Life Inside is an ongoing collaboration between The Marshall Project and VICE that offers first-person perspectives from those who live and work in the criminal justice system.
Upon entering administrative segregation—a.k.a. solitary—at Mark W. Michael Unit, a prison in east Texas, I was escorted down a long hallway. I saw a small infirmary, a smaller visitation booth, and a kitchen. Then we turned down a corridor and headed toward my block.
"What's that smell?!" I shouted.
Sitting at the door to the cell block were four milk cartons, each containing a brown liquid. Before I had time to process what I was looking at, I got my answer.
"It's shit," one of the guards said, just as calmly as if he were telling me what time it was. "Welcome to the shithouse."
When the door opened, the full force of the odor hit me like a brick. I couldn't believe these four cartons of feces were just sitting there… like that. Why hadn't one of the inmate janitors taken them and flushed them? What kind of place was this?
Ad-seg, as we call it, works in levels. You can start out in Level 3, and after 30 days with no disciplinary infractions, you can be promoted to Level 2, where you can have two visits per month. After 60 days there, you receive all of your personal property and go to Level 1, where you can buy food items and coffee from commissary.
But it's back on Level 3 that you find the kind of people who defecate into milk cartons.
The facility is designed to break you. It houses some of the most dangerous people in Texas, as well as some of the most mentally-disturbed. I immediately feared that I would soon find myself turning into them, by virtue of my proximity.
I understood that only the strongest men can spend full days among lunatics and not become one.
My neighbor spent hours at a time kicking his door for no apparent reason. Yells came from down the corridor as I slept. And there was a nagging voice I heard at the same time every day, like some sort of chant or incantation, unnerving in its consistency.
I began to memorize it: "Attention F-Pod, this is Rabbi Shepard," it always began. "I live in F-Pod, 65 Cell. My TDC number is 599999. This is no time to bring children into the world. Warden Moore works for Satan, and Lieutenant Holder is their servant. The snitches on this unit are Black Major, Easy Black-E, and Whiteboy Snow. Do not drink the water after 7 PM. If you want to go to PAMEO, a safer place, hang a sign on your door that says, 'I AM A PEDOPHILE,' shave your head, and toss shit on the first black nurse you see. They took Morris from 62 Cell and never brought him back."
I eventually learned that the four cartons of feces that greeted me were the rabbi's doing. The cartons, apparently, were known as "bullets," and they were thrown at guards—a practice called "shit-chunking." Since inmates had no other weapon, they attacked their enemies with what their own bodies could provide.
The serious "chunkers," like the rabbi, kept an arsenal of three or four missiles at the ready. The less psychotic would load one when needed.
But the only time these projectiles were actually used was when a guard opened up the food slot, where trays and mail got inserted. Often, the inmate would hurl as many bullets as possible before the guard could scramble away.
All of this sounds sick, I know. I never condoned chunking nor did it. But this was my introduction to the Ad-seg experience. This is what happens in prisons.
What people on the outside don't always understand is that most of us in here will, one day, be released.
Jeremy Busby is a 38-year-old inmate now incarcerated at another state prison called Ramsey Unit in Rosharon, Texas, where he's serving a 75-year sentence for a murder he committed when he was 21.