On the sprawling "social news" website Reddit, there are pages and pages of user-created discussions and links, ranging from funny to poignant to vile. One of the site's most fascinating sub-sections is r/IAmA , also known as "Ask Me Anything," or AMA.
AMAs are question and answer sessions with unique people; they introduce themselves and then allow the Internet to tsunami them with questions. Most recently and famously, President Obama participated in one yesterday, as he continues his tour of colleges in swing states. He's a Bulls fan. He believes in Internet freedom. Etc.
But another AMA from two days ago is, frankly, a lot more interesting: It's with a former Texas prison inmate who says he served two and a half years on an arson charge.
In a thread that ballooned to more than 400 comments, he talked about food, sexual assault and what exactly he was thinking when he poured rubbing alcohol on his estranged girlfriend's car and lit it on fire.
"I consider myself like alot of you guys," the poster wrote, using the name "Vitamutari." "Computer nerd all through school, lost my temper and ended up spending several years in TDCJ (Texas Department of Criminal Justice). I saw several of the guards posts and figured maybe someone would be interested in the other side of things."
By way of proof, Vitamutari posted an image of himself, along with his TCDJ property intake form and his inmate orientation handbook, among other things. His paperwork says his real name is John David Waguespack (we sent a Facebook message to a person by that name, who, if it's not the same guy, is about to be extremely confused and perhaps a little offended).
Waguespack says he was convicted on charges of arson causing bodily injury.
"One of my small-time rivals paid off my live-in crack-whore girlfriend to steal my dope, my cash, and a few other valuable things I had," he writes. "I lost my temper, sanity, composure and any once of rational thinking I still possessed and poured a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her car and lit it on fire. The police busted in my apartment about an hour later."
He says he did his time mainly at the Dominguez unit in San Antonio, but doesn't mention if he was convicted in Bexar County. A quick search through their incredibly irritating court records system didn't turn up any hits.
The level of detail Waguespack provides is pretty convincing. He describes a typical day, which starts with a 4:00 a.m. wake-up call to "choke down" pancakes and peaches. He describes inmates sweating through Texas summers (we don't do A/C for prisoners ), gulping down Kool-Aid, playing endless games of chess and clustering around the T.V. to watch "Ellen" and "Sex and the City," which were still on while he was inside. Oh, and masturbating. Apparently guys in prison do a lot of that. Shocker.
Waguespack says Texas prisoners, even non-gang members, tend to group themselves fairly rigidly according to race (Texas probably isn't alone in that). Though it's OK to have some social interactions with other races, he says, you're expected not to do too much of that, and to back up members of your own race in a fight.
He also gets into the incredibly weird bonding system of white men in prison, which involves ... ice cream?
"White guys buy each other ice-cream at commissary," he explains. "It's not a big deal and you don't have to do it, but it's an understood rule. When I was first approached about it, I thought the guy was trying to make me his bitch and went off on him. He was actually very understanding and we didn't have to fight so that's good."
Waguespack adds that rape and sexual violence are common, though not overt.
"It happens fairly often, but is usually done in secluded areas and while the majority of people are elsewhere. In dorm rooms while everyone is at chow being the most popular choice. Most of the time it's not just a physical attack, though. Victims are almost tortured psychologically prior and made to resist very little."
He also says the main pipeline for contraband is the guards, not the visitors. "I did see first hand guards letting other inmates use their phone, use their microwave/mini-fridge for the inmate, fool around sexually with them, etc," he writes. "As I stated elsewhere I believe the majority of contraband finds its way into the prison through the guards. Many people, including myself before, are unaware that there is a healthy percentage of prison guards affiliated with different prison gangs."
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Waguespeak says prison probably saved him from committing even worse crimes later on. "I was headed down a very bad path and was becoming increasingly dangerous. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt and I was able to reform, in a way. I do not think my experience is typical though, in that regard. 85% of people that go to prison in Texas will go back."
The whole thread is long, but well worth a read, especially some of his memories about re-adjusting to the outside world.
"My first few conversations with people were very strange," he recalls. "I wasn't used to being asked personal questions. Even something small like 'What did you do this weekend' felt like a verbal assault. You don't ask people in prison those kinds of questions. The first time one of my friends on the outside jokingly called me bitch I damn near lost it. That word is only used to start a fight in prison.
"It's weird. The first day I was on my own (at my Dad's house) I didn't eat all day. I guess subconsciously I was waiting for someone to tell me it was time to eat."