Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Prison Life on the WWW

By Devin D. O'Leary

JUNE 29, 1998:  I'm guessing that prison life isn't all that different from my life--there's a lot of laying around, watching TV, eating cruddy meals. Apparently, now prison involves a lot of surfing the Web--as the growing number of prison Web sites will attest. Most personal home pages put up by inmates do little more than pledge the innocence of their creators. Several more general prison-related sites, however, spotlight prisoner rights, chronicle life behind bars and showcase inmate talent in the form of art or writing. ... Jeez, a bunk bed, lots of TV and free Web access? Maybe I should consider shanking my boss for a turn in stir.

Hillary Clinton's Pen Pal (www.sonic.net/maledicta/penpal_contents.html)--Dr. Reinhold Aman is an ex-federal prisoner and a professor of philology (historical linguistics, for those who aren't up on their academia). Following his stint behind the wall, Aman decided to write a guide to "life and lingo in federal prison." The good doctor's guide has taken the form of a satirical book instructing Hillary Clinton how to survive her new life behind bars (assuming, of course, she is indicted in the ongoing Whitewater scandal). Aman's Web site summarizes some of the book's salient points, including basic survival techniques--such as, "Don't stare at another prisoner for more than two seconds." There is also a brief dictionary of handy terms for Hillary to utilize in prison so she'll sound like an old hand, or "lifer" as the cons say.

A Prisoner's Dictionary (www.wco.com/~aerick/lingo.htm)--This site contains a rather extensive dictionary of prisoner slang from all over the country. Words that are specific to a certain geographical area (Texas prisons, for example) are indicated. Archaic terms are also pointed out (you don't want to sound old-fashioned in stir, do you?). Words of Spanish origin are similarly noted. Now instead of simply saying "knife," you can say "banger," "burner," "shank" or "shiv." Next time you're in jail and someone calls you "Herb," you'll know you're being insulted as a "weak inmate." Numerical terms (most from California penal code) are listed separately. There are also links to several other online dictionaries such as Mob Speak and Street Gang Slang.

PrisonZone (www.prisonzone.com)--This well-designed site is one of the largest repositories of prison and prison-related art on the Web. There are pages dedicated to prison photographs, prison art and prison writing. You can order assorted prison books from here and can browse through a hefty pile of prison-related links (including a number of inmate homepages). Some of the art is produced by folks in the real world (that is to say, non-inmates), still everything from the evocative photographs to the blunt poetry speaks volumes about life in the big house. PrisonZone has recently added "The Plea Circus," a handbook on the rules of criminal procedure. If you're in federal prison and you're handling your own appeals case, then The Plea Circus has got some handy legal tips and tricks for you. It's also an amusing exposé on how prisoner's rights are really being handled in America.

The Hourglass Prison Art Museum (www.webolutioncafe.com/hourglassmuseum)--The Hourglass Museum boasts the largest collection of Chicano prison folk art in the world. This small site features a brief article on paño (handkerchief) art and about a dozen fine examples thereof. Paño decorating (along with matchstick carving and toilet paper sculpting) is one of the most prominent forms of inmate art. Each crisp white handkerchief is decorated edge-to-edge with tight, graffiti-style felt-tip pen designs. Most of the images are religious, resembling nothing if not modern-day cloth retablos. Be sure and click on the paño pictures for larger images (these things are mighty detailed). The Hourglass Web site also features a handy "Guide to Paño Symbolism" to help you understand the meaning behind these foldable artworks.

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