I was sitting in therapy, when my phone rang. For some reason, I felt compelled to answer, despite the unknown number, and despite the scowl on my therapist’s face as I picked up my I-phone.
“Please hold to accept a paid call from Riker’s prison,” said the operator.
My first reaction was to dive under the coffee table and hide from the phone. Riker’s Island was no place for a good One Percent girl like me. My second reaction was to wonder if I should just hang up the phone. Fortunately, my third reaction – shameless curiosity – won out and I held.
I had done some business with and become friendly with a Real Estate broker and ex-Wall Street guy. It was him on the phone.
“Hey, it’s me,” said my new Upper East Side friend from his current home in Rikers prison. I will call him Tom to protect his identity. I couldn’t speak.
“Are you surprised?” He asked. My stunned silence started to sound unfriendly, even to me.
“How are you?” I asked. “Are you okay?” In turns out, I am not very good at inventing the appropriate dialogue for a prison phone call. But for an experience junkie like myself, this phone call was like Manna dropping from Heaven. My lame questions didn’t even begin to reflect my outlandish curiosity. I wanted to shout “TELL ME EVERYTHING.” I wanted to know why he sounded so chipper. How could he possibly be okay? He is a white Jewish, One Percenter raised in a middle class community, living in one of the scariest prisons in the country.
“I’m good, I’m good,” he said. “Don’t worry.” He had mistaken my curiosity for worry. I wondered how much time we would have. I wanted him to keep talking and didn’t want to interrupt his flow. I had been at his sentencing a month earlier. He was sent to jail for a period of 1.5 to 5 years for a laundry list of second rate felonies all of which added up to living off his clients’ money while trying to make money. It felt like a classic Ponzi scheme. When they took him away in handcuffs, he looked back and waved at me and his ex-partner. I had stared back, completely unsure about the appropriate affect in this kind of situation. Now here I was, unsure again about the appropriate affect. I was curious and frozen, which is not my usual state.
“Good. I am relieved to hear from you.” I responded with a flat affect. I wasn’t relieved to hear from him, I was shocked. “How are you okay?” I repeated.
“Fine, great. I bought protection from the Bloods. They run the Rikers with the Crips. They leave me alone. There are just two white guys here.”
“How did you buy protection?” I asked.
“The Commissary,” he responded. “I bought them stuff. I have never eaten better in my life. These guys can cook. They rigged the electrical outlet and on Christmas Eve, they made the best dinner with noodles and other foods from the Commissary.”
“Wow, “I responded lamely. But he didn’t seem to need my encouragement. He kept talking.
“I work out, I read. The Court screwed up my transfer so I have been here for four weeks, which was not the plan. 30 to 40 guys lined up in three rows in one large room. It’s kind of crazy. But I am okay,” he repeated.
“ONE MINUTE” said a recording.
“Hey, I have to go soon. I just wanted to check in with you about the building,” he said. John was referring to a building he had been trying to sell for me when his life took a different direction. This was clearly the reason for the call. He didn’t want his real estate company to lose the commission as the broker just because he was in jail. He was trying to manage me from jail.
I am pretty gullible and I often allow myself to be managed by people who don’t have my best interests at heart, to put it mildly. My laziness and tendency to let people take care of me translates into an open invitation for some people to help themselves. But even for a self-indulgent and gullible One Percenter, I draw the line at being managed from Rikers.
We said goodbye and I hung up the phone, still stunned by my proximity to a hard core prison.
A few days later, while working out at boxing with my private trainers, I mentioned the phone call.
“The gangs control the prisons,” said my trainer. While timing my two minute plank position.
“He bought protection,” I replied, in between plank and standing up with my head pounding.
“He had to have spent a lot of money to get protection,” said the trainer as he handed me the jump rope and said “200 jumps, fast.”
“The gangs are directing the subway slashings as a rite of initiation,” said my friend’s trainer as he held her legs high in the air and she lifted her body in a V-shape, thereby strengthening her already rock hard abs.
“He sounds fine at Riker’s,” I gasped, finishing my 200th jump. “Need water,” I added as I ran out of the gym to the water fountain.
I didn’t say to the guys and my friend, that playing a con game with me is one thing, playing it with a bunch of Bloods and Crips, is a whole other thing. I wonder how this will all work out for my friend and what he will owe these guys when he gets out of jail.
Aphorism – Don’t bet more than you can afford to lose.
Takeway – If you steal, steal big. Too Big to Fail seems to be the way to go.
Assuming you find yourself in jail and can wire the electrical outlet, then head to the commissary for ramen noodle packets and some frozen chicken nuggets.
Choose your lucky number for this recipe. I will use the number 8.
If you are home, buy a kosher chicken cut into 8 pieces, one onion cut into 8 pieces, two Idaho potatoes cut into 8 pieces and two carrots cut into 8 pieces.
Throw the chicken, potatoes and carrots into a slow cooker with two cups water and a large dash of kosher salt and cook over high for 6 hours. Go work out and read books until dinner is ready.