At “unlock” I told Dallas I needed to talk with him and immediately he got defensive. “Is everything all right? Did I do something wrong?”
“No,” I assured him. “I just want to run something by you. It’s all good.”
But it wasn’t all good. I wanted to talk with him about his interaction with his mother. I didn’t want to chastise or criticize him, but I did want him to have another perspective.
“Look,” I said. “You’re a good guy and you’re going to get out of this mess, but I want you to do something for me.”
He got a sort of far-off look and I walked him to a corner of the day room that was a bit more private – if that’s ever a possibility in jail.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Well, first understand it’s really none of my business, but I like you. And even though I can appreciate your hipness and the slang, I want you to lose it when you talk with your mother. No matter what you are going through and no matter how bad it gets, she’s going to be there for you, and as such she deserves all the ‘props’ you can give her. I know you meant no disrespect, but ‘I feel you’ and ‘fuck’ is something she doesn’t need to hear.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re 18 or 50, that’s going to be the one person you can always depend on, so remain conscious of that when you talk with her.”
“Okay,” he said. And believe it or not, he really did get it. And so, I let it go, and felt better about both of us.
Solano County Jail is a psychologist’s dream come true. Dan Goleman in his book Social Intelligence (October 2006; Bantam Books) writes about the revolutionary new science of social relationships. But more importantly, what I’d like to do is present you with an illustration that lends a great deal of credence to where he and other psychologists are going as they progress from a purely “materialistic” view of how the mind and brain work.
Casey, our mod worker, is under a lot of stress. He’s about to be discharged after eight years; he’s trying to put that in perspective, but still, at the present moment he’s a mod worker. His chores include keeping the common areas, the day room and the shower clean, and otherwise helping the guards with errands and the like. In return he gets to be out of his cell when he’s not working or the facility is not under “lock down.”
The down side, though, is that he constantly has 26 guys coming at him for favors: “Casey, can you pass me the newspaper,” “Casey, can you give this to my buddy two cells down,” “Casey, can you heat this meat in the microwave.” It virtually never stops. The guy in the cell next to me put it best when he said, “I’m tired of hearing Casey, and my name is Sean.” The point, however, is well made. It looks attractive to have the time out of your cell; both to just sit in the day room and watch a TV show you’re interested in watching. The problem is it doesn’t happen. 26 guys are constantly coming at you to put on the program they want to watch, and let’s face it, some of those guys “asking” you to put on their particular show, are murderers.
So needless to say, Casey gets stressed. Two days ago it bubbled over to the point where he didn’t want to deal with any of us. So he didn’t. He made it clear that he just didn’t want people asking him for things.
During lock down a Harry Potter movie and the movie “Tombstone” were playing on competing channels. Of course a few of our colleagues wanted each movie, which served as a source of conflict. “Tombstone” eventually “won out” but it was clear that Casey was angry at having been put in the middle, and his anger lingered for a few days.
What’s interesting was that the overall mood of the module – that is, of the rest of the inmates – turned to anger also. The remainder of the guys in the module was “mirroring” Casey’s feelings and it was so thick that it was palpable.
That morning Smitty – still in a wheelchair, though he frankly doesn’t need it – announced, unilaterally, that he had had enough of everybody. That a few guys were monopolizing the TV and he thought that everybody ought to have a say. The problem was, however, that he made his point in an angry tirade that left everybody wondering where the hell that had come from. His words, “I’ve told the black guy how I feel and so now I’m telling the white guy.” Problem two: no one knew who the white guy or the black guy was. So now all the white guys and all the black guys were “mirroring” Smitty, and they’re mad at him.
Fortunately, unlock only lasts an hour – there is some wisdom here – and before it can escalate, everyone’s back in his cell.
But it doesn’t stop there. Elrod, who is part of the overflow of H mod, is sleeping in the day room. He has access to the remote. He believes Smitty is referring to him as the white guy – which although unsubstantiated may be true – and takes the opportunity to tell Smitty that he doesn’t appreciate his tone or his insinuations.
And here’s where it gets interesting. Both of them are mirroring Casey’s initial emotions so they feel angry but they don’t know why. But because they feel anger, and they begin to rationalize to explain it – let’s face it, neither one of them has ever heard of a mirror cell – each serves the purpose of giving them an object of their rationalization. (By the way, rationalization is horrible. They each experience anger, an emotion, but rather than see it as the culmination of a process, they see it as fundamental. The rationalization is a spurious explanation for hiding their own motives from themselves. They do not perceive reality, but attempt to make reality fit their emotions.)
And so their behavior escalated to a screaming match between them. Quickly, the screaming match became personal. This one’s a bitch that one’s a motherfucker, and so now, in this environment, they are honor bound to defend themselves.
The next morning at breakfast, 0515 a.m., Smitty and Elrod are squared off in the day room. Fortunately the guard was present (we were picking up breakfast trays) and it earned Elrod a transfer to another module.
Smitty was ceremoniously booed by the upper tier and responded by saying, “Fuck all of you.” And yet, he still doesn’t know why he was mad. I know, because I asked him. He said it was because Elrod called him a “motherfucker” and “want-to-be-preacher,” but between you and me, that happened well into their argument. They were already angry and fighting before they got around to the name calling.
I suspect mirroring takes place in a lot of our interactions; and according to researchers, it seems to take place a lot of the time outside our conscious awareness. It’s certainly something to think about the next time you find yourself mad and don’t know why. Perhaps you really aren’t. You just think you are. But if you’re like Smitty, you can certainly go out and find someone to join in with you.
On a positive note, I received a letter from Tyler today. Tyler Giugni used to be the mod worker with Casey, but was transferred to Salinas Valley State Prison. I’ve got to tell you, I was ecstatic. For the first time in what seems like a very long time, I felt human. More importantly, I also felt hope that a better life was ahead.
Tyler actually was transferred to the penitentiary some time ago, but from my perspective, it was yesterday. I was just happy to see a really good person moving forward with his life. In my reply I encouraged him to get his degree – he’s young and deserves it – and I took the opportunity to answer a question, I owed him an answer to: Who is the real Jan Adams?
I’ll share with you my answer:
“The real Jan Adams is just a cat who likes discussing things that matter with his friends, and doing what he can to help them accomplish their goals.
“A girl I dated in LA is the weather girl on NBC. Rachel, Rachel Boesing, is a beautiful, smart, and wonderful woman. In fact, I think it is fair to say she is much more impressive than even she knows. Rachel was adopted and therefore has this insane fear of abandonment. She described our courtship as one continuous date. She also said I was the worst person in the world to date, because my love was unconditional. I am fair, supportive, encouraging, and I don’t need the limelight – we went to one of her functions and she thought it was funny dragging me along by the hand and people – especially gay guys –saying, ‘Oh, and you must be the husband.’
I guess it was rare for her to find someone just content with being with her and didn’t really need – certainly at one of her functions – to exert my identity. She also said it was torture because it made her feel that if there was a problem, it was her fault.
Let’s just say my greatest talent is that I want but little.
But Tyler was referring to the other stuff, the stuff he had read in the papers:
Yes, I am a Harvard educated plastic surgeon, who hosted a TV show on Discovery Health and another show on Channel 5 in the United Kingdom. And up until I refused to join the club – I absolutely abhor guild socialism – I was the boy wonder for the establishment in plastic surgery.
In November of 2007 a patient died a day after surgery and those who were either just mean or jealous came out of the woodwork to attack me. Jealousy is an ugly thing and one day, God willing, you and I will discuss the specifics.
About eight months later, I did the worst thing a person could do: I felt sorry for myself; self pity leads to self hate; and self hate leads to self destructive behavior. The authorities wanted to me on probation for five years, but I’m not letting any of those people in my life for the next five years, so here I am. When this is over, I’ll start again to build my life – just like you.
So the real Jan Adams is not this fancy pants Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who hosts TV shows with the likes of Dick Clark, Danny Bonaduce, and Mario Lopez, writes books, and dates Hollywood starlets. My friends laugh at that. Jan Adams would prefer to eat a hamburger and watch a football game.”
I also told Tyler about some of the antics taking place in Solano County:
We have a new colleague I call the “Shah of Iran.” He’s actually very small and extremely gentle but his social graces are out of whack. He stands too close when he talks to you and he has a habit of reading the paper over your shoulder. (In here, that’s definitely not a good thing.)
It’s been overcrowded on H mod – business must be good – and there are guys sleeping – 7 to be exact – in the day room. Apparently the “gay Gandhi” choked the “Shah of Iran” and was sent to maximum as discipline. The gay Gandhi can’t be more than five feet tall himself. It’s absolutely hilarious just contemplating such a thing: the gay Gandhi choking somebody.
I’m sure, however, that that is just a manifestation of the overcrowding.
Nonetheless, his letter was wonderful and he’s attached to Psalm 25:7, which I think speaks volumes about his (Tyler’s) predicament. It’ll all pass, of that I’m sure.