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Beyond Bars: Time will tell if newly released friend can stay out of prison

By Brian Wood, Beyond Bars Columnist - | Aug 13, 2018

Hollywood is getting out of prison this week. That’s the name a friend of mine went by. Having a prison “handle” somewhat designates that you’ve embraced the whole prison experience, and couldn’t hold more true in this situation. Hollywood was my cellie in my first housing unit in Gunnison and kind of showed me the ropes.

The first night in which we were cellies he said to me, “Hey, we’re doing a burn tonight.” I had no idea what that was and I don’t imagine anyone who has not been to prison does either. A “burn” is how you make ink for tattooing.

The first thing Hollywood did was empty out half a grapefruit and then put oil into it. Next he made a wick out of braded toilet paper. After that, he broke a pencil and used the lead and a paper clip to create sparks from an electrical outlet and light some toilet paper on fire. He then lit the wick and covered the makeshift candle with a brown paper bag that was lined with plastic. It burned for hours and in the morning the soot covered the plastic.

In the morning, Hollywood scraped the soot off the plastic into a small plastic bag. After that you just need to add water, and voila, you have prison tattoo ink.

I didn’t see him take apart a CD player to make the tattoo gun, but I got to see him use the finished product. Tattooing wasn’t the only thing Hollywood did outside the rules to make money and pass the time. He also started what is called a “store.” This is where you loan out food items and then charge interest on those items. The interest is ridiculous, worse than a payday loan service.

Prison is full of people who have impulse control issues and just don’t understand money, therefore stores do very well. I personally couldn’t run a store, because that would entail a willingness to collect on unpaid debts, and that is just something I wanted no part. Hollywood was more than willing to play that role, which also allowed him to be the house when it came to sports betting as well.

I watched Hollywood turn $60 dollars and a tattoo gun into a little prison empire in a couple months. Hollywood didn’t just survive in that environment, he thrived. He was the type of guy everyone wanted to be around. We had a ton of fun.

He’s the only person who would regularly beat me in Scrabble and poker, and I wasn’t on his level in ping pong or basketball. He was one of a handful of prisoners who tested right out of the college math classes offered by Weber. He’s one of those people who could do anything he wanted to. 

Tuesday will mark the third time he will be released from prison. I hope he stays out this time, but that’s all I can do: hope. Hollywood is going to make his own decisions. I talked to a guy about getting him some work, because parole is a lot easier with a job.

A lady recently asked me if there was anything she could do to help her cousin who has been in and out of prison. She told me he is out and is struggling again. I told her that’s the question I get the very most often. People want to help, but I don’t believe you can help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. I relayed my thoughts and she told me she had suspected as much and feels better not wondering if she should be doing something.

This friend of mine is willing to give Hollywood a job, even though I cannot vouch that he is not going to get in trouble. Heck, I haven’t seen him for years and the last time I did, it was clear he was not done getting into mischief. Only time will tell.


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