole, or “post bail” as we call it. It’s also on them to stand up when staff goes over the line with new rules or procedures. It’s a delicate balancing act between “working with the cops” or “inciting a riot”.
Your shot caller is the one who holds the most respect on the yard. The one that’s proven himself and isn’t afraid to move on something righteous. They’re also usually the one’s that love getting into the drama of the yard.
The penitentiary is just like high school when it comes to the “he said, she said” bullshit. The only difference is a bad rumor can get a blade run through your neck as your eating lunch. Shot callers live for those moments. They get drunk with power and call hits over nothing.
Most shot callers couldn’t even get a job at McDonalds, but in here they’re the CEO of a powerful conglomeration. For over a decade I did everything I could to stay as far away from all this as possible. Then I got stabbed in a race riot over a workout spot.
The federal prison system is vast, but at the same time microscopic. Word spreads quickly to other penitentiaries whenever something big happens. Convicts out in California will know a riot jumped off in Pennsylvania before the last drop of blood is cleaned up.
So when I landed in my next pen, dudes already knew I would handle my business.
“Yo Hippie, this spot is all fucked up!” Said Monk, a sixty year old Pennsylvania native I knew from a previous yard. “They’re all kids that’ve never been nowhere else. I’m close to the door, so I’m falling back, but you should step up and teach ‘em how to do time.”
The last thing I wanted to do was put myself on the front lines, especially after earning eight permanent scars a few months earlier. All I had to do was lay low for a year and my points would drop to go back to a medium security prison.
Right after the riot my parents came to see me. They drove eight hours for a one hour visit behind glass. My mother was crying looking at my bandages and told me that she can’t lose another son.
This played heavily on my decision towards running my car. I decided if I was going to get stabbed again, it was going to be of my own volition. I’ve always done my own thing, and never been a follower, so I chose to step up and be a leader.
I still adhere and enforce the “convict code.” If you’re a rat or a child molester I have no problems calling the hit or “putting in work.” But I also push dudes to try and better themselves. I encourage them to take programs and classes that will help them stay out of prison once they’re released. I use my influence on the yard to keep the cruelty down and the knives put away. If someone has to get “taken off the line” I try to make sure they don’t get that beaten up.
Violence should only be the final outcome. I believe you should try every other option before resorting to force. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The only thing a lot of convicts know and respect is a knife to the gut. Whether it’s over a cup-o-noodles or someone trying to take your manhood, you have to be willing to attack on the drop of a dime in here.
So instead of doing my time in peace, I’m constantly bombarded with frivolous problems. Everyday is something new. Who owes money for dope, reading new cons paperwork to make sure they’re not hot, and checking dudes for getting out of line. There’s never a time when I can just relax, because if I slip up it could cost someone their life.
I’ve had to stand up against ninety blacks over one of their own jumping line at the commissary, and I’ve had to check thirty Mexicans over a stolen speaker. All this in the last month. After the dust settled and things got worked out is when things really got interesting.
Most whites would rather jump one of their own then crash out with another race. I’m the complete opposite. I know it’s a losing battle because we’re outnumbered, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anyone get over on us simply because there’s more of them. This creates tension with not only the other races towards me, but also with the whites. I’m a threat all across the board, and no matter how much good I do, I’m a step away from getting “voted off the island.”
The same thing occurs with the administration. They know that I hold power on the yard, so when word spreads about a possible incident, I’m one of the first to be gripped up and questioned about what’s going on. When I don’t give them the answer they want to hear, (because it’s always “I don’t know shit.”) it’s off to the hole for “preventative measures.” At that point I could easily be shipped off to the SMU (Special Management Unit) in Lewisburgh Pennsylvania. This “re-education” twenty three hour a day lockdown program can last anywhere from eighteen months to five years.
Inside the early nineteenth century prison is the creme de la creme of penitentiary bad asses. Every one of them looking to make a name for themselves. Everyday outside in the eight man recreation dog cages is a battleground between rival gangs and cars. It’s easy to earn your way into the SMU, and even easier to leave in a body bag.
There’s no perks to being a shot caller in prison, it’s a constant headache filled with other convicts problems. I do it for one reason only, so that my family won’t receive a phone call from the BOP telling them I was killed over a workout area.
If you like this check out Christmas in the Hole.