Authors: Sue Stauffacher
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OTHER YEARLING BOOKS YOU WILL ENJOY
BUD, NOT BUDDY,
Christopher Paul Curtis
BELLE PRATER'S BOY,
UNDER THE WATSONS' PORCH,
TROUT AND ME,
THE LEGACY OF GLORIA RUSSELL,
For my dear friend, Suzie MacKeigan, whose
generous spirit has embraced many a girl like
All you fish, listen up
. I'm talking to you. While you're sitting there, cooling your heels in the tank, you might as well know the story of Harry Sue. Everything moves slower here. It's like walking underwater. Time, my friend, is something you have too much of, and you'll learn that a story well told—even if it's full of joint jive you can't fully comprehend—is worth more than all the personals you collected on the outs. Especially if it lifts you out of your skin.
You got a lot to learn if you intend to survive the joint, and finding the right teacher is no easy matter. Everyone wants to play you on the inside. Maybe you think the cast-off child of two convicted felons is not a good bet. Well, you'll soon find that on the inside, up is down and left is right.
Or maybe you're a buster, the kind who raises
his hand and says, “I'm no fish, Harry Sue. What are you on about?”
My answer to that is plain and simple: “Yes, you are.” I don't mean
, fish, fool. I mean fish. New to the system. And if you still don't follow me, go on and look it up on the next page so you don't fall behind.
Now I know I can count on at least one water-head to say, “There must be some mistake, Harry Sue. I have no intention of getting on the wrong side of the law, let alone being sent to the joint.”
Whoever said it was a choice?
It's time you learned something for real. Not all prisons have four concrete walls and a steel bunk. I say prison is a lot like home. It all depends on where your heart is.
Language gets out of prison every day, Fish. You may already know some slammer slang from your life on the outs. But just in case you get tangled, here it is:
going to prison for life
the story of how you got to prison
bumpin' your gums:
talking too much
burn the spot:
ruin the moment
a person who is or acts crazy
a short prison sentence
a con who talks a good game from his cell but backs down outside it
some part of a year
a tattletale. What eats cheese? A rat, of course.
to gang up on someone. “Click up” means to join a gang.
a male convict, prisoner
a female convict
a combination of joint jive and English
cooling your heels:
couple up for count:
an order to prisoners to pair up to be counted
the gang you hang with
little kid, toddler, child
a two-year prison sentence
a ten-year prison sentence
the mental ward
a command from an officer
living out your sentence in prison
letter saying you don't get parole
the overcooked roast beef they serve in the prison cafeteria
drop a dime:
tell on another con
dry up and blow:
an eight-year prison sentence
when a con stares down a guard. It's a bad idea.
see something you're not supposed to
a new prisoner
a con or conette who talks nonsense
anything that makes you smell sweet, like aftershave or perfume
get wounded by a shank
give it up:
a fight to entertain the other cons and show you're tough
when a prisoner is marked for death by other prisoners
a prison guard
a long, hard sentence, usually for cons who don't play by the rules
a prisoner who won't back down from a fight
solitary confinement in prison
when you get out of prison for a little while
short for “homeboy” or friend
a challenge, a call to fight
so used to being bossed around, you don't try to fight
lay it down:
start a fight
when prisoners have to stay in their cells during a crisis
keep a low profile, keep it secret, between two road dogs
mess with by insulting
Metropolitan Correction Center, a big-city prison. If you have a choice, don't go here.
another name for a guard
a nickname for “nickname” … get it?
on the low:
keep it to yourself, a secret
life on the outside
when a con or conette asks to be put in protective custody because he or she's afraid
put grass under your feet:
walk away from a conversation
R & D:
receiving and departure—coming in and going out of prison
a list of your crimes
a life sentence without a chance of getting sprung
the friends you know you can count on
cigarette butts cons pick up by the side of the road when they're part of a cleanup crew
sent to prison (in some parts of the country, it's “sent down”)
shake the spot:
a homemade knife or other homemade weapon
a con who gets you in the shower
showing your gang colors
special-handling unit (SHU):
pronounced “shoe.” Solitary confinement.
get out of jail; be released
joints with the most security—“super-maximum”
a brand-name cigarette
a holding pen where new prisoners are held
arms covered with tattoos
same as road dogs. Your closest friends.
a prisoner's parents
search a prison cell
a prisoner who says stupid things
a place outside for prisoners to get exercise
yellow brick road:
the yellow line that marks the edge of the yard. Cross it and you might look like Swiss cheese.
prisoners with lots of muscles; built
The Wicked Witch was so angry when she saw her black bees in little heaps like fine coal that she stamped her foot and tore her hair and gnashed her teeth. And then she called a dozen of her slaves, who were the Winkies, and gave them sharp spears, telling them to go to the strangers and destroy them.
The Wizard of Oz
Harriet Susan Clotkin is not the sort of name you'd imagine for the first lady president of the United States. That's just fine by me, as I never had designs on running for political office but planned instead on following in the family tradition: a career of incarceration. As soon as I was old enough, I was headed for the joint. First I had to have the required fourteen to sixteen years of rotten childhood. So far, I had only served eleven years and change.
Time was running out on my becoming a juvenile delinquent. The really impressive cons started their rap sheets by nine or ten. Unfortunately, I had a heart condition that needed fixing before I could begin a serious crime spree.
Yes, Fish, my heart was as lumpy and soft as a rotten tomato. I couldn't stand to see things hurt, especially anything weak and defenseless. Watching Jolly Roger and his road dogs pull the legs off a spider made me grind my teeth down worse than if I slept with a mouth full of sandpaper. When those boys clicked the little kids on the bus, I had to sit on my hands just to keep from breaking theirs.
In the joint, where I was headed, I'd need a heart filled with cement and covered in riveted steel. I was working on it. But so far, I wasn't making much progress.
Now, there's a thing or two you need to know if you want to do time with Harry Sue. First off, you got to keep it real. Most everybody I know, they just see what they want to see. Aside from my road dogs, the people I have to deal with—including my teacher, Ms. Lanier, and that bunch over at Granny's Lap—they just see my mask.