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Chapel

Chapel

The following is Part I in a two-part series. All names have been changed.

There’s this phenomena that happens with a noticeable percentage of the inmate population involving the finding of, or enlightenment by God.  There’s a cynicism which immediately comes to mind when most people hear this, and rightly so.  Most of the time, it’s a con, or a hustle.  

   Now look: I can’t profess to know what’s on a man’s heart, and I don’t want to pass judgement, as I would not like to be judged.  What I will say is, from what I saw during my decade, 98% of the guys running “religious” were still up to no good, they just found a different way to hide it. 

   With all this Devine Intervention happening on the yard, you’d have to wonder who facilitated it.  The answer came in the form of facility chapels and three Chaplains.  

   The Chaplains were Freestaff, not volunteers, although they used outside volunteers for different services.  These Men of God represented what was considered the Big Three of religions in the joint: Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims.  Each faith group had an office area, and they all shared time in the main room of their facility chapel.  

   Since there were only three Chaplains for six different yards, each Chaplain had an inmate clerk, per yard, that would help facilitate services and perform clerical duties.  I was the Catholic clerk for three years on my yard.  Inmate clerks were tasked with maintaining their facility chapels, both in a physical and spiritual form.  People came to these places to pray, and some considered them holy.  

   Of course, there were others who saw loads of opportunity, when it came to possible criminal enterprises.  The chapels had typewriters, printers, TV’s, DVD players, and tons of musical instruments.  However, the biggest draw was, unless there was a CO or a Chaplain present, the chapels were the best blind spots on the yards.  

   Part of the job duties of being a clerk was to not allow any of those types of enterprises to go down in their chapel.  Combine this with the fact that snitches get stitches, and it becomes clear: One would have to walk a very fine line if they wanted the position of Chaplain’s Clerk.

   Usually, there were two scenarios that played out upon employment.  Either one or two (or all three, every so often) of the clerks were snitches, and the second someone pushed up on them to do something against rules, or the moment they saw someone doing something they weren’t supposed to do, they’d tell.  They would accomplish their rattingby going to the Support Office, or they’d use the direct line in the chapel to call one of the Support Office Clerks, who in turn would report the incident to a CO.  

   Another way it would often play out is, the Chaplain’s Clerk would be involved with the criminal activity.  People would try all different kinds of ways to use the chapel for their individual gain, and the clerks that were involved had either caved to pressure, or saw that they, too, could get a cut of what was going on, and they let it slide.  Almost all of the clerks I saw during my time there did the later.

   Let’s say you had to go to the Law Library, because you were working on an appeal and needed to make copies to submit to the courts, D.A., etc.  You submit a request form to go to the Law Library, and you get a response saying your appointment is two weeks away.  You could wait, assuming you were cool with it, and pay the .25¢ per page fee.  

   Or, you could go to the chapel and hit up one of the clerks; get it done for .10¢ a page, the same day.   Even though this was flagrantly breaking the rules, using state property for personal gain, the clerks would justify it to themselves, saying they were helping a fellow convict where help was needed.  The fact they were being paid for it, and had to sneak around in order to accomplish anything were by-products of justice.  Using this Prison Christian Philosophy, Chaplain’s Clerks could justify anything. A lot of them did, too. 


   There was this one guy, named Reggie; older black guy, probably in his early 60’s.  Clerk for the Muslims.  Walked with a cane.  He was on Thorazine, and would do this little shuffle around the chapel as he was about his business.  Like a cow with a bell around its neck, you always knew where Reg was, by the sound of those shuffling feet and the knock of that cane hitting the tile.  Almost as if his legs didn’t have the power to fight gravity a few inches, his feet slid across the floor without ever fully clearing the ground.  

   He was overweight and out of shape as well, with no small thanks going to the cane and the Thorazine, I’m sure.  This meant along with the feet shuffling, you’d hear wheezing, if he was on his feet longer than a minute.  Bummer situation, for sure, but as an admitted crack-addict, Reggie didn’t do himself any favors, getting to the point where he was.  

   Reggie did have a great personality.  He’d tell us these stories as we’d be doing clerical work, whether we wanted to hear them or not.  He had this grit to his voice; it made the story seem a little cooler somehow.  He wasn’t trying to be a tough guy; even if he’d wanted to be, he could barely move.  Reg was real easy to get along with, and I don’t remember anyone ever having a serious problem with him.  

   This easy, outgoing personality that Reg exhibited also had other useful purposes-it got him new business from different races, and it kept the cop’s nose out of our business.

   Reggie’s hustle?  Anything the chapel had to offer.  Need copies?  How about a place to fight or fuck?  Yup, good ol’ Reg could find a way to help you out, thanks to Allah and the State of California.  

   It would’ve been comical, were Reggie not taking all our supplies, too.   We’d go to one of the large cabinets we kept under lock and key, and it’d be empty.  When you would go and ask him, the typical conversation would go something like:

   “Hey, Reg.  What happened to all the pens/paper/glue/rubber bands/paper/folders/etc.?”

   “Awe, you know, man,” he’d reply.  Smiling, doing that rocking back and forth thing heavily medicated people often do.  

   “No, Reg, I don’t know.  Where’s all the stuff?”

   “We was using it for our services.”

   “Don’t take all the stuff, Reg.”

   “Alright, my bad, man.  All good?”

   This scenario ran out a few times. 

   Eventually, Reggie’s own Muslim community booted him, once they found out he was letting homosexuals have sex in the place where they worshipped.  This was heavily frowned upon by the Muslim and black communities. In prison, the Muslims were all black.  If you were white/hispanic/other and attended Islamic services, you were considered black.  

   Some of the brothers who attended Muslim services were sincere, don’t get me wrong; that’s how they got rid of Reg.  For the most part, however, the blacks who were part of the Islamic community were using it to come up, just like everyone else, and they had a lot of turds among them, just like everyone else. 

   If you’d really like to know who the worst of the worst were, you had to look no further than the Protestants.  Maybe you can credit the fact that there’s 33,000-plus Christian denominations, I don’t know, but these guys had a little bit of everything going on in there.  In fact, most of the chomos and rapers would run Christian, trying to hide out from the GP, and the Protestant community is right where they’d land.

   Catholics and Muslims weren’t having any of that nonsense, at all.  The men in those communities did not want to be associated with the garbage, and they would actively screen people wanting to join, or become a regular.  Protestants had more of an open-border policy when it came to accepting new members; quite often, it would cause problems. 


   One time, I was in the Chapel, doing some clerical work, when my attention was grabbed by a knock at the door.  All the doors in the chapel had windows, so I was able to see it was two white guys, both a little older, late-forties probably.  They were doing a nervous shuffle, looking back and forth, and that made my spidey-senses tingle.  I waved them inside, and when they entered I noticed one of the guys had tears streaming down his face; grown man crying like a baby in front of me. 

   Uh-oh. 

   His Protestant brother did the talking.  “Excuse me, Bobby,” he said.  “‘We’ve got a little situation, and we were wondering if you could help.”

   “What’s wrong with him?” The man in front of me had to be in his 40’s, and the fact he was acting so pitiful was starting to anger me.  Total victim. This prompted sniffles from the crybaby, and I remember, it was in that moment, I wanted them both gone

   “Well, we all have different sins we have to atone for-“

   “Hey, man,” I interrupted. “You’re in the Catholic Office right now.  I don’t need a lesson on atonement.  What’s the problem?”  Irritation had crept into my voice; they both saw it, and acted accordingly.  Dude stopped crying, and his partner spoke a bit more quickly.

   “He needs to roll it up, and we were hoping you could call the Support Office, so he can get an escort.”

   “Get out.” 

   “But, they’re waiting outside the chapel, and if we go out, they’re going to get us!”, he said.  He was excited, and rightfully so.  If there was a hit crew waiting outside, the chomo, or whatever he was, and the guy helping him were through.  

   If you knew someone was a child molester or a rapist, and you somehow helped them hide the fact, you’d be treated as one of them.  Now, here’s these guys, coming to my office so someone can run up in the chapel and take them out, make it look like I was in on it. 

   Great. 

   “Dude, you’re not hearing me,” I said, as I rose from and walked around my desk.  “Get out. Now.  I don’t care where you go.  Don’t bring that up in here.”

   Both men looked crestfallen, but they got the idea that I wasn’t about to let them hang out.  “Ok,” the spokesman said.  “We’re going.”  As they went out, I looked through the window to the Protestant clerk’s office and saw he wasn’t there.  That’s why these clowns had come to me.  If the Protestant clerk had been there, he would’ve made the call, helped him out.  In fact, the guy that was the clerk at the time would have been able to relate.  He was one of them


   Ruby was his name, incest was his game.  Yeah, that’s right.  He was a big, tall, Jamaican guy who’s race hadn’t taken him out, for reasons known and unknown to me.

   The known part was, he was a very large man who happened to be one of the biggest snitches on the yard, and apparently the cops had put the word out that if anything happened to him, the person responsible would be dealt with in the most extreme manner.  This way, they didn’t need extra manpower in the chapel at all times-they had Ruby there with a direct line to the Support Office, to notify them of any shenanigans.  In most instances, a person in or of similar circumstances would end up being taken out anyway, regardless of what the CO’s had wanted.  Still, this turd not only remained on the yard, but held a position of authority in the Protestant community.  Sounds strange now?  Sounded strange back then, too.  

   I was personally warned-off of Ruby by one of the CO’s that regularly worked the yard.  This happened shortly after I acquired the position for the Catholic community.  I was doing some typing on an old-school word processor that the clerks had in their offices.  The keys jangling on his hip as he walked down the hallway announced his presence, and I could tell by the look on his face when he came in that he wasn’t about to bear any good news. 

   “Inmate,” he said.  I look up from what I’d been doing, pretending not to have heard him coming. “Listen up.  I’ve never had a problem with you out on the yard, and I know you’re not a knuckle head.  Ruby is off limits.  We know who and what he is; doesn’t matter.  Make sure you steer clear of that guy, understood?”

   “Yes, sir,” I replied.  “Completely.”  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing; the fact that the CO’s were using this guy as an informant left me completely flabbergasted. 

   “Good. I hope you do. Any harm comes to that guy from your direction, you’re going to be in a world of fucked, hear me?”  These guys, and the stupid, tough-guy phrases they used to try and come up with; don’t even get me started. 

   “I hear you, for sure, man,” I replied.  I wanted this cop gone as soon as possible, so I could get back to my normal routine.  “You won’t have any problems from me.”


    To say I avoided Ruby after my encounter with law enforcement would be an understatement.  I knew the dude was a snitch.  I warned everyone I could about him, as to avoid being snared in his tattletale trap.  It was a major point of anxiety, as well.  I was constantly checking, making sure this guy wasn’t bird-dogging over my shoulder, ready to inform The Man at the slightest infraction. 

   The main reason I’d become the Catholic Chaplain’s clerk was to have access to an impressive treasure trove of musical instruments.  I’m a guitar player, and they not only had a few electrics, but had a bunch of other equipment, such as drums, keyboards, and bass guitars.  Once I’d secured employment, I was able to schedule certain times for our community to use all those instruments. 

   The problem was Ruby.  He was hell-bent on making my music playing a nightmare.  There was a little history, as to why.  His community didn’t really have any musicians, and he’d asked me if I could play music for their services.  I would’ve, too, if Ruby didn’t have a fire and brimstone-type approach for preaching, which involved the Catholic Church in the role as the Whore of Babylon.  When I told him I wouldn’t because of this reason, he took it personally.  

   His revenge was making sure it was always difficult for me to play.  He’d book services through my rehearsal time.  He’d tell the Chaplains we were playing rock and roll, instead of Christian music.  He’d schedule the volunteers from the outside to come during Catholic music rehearsal.  He’d go get a CO, and tell them we were playing too loud in the rehearsal area.  On top of being the leader of the Protestant Community, he was a spiteful piece of shit, as well. 

   I ended up solving this problem by scheduling music practice under a different name, like, bible study.  The Jamaican Rat wouldn’t be expecting the music, so he’d have less time to thwart it.   Worked too, all the way up until I left the position.   When dealing with low-IQ idiots who like to have sex with their relatives, you don’t have to work too hard to find a solution. 

   Ruby’s Reign ended eventually, with a literal changing of the guard.  The old facility Captain who’d kept Ruby on the not-so-Confidential Informant payroll retired, and was replaced by a Captain who felt guards should be the ones doing the guarding, and not the inmates.  Ruby was unceremoniously tossed back in the lion’s den, and didn’t last an hour before he was thoroughly worked over and rolled-up off of the yard.   Ruby had thought he’d be protected by the cops; the way he’d hold court with them, you’d think he was trying to make friends.  He fell for the fantasy of the police being there to save him, instead of reality, where the cops fed you to the piranhas.


   There were some pretty crazy moments in the Chapel.  Even though it was supposed to be respected as a House of Worship, hardly anyone on the yard treated it as such.  The Chapel was a blind spot, which meant a huge opportunity to do whatever it was you didn’t want the cops to see.  Gnarliness ensued. 

   The homosexuals were, hands-down, the most frequent offenders. They would come into the Chapel, either together or separately, and find a nice, cozy place to do their thing.  You’d turn a corner, and run right into a guy getting a blow-job behind a book shelf.  This, with crosses and pictures of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary everywhere.  I’d shew them out, tell them to keep their shit out of the chapel.  They’d usually end up coming back, and the process would repeat. 

   People wanting to fight was another popular occurrence.  Two dudes would have beef, and try to settle up in the chapel.  This was also a bummer, because there’s a fine line between defending your Good Thing, and putting your nose into someone else’s business.  Good news was, most of the time, one of the clerks was an undercover snitch; all I had to do was let the guys wanting to do crazy stuff know a rat was present, and they’d take off.  Wanting to settle a score was one thing; picking up a new charge was another.  Most everyone was willing to put off their differences, and find a location a little less hot

   There were a few times, where a couple of guys went at it before I was even aware of the situation.  These dudes would barely let the door shut, before they’d be slinging ‘em, right there in the hallway.  They weren’t about to ask anybody, and I don’t blame them one bit; I wouldn’t be asking anyone to handle mybusiness, either. 

   There where definitely outside forces trying to invade the chapel, in spiritual and physical forms.  Keeping watch was the bummer part of the job, but if we clerks didn’t do it, the place would get shut down; then, no one would have anything.  We had to keep our eyes open, make sure we weren’t invaded by any funny business. 

   There was this one time, however, when the drama didn’t come in from the yard.  

   It was from some of our own. 

Stay Tuned for Part II! Coming Soon!

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