It Was Not for Nothing


Idle Speed

A Prison Journal

If winning isn’t everything, why keep score?

– Vince Lombardi

by Tom Adamson

My problems began after months and months of struggling with bills and banks and a mortgage payment, when one of my more prosperous clients called and casually asked, "Did I invest $30,000 or $40,000 in the last bond issue you sold me?"

Something like teeth gnawed at my chest.  "You mean you really don't remember?"

"No.  I've got so much going on I can't remember exactly.  Besides, that's your job, right?"

The teeth snapped hard.  I became a crook, endorsing checks made out to the stock brokerage I worked for, putting the funds in my checking account, trading heavily in stock options - always telling myself everyone would he paid off handsomely, and no one would ever know.  As my losses mounted in the option market, I created fraudulent securities, promising a higher return than real ones would ever pay.

I took advantage of my clients' trust and naiveté, and I stole their money.  There was nothing very clever about what I was doing.  I blame no addiction, no motor impulses, no uncontrollable cravings.  I merely deluded myself into believing that it was not immoral and that everything would turn out all right.

When the Federal Reserve notified my bank of the huge sums going through my personal account, I was finished.

My attorney was hopeful at first, but as the months went by he grew less confident.  He told me that I could even get the maximum 20-year sentence if the judge wanted to make an example of me.  He advised we waive a trial and plead "no contest."

For the 6 months between my hearing and my sentencing date, I vacillated between the hope of getting probation and the shattering thought of prison.  I had trouble finding work, finally taking a telemarketing job that didn't pay much but got me out of the house every day.  Nights I drank.

One day I met a retired broker friend for lunch.  After some small talk, he looked squarely at me, his drink in his hand, and laughed.  "Tom, Tom.  Sweet, lovable, trustworthy Tom.  Of all the people..."  He broke up with a belly laugh.  "Of all the people, you were ripping off the system.  Of all the people."

I gulped at my beer, feeling ashamed and yet strangely pleased.

We talked more, and I casually asked him for a $1,500 loan — "to tide me and my kids over."  He had plenty of money, and I thought I would get a quick "yes, sure."

But his jaw hardened, and he said quietly, "Don't think so, Tom.  Really don't think so.  You're like a rubber band.  You're gonna be stretched and stretched, and you may spring back or you may break."

Boesky, Milken, Levine, the Keating Five — the 80's had its share of fraudulent money-changers.  I'm not nearly in their league, nor would I want to be.  But we're still talking about lying and stealing and self-deceit.  Prison was the fate of many of those crooked deal makers.  I am one of them.



Douglas County Courthouse Source: Jon Clee

The Courtroom, Douglas County, Omaha, Nebraska

"Your Honour," my attorney said, "Mr Adamson has a very good educational background, owns his own home in Douglas County, has never been in serious trouble before."  Standing beside him, I felt proud of the man he was describing — his client — although it didn't make me proud of me.  I was oddly detached from the scene.  They were deciding the fate of Tom Adamson, not me.

As my lawyer finished up, he turned to me hurriedly and said, "Mr Adamson would like to address the bench."

Looking slightly bored and above it all, the judge smiled.  "Go ahead."

"Your Honour, I'm sorry for the lives I've damaged and the trust I've broken.  I would like a chance to rebuild my life and repay the people I stole from."  It was too rehearsed, too fast, too predictable.  And everyone knew it.  We had used my gambling addiction as part of my defence, but the judge didn't buy it.  When my lawyer asked for probation on the condition that I attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings, the judge said, "Mr Adamson, I feel you're about as rehabilitated as you're going to get."

And so it was to be "incarceration of 3 to 5 years."  I fumbled in my pockets for the car keys and gave them to my ex-wife, Cheryl, and I was handcuffed and led away.  I turned around quickly and, nice guy to the end, said to my lawyer, "Good try anyway."  Then somehow I mumbled, "Thank you, Judge Davis."  Three to five years.  Good Christ!  What have I done?

Douglas County Correctional Center Source:

Day 1, Douglas County Correctional Center

For the next 3 hours I sat on a long bench in the holding tank.  There were about 20 guys in there, most of whom kept to themselves.  I was still in my street clothes: 3-piece suit, wingtips.  At 1:30 the guards slid trays of cheese sandwiches and mashed potatoes in to us.  A lean, glossy black guy in a burgundy suit kicked his tray to the side and yelled, "I don't need food.  All I need is Jesus, sweet Jesus."  His eyes roamed across our startled faces.  No one moved until finally another guy picked up his tray and began eating.

In the afternoon I was led into a locker room and told to "strip down and hit the water."  A stocky, bald white guy with several tattoos stood beside me in the shower, and as I washed he casually asked through the spray, "What you in for?"


"Armed ?"

"Yes, thank you."  Damn!  Why am I getting cute now?

He smiled slowly, then turned his back to me and began whistling.

Being processed is a long, tedious task, and the jumpsuit I was wearing was awkward.  Clutching a towel, a bar of soap, and a Bible, I was sitting in the tank again when my name was called out.  I was escorted into another room.  Cheryl's lawyer was standing there, along with my sons, Reid and Bobby.  They were startled to see my prison clothes, but they gamely smiled.  I tried jokes, small talk, anything to make our few moments together go well.  It began in the back of my head, slowly, painfully — a sensation of bone going to ashes.  I managed to stand up and embrace them as I left.  Reid was stoic, as always, but Bobby began to cry.  I will carry those tears a long time.

Day 3

Already, so very quickly, I've gone partially numb.  Sometimes there seems to be nothing left to have feelings about: the door is iron, the walls are cold stone, the window a mere slit only hinting at the world out there.

My fellow inmates, kids mostly, who committed crimes of urgency while high-wired, now revert to childhood as they clamour for the right to choose which cartoons to watch.  The intellectuals play cards and avoid arguing over the rules.  The wary burn time with restlessness.

Day 6

The undisputed leader of our module, both in size and cunning, is a black guy named Jimmy.  He has huge shoulders, rippling muscles, absolute self-confidence, and perfect timing.  Whether he's singing in sweet falsetto the Nestle's chocolate jingle, whistling the theme to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, or merely doing a sexual rap-down with the brothers on the virtues of "white meat," he is king.  And, damn it, he's cool.

Night 6, 11:30pm

A steady 3-beat pounding on the wall jarred me out of a blank sleep.  Someone called out my name urgently.  I heard it twice and finally got out of bed.

"Adamson!  Adamson!  I need to talk, man.  It's Jackson.  Next door, man.  I need to talk!"

"Yeah, OK.  What's happening?"  Here I was, sitting stark naked on a cold metal toilet, talking through a wall to a small, slow black man nicknamed Ned (a cruel name the other blacks gave him, shortened from Neanderthal).

"It's my wife.  They just took her into the hospital.  I'm afraid something's wrong, man.  I mean, her going in like this, and the twins not even due for a month yet.  And I'm here and can't help her or even call, man."

"Now don't get excited.  She's in the best possible place she could be.  The best way you can help is try to get some sleep, and pray."

A typical white man's answer.  Ned let me go back to bed.

Next morning I noticed he didn't make it to breakfast.  It was almost noon when he came out of his cell.  As he slowly walked past me, he looked through my eyes and said simply, "They died, man, they died."

Day 7

I borrowed some soap from Jimmy and washed my underwear and socks in my little sink.  Squeezing them out, I gingerly laid them on the railing outside my door on the balcony.  When I gave the soap back to Jimmy, he said, "Hold on, big man.  I got something for you."  He disappeared into the dark of his cell and came back with a grin and a huge book.  "Here you go — a big book for a big man.  I noticed you read everything they got in this pad, always reading something.  Here's one, a hefty book, ought to kill off some of the time in here."

We got to go to gym today, and I immediately joined in a basketball game.  I learned quickly that the game in here is more furious than fast, more power than finesse, more show-off than pass-off.  I also learned that there are a few superb athletes here, and that you call out "paper" (as in "good as cash") when you anticipate a shot going in.

Afterward, I showered and shaved for the first time in 6 days.  Tomorrow, several of us are going to Lincoln for some "serious" time.  One of the guys said to me today, "You look soft, man, a short-timer.  How much you gotta do?"

"I got 3 to 5 years."  His eyes widened, and he gulped.  I felt a flush of self-importance, followed very quickly by depressing guilt.

I walked down to the big table by the TV and sat beside two giggling white kids.  Jimmy and 3 of his friends were farther down the table, all laughing at some sitcom.  George, scraggly and young, walked over and mumbled, "I ain't watching this shit," and turned the dial to the news.

The others shouted, "Put that back, ass-wipe!  Now!"  George ignored them and sat down.

Jimmy stood up, glared at George, and turned the dial back to the comedy.  George jumped up, but Jimmy said quietly, "Now be cool, man, just be cool.  There's a bunch of us want to see this.  So just sit down."

George scowled and turned the dial back anyway.  The room got very still.  The guard in the observation box looked out for a second, shook his head, and turned away, his keys jangling.  Jimmy raised his left hand to turn the dial again, and George grabbed it.  For a second the thin, gangly kid held back the stronger man's arm.  And then, THUMP.  Jimmy's right hand came down and slapped George's ear.  George froze as a dribble of blood spotted the side of his face.

"Damn, punk, get out of here now," Jimmy hissed.  George's eyes filled with tears.  He turned away and gave a low moan.  I sat there, paralysed.  The guard strolled out, looked up at the TV and smiled.

Lincoln Evaluation and Diagnostic Center Source:

Day 8, On the Road to Lincoln

Eight of us felons, chained together, crowded into a van and were driven to the Lincoln Diagnostic and Evaluation Center, where we'd be evaluated and sent either to the Lincoln Penitentiary — the Wall, as we called it — or to the low-security Omaha Correctional Center to serve our time.

When we left the city limits of Omaha no one even took a last look back.  The guards let us listen to the radio, and when the Pointer Sisters came on, the van was absolutely swaying.  Jimmy's falsetto rose higher and sweeter than the singers' voices.  "Yes, indeed," he crowed.

Day 10, Lincoln

Four black prisoners and I were herded into a room to wait for the usual medical exam.  They talked of past drug exploits.  One told of hallucinating in Vietnam while on an aircraft carrier that was shelling a coastal village.  "There were bodies flying, but not real bodies to me.  I could see them bones, motherfucker.  They were skeletons.  I could see right through them as they were burning and breaking, I was tripping so bad."  Another talked about drinking and drugging while driving down the middle of the interstate, thinking he was Pac-Man gobbling up the center stripes.

The talk turned to the younger brothers of north Omaha, the teenagers coming to power in the streets.

"Shit, man, all they talk, all they say to anything is 'Uzi, Uzi, Uzi.'  They think they can fucking outgun the Man with submachine guns."

My turn with the doctor, a balding older man.  He took my pulse and temperature, checked my records, had me walk in front of him.  Everything normal, everything fine.  I was about to go when he said, "What are you doing here?"  A casual question, not too difficult to answer.  But I felt overwhelmed.  I didn't speak, just stood there looking at him.

What am I doing here?  I thought.  What do you mean — do I look innocent, out of place?  Or do you mean, more likely, how could I have screwed up so badly that I wound up here?

He said, "Adamson, doing time involves idle speed.  Your mind is racing a thousand miles an hour, and you're idle, going nowhere.  Your brain is humming, hut the walls, the time, the system won't let you out.  You want to run, but you've given them your legs."  He snapped his briefcase shut.  "Idle speed, Adamson.  Get used to it."

Day 19

The trick, I've been told, is not to squeeze time too hard, not to wake up one morning worrying about the kids' back-to-school needs, which is precisely what I did this morning.  Squeeze time too tightly, and it'll come back on you and ride you all the way down.

"Get up, lay down, get up again.  Do it over and over, like a soldier," Jimmy says.

A few hours of psychological testing today.  Few guys took it seriously.  One teenager wrote obscenities on his test and yelled about his "constitutional fucking right."  Another drew patterns on the page.

Day 20

A long, quiet Monday after Easter.  No gym or testing today.  Too much time to think, to regret.  Everyone is sullen and silent.  The only rowdy outburst came when we ran out of coffee at lunch.  The guys were even fairly subdued during "The Price Is Right," which is normally punctuated with shouts, obscenities, laughter, and high fives.  In the past I could always find good aspects of my life which so outweighed my troubles that I would not have traded places with anyone.  But not tonight, not here and now.

Night 20

Just reread what I wrote this morning, and though I may not yet he articulate in prayer, it looks like I've got self-pity down to a science.

Day 23

I share this 6-by-10-foot room with a black man called Ace.  He's short, tough, and wiry, and because he had the room before I arrived, he sleeps in the bottom bunk.  He's serving a "short" sentence (1 to 3 years), but he carries a terrible burden.  His 2-year-old son accidentally shot himself to death while playing with a gun Ace had hidden under his mattress in his apartment in north Omaha.  He quietly pulls out from his Bible a picture of the little boy, dressed in a suit, eyes closed, hands folded, lying in a beautiful, dark blue casket.  "Dressed to the nines, that day," Ace mumbles.

At night, as we lie in our beds, we talk for a while.  He says that black men are attracted to white women "because they're softer than the black bitches.  You know, softer to feel, easier to boss around.  You get in a fight with a black bitch, shit, she'll fight back like a motherfucker.  She'll go after the goddamned hammer, she gets mad enough.  White mamas, snow bunnies, you know, they like their men to be kinda mean."

Ace rocks himself to sleep every night.  He climbs into bed and just rolls back and forth, sometimes for 20 minutes, until he finally dozes off.  Tonight, before rocking himself under, he tells me about all the men he's shot.  "Including my time in California, eight altogether.  Killed 2 — no, 2½ of them I killed."

"Two and a half?" I ask, hoping the uneasiness in my voice is not too obvious.  After all, you learn quickly in prison never to be shocked by anyone's crimes.

"Yeah, two motherfuckers died right away, but one held on for 6 months or so in the hospital, so I just count him as a half.  I splattered most of his guts out in a van, but them doctors patched him up and he lived.  But I hurt him so bad he wished he had of died."

I ask him if he could somehow get by without guns so that maybe his chances of staying out of jail would improve.

"Could be, Cuz.  All I know is, where I run you gotta have a gun to get by.  You don't let someone fuck you if you can fuck them first.  Know what I'm telling you, Cuz?"  I hear him start to hum and rock.

Day 24

A hot, muggy day, and after playing basketball outside during our yard time, the shower felt good.  I shaved slowly and carefully, put on new underwear and socks and the same sweaty, faded green jumpsuit, and headed down the stairs to the smoke-filled cauldron that is prison on a Saturday night.

Preacher, a lean, smooth white guy, was running the pool table again.  Quick with the stick, he's a man being pulled apart by gambling and drugs on one side and by Jesus, he says, on the other.  Off in the corner a small cocaine deal was being finalised, while beneath the concrete stairs Fast Freddy was running another poker game; cigarettes were the currency, and Freddy was the house.  He took a swig from his jug of Tang, let out a series of expletives so tightly strung that all the untrained ear could catch was the last "pussy-eating motherfucker!"  He laughed suddenly and laid down another winning hand.  Over in the corner balcony, on what is called the front porch, Fat Chicago was planning his next mail heist.  His plans are brilliant.  He says, "I don't need the goddamned money.  I need the challenge."  Sure.

In the background, the blaring rock music on TV was selling iced tea, chewing gum, running shoes, beer, deodorant.  The crowd around the set was getting excited, waiting for "The Andy Devine Kickboxing Tournament," or something like that.  I drifted from scene to scene, cool and ghostlike.

Day 26

It's early afternoon.  I'm standing by the railing on the second floor, watching a card game below.  Freddy and his partner, Symington, are making a killing, and I notice they are passing cards under the table.  Slick, but not too slick if I can pick up on it.  A young, loud, ponytailed kid called Pogo is losing badly.

Out of the corner of my eye I see Cash moving toward me.  He's doing life here in Nebraska and also has time to serve in Texas — mostly, if talk is right, for murder.  He starts talking to me in a low, calm monotone, and I nod my head even though I can't hear him very well.  Then I realise Cash is telling me about his crimes.

"I could always feel it happening, feel my temper taking over before I could even stop to think what I was doing.  Sometimes it's over something small, but if someone's trying to run over me, well, man, pride and temper can be a mean mix.  One time, it happened right here in this prison.  Some guy got up in front of me when I wasn't doing nothing but watching TV, and he went to change the channel.  Before I could even think about it — "  He turns to face me suddenly, and I see the blue-cold fury of his eyes, eyes that look as if they were born at gunpoint.  "By then the blood was pouring out, squirting all over me, and then I really lost my temper.  I damn near killed him.  All over a TV program.  All over nothing.  But in here, you just can't let anyone fuck you over, at all."

I'm staring and nodding.  His eyes flash down to the game below.  "That new kid down there, he probably thinks he's gonna screw me over."  He nods toward Pogo.  "Borrowed 6 dimes last week, said he'd pay me back this week.  Hell, if he'd asked, I'd have given him the lousy money.  But he said he'd pay me back, and he will pay, or I'll put something across his head."

Cash straightens up, winks, and walks away.  I keep nodding, in case he suddenly turns around, but he came and went like a summer storm.

I've become adept at nodding, either to speed up people's inane comments or deflect them.  One day, out of boredom, I counted my nods during a 3-hour period: an incredible 116.  I even began to differentiate between the long, slow, thoughtful nod expressing deep interest in what's being said and the staccato, emphatic, short nod showing affinity and energy, such as "Right on, brother, kill those pigs!"  The thought even occurred to me that somewhere on my sentencing decree, in small print near the bottom left corner, it reads: "Sentence may alternatively be filled upon offender's nodding 1,342,961 times."

Night 26

Ace and I had mopping and vacuuming duties tonight, and as the guys headed for their rooms for 9:00pm lockdown, I saw Pogo walking by.  "Hey, Pogo, come here a minute."  I almost added, "son," but realised this is not the place for paternalism.

He walked over to me as I plugged in the vacuum.  Outside I could see a fog rolling in, casual and free, over the barbed-wire fence.  "What do you need?" he asked urgently, his eyes wild.

"None of my business, but you know Freddy's card games are fixed.  Him and Symington are cheating."

"What the fuck?  Are you for real here?" he asked.

"Just telling you what I saw."

His eyes bolted away, and then he whispered, with a quick whip of his tongue, "Damn, damn."

"Adamson, get busy up there!  Reynolds, back in your room."  The guard's voice echoed away as I finished my duty.

Day 27

Another early morning.  I wake up with unremembered dreams and cry to give myself a reason for getting out of bed.  The guard starts yelling out room numbers in rotation for breakfast.  I know it's dangerous to just lie back and think.  There is only one enemy: futility.  I'll be giving in to it if I lie back.  And then it will kill me.

Day 28

I was walking up the stairs to my room when Symington blocked my path.  "You know, little man, you got a big mouth."  I leaned forward to hear him better.  He spoke in a soft, low voice.

"What?"  I stammered.

"People tell me you say I cheat in cards.  That true, punk?"  He looked straight at me, and I just froze.  It seemed to get very quiet in the module.

"I ... I ... I ... what ... what are you talking about?"

"Look, fat man, I got a good, clean game going here, and if you got something to say about it, say it to me.  You understand?"  Every B-movie about prison violence flashed through my mind.  In the corner of my eye I saw Pogo hurry away toward his room.

Fat Chicago, breathing heavily, came up to us.  "What's going on, Gary?" he asked Symington.

"Nothing, Chicago.  Just straightening out your little buddy here.  Right, Adams?"  Symington towered over me.

"Yeah, right," I murmured, and slowly edged by him.

"You know, the walls talk in here," Chicago said as we reached the top level.  "Keep your mouth shut and avoid guys like Symingron.  He's heavy traffic."

Day 29

I was called out of gym and told I had a visit.  Surprised, I followed the guard down the winding halls, past the other modules, the noise booming and echoing.  In a small, brick, locked hallway I was told to take off my clothes.  I was quickly searched.  I'd barely gotten my clothes back on when the guard smirked at me and said, "Go ahead."

A heavy door opened, and in the corner of a large, glass-walled room sat Cheryl and Bobby.

"Well, hi, nice surprise," I blurted.  Bobby jumped up.  "Hi, Dad, how you doing?  Losing weight?"

We hugged and I said, "Yeah, sweating it out, no beer."

"That's a good thing, at least," Cheryl said.  "I'm here because my lawyer said to bring your car registration down and have you sign it.  I need the money, you know.  I can sell the car for $1,500, and you won't be needing the car for awhile."

"Yes."  I paused.  "So how are you doing?"  There wasn't much feeling in my question, and I only half listened to her answer.  Bobby wandered around the room, looking at the electronic system outside the door as gates opened and shut around us.  Cheryl rambled on about her job and her family.  My mind started to wander.  I felt more out of place with her than I did in this prison.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," I interrupted.  "I screwed up my life and your lives, and believe me, I'm paying for it."

Cheryl fell silent.  Bobby looked at me.  I shrank.

Walking to my module, I felt glad to be going back to my cell.  I waved and yelled at Ace when I got there.  "I'm home!"  He just looked at me.

Night 29

Tonight I wound up on the "porch" with Fat Chicago.  He put my time in a focused, hard perspective: "You're going to give this good state 29 months of your life.  Makes no difference to them if you're first-time, non-violent, or not.  White collar?  What do they give a shit about that?  Twenty-nine months of your life is theirs."  He spit out a tiny wad of tobacco.  "Twenty-nine months.  Just two years of your sons' lives, really.  Two years you won't ever get back."

Day 30

My 37th birthday, and I have some general observations on the prison game.  The Economic Theory of Incarceration as articulated by the more intelligent, experienced, and cynical inmates, holds that the prison system itself, by means of low-cost operations, in-house production of vital goods, and, most importantly, federal grants and assistance, is making a huge amount of money and providing jobs for wardens and guards.  Thus, the system has less interest in rehabilitating prisoners than in making the released prisoner a repeat offender, for only by keeping prisons full can the federal money pour in, the profits accrue, and the jobs be maintained.

I've noticed that while some of the inmates have photos of their loved ones in their rooms, almost all have a snapshot of themselves in their younger, more promising days.  They are saying to all who will listen, "This is how I was.  This is how I can be again."  There is Cash, grinning, standing over a deer he had shot.  There is Fat Chicago, dressed in army khaki from his Vietnam tour, about to go fishing.  There is Pimping T, dressed up, with a shy-looking girl on his arm.

Pictures of their past, bridges back to where they want to go.  "For what is your life?  It is even a vapour, that appears, for a little time, and then vanishes away" (James 4:14).

Day 32

I went to Sunday service this morning.  On my way out, Symington jeered, "Pray for my soul!"  I decided against it.  We hold services in the gymnasium, and I sat in the free-throw circle.  For much of the service I thought about the two letters I'd received from Reid yesterday.  "Dear Dad," one letter began, "How are you doing?  Good, I hope.  Just writing because I want you to know I love you and care for you.  At first I was afraid to write and feared I would hurt you when I wrote.  I hope you are OK.  I miss you a lot."  A few sentences about the cats, school, girls, and he finished up.  "Am I feeling stress yet?  I don't know maybe.  You know I can't wait until you get out - we can live together with you.  Please, when you get out, try not to hit the beer too massively.  Your friend and son, Reid."

Back in my room, I lay down on the bed and cried.

Day 35

Freddy was moved out and placed behind the Wall today.  Wisecracking and collecting gambling debts even as he was wrapping up his possessions in his sheets, he was still fast-talking, foulmouthed, and cocky.  He vowed he would like to rob banks again.

He once talked to Ace about death.  "Might be a gun.  Might be a truck running over you.  Might just be your heart going out on the basketball court.  Point is, you don't know — you'll never know — until your time is due.  So you got to get everything out of every day, get it all now, and keep on grabbing.  My job, you see, is taking money, robbing banks.  That's all I do, and I try to do it well.  Now the cops, their job is to catch me.  And what the hell, I'm here, right?  I didn't do my job as well as I could, but next time I will."  He made a shooting motion with his hands and laughed.

Night 39

Ace got the official word that tomorrow he'll be moved to the Omaha Correctional Center — my hoped-for destination.  Most of tonight, he was jiving and dancing, giving me a hard time, until I finally gave him a Swisher Sweet cigar.  Lying down on his bunk, Ace breathed the smoke in deeply and talked about his dead son.

"Little boy was smart.  Damn smart.  He could shoot dice, bag weed, count to 20.  And fight, Cuz, he could fight kids twice his size."

I stared at my feet propped up on our little writing bench.  The air hung damp, heavy, sweet.  Ace stretched out on the bunk.  "They called me at work.  Told me he was dead.  I just hung up the phone and started walking down 72nd Street.  Kept on going, not crying or anything.  Found me a store and bought a pint of gin, some cola, hit McDonald's for two cheeseburgers, and just walked and walked."  He swallowed hard on cigar smoke and added, "Finally got home after midnight, sloppy-sick drunk, crying like a damned baby."

He flicked his cigar into the toilet and rolled over.

Day 42

Because of a jammed finger from playing basketball last week, I was forced to sit on the sidelines during our gym hour.  I was the silent member of a group of 4 — Fat Chicago, Pimping T, Larry, and me — having a prison-wise conversation about the point system used to classify inmates and assign them to various institutions in the state.  The higher the point total you get, the more "secure" the facility you will be assigned to, and thus the less freedom you will have.  This week quite a few guys have been classified.  Fat Chicago was bragging that he had guessed the exact point totals of the last 4 guys to go before the board.

"What you all fail to understand," he drawled, "is the state of mind of the State of Nebraska.  Violence, of course, is a real point-getter, but lately the fine folks who run this show are putting a little more bang in your past record to up the old point total."

"Yeah," Pimping T agreed, casually picking at his gold front tooth.  "They're even using misdemeanours to gang up those damned points on you.  I know they'll be pulling me over the Wall, for damned sure."

"So what's the story of the new guys?" Larry asked, glancing at the trio of white men walking around the gym, trying to get a feel for the place.  They wore matching khaki pants, T-shirts, and gold watches, and Pimping T had dubbed them The Three Unwise Men.

"Don't know.  Let's go interrogate that matching set and find out,"  Far Chicago answered as he heaved himself to his feet.  Larry stayed behind with me, quietly watching the basketball game and the men sweating and grunting on the weight machines.

"Well, Tom," Larry began, not noticing or perhaps not caring to comment on how startled I was to hear my first name used, "how's your time going?  Do you think you've changed any?"

I hesitated.  "I don't know.  God knows it's a change for anyone, and God knows there's time enough to think, to try to make some sense out of where I've come from."  A lame answer, a stalling manoeuvre.  I was hoping to get out of this conversation without too much self-discovery.  But at the same time I wanted to get Larry's impressions.  He's educated, experienced in the penal system (this is his third fall), and keen on the perception of moods, which is something you must learn in here.  "Do you think I've changed?" I asked.

"From what I can see, you've adapted well to what goes on in here.  You've become more outgoing and at times almost boisterous, hut you're mellow enough to get by with everyone.  That's good.  But you've become shallow.  You focus on only the few things that get you through the day: gym, pool, food, showers, listening to the same old stories.  They get us all through the day.  But this system we're in, it works on you and you don't even know it.  It will change a man.  I know, believe me."

Day 51

An early summer heat is coming on, and some of the guys are getting restless.  The pickup basketball games in the yard are becoming shoving and shuffling matches, with more and more jammed fingers, bright bruises, and cracked bones as a result.  Even the pool sharks, roaming the air-conditioned module, are feeling the heat.  Balls fly off the pool table, chalk is tossed on the floor, and cues ripple the table's calm green felt.  The older guys, however, play their endless games of spades or pitch, their expressions like the face cards in their hands: cold, bored, and totally blank, oblivious to the game higher powers are using them for.

Day 54

An excruciatingly beautiful, sunny, blue-sky day.  It's days like this here in prison that make me feel cold and alone, as if one good, warm breeze could blow my shadow into a grave.  I'm working on a new lyric called "Blackbird Sunday": "Blackbird Sunday, I'm wishing I could fly away / Feels like I'm stuck in this Sunday / For forever and a day."

Day 57

In the afternoon, an inmate called Juke Box casually walked up to me and said, "You and I got here 'bout the same time, didn't we?"

"Yeah, it's been about 7 or 8 weeks now for me."

"I hear we'll be moving on, a whole bunch of us, next week.  You hear anything like that?"

"Yeah, I think we're next in line."

"Tell you what," he said crisply, looking straight into my eyes.  "This place here has worn me down to almost nothing.  Inside, man, I'm crying."

"Amen to that," I thought.


Day 58

Today, a new man came into our unit, and 3 different guys brought him over to me saying, "You gotta meet Adamson, you gotta meet Mr Money.  He got away with even more than you did."  (They ignored the fact, of course, that I didn't get away with anything.)  The new guy, a quiet, middle-aged man, had embezzled some $34,000 while managing a motel.  He seemed genuinely embarrassed at being introduced to me 3 times.  The inmates who brought him over seemed to want my approval of him or, at least, my opinion of his crime.  So we swapped stories — again and again.  The third time my Bill Murray personality came out, and I asked if he was sorry.

"Yes," he replied.

"Then do ten Hail Marys and call me in the morning."  Damn thing about it is I think he will.

Omaha Correctional Center Source:

Day 59

Woke up to a surprise: today, a week ahead of schedule, they are sending me to the Omaha minimum security facility.  A last breakfast in Lincoln, a few handshakes, and I'm on the van to Omaha.

We arrived shortly past noon at the Omaha Correctional Center.  After moving into our rooms, we went out to the playing fields, where I ran into a couple of guys, including Ace, whom I knew from Lincoln.  We walked around the facility on a paved track.  There were men playing tennis, basketball, softball, and handball under a huge summer sky.

Day 62

I'm sitting in my room, smoking my last Swisher Sweet, meditating and getting used to this place.  I share the room with a young kid named Glen, who came down from Lincoln the same day I did.  He's polite, somewhat effeminate, and very nervous.  He does a lot of pacing and chattering, but we get along well anyway.  There's an inch of cheap cigar left to this Thursday afternoon.  I can almost daydream my Swisher Sweet into a dark Upmann cigar with a good hour of life left in it.  I look out the window at the railroad track that swings into my view, leading to an industrial park where empty fuel tanks are stacked and an old, unpainted water tower shimmers in the summer heat.

Night 62

While I was walking around the track tonight, a sudden rainstorm came up.  I kept walking, soaked and shivering, enjoying semi-freedom.

Everyone at this little camp works.  My job as a teacher's aide pays $1.05 a day.  I help other guys prepare for the GED test.  I'm finding the biggest division among prison inmates is not between blacks and whites, but between younger and older prisoners.  This is reflected in the attitudes of those in the education program: the older guys take learning and testing much more seriously than the younger ones.

Day 66

A vanload of new arrivals from Lincoln came in today.  Carrying their laundry bags over their shoulders, they marched in pairs to their housing units.  I was walking back to school when I saw the familiar hunched shuffle of Pimping T.  I stopped and looked at him.  He was white-eyed and wired, singing "Strawberry Fields Forever" over and over under his breath.  "So which one of these buildings is the K Pod?" he asked, looking at me with an unsteady friendliness.

"First one on your left.  So, welcome to OCC."

"Yeah, sure.  No bands playing, none expected either.  OCC, yeah. I'm ready for it — 26 acres of correctional initiative."  He drew the words out long and flat, hanging them in the air.

I laughed and told him I'd see him around.  "Sure thing, Adamson."  And he resumed his rhythmic stroll, as cool as ever.

As I finished my walk to the classroom, I remembered that when we'd first met in Lincoln, he'd called me Tricks.  After a few weeks, I was Duck.  Here in Omaha, I had graduated to Adamson.

Night 77

I was sitting outside with five other white men as the sun died and the early shadows of evening grew cool.  We were watching groups of black men stroll by on the paved track, most of them smoking and singing, a few wearing headphones, shades, and head-hose.

"Just look at all those hamsters, parading right in front of us," said a rough, wild, young white man named Marco.  "Man, if I had my thirty-ought-six, it'd be just like a shooting gallery.

"Hamsters?"  I asked cautiously, not wanting to appear too ignorant of the latest code words.  I heard a giggle as I pressed on.  "Why are you calling those black guys hamsters?"

"Because you can be standing next to a whole group of them and talk about caging and killing hamsters, and they won't know what the fuck you're talking about.  They'll just think you're weird."

"Which fits you fine anyway, Marco," someone shot back, and they all laughed.

"But I tell you, with my thirty ought-six, or even a Remington 1858 cold frame, we could lean up against the bricks here and just pick off a few and have a good time."

There was a general murmur of agreement as someone offered Skoal around.  I declined.

Day 79

Waiting for my turn on the basketball court outside.  It's a hot and humid afternoon.  A wiry, grizzled man is taking a break from his daily 3-mile run on the track.  Sitting beside me on the park bench, he is watching the basketball game.  There are shouts, threats, some shoves and swearing exchanged.

"Those punk-asses think they're pretty tough," he says suddenly in a dry-crackle voice full of ashes and smoke.  "They ought to get down on their knees and thank God above they wound up here and not in the pen."

There's a thud of flesh colliding on the court, and a long-haired boy takes a quick elbow in the stomach as he is going for a rebound.

"That cute little wimp would have been claimed, branded, and fucked in the first hour after he got off the bus down there."  The old man chuckles softly, staring at the boy with slightly sunken gray eyes.  He's not wearing a shirt, and I see his stomach muscles tighten and twitch.

Night 88

It's the end of June.  The first half of 1987 is over.  I spent the day doing algebra and science problems in the education department, the long summer evening playing basketball.  Time bears down, sometimes heavily, sometimes lightly, but it does pass.  Sometimes I feel every second, think with every breath, "I am a prisoner."

Day 92

In the still, hot early evening, I'm sitting near the basketball court in the cool shade of the backboard.  Over to my left, I casually watch one guy loaning another his porno magazine.  To assure the magazine is returned intact, he's numbered the pages in big, black, bold magic marker.  The borrower, a lean boy with crooked brown teeth, nervously fingers his greasy ponytail and murmurs, "I've always been a tit man, always.  I look at these pictures and think about 'em.  Yeah, I look at 'em slow, slow, slow."

Day 94

I got the news about Ray today from Glen.  Coming back from class, Glen was running toward me across the yard.  "Did you hear about your little preacher-buddy ?" he asked breathlessly.

"Who are you talking about?" I said.

"Ray.  You know, the Preacher.  Seems he got in a fight with another guy, a big guy.  Ray took a shank or a razor blade to the guy and got him in the stomach.  I saw the guards taking both of them away in handcuffs."

"Are you sure it was Ray?"

"Yeah, it was him all right."

I remembered seeing Ray yesterday afternoon, playing basketball in the summer heat.  He seemed quiet, calm, and as full of Jesus as ever.

Day 99

The rumours about Ray and the fight circulated for a few days.  But instead of being charged with a felony and sent back to the Lincoln penitentiary, he got a break and received only 2 weeks of room restriction and a loss of 60 days' good time.  I talked to him today for a few minutes after breakfast.  He smiled a lot, assured me God had made all this happen as part of His plan.

"Been having a lot of time to read the Bible, brother," he said as we walked out the cafeteria door.  "Learned I could have avoided all the fussing and fighting by following the example of Paul.  I've learned how to take insults, abuse, punishment, all in stride for the Lord.  I've learned the meaning of long suffering from the Acts that Paul wrote.  And especially chapters 19 and 20.  I read them slow, slow, slow."

Day 108

It's a little after 4 o'clock and stifling.  I'm sitting in the bleachers in the shade of the gymnasium.  Nearby, Pimping T is making a deal with a couple of young white guys.  He has already set up the bait.  "The mamas and bitches in the books I got here are getting it all, and ready to ball.  They got spirit, they got juicy action."

"Yeah, man.  Cut the shit.  Just show us the books and give us the price."

"Alright, man, that's cool.  Let's just see what we got here.  Oh yes.  Look at this one right here.  That mama is taking the famous John Holmes up her butt.  In his entirety."

Slowly he turns the pages one by one.  A true salesman, he times his silence perfectly.  "Yes indeed, that Holmes really knows how to pack the pink, don't he?"  Murmurs of agreement all around.  A couple more magazines are brought out.

"And now the sticky part," Pimping T says, flashing a monstrous smile at his pun.  "The price for the whole load of sweetness here, 20 in all, is $40.  Naturally, I'll go for $35 in store trade."

"35?  Are you fucking serious?"

"As a heart attack.  Look, if I gotta break this set up and sell them one by one, I'll get 50 or 60 bucks, just take me a little more time.  But I got the time, you know what I'm saying?"

Hot silence, hurried looks between the 2 kids.

"Besides, if you can even find these fuck-books around here, much less get them at a lower price, then snatch them up.  Otherwise ..."  Another pun, this time no smile.  Minutes later all parties seem satisfied, and they walk away briskly into the heat.

Day 112

Dressed in sharp-creased street clothes, Ace shook hands all around and left for work detail across the street.  I'd written his short résumé and typed it up for him.  It was heavy on manual labour and maintenance, but it was honest.  He gave me a slap on my palms.  "See you over there, Adamson."  He seemed much older than he had only 3 months ago.

Night 126

I was heading inside after some volleyball when a guy I know only by sight, leaning casually on the trash can by the door, turned squarely toward me.  "Hey, man, how old are you?" he asked.

"Pardon me?"

"I said, how old are you?"

"Thirty-seven."  I smiled.  "Why?"

"I've been watching you play, man.  You're good.  You hustle out there.  You're really trying.  You play a good game."

I began to mumble a thank-you or something, all the time thinking, "What the hell does this joker want from me?"  But he had already turned and gone inside.  I lingered behind, leaning against the wall.  Here I am, I thought, a convicted felon with an MBA, divorced, bankrupt, alcoholic, living in a topsy-turvy, dizzy world of controlled hysteria.  And now some convict has given me his Old-Man Hustler of the Year Award.

But I felt good.  Obviously the man knows his athletes.

Night 127

Had a note to see my counsellor tonight at 7:30.  I found out I'm going across the street tomorrow to work detail as the van driver.  Sam, who was on work release 13 months before going on parole and screwing up, said to me, "You'll like it, and you'll never see handcuffs again."

My last night at OCC I helped 2 guys with algebra problems, wrote an opening paragraph for a young man filing a motion to reduce his sentence, walked the track twice, showered after umpiring a fast-pitch softball game, and lay naked in bed, singing.  Although I'm only going across the street, I'm hopeful and almost excited.  It's another step back to freedom.


Omaha Community Corrections Center Source:

Day 129, Across the Street, Community Custody

After being checked in at work release, I learned that, ironically, we have keys to our own rooms.  There is no physical contact allowed because there are also 16 women within community custody.

One of the first women I heard about, JoAnn, is rumoured to make more money on the inside than she does on the outside.  Sunday nights, when only one guard is on duty, she entertains for about $50 a session.  I've admired her from a distance (of about $20).

Night 129

I'm sitting on my new bunk, the top one, my head touching the ceiling.  I share a carpeted room, TV, fan, and radio with two other men, Charlie and Elmer.  All three of us are on work detail.  Charlie and I are the van drivers.  On a lower bunk, Charlie is scouring the Wall Street Journal, adjusting his glasses and clearing his foghorn throat.  Nearly 62, Charlie is the former president of a county bank in western Nebraska.

Today I rode with Charlie, learning the route, which is very easy.  The first time out it was strange to see the world going about its business, people driving to work, walking in the sun, casually strolling, their gestures free, unhurried and unconcerned with such a simple thing as the passage of time.

Day 132

"Click.  Click.  Just blew your head into next Wednesday.  You're dead, man.  You're dead and gone.  Wanna know why I just wasted you, man?"

Realising that even if I don't play along, he'll keep on, I nod.

"Cause you got that driving job, man.  The job I've put in for 3 times.  I wanted that job.  Hell, you're making $3.29 a day, and you get out of this place all day long.  Me, scrubbing dishes on a 12-hour shift and only getting $1.57.  It sucks."  His right eye is twitching slightly, and his feminine voice rises a little higher.  "Course, my driving record - 3 speeding and one DUI — probably stopped me from getting that job.  That and the nature of my offence."

I look into his youthful, faded blue eyes, his age betrayed by bushy eyebrows and gray hair.  "What are you in for?" I ask.

"Armed robbery.  I hit 5 places in less than 2 weeks back in '79.  Specialised in drugstores.  Got 15 to 20 years.  I've done 92 months, got 34 to go.  I'm on the downhill run."  He took a gulp of coffee and told me about his crimes and his lessons.  "Ban every fucking gun in America, and then close down those factories forever.  A man gets a different kind of nerve with a gun, and a hard crime just gets easier.  I always had to be drunk or stoned before I robbed anybody, and even then I'd puke out the car window on the way back home.  But I never even could have dreamed about doing the crime without my gun."

Night 157

Charlie reads the Wall Street Journal before Elmer and I get to it.  He circles items he thinks we will find interesting.  They usually involve crimes, frauds, and bankruptcies.  What he'd circled today was especially relevant to me.  Five former executives of a government securities firm pleaded guilty to an elaborate securities fraud that netted them millions and "cost scores of US banks, thrifts, and municipalities almost $150 million."  The longest sentence, 8 years, went to the former president of the firm; he was the only one who had fought the charges.  The rest received 2½ years or less.  The judge, apparently bent on doing his part to combat illiteracy, also ordered the men "to read and analyse in writing 6 books on human suffering and achievement, including The Grapes of Wrath and a biography of George Washington.  The assignment will be part of the defendants' probation after prison."

The judge concluded that their crimes were the result of nothing more than "simple greed."  To anyone else contemplating similar activities, he warned, "The consequences are not pleasant."  The dreadful thought of writer's cramp should, by itself, deter much of the white-collar crime in America.

Night 190

At first, seeing the round, white face on TV tonight startled me.  I knew the man like a background player in a nightmare, yet 1 didn't know him.  Five seconds into his bank's commercial, he casually dropped his name, and I was seized by a quick, fierce recognition: he was the president of the local bank that had caught me in my crimes, the man who'd called me into his office and said, "We have a problem here, Mr Adamson."

But now, as he intoned on TV, "Gate Wind Bank, the big-city bank with that small-town atmosphere," his face was lost in rushing memories: the falling sensation as I wrote out my confession; the strange pleasure in being center stage as my life went to hell; the guilt; the fear of another day; the relief it was all finally ending.  I lapsed into a silent, slow-burning depression, worrying about getting a job after this is over, wondering how the emotional and psychological scars will ever heal.  In short, getting ahead of myself once again.

Day 270

Today was JoAnn's third day on work release, and she said on the van this morning, "I ain't looking too hard for work just yet.  Maybe next week, but just now I'm enjoying the ride around town."

She looked good today, as always, and I was kind of surprised when she didn't get off at the shopping center with the rest of the group.  "Just drop me off back downtown.  I got some business to take care of there, honey."  We drove on a few blocks.  Then she turned toward me in her seat, spread her legs, and began to hum.

Cleverly, I turned down the radio and looked over at her.  She said, "What do you think, Tom?  I know you got 20 minutes until you're due back at the center."

My heart went cold and my tongue faltered.  "I ... I ... well ... you know, I heard it's $50 and that's a lot.  I mean, you're certainly worth it, but I just don't have that much on me now."  I was gasping for air, my voice shrunken, hollow.

She was swaying her long legs over the edge of the seat.  Her eyes narrowed slightly.  "Sugar, how much have you got, and are you interested?"

"Ten dollars and yes."

"Ten dollars won't get you much.  In fact, I don't like to cheapen myself down that low."

"JoAnn."  My voice was still quivering.  "We've got a little time, like you said, and I'd be very easy to please.  Hell, it's been 9 months, and..."

"Ten dollars will get you a tittie suck."

"How much is ... is, you know, a blow job?"  There, now I'd openly propositioned her.  Jesus, my cards were on the table, and my prick was doing the bidding.

"Honey, let me tell you something about sucking cock.  It's work, it's dirty, and it ain't related to lovemaking at all."

Realising I was wasting time with my wild dreams, I told her, "All right, 10 bucks.  I suck your breast and you, you know."  I put my hand on my crotch and started to rub.

JoAnn reached over and put a dainty olive hand in mine.  "All right.  I could use the money.  Five blocks down, take a right and follow the street about 4 or 5 blocks.  It's a quiet little spot, you know?"  I followed her directions and parked the big van in a crooked street behind an abandoned store.  She leaped into the back seat, and I quickly joined her.  She giggled, pulled off her sweater, and delicately plopped her large breasts over her bra cups.  I swelled and panicked.  "Tom, take out your prick.  Oh, you have a nice prick.  You really do.  A nice handful."

The stroking was smooth, regular, teasing.  She grabbed my coat and covered me.  "Ah.  Aah."  I splattered the lining of my coat.  My shaking hand found the $10 bill and slipped it into her dry hand.  She hopped out of the van and waved goodbye.  I nervously drove back to the main route and made the next run on time.  All day long I felt the edge of worry that we'd been followed.

1987 ended not with a bang or a whimper but with an "Aah."  At least, mercifully, it ended.

Day 290

I'm standing in the laundry room, waiting for my towels and shorts to dry.  The narrow hallway outside is jammed with guys waiting their turn at the pay telephones.  There are men pleading with their women for "one more chance, just another time together.  I need to see you."  Others are begging for money, cigarettes, clothes.  A few are threatening.  One kid is crying, telling his mother about his drug write-up and that "it might just delay my welcome home party, you know?"  Another man's voice is hopefully uncertain, and his free hand nervously folds and unfolds the lining around a front pocket.

Night 291

Cheryl visited tonight, without the boys.  She was restless as she unbuttoned her coat and sat down.  Raising the kids by herself and trying to keep her business going have exhausted her.  Last week Reid wrote to me, saying he wanted to live with me when I get out.  Cheryl intercepted the letter and read it to me on the phone when I called that night.  Bobby has been talking about running away, and both boys' grades are terrible.

I knew what Cheryl was going to say.

"I've come to this decision, and other people, AA people, agree with me.  The boys and I need to be a family again, and seeing you and talking to you is confusing them.  They feel pulled in 2 directions.  I want no contact with you for a few months.  They have a lot of anger at you, Tom.  Bobby even said, 'Dad needs to have some punishment.'  You're going through this prison thing so fast, Tom.  I think Alcoholics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous are games to you."

Though I'd been expecting this, I was hurt and pissed off.

Day 316

Today I went through a 5-hour deposition hearing with representatives from the bank and the stock brokerage I'd used in my crimes.  Money was the issue, and the bank was feeling the heat.  It was trying to determine if there was any way the stock brokerage could have prevented my crimes.  Having no favourites between them, I told the truth: I did it because I needed the money to maintain my modest standard of living and to gamble on stock options.  My persuasiveness (not to mention the fact that I offered 10.5% interest) allowed me to take advantage of my clients.  I was able to cash their cheques and buy the cashier's cheques thanks to the bank's careless handling of the transactions.  I was able to gamble freely in my stock option account thanks to the stock brokerage's lax follow-up.

Five hours of going over the names, dates, amounts, and other particulars of my crimes left me drained.  Near the end, the bank attorney asked, "How would you describe your option-trading record during the period of your crimes ?"

I turned to the stenographer.  "DO you spell shitty with one 't' or two?"

Night 326

Sitting in the day room, the TV on though no one's watching, I'm talking with Ring.  This isn't his first time through the system, and he is giving me his perspective on it all.

"I'm 38 years old.  I've been in and out of jail since I was 10.  Hell, man, I ain't never had a job for more than 3 months at a time.  I need some money for some smack or bags, I'd hold up a place and just take it.  If I hadn't got hooked on heroin when I was a youngster, I wouldn't need so much money, just enough to live on."  Ring leans forward and whispers, "I remember standing on the corner when I was a kid.  A bunch of us young punks were standing around, laughing at the older guys on the other corner by the liquor store.  They were passing a bottle around, falling down, getting juiced, getting sick, and we just laughed at them.  Last time I was out, in '84, 1 went back to that street, and now we was standing by the liquor store, getting high and stoned, going nowhere.  All that time gone by, and all we'd done is change corners."

Day 370

"For the record, please state your name."

I leaned toward the microphone and nervously croaked, "Tom Adamson."

"We understand, both from letters written in your behalf and from your counsellor's recommendation, that you would like a parole review in 60 days, after which point, if the board agrees, parole would be set.  You have no major write-ups and have been following the program very well."  The vice-chairman raised his eyes to mine; the other 2 members were silent and motionless.  "Mr Adamson, what have you done to help yourself?"

"I've been attending AA and GA to try and understand my compulsions."  The 3 faces across the table beamed at me, and the vice-chairman continued the mild, pleasant interrogation.  In the end, all 3 agreed to see me again in 2 months, and at that point to give me parole.

On the way back from the board hearing, I crossed the paved track I used to walk so often, lost in thought.

"Adamson!  Hey, Adamson!  Hey!"

"Pimping T.  What's going on, man?"  Even in this, my moment of tranquil triumph, unease was near.  I hadn't seen Pimping T in quite a few months, and I didn't want to see him now.  Along with Larry, T is the only guy who can bring up true fear in me.

"Can't call it, man.  You got the best hand."  From a distance of 10 yards or so, I felt his cinder-hot eyes, serenely malicious, as he strutted along the track.  "You just see the board, Adamson?"

"Yeah, it went well, but then again I earned it.  I played their game, you know?  If you learn anything along the way, more power to you.  I did."  My vehemence surprised me.

"Sure, right, old man.  All I know is that the game keeps going on over here.  Nothing changes but the players.  A man would be a fool to think this life'll ever change.  Know what I mean?"


Day 388

As I will be the first to admit, the prison system has been relatively good to me.  I moved through it as quickly as was allowed, and the van-driving job was the best in the camp.  But prison is not the same thing for all people.  There are those for whom these walls are a refuge, a routine comfort of 3 meals, shelter, TV, camaraderie, and an opportunity to acquire and sharpen skills — criminal or otherwise.  There are those for whom these walls are a welcome pause, a hiding place from bankruptcies, broken marriages, bitter spouses, wandering children, guilt, responsibilities, the street.

Passing time here is like going underwater, where it's easy to succumb to the pressure and drown.  But prison has squeezed something out of me, something tangled, reckless, and evil.

Would I do a crime again?

Short answer: "No."

Long answer: "No, never."

These excerpts are reprinted from Idle Speed: One Year in Prison.
Today Tom Adamson is an assistant professor of business at a small Midwestern college.
Copyright © 1992 by Tom Adamson, all rights reserved.  Right to copy, use, or reproduce in any form is forbidden.

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