Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Prison Chronicles: Way to Go Slugger

by G. Jack Urso

Generally, inmates do not discuss their crimes, but rather what were their charges and sentences. However, some inmates, in an attempt to assert alpha male dominance over we poor civilians, will volunteer such information in an attempt to play on our fears and gain some sort of psychological advantage. They do this simply out of boredom as much as bad intent.

At Hudson Correctional Facility, where I worked in the early 1990s, DJ, a porter on the office block, was winding down his time and preparing to be released. Attempting to intimidate a young, recent college grad, DJ revealed within the small confines of my office that he was sent to prison because he was convicted of manslaughter and a young college kid like me could never understand his world. His look was intense.

I knew DJ’s game. Even though he was a student in our college program, DJ had a general hostility towards me. Perhaps that was because I replaced the pretty blond who preceded me in the job.

I didn’t like getting played for someone’s entertainment, so I called his bluff. “Oh yeah, what did you do?”

DJ rose to the challenge and explained he beat a man nearly to the point of death and left the scene of the crime. By the time he got home someone called to tell him his victim was still alive, so DJ said he grabbed a baseball bat and went back to finish the job.

“Oh.” I replied, trying to act cool. There I was, alone in a small office with a convicted murderer who just told me he killed a man with a bat just to make sure he stayed dead. What could I say in such a situation to maintain my authority and defuse the tension?

After an awkward pause, I ventured to ask, “Aluminum, wood, or whiffle?”

DJ, surprised at my response, grunted a suppressed, “Ha!” It was a disturbing kind of half-laugh that can only come from a sociopath pretending to be normal, but generally we got along after that, or at least that’s what he let me think. Some of you may disagree with my approach; however, I find it advantageous to maintain a sense of humor when alone in a room with a psycho-killer.

To DJ’s credit, he completed college, earned his degree, and according to the New York State Department of Corrections has never returned to the prison system in nearly twenty years, at least in New York State.

For the curious, it was wood . . . a Louisville Slugger.

DJ, far right, at his graduation from the Sage Junior College of Albany
at Hudson Correctional Facility, May 1991 (author's collection).

1 comment:

  1. I like the way the story takes no moral or ethical stand one way or the other, a stance that seemed to work well in the unfolding of the story. I think your response was spot on!