Eight Days in Prison

By on Jan 13, 2019 in Essays

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Concert for Change poster in negative, bright colors


It’s Tuesday night, September 13, 2016, 8:55 p.m. I just got back from the gym. I’ve been going non-stop since 7:30 this morning. Feeling okay now, but shit was hectic earlier. First off, my drummer (and right-hand man in the band room) got stuck at commissary all morning, and I had to do the band set-up all by myself. Nobody else showed up till 11:30 a.m. We finally got everything plugged in, tuned up and turned on, started sound check around 12:30 p.m. It sounded HORRIBLE. Gremlins everywhere, echoes, mics feeding back, acting up, terrible mix. The guys started getting frustrated, and understandably so. I was trying my best to stay positive, but the bullshit started getting to me, too.

When we broke at 2:30 p.m. (because we HAD to, not because we were anywhere close to being done) we still hadn’t played through half the set list, and it sounded pretty bad. We were making progress here and there with the sound quality, but every time we started closing in on a decent mix, our sound guy (who sucks at his job) would turn the wrong knob or push the wrong slider or otherwise fuck the mix back up somehow. I’ve given him chance after chance to get his shit together, but after this show, he’s gone. On to the next.

I live on the wing with my R&B singer. We were talking about what in hell we’re going to do about the sound mix since the concert starts at 8 a.m. tomorrow — this is around 6:45 p.m. — and I hear my name called over the intercom. They’re telling me to report to the gym. My drummer (don’t ask me how) convinced the powers-that-be of second shift to let us come over and iron out the sound system wrinkles. It was super off-the-books, unauthorized movement like a mo-fo. We spent two hours and got it as best we could.

One thing you have to understand about the basic principles of audio and acoustics is that you will never achieve a “good” sound in a gym because of how they’re designed, but there are things you can do to make it as good as possible. Cut the lows, take out all the reverb, use more speaks set up closer to the audience and watch the volume levels. I wish we had a Plexi shield for our drummer. He hits hard and drums don’t have a volume knob. Anyway, I feel a lot better about tomorrow now. I have to type up these fliers for the concert. We’ll make copies and pass them out to the concert goers. Hell, I’m going to be up well past midnight, so I have to end this now. Hasta luego, bitches. Wish us luck.



Hey kids. It’s Wednesday morning, 9 a.m., September 14, 2016. The day of the concert. Guess where I am? Not on stage, that’s for sure. I’m stuck in this whack-ass cell talking to you good people. You’re not gonna believe this one; a water main busted last night after I got back from the gym, right out in front of Housing Unit Three where I live. It’s a hot frickin’ mess. Of course, they put the joint on restricted movement. Needless to say, the show is on hold. It sucks, but one has to be sensible about these things. This is prison, and we inmates control not a damn thing. No sense in getting bent out of shape about it.

You know, it occurs to me that my right-wing conservative-type assholes (no offense) who might be reading this could get their panties all in a bunch, what with how I’m portraying prison. You know, softball tournament and concerts and all. What they need to understand is that, first of all, prisoners have to earn their way into program-oriented prisons such as this. With good behavior.

Secondly — and more importantly — these activities don’t cost the taxpayers a dime. The inmate commissary where we purchase our clothes, shoes, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, laundry detergent (and no, absolutely not, the IDOC provides none of those things) marks everything up 20 percent. Some items more than 20 percent. For instance, the typewriter I’m writing this on — a nylon ribbon piece of junk — cost me $300. The proceeds of the mark-ups go into the INMATE BENEFIT FUND, or IBF. That’s the money they use to buy basketballs, weights, softball equipment, music equipment and other stuff the inmates make use of.

Just me personally, I’ve dumped probably north of thirty-grand in the inmate commissary during my tenure in the IDOC. That means $6,000 or so of my family’s money (it wouldn’t be accurate to call it mine) is in the IBF. Do the math. I’m one of about 50,000 inmates in the IDOC. My income of approximately 1,200 bucks a year — thanks mostly to monetary gifts from family and friends — puts me squarely in prison middle class. The IBF is a monster. And I’m pretty sure not all of it goes for inmate materials. This is Illinois, after all. Four of our past five governors are in prison or have been to prison.

If anyone believes I have it cushy in here, forgive me if I feel a need to defend my position. Prison isn’t cushy. I’ve spent my time behind the wall in the max joints, locked down 23 hours a day. I was in Cook County Jail for two and a half years. Division Eleven, back in the ’90s and early 2000s when it was Super Max. The shit was for real. I’ve heard screams of men being raped, seen boiling Vaseline and Magic-Shave thrown point blank into a man’s face (he was a snitch) and watched as he shrieked in pain while being stomped out. I know that unique, coppery smell of blood mingled with pepper spray and cordite, doing my best not to breathe it in while hastily trying to finish my food. Playing music a couple hours a week doesn’t seem like too much to ask. Yeah, I know that my victim’s family probably sees it differently.

Violence is only part of the hardship. My son grew up without me. He’s an adult now who rarely speaks to me. By rarely, I mean he’s visited me once as an adult, twice as a teenager. Three times over the past eighteen years. I don’t see him coming back any time soon, and why should he? I wasn’t there for him. Family has passed away, all but the closest of friends have forgotten me, not that I ever earned anyone’s loyalty. The woman who was once my wife (I always believed we’d get back together some day) has moved on. To her, I’m just a faded memory of her youth. We last spoke in 2003.

Not that I’m whining. I have no one to blame for my current circumstances other than myself. I’m just saying, if you think prison is just a gym membership and a hotel, try it for twenty years. You’ll change your mind pretty fucking quick. Sorry for venting. The real issue is that they canceled my concert, and now I’m stuck in this cell, which — as I believe I pointed out earlier — is whack as hell. I’m gonna take a nap. Boom goes the dynamite.

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Nicholas Chittick is a writer and musician who lives in Danville, Illinois, where he now teaches music theory. He plans to relocate in 2027. Maybe sooner, with a little luck. You can find more of his work at PrisonsFoundation.org.