Monday, March 16, 2015

Prison Tales: My Friend Sam, Part 5

This is the fifth in a series of stories about my friend Sam, former owner of the Premium Fireworks Company. He is currently in minimum-security prison (unjustly) for selling fireworks for which he did not have a valid license to sell. If you want to start from the beginning:

Over the weekend I made one of my last visits to see my friend Sam in prison. Sam is in for approximately 100 more days. In the end he will have served around 13 months of an 18-month sentence. He will then serve two months in home incarceration (or a halfway house) and spend three years on probation. His debt to society will then be paid in full.

Sam is not one to be down, even in his present circumstances. Still, he was more of his old self during our visit than I’d ever seen him. There was a palpable change to his demeanor—mentally he is on the other side of this experience. Only a little over three months to go! Our conversation veered much more toward his plans after getting out than what an unpleasant experience prison is. Still, prison is no picnic. There aren’t as many episodes of violence in minimum-security prison as there are in maximum security. Still, there are some. Sam told me two stories. The first was about an unhappy convict who wanted to read the New York Times. In the prison library, convicts put their names down for periodicals and when one person is finished, he passes it along to the next in line. One man didn’t want to wait for the NYT. He demanded his “mother******* NYT now!” When the librarian wouldn’t produce it, he left, found a piece of pipe, and was on his way back to the library to pound someone when the guards caught up with him. He was quickly shipped off to maximum security. 

The other story happened to Sam himself. He has had trouble for months with his next-door cubicle neighbor, we’ll call him Mr. Young. Mr. Young is a bit anti-social, and has tried to pick fights with several other prisoners. Recently, as Sam sat on his bed and read a magazine, Mr. Young marched into his cubicle and slapped him in the face with no provocation. Sam stood up to defend himself and other nearby convicts broke them up. Guards descended on them, and for once other convicts were happy to report Sam did nothing and Mr. Young attacked him for no reason. Put in segregation with another prisoner, Mr. Young then tore the other man’s bed apart and threw all of his belongings on the floor. Mr. Young was then removed to another facility, presumably for mental evaluation and assistance. 

As we were in the visitation area talking, Sam pointed out a nearby convict in his 20s visiting with his mother. Sam said he was a drug dealer from London. “How thick is his accent?” I asked. Sam said it was thick and did an imitation of what was the worst British accent I’ve ever heard. Worse than Kevin Costner in that Robin Hood movie. Later we struck up a conversation with the man and he had a thick US Southern accent. “I thought you said he was from London?” I asked. “Yeah,” Sam said. “London KENTUCKY, moron!” Oh. In my defense, I have been reading a lot of British history lately. Explains why his mother was there though. 

Sam did point out a few of the acquaintances he had made who were currently in the visiting area; a well educated inside trader, some friendly drug dealers, and the marijuana-growing farmer he had mentioned before. He talked about the long sentences for some minor, non-violent felons, and the unfairness of some harassing prosecutions. We reflected on his own case; a lying prosecutor and an unjust system that has destroyed a business that had 99% legitimate merchandise. There is no reason a fine wouldn’t have been just punishment. It’s not as if he had military grade explosives; most of the “illegal” merchandise is perfectly legal in most countries. The federal government did not want Premium Fireworks to be in business anymore, so they destroyed it. Sad. 

As I said, Sam’s attitude was better than it had been since he was sentenced to prison. He went over his options of what to do next; he still hasn’t fully decided. We went over the first restaurant where he wants to eat when he gets out (steak, natch) and how he’ll spend time during his home incarceration. At least we hope it is home incarceration—he could be forced to go to a government halfway house. I’m not sure how they decide such things, and apparently neither is anyone else in the prison system. He’s close to getting out and can’t get a straight answer about where he will go. We’ll see. 

Sam usually puts away a few pounds of food from the prison vending machines during our visits, but he had just had lunch. Today he had only a honey bun, two cinnamon rolls and three coffees. Yet he’s still thin as a rail. 

As usual, the guards kicked everyone out promptly at 3:00pm. As I headed to the door, I told Sam the last 100 days will fly by. I hope it’s true. It will be good to have my friend back home and on to the next phase of his life. 


  1. Not everybody who finds themselves in trouble with the law ever even thought any crime was being committed - UNTIL the time comes when an arrest warrant is served. At that point, the only thing to concentrate on is getting out of jail through being bailed out. The next step is retaining an attorney. Unfortunately, there are no magic solutions to legal troubles.

    Eliseo Weinstein @ JR's Bail Bonds

  2. You're totally correct, Eliseo. The closest thing to a magic solution is money. As my friend crime writer J.T. Townsend said, "No rich men are convicted of murder." Or anything else.