Like pretty much everyone else in America, prison inmates make a big deal out of the Super Bowl. Inside the country's sprawling prison-industrial complex, men sometimes track their whole bids with the help of football season—the weekly games can make the time fly by, relatively speaking. If nothing else, when the big game hits, you know that's one less year you have left inside.
I did 21 big ones in the feds, and football was a way of life for me. From the offseason training camps to the buzz in the summer to the fantasy draft in August to the build-up to that first game all the way to the Super Bowl, football meant there was always something to look forward to. I won't be watching the big game between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks in prison this year, but I reached out to a friend inside to get the scoop on this year's action.
"I'm going with Seattle. They got that mean D, they don't fuck around," says a prisoner we'll call Texas Kev who hails from Dallas and is doing ten years for armed robbery and passes a lot of his time gambling. "Man, I bet mad pushups, stamps, whatever. I'm a betting fool. The higher the stakes, the more I like it. The Super Bowl is always a good time."
I remember going with Peyton Manning and Denver last year against the Legion of Boom. When the Seahawks won, I was doing quack-quacks and straight-finger pushups right in front of the TV after the game ended as this dude JJ from Seattle cavorted and celebrated at my expense. (A "quack-quack is where you squat down like a duck, make your arms like wings, flap them, waddle around and say, "Quack, quack." It's a form of amusement for prisoners, but it's also meant to humiliate the quacker.) Prisoners bet quack-quacks and dead cockroaches and all types of other inane and ridiculous moves after the game.
For guys like Texas Kev, betting on the game helps break up the monotony of an otherwise mundane existence. It also requires some planning to make sure you get a decent viewing spot.
"Shit, I'm gonna put my chair in when they pop the doors to the TV room," Texas Kev says. "It's so loud in the TV room with all the hooping and hollering, you can hardly hear, so I want a spot right up front. Dudes know where I sit so it won't be no problem, and if there is, then I got something for them."
At most prisons, there is one big TV room—in what they call a day room—that's situated in the middle of the cell block. There might be five or six screens in that room; one for sports, one for movies, one for news, one for general viewing and one for videos. But when the Super Bowl is on, all the TVs are tuned to it. The day room becomes a big sports bar with a bunch of loud, aggressive convicts jockeying for position. I remember trying to sneak into the TV room before lockdown and putting my chair right in front of the white-boy TV (yes, like many things in prison, TVs are divided along racial lines).
Things only get crazier if alcohol is in the mix.
"I like to drink a little hooch come game time," Texas Kev says. "We got a batch brewing and if it makes it through the shakedowns [searches], we are good. We'll be getting our drink on."
Suffice it to say drunk prisoners plus the Super Bowl and dudes hating on each other's teams means chaos. I once saw a man get his head split for being drunk and loud when the Baltimore Ravens won the title in 2013. He was a 49ers fan and was calling Ray Lewis, the former star linebacker for Baltimore and current ESPN personality, a snitch. The man was vocal in his opinion and the B-More homies took offense, told him to shut up, and when he said, "You can't tell me to shut up I'm a grown-ass man," they busted his grown-ass man head.
But it's not all violence and betting. Like everyone else, prisoners take the opportunity to cook meals with their homeboys and have big spreads of food on hand—nachos, pizza, wraps, and burrito bowls are popular. Convicts get food smuggled into the units weeks ahead of time to prepare their Super Bowl meals.
"We're going to meet out on the yard in the afternoon before the game to eat," Texas Kev says. "All the homeboys come out. It's mandatory, like church. We have roll call and everything. We give out lists and everybody has to buy their share from the commissary or bring it out of the kitchen and then we got other homeboys to cook it up in the microwaves and bring the food out to the yard. We're having burrito bowls, sodas, and cheesecakes. It's our version of the Super Bowl party."
Come game time, prisoners are doing their best Stephen A. Smith impersonations. "These dudes are something else," Texas Kev says. "They really think they are on ESPN, debating each other and shit. They will go at each other, sometimes violently, about who they think is going to win the game. We always have to break up fights over stupid shit at Super Bowl time."
Prison authorities will often delay counts or do them early to accommodate the game. They let the inmates enjoy themselves, but if it gets too loud or there's too much of a disturbance, they will shut the TVs down. "I've been in spots where dudes get mad because their team is losing and when other dudes start hating on them, they can't take it," Texas Kev says. "They go put a lock in a sock and crack somebody's dome. Then it's lockdown time and we can't finish watching the game and I have to try and catch it on the radio." (That's not easy to do, as most prisons are in isolated rural areas.)
"I hope the Seahawks win, because for real I ain't trying to pay any of these bets." Texas Kev says. "Especially not pushups, because I got like 1,000 pushups on call if I lose and I know these lame-ass Boston dudes will try to get me to do them all after the game in the TV room in front of everyone and I'm not trying to do that. The stamps and the ice creams I can pay no problem, but the pushups..."
In prison, though, there is no backing down, and when someone calls your bluff or makes a bet, it's essential to uphold your pride and reputation. It's all about saving face. "I'm not going out like a sucker, so if Seattle loses I will pay what I own," Texas Kev says.
I tried to stay away from the drama of betting and all that type of action in my last couple of years. It just wasn't worth it. Some dudes just take the game way too seriously. But when I was a youngster and trying to be somebody in prison, I was always right in the thick of things. In 1995, when the 49ers played the Chargers, I was rooting big for San Diego since I grew up there and am a lifelong Charger fan. But that year I was hype and talking mad shit and when they got their asses handed to them I was getting bombarded and hazed for weeks afterward. It taught me that sometimes it pays to not open your mouth when it comes to sports. But not everyone inside agrees.
"Betting on the game just makes it that more exciting," Texas Kev says. "I don't really even follow Seattle, but there's lot of Boston dudes here and I can't stand New England. I'm not trying to cause no trouble, but if it comes, me and my homeboys are ready."
The game is just one day, but sometimes what happens in that TV room can affect your prison reputation for years. I'm just glad I can watch from home this time.
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