by Mike Powers


You might have gotten the impression from the writing so far that everything about being locked up in the TDCJ is just plain rotten. Well, it is. Okay, except for maybe this one thing, and it’s a thing which might surprise you. Since I’ve been locked up, I’ve met some of the best fellows you could hope to meet in a lifetime, and some of them have become my very good friends.

I mean, there’s some real rascals in here, like my friend Arundel. He was from L.A., so everyone called him LArundel (pronounced LAH-run-del). I’d never want this guy around my family, because he was a conman for real, but he was the funniest S.O.B. I’ve ever met. The stories he’d tell about growing up with his brother and his grandma were hilarious. He basically began his car-jacking career when he was 9 years old. His grandma and his little brother were in the backseat with him, and they were waiting on his parents to come out of the house. LArundel got tired of waiting on them, and started climbing the seat. His grandma’s going, “Don’t do that. You get off that seat this instant.” His little brother is going, “Yeah! Turn the radio on! Turn the radio on!” As he’s trying to drag his leg over, he knocks the car out of gear, and it just so happens the drive is on an incline. Away they go! He can’t stop the car, because his legs are stuck up in the air on the seat. Everyone’s screaming and hollering, and the little brother pipes up, “There’s a car coming! Watch out for that car!” My buddy tries jerking the wheel, and manages to get the car turned, but now the machine is going backwards, downhill, with this other car in pursuit, swerving all over the place. LArundel has figured out that he’s got to get to the brakes, so he’s diving into the floorboard headfirst, which is great, but now he can’t steer, and grandma screaming, “Left! No, right!” trying to direct him around possible obstacles. He never did get the brake pushed down, but the car stopped, CRASH! when it hit a tree about half-way down the block.

That boy had the funniest jokes, too. One I’ll never forget was about the man that takes his monkey into the bar. As soon as they get inside, the monkey goes nuts and starts jumping all over the place. First, he swung up in the lap of one of the patrons at the bar, swiped his beer, and chug-a-lugged it. Before the bartender could do any thing about THAT, the monkey jumped on top of the bar and started scarfing the peanuts laying around in the little bowls. The bartender lunges to grab him, but the monkey escapes by jumping on the pooltable. Even the monkey’s owner can’t catch him. All of a sudden, he grabs a cueball and swallows it whole. The monkeys eyes get real big, and befor he has a chance to get away, the owner grabs him. “Get the hell out of this bar, and don’t ever come back! Get that monkey out of this bar!” And the man and his monkey disappear out the door. About a month goes by, and the bar patrons are sitting around having a drink, when the front door opens, and they can all tell from the silouette in front of the bright light pouring through the open door, that it’s the man and the monkey. The bartender reaches under the bar to grab his bat, but before he can even take a swing, the monkey has already grabbed a mug and is chugging the beer. The monkey grabs a peanut, and the bartender raises the bat to whack him, but checks his swing in horror as the monkey shoves the peanut in his anus, pulls it out, and proceeds to eat it. The whole crowd groans in disgust. The monkey sees some pretzels. He grabs one, shoves it in his anus, pulls it out, and eats it. “Gah! That’s dis-GUSTING!” the bartender screams. The monkey escapes his clutches by jumping on the pooltable again, and just like last time, he goes right for the cueball. Over and over again, he tries to shove it in his anus, but it won’t fit. Meanwhile, the owner finally catches him. “I thought I told you never to come back to this bar! ‘What is wrongs with that sick monkey of yours?!” “I’m sorry, mister. I’d forgotten you already threw us out of here, but there ain’t nothing wrong with Jimmy, my monkey here. In fact, he’s pretty smart. Ever since that nasty cueball episode last time, he measures everything, first, before he put’s it in his mouth!”

Yeah, old LArundel had some good jokes. There’s other guys I’ve met in here I’d trust with my life, even though we only knew each other a couple of months. Peter Mogaku was an immigrant from Kenya, Africa, that I met while in county jail. He had a pleasant sing-song lilt, and a big heart. He’d gotten saved right before I came to his pod. And since, we were in county, there were men coming in and going out daily. He admired my familiararity with the scriptures, and he would tell people about how Jesus had changed his life, but when it came time to share the gospel with them, he didn’t trust his own ability. He would lead them to my bunk by the arm. “Bruddah Powez, ‘Dis mahn would like for you tuh lead him to the Lod.” At least five men accepted Christ in this way. After I went to the TDCJ, I could never find out what became of Peter, but I know he was facing deportation to Africa if convicted. We earnestly prayed together that this would not be his fate, especially since, now that he was a Christian, he would face the prospect of reprisals from the militant Muslims in Kenya. I know that if he had to go back to Africa, he kept being a good evangelist for Jesus.

And there are a bunch of great guys who have become my friends while in the TDCJ. Most of these guys are like the buddies we used to make in school. After the summer break started or we graduated, we didn’t keep in touch, and I think it’ll be the same with this experience. Most will probably go their own way when they leave this place, and try to forget everything as much as they can. But there are a few who will stay in touch. Ray “River Rat” Trammell is one that already has gotten out and writes regularly. He’s from the swamp country near the Louisianna border. Talk about a man with some stories to tell. He went on the run from the police a couple of years before coming to prison, and since he’d grown up in those swamps, he took off into them where the cops wouldn’t even dare to follow. He lived “off the grid” in there for almost two years, and they never caught up with him until be decided he was tired of the woods, and took a boat down the river to find work on the loading docks of the Gulf. A few days after he submitted his employment information on the application to get the job, the police rolled up on his job sight, and his running days were over. Now, he’s “retired”, and lives on his houseboat, supplementing Social Security with scrap pickings and other odd jobs. I did my best to try and convince him to start up a survival training camp business. I told him those rich boys from Houston would pay $5,000 a week to learn how to go back in those woods and learn how to live off the land. Ray didn’t want any part of it. I think he believes they’d ruin his swamp.

When you make friends in here, one of the ways you can pass the time with them, just as with friends from all walks of life, all over the world, is to repast with them. While the pickin’s are slim, in here, the fellowship is not. Putting together a meal from the stuff that can be bought at the commissary is called, “Spreadin ‘V. The base ingredient of just about every spread that gets thrown in here is the humble Ramen noodle, which I thought I’d left behind forever when I put Lubbock and Texas Tech in my rearview mirror back in ’94. Alas, it is the go-to food because of it’s low cost and availability.
Now, you can put just about anything with a Ramen. Depending on whether the commissary is out of this or that at any given time, you can make soft tacos by mixing noodles with instant refried beans. Chinese food by mixing noodles with pork skins and Dr. Pepper. Pizza by mixing noodles

with corn chips and letting it sit in a bag, mixed up for about ten minutes before cutting the bag away and topping it with chili and crushed potato chips. There’s all kinds of recipes, and there’s all kinds of cooking tricks to get around the fact that the only utensil we have that is actually made for cooking is a hot pot that doesn’t even get to boiling temperatures.
The whole point of the spread, though, is not necessarily to enjoy fine cuisine, otherwise we’d be out of luck. The point is to enjoy each other’s company and remeber that there is something beyond these prison walls that we left behind for a time- the fellowship of a most beloved one, and something that we carry still, our need for the human touch.

There’s a seen in “Goodfellas” where several of the gang have gone to prison, and the don is trying to cut up garlic with a razor blade. I always thought that was just some particular habit of this Italian that he had to cut up his garlic like this. No! That’s what you actually do in here, EVERYBODY! You have to cut open a razor with one of your old blades, and you get the new razor blade out and cut up your jalepenos, your pickles, or whatever kind of “fresh” veggies you have to cut up. The razor’s the ONLY thing the don had to cut up his garlic, because, obviously, paring knives are in short supply around here.

Desserts are either plain, like a package of cookies, or can get really eloborate. This is my specialty. Using vanilla cream cookies, a bag of cinamon jaw breakers, and Ritz-cracker knockoffs, I make cinamon rolls that will knock your socks off. By swapping out the jawbreakers for mint sticks, and the vanilla cookies for chocolate Oreo knockoffs, I can make “York peppermint patties” that will make you roll your eyes, they’re so good. I also make birthday cakes that are out of this world. And all of them that get made are done with no oven, no flour, no icing. But the convict always finds a way.

One thing that really surprised me when I first got locked up and started watching these spreads, is that before a group of guys will eat, no matter how rascally the group might be- gangbangers or thugs or whatever- they almost always circle up to pray before they dig in to eat. I think that’s great. Don’t get me wrong. I’d like to see a lot of people that do this live more like godly men, but that is a hope I have for all men, including myself. None of us have made it to the top rung.

I read a book about World War II Japanese prison camps that held American prisoners of war. These places were beastly beyond description. It’s amazing that anyone survived them to tell about it. One of the ways these guys would pass their time, was to tell each other, in elaborate detail, about their favorite foods and how to prepare them, even though there was no way they could obtain the ingredients to actually make these dishes. They’d eat a cup full of rice in a whole day, and sit around talking about shrimp scampi, king crab, fried pork chops, and you name it. Sounds like torture, doesn’t it? But it just goes to show that you never really appreciate something until it’s taken away from you. Living as a bachelor, I’d grab to-go meals from Burker King or Taco Bell all the time, never giving a second thought to the quality of my food. Now, I think I might be an Epicurean. I’ve got no desire whatsoever for processed foods. I’m going to grow as much as I can, process my own meat, preserve what needs to be set aside for winter. Yeah, I know. Maybe I’m not being realistic, but the desire is there, al1 the same. Because, a meal is not just about eating for survival. It’s an opportunity to “spread”, to grow in fellowship and in community. It’s a chance to learn about a person next to you you never knew before.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez