The color black is a gang neutral.
Gangs are the fraternities and sororities of the underclass so they need colors, logos and symbols. Almost always, black is the technically colorless addition to a gang’s collection of hues because it is the color of crime and it goes with any offense.
But because black traditionally associates itself with gangs, prison administrators essentially ban the shade as much as they can. No black yarn through the prison commissary. Back when family members could send an inmate packages of underwear, pajamas, towels and socks, none of them could be black. The recreation supervisor seized the black construction paper that lay at the bottom of the industrial-sized stack made available to inmates. Nothing is the new black.
Black’s absence really cramps a prisoner’s Halloween style. Decorating for any holiday, with any color, violates the Code of Penal Discipline, our rule book, because we must make the decorations out of materials we have at hand, materials whose intended use is not as decorations like paper towels to make tiny ghosts or oranges with lines drawn down their peels as pseudo-pumpkins. When prisoners use their property in unintended ways, they subject those items to confiscation as contraband. Without orange construction paper (we ran out) ,decorating for Halloween becomes all but impossible. Which sucks because it is my favorite holiday.
Trick or treating is an unworkable concept, too.
First, the word “trick” means only one thing to many inmates: prostitution. Talking about tricking brings forth salacious stories that I want to avoid. But there’s no shortage of treats. The prison commissary sells 16 types of candy; the commissary devotes a whole section of its order form to them.
Second, the Halloween practice of bouncing from dwelling to dwelling can land you in cuffs. Any inmate who even approaches a housing unit other than her own can be cited for threatening the safety and security of the institution because inmates are prohibited from mixing and mingling like party attendees. Even an inmate who respects the boundaries of her confines and remains in her unit cannot hang around another’s cell; otherwise a guard will issue her a ticket for being “out of place.” All we can do on Halloween night is sit alone in our cells or with others in the TV area and eat our own sweet purchases.
Costumes might be the easiest way to celebrate Halloween in prison, but they are also the riskiest. I have witnessed relatively unsophisticated paper crafts and inmate crocheting endeavors produce string bikinis (for a surfer girl get-up) or horns on a hairband (to bring out an inmate’s inner devil). Brightly colored mesh laundry bags came together to make a streetwalker’s suit. The prostitute was followed by Mickey Mouses, cowgirls and St. Patrick’s Day Parade-goers. Using just what’s at hand, prisoners become anyone from anything; that is why they’re dangerous.
The fact that the power of arts and crafts keeps costumes within reach for prisoners doesn’t change the fact that disguises violate the rules of the facility, specifically Rule 12V—“Secreting Identity.” Anything that makes an inmate look different from her ID photo—like dyeing one’s hair, wearing a hood or face-painting—bears the potential to plop a prisoner in seg for seven days. Gang members in prison use masks and hoods to prevent identification on surveillance cameras when they start what you would call “big fights,” but we call riots. In prison, costumes foretell brawls.
To my knowledge, no masked gang riot ever happened here at Connecticut’s only women’s facility. But a work supervisor of mine in the food preparation unit who once worked in one of the men’s facilities described the panic the staff felt when a riot broke out. Male prisoners pulled shirts over their faces with eye and mouth cutouts and started wailing on each other. Gang battles endanger not only the state’s wards, the prisoners, but also its employees, people whose sin is showing up for work. Staff members fear for their lives if, for instance, one gang allegedly disrespected another or infringed on the other’s drug-dealing territory on the outside, which is why the Department of Correction obsesses over rooting out “security risk group affiliates.” A rumor or a passing reference about gang association will haul you in before the facility’s administrative captain and his investigators. They confiscate all of the suspect’s photos (gang hand signs often appear in pictures sent in from the outside), read all of her mail and written material to find any security risk group connection.
No one is above suspicion. I once witnessed lieutenants drag an elderly inmate whose initials, BK, marked her drinking cup. A nurse saw the letters and reported the old woman for affiliation with the gang “Blood of the Kin.”
Though I am one of the most naive, non-urban, white-bread prisoners in the history of confinement, I too got called in for an interview about possible gang affiliatoin.
I had requested a copy of the briefs filed with the Connecticut Supreme Court in a case called State v. Flanagan because one of the appellate issues for Maurice Flanagan was self-representation. Like me, Flanagan moved to represent himself at trial and was denied.
“What now?” I wondered as an “Intelligence Unit” guard escorted me into the captain’s office.
“Bozelko do you know ...” he began, and proceeded to list three names, one of which was Maurice Flanagan. This defendant’s name that came up in my legal research had not stuck with me; I did not know that I knew the name Maurice Flanagan. I disaffirmed knowing any of the people mentioned by the captain but he continued:
“Are you familiar with any of the Solids in New Britain?” “Solids” means the Latino gang “Los Solidos”.
“What is this about?” I asked, incredulous.
The captain explained that the case of State v. Maurice Flanagan involved a gang murder. Did I know that? he asked. I did not.
“All I want is the self-representation part of the decision. The facts are irrelevant to me,” I told him. I continued to finalize any lack of gang affiliation with “I’m from Orange,” as if that fact alone made it impossible for me to consort with street gangs—because Orange, Connecticut, is a suburban/borderline rural town inhabited mostly by aging Baby Boomers, where little violent crime erupts.
The administrative captain knew I was not linked to any gang because no gang member would say something so preposterously snobbish. He cleared me.
Now, since we ran out of orange construction paper and the commissary discontinued the sale of pumpkin-hued yarn, I am the only orange left in this prison, and there’s not enough of me to festoon 1,200 women’s Halloween holiday fun.
So instead each of us will eat a few Hershey’s Miniatures on Halloween night. Maybe inmates with personal CD players will hook up a series of large headphones so that everyone can listen to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. That will be all.
In addition to costing lives, scattering fear through communities and tearing cities asunder with their violence, gangs piss all over a prisoner’s Halloween celebration. I’ll never forgive them for that.
Chandra Bozelko is an inmate at York Correctional Institution in Niantic. Readers can write to her at:
York Correctional Institution
201 West Main Street
Niantic, CT 06357
Previous prison diary entries:
• Earthworm vs. Inmate Evolution
• The Power Of The Pen
• The Sandusky-Komisarjevsky Connection: Today’s Victim Is Tomorrow’s Killer
• Inmate’s Court Journey: Dump-Dumped & Probed
• Love As Contraband
• Why I Faked A Suicide Note
• This Seat’s Not Taken