“Write-ups,” another word for grievances, are not often filed against guards. Jackson soon found that his grievance would cost him. “[The guard] got in trouble, and the next thing I know I start gettin’ no letters.” Grievances are placed in a special box, but Jackson doesn’t suggest using it. “Don’t put the grievance in the box because they’ll tear it up. I folded mine in my pants and slept with it, and as soon as I seen a sergeant, I rushed at him with it.”
Guards, according to Jackson, have no qualms about getting rough with prisoners. “Just yesterday, as a guy was gettin’ released, they busted him up. It was a youngster. I almost cried, and I don’t even cry. He says, ‘Fuck you, pigs!’ and ten of ’em rushed him. They put a mask over his face, ’cause he was spittin’ on ’em, and tied it. He was turning red! We were sayin’, ‘Hey! Don’t kill him, man!’ and they were, like, ‘You guys shut the fuck up! You want to be next, asshole?’ I’ve seen ’em hog-tie people and hit ’em on the face. When your arms are tied behind your back, you have no control of your face. I seen the kid this morning. They busted his whole face. Before he came in, he was a perfect, normal gentleman, 19, 20 years old. Now his nose is broke, his eyes swollen, his lips busted, and they did that. And nobody will ever know. That’s why they fuck you up.
“Guards need to be checked,” Jackson continued. “I was scared of the one I wrote up. He was a bad man. He said he runs this jail, he knows how to lose you and how to fuck you up, and I believe him. I seen it with my own eyes.”
Despite the brutality, Jackson says a few guards are humane. “You can tell the officers that do like their job. They want to help you.”
Jackson is a San Diego native. “I grew up in southeast San Diego and went to Logan Elementary. Then my mom thought I was hangin’ out in gangs so she put me in Point Loma Cabrillo. Then I went to Dana and to Point Loma High. After I graduated I went to Mesa College for two years, then I got arrested for robbery, bein’ stupid. That was 1992. I got three years in Chuckawalla — that’s near Blythe in Riverside. I’d been out for five years before this.”
As a return prisoner, Jackson admits that conditions at the central jail have improved. “There’s no cells no more. Everybody’s in a dorm with 47 bunks. That’s one thing I’ll give the county — they stopped the fights. In the old county, you could rock and roll in there, get some bruises, and go to sleep. Now there’s full-time surveillance cameras, and whoever gives those bruises will be charged. There’s no more smoking in the corner.”
Smoking is prohibited in jail, and Jackson laughs as he says, “That’s the best rehab. I was fully a smoker, and I plan on resuming my habit right now! I can’t quit!” Reading is available to break the monotony, but materials are limited. “The stuff that’s there is bullshit and not good material. They should have more educational materials.
“More books than just fuckin’ crime books like, Jimmy’s Usin’ Dope or Timmy Killed John. They should have more intelligent reading. After readin’ all those books, I wanna get out and kill!”
There is no gym or weight room. “They snatched all that. The South Bay county jail is the only one that still gives you recreational space. So I do a lot of push-ups. When I worked out a lot, I was bigger.”
Tattooing is another popular pastime. Jackson opens his shirt and exposes an “S” and “D” in Gothic characters. “I just got these put on. That’s for ‘San Diego County.’” He also shows an older tattoo of a flag near his throat and explains how inmates tattoo each other. He holds up his Walkman: “This is a tattoo gun. You take the engine out of a Walkman, and you have a running engine. With the motor you get a piece of guitar string, and the guitar string is your needle. It’s the same as in a tattoo shop, but it’s a little bit better. You tie that engine up and have that motor runnin’, hook it up with these two batteries, get a piece of wire, and it just runs. We use India ink brought in by visitors. The police didn’t know that for a long time until snitches came along.”
Drugs are available for those who can pay. “Just shoot the word down that you got money. There’ll be a soldier that’ll come up and verify it. You’ll never know who he is. He’s the dope man’s runner. He’ll come through as a trustee, sweepin’ the floor. If you got 50 bucks, he’ll come back in two days. If it’s there, he’ll give it to you. If it’s not, then you gonna find yourself getting stuffed somewhere. You know what I mean?” Liquor is also on hand. “I make it. I take all the oranges and bread [let them ferment], and we get drunk on Fridays.”
Surveillance has also greatly reduced the problem of homosexual rape. “It was a problem. In the old county, you had fags comin’ at you in the stairwells, but they stopped all that. The gays is in one cubicle and that’s it. Some homosexuals get through that don’t look it, but when you see ’em you know ’em. We had three homosexuals in our bunk area. I just told ’em, ‘Don’t start that gay shit in here.’ I’ve heard that they do it by the toilets ’cause they’re off-camera.”
Upbeat about the future, Jackson is anxious to go home and get back to work. “I live in El Cajon. I was sure that I didn’t have no job now, but my boss said I can still come back to work.” His face beams as he praises his boss. “He was down with me from before. I was a trainer for telemarketing, and he kept me the job, man! I’m gonna call him and thank him for everything he did. I’m gonna go to work. He knew that wasn’t me with the dope. I had money.”