My first cellmate in one of Michigan’s adult prisons was an axe murderer. More specifically, he was a serial killer who killed multiple people with an axe on one Halloween night.

I didn’t know his background when they moved me into his cell, but I could tell something was off about him from the way he looked at me when I walked in and from his dull and direct “Hello.” What really put me off, though, was when I came back to the cell after getting a tattoo one day. He looked over his top bunk at me and said, “I can smell the blood.”

In prison, you get all kinds of bunkies. How you act and carry yourself usually determines how well you get along, and I’ve gotten along well with most of mine. Feeling comfortable (mentally) in your cell makes all the difference to your prison experience… you need to have one small bastion where you can seek peace. A bad bunkie can destroy that.

Some bunkies you can learn from. Some become friends. Some I had for years at a time, but I went through one period where I went through 9 bunkies in 9 months.

I had one bunkie who had a Criminal Sexual Conduct charge. I just decided to ignore his history as long as he kept his head down and stayed away from me. That worked for a while, until I found out he was going through my personal stuff while I was gone. So I packed up everything he owned, put it in his duffle bag, threw it in the bathroom, and then waited for him to return. I told him that if he had a problem with this then he should do something about it. He went and told on me instead. And they laughed at him. Then he got moved.

Big Steve was an awesome bunkie. Calm and respectful with a good sense of humor, Big Steve was the biggest drug dealer in one of Michigan’s major cities outside of Detroit. The first time he was caught, he had a half-ton of premium marijuana, and that was only a part of his regular shipment. Big Steve was one of the few bunkies I had that I sometimes hung out with outside of the cell, too.

One day I was walking with Big Steve and Ben — an outlaw biker and drug dealer serving a sentence for possession of a kilo of cocaine who’d been nicknamed Demon before his 25 year prison sentence and conversion to Christianity.

Steve and Ben/Demon were talking about old times. They had known each other on the outside when Steve would occasionally buy cocaine from Ben/Demon and his gang. 

In that conversation, it came out that Ben/Demon had been on his way to deliver a kilo of cocaine to Big Steve 15 years earlier when he was caught and thrown in prison.

“Really?” Asked Steve.

“Yeah… uhm… I have something I’ve been wanting to confess to you for the past couple months of us hanging out, but didn’t know how to go about it,” said Ben.

“What’s that?”

“Well… I was sent to drop off the coke, and the money I was picking up was my personal payment to… well…” Ben stuttered.

“What?” asked Steve.

“Well… the money was… well I have to be honest… the money was to kill you.” After that, Ben said the name of someone whom Steve must’ve recognized as wanting him dead.

Big Steve didn’t talk much for a couple days after that. According to Ben, he was never paid for the job, and now he was out of the lifestyle and was a Christian, so he intended no harm and that was why he told Steve about it.

I had another bunkie I thought might end up killing me — also a big guy, named Shug, who was about a foot taller and weighed 140 pounds more than me. When I was moved into the cell with him, we were both cordial. We had the mutual respect of two individuals who are just hoping to get along. We talked a little, hoping to get to know each other. The only awkward part was when he shared the news he’d been diagnosed as schizophrenic as a child, a diagnosis he insisted the doctors had gotten wrong.

Fast-forward a couple months later, and I heard Shug talking on a smuggled cell phone. He knew my reputation and knew I wouldn’t tell on him, and I didn’t care. The problem came about when he passed his smuggled cell phone off to a friend of his from the streets, and hours later, our room was ransacked in a search by officers who specifically said they were looking for a cellphone.

At first, Shug confronted me about whether I ratted him out. I really thought this was going to end badly, but I never run away and I never tell. I looked him in the eye and told him it wasn’t me. Soon, others came over to tell him that his “brother” had done some shady stuff and was suspected of telling on them too. Shug gave me a sincere apology, which was awesome because that was a fight I would have fought if I had to, but he was a bit out of my (or almost anybody’s) weight class…

My current bunkie is named Michael Jackson. That’s not some prison-nickname, it’s his actual name. He’s white… er, was born white. He’s been in prison for 37 years, and he’s been my bunkie for 3 1/2 years. Best one I’ve ever had.