In my first months coming down, I became cool with this dude Randy who moved into my cube. Prison was so new and foreign then, equal parts dull, dangerous, and unsettling.
What made it so much worse was a visit from some detectives about a friend who had passed away from an overdose. They brought printouts of an incriminating text exchange between him and a phone number identified as mine. The hazy memory flooded back, though at that time I never made the connection. I was left with the impression that charges were uncertain. So I kept it a secret from my girlfriend and family at the time, hoping nothing’d transpire.
From then on, sleep was uneasy and restive. My hair grayed and receded. Stress left me incapable of really interacting, and making anything like friends. I needed to get out my head. I needed a distraction.
Enter Randy. He was super-jacked, a mma fighter, and had been cooking meth since he was 12, or claimed to. Although approaching 40, his personality was juvenile, and immature, partly because he wasn’t very intelligent, and clearly ADD.
He was also a huge mooch, but so good-natured I helped him out when I could, knowing I’d never see it return.
The meth underworld was more foreign to me than prison was, but I was learning a lot from every other white guy who was in prison for something meth-related. Randy seemed to embody so much that was bad about meth.
“Meth Cook” wasnt just the crime he was convicted of, or his street hustle, but his avowed vocation. He talked about making meth as if it were an art form, and he Michaelangelo. in what was a common boast from every meth cook I’ve come to meet in prison, Randy bragged “my shake-and-bake is the best” and the standard jail bullshit about “fucking bad bitches” for hours, high on ice.
However, any initial skepticism was dismissed in the few months I got to know Randy.
His face was pockmarked by acne (meth does that), and his mouth contorted by bruxism, a permanent condition from years of abuse.
His teeth were ground down to little nubs. At least he had teeth. Inmates as a group have horrible oral hygiene, rivaling the homeless. (prison rule #11: never trust a man with no teeth.)
To get on the phone, a prisoner must repeat, “With global tel-link my voice is password” for the voice recognition system to let you dial. Randy’s was, “With global tel-link my meth is my password.”
Randy often took his shirt off in the cube, which was weirdly, not weird to anyone. at first i thought it was to show off his muscular physique. A lot of prisoners are ripped, but he was bodybuilder-esque. I suspected he had meth muscles, a line of ice being his pre-workout formula for years in the world.
(While that partly explained this odd habit, after he rode out, my then cubie Wojo and I concluded that in retrospect, Randy felt most at home shirtless because meth cooks stripped down to work for safety reasons.)
From our conversations, it was clear Randy came from a world where everyone did meth. When I described how taboo that drug was in my college-educated, urban milieu, it escaped his ability to comprehend.
I sympathized, cuz where I’m from, cocaine was socially-acceptable; everyone indulged here and there. Public use or fiending for it were still looked down on, but doing a line of blow didn’t carry the social stigma like heroin. I was always quietly amused when someone would freak out by people doing cocaine in a room at a party.
The highlight of my day was always my phonecall with Kasey, unless I got a letter from her–that was the best. We were coming up on a year since my arrest, and managed to hang on. Our relationship, already frayed, was starting to break from the strains.
When I was finally arraigned on my new charge, there was no more hiding it. In my head, I had planned on breaking up with her–if she didnt beat me to it–after the arraignment. It’d be unfair to her; plus I knee she needed some intimacy.
And yet, I faltered when it came time. When she found out about this new charge, she vowed to be by my side the whole time, and declared I was gonna beat the case and that I was gonna come home to her in November. I believed her too, or desperately wanted to. Regardless, I felt so warm and fuzzy after we spoke. Our phone conversations were the escape I craved.
Still in its early stages, I convinced myself the delivery-causing-death case dismissed. I hoped and prayed to go home on my original release date at the end of the year. Randy’s release was set a fee months after mine.
It’s common for prisoners to bullshit and make plans for the world when approaching your release date. Randy was sincere about hanging out in the world, and entertained the possibility of coming to party with me and my gf, and one of her friends. He couldnt get over that they wouldnt be down to do meth, or that I didn’t know any girls who would.
I said it was more likely to be turned off by the suggestion and leave. Flabbergasted, he offered, “Well, I’ll jus a blow a big line up their ass, and they’ll start cumming. They’ll fucking love it!”
I asked my Kasey (technically he did in a long message he wrote on my jpay), to find him a hot penpal; she complied, and her friend Jacque volunteered herself after laughing at his letter.
Jacque wrote a small message back to me to show Randy, who was ecstatic to read it. He was to handwrite a letter, that Id mail to Kasey, who’d give it to her friend. This way, if he creeped her out right away, Randy wouldnt have any personal info to harass her.
Randy asked me all about Jacque like she was his bride-to-be in an arranged marriage. i described Jacque for him: really fucking cute, funny&quirky, and liked to party. However, preemptively answering the inevitable, she didn’t do ice and probably looked down on it.
He excitedly worked on a long letter, and shared it with my other cubie Wojo to read . Not to proofread or for feedback, either, Wojo later told me Randy was showing it off, super proud of his composition. A day later he confidently handed over the letter, and found a stamp for me so i could mail it out immediately.
He didn’t ask me to read it nor did I. But I did glance at the few pages full of chickenscratches. His handwriting seriously looked like a child’s, like he gripped the pencil in his palm. Scanning a few lines, I noticed a few egregious spelling errors.
Later that week, Randy was told to pack up, because they’d be transporting him to another joint. He was devastated. He worried about how he’d stay in contact with Jacque, asking if I had her number. I didn’t. Undeterred, he went so far as asking for Kasey’s number, which I immediately shut down. (another prison rule, rule #003: never share your girl’s phone number with another inmate.)
I assured him we’d find out which joint he was at from OTIS, the prisoner directory. That was that, it seemed. I realized Randy served as the distraction I needed then, because in his absence, I fretted way more often about my upcoming court date, and forgot all about Randys eventual whereabouts.
Sometimes though, I doubted my case would be dropped, and spiraled into a panic attack: What if they didnt drop the case? How much time would I get? What could I handle? I felt like everyone on the yard pitied me because they knew I faced a bad motherfucker. Worse, I feared they were right.
Kasey always talked me down when I was in these states. Our calls were my xannie bar, but I’d developed a tolerance.
Lately, she was going thru her own ordeals, and needed my emotional support. Too often I was too self- concerned and gripped by my own issues to get outside myself and lavish comfort on her. My incarceration had strained our relationship already, and my emotional unavailability was pushing it to the breaking point.
Once totally engaged and easygoing, our conversations had turned desultory, and lulled.
When I call her this time, though, the laughter crackled in her voice. “omg Brendan, you will not believe the letter Randy wrote Jacque. Did you read it?! omg we were dieing.”
She remarked on his childish handwriting, and then read me some choice excerpts. The best by far, though, was a section with the heading: “5 Things I’m really good at.”
It read: ” 1. sex 2. fighting mma 3. cooking meth 4. smoking meth.” I forget what the fifth was, but it had the same bravado, like “partying” or “fucking and doing meth together. “
We laughed together, unabated, for a whole minute. I couldnt stifle my laughter for another minute or two. It was the first real instance of pure happiness we shared in ages, and would be among the last. She said how nice it was to hear me laugh.
Near tears of exuberance, I couldn’t help asking, “What’d Jacque think? She should definitely write him.”
She described him most succinctly: a horny 12 year old kid who loved meth.