Early this morning, just before breakfast, I was jarred awake by the yells of an eerily familiar voice. It was the grainy, guttural bark which will be forever burned into my memory.

“Sir… Excuse me, sir! My name is Glutton Nickerson! I need a towel, sir!”

Sling Blade was back.

It has been a while since Glutton and I have spoken. The last time, in fact, was when I wished him godspeed and good riddance as he left my cell to go live with some other unlucky convict.

Since that time the legend of Sling Blade has circulated quite a bit across the prison, and more of Nickerson’s story has made it back to me, giving a little more clarity to the kid’s situation.

As it turns out, Glutton’s version of events in which he fought his cellmate (see my earlier post “Sling Blade”) to end up in the hole was only partly accurate. There were quite a few elements of the story which were conveniently left out during our lengthy conversations.

Filtering out all of the obvious bullshit and exaggerations, this is the story of Sling Blade:

21 years old and having never been incarcerated before, except in a mental institution, Glutton had no idea what it meant to be in a maximum security prison. It falls upon a new inmate’s homeboys (inmates from the same state or gang) to educate a green convict on The Code and what’s appropriate behavior and what isn’t appropriate.

From what I understand, Nickerson’s homeboys did their best to perform their duty, only to find that Sling Blade’s interest in how to behave was limited to masturbation etiquette. The rest of their advice was met with a blank, menacing stare and non-committal grunts. Hey, they tried. There was nothing left to do but let the kid dig his own grave.

Sling Blade made it less than a month.

Fighting is a way of life in prison, obviously. And normally a little scuffle between two men with no gang affiliation would pass with about as much fuss as there is for being first in line at the chow hall on gizzard day.

Living in close quarters such as these, it is common courtesy to hang a bed sheet from hooks wall-to-wall while using the bathroom, creating at least the illusion of privacy. Glutton, apparently, was unaware of this policy and, when his roommate encouraged him to modify his pooping habits, Nickerson clearly mistook the advice as an attempt to bully his 6’3″ 230 lb. self.

Glutton fought the roommate. The roommate lost.

Under most circumstances, the handling of a dispute, as I said, would be no big deal. But there are exceptions. And the fact that 21-year old Glutton’s roommate happened to be 65 years old just happened to be one of those exceptions. Unless they’re snitches or child molesters, older men are not to be touched. Perhaps his homeboys forgot to tell him.

Glutton hadn’t been in Terre Haute long enough to get a second chance, and he was too much of a weirdo for anyone to be willing to stick their own necks out by speaking up for him. So the next morning a small group of convicts moseyed into a clueless Nickerson’s cell and informed him that he had to check in.

To check in is the most cowardly and disgraceful act an inmate can do; it results in a forfeiture of all rights as a convict. Checking in means a prisoner tells a guard he is in fear for his safety and needs protection. The inmate then signs a protective custody order which puts him in the hole for 3-6 months until a transfer to another institution is arranged. But even then the check-in label will follow and will result in being shunned by everyone.

Sling Blade might be nuttier than squirrel turds, but apparently he’s not too stupid, because he checked in without hesitation. It wasn’t the only option. There was something else he could have done which would have preserved his honor. He could have refused. He would have still gone to the hole and ultimately been transferred. But instead of as a check-in, it would have been as an assault victim. What does it matter if he had to spend a night or two in the hospital; he would have maintained his honor, right? As you can see, life in prison is one long continuous state of between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place.

It was the act of signing the protective custody order that brought Glutton to the hole and into my cell for that short but magical period of our lives. His path subsequent to being removed from my cell has not been an easy one, chock-full of bizarre situations which I cannot detail due to the fact that all of a prisoner’s outgoing mail is read and photocopied. But chances are good that his path since birth has been a challenge, so I doubt this is much of a deviation from what he’s accustomed to. Poor guy.

At the moment it sounds like he’s having a pretty intense argument with his roommate. Which is a little strange, since he’s in a cell by himself. Imagine that.

whitney-smithAbout the Author: In late 2008 twenty-four year old Cincinnati native Whitney Smith begins writing a blog he titles “Super Friends” from his solitary confinement cell at USP Terre Haute, where he is half-way through a 6 ½ year sentence for unarmed bank robbery. With no computer access, he mails handwritten entries to his father for posting. Before long he has hundreds, then thousands of readers from around the world. Writing about his past and present, Whit’s insightful account is scrubbed clean of self-pity and gives off an energetic ruefulness combined with a keen sense of humor. The blog entries reproduced here are interleaved for the first time with letters Whit and his father wrote to each other. This moving self-portrait provokes serious questions about the dysfunctional apparatus that is our federal prison system. As one early reviewer writes, “I am blown away by Whit’s writing; his voice is clear, so funny, yet heartbreaking – and I can’t stop reading.” Check out his book on Amazon!