A member of the United Aryan Brotherhood reflects on his time behind bars.

Down Through There

by Jimmy Maxwell

05/13/2016

I took a moment to see all my friends and Brothers one last time, then I was off to the laundry. My closest Brothers helped me haul my Bureau of Prisons-issued bedding, clothing, and personal property up the hill. There, the laundry officer checked off my belongings from when I had first arrived and signed me out. We then walked to the administration building, where I said my last goodbyes to the Bros who were left on the yard after the last incident. I had some good Brothers and some good friends there, so a bit of my spirit would remain and I would carry with me a little of theirs. After a few final hugs and a wave, I turned and went through the Admin doors on my last round to the business office to get my check. Over the course of 16 years, I had accrued a total of $232.85 to begin my future with. From there, I went to the warden’s secretary for my release papers and, finally, the last stop: Property. That’s where they have you change out of your prison khakis into street clothes, which your friends or family should provide. That, or some Salvation Army crap the prison kept on hand.

Every step I took my pulse quickened. I worried that an officer would holler, Maxwell, there has been a mistake. Your release has been cancelled!  Each breath I took, I silently prayed not to hear those words, mad at myself for even thinking them.

I understand people want things to be black or white, but the truth is that life is a lot of grays. The Aryan Brotherhood has never been a racial thing with me, just a prison thing. It’s that way for a lot of people. Unfortunately, people want to hate something, and I guess I’ll always be a stereotype. I didn’t break away from the Brotherhood for racial reasons or any big epiphany that I all of a sudden didn’t hate people of others races, because I never hated them in the first place. My first wife and mother of my children is even half Korean. I’m laying it out how it really is for most Caucasian people in prison, or in low-income housing projects. I broke free of the hood because the hood is prison. I am at a place in my life that I don’t want to be in prison, physically or mentally. I don’t want to be involved in drugs or crime or the pain of others in any way, shape, or form anymore, or with people who believe living in prison is an acceptable way of life. That is why I stepped away. That doesn’t mean I don’t have memories.

•••

Six months leading up to my scheduled release, every member of my little band of Universal Aryan Brotherhood [UAB] pals and I went to lock-up for stomping all the Oklahoma Skinheads off the yard. There are differences within the Aryan Brotherhood. Almost every state has its own branch and its own leadership: Skinheads, KKK, Dirty White Boys, and groups like the Aryan Circle. Each are independent of the rest, but bound by the code that governs the overall white brother-hooded community—with severe consequences when it is broken. In this case, the Skinheads had an unholy arrangement going on with the prison’s Captain of Security. Apparently, one of them had a “give and take” relationship with the Captain, which had carried over from another yard, where he’d been his stool pigeon. When the Captain asked that skinhead’s Brothers to cover for him, they agreed. They sold out for promises of favor, breaking the cardinal convict prescript, and in doing so ensured their own destruction. My impending discharge almost derailed when several of them ended up in the hospital. We lost Ricky to the surveillance camera tapes.  Thank God they were too grainy to identify anyone else.

Not long after that, around 30 pounds of tobacco were found behind the toilet paper roll holder in the bathroom wall of the dental lab where I worked. Ever since they made all federal and most state prison yards tobacco-free environments, a single small cigarette goes for five or six dollars and a one-ounce pouch can bring $150. Tobacco in that quantity equals a significant amount of money, about $20,000–$30,000. An officer obviously brought it in, which makes it, in the minds of security and the administration, a big deal.

They rounded up all of the dental lab workers, about 15 including myself, and put us in the Secure Housing Unit, or SHU (pronounced “shoe”). We spent a couple of weeks in the hole, until someone broke and told them what they wanted to know. The rat turned out to be the only one they kept locked up and let the rest of us out. The officer got scared and wouldn’t return to work, so the police got a warrant, went to his house, and caught him with more tobacco, weed, and heroin packaged to be brought into the yard. They fired us all and shut down the dental lab program.

A few weeks later, about a month before I was to be released to 90 days of halfway house, Darold “D.K.” Ellsworth—a good friend who I’d celled with three of the four years I’d been there—approached me during a chow call.

“I don’t know if you’ve already heard this, or if it’s even true, but I figure if it is, you’ll want to know about it…” He hesitated, rubbing his stubby fingers back over his bald dome, as if he was fixing to tell me something he’d rather not.

D.K. made the decisions for his particular group of A.B.Ts, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas; I called everything for Oklahoma. We trusted and had backed each other, more than once.

I took in the demeanor of the short, stocky con, and I could see something was bothering him. “I’m listening,” I replied.

D.K. said some Oklahoma independent whiteboys had sold a little white Okie kid to a black Puerto Rican on A-Unit. “Independent,” in these circumstances, refers to people who have no gang/family affiliations. However, they are still beholden to adhere to the same ethical standard as the rest of us, with similar consequences when failing to do so. This is regardless of whether they are a patch-holder or not and bartering off some young white boy to be a sex slave, especially to another race, was definitely a violation of that standard.

“That can’t be true!” I said, shooting him a sideways glance out of my narrowed eyes. “But you can bet I’ll look into it, to be sure.”

I was more or less just assuming it was some bullshit story. I had people up in A-Unit who were supposed to ensure things like that didn’t happen. Not to mention, on this yard, the UAB strictly enforced racial respect and racial boundaries. Separatism reigns in prison. Every race governs their own people, and if something happens between different skin tones, it is discussed by those calling the shots and the outcome is handled. White or black, Mexican or Indian, we all tried to keep the operation of the prison running smooth because we were all involved in different (some quite lucrative) money making hustles, which directly depended upon it.

Hell, when new people arrive on a unit, they are met by a committee of representatives from their own race who check their paperwork, meaning court documents to show they were not government collaborators, and their gang affiliations, and if not affiliated, hook them up with people from their state who would then give them a care package if need be and help them find a cell with their own people. Or sometimes, if there’s a problem, e.g.: their paperwork doesn’t check out, or they are from a rival gang, send them out on a stretcher.

Occasionally, prison administrators send new people in when there were no cells of their race available. The “committee” will then tell the new guy, if he’s not smart enough to do it on his own, that he must refuse housing and sit in lock-up until things get shifted around.

I marked D.K.’s account as something that needed to be clarified.

When our unit was finally called, D.K. and I walked to chow together. We discussed the recent tornados and my wife’s fearful trip down from Guymon through the thunderstorms with her cat, Cricket, and her little Pomeranian, Ruby.

After reaching the mess hall and getting our trays, we went our separate ways—D.K. to go sit at one of the ABT tables and me to sit at one of the UAB tables. It was just a sign of respect that the rest of the population would leave our tables and a couple of other families’ tables, such as the Aryan Circle and the Dirty White Boys, empty for us. There were a couple of U-abs (slang for a member of the UAB) seated at two of our tables, men from different units who had already eaten.

I noticed Drew sitting at a table by himself. Drew is a 6’5”, bald-headed 33-year-old with a pile of time. He had the job of handling his Brothers, our business ventures, and whatever else needed to be watched over on A-Unit. He looked up when I sat down.

“Hey, Brother, how’s your wife doing? Did she make it alright through that tornado?” he asked. I told him she had, even though she and her freaked-out animals had to take cover under an overpass at one point.

“Man, you sure got a good woman,” Drew finished.

“She should be up to visit tomorrow,” I said. Then I told him what I’d heard, even though I couldn’t imagine it to be true.

“Well, if it did happen, it would be Shannon Fry and his bunch.” Drew went on to tell me they had some slow-witted youngster down on Shannon’s end of the building that they tormented on a regular basis. Rumor had it that they even had been molesting the kid and torturing him with hot metal objects that they’d held over an open flame.

I could feel my blood turn to molten lava as anger came surging up through my throat into my head.

“How could you not know if this is true or not?” I asked.

“Look, Brother, I don’t mess around with those people down there,” he said. “But, we can go find out.” We got up and threw our uneaten trays in the slop window and headed toward A-Unit, a red wave of rage threatening to overwhelm me as we stormed up the sidewalk.

Suddenly, Drew pointed, “Shit, bro, there’s that kid right there.” I looked and saw a youngster in his early 20s walking up the sidewalk. He had dishwater-colored hair that sat on his head like seaweed, and it was clear that he wasn’t well-hinged by the slack look in his face.

“Hey!” I yelled at him. He froze in the middle of the walk, looking like a cornered rabbit.

“Is it true someone sold you to a Puerto Rican?!”

“Y-y-yes,” he timidly replied. Trapped in the intensity of my growing anger.

“Who the hell did that to you?” I gritted, feeling my face get flush.

The kid was trembling. He was afraid to tell me and afraid not to tell me.

“I’d rather not say,” he said, pleading with his eyes.

“You don’t have to,” I exploded. “I already know!!”

I did know. It was Drew who had said it probably was Shannon Fry. Shannon was a big ol’ corn-fed peckerwood from McAlester, Oklahoma. He was strong as a draft horse with a head on him like a gator-mouth pit, and was someone I already didn’t like.

He and his brother had written to us from jail the year before and told us they were Okies who wanted to stay in Oklahoma, close to their families. However, the guy who testified on them was on the El Reno yard. They asked if we would help them out because the BOP would not send them to a yard that housed someone with an obvious sepratee against them. (A “sepratee” is paperwork an official files to make sure two people who cannot exist peacefully, for whatever reason, on the same prison yard do not end up on the same yard.)

We discussed the Frys’ letter as a group since this involved putting our own people at risk for non-patch holders. It was my opinion that I would rather have solid people on the yard than a known snitch who could become a potential problem for us in the future. Besides, we had a couple of prospects who needed to put some work in anyway. In this case, “putting in work” is an act—violent or otherwise—that a member or a prospective member of a brotherhood performs strictly for that faction. As a matter of fact, one of the prospects knew the Frys and spoke up for them—and volunteered for the job. The vote was unanimous in favor of the Frys, so we sent our volunteer and another prospect to handle it. It was handled. Ace, the little Brother with the mask on, got away with it. Cole, our volunteer, ran right out in front of the surveillance camera and went to lock-up.

The rat was gone, and one of the Fry brothers, Shannon, made it to El Reno. Considering the next closest federal prison they could have went to was in either Leavenworth, Kansas, or Beaumont, Texas, it was a pretty good favor.

Cole was still in jail for the assault when Shannon showed up. The Fry brother was grateful and thanked us for helping him and looked out for Cole until he got out of lock-up. They stuck together like wet toilet paper until Cole discharged. Cole finally got his patch right before he left.

No sooner than Cole was gone, it reached me that Shannon was up on A-block running him down about something supposedly out of their past. I took Shannon out on the ballfield and asked him what kind of guy waits until their friends are gone to talk about them behind their backs. He denied the accusation and tried to explain it away as a misunderstanding. I told him I would stand in the gap for any of my Brothers in their absence and even though he was a big ol’ boy, if anything else came up, we were going to go down through there, meaning we were going to fight.

My taste for him was already soured when this latest insult to the dignity of the people of our state came up; the audacity and shame was more than I could stand. I had spent all my time there looking out for the white Oklahomans, securing a safe environment for them by pushing all the other gangs out of Oklahoman affairs. To have one do this to another weaker one, one with clear mental health issues at that, caused me to blow my shit.

Enraged, I made a beeline straight for Shannon’s building. By the time I got to the doors of his unit, I wasn’t concerned about losing my halfway-house date.

Drew was working to keep up behind me, stress etched in his face. He tried to remind me that my wife expected me to come home to her and told me he and the others would handle it. I was just too furious to hear any of it. Somewhere in the back of my mind was a vision of Jenna in tears, but I couldn’t stop.

I stormed into A-Unit and saw Shannon leaning against a pillar outside of his room. He was listening to his Walkman and took the headphones off his closely cropped blond head when he saw me coming.

“Hit the cell,” I snarled. This was it. I was tired of messing with the man. I told my other Brothers who were gathering to stay out of it, and he and I rolled up in his room for war.

Now, Shannon is about 6’3” and around 250 pounds, but I am not a little man myself. I’m real close to 6’2” and about 240 pounds, so it was a heavyweight battle. That big catfish head of his could take a punch, and I’m fairly infamous for how hard I hit. I never did drop him, but by the time the look-out reported guards heading to our side of the building, Shannon’s head was twice its normal size.

When I got out of his unit and back to my cell, I found out I had a few contusions as well.  However, nothing noticeable that would catch the attention of the staff. Somehow I had made it through my momentary loss of control without tricking everything off.

As my adrenalin subsided and with my anger and indignation expended on Shannon’s head, my thoughts turned to Jenna and what a close call I’d just had. She’d be upset if I had gotten caught and lost my halfway house and good time. I forgot all that as soon as one of my bros and D.K. came through my door and told me Shannon’s head was all swollen up and he wanted a re-match before he went to jail. I told them to tell him to bring his ass down on my unit this time. We would clear out the TV room and box until one of us couldn’t walk out, but Shannon was afraid there were too many of us down on my unit and wanted a more neutral spot, like the ballfield. Is he shitting me? I thought. I probably should have just stood my ground and sent word to either come to me or suck it up, but I was still mad, and to have that piece of crap call me out made me madder still.

D.K. and Mize, another of my Brothers, were standing there with me.

“The cocksucker is just trying to save some face and make sure I’m going to lock-up with him,” I said. “If I wasn’t going home in a month, I’d stab him full of holes for this.”

Whether it stopped me from going home or not, I wasn’t going to hesitate to at least rip into him again, so I headed out to the ballfield. It was a nice spring day. As good a day as any to fuck-off everything I’d worked so long for, I thought. He finally showed up, wary of the possibility I had brought a shank

To minimize the risk of getting caught, D.K. and I told our guys to keep everyone except Shannon back away from the ballfield so we wouldn’t draw a crowd. They told him I would wait for him, by myself, out in the field, where, hopefully, the police would really have to be looking to see a couple dudes out there banging it out. It wasn’t a bad plan, except for the gawker factor—everyone on the yard is drawn to a fight like bees on honey. All the prisoners stopped what they were doing, stood and stared from where they were. When the guard finally looked out the window, he saw everybody looking up the hill. He looked to see what the attraction was, and there we were, two big bulls in a field duking it out like something out of a John Wayne movie. It didn’t take long for the rec officer to call in the cavalry to break it up and take us into custody.

Shannon fared a little better this time, and I had picked up a new shiner, but by now his head was looking like Sloth from the movie The Goonies, so they took him to medical first. I was sitting outside, waiting my turn, just seething at the fact I was now going to the SHU. Everything my wife and I worked for and had planned for so long was going to be blown away like smoke in a breeze. I was so angry with Shannon and with myself for allowing him to do this to me and my wife, this second go-round so plainly designed to ensure that I went to lock-up also.  I almost wished that I had taken a knife out there and punched a bunch of holes in him for the anguish it was going to cause Jenna when she found out.

The whole time I was sitting there cuffed, thinking about this. The officers standing there with me, escorting me first to see the doc, then to jail, were asking me why the fight occurred. I could give no reply. All I could do is sit there and growl in frustration and anger at the whole situation.

Though I may have had a good, even justifiable, reason for taking Shannon on, as far as I was concerned “the man” would never know the whys of this. Prison Law: no matter what, you never talk. I could not tell staff what Shannon had done to drive me to the point of taking this self-sacrificing action against him, no matter the cost to myself. That’s just the price of the path I’ve chosen, but I would be lying if I said that it was not a hard price to pay sometimes.

Anyway, after the medical process of being looked over and cleared of any internal injuries, the officers took Shannon off to one wing of the SHU and me to another. They threw me into a cell by myself, which made contemplating my misfortune all the more miserable. I finally fell asleep with the thoughts of my impending visit with my wife the next day, our first visit since she’d moved. I knew this would crush her.

I woke up the next morning to the Captain and Lieutenant at my cell door yelling at me. Apparently there were a couple hundred white boys piled up on the yard. They were all the members of one family or another from the other states backing my Brothers, as they braced all the independent Caucasoid from every state. The Captain and the prison staff didn’t know what was going on, and I certainly didn’t either. I couldn’t even see out of the window because of the metal shutters that were bolted to the outside wall in order to keep inmates in the SHU as clueless as possible. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop them from demanding I stop whatever was going on.

“We’ve went to lockdown and I need this yard moving. We have a steel factory to run here, damn it!” the Captain griped at me. I replied that I didn’t know anything. I was obviously unaware of what was going on, and had no way of stopping it if I did.

“I don’t care! I know this shit is stemming from you and Fry’s fight yesterday,” he finished.

“Look, Cap, I’m not going to tell you what we were fighting about,” I said. “But, maybe, you should just open the yard back up and let the rest of the trash be taken out.” They walked off muttering to themselves about them taking the trash out and me not liking the trash that they collected. I went and sat down praying my visit wouldn’t be affected by this, but also dreading the betrayed look I would see on my wife’s face when she saw I was in lock-up.

Right on time, 9 am, they came to get me for the visit. My heart pushed the blood through my veins with increasing urgency as it always did in anticipation of seeing Jenna. My feet were trying to hold me back, like I was walking through concrete, trying to keep me from the impending scene that I was fixing to endure.

I stepped through the door of the visiting room and looked over to the normal seats Jenna usually chose to sit us at. As I walked in, I watched the bright, excited smile fall from her face in shocked despair at seeing me led through the doors in handcuffs, wearing an orange detention jump suit.

“What did you do?” she yelled at me, and then erupted into tears. She knew what this meant. It wasn’t the first time, but, after having her move away from everything she knew, with just her animals, to be with me when I got out, she felt betrayed. Jenna was bawling by the time she got moved from her normal spot to where the officer had me sit, which was right out in front of the desk where all SHU visits had to take place. She was hitting me even before the guard made it around into his cubical.

At 5’3” and 120 pounds, with long brown hair that hangs all the way down past her thin waist to her shapely ass, my wife can be the prettiest thing in the world. Along with the store-bought big C-cup boobs I’d bought her when I was in the State Penitentiary at McAlester, she could make my heart skip a beat with just a smile. However, it tortured my soul when she was sad or hurt. Now she wouldn’t even look at me. I tried to get through her wall of tears, asking her to hear me out, that I had no choice, what had happened had caused me to momentarily lose control.  I held her hands in mine, partly so she wouldn’t hit me anymore, and quietly relayed the story to her as she sobbed.


Published in This Land: Spring 2016. Portions of this essay appear in American Outlaw by Jimmy Maxwell.