I think it’s safe to say you’re more likely to get in a fight in jail than prison. If the time spent in both places were equal, it’s not even close. I witnessed almost as many fights in the seven months I spent in jail as I did in the three and a half years I spent in prison. Jail is just a more volatile environment.
All different types of inmates are grouped together and they are usually under much more stress than prisoners. In jail, guys are constantly trying to prove themselves, and sometimes all it takes is a look. I witnessed three fights in four days in Davis County Jail’s Charlie Block. And this was the privileged section, where the inmates held jobs. There is a major difference between the fights I’ve seen in the outside world compared to jail. In jail, there was no chest bumping or build up. A fight is often just a couple of words away.
One evening after the day shift, like most evenings in Charlie, about a dozen guys were playing poker. We would sit around a table using one new deck of cards and previous weeks’ torn-in-half cards as chips. My buddy T-Bone, who worked in laundry with me, was sitting right next to me. I was new to the whole jail thing, but T-Bone had just done a five-year stretch in prison for burglary and had only been out 45 days before “catching new charges.”
I barely caught what happened, but T-Bone said something like, “I don’t like you.” The other guy’s response was, “What’s up then?” T-Bone said the same thing right back, “What’s up then?” There wasn’t any chest bumping, and I didn’t know this at the time, but basically they agreed to fight. They both got up from the table, and one said, “Let’s go.”
But they were already both heading upstairs. T-Bone followed the other into his cell and shut the door. I did know enough to just keep playing cards and act like nothing was happening, which everyone at the table did. Nobody even looks.
My friend T-Bone came out of the cell, walked back down the stairs and sat right back down at the poker table next to me. After playing a couple hands, he said, kind of shocked, “He bit me.” I told him, “You better go wash that.”
He did, but it didn’t matter, it got infected. He told the officers he had smashed his hand in the rusty latch on the laundry machine while doing his job; which made no sense at all, but it didn’t have to. He had waited a few days, making it too much work for the guards to “rewind the cameras.” When he came back from medical he quipped, “I was due for a tetanus shot anyway.”
I liked T-Bone. He was always cool as a cucumber, but he was definitely institutionalized. I remember thinking, I hope I never get to the point where the phrase, “What’s up then?” is part of my lingo.