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CE- A Day of Infamy

"A Day of Infamy... all over again"

7 December 2002: the date that a small part of the present day world caught up with the chronically behind the times federal prison system. This is the date when I could go up to commissary and buy an electronic tablet. These tablets offer a very small fraction of what any free-world tablet is capable of (no phone calls, no text, no internet, etc...) but to the incarcirated it's still a complete game changer of the slow bleed out status quo of prison existence.

Remember, there are no TV's in our cells. There are no video game consoles. Nothing that you may think of as being in a prison cell as commonly portrayed in movies or television. All that is in our cells in reality (thanks to the Zimmer Bill which power fucked the FBOP in every way possible) is two steel bunks and a steel desk. And stir crazy learned insanity. That is the extent of the stuff in our living environment. This chronic lack of simulation leads most prisoners, myself included, to seek out various shenanigans and monkeyshines in order to give some spice to the communistic gray privation that is this place that will make you some flavor of insane if you let it. There is a TV in the day room. But, as you can imagine, a group TV just leads to those individual or groups who are in power dominating what's on at all times. This has, in my direct experience, lead to actual murders over programming disputes. Sadly, when you have absolutely nothing, the little things mean a whole lot more and people act out violently on principle alone.

Now there is the option (after spending the money of course) to sit in your cell quietly and play open source knock-off video games ("Candy Crush" becomes "Jelly Pop" and "Mario Brothers" is "Kong Hero") and rent and download PG-13 movies for a single view (for either $3.55 or $4.70 per view depending).

To someone like me who's last piece of high technology was a first generation ACOG, a pager, and a PS1, this whole affair is akin to dark magic. When I first saw the damn thing, which looks more like a smart-phone then a tablet proper, I couldn't even figure out how to turn it on. I pressed both sets of buttons and nothing occurred. I then shook it vigorously (?). I finally figured it was a "Hey, Google" or "Alexa" talk to type deal like I see on TV. So I spoke to it. I actually said "On", and then "Power on", and "Please turn on?" and finally "Motherfucker turn on!" and bunch of other stuff that was equally ignorant and asinine and embarrassing. It was only after someone showed me later (you have to hold the one smaller button down... ahhhhhhh) that I figured out how to power that little somabitch up.

If just turning it on was a cognitive/engineering feat for completely tech ignorant luddite me, then navigating the functions was the equivalent of lighting a Zippo in front of an ape and trying to hand it to him. Again... dark magic. It's would be an exaggeration to say that I shit in my hand and threw it at someone, double palm slapped the floor, and knuckle ran into the nearest foliage in abject terror, but only BARELY an exaggeration. Goddamn Sorcery! It was all so alien and unfamiliar to me that it actually made me angry at the tablet itself.

Once I did figure things out enough to move around the innards of the thing I started buying and playing the cheap little knock off video games. The retro pseudo-SMB "Kong Hero" had me absolutely fucking delighted. All of the sudden, I was ten years old again sitting on the living room floor trying to slam Mario's little crotch as high on the flagpole as possible. I sat in my cell for DAYS. I lost track of time completely. I would think "Hey, I need to go shower. I smell like a bag of Funions and a hot Whopper. Eh, I'll do it at seven tonight after I get done with this level." I would then get back to play mode and be surprised when they'd lock the cell door at nine thirty at night. I'd somehow missed three hours. I've come to understand that all video game procrastination inevitably begin or end with "...after this level" ( "after this level I'll: shower/take a piss/eat something/do anything else...").

I then realized that for the first time in twenty three years of incarciration, that the day room was actually naturally (and not a precursor to horrible violence) quiet. Usually quiet in prison is a bad thing. It means that everyone of every group is looking and waiting for something fucked up to happen. When it's quiet, it means the shit is about to hit the fan. This time, not so. It was quiet because seven out of ten prisoners would either be in their cell watching a rented movie while lying on their bunk or sitting playing counterfeit "Candy Crush". Today, our unit officer (Officer L.) came out of his office and said "What the fuck is going on? Why is it so quiet in here? Is this because of the tablets?" I answered "It sure is. Everybody is mesmerized and has something to hold their attention instead of looking for trouble. It's a good thing." And it is... mostly.

It's quieter, which is amazing. It gives the men here something to focus on besides running around like maniacs. But it is already reforming this dark shitty little sub culture into a type of unmindful drone face-in-the-motherfucking-screen ALL DAY LONG that is modern free society.

The whole scene brings me back to junior high. Does anyone else remember the 8mm anti-drug film they showed in Health Class? The one with the hamster? It showed this cute fat happy little hamster frolicking around a well appointed enclosure. He ran on his wheel. Drank water from the gravity bottle. Ate pellets. Pooped pellets. Normal hamster things. After a period of time showing hamster life, the voice over guy came on the film and said " look what happens when illicit drugs are introduced to our furry friend...". Off camera the fuckers put cocaine in his water bottle. Predictably the poor little bastard stays on that water bottle until he is dead. They actually showed time lapse footage of him getting skinnier and skinnier as he stopped eating food and stayed solely on the papanya. Finally he is a little bone and fur dead bag. As the iconic saint of drug use Rick James always said "Cocaine... it's a hell of a drug..." That coke induced addictive downward spiral is the same type of frequency (forgetting to eat or shower, etc.) most of us find ourselves pulled into now that we have shiny (yet admittedly low power) tech toys to keep us distracted and blink and blorp and release pleasure chemicals in our little defective brains.

So shit has changed. Changed a lot. The question now is, will the positive effects (a quieter environment and more sedate population) stick? Or will the strength of the prevailing prison culture have us swing back into some sort of "normalcy"?

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