Don’t drop the soap

SM readers that have been with us since the beginning know that I am always inspired to blog about some unique topic after I have gone to get a haircut. In fact, one

The Sepia Redemption

of our readers insisted that I write a post after every visit to my barber. First, a bit of backstory for those of you unfamiliar with what I am talking about. I LOVE my local barbershop. I can honestly say that when I leave here in one year, my barbershop is among the top three things I will miss most about L.A. You see, my whole life, hair “specialists” have messed up my hair which is very thick and very straight. Most novices attack it with a blind fury, just wanting to get it over with while copping the occasional feel and commenting on its softness. The barbers at this shop however, take one whole hour cutting my hair. This is impressive when you consider the fact that I usually get a military-short haircut. But as much as the haircut, I really like the barbers at this shop. Quite a few are ex-southside Latino gang members and they often talk to me about gang culture. They have totally welcomed me with open arms, and even tell me all about the “b*tches” they be working, and describe to me the finer aspects of said “b*tches” anatomies. I listen so as not to be rude. Yesterday my barber and I had a riveting discussion about a topic that I had been thinking about just the day before. For the past two weeks there have been race riots in the California prison system. The Latino inmates and the Black inmates are at war, shanking each other left and right.

Jail officials in Los Angeles County separated black and Hispanic inmates, began transferring troublemakers and brought in clergy to try to restore peace after a week of racially charged brawls that they feared would continue to erupt through the weekend.

“It’s got momentum,” sheriff’s Chief Marc Klugman, who oversees the nation’s largest jail system, said yesterday. “They’re battle-hardened. They’re angry.”

Thousands of Hispanics and blacks clashed Feb. 4, and a black inmate was beaten to death, at the biggest jail at the Pitchess Detention Center, a 6,500-inmate complex outside the city limits. Brawls then broke out during the week at the two smaller jails at Pitchess. About 90 inmates have been injured. [Link]

My barber, who has spent time in the joint, broke it down for me: Latinos and Blacks try to kill each other. Whites usually join the Latinos because they don’t fit with the Blacks. Asian brothers get shanked unless they keep their heads down and stay among themselves. If the Koreans ever do business outside of K-town then they are dead on arrival. Even worse, if you are Latino or Black and don’t want to join in the violence, your own people will shank you for not standing up for your brothers. Now, I know what you are all thinking right now. So I asked for you:

“Ummm. What about the Indian brothers? Where do they fit in this system?”

“You guys? Yo, sorry bro but you guys get your ass passed around. You know what I mean”? Yes, I knew what he meant. This threw cold water on one of my long held fantasies. I have always considered myself a social chameleon. I can become friends with almost any group of people. I am a pretty friendly guy, and very non-judgemental, so making friends has always been quite easy for me. I always thought that if I was ever thrown into the pen to serve hard time (possibly for blog-related activities), then I would be an Andy Dufresne type. I could imagine myself being the noble small-framed prisoner, thrown in with the hardened criminals. My friendly smile and quick wit would buy me protection, and my faith in my innocence would give me hope. I could even see myself sneaking into the warden’s office to play some music for my fellow inmates (although not MIA for sure). All of these delusions vanished the instant that my barber told me that “they’d pass my ass around.” If even street poet Tupac Shakur (possibly) got his ass passed around in the California prison system, then what could my words, those of a mere blogger, prevent?

I realized that this is the reason that there aren’t more South Asians in U.S. prisons. It isn’t because we are a model minority that doesn’t feel the urge to break the law. I certainly occasionally do. It also isn’t because the death penalty is serving its supposed role as a deterrence. No. South Asian brothers, for the most part, keep their noses clean because they know that in a U.S. prison they will be nothing more than currency to barter with. I can now guarantee you that I will never go to the big house. Never.

As I left the barber shop I was actually a bit sad. I now knew that the phrase “vatos locos forever” was no longer something I could utter with confidence.

See related posts: Bloggable things just happen to me, The N word

43 thoughts on “Don’t drop the soap

  1. “Ummm. What about the Indian brothers? Where do they fit in this system?”

    “You guys? Yo, sorry bro but you guys get your ass passed around. You know what I mean”?

    South Asian brothers, for the most part, keep their noses clean because they know that in a U.S. prison they will be nothing more than currency to barter with. I can now guarantee you that I will never go to the big house. Never.

    Hahahahahahahahahahhahhahahahahahahah OK it’s been a few minutes and I can’t stop laughing!

  2. Most novices attack it with a blind fury, just wanting to get it over with while copping the occasional feel and commenting on its softness.

    Hahahah. Awesome.

  3. correct me if i’m wrong but if you (abhi) are studying towards a ph.d. i think that’ll get you consideration for a white-collar prison…
    i know… nothing really informative to add. just that the kid upstairs has been dropping her soap for a fairly long time and it’s hard to turn in, until she figures it out… or i figure out why she drains her tub every few minutes. whatever man… crazy people.

  4. correct me if i’m wrong but if you (abhi) are studying towards a ph.d. i think that’ll get you consideration for a white-collar prison…

    Dude, with the ideas floating around in my mind, only Arkham will do ;)

  5. The barbers at this shop however, take one whole hour cutting my hair.

    Mira cabron and you still think he is just cutting your hair. Vatto, he is checking you out esse.

  6. After watching the first season of OZ, I decided I would joing the Black Muslims. The italians wouldn’t want me, neither would the Latinos, or the White Supramcists, or the independents like Simon Adabisi’s crew.

  7. a white dude friend / fellow computer geek & I went to an inner city barber shop to get him a haircut & had a similar / related story. He was by far the only white dude in the store in a long time and there was no question I was the first desi dude there perhaps ever. Just for kicks, we were thumbing through the pictures w/ diff haircuts (every variation of the Fade + Fro you can imagine).

    One page almost made us burst out laughing – it was the, uh, fontfaces that the barber had available for carving messages on your scalp

    MS Word ain’t got no WYSIWYG like that.

  8. Prison rape and abuse by inmates, guards is a very serious problem in the United States. I think in this regard, the United States is worse than even some 3rd world nations when it comes to protecting inmates especially from other inmates. Federal prisons are better, but the conditions in state prisons are appalling. The numbers on inmate abuse by fellow inmates are staggering and mind boggling. Contrary to popular culture depiction of state prisons as ‘free gyms’, state prisons are a very brutal place. Unfortunately, advocating for inmate rights has at best a somnolent effect on state legislators as they are too busy saving ‘marriage’, fetuses and baby Jesus. Here is a good website on prison rape.

    http://www.spr.org/

  9. Yes, I knew what he meant. This threw cold water on one of my long held fantasies.

    I think we all (especially men ) have given some serious thought at one point in our life or more on how to protect ourselves if we were to land up in jail/prison.

    I know what I am going to do. Plan A: I am going to join the Nation of Islam, like turbanhead. I have the lingo down and the Nation brothers do take brown Muslims under their protection in prisons. That would be the way to go for all desis irrespective of their religion, that is profess a belief in Islam and hope the Nation brothers dont ever find out ;) If they didnt have a Nation of Islam gang, I will be in big trouble.

    Plan B: Then I will act mentally insane, rub feces all over me, eat my shit, drink my piss and do other disgusting things which will out-gross my sexual charms. Acting mentally insane should help me avoid doing chores for fellow inmates.

  10. Prison scares the bejesus out of me. Very entertaining read Abster but I didn’t need to be told my ass will be passed around in gaol (archaic spellings roole) for being brown, I already knew my fate. I’m short and too damn pretty for prison. I should really stop stockpiling nuclear warheads and trafficking smack.

    In actuality, racism in prison and young offenders’ institutes is a big problem here and in the US I’m sure.

    Scares the living shit out of me even typing about it.

  11. I know what I am going to do. Plan A: I am going to join the Nation of Islam, like turbanhead. I have the lingo down and the Nation brothers do take brown Muslims under their protection in prisons. That would be the way to go for all desis irrespective of their religion, that is profess a belief in Islam and hope the Nation brothers dont ever find out ;) If they didnt have a Nation of Islam gang, I will be in big trouble.

    Plan B: Then I will act mentally insane, rub feces all over me, eat my shit, drink my piss and do other disgusting things which will out-gross my sexual charms. Acting mentally insane should help me avoid doing chores for fellow inmates.

    Damn, you’ve thought it out, eh? Mr. Debauchery? :) ..

    Abhi–I couldn’t stop laughing.. understand about being the chameleon/social butterfly in the world outside the ‘big house’…but in the ‘big house’… we’d get passed around like garam garam chai ;)

  12. I’ve been to the big house, but thankfully I was only visiting. In my final semester of the MBA program at U. Maryland, I visited the Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland as part of a business ethics seminar on white collar crime. It was one of those “scared straight” programs to make sure we business school grads didn’t become embezzlers and fraudsters.

    Though the main prison was a medium security facility, we went to an adjoining minimum security facility where the white collar criminals were held. The minimum security facility was odd because it had no walls around it — it was an anonymous building in an open field in the middle of nowhere. I suspect that even if an inmate tried to get out they would be picked up pretty quickly because there was no place to hide in the area.

    Visiting the prison was probably one of the more disturbing experiences of my life. The first and most unexpected feeling that hit me was one claustrophobia — as soon as the gate closed behind us and we were in the facility, my first urge was to run for the door to get the hell out! Just the idea that you are locked up can start to affect your thought process, and thoughts of fleeing came first to my mind.

    Next, I noticed the inmates. As a minimum security facility, most of the inmates were serving time for nonviolent offenses. It was a racially and ethnically mixed population as well. But the fact that these were nonviolent offenders, I found out soon enough, gave a false sense of security — we were told that many of the inmates had served time in other prisons for violent offenses. So basically we were surrounded by guys who had been to jail previously for murder, rape, etc etc. And we didn’t know who was in Cumberland for white collar crimes, versus those who were the really hardcore criminals.

    Prison is no joke. I still remember the way the inmates stared at us — I can’t imagine what they were thinking, seeing the fresh meat parading around. There were female students in our group too — quite an uncomfortable experience for them as well.

    Sad to say, as desis I think we would get passed around liberally in prison. After seeing Cumberland I know for a fact that I am NEVER going to do anything that might put my ass (literally) on the line. I’ve seen the light people, and I have no intentions of visiting the big house again.

  13. as desis I think we would get passed around liberally in prison

    I think it has more to do with our physique than other factors. If there are desis who are 6’4″ and 300 pounds of muscle, I don’t think they will be passed around.

    M. Nam

  14. The thought of Indians going through that experience (rapes, beatings) is so horrible and depressing…and YES it IS much worse (for me) to think of desis going through that than other groups, I’m not going to be politically correct on this one.

  15. I think it has more to do with our physique than other factors. If there are desis who are 6’4″ and 300 pounds of muscle, I don’t think they will be passed around.

    The size wont help a 6’4/300 desi because what protects you in prisons is patronage and not your strength. Prisons run on a patronage system, and though size might help you to dominate within your group, if you had no group, size by itself wont protect you.

  16. My husband told me that there would be no doubt that I would be someoneÂ’s b*tch if I ever had to go to prison, which I fervently refute since I have a black belt in martial arts, but I know my limit, if they ganged up on me, I wont have a chance! He then went on to say itÂ’s not so bad for a woman to get raped by another woman, GUYS! Not all women have lesbian fantasies! It will be RAPE!!!!! I donÂ’t want to go to prison, I know my fantasy of just sitting in the library and eating my meals is not all that prison will be. :) Better drop all my naughty habits!!!!

  17. Has anyone seen Sleepers? with Robert DeNiro, Brad Pitt etc. Pretty disturbing movie about Juvenile Detention Centers.

  18. Classic post! I’m curious about how many desis have actually visited the Bhara Makaan, though. I suspect more than actually let on.

    I really don’t know of anyone in this country but I have had the sad experience of meeting some back in Kenya and it’s nasty. Even the women prisons are horrid. They tend to bully indians (the biggest minority there) because they are considered snotty and there is some racial tension. Who needs Azkaban when a regular prison can kil your spirit already.

    I also know of a desi man who became an alcoholic after he started working as a custodian at a LA county jail. He cannot talk about things and is now undergoing therapy. Sccccary shit!

  19. Hi Abhi, Where’s this barber shop?

    Here is a review:

    Rios Barbershop 10434 National Blvd., West Los Angeles, CA Hours: Mon-Sat 8 AM – 6 PM Phoe: (310) 558-0189 Rios is a 4 chair shop opened maybe 10 years now, I have only gone to the owner as his work is the best of all the other barbers in the shop. He also is a major Oster clipper guy. Rios is work is super at good High n Tights and Flattops or shaved heads. He gives a mean taper as the Oster blades get switched as many 6 times in one haircut. Give Rios a try but be prepared to wait in line for him as the shop always has a line waiting for this shop to open. (Reviewed by Steve)
  20. great post. yeah i think a lot of guys have thought how they’d fare. i imagine in BC punjabi prisoners (unfortunatly) are in enough numbers that its different. anyway, to me its like, prison is bad place with people who for the most part did bad things. not very glamarous, and probably the exact opposite model of society and social relations to follow.

    its fun to be able to move between social groups, but a kind of movement that is not predicated on phenotypic similiarities is to have respect for whatever group you are in. to me thats one of the biggest plusses about being desi in america, access to diverse life experiences allows one the ability to try to respect people from diverse communities

  21. I always thought that if I was ever thrown into the pen to serve hard time (possibly for blog-related activities), then I would be an Andy Dufresne type.

    but didn’t Andy get punked in Shawshank?

  22. but didn’t Andy get punked in Shawshank?

    Yeah, but the guy who punked him ended up in a wheel-chair drinking his meals through a straw.

  23. i imagine in BC punjabi prisoners (unfortunatly) are in enough numbers that its different.

    on the positive side… i see it as opening desi horizons… i was in a cab the other day and a strapping slopeheaded unibrowed jat fellow was telling me about his application to the police force… they need local rep, people who look like us to go after people who look like us…

  24. a strapping slopeheaded unibrowed jat fellow was telling me about his application to the police force… they need local rep, people who look like us to go after people who look like us

    i didnt quite mean that literally.

  25. Abhi, Why do I know that you wouldn’t have written about Jailhouse abuses so cavalierly, had the victims been women instead of men. The double standard prevalent even amongst seemingly educated people when the victim of violence is a man is truly condemnable.

    Btw, Since the Blacks are pouncing on anyone brown, the desi’s almost always throw in their lot with the latino’s. When shit hits the fan, nobody is taking time outs and enquiring after your ethnicity. The only thing that matters is whether you are black or brown

    And I don’t know about the Los Angeles prison’s, but if you were to visit the bay area jail system, you would notice that the desi’s here do not get “passed” around by anybody. During your visit, in order to confirm my claim, you can look up some of the boys like – Mitt, Pramo, D, Richie.. and see for yourself if they are the kind who get passed or do the passing.

    Or, you can do some archival research in the San Jose Mercury New Paper about Punjabi/Indian Gangs.

  26. Abhi, Why do I know that you wouldn’t have written about Jailhouse abuses so cavalierly, had the victims been women instead of men.

    There is nothing “cavalier” about my post. I think about prison often. I often use humor to broach a serious topic that, as seen by some of the comments, others think about as well.

    During your visit, in order to confirm my claim, you can look up some of the boys like – Mitt, Pramo, D, Richie.. and see for yourself if they are the kind who get passed or do the passing.

    I’ll take your word for it although I am not sure that “doing the passing” leaves you any better off.

    Have you spent time on the inside Gumby?

  27. No. My cousins are incarcerated and will remain for most of his life, sadly. Needless to say, this has devastated our entire family. So I tend to jump to conclusions. Hadn’t seen your other post. Best.

  28. Alot of Punjabi drug smugglers are ending up in jails in Seattle, Washington. There was story I saw in which a Seattle judge said the 50% of the cases involiving drugs arrests of drug smugglers into USA from Canada are Indo-Canadians.

    So soon Desi’s will have a big population in Seattle jails.

  29. Amitabh, if “the thought of Indians going through that experience (rapes, beatings) is so horrible and depressing,” I’m afraid the low rate of desi incarceration in America is cold comfort. The situation in Indian prisons is worse (in different ways, having more to do with neglect and deprivation than organized inmate violence, because prisons just arent that large). But worse, I dont doubt it.

    Abhi, “I can now guarantee you that I will never go to the big house.” Did you come up with this guarantee before or after the Patriot Act was reauthorized?