In the pen there ain't a whole hell of a lot to do. Prisoners develop hobbies to keep their minds occupied, because like my man Sport says, "Idle minds court chaos." Courting chaos in prison can quickly lead to death. If you mess with the wrong joker at the wrong time you might end up with a dull metal shank in the back of your neck. So it pays to stay occupied and busy.
"I like to gamble," says federal prisoner "Cowboy." "Football, NCAA, NBA, baseball, Nascar—I don't give a fuck, I'm gonna put my money down. I don't know if you can call it a hobby," Cowboy says. "But that is how I do my time." Cowboy scrambles all day to come up with the stamps to play on that night's games. It doesn't matter what sport it is, most prisoners are equal-opportunity gamblers. Their world revolves around coffee, cigarettes, and parlay tickets. You see them every move in front of the unit with their coffee mugs, smoking away and bullshitting with all the other gamblers about who's gonna cover what or what game is going over. Call it vice, addiction, or hobby—to prisoners, it's all the same.
"I gamble to make the time go by," Cowboy says. "It gives me something to look forward to. It keeps the games exciting and provides hope. Hope that I might win 40 books of stamps." Cowboy smiles a wide grin at that. For a dude like Cowboy, 40 books of stamps would be like winning the lottery.
Other dudes get into working out. Dorian is a big weight freak who is totally obsessed with his body and consumed by physical fitness activities. "I work out three times a day and teach a yoga class, a spin class, and a personal-trainer course at night," he says. This dude spends all his time in the rec yard. Jogging, doing calisthenics, and instructing the classes he runs. Back on the block at night he reads books on anatomy, healthy eating habits, and metabolism. "You gotta stay up on this stuff," Dorian says. "It's changing all the time and new theories on different techniques and exercises are always coming out."
Prisoners' activities and hobbies vary from prison to prison. It all depends on what craft programs are in place. Dirty Red, who's been in ten years, runs it down: "At FCI Manchester I did ceramics, at FCI Fairton I did leather craft, and now here at FCI Gilmer I do art. I'll do whatever," he says. "It just depends on the prison and what they offer. Shit, I'd do cross-stitching if that's the only thing they had."
Reading and watching TV are big too. Surprised? At some places, like county jails or holding facilities, that might be the only thing to do. Some dudes, like L, are TV monsters. "I get up when they crack the doors and watch
," he says. "Then I do my orderly job and watch
all morning, I love to see them bitches getting down. I go to lunch, clean my area again, and watch stories like
all afternoon. Then after the count I watch
106th and Park
and the countdown on BET. Gotta keep up on the raps. And at night I catch whatever show is on:
, or any MTV reality shows." He holds up his hands and smiles again, "That's just how I do my time, you know. Like they say, I'm a TV monster, That's my hobby. That's my routine."
Philly is into books. "I'm a barber," he says, "So I do my thing at work, then I come back and I'm trying to get into a book. I like street novels. That was the life I led, you know. So I'm trying to escape back into those streets. Joe Black's
, man that shit is hot.
, by Robert Booker, is vicious and that new joint by Soul Man,
, is the truth." A lot of prisoners, like Philly, never read jack shit on the street, but when they came to prison they became voracious readers. You'll see them carrying on about classic street novels like Teri Woods's
True to the Game
, Donald Goines's
, and Iceberg Slim's
. To make the days go by a prisoner will read whatever—John Grisham, Robert Ludlum, or James Patterson. Anything they can get their hands on, basically.
Some dudes play chess all day. Others like card games like casino, spades, or hearts. Still others play board games like Risk or Stratego. There ain't no Gameboy or XBox in here. Every unit has a game room and dudes will be up in there hollering, bullshitting, and playing cards all day. And then there are the more destructive hobbies.
Some prisoners like to stay in the mix and they spend their whole bid chasing that elusive high. "All I like to do is get fucked-up," says T-Rock, a DC prisoner doing life. "Fuck all the bullshit. My hobby is drugs. I don't give a fuck. I'm trying to smoke some weed, drink some hooch, or shoot up some heroin." And like all vices, T-Rock's hobby leads to a lot of trouble for him. He is a known drug user on the pound, so he's always getting pissed by the cops. When he gets a dirty he goes to the hole. "I don't care about that shit. In the hole, on the compound—all that shit's the same to me. As long as I can get fucked-up, I don't give a fuck."
Other prisoners have even more illicit hobbies. They're what are called homo-thugs, or gump chasers. "A lot of dudes, that's all they do," says Money, a penitentiary veteran. "They always be looking for a new trick. They be going gump crazy. I guess you could say it's their hobby because all they do is be with gumps, talk about gumps and think about gumps. And the thing is," Money says, "most of these dudes don't even think they faggots. They think it's just some normal prison shit. But that shit is foul for real. What kind of hobby is that? Chasing gumps on the downlow?"