Murf the Surf and I are walking in the rain past the steam plant heading back to the Southwest Unit. The chapel is off to our left, separated from the sidewalk by tall, thick hedges. We are coming from the Main Gate at the Old Administration Building after escorting out a group of students and professors visiting from the University of Florida in Gainesville.

We are prisoners serving life sentences for murder convictions at Raiford, otherwise known as The Rock, Union Correctional Institution, Florida’s oldest and toughest prison, filled to overflowing with over 2,600 desperate men. Raiford is like a small town, with streets, buildings, trees, factories, stores, and housing areas. The steam plant to our right provides power to the laundry, chow halls, and other facilities. A tall brick chimney tower can be seen for miles, and the steam plant whistle, which blasts periodically throughout the day, sounds like a train whistle that can be heard for miles.

We come to the main east/west road and turn right. The school, vocational classes, and print shop are contained in a block-long, two-story building across from us. We are talking about the past three hours we spent with Dr. Jack Detweiler and his college students, 18-, 19-, and 20-year olds, intelligent and inquisitive, who bombarded us with pointed questions about ourselves, our lives, our families, our sentences, and life in prison. Fresh-faced and scrubbed, neatly and fashionably dressed, they seem like naive, adorable children after being surrounded by hard-eyed, stone-faced, feral prison schemers 24/7, day after day, for weeks, months, years.

Coming toward us from the Southwest Unit, a shirtless prisoner wearing athletic shorts and shoes without socks runs as hard as he can while pushing a wheelbarrow. Another shirtless man is sprawled in the wheelbarrow, arms and legs hanging over the sides, limp, reminding me of that sculpture, Michelangelo’s “La Pieta,” of Mary holding the dead Christ in her arms.

The laboring prisoner comes nearer. I see it is Floyd Price, another lifer, a young, strong, well-built man, bulging muscles defined by years of pushing iron. His eyeglasses are fogged and water-spotted.

“Make way, give me room,” he gasps, already winded from his exertions. There is plenty of room in the street, but we step aside. He doesn’t appear to need any help, nor does he ask for it.

Floyd pushes past us at a sprint. We look down and see that the man sprawled in the wheelbarrow is Jim Ealy, and his throat has been cut. A deep gash like a ravine slashes across his neck and down toward his Adam’s apple. Blood runs down his chest, rinsed and thinned by the raindrops that have turned into a shower. His head lolls. His lifeless eyes stare into nothingness. He looks dead.

We grimace and shake our heads in unison, silent in our thoughts. Life and death in prison is selfish. Better him than me. Self-preservation rules. We continue along the street. Floyd races to the prison hospital, a few hundred yards away. It is a good move. Had the guards called for a nurse and a stretcher from the hospital themselves, it might have been twenty, thirty minutes, or an hour, before they came to pick him up, if they got there at all. If poor Jim Ealy has any chance of survival before he bleeds out, Floyd is providing it by carrying him to the hospital himself.

Prisoners at Raiford live in three places. The Main Housing Unit is actually “The Rock,” a concrete and steel edifice first opened in 1913, a three-story fort-like structure that appears to be a strange conglomeration of The Alamo, a low-income housing project and a haunted dungeon. Evil spirits permeate its cold, thick walls and dark, tiny cells. Untold numbers of prisoners have been murdered or died there. Most “newcocks”—young prisoners fresh from the county jails and prison reception center at Lake Butler—are initially assigned to the Main Housing Unit upon their arrival at Raiford, a sort of “welcome to prison.” Some of them never come out, consumed by the beasts within.

Reflecting the prison system’s obsession with compass points, the “West Unit” is, of course, on the west side of Raiford, as opposed to the “East Unit,” or FSP, Florida State Prison, a mile or so to the east, across the New River in Bradford County. The West Unit has a rusting, faded arch over its entry, recounting its original role as the “reception center” years before. Consisting of one-story warehouse-type buildings used as dormitories, a metal plaque embedded in the outside back wall of Dorm Five identifies it as “White Women’s Prison—1936.”

We are heading toward the Southwest Unit—that’s right—it’s at the south and west corner of the prison grounds. If you know which way is north, you’ll never get lost at Raiford. The Southwest Unit is the most “modern” prison housing here, built in 1976, during a brief enlightenment period when the Department of Corrections changed its name temporarily to the Department of Offender Rehabilitation. A long circular road loops around a former open field with four housing areas built on its outside edge. Each housing area is fronted by a building of offices, classrooms and canteen, and officers’ station. Inside, three two-story, air-conditioned dormitories house 96 men each in two-man rooms. A 13th building, aptly named Building Thirteen, is only one-story, holding 48 men, mostly the “elite” prisoners. A chow hall sits inside the circular road.

There is a commotion on the road in front of “A Area,” the first set of buildings we come to entering the Southwest Unit. It appears to be where Jim Ealy got his throat cut moments ago.

Three prisoners with homemade knives are jabbing and feinting at each other while two large, pot-bellied sergeants, one white and one black, stand back and urge them to stop. Don’t get too close! “Shanks” aren’t prejudiced. They will kill white and black alike, prisoners or guards.

It is obvious what this is about, a fight between two pairs of prison homosexuals. The two “female” members, known as punks or sissies, babies or boys, are more slightly-built, have shaved eyebrows and lisp their threats and insults at each other. The “male” counterpart—the “husband,” “my man,” or the “war daddy,” as he is known sometimes—plays the more masculine role, is often larger and more dominant, but no more dangerous than his chain gang lover. Knives are great size equalizers. A tiny matador can slay a large bull.

In this scene, the two war daddies have taken most of the damage. Jim Ealy and his slashed throat are almost to the hospital by now in Floyd Price’s wheelbarrow ambulance. His “boy” appears unscathed. “Moose,” the other war daddy, another shirtless big man, staggers in the rain, one hand barely holding onto what appears to be a sharpened steel spike, the other hand trying to cover up several holes punched in his chest. Every time he inhales and exhales, bright red blood bubbles and foams out of the holes, a sure sign the wounds have punctured his lung. He is ready to drop.

The black sergeant, a very large man nicknamed by the prisoners as “Idi Amin,” for obvious reasons, is urging Moose to drop his knife and lie down on the road, wait for help, he’s hurt.

“I’m all right, I’m all right, I’m—” Moose drops the blade, teeters, falls to his knees, then sags to the wet pavement onto his back. Falling rain mixes and rinses the foaming blood bubbles that whisper out of his chest. The two “boys” ignore Moose, dancing, pirouetting, making half-hearted stabs at each other. Back down the road from where we came, we see a crowd of prison guards half-hustling in our direction, the “goon squad,” or “doom squad,” as some black prisoners call it, a special group of tough guards who respond to violent incidents. Anyone in the vicinity when they arrive is likely to get jumped on, their heads busted, tossed in lock-up, or worse, so Murf and I hurry up and make haste on down the road, around to “C Area,” where we are housed, and where the GOLAB program operates. Over our shoulders, we look back and see the two “sissies” in handcuffs, on their way to confinement. Moose still lies on the road. Party’s over.

Entering the “breezeway,” we turn right into a hallway that leads to the GOLAB classroom. The control room is to our left and the barber shop to the right. The classroom is empty of people. After the college students and professors left, the prisoners who work with us in the program left to go to their buildings and cells, or “rooms,” to unwind, get ready for supper, take showers, whatever. Folding chairs are set up in a large circle. Several tables line the walls. A blackboard covers one wall. I make sure the coffee pot is unplugged and the trash cans emptied. Muff sweeps the floor with a push-broom.

When the University of Florida students entered the classroom at one o’clock, they were bunched up and scared as rabbits. Eight or nine prisoners sat scattered in the circle of chairs, forcing the students, a majority female, to sit next to and on either side of us. An hour before their arrival down here, a couple of guards had run a little “orientation” session on them, to prepare them for meeting us for the first time. They showed the students a variety of prison weapons, clubs, knives, pipes, chains, that had been confiscated in shakedowns. They told them horror stories. They scared them shitless, as they say.

“You kids be real careful down there with that bunch. They may act nice to you, to get your trust, but that’s all it is, an act. Them boys is murderers, rapists, robbers, kidnappers, child molesters, you name it, the scum of the earth, and if any one of them get half a chance, they’ll put a knife to your pretty little neck, they’ll rape you, they’ll murder you. They’ll sweet talk you, tell you sob stories, try to get your address and telephone number, con you into coming to see’em at the visiting park, bring ’em dope and money, next thing you know, they’ll have you helpin’ them escape. Then you’ll be left high and dry, heading to the women’s prison at Lowell, and they’ll be gone, laughing at you. Don’t believe a word they say. They’re all a bunch a liars and homosexuals.”

Those briefings were so consistently the same that we figured they must have had a script of some sort, and followed it closely each time a new group came in to see and speak with us. And it worked, at least for the first 15 minutes or half hour, until the college students got a chance to observe and listen to us, and discover that we were scarcely different from them, except that our lives had been ruined by some misstep, and theirs were just starting out.

We usually began the sessions by introducing ourselves, where we were from, what we were in prison for, how much time we had, and any other personal details we wished to share.

“My name is Joe, I’m from New York, I’m in prison for robbery, I’ve done four years, I saw the parole man last year, and I hope to get out in five or six years.”

“Hi, my name is Jerry, they call me Chicago, I’ve done eight years on an attempted murder charge, and I get out on parole this year.”

“My name is John. I go by the nickname of “Tex,” I came in with an eighteen month sentence over twenty years ago. I got involved in the murder of another prisoner, and I never got out. I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I call myself “Tex” because I don’t want anybody to call me Louise!”(Laughter)

My turn. “My name is Charlie, and I’m from Tampa, where I went to the University of South Florida. (Cheers) I’m serving a fresh life sentence for a murder someone else committed, and my parole man hasn’t been born yet. (More laughter) When he is born, I hope he has good parents who love him, who don’t abuse or molest him, who raise him in a good home, he grows up a decent, well-adjusted person, so when he comes to see me in twenty-five years or so, he has a positive attitude, isn’t on some vindictive crusade, doesn’t give me a Buck Rogers date for parole. (Nervous laughter) I’m glad you all could come here today, we are open to any of your questions about prison and the criminal justice system, ask whatever you like. First, though, how about each of you introduce yourselves, tell us a little bit about who you are, where you’re from, what you’re majoring in, what your goals are.”

That usually got things going. After 30 minutes or an hour, the room would be abuzz with chatter, the din increasing, as everyone talked at once, it seemed, to the persons on their lefts and rights, prisoners and students, the only discernible difference being some wore prison blues and the rest didn’t. Some were female and some were male. When it was time to go, it was difficult to get them to leave. They’d have plenty to write about in their class assignment papers on their trip to prison.

Murf the Surf and I walked with them from the Southwest Unit to the Main Gate. We each had an umbrella, and of course we had to share them with friendly coeds. Dr. Detweiler, a lean, scholarly man, walked alongside Murf listening intently as Murf postulated about a fascinating subject—himself—that sounded great, but would be forgotten ten minutes later. The escorting guards had disappeared in the rain and four o’clock shift change. Our little group scuffled across the empty compound, Raiford appearing to be a ghost town in bad weather. An occasional lone prisoner would pass by, gaping, surprised and wondering how and why a covey of young women and men wandered through this ultimate no-man’s land.

For a short while we had been seemingly transported out of the prison and into a university classroom. Walking back from the main gate, we were energized with the mental stimulation that the supercharged students had provided us. Seeing Floyd pushing a bleeding Jim Ealy to the hospital in a wheelbarrow and the aftermath of the knife fight on the road by “A Area” brought us back to earth swiftly to the reality of life in prison.

We heard later that the incident began with an argument between the two “boys” that escalated to threats and shanks. Once the two “feminine” counterparts armed themselves and squared off, the “husbands,” or “war daddies,” were obligated to pull out their weapons and defend their chain gang lovers. Moose was now at the prison hospital. The two “boys” were in lockup, in the same cell, presumably reconciled. Conflicting reports claimed that Jim had died, that he was in the Lake Butler prison hospital, that he was on life support at Shands Hospital in Gainesville. Prison is an unrepentant rumor mill, fueled by deranged fools who truly believe the made-up facts that pour from damaged brains.

Saturday night we go to the movie in the Main Housing Unit theater, the biggest screen in Union County, a cavernous room on the second floor filled with hundreds of actual theater seats, broken and battered as many of them are. The Rock movie theater looks like something transported out of the Depression in the 1930s, a dark, dirty, forlorn place, with an ominous slice in the screen that could have been made by some maniac with a sharp knife chasing someone else.

They show the same movie first thing Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, and Saturday night. I have my own reverse movie critic, a psychotic from Duval County named Jimmy, who races to the Rock first thing every Saturday morning to hurry down front and center on the first row to stare up at the fuzzy picture. When Jimmy comes back at eleven o’clock, I’ll ask him, “How was the movie, Jimmy?”

If Jimmy’s eyes light up, his face crinkles into smiles, and he tells me, “Brother, that was the best movie I ever seen. Man, you ain’t gonna believe it. Don’t you miss this ’un, Bubba, or you’ll regret it,” I know I’ll pass. It will be trash, unwatchable. I’ll make other plans for Saturday night—read a book, write a letter, watch TV.

If Jimmy’s face contorts in disgust, he snarls and spits, balls his fists, scuffles his feet and tells me, dead serious, “Don’t waste your time, bro. That movie sucks. It is pure garbage. That’s the sorriest movie I’ve seen in a long time,” I make my plans. I’m going to see it. It’s probably going to win the “Best Picture” Academy Award. Jimmy is that good. After my friends see me talking to Jimmy, they’ll nod, I’ll toss a thumbs up or thumbs down their way, and they’ll make their plans, too.

The Rock movie theater in the Main Housing Unit is one of the most dangerous places in the prison. No guards go in there. Two or three hundred of the deadliest prisoners locked in a dark room, with the inherent grudges, gang enmities, racial issues, bad debts, angry lovers, and who knows what else adding to the violence stew makes for a potential bloodbath every week.

Men go in groups for self-preservation. I’m not affiliated with any cliques or gangs, more an independent who cruises along above the fray, but several other men from our housing area and I ride with the Jacksonville Boys, a loosely-confederated bunch of prisoners mostly from the west side of Jacksonville, forty miles or so to the northeast. I have gained the respect and friendship of their leader, Junior Bullard, the “Bull,” another chain gang legend who had survived the last twenty years at the Rock and FSP.

To long-term prisoners like Junior, men who are “fresh off the street,” comparatively speaking, are like missionaries who’ve been dropped into the jungle amidst a lost tribe long out of contact with civilization. They thirst for information concerning how life is “out there,” a strange and alien world of the future that has passed them by. I am happy to oblige, answering Junior’s questions, and although we have vastly different lifestyles and beliefs, being accepted by him means that I gain the acceptance of his entire crew. Thus I could hitchhike along with his group to the movies, while still remaining a free agent, sort of like the white man who was allowed to travel with an Apache war party, but never participated in scalping. An observer.

In each group will be two or three men armed with large sharp shanks, prepared to step up and bare their weapons if something jumps off. Since every group knows everyone else is strapped down and ready to rumble in an instant, an armed truce usually ensues, allowing us to enjoy the movie in peace.

In our movie group I know of at least two men who are carrying. One, Larry Jefferson, “L.J.,”also called Pinhead, a slightly built 30-something who sells bags of pot for Junior, came to prison as a teen, was accepted into the Jacksonville Boys, and has grown up in prison, the only acceptance he has ever known. Larry is a quiet, shy man who still looks like a skinny kid, but don’t let that fool you. If necessary, he will pull out that big knife and wield it in an instant.

Roy Yates isn’t really one of the Jacksonville Boys, either, and although he’s a bonafide psychopath, he is trusted. Roy has been in prison for fifteen years and looks it, worn and wrinkled from smoking “RIPS,” the pungent state-issued prison tobacco, drinking buck, potent prison wine, and doing any kind of drug or pill he can get his hands on.

Roy is missing his top and bottom front teeth, which gives him the disturbing appearance known as “cat mouth,” more commonly seen in the discarded men who come to American prisons after serving years in Cuban hell-holes, where new arrivals commonly had their front teeth knocked out. There’s no excuse for Roy not to get his teeth fixed, since Raiford has a large dental office and a dental lab, where prisoners make dentures for other prisoners statewide. He just doesn’t care.

Roy is actually a short-timer, ready to be released in a year or so. He has minimum custody, and works outside the prison at the slaughterhouse every day.

Every Wednesday, they butcher hogs. They call the slaughterhouse the “cold storage,” another prison euphemism, and we can see the large building on the other side of the triple fences along the Rock Yard, the Main Housing Unit recreation field.

Pigs aren’t stupid, but none of the hundreds that are run through the chutes at the slaughterhouse have ever experienced this, so they don’t know what’s coming until it’s too late. We listen to the squeals and squalls of confusion and hesitation as the first ones are run through the chutes up to the slaughterhouse killing floor. A “free man” wields a bolt gun, a compressed air-powered tool with a trigger that he places up against the pig’s head, that fires a steel bolt into the pig’s brain, supposedly instantly killing it. The bolt retracts, ready for the next victim right behind the first.

From our vantage point on the yard, we couldn’t see what happened, but the pigs told us everything. We could hear it all. The pigs at the front of the line, the first victims, complacently followed the leaders, never suspecting this was death day. We’d hear the squeals, then the bolt gun would start killing, and Roy would wield his butcher knife. The pigs would see the carnage in front of them, smell the blood, and start freaking out. The squeals would become more panicked and high-pitched. In pig language they were saying, “RUN! Run for your lives! They’re killing us! Stop! Get away!” But there was no getting away, no turning around in the chutes, no mercy. The bolt gun and Roy waited for them all. Soon every pig down the line would be screaming, but after a time, it would be quiet. All were dead.

Roy acts as the cutthroat. He wields a razor-sharp butcher knife, and as soon as the free man fires the bolt gun, dropping the pig, Roy starts the butchering process by cutting the pig’s throat.

Roy straddles the dead pig, grasps its snout, and raises its head upward. “You sorry ass, Anderson, I hate your damn guts. You talked all that shit to me, thought you was bad, you ain’t so bad now, are you?”

With that, Roy brings the knife around, cutting through the pig’s neck with a growl and shout of triumph, blood gushing everywhere. That pig is hooked and dragged away for scalding and gutting, and the next one takes its place.

“Bobby Joe, you piece of shit, you thought you was slick, beating me out of that money, I got your ass. What ’chu gonna do now?” And he slices, yells, grins, wipes blood from his face with a rag. All day long.

One day the free man with the bolt gun, the prison employee who oversaw that part of the job, became particularly disturbed by some of Roy’s comments to the dead pigs. He’d told others that he’d considered re-assigning Roy to another job, but he was actually afraid of him, and he was the best butcher they’d ever had. He enjoyed his work. He stopped the line for a minute and spoke to Roy.

“Roy, some of this stuff you’re saying might be going a little too far, pretending you’re cutting the warden’s throat, and the colonel’s, and most of the officers here. You ever think you might need some help, go see the psychiatrist, talk about that? You may have a problem, Roy, and with you getting ready to go home, I’m worried about you. What do you think?”

Roy just looked at him, straddled the pig, lifted its head, brought the butcher knife around, held it there. “You wanna know what I think? You wanna know what I think of all of ya’ll? Watch this. This is you, motherfucker,” and with a practiced stroke, Roy dug deeply and almost decapitated the hog. Bloodsoaked from head to toe, Roy stood up straight, looked the free man in the eye, and asked, “Any more questions?”

Shaken, the man shook his head no.

“I didn’t think so.” He went back to work.

Roy’s proclivities were well-known, and when he’d offered his security services to Junior, they were quickly accepted. No one doubted that Roy would use his knife. In fact, he couldn’t wait to use his skills on a human. Heaven help anyone he got a hold of.

There we were, hundreds of prisoners in a long line in the dark, waiting to enter the west gate that led inside the main housing unit. We stood on a wide sidewalk along an old brick street lined with huge spreading oak trees that had been growing there since the Rock was built. If you didn’t know you were inside a prison, you could imagine you were on a tree-lined small town residential street.

We hear the clang, clang, klink, clang, clattering sounds of metal hitting bricks. The armed men at the front of the line are tossing their knives into the street. The guards must be using metal detectors at the gate. There have been rumors of something jumping off in the theater tonight, resulting in the use of metal-detecting wands, and an inordinate amount of steel is skittering into the street. Roy and Larry stick their shanks into the ground next to a large oak tree root so they could find them. Their knives had been specially ground and sharpened in the furniture factory from carbon steel, and they didn’t want to lose them.

The movie is uneventful. No one gets killed but on the screen.

When we exit The Rock, after 9 p.m., it is dark. No guards are seen past the West Gate. The brick road is still littered with discarded shanks, scattered where they were thrown. Men pick through them and continue on. Pinhead and Roy recover their specially-made blades, concealing them in their waistbands. We walk unescorted the quarter mile back to the Southwest Unit in the spooky darkness. The only light comes from blinking stars and distant fences. Just another night in prison.

The next day, Sunday, I go to the visiting park. My mother and father, brother, sister-in-law, and my nephew and niece, Timmy, eight years old, and Tammy, seven years old, have made the four-hour trip to see me.

Timmy is fascinated by the tattoos covering the arms, necks, and some faces of various bikers in the visiting park.

“Charles, why do those men draw cartoons all over theirselves like that?”

“I don’t really know, Timmy. I guess they are bored, or they like those pictures.”

“Will those cartoons wash off?”

“No, you can’t wash them off. They’ll wear them till they die.”

“If I did that, my Mom would kill me.”

“You’re right, young man,” Sandy added.

After visit, I went to the bandroom to talk to Murf. The bandroom is part of the old “Flat Top,” a walled structure that used to house Death Row up until 1961, when FSP was built, the new Death Row opened, and they moved “Old Sparky,” the electric chair, across the New River to its new abode. It gave me an odd feeling walking along the hallway of the old Death Row, lined with tiny one-man cells that once upon a time was home to Florida’s condemned, many of whom had made this same walk to the electric chair.

Now the cells were occupied by prisoner musicians. I quickly passed a man playing a guitar, one with a keyboard, another guitarist, a drummer, a man with a trumpet, then a sax. Murf was in the main room where Old Sparky once sat, which now held all the speakers and amplifiers for the band practice. Plenty of electrical outlets were available in the room that held the electric chair. I didn’t like it there—too many ghosts—and I left quickly.

Outside, I passed a little old man they called The Colonel, supposedly a retired military man who tended the colorful flowers growing next to the concrete walls. I was glad to get back to the relative sanctuary of my cell in the Southwest Unit.

A month or so later I was walking to the patio canteen, the prison restaurant next to the visiting park, where you could buy breakfasts, hot coffee, meals, burgers, fries, and whatnot if you had money. Coming out of the canteen restaurant was Jim Ealy and his boy. A bright red scar defined the grave injury to his neck.

“Jim!” I said, surprised. “I thought you were dead. Last time I saw you, Floyd Price was pushing you down the road in a wheelbarrow, your throat cut open.”

He fingered the scar automatically. “Nah, they tried, but they couldn’t do it, Bubba. I guess I got eight lives left now.”

“Uh huh. Hey, could I talk to you for a minute, privately?”

Jim’s homosexual lover eyed me suspiciously, correct in assuming I had something to say that I didn’t want him to hear.

“Sure, Charlie. Wait a sec, babe,” he said to the boy, who huffed and turned away.

“Jimmy, you’re a good guy,” I said. “You are a decent person, and everyone respects you.”

“Yeah? Thanks.”

“But you’ve got a serious flaw, man,” I said, cocking my thumb toward the boy. “That punk almost got you killed, and next time, you might not be so lucky.”

“What do you think I should do?”

“You gotta give up that boy. That boy is death. You stick with him, you’re not gonna make it.”

Jim grimaced. “Listen, I know you’re right, but you don’t understand. I can’t give that boy up. I love him. I appreciate what you’re saying, though.” He left with the boy, and I went inside and ordered a hamburger and French fries.

Jim was an electrician, working for maintenance, wore a tool belt anywhere on the compound. That’s a big deal in prison, being permitted to carry hammers, pliers, and other legal weapons as part of your job, providing a degree of deterrence from attack in most cases. While he’d been recuperating in the Lake Butler prison hospital, his boy had not been pining away waiting for him, but as those things happen in prison, he’d been fooling around, playing the very large field, and had linked up with a new war daddy that Jimmy knew nothing about.

Chain gang divorces aren’t like those done in a free society, with no-fault, lawyers, alimony, child support, and the rest. There is an element of violence attached that is rarely seen outside prison.

Jimmy got a work order to replace a light bulb in the West Unit. It was a set-up. When he walked through the doorway, a person unknown ran him through with a very large screwdriver that went in his abdomen and poked out from his back. There was no saving him this time. Floyd and his wheelbarrow were nowhere to be found. By the time the nurse got there with two stretcher bearers, Jimmy was dead.

That night, Jimmy’s former chain gang lover was curled up in the bunk of his new husband. It’s doubtful that he gave a second thought to Jimmy, who thought he loved him. That’s the way it is in prison.

Murf the Surf got out of prison 25 years ago. Jim Ealy and legions of men like him are skeletons moldering in the ground of “Boot Hill,” the sad prison cemetery that rests in the piney woods outside the fences and in sight of the Southwest Unit. Many thousands of other men have come and gone and returned to these prisons over and over again. The Rock is long gone, battered to rubble by a wrecking ball, setting loose all those ghosts and evil spirits to find new places to roost and haunt.

As for myself, I am still here, an eternity later, trapped deep inside the pit, watching the bus come in each week, disgorging a new crop of “newcocks,” ignorant young men who think it is a game, who think they have all the answers, who haven’t yet experienced the rude awakening of chain gang reality, but soon will. That’s also the way it is in prison.