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The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail: A Visit to the Hole

I’m afraid I’m now being kept in the Seagoville federal prison Special Housing Unit, or SHU, known more informally as “segregation” and even more informally as “the hole.” Several of my fellow jail unit inmates and I were brought here in the wake of a June 17 incident that the Department of Justice is billing as a “semi-disturbance” for which we are to be investigated and perhaps punished — though not necessarily in that order. One awaits one’s disciplinary hearing in the hole, and if one if found guilty, one is sentenced to … the hole. More than a week after being confined, I’ve yet to even be charged with an infraction.

I’ll go into further detail about the circumstances at some later date, when I’m free, so to speak, to talk about it, as it’s really a remarkable story. For now I shall, in my benevolence, let you in on what it’s like to live in a tiny cell for 23 hours a day. That way, you’ll be prepared in case you, too, ever find yourself implicated in a “semi-disturbance” or a “quasi-disruption” or even a “pseudo-riot.”

There are holes, and then there are holes. I spent a few days in the SHU back in 2012, during my stay at the federal prison compound in Fort Worth — not for any perceived misconduct but because there were no beds available in the jail unit. (My friend Gregg Housh, Hacker to the Stars, spent 30 days in the SHU some years back for the same reason.) It pains me to have to report that this particular hole is far inferior. Like much of the Seagoville prison compound, this building dates back to the days when the site served as a World War II internment camp for people found guilty of being German-Americans. The mid-20th century was less than a Golden Age in the annals of humane detainment of civilians; the people of Texas, meanwhile, have only rarely been denounced for the excessively cushy treatment administered to those who fall into their clutches. And the building was clearly intended to house punishment cells, presumably for the bad Germans who got caught writing incomprehensible oracular philosophy about things-in-themselves and the Weltgeist and all that (in which case I hope they were punished very severely indeed). Thus it was that I was not terribly astounded to learn, for instance, that these cells have no air-conditioning, which certainly promises to make things interesting come July, or that one does not receive one’s prescribed medication for several days after arriving, which makes things interesting from the get-go. And the cell at Fort Worth, used to house a single inmate, was considerably larger than this one, which is used to house two. This brings me to the subject of my cellmate, who makes things the most interesting of all.

“D,” as he is known, is a red-headed white male who hails from Grand Prairie or Waxahachie or Mesquite or one of the other tribal zones that surround Dallas. Like Jesus, he has a beard, is 33 years old, and sometimes finds himself in trouble with the law. Unlike Jesus, he is a radical Islamist militant with a series of state and federal armed robbery and weapons convictions dating back to his teenage years (although he explains in his defense that the armed robbery was pulled off when he was just 17 and smoking a great deal of PCP). He embraced Islam during one of the first of 10 years worth of stints in the Texas state prison system. Across his back runs an impossibly complicated tattoo mural depicting some sort of Apocalyptic scene interspersed with images of his favorite brands of firearms and further adorned, in handsome Arabic script, with a motto translating to “Death Rain Upon My Enemies.” Directly under his heart, he bears the logo of Smith & Wesson.

I actually knew D back in the jail unit where I played chess with him on occasion and once borrowed his copy of a book by Gaddafi on how to establish a perfect democratic system. (It’s called The Green Book, in case you happen to be tasked with establishing a perfect democratic system and would like some advice from Gaddafi on how to do so.) I also lived in the cell next to his for a couple of months, during which I came to understand that he was fond of loudly chanting rap lyrics late in the evening. More surprisingly, he also had a taste for Phil Collins, although his own rendition of that song that goes “I can feel it coming in the air tonight …” made use of far more obscene and threatening language than I recall being present in the original.

(Before this column descends into further madness, let me just take a moment to assure the Reader that I am not making this person up; he is a real-live human being. I hasten to make this clear as we are quickly approaching a phase in which I might be reasonably suspected of generating not just fiction, but actual magical realism. Be advised that I do not write fiction and in fact have no talent for such things, whereas if I were capable of concocting someone like D, I would have already won the fucking Booker Prize five times over.)

On our second day in the SHU, a staff member came by to deliver paperwork to D, detailing the various alleged infractions that had sent him there. One sheet alleged that “Inmate Lackey was given an order to place his hands back on the wall during the control of the semi-disturbance. Inmate Lackey responded in an aggressive tone, ‘I ain’t going to do all that. Fuck no. If you going to lock me up then lock me up.’ Inmate Lackey continued to keep his hands at waist level.” Inmate D was charged, not unreasonably, with “Refusing an Order” and “Insolence Towards Staff.”

Inmate D was allowed to read over the infraction documents through the door grill. Then the staff member asked if he had any preliminary comments for the disciplinary committee.

“Tell ’em I don’t recognize the authority of they court.”

“Sorry?”

“I said, Tell ’em I don’t recognize the authority of they court.”

“Oh, okay!” said the staff member, who had merely been having trouble understanding Inmate D’s bizarre, semi-rural gangsta accent. He began to write: “I don’t recognize … the authority …”

“Of they court.”

“Of their court.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, got it!”

The staff member left. Inmate D turned to me and said: “I got that shit from Saddam Hussein. That’s what he told ’em when he was being tried for war crimes.”

An hour later, Inmate D was back at the door grill, this time shouting some questionable legal advice to the guy in the cell across the hall who was going before a judge the next day: “Man, tell that bitch to suck yo dick!”

A couple of hours after that, he came over to me and said, apropos of nothing: “You know what was a good book, was that Picture of Dorian Gray.”

Looking back on what I’ve written here, I see that rather than describe SHU life as I set out to do, I have instead merely given an account of things that Inmate D has said and done. I wish I could promise that this won’t happen in the next column as well, but I can’t.

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Bible Verse of the Day: Leviticus 20:15

“If a man lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death, and you shall kill the animal. If a woman approaches any animal and lies with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

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[Editor's note: Barrett Brown has been incarcerated since September 2012. He is being held in a federal detention facility in Seagoville, Texas. This is the tenth installment of The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail. Go here to read earlier installments. Go here if you'd like to send him a book or put some money in his commissary account. He is inmate 45047-177. Go here to contribute to his legal defense fund and learn more about the charges against him.]