||March 1, 2012
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The California Prison System houses a mixture of Mexican cartel members, Mexican mafia, Bloods, Crips, and thousands of other street gangs fighting for control and the author turns this story into a pulp thriller of true crime.
The author of Underdog, Glenn Langohr, takes you on a journey back into prison as he remembers a prison riot days before his release date where he left his friend on the way to Pelican Bay...
The story follows the author years later as he visits his friend in Pelican Bay during a prisoner developed hunger strike against sadistic and cruel guards who get off on their isolation and enjoy adding violence to their torture.
A spotlight on the flaws at how Pelican Bay determines gang validation and solitary confinement.
We walked another 500 yards and passed two more prison yards before reaching our destination. The Hole, Administrative Segregation, was behind the last yard in an isolated compound and we circled it. On the way that eerie feeling magnified with the noise. Men were training their bodies in a choreographed and precise manner. One leader was barking orders with the rest of the group responding, followed by the sounds of bodies exercising and grunting. I began to make out the cadence, “Surenos!! Raza!! Estamos listos? Vamanos!” I knew enough Spanish prison slang to understand the cadence was being applied to the southern California Mexicans and the Mexicans originally from Mexico, the race, according to them and always at the ready to go. Around the corner the building opened up enough to peer in at the portion the prisoners were allowed to use for yard for 2 hours every other day. Instead of a regular prison yard, the prisoners were confined to kennels. Row after row of fenced in rectangular dog runs allowed two prisoners per cage 6 feet of width to pace 10 feet back and forth or work out like they were now. I realized something monumental. I had to find “L’il Bird” and “Boxer”, the two Mexicans labeled Mexican Mafia who were removed from the yard before the ensuing power struggle. I needed to communicate to them that the policy we had ironed out together hadn’t been respected by Stranger who stepped up to fill their void. Now that Stranger was gone from the yard, now in line with us to get processed into Administrative Segregation, the yard we just vacated was void of leadership again. Both “L’il Bird” and “Boxer” had the influence and reach to send word to that yard to keep the peace. We turned the corner of the building again and were able to see the yard through the fence. I zeroed in on “L’il Bird” and “Boxer”. Their sturdy, older bodies stood out amongst the younger, less seasoned Mexicans. Both of their sweat glistened bodies were covered by tattoos blasted in aged ink from decades ago and fading. Both had collogues of Aztec war scenes and I was hoping their power to command wasn’t fading like the ink. I searched out the rest of the kennels and in the sea of Mexicans found 4 White men. The 4 White men were distinguishable from the rest of the prisoners by their sheer size.
All 4 men had large bald heads and only 1 of them didn’t have his scalp covered in tattoo ink to the forehead. That behemoth was the largest at 6’7 and at least 280 lbs of iron clad frame. He was scrutinizing us with so much energy I couldn’t look away. The eerie feeling magnified even more as I watched him focus on ascertaining why we were in line to get housed in Administrative Segregation with him, apparently his spot. He used his fingers for sign language and introduced his name, “Bam Bam”, his counterpart’s name in the kennel with him, “Blitz”, along with “Sinner” and “Traveler” in the next kennel. Next he used his fingers to ask us questions. “What prison yard had we just come from?” With our hands cuffed behind our backs in zip ties we had to communicate by nodding our heads or shaking them. He finger questioned, A yard? We shook our head no until he got to D yard. Then, he finger questioned, What happened with the Mexicans? His fingers were taking too long to go letter by letter so he resorted to mimicking possibilities that started with lifting a drink to his mouth to see if we had been drunk? We shook our heads no. He nailed it with his next one. He mimicked the act of registering a needle and shooting dope into his arm. We nodded our head vigorously that he was so warm he was in the oven with us. Next he lifted his hand and ran his fingers together in the universal sign for money and then used his hand to slide by his throat to say the money hadn’t made it. We nodded our heads that he understood our problem. He then used his hand to make it look like he had a knife in it and jabbed it into his other hand repeatedly to ask if weapons were used. We shook our heads no. Then he used both of his fist to fire straight punches and we nodded our heads yes. He went back to using his fingers to sign letter by letter and asked if the drug user that caused the problem was still on the yard. Even though “Lefty” had overdosed we nodded our heads that he was technically right. Time ran out to communicate because prison guards from the building walked into the yard and stopped next to Bam Bam’s kennel. He didn’t seem to mind the intrusion and finger signed to us that we were going to be housed in B-Pod.
Everyone heard a prison guard from the gun tower inside the building announce through a speaker, “Yard recall! Your 2 hours in the kennels are up! Kennels A and B, stand by for an escort to your cells.”
For the next half hour we watched the kennels empty. One prisoner after another backed up and stuck both hands through a slot where a guard applied handcuffs to wrists. From there, we couldn’t see the prisoners enter the building from our vantage point but heard a thick steel vestibule door creaking as it slid open. It closed with the last of the prisoners with a resounding thud.
The building in front of us was a pre-fabricated made tan color. A thick steel green vestibule door creaked and grinded open as it slid on rollers. Above, a black tinted bullet proof window filled up with 2 prison gunners holding rifles. Right next to the window in red capital block letters read: WARNING! NO WARNING SHOTS FIRED- C-6 ADMINISTRATIVE SEGREGATION.
The procession of prisoners proceeded in front of us and we shuffle stepped forward inch by inch. Being the last in line it took 2 hours to get to the vestibule door and inside the building. As we made it I looked up and saw the 2 prison gunners pointing their rifles at us as if we could get out from our cuffs and become a threat. Shuffling through the vestibule door I kept looking up. We could see the gunners in the tower through a bullet proof plexiglass they walked on. A 4 foot by 8 foot square of plexiglass was constructed with a perforated opening to drop tear gas and fire the rifles through at us below. I heard the vestibule door behind us creak and slide shut and it felt like we were vacuumed into a dank and dark, all metal chamber of penal hell. I knew that a percentage of the prisoners living in these concrete corridors had been here for years and thought of Bam Bam and wondered if he was one of them. We’d find out how things operated over here soon enough.
I looked back up at the tower through the plexiglass. From up there, the gunners had a vantage point that allowed access to each row of cell pods and I counted 3 rows facing west, 3 facing east and 3 facing north. The south quadrant covered the yard the prisoners had just come from. Each quadrant had a thick steel green vestibule door. Above each vestibule red block letters signified the location. I found A through C pod stamped over the west side quadrant and watched one of the tower gunners hit a switch on a command table and the vestibule opened.
From the gun tower we heard a guard yell out our names and which cells we were to be housed in.
“B Pod cell 123!”
“B Pod cell 122!”
I was glad to hear that Damon and I were in the same cell and that Blockhead and Jason were in the cell next to us. On the way there I noticed our bedrolls and new prison garb all wrapped up in a bundle with a couple of plastic spoons and cups parked in front of our cells.
The guard in the tower spoke instructions over the microphone, “When we take off the zip ties strip out of your clothes!”
We passed the first cell, a 6 foot wide by 10 foot long chamber of concrete. The cell door was made out of steel with perforated holes from top to bottom inches away from each other making it hard to see in or out clearly. The cell door looked like honey comb. Inside the cell 2 black prisoners exercised and their silhouettes rose and fell as they took turns doing pushups. I looked at the cell across from them and the same thing was happening with 2 more Black inmates. I assumed the Black and Asian inmates were getting their every other day yard tomorrow and were doing their exercises in the cell. We passed a few more cells and stopped at ours.
One of the 4 prison guards behind us said, “After we take the cuffs off strip down and let us search you. You know the drill.”
I went first and got naked and waited for the instructions.
“Arms out wide…Arms up…Lift up your testicles…Turn around…Lift one foot and wiggle your toes…The other foot…Bend over and grab your ass cheeks and spread them…Now cough three times…”
Done with our strip search and locked up tight in our cell Damon let me take a bird bath first since I had more pepper spray on me. I filled up the sink attached to the toilet with water, then sat on the toilet facing the sink and splashed the water over my head with my cup. The water reignited the pepper spray and my eyes watered to ease the burning and I felt it in my lungs and started coughing.
Next to me in the cell Damon was taking one of his two pairs of boxer shorts apart. In the waist band of the boxers after he pulled out the elastic there was plenty of thread to weave together to turn it into a fishing line. He hooked three strands of thread to the cell door using the ventilated honey comb and went to the back of the cell and began weaving the thread into one line.
From outside our cell, on the tier about 4 cells down, we heard a prisoner yell, “Cell 122 and cell 123! This is Traveler in cell 118! I’m sending my line!”
Phillip Doran, TV Producer and author of, A Reluctant Tuscan
"With lazer-like precision Glenn Langohr lays bare the festering under-belly of our criminal justice system in a driving, graphic narrative that somehow finds the humanity in this most inhuman setting." Phillip Doran, T.V. Producer and Author
Glenn Langohr's latest novella, Underdog For Sista Soul, once again takes the reader inside the lives and minds of prisoners. Visceral violence mixes together with insightful introspection as convicts battle each other, guards, and despair. Langohr has been to the hole, and has been to the brink. He freely admits that both trips were of his own making. His familiarity with the violence and despair is captured eloquently in lines like: "scenes flashed by of men dressed in prison garb being pulled by the unseen force of willpower, punching, grunting, kicking, yelling, and stabbing at each other to their own destruction". Beautiful sentences like this float amidst the challenging modern art prose.
This book does not glamorize prison life but rather accurately reports on the cruel reality, which may shock and frighten many readers. The author skillfully makes the point that the general public has more awareness for and more compassion for caged dogs than for prisoners. He also reaches through the bars and describes how the guards are organized into gangs and other criminal enterprises.
Having previously read Roll Call, Upon My release, I was already familiar with Mr. Langohr's work. In Underdog, we see that he has continued to work on his craft without sacrificing any of the rawness or edginess in his writing. I sincerely hope he sticks with his writing, and that he keeps developing his themes. There is a story to be told about the prisons in this country, and Mr. Langohr can tell it. If you're going to read this short work, which I highly recommend, be prepared to do some soul searching...
Captivating and Symbolic by R.J. Parker
UNDERDOG by Glenn Langohr is a well written true prison story fraught with emotion and detail. At the beginning of the book, the author and his wife visits an animal shelter to adopt a dog. The poor dogs were totally neglected in their cages, much like the prisoners in the hole, they too were in cages. The author reveals a story about the hunger strike and the beating of prisoners. You would never hear about this in the media.
The book is true. It's fact of what's going on in the prison system. Ironically, this book was released just one day after prisoner Christian Alexander Gomez, 27, dies during the hunger strike in a California prison.
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Reader Reviews for "Underdog, A Definitive History of Pelican Bay State Prison's Super Max"
|Reviewed by RJ Parker
|UNDERDOG by Glenn Langohr is a well written true prison story fraught with emotion and detail. At the beginning of the book, the author and his wife visits an animal shelter to adopt a dog. The poor dogs were totally neglected in their cages, much like the prisoners in the hole, they too were in cages. The author reveals a story about the hunger strike and the beating of prisoners. You would never hear about this in the media.
The book is true. It's fact of what's going on in the prison system. Ironically, this book was released just one day after prisoner Christian Alexander Gomez, 27, dies during the hunger strike in a California prison