Gideon was puzzled when a guard he didn’t know suddenly forced him to move into a new cell without explanation on April 7, a Friday. It was true that he had filled out paperwork to move in with a friend, but he was assigned to a completely different cell with a completely different celly. The worst part: The move broke up a cell of two monkey washers (gang leaders), and Gideon was now forced to live with the Gangster Disciples’ second-in-command.
Gideon was in a terrible position. The guard didn’t provide a reason for forcing him and the monkey washer to swap cells, so the gang leaders suspected that Gideon snitched on them and was cooperating with the prison in an attempt to break up their gang. He was hopelessly outnumbered. The cells around his new home were inhabited almost exclusively by members of the gang.
Gang members were watching Gideon “like a hawk,” and they could attack him at any moment. He knew that if he could tell the gang why he was moved into its area, the monkey washers would relent and leave him in peace. But giving the gang a reason would be difficult. The guard who moved him was out until Monday, so it would have to wait until then. Gideon knew the days and hours in front of him would be tense.
Gideon had been having issues with his cellmate, Max, who is also a member of the gang. Max is black and showers only once every three days, so there was instant friction when he moved into Gideon’s cell in January. At the time, Gideon noted that cellmates need to be able to get along with each other. “If you’re not friends on some sort of level, it ain’t gonna work,” he said.
In prison, roommates live by a few ground rules, according to Gideon. Two of the most important rules are:
- Stay out of my things, and I’ll stay out of yours.
- Protect the “house” (cell). Don’t let other prisoners come into the cell and take things.
Privacy and quiet time are important issues as well. “You need alone time sometimes—to go to the bathroom, [to have] Bible study,” Gideon reflected. But inmates don’t leave when their celly has to pee. “If you gotta pee, you gotta pee,” Gideon chuckled. “You have to find humor in everything. If you don’t, [prison will] drive you crazy.”
Gideon tried to get Max moved to another cell for several months, but there was nowhere for him to go. Normally, six cells in the unit are left empty as temporary quarters while inmates move between cells or units, but they were all full. “I done got used to him now,” Gideon sighed a couple of months after Max moved in.
Recently, Gideon had been getting worried because Max was hiding a cell phone in their cell. Under prison policy, if an inmate is caught with a phone, his celly could take the fall, too. If Max got busted and didn’t take 100 percent of the blame, both he and Gideon would be sent to the hole. They could even be shipped to another prison.
Gideon was anxious to get a new celly. “I need someone who gives a shit about what happens, and this guy is getting worse by the day,” he said. “I need someone who’s positive. I don’t need all that down talk.”
By early April, Gideon had finally had enough. He decided to move out of the cell he had lived in for seven years to get away from Max. He filed paperwork to move about five cells down with his friend Roy when the spot became available.
Gideon never got a chance to move in with Roy, however. At around 8:00 p.m. on April 7, a guard told him he had to swap cells with the top monkey washer in a gang. The move would split up the Gangster Disciples’ leaders and force Gideon to live with the gang’s number two member.
Max is also a Gangster Disciple, so the monkey washers thought Gideon found out about the gang’s activities, snitched to the guards, and was trying to help break them up. The move didn’t go over well with the gang, and Gideon feared he would suffer the gangsters’ wrath. “The top monkey washer wants his cell back,” he said.
The timing put Gideon in a bind. Inmates are locked down at 8:30 every night, leaving him only around half an hour to move all his property into his new cell. The timing wasn’t a problem for the monkey washer, however. When he snapped his finger, a handful of gang members came to help move his things.
A tense three nights
Gideon tried telling the gangsters that he hadn’t snitched on them and didn’t know why he had been moved, but they didn’t want to hear it. He knew he could get an explanation when the guard returned Monday, but there was no guarantee the gang would wait that long. He could be attacked any minute, and he knew the next three nights would be filled with tension. He prayed for the weekend to pass quickly.
Gideon couldn’t allow the other prisoners to see his fear and nervousness. For the first day, none of his new neighbors spoke to him. “They are looking at me crazy but haven’t said nothing,” he said. “They will find out I didn’t do it for sure, but it looks real bad.” Gideon’s mother thought he was afraid of getting killed in his sleep.
At around 1:30 one morning, Gideon awoke and couldn’t go back to sleep. He was afraid to turn on his TV and irritate his new celly since tensions were already high, and he didn’t want to risk turning on a light to read. Cellmates typically have understandings about when lights and TVs can be on, but Gideon knew he had to tread carefully. To avoid starting a confrontation, he ended up just lying in bed until his celly woke up.
The mystery remains
On Monday, the guard returned but gave no explanation for the move. The lack of an explanation left just about everyone’s questions unanswered, but it was enough to convince the gangsters that Gideon didn’t snitch on them. “We know who did it, but we don’t know why,” Gideon explained. “They had to be messing with [the monkey washer].”
Gideon was told he would be moved to a new cell Friday, but that didn’t happen. “There ain’t nowhere to go,” he said. “This place is full. There ain’t an empty bed in the house.”
Gideon and the gang members are trying to work with the guards and prison employees to get the monkey washer moved back in and Gideon moved out. “I’m trying to get out. [The gangsters] just want me to take my stuff and get the hell out,” Gideon noted. “I’m just part of the mess.”
Guards are pushing for Gideon to move back in with Max, a less-than-desirable prospect for Gideon. He’s contemplating refusing the cell assignment if living with the gang members is his only option. “If I was forced to refuse the cell, they would take me to the hole. I just pray it don’t come to that,” Gideon worried. “It might be an option. I don’t know.”
Still, Gideon is trying to stay positive amid the uncertainty. “God’s hand is in this, but it’s hard to see where right now. It will all make sense in the end,” he said.