Thursday, November 19, 2009


Dateline: October 26, 2009


The other day, the “Powers That Be” who run the prison shut the place down much of the day. Riot? No. Assaults? No. Escapes? No. Everything got shut down because the “Man Versus Wild” program came into the prison.

I’ve never seen “Man Versus Wild.” We don’t get cable or Direct TV, and this program is on one of those stations. As I understand it, the star is England’s answer to the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin crossed with Jeff Probst’s “Survivor,” with a dash of “Fear Factor” tossed in for good measure. “Bear” Gills? – is that his name? A fearless adrenaline junkie who was a British commando, climbed Mt. Everest, broke his back. “Man Versus Wild” takes a camera crew into dangerous places, pits its star against wild beasts and natural hazards and shows how he can survive under the worst, most primitive circumstances. Prison might have been his sternest test.

After surviving over 31 years in Florida’s worst prisons, I became intrigued with the idea that a “survival expert” would come inside the razorwire and film some survival scenarios. How would they know what to film? With my experiences, I thought I would propose a few “real-life, chain gang” scenarios, see how the “expert” might deal with them.

SCENARIO # 1— Our star is trapped in the TV room with forty desperate men screaming at Eli Manning and Kurt Warner tossing the football, scrambling, and getting sacked. Our star can camouflage himself in a prison blue uniform, sit among the madmen, and scream along with them, or he can take his life in his hands, grab the remote, and switch the station to PBS, a documentary on seabirds.

RESPONSE — “Are you out of your mind? Are you trying to get me killed? Take me back to Tanzania, and let me sit next to a den of hyenas, but please, please don’t leave me in a prison TV room filled with felons!”

SCENARIO # 2 — Our star approaches a line of 200 prisoners waiting their turns to get their laundry bags. The first ten men are young crack dealers from Miami, rival street gang members, and “Latin Kings,” trying to get their clean towels so they can beat the crowd to the showers. To test his survival skills, our star cuts the line, goes to the front, and demands his laundry.

RESPONSE — “Where did they get all those knives? Hey, folks, I was only kidding. I’ll go to the back of the line. Whew! That was scarier than when I was in that village of headhunters in Borneo!”

SCENARIO # 3 — Almost the same as #2, except this time our star tries to jump the line of women visitors who’ve been standing outside the prison gate for hours waiting to get in to visit their husbands, lovers, sons, and brothers.

RESPONSE — Similar to # 2 above,; however, the verbal assault is more intimidating than the knives.

SCENARIO # 4 — Our star waits his turn in the prison chow line with a thousand other men for a lunch tray. The “food” will have to be analyzed by “CSI” to find out what it actually is. Our star is joined by a 300-pound behemoth who is starving and eyeing the little guy with the full tray beside him and decides he’s taking the tray. How does our star respond?

RESPONSE — “Almost the same thing happened in Ethiopia when I tried to take an antelope bone from the kill of a pride of lions. At least I knew it was meat! The small taste I got of the entrée before the giant took it from me reminded me of a cobra I once sampled in Bangladesh. The cobra was tastier.”

SCENARIO # 5 — Our star is issued a tiny towel and a sliver of prison soap, then enters a steaming shower to wash off the sweat and grime from a hot day on the dusty, shadeless “yard.” Four grinning, gap-toothed, muscle-bound Sodomites greet him with, “Come on in, the water’s fine,” and, “You got a purty mouth.”

RESPONSE — “I really don’t need a shower. Tell my producer I changed my mind about spending a week with Jane Goodall in Gabon. Hey, wait, fellas, that’s my towel…!”

SCENARIO # 6 — It is “count time.” You will be locked in a tiny cell with a psychopath infected with “HAGS” (herpes, AIDS, gonorrhea, and syphilis) not to mention hepatitis and tuberculosis. He thinks you look like his co-defendant who testified against him, or perhaps his prosecutor.

RESPONSE — “How sharp is that razorwire? Do those gun tower guards have live rounds in their rifles? Hey, you should always cover your mouth when you cough, dude!... Get me out of here!”

It seems that wild beasts, poisonous snakes, swamps, and river rapids are no match for a prison survival course.

That’s not really how it went when “Man Versus Wild” came to Tomoka C.I. with their star and camera crew. About 125 prisoners were allowed to sign up to attend the program held in the prison chapel, and each one had to sign a release for consent to be photographed. The place was packed with guards to maintain order and make sure nothing happened to the “Hollywood” visitors, particularly the women. Nothing did. The men were on their best behaviors.

The whole event was actually a program to promote the “Alpha Program,” a Bible study of sorts for beginning Christians, that began in England and has been apparently spread around the world. This was the first foray into the fertile fields of the prison system. Good luck! Anything that will distract a lot of negative, dangerous men with little hope for the future and give them something positive, to perhaps change their lives, is something I approve.

About that cobra, though—I wonder how it would taste in a chicken-flavored Ramen noodle soup?


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