Category Archives: Voices

The Trump Dossier

This ‘Fake News’ Is Real Enough To Investigate

by Joe Conason

Page of the Trump Dossier

A page from the Trump dossier reportedly compiled by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele.

When Donald Trump denounced the latest hints of his collusion with the Kremlin as “FAKE NEWS!” on Twitter, it was hard not to wonder what he meant, exactly. Having barraged us all for years with fake news about a wide variety of important matters such as Barack Obama’s true birthplace, the charitable work of the Clinton Foundation, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the dangers of childhood vaccination, does Trump mean we should believe the Russians conspired to help him win the 2016 election? Or does he mean that unlike all of his favorite fake news stories, we shouldn’t believe this one?

 Whatever Trump may mean when he complains about fake news, the story of Russian interference on his behalf in the 2016 election is undeniably real. So the president-elect himself finally admitted when, at his press conference, he acknowledged the accuracy of U.S. intelligence assessments of the Kremlin’s culpability in hacking the Democrats. Following a private conversation with James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, he finally stopped trying to deny and obfuscate those nefarious thefts of information by his Russian supporters.

The critical question that remains is how far the Russians went in promoting Trump’s election—and whether Trump and his campaign are implicated in that conspiracy.

Only a series of fully empowered probes by law enforcement and Congressional authorities can uncover the truth, but already there are many investigative trails to follow. Consider the recent stunning news reports of a 35-page dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer about Trump, his campaign, and the Russians, which provoked his enraged “fake news” tweet.  Mesmerized by the dossier’s references to alleged videotape of a Trump encounter in Russia with prostitutes hired to perform a perverse urination ritual, many journalists dismissed the entire document as mere gossip.

Such dismissals revealed nothing except the ignorance of those who uttered them, none of whom appears to understand the nature and purpose of what spooks call “humint,” or human intelligence (as distinguished from surveillance and other data). The Trump dossier is an intelligence file, not a prosecution memo; its purpose is not to prove a case but to point a direction. And as subsequent coverage in the Guardian and Financial Times indicated, its author Christopher Steele is no mere purveyor of gossip. He is a highly respected and experienced former official of MI6, the British foreign intelligence service, where he oversaw the agency’s work in Russia and Eastern Europe for decades. Nobody who knows anything about Steele doubts his reach into the top ranks of Moscow’s political and business sectors.

Indeed, much of what Steele’s dossier reports about alleged contacts between the Trump camp and the Kremlin (as well as its various cutouts) matches what US and other intelligence agencies learned last year from their own Russian sources. That was among the reasons why the director of national intelligence and the directors of the CIA, FBI, and NSA believed the dossier worthy of briefing to both Trump and President Obama.

The details also match many troubling facts already known about Trump and his associates. It is clear, for instance, that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has worked to advance the interests of the Putin regime for well over a decade, and not only in Ukraine. It is also clear that Manafort and his longtime business partner, Washington lobbyist Rick Davis, have cultivated business ties with major Russian oligarchs in Putin’s orbit.

The most notorious of those oligarchs is Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire aluminum magnate of dubious repute who was barred from entering the United States. More than ten years ago, in 2006, Davis was preparing to launch the nascent presidential campaign of the leading Republican candidate – Senator John McCain. As The Nation and other news outlets later reported, Davis and Manafort introduced McCain to Deripaska on a yacht anchored in the port of Montenegro, where the oligarch hosted a “birthday party” for the Arizona senator. If Deripaska and Manafort were attempting to gain a White House foothold, their initiative evaporated when Obama defeated McCain two years later.

 But with that shady episode behind him, McCain probably understands better than most of his colleagues why the Steele dossier—which he personally delivered to the FBI director—demands much more than snarky repartee about “watersports.” Not everything that Steele heard is likely to be true. But if even a fraction proves accurate, the Trump campaign’s Moscow connection will become the biggest political scandal in American history.

@JoeConason is editor-in-chief of , and co-editor of . This article is posted with permission from The National Memo.

Rubber tits

View from a Stationary Bike

She seems always to be bustling around in an accelerated gait, ear buds in, staring straight ahead so as not to notice our gawking, just as, I suppose, she bustles past everybody—our gym goddess.

She seems always to be bustling around in an accelerated gait, ear buds in, staring straight ahead so as not to notice our gawking, just as, I suppose, she bustles past everybody—our gym goddess.

by Dell Franklin

Earlier, a very pretty girl, around 27, with easily the best body in the gym, walked past Walt and me on her way to the treadmills in back. She seems always to be bustling around in an accelerated gait, ear buds in, staring straight ahead so as not to notice our gawking, just as, I suppose, she bustles past everybody—our gym goddess. She wears one of those trendy beanies that tuck in her bleached blonde hair. She has a very lean, firm body, exposed by the tiniest and tightest of black spandex shorts north of a bikini, and a narrow black spandex strap around her irregularly huge boobs that make this doll seem top-heavy. Her belly is gorgeously corded.

I said to Walt, after she passed by. “I remember when that young beauty had an ass.”

“Her ass looks pretty nice to me,” Walt responded.

“Before she began sprinting for an hour straight on the treadmill and going apeshit on the other machines, like an exercise addict, she had a perfectly rounded appetizing ass. Right now, from the workouts, and probably a bird-seed eating disorder, that once succulent, fantastic ass has been reduced to a terrier ass.”

“Terrier ass?” Walt mused, as he pedaled in slow motion beside me. “Never heard that one before.”

“Whaddaya think about her boobs, Walt?”

“They’re pretty big. They’re attractive.”

“Kind of big for her body, ey?”

“Well, maybe. All ladies are built differently.”

“Have you taken a good look at her boobs?”

“Well, now, you can’t help but notice them.”

“Do you notice how they bounce?”

“I haven’t noticed if they bounce or not.”

“Well, you should notice how they bounce, the way she traipses all over the gym for everybody to look at.”

She always has a sheen of sweat on her body after a treadmill sprint. She does not have a sexy walk for a woman as drop-dead as she is, which makes me think she might be a tri-athlete. But with those boobs? When she’s in the weight room, all the muscle-heads congregate around her and this guy she always comes in with, a stud type who runs on the treadmill beside her, hovers close by to keep an eye on her. She’s very friendly and vivacious around the muscle-heads.

Walt and I watched her as she went into an Olympian type sprint as if finishing a 100 yard dash.

“What’s the story on that guy who’s always with her, Walt?”

“She’s not married to him. I’m not sure they’re a couple. I heard he was her bodyguard, and an agent, and she’s trying to find a modeling job in Hollywood so she can get into acting. I think she modeled at one time.”

“Then what the hell’s she doing up here in Hicksville?”

“I don’t know that,” Walt confessed.

“I don’t see how she can get a modeling job with those enormous jugs…anyway, do you think they’re real?”

“Real? Why wouldn’t they be real?”

“I think they’re silicone implants. Watch her on the treadmill. They don’t bounce. They sit perfectly still.”

Walt craned his old wattled turkey neck toward the treadmill area in back, where the beauty was spinning away, hardly panting, the body guard working fairly hard beside her.

“They’re not bouncing at all,” Walt observed.

“She’s like all those women on the Beverly Hills Housewives,” I informed him. “All these Beverly Hills housewives are heading toward middle-age or are already middle-aged, and they got phony tits and phony asses and botox lips, cheeks and necks.”

“Beverly Hills Housewives? What’s that?”

“A reality TV program, which is sort of scripted, I guess, and you got all these incredibly rich Beverly Hills women married to millionaires and celebrities, and they hang out together, either at parties at their palatial estates, or in trendy expensive restaurants, and they get drunk on $100 bottles of white wine and act like best friends but behind each others backs they plant nasty horrible rumors about each other, and when they get together they deny starting these lies and argue and cry and scream at each other and throw things at each other and then make up and cry again and hug and kiss each other and say they love each other and then start the lies and rumors all over again.”

Walt, still pedaling, not looking at me, said, “I don’t watch that stuff. I’m not going to. How can you watch such stuff?”

“I don’t know, Walt. My woman, a college grad with a master’s in literature, she watches it, too, and we talk about those women as if they’re humans when we go out to dinner.”

“Well, I’m a college grad, and I’m not watching a bunch of women like that get drunk and yell at each other. It makes no sense.”

“It’s not supposed to. What you do is watch it and decide which one of these spoiled, snooty, entitled witches you hate the most.”

“Well, that shouldn’t be too hard for you to do—it’s right up your alley.”

A girl walked past us in tight black spandex workout pants and a full spandex workout blouse. She was a big girl, around 22, with majestic, breathtaking breasts. Walt and I watched her.

“See the boobs on that lass, Walt? They bounce, jiggle a might, and tremble.”

“They’re very nice,” Walt admitted. “And they do bounce and jiggle.”

“And they look perfect on her, because she’s a big girl, with a nice big ass and wide hips, perfectly in proportion.”

“She’s a sweet girl, always says hi.”

“Got a good attitude. She’s what I call voluptuous.”

Walt nodded. She did in fact nod at us as she sat down on a stretching machine, almost as if she read our minds. She even smiled at us.

A few minutes later, as Walt and I were finishing up, the so-called future Hollywood model/actress was again gallivanting around the gym. As she headed for the moist antiseptic strips to clean her treadmill of germs, and bent down to pull them from a plastic pail, exposing those boobs, Walt and I made sure to watch.

He nodded. “Rubber tits,” he said. §

Dell Franklin, who writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., admires women of all stripes but most especially those who are real and don’t pretend or put on airs, or get fake breasts, to make themselves more attractive or feel better. He posts his stories online at dellfranklin.com, where this story was first published.

VIEW FROM THE STATIONARY BIKE: “QUEER HUNTING”

view from stationary bikeby Dell Franklin

Scrawny old Walt knows just enough about everybody in this supermarket-sized gym (indeed, it was once a Von’s) to make a busybody like myself utterly happy. Walt is the kind of geezer who is not afraid to engage a stranger, instead of muffling himself in headphones and ignoring everybody as he suffers in solitary drudgery—like the robots on the bank of stationary bikes up front under the bank of TVs, and two rows of Nordic Tracks behind them, and the treadmills in the back.

Walt and I are off to the side, up near the front desk, separated from this rabble by a few Nautilus machines. Walt and I have a choice view of all those on the aerobic machines and the other larger cluster of very busy Nautilus machines in front of them, leading to the weight room and the glassed-in wooden-floored workout room where mostly women participate in yoga, Zumba, Pilates and spirited combat involving a mixture of judo chops, kicks and jabs and hooks.

I first encountered Walt when he wandered over as I pumped away and worked on the LA Times Sunday crossword, and said, “I know a good barber. He’s good and pretty cheap.”

I was taken aback. “I don’t need a barber,” I rejoined. “I’ve had my own hair stylist for almost fifteen years.” Truth is, I hadn’t had a haircut in about 15 months.

Walt sports a carefully trimmed white goatee and has white hair shooting out from under a ball cap. He asked, “How much you pay for a haircut?”

“Well,” I said. “I pay a lot, because I only go in every six months or so, sometimes longer, like now.” My hair was so long and unruly at this point that I did nothing with it when I awakened mornings with strands caught in my teeth, and just swiped at it to form it into some semblance of shape. My woman had been frantically urging me to get it cut for months. Truth is, I was sick of it. Also, I shave every four or five days. Why should I shave every day? I’m retired and hate shaving.

“I pay thirteen dollars for my haircut,” Walt informed me. “And he does a good job. Do you want me to write down the address and phone number, so you can make an appointment?”

“No, I don’t. The lady I go to is the wife of my tennis partner, who is one of my two or three best friends. I’m a loyal person.”

Audrey, a pleasant retired grammar school teacher, married to Ron, a retired college football coach, who had just finished on a Nautilus machine, unplugged her ear buds and came over. She and I are friends, exchanging books.

“Ellie is my hair stylist, too, Walt,” she said. “She is very, very good.”

“Well, how much does she charge?” Walt wanted to know. Walt is hunched from scoliosis, and bird thin; and sort of skitters in short mincing steps. He had polio as a kid.

Audrey glanced at me, and I said, “Thirty five dollars.”

“Thirty five dollars!” Walt was appalled. “I can get three haircuts for that.”

“She’s pricey, but she’s good,” Audrey affirmed.

I said, “Since I only get my hair cut every six months, I don’t mind paying that much. I even give her a fifteen dollar tip to try and rearrange my person.”

“Fifteen bucks! Jesus! That’s outrageous.”

“Yeh, but if I pay a hundred bucks over a year, that’s less than you do paying thirteen every month or so.”

Anyway, that was the end of our conversation that time, but Walt and I became better acquainted when he began riding one of the less technologically advanced side-by side bikes at about the same time I did—around ten thirty in the morning, a time when most of the geriatrics like us are in the gym, getting the misery out of the way. Plus, having somebody to talk to while pedaling helps kill the excruciating boredom and pain of solitary exercise, which I usually try to ease by working the crossword puzzle.

Walt and I have begun to be almost confidants. Everybody knows him, comes up to his bike. Some of the middle-aged guys refer to him as “trouble.” “How’s trouble doing today?” they’ll ask, smirking at Walt’s nosy shenanigans. Most of these people have been and are still standoffish with me, uncomfortable kidding like cornballs, which I refuse to play into. Sometimes Walt will try and introduce me to somebody who has observed my strangeness over the years, but they are wary. Walt is a kind of celebrity in here, and I enjoy being his sidekick and admire his nerviness.

For instance, the other morning he observed a guy walking up and down the rows of aerobic machines, going around the Nordic Tracks and then in front of the treadmills and then behind the stationary bikes, seemingly either spying on oblivious panting workout nuts or observing the machines. Later, when he passed by us, Walt, having finished wiping down his bike, engaged the man, and asked, “What are you doing, pacing up and down along those machines—queer hunting?”

The man, middle-aged and togged out in designer workout attire, was literally speechless, could not muster an answer, and abruptly left, visibly shook up. We’ve never seen him since.

“Maybe he comes in here at an hour he’s sure you won’t be here,” I told Walt, who didn’t seem too remorseful at what he’d said.

“I was just kidding,” Walt confessed.

“But you didn’t know the guy, Walt. You can’t say shit like that to strangers.”

“Well, he should have known I was kidding,” Walt maintained. “Hell, I don’t give a damn if he’s a queer or not.”

“He didn’t know that. He probably thinks you’re a loony homophobe, affiliated with those assholes running for president, carrying on about the goddamn bible.”

“Well, if I ever see him again, I guess I’ll apologize and explain I was kidding.” §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur. For more of his work, visit his website, dellfranklin.com, where this article first appeared.

LIFE IN THE CAGE: Another day, another hustle

Hillbilly Bob had a 'clean' hustle at the California Mens Colony. Illustration by Gene Ellis

Hillbilly Bob had a ‘clean’ hustle at the California Mens Colony. Illustration by Gene Ellis

by Tito David Valdez Jr.

California Mens’ Colony, Medium Security, 1999

I started off my day, just like any other morning, with hundreds of hungry men walking anxiously up a flight of stairs, single file in our prison blues, to enter the large chow hall. At the end of the cafeteria-style line, plastic trays slid out of a rectangular hole, simmering with the day’s slop.

I sat down at an unoccupied table to eat my entrée, which consisted of bland powdered eggs, oatmeal, two thin flour tortillas, pinto beans, and mystery meat, which was supposed to be sausage links. Two miniature packets were provided as condiments: a taco sauce and state-issued coffee.

“Hey dog, can I get that taco sauce?” Jamie, a white lanky inmate in his late forties with a tattooed bald head, hollered at me from his position in line nearby. He was known for his dragon breath from drinking too much coffee and chewing tobacco at the same time. “You know I’m poor, dog,” he added in an effort to make me feel sorry for him.

“Nah man, I’m going to use it on my eggs, give it some flavor,” I replied.

“Can I get your coffee, dog?” he asked, sounding like a transient trying to bum a dollar.

“Sure.” I tossed the packet of state coffee to him in hopes he would just leave me alone. He caught it. I could hear him begging other inmates at the next table as he worked his way up the line. “Hey dog, can I get your coffee…?”

One of the three empty seats at my table was soon filled by Sleepy, a youthful Chicano with tattoos all over his body—symbols of criminality and rebellion. His prison blues were freshly pressed; he smelled of Mennen aftershave lotion. His prison boots glimmered with a spit-shine polish.

“Hey homey,” Sleepy said, “that vato Jamie, he sells those coffees. He doesn’t drink them. Gets a dollar for thirty packets.”

“Really? I always see him with a coffee tumbler in his hand, I assumed he drank coffee.”

“Nah, he drinks nothing but jailhouse pruno. That’s one of his hustles to pay for his alcohol habit. He is a beggar without a conscience. Man, he never brushes his teeth. Have you ever gotten close to him?”

“I already know, man. Just look inside his tumbler, the stains…looks like the bottom of a riverbed, full of algae.”

“Yeah holmes, he is on biker status,” Sleepy chuckled.

A kitchen worker named Spanky approached us from the back of the serving line and handed Sleepy two items.

“Here homey, for the spread tomorrow night on the yard. Two onions. Just get me a mackerel at the cantina on first draw,” said Spanky, an overweight bald-headed young Chicano wearing a kitchen apron.

Horale. Can you get me some tortillas?” asked Sleepy.

“Yeah homey, but you know I got to charge you. Dollar for twenty. I don’t have a pay number, and this is my hustle.”

“I’ll take care of it.” Sleepy put the onions in his pocket.

“That’s a good deal — twenty for a dollar. The canteen sells them ten for a dollar-fifty,” I said.

“Yeah homey, I always deal with Spanky. If you ever need onions, tomatoes, cheese, bell peppers, oranges or ketchup, you know, for making pruno, he is the man.”

After our meal, we walked out of the chow hall together and noticed three guards talking with a black inmate inside a holding cage, stripping him out. He was on his way to the hole.

“Sleepy, can you see who it is?”

“Yeah, that one mayate…they call him Pookey. He’s the vato I buy my gambling tickets from every weekend.”

“Oh yeah, I know him. He always wears the do-rag and lots of jewelry. I didn’t know he ran the gambling pools.”

“He probably got busted for one of his many hustles, someone probably ratted him out,” said Sleepy.

“Every man has to have some kind of hustle in here. Pay numbers are low, even for those who work a full shift. How can a man survive on just eighteen dollars or less a month? I sure can’t,” I said.

“You know what my work supervisor told me homey, who has worked here for the last twenty-five years?”

“What?”

“The rate for prisoners’ pay hasn’t changed since the 1970s. Still seventeen cents an hour. Ain’t that a bitch?”

***

I first met Pookey when I arrived at the California Mens Colony, a medium security prison in San Luis Obispo, California. He stood up on a bench of the bleachers facing the baseball diamond while nearly thirty inmates approached him to obtain something he was passing out.

He was in his late thirties, always wore a do-rag on his head, African American, tall and lanky, a chain smoker.

“Get your TV guides, just a Top Ramen soup!” he shouted with a raspy voice.

Inmates rushed him like paparazzi, Top Ramen packages in hand, dropping them in a laundry bag in return for a piece of paper typed with information on both sides. I approached him with curiosity.

“Excuse me, what kind of TV guide are you selling?” I asked.

“My friend, you must be new here. Here, take one on the house,” he said smiling, exposing his missing three front teeth.

I glanced at it, seeing that it was nothing but a computer printout of television programs for the week, printed on a copy machine.

“How much do you charge for this?”

“A soup a week, or pre-pay me and get four weeks for only three Top Ramen soups. I deliver each week’s issue right to your cell, if you subscribe.”

“You must make a killing!”

“I get by. Just trying to get my hustle on. Do you like porn?”

“Yeah, what do you got?”

He opened up his legal folder, pulling out three manila envelopes, each had a different magazine: Hustler, Barely Legal, Swank, and Cheri. “For you, my friend, all three, just ten dollars,” he said with a smile resembling Eddie Murphy. “Do you got any coffee,” he asked.

“In fact, I do, two jars of Folgers. I’ll be back.”

Within minutes, I returned, buying the magazines with the coffee. I rushed to my cell and hid them under my mattress.

Later on that evening, right after dinner, I saw Pookey on the yard, hustling something else.

“What are you selling now?”

“You know those two jars of coffee you gave me?”

“Yeah.”

“I broke them down and am selling dollar shots. I can make ten dollars out of a five dollar jar.”

“That’s brilliant! You got to show me more of your hustles. I find it interesting,” I said.

“Let’s take a lap around the track. I’ll show you all the hustles that go down in this joint. Just observe and listen.”

***

We entered building three and in the shower area there was a white guy washing clothes in a bucket. At first glance, anyone would think he was a gay boy. He looked feminine, thin, delicate.

“You see that white boy over there,” said Pookey, pointing to him. “They call him Maytag. He will wash your clothes for fifty cents an item. Skid-marked boxers, one dollar. You won’t ever find me washing a mothafucka’s boxers, but he don’t have no shame. He pulls in a good hustle, about two hundred dollars a month. Lazy mothafuckas around here won’t even put their dirty clothes in the laundry bag to send it to the institutional laundry each week.”

“Damn, that’s a lot of money! Not even the few privileged inmates in PIA [Prison Industry Authority] make that much!”

“You’re right! They work their asses off all day, like slaves, and make about a hundred a month making license plates, boots, and furniture.”

We walked outside of building three and saw an older white man, digging through the huge trash bin. The bin reeked and flies could be heard buzzing around.

“That’s Hillbilly Bob. He looks for potato chip bags and the plastic wrappers from the hoagie rolls we get in our sack lunch. He makes jewelry boxes and women’s purses, sells them for twenty dollars each. Inmates send them to their daughters or wives.”

“Are you kidding?”

“Check it out.” We walked toward an older overweight Mexican national inmate nicknamed Wesos, who was listening to ranchera music on his Super III radio while drinking coffee and sitting at a table. He had four beautiful jewelry boxes and two purses for sale. Each item shined like expensive jewelry as the setting sun reflected in its recycled material.

“He sells them for Bob, on commission. He amigo, what you want for those?” asked Pookey.

“For you, twenty dollars, my friend. You buy two, only thirty,” he said in broken English.

I picked up a jewelry box to see the craftsmanship, original, handmade from nothing but trash. “Excellent work,” I said to Wesos, putting the box back on the table.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” said Pookey.

We continued to walk around the track and entered the dimly lit recreation shack. Inside, we found Brad, a white inmate with long hair, resembling a stoner, who was painting a nude woman while glancing back and forth at a page from Playboy magazine. A Super III radio blasted the rock band AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” The room reeked of cigarette smoke.

“Brad here sells these original paintings on the internet through a third party — an art gallery — for five-hundred dollars a piece,” said Pookey.

“Wow, how does he get that much? People in society can buy something like that for ten dollars at a Wal-Mart or Kmart,” I said.

“He gets that kind of action because they are autographed by Charles Manson. You see at the bottom corner, Brad simply stencils in the name ‘C. Manson’.”

We exited, walking around the track. A black inmate approached us wearing light blue hospital scrubs.

“Yo Pookey, you still want to see the dentist tomorrow?” said Malcolm, who was about 6-3, 250 pounds, looked like a college football player.

“Yeah, put me down. I’ll take care of you later,” replied Pookey.

“Alright homey, be looking out,” said Malcolm.

“What’s that about?” I asked.

“You know, getting to see the dentist or any doctor around here takes about three months. I gots a toothache right now. I gave him five bucks, he puts me on the list to see the dentist right away.”

“Good to know. Does he deal with anyone other than blacks?”

“Homey, he deals with anyone who has green. You gots money, he will even bring you band-aids, cotton swabs, anything you can think of, directly to your cell.”

Along came another inmate, a short blond-haired white guy named Rick, carrying several items, hidden underneath his jacket.

“Hey Pookey, here’s your ice,” said Rick, as he reached below his jacket, pulling out a plastic bag.

“Thanks, man. Take care of you later.”

“Alright man, don’t forget, you owe me three,” said Rick, reminding him.

“I got it, don’t trip.”

“What’s that about?”

“I hook him up with dollar balls of coffee. He brings me ice from the main kitchen every evening. He only charges two dollars a week. Nothing like a cold soda with ice while watching a prime time sitcom. You dig?”

“Yeah.”

“Alright homey, I’m out for the night. Talk to you later,” said Pookey.

On the way back to my cell, I laughed out loud, thinking of Hillbilly Bob. He made a living committing crimes while free and in prison he had been reduced to making women’s purses.

***

After about six months at the Mens Colony, I observed the hundreds of hustles of many men. I learned that the most profitable and best hustles were those kept secret, but even those were exposed because in the joint everyone knows each other’s business.

I met up with Pookey, after the evening chow, in building three, first tier.

“Yo Dave, see all those mothafuckas standing next to Cedric’s cell, cell 119?”

“Yeah, what’s up?”

“Dead giveaway. They all fronting Cedric off. They forget this aint the streets, po-leece see everything that go on around here.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look now, white boy Ray, he is bringing his color television set to Cedric’s cell. It’s like the homeboy shopping club. Traffic in and out of that cell all the time.”

“OK, I get it. It’s like a crack house.”

The top hustlers in the game were easy to spot. They tried to be low-key but always openly displayed their royalties, wearing bling: Rolex watch, gold necklaces, rings with diamonds, expensive designer sunglasses, clothing and tennis shoes the average inmate can’t buy in the prison vendor catalogs. They went out of their way to say, “Hey, look at me, I’m cool.” Such blatant in-your-face attitude catches the eyes of opportunistic guards or jealous inmates who would rat them out for an extra roll of toilet paper. The best hustlers basically tell on themselves.

“Yo Dave, I want to show you the kingpin of all hustlers. The man is right here, hanging with us in the joint. See that big black guy smoking a Cuban cigar, surrounded by the entourage of men?”

“Yeah, isn’t that the rap label producer?”

“You got it, Suge Knight, founder of Death Row Records. He is selling a dream to all us niggas that anyone from the ghetto can be a superstar. He no different than a preacher man or politician.”

“Yeah, but Suge is a multi-millionaire.”

“So is minister T.D. Jakes.”

***

Three months later, I caught up with Pookey on the yard.

“Did you hear what happened to Cedric? I heard he got busted.”

“Yeah, goon squad hit his cell. They found a DVD player with twenty porn movies, cellphone, cash, even women’s panties…heard he was playing the female art instructor up in Education,” said Pookey.

“Wow. How can someone accumulate that much stuff under the radar?”

“It’s all about hustling, homeboy. Manipulation. We all human. Everyone has a price or weakness. When you were on the outs, didn’t you ever want to be a rogue, a rebel, break the rules, like steal something from work?”

“I’ve been very tempted.”

“In life, you got to takes the risks if you want to get ahead. You can’t get ahead in here if you relying on a rat ass state prison pay number. Shee-it, a closed mouth can’t get fed,” he said, his body animated, speaking with his hands.

“You got a point.”

“Being in here ain’t no different than being free. Everyone in the world is hustling and when you doing wrong, you already know the consequences. But you ain’t thinking you going to get caught. You think you are special, invincible. The world is yours, like Scarface said.”

“You know man, from all the hustles you have shown me, I gotta give respect to Hillbilly Bob and Maytag. They got honest hustles. Doing something positive and productive. Just like you. Everyone else, they are sealing their fates, getting busted is the only outcome.”

“People forget where they are at and how they got here. That brings me to the oldest hustle in history,” said Pookey.

“What’s that?”

“See Tanisha over there?” I looked over and saw a very feminine long-haired African American queen standing by her cell door. She wore altered jeans made into shorts, cut high in the crotch, custom halter top white blouse, red lipstick made from Kool-Aid, her chest pushed out showing off her implants.

“What does she charge?” I asked.

“Don’t know, never went there, but damn…she got ass.”

“Yup, looks just like a woman.”

***

Two months later, four goon squad officers were in Pookey’s cell with a K-9 dog, a German shepherd. In just minutes, the dog came out wagging his tail, a high-priced Michael Jordan athletic shoe in his mouth. An officer grabbed the shoe, giving the dog a treat and started tearing the shoe open with a knife. He discovered a medicine baggy full of white powder. The officers gave each other a high five. The dog barked with excitement, started going in circles, chasing his tail. His trainer gave him another treat.

An hour later, they walked out of the cell with four plastic bags full of property. Cellblock Officer Ruiz, locked up all of us in our cells and spent four hours taking inventory of the rest of Pookey’s property, carefully placing it all into cardboard boxes. Pookey had about 300 canned tunas, 200 sodas, and 500 Top Ramen soups, among other things.

After dinner, the dayroom and showers were open. I caught up with Sleepy, who was waiting in line for the shower.

Horale, holmes. Another one bites the dust.”

“What’s the word?” I asked.

“Same shit as always. He had cash money, cellphone. Heard he was hustling the female dental assistant up in medical.”

“I always thought Pookey had a positive hustle. I never made him out for being that guy.”

“He just bumped up his game. Trying to come up. You know, when you think about it, we always fuck everything off ourselves in here. We don’t even get oranges, honey, or sugar anymore, due to the pruno makers.”

A white inmate named Rod approached me, interrupting our conversation. He was about 5-4, balding, mid-50s, and wore bottle-thick glasses, which magnified the size of his eyes.

“Hey Dave, I heard you type up 602 administrative appeals. Can you type this for me? I’m appealing a disciplinary write up where I was found guilty of ‘staring at female staff.’”

He handed the papers to me. I looked at the write-up; his arguments took up about three pages. His defense was that he was cross-eyed and on Thorazine, a powerful psych medication.

“Yeah, I can type it up for you. One dollar per page.”

“You take stamps?” §

Tito David Valdez Jr. writes from the minimum security Correctional Facility in Soledad, Calif. David can be reached by email at davidv@inmate.com, or by mail: Tito David Valdez Jr. J-52660, CTF Central E Wing Cell 126, P.O. Box 689, Soledad, Calif., 93960-0689. Visit David’s MySpace at www.myspace.com/prisonerdavid or go to www.inmate.com for information on David’s case. This article originally appeared in the print version of The Rogue Voice.