“I can’t take it anymore! Gotta get outta here!”
Winn’s voice screeched and cracked as he lost control. His face was twisted and distorted as he pressed it against the small rectangular pane of security glass in the door. He grabbed ahold of the handle and shook with all his might, grunting with exertion, but to no effect. With the edge of his eye, he caught me looking at him with shock, utter disbelief, and even a touch of horror, so he quit his caterwauling. He slapped the door with the flat of his palm and the loud smack echoed around the tiny confines of our cell. When he began to laugh uproariously, I was sure that I was in serious trouble.
Better than Everyone
Winn had been locked up for just over twenty years when we became cellies, and his extensive prison experience had given him a perverse sense of entitlement, as if he were better than every guy who hadn’t spent the bulk of his life incarcerated. This kind of loopy logic is actually quite common amongst men like Winn who have spent so many years in prison. Winn was so full of pride that he came across as an ignorant, arrogant prick. The extreme degree of his holier-than-thou type attitude made me less inclined to be sympathetic when he began to bug up.
A lockdown generally means that inmates are completely confined to their cells with meals delivered and no showers allowed. I’d spent the first half dozen years of my prison term in a joint where lockdowns were more than merely commonplace, they were a routine and expected way of life. A lockdown, even a short one of two to three days, was practically guaranteed each month. At least twice a year there would be a month long lockdown. Since I had only fairly recently arrived at the lower-security facility, a lockdown was nothing to me but an opportunity to get some writing or reading done. Maybe watch some TV. The professional convict Winn, on the other hand, was fifteen years removed from the max security prisons where lockdowns are par for the course, and he wasn’t handling it well.
At first his mental turmoil manifested as an uncontrollable restlessness. He couldn’t sit still. His legs jittered and shook without ceasing, and he would sporadically walk back and forth across the scant space of the cell a few times before sitting back down to shimmy in his seat for a while. It was only a matter of time until the urge gripped him to pace some more. Around two in the afternoon on only the second full day of lockdown,Winn began to yell and slap the door. He was unraveling. His ensuing laughter sounded insane ,and I’m neither too proud nor too ashamed to admit that hearing it scared the ever-loving hell out of me.
“What’s up, man!? How you doin’ buddy?” Winn brayed much more loudly than was necessary. I didn’t, in fact, know Winn very well or particularly like him all that much, so I didn’t count us as buddies. His affable smile was completely disingenuous. I had glimpsed Winn’s legitimate lunatic leanings and he was overcompensating with a forced attempt at jocularity and normalcy. While I wasn’t buying it, I also certainly wasn’t about to let him know that his façade was translucent. I had no desire whatsoever to witness Winn entirely unhinged.
“I’m good, man,” I replied to Winn’s queries. “Just getting some writing done. How about you? You good?” He chuckled and managed to sound somewhat less than maniacal.
“Yeah, I’m good, bro.”
“Shit, man, I was just playin’. I’m straight.” He was not just “playin’,” and I knew it. I suspect he also knew that I knew it, but we both silently agreed to continue faking it.
Following this incident, Winn paced a few more times, but eventually he withdrew himself from everything and ended up laying in bed with the blanket over his head for hours. As the days dragged on, he became more horrified and disheveled, less responsive, practically comatose for long stretches of time. After two weeks of lockdown, his temperament and personality had changed so dramatically that he was unrecognizable from the man I had first met only a few months before. He had lost enough weight for it to be easily noticed and constantly wore a dazed look which gave the appearance that he’d misplaced his tether to reality.
Once the lockdown finally ended, it took weeks for Winn to recapture the heights of bravado and bullshit machismo that he had previously attained, and I couldn’t help but be disgusted by it. I had witnessed a more honest vision of his true self and knew just how fake Winn was.
When it comes to surviving prison, I suppose there are all kinds of different methods that guys use to cope.