Some years ago I published "Walls, Wire, Bars and Souls", a memoir of my service as a prison chaplain.
Many of the realities of prison life are grim and unappealing, but there are flashes of humor even inside the walls that can relieve the tension. Here's one incident, as narrated in that book.
A large proportion of the hardened criminals in high-security institutions are mentally unstable, to say the least. Some are downright psychotic. We have psychologists who constantly monitor our inmate population, treat those who need it, and advise the rest of us on problem areas. Inmates whose condition is severe are incarcerated in special medical facilities. Others who have been stabilized through medication are assigned to the general prison population. We have our fair share of them in this facility.
It’s interesting that most of the inmates, even the most violent and predatory among them, generally don’t bother those whom they call the ‘bugs’ or the ‘crazies’ (or less complimentary terms). If they lose control, things can get very interesting, very quickly: and since they can be as violent as any other inmate, and have few inhibitions and less self-control (including not knowing when to stop), others tend to leave them alone. Of course, as long as they’re taking their meds, all is well. Unfortunately, every now and again one of them will decide that he’s feeling fine, he doesn’t need them and he’s going to stop taking them. That’s when things can go downhill in a hurry.
Sam, the self-proclaimed Sex God, is a good example. Let me tell you about him. Sam was on a cocktail of meds for a range of psychiatric and psychological issues, but had the annoying habit of stopping taking them now and again — whereupon he’d go stark staring bonkers within days. The authorities at his prison tried to avoid this by making him take them under supervision, but he learned to conceal pills in his cheeks or under his tongue, so that it only appeared as if he’d swallowed them. When the supervisor turned away, he’d spit them out and dispose of them. (That’s one reason why many prisons try to give medication in liquid form whenever possible — it’s harder to fake swallowing it.)
I witnessed Sam’s most memorable breakdown, the one that earned him his glorious title. He left his residential unit one day with a vacant look on his face, humming and jiving to himself. His Unit Officer, nobody’s fool, recognized the signs of ‘bugging’ and called a psychologist to investigate. Unfortunately for her, the psychologist on duty that day was a rather attractive young lady. She hurried over and confronted Sam, who decided the fact that she’d approached him must surely mean that she had the hots for his magnificent body. He reached out and tried to embrace her. She backpedaled frantically and hit her body alarm.
Next thing you know, Sam had stripped off his clothing (and I do mean all his clothing) and was being pursued around the yard by a reaction squad of half a dozen puffing, panting Correctional Officers. He was a fit, strong man (he’d obviously done a lot of gym work and body-building before his incarceration), and he wasn’t hampered by boots, trousers and the like, so he was able to keep comfortably ahead of them. As they ran, inmates boiled out of the adjacent housing units, shouting ribald encouragement to Sam, who was screaming at the top of his lungs, “I’M A SEX GOD! ALL THE WOMEN WANT ME!”
A number of staff (including yours truly) gathered at a nearby window to observe proceedings. The comments by some of the ladies concerning Sam’s naked athleticism and his self-asserted divinely priapic status were of a nature rendering them entirely unfit for reproduction here.
Eventually Sam spotted his presumed light o’ love trying to creep away down the walk, and made a sharp right-angled turn across the yard towards her. This proved to be his undoing, as the pursuing posse ‘cut the corner’ on him and piled on, six deep. Sam disappeared beneath a heap of heaving, thrashing bodies. Judging from his whinnying cries of excitement, he must have thought that all his wildest fantasies were being fulfilled.
At last Sam emerged from a cloud of dust, handcuffed behind his back, still naked as a jaybird. One of the Correctional Officers clearly wished to spare the blushes of the female staff, because he took a handkerchief from his pocket, unfolded it, and draped it gently over Sam’s all-too-obvious maleness. As Sam was led away to the medical unit, cooing gently to himself, the handkerchief fluttered and bobbed like some sort of weird fishing lure (giving rise to even greater hilarity among his fellow inmates). The poor psychologist returned to her office looking a little glassy-eyed, and was not very polite in response to our proffered suggestions as to how she might better have handled the situation. (Then again, they may not have been the most helpful of suggestions.)
Who says prison work is always boring?
Ah, yes. Memories . . .