By Eddie Griffin
Thursday, June 26, 2008
How did you survive in prison? And, how were you able to transition back into society?
These questions are asked of me often. And, I always give this one-word response: Faith. But I realize the answer is too shallow and simplistic to satisfy to the inquirer what has only a superficial understanding of the meaning of Faith.
What does Faith look like in action? I guess that is the question.
Recently, Commissioner Roy Brooks asked that I speak to a group of at-risk youth in a special program. We agreed that this was part of a front-end strategy to prevent students from falling into the prison system.
My attitude to at-risk youngsters with great potential is this: If you are going to go to prison, then you must go through me first, because I’ve been there. In fact, I’ve been to the “end of the line of the end of the line” in a super-maximum security prison.
It was good to see the youngsters on the front side of prison bars, than having to counsel them on how to survive behind bars. It is an opportunity to work the preventative side of the criminal justice equation.
Teach, without mercy, is my motto. So, I gave the kids a full dose of my adventures and misadventures, realizing shock value is a better teacher for at-risk kids.
When a man goes to prison, he is socialized into a culture completely different than free world society. His transition leads to a form of institutionalization. Returning to society means going through a re-socialization process. An ex-offender must become re-socialized to a society sometimes in the distant future. So, he suffers “future shock” in the temporal sense, and become “humanized” again.
A man is what he feeds his mind on while in prison. Those who fed on anger, hate, revenge murder, and materialistic aspirations, were recycled as DEFECTIVE, a menace to society.
Those who used their time to educate themselves and keep abreast of world events were more apt to readjust to society.
We had an educational program in prison that worked. But it was a program disapproved by government “educators”. Liberation education always runs against the grain.
To the At-Risk Youth, I shared what life was really like living in a violent maximum security. From a high school honor student, I went to the “end of the line” of the end of the line, where society puts a man away and never expect or intend for him to come back.
“Eddie Griffin did twelve calendars,” I told the students. What does that mean? That means that I did 12 years of “hard time”.
What is hard time?
When a man steps into a prison cage, he is walking on eggshells. It feels like walking on “holy ground”. Here, men kill men, at the drop of sweat bead, on an average of one-per-month.
Make them see the Blood on the Floor
The sight of blood-splattering is sickening. But it is something a man must comes to terms with, if he is to mentally survive maximum security.
What does that mean relative to society? It simply means that a man is de-sensitized and de-conditioned to violence. A man learns to snort violence like a lion sniffing the grounds of the jungle. A man's nose can snort out fear like a shark senses blood in the water. These are extra-senses I never had use for in society. Neither had I need for a sixth sense of danger. (Where did that come from?)
How does a man forget Murder, in the First Degree?
A man sits down in the mess hall to eat and gets his throat cut from behind, from ear-to-ear. [Students gasp!]
If they gasp at this then surely they cannot handle the rest of a myriad of untold stories, like this: A man being stabbed in the shower by three men. He slips and slides in his own blood as he tries to fight off his assassins. As he slinks down into his own blood, he is crying bitter tears.
Only one man I know of who was stabbed to death in prison without shedding a tear or crying out for help. His name was Cadillac.
And, the screaming of Bro. Herman who was repeatedly stabbed in the chest, screaming to the top of his lungs: “Pleeease! Somebody help me. Somebody, Pleeease, Lord, pleeeeze. Wait a minute, wait a minute, please don’t kill me Pig”. His best friend was named Pig, what would you expect? Dumbfounding! Over a cup of coffee, Pig killed Bro. Herman who was only three days from going home.
It hurt in a personal way. But there were the survivors, like the guy nicknamed Money being cut open “like a can of beans”, folding the separated layers of his torso together and walking to the prison infirmary without losing a drop of blood.
How about the inmate sitting in the prison barber’s chair, getting stabbed in the jugular vein with a pair of scissors? I had never heard of such a vein, and knew nothing of it, except that after the stabbing blood could skeet up to the ceiling.
Then, there were the two gladiators who charged into each like jousting knights, both with knives, like locomotors with full steam ahead, two rams on a collision course. Pete Man dropped to the prison floor like a sack of flour, stabbed in the temple. It was a fair fight with both men going at each other. (Society doesn’t see it that way).
Instead of telling any one of these stories, I decided to tell these at-risk youth about “Gus”. I wanted to point out some important lesson.
Now here was a guy named Gus whom I was tutored in prison. During one tutoring session, Gus took the occasion to call two other inmates the B-word… loud and nasty. Gus put me in such a predicament and had no regard for his own good.
Lesson Number One: Choose your friends carefully. My best friend in prison was “Hondo”. His name meant “War” in Swahili, and he was a man with a Napoleon complex. He loved to fight and I was a man of peace. Nevertheless, he was my best friend in prison. And, his fight was my fight by default (my fault for my own choice of association).
At any rate, the authorities considered all of us in super-maximum security as “dangerous”. Every man respected the next man, if he earned the right of respect. And, this code is punishable by the death of a thousand cuts for a man who disrespects another man. A man is required to defend his own honor by himself. Gus violated the rule by calling other men in prison the B-word. This is tantamount to what we call: “asking for it”.
But in a maximum security prison, before one man can kill another man, he must get permission. A man just does not up and kill his advisory out of the blood like a psycho. He is subject to the Eye-for-Eye Rule: Live by the sword, Die by the sword. This was Pig’s fate.
The two men verbally assailed by my friend and comrade Gus came by my cell to ask permission to kill him. They told me their plan. I had nothing to say. Therefore, I kept my mouth closed.
Lesson Number Two: When you are in a predicament and don’t know what to say, don’t say anything.
On the night of the planned assassination, as all the inmates gather around the television on the cellblock tier, I assumed a position directly behind Gus’ chair. And behind me, was my backup, who later turned coward and fled.
I was taken by surprise when a hand with a knife in it reached over my shoulder. The blade smacked Gus in the chest, just above the heart. Wounded, Gus leaped from his chair right into the waiting arms of the other assailant. The second man plugged him in the gut, and Gas stumbled backwards.
There, I found myself standing between two would-be assassins and poor Gus slumped against the wall. "What would you do?" I demanded an answer of the students.
One girl replied, "Run."
In real life, however, the thought never entered my mind. For me, it was all about a silent prayer, “Lord save me”, and being frozen stiff in one spot.
Lesson Number Three and Lesson Number Four: Always pray in the time of distress, and wait on the Lord. He will direct your steps.
Sure, I knew how to kick a knife or a gun out of a person’s hand in the blink of an eye. But as long as we were locked eyeball to eyeball, I was compelled not even to flinch a muscle. Let them make the first move. Nothing happened. The would-be assassins back off and allowed me to carry Gus to the infirmary on my shoulder.
Fear of something that has not yet happened is what causes people to react to the fears of their minds, before the basis of the fear is realized. I waited and waited for the would-be assassins to make their next move. They never did. Instead, they backed down.
The Correct Answer
Therefore, the correct answer to the question about what to do, my advice to the youth: Do nothing because of fear. Deal only with what you see, not what you suppose. Stand your ground until the danger is certain. Otherwise, stand on Faith.
Socialization / Re-socialization
What I was describing to these at-risk youth was the initial socialization process into prison society. The second part would be re-socialization after coming out.
DE-HUMANIZATION: Making less than human. INSTITUTIONALIZATION: Becoming a brick in the wall.
Another part of the socialization process into prison is that of becoming more and more institutionalized and the de-humanizing effects "sensory and social deprivation”, where the natural five sensory organs misfire impulses to the brain, and the human organism sprouts an animalistic "sixth sense" which we call the sense of danger.
Sensory deprivation is fully achieved when a man is completely cut off from the electro-magnetic field of the earth. This comes about through prolonged solitary confinement inside in steel-concrete cubical... "The Mausoleum Effect".
In this the realm of psycho-physiological reality, men hallucinate and have “white flashes”. (WHITE FLASHES: Akin to electrical impulses to the brain that causes the eyes to perceive rapid blinking white-outs)
Then there is the ionization effect upon the brain that causes the whole body to become electro-static.
An Experience: I once reached for a plastic chair in prison and bright orange sparks leaped from my fingertips like lighting. It shocked the hell out of me, like 50,000 volts. Sometimes when I touch metal, I get the same shocking sensation, even 25 years later. It all depends on the weather and the ions in the air. As for the "white flashes", they still come, but for shorter durations.
Re-Integration into Society
The physiological reintegration is one thing. But what happens inside a man’s mind while in prison will determine his capability of coming back into society. And, every man’s mind is different. While in prison, some men feed on their anger, hate, and rage... which once was also my daily mental diet. But reading the Bible changed my mindset.
The transformation of Eddie Griffin was more a spiritual experience and not necessarily broken by harsh treatment and torture. My eyes glazed over with frost, in a refrigerated strip cell… frozen tears… staring out into a distant dimension at a ship frozen on the open sea. I died, I thought, and everything else was just a dream.
Lesson Number Five: The government doesn’t care if you live or die when you go to prison.