Our correspondent “Leather” is currently serving a sentence because of charges related to a family dispute, subsequent warrants, and the labyrinthian carceral state in general. Leather was previously incarcerated at the Orleans Parish Prison but has recently been transferred to a facility in Ferriday. The following has been transcribed (with minimal edits for clarity and format) from handwritten letters. Because of barriers that restrict and complicate communication with people in prison, we are unable to independently corroborate claims herein.
PRISON ETIQUETTE 101
In life there are rules that everyone must follow and prison is no exception. In prison there’s written rules, but there’s also unwritten rules that must be followed or it can cost you your life. These are rules that inmates have implemented in jail that’s law, so you must be aware of prison etiquette and the lingo.
In prison one of the most important rules that will help you survive is respect. Yeah, respect is the number one rule in prison. Respect will carry you a long way. But lack of respect will shorten your time real fast. Or you better be able to fight real good, and even that won’t last long, because there’s always somebody bigger and badder. Or if you’re too big, you can bet your last breath the bush is coming. So learn respect, it’s much easier on your body. Or you better be able to slang that thing. There’s rules for blacks, there’s rules for whites, and there’s even rules for the gay inmates. From the minute you enter prison you must be aware of the rules.
And these rules vary from state to state and prison to prison. For example, the first time I went to prison in the state of Texas I was a fresh fish. When I got to my prison dorm, I put my stuff down by my rack, took off my shirt “to show off my tattoos,” and went and sat on a table in the dayroom near my rack. Shortly after I sat down I was approached by a little white boy who told me I couldn’t sit at this table. I looked him straight in his eyes and balled up my fist and said, “Why the fuck not?” He said, “Because this is our table.” I was like, “This is anybody’s table,” and right before it got ugly, one of the guys who came to prison with me intervened and showed me two letters on the table: A.B. Aryan Brothers. He told me this was their table, and if I don’t want to start a riot or a race war, I should move to the table for the blacks. I had to respect the game.
In Texas prisons Mexicans rule. Yeah, they run the system in Texas. I had never saw anything like that before in prison. In Louisiana we sit where we want to. As you know, blacks run Louisiana. But there’s other elements you must be aware of. Like I said, respect is big in prison. And another thing you should be aware of, and that’s mind your business at all times, because minding somebody else’s business is a sure way to get you zipped or shanked. Yeah, don’t come to jail worrying about another inmate’s business. You will get checked real fast.
And the third thing that’s very important is your hygiene. You gotta be clean because nobody wants a dirty celle. Don’t get in the shower, or the other inmates will throw you in the shower. And the last element that any inmate must remember is no matter what, never ever steal from another inmate. Never, because even though we’re in jail around a bad cast of characters like drug dealers, killers, rapists, thieves, burglars, etc., stealing is the worst crime among inmates. If you get caught stealing you’ll get your ass bushed by everyone in the dorm. So I guess you can say there’s some honor among thieves.
Now the rules vary from race to race, depending on where you’re locked up at. There are prisons run by blacks and there are prisons run by whites. Now back in the days, if you were a black inmate who caused problems they would send you to an all white camp, and the white boys would train you. And if you were white and caused problems they would send you to a black dorm, where they beat you up every day until you got your mind right. Now that’s in Louisiana. In Texas most camps are ran by Mexicans. There’s gangs like the Mexican Mafia, Texas Syndicate, Tango Blast, and the cartel, and the reason these gangs are so organized is because their members are everywhere. A lot of the gangs have members who are deputies, so they have access to real weapons that are brought in and given to their people, and they bring in all the drugs. In fact, the two years I spent in Texas the only fight I ever really saw was Mexican vs. Mexican, mainly over product. Each group has different products they sell. For example, the Mexican Mafia controls the glass, and the Texas Syndicate controls the cocaine, and Tango Blast has control of the mojo. There’s some prisons in Texas where the main drug is glass. Nobody better not come to their prison with cocaine or that will start a gang fight, and depending on how the fight turns out determines who and what drugs gonna control that unit. And this is why the Mexicans run the prisons. Blacks don’t have the manpower or the connections. Sometimes the Mexicans have one or two black guys they use to sell to the blacks, and a white guy as well, but it’s gonna most likely be the white guy who’s over the Aryan Brotherhood and for the blacks the highest Blood or Crip. Whoever has the most power will be who they deal with.
But here in Louisiana blacks run prisons so the rules are much different. Blacks dominate everything: the television, the yard, the showers. We eat first and get the best trays with the biggest cakes on them. The white boys eat last. And in just about every dorm all the blacks have bottom racks. Even if a black comes in the dorm, and a white boy has a bottom rack, he has to give it up or fight for his rack. And even if he wins he has to fight the next black guy, and so on, until he gets on a top rack or checks out. Simple as that. It’s kill or be killed in here.
Now for the gay inmates, it’s real simple: you’re the dorm whore and as soon as they hit the dorm they have a job, it’s already understood. And their job is to keep the dorm clean or they’ll get beat up or checked out. Cleaning the dorm consists of sweeping the whole dorm, mopping, cleaning the toilets, cleaning the microwaves, phones, and the tables we eat off, and taking out the trash. And if he knows how to do hair, that too. Or the other option is to choose a man for protection, and that don’t really matter because all he can do is keep his whore in line, if he’s fucking with the game. And it’s crazy because there are inmates in here, real gangstas, who are in relationships with the gay guys. But they don’t think they’re gay. A lot of the inmates you would never think would be fuckin with the game are messin’ with them boys. We call them booty bandits. This is why a lot of women contract AIDS, because these guys get out of jail and start having unprotected sex with their girls. But when they’re behind the wall they are having sex with boys. These booty bandits say it’s because of the type of time they have. I think it’s just an excuse.
I don’t care how much time I had, I would never fuck with the game. I would spend a lot of time in the shower yellin’ gunline gunline! Now if you don’t know what gunline means, I’ll tell you: gunline means don’t go in the bathroom area, because that means someone is in the shower pulling or having sex and you don’t want to get your eyes bust. So until you hear clear, don’t go in the shower area. I hate to tell what really goes on in here, because some convicts don’t want people in that world to know what goes on in here.
There’s one more thing I want to tell y’all that’s kinda funny. If you ever go to prison, and somebody puts a honey bun or a Snickers on your bed, please don’t eat it. Because if you do the convict who put it there wants that exact same item back right then and there, and there’s only one way in the world you can give him that one back. This is how a lot of fresh fish get turned out.
Also, if you see the phone hanging off the hook, that means somebody already has next on the phone. There’s so many rules in prison it’s unreal, but you learn as you go. All I can tell you is if you ever have to go, pay attention to what’s going on. Mind your own affairs, stay clean, and always respect everybody.
Joce = whatever makes your time easier, e.g. my joce is writing.
Bush = when you get jumped by 2 or more inmates.
Slang that thing = use a knife.
Fresh Fish = first time in prison.
Rack = your bunk or bed.
The system = D.O.C. / Department of Corrections.
Zipped = when you get knocked out.
Shanked = when you get stabbed.
Celle = your bunkmate.
Trained = when a few inmates take turns beatin’ you up.
Glass = what they call meth, ice.
Mojo = fake weed.
Check out = to check out of a dorm.
Fuckin’ wit the game = an inmate who messes with boys.
Dorm whore = the dorm sissy or punk gay guy.
Booty bandit = An inmate who rapes other inmates.
Gunline = when some inmate is masturbating.
Behind the wall = what people call prison.
Pulling = masturbating.
Clear = what’s said when an inmate is finished pulling.
The world = anything outside of jail.
Gunslinger = an inmate who’s always masturbating.
Turned out = when a guy gets turned gay.
The Baby = the girl who holds you down.