Beyond Bars: Prison taught me there are some things that are better left unsaid
A couple of days ago at the grocery store, I ran into my drug court defense attorney. He asked how I was and I told him great. He asked if I was still writing for the paper and I asked if he was still the drug court attorney, which he was.
I could have left things at those pleasantries, but I didn’t. I proceeded to tell him, the positive u.a. (urine analysis) five years ago was indeed false. I could claim I was telling him so drug court would know that sometimes the tests are wrong, but that would be a lie. I just wanted him to believe me. His response was simply, “All right.”
I don’t know whether or not he believed me and really, it didn’t matter. Afterwards, I felt silly. Why was I trying to convince someone I had no real relationship with? In that moment, I had completely lost a skill that helped me navigate my way through prison.
One of my first cellies taught me an important lesson when I was telling him a story. I was talking about how two days before I went to prison, I had officially started dating the most beautiful girl I had ever even talked to. He stopped me right there and said with as much disbelief as possible, “Let me guess, you don’t have any pictures of this beautiful girl.”
I was somewhat taken aback because our interactions had been so friendly up until this point. His condescending tone added to this teaching moment. He explained to me that I sounded like all the other guys who tell fantastic tales about their life on the outside. I had figured my description of her just made the story that much more poignant, but it was really unnecessary.
He was giving me advice on what to share and what not to. It was more than just claiming something that could not be substantiated. Many prisoners never had much and have experienced very little success in their lives, so any form of bragging does not go over well.
There is an attitude of “nobody cares who you were” – unless, of course, you were a child molester. It’s not like you couldn’t talk about your past, but if you wanted to make sure it was received well, you would add a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor. Boasting wasn’t the only speech one would be wise to censor when living with unstable individuals. There were popular and unpopular opinions, but what was “politically correct” was entirely different. It was perfectly OK to make fun of gays and insult based on race, but it was not okay to disparage a gang.
It wasn’t about hurting someone’s feelings, it was about keeping out of harm’s way. Here’s an obvious example: I never told anyone in prison I dabbled in MMA. I was really into it right before I went to prison – training three times a week, but keeping that close to the chest was a no-brainer. When prisoners talked about being a fighter, there was a good chance they would be given an opportunity to prove it.
Prison definitely created the need for me to be much more cognizant of the things that came out of my mouth and learn some things are better left unsaid. Before the grocery store, the last conversation I can recall with that lawyer took place in a court room holding cell around February 2014. I remember asking him if he believed me – believed that I had not “used,” which was the reason I was getting kicked out of drug court and was incarcerated. He didn’t patronize me.
He said, “Brian, it doesn’t matter what I believe, it matters what the judge believes.” He then proceeded to tell me the judge’s mind was already made up and that I was headed to prison and there was nothing I could do about it.
He was right on both accounts then and now. I was heading to prison. And it didn’t matter what he believed. I’m much better at leaving things unsaid, but clearly there’s still room for improvement.