We spent a few weeks in the Travis County Jail; then we were transported by federal marshals to a federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky. We were in handcuffs and leg irons.
On the way we stopped at the Texarkana county jail. They had functioning spittoons in the lobby. We were taken upstairs. A sign read "Maximum Security". Under the sign was a man with his chair leaned up against the wall. Asleep. Keys hanging from his hip. Our escort nudged him. "Clem! Wake up! Open up the cell block!" Clem, only half awake, said "It's open". Then he went back to sleep.
We hadn't eaten since we left Austin. So one of my friends, Vince, yelled "Jailer, can we get something to eat?" He said this a number of times but there was no response. One of the other prisoners said, "His name is Clem." So Vince yelled "Clem, can we get something to eat?"
Clem showed up and said, "I'll see what I can find." He came back with half a raw onion and some home fries.
In each jail we stopped at on the way, the prisoners would give us advice on how to deal with the federal pen. One piece of advice was "Don't do someone else's time." Another was "F**k or fight." Meaning if we didn't not want to be jailhouse homosexuals we would have to fight to preserve our virtue. Another piece of advice was "If you drop your soap in the shower, do not bend over to pick it up."
Ashland was a large prison with dormitories. Each dormitory had about one hundred beds, with large bathroom/shower areas on either end and a guards' desk in the middle.
I had "Lectures on the Sutra" by Josei Toda smuggled in. In the back of this book was Gongyo.
I trained myself to wake 45 minutes before anyone else to do Gongyo. I did it very discreetly. To the other prisoners it looked like I was praying. One of the most despicable persons in a prison is a "jail house convert". I was called "Praying Mantis."
One night, while doing Gongyo, a note was dropped into my lap. The note read "Dear Praying Mantis, Come into the shower tonight at 9 pm and give your ass to us or we will shank [stab] you in the night." It was signed "The Boys".
One by one, men would pass my bed and say "I'm in on it." I continued to chant. The guard could do nothing.
I have nothing against homosexuals. Prison rape is not about sex. It is about power.
The adage "F**k or fight" came to mind. Exercising either option would extend my sentence and get me thrown in the hole.
Three of the leaders of "The Boys" surrounded my bed.
One of them offered "If you become my girlfriend, I will keep the other boys off you."
He said "Give me a carton of cigarettes a week as tribute and I will protect you." Cigarettes are like money in prison. I did not smoke. It would have been easy to give him a carton of cigarettes each week. But I refused.
He said "OK, a pack a week." I refused. He then took a swing at me. His friends held him back. Then they threatened, "We are not going to kill you, Mantis, we are going to paralyze you. Then when you get back from the infirmary we will shank you some more. Wait until the lights are out."
After they left, I chanted until I fell asleep.
The next morning I woke up with no new holes in me. I had changed the adage from "F**k or fight" to "F**k, fight, or chant."
While the other prisoners lifted weights, I started to teach Gongyo. My friend Vince joined me, then a Franciscan monk. Even some of "The Boys" learned Gongyo.
Some people think only bad people are in prison. This is a lie. At the time I was in prison, both angels and demons were in jail. The Franciscan monk, Frank, was in prison for pouring black paint on draft records at an induction center in Boston. He tried to get red paint to signify blood, but the hardware store did not have enough red for his purposes. Frank missed the old Catholic Catechism and loved Gongyo. Before I left, he could do a good Gongyo.
I taught the prisoners the
perfect jailbreak. I told them the guards would even open the doors for
them. To prove it, I was released after serving only six months. All but
one of the people who joined me in Gongyo got out after they came up for
parole. The one guy who did not get out had shot at a cop when he was arrested.
The authorities frown on that sort of thing. I did save his life though
— but that is another story.