I once found a way
around Fat Charles. Not that this most Roman of convicts would have given a
genuine damn. When Fat Charles was finally busted he was found to be the
central drug supplier to the prison, and among his socks and underwear they
found 3,500 cash dollars. My trick was to discover that while the waiting list
for night gym remained formidable there was no waiting list for the chess club,
which also met in the gym. A friend and I signed up for chess and, recalling
Charles Atlas' ads on the evils of having sand kicked in your face, immediately
defected to the weight-lifting department.
As soon as he
caught on to what we were doing, the convict captain of the chess team, an
austere and intellectual Chinese, pulled us up short. "Listen, fellows, you
don't con me. You signed to play chess. So play chess or get out."
We explained we
didn't know how.
"Now that is
really a shame."
The weight lifters
had no interest in adopting us. To them we were a total pain. Every time our
turn came they had to remove a hundred pounds from the bar. So we were tossed
out and left to take our chances with the sand kickers of this world.
Weight lifting is
the most pervasive of all prison athletics and it may well be the most typical.
The empty passage of time and the fear of growing old are the prisoner's black
beasts. Nothing is more important than to leave prison exactly as you entered
it; nothing must change, and one magical method of stopping the clock, even
reversing it, is body building.
Little Edward was
a classic case. He came in the first time wrung out, strung out and hung up,
weighing a red-hot 92 pounds after five years on dope. But once in the joint he
transferred his addiction from narcotics to iron. He spent every spare moment
weight lifting and in two years he weighed 175 pounds and was as sleek and
powerful as a huge cat. The parole board was astounded. Never had they seen
such a glittering example of total rehabilitation, and they let Little Edward
go. Back in his old neighborhood Little Edward immediately got hooked again,
and when his parole was violated a year later he once again weighed 92 pounds
and shook like a palsied chicken.
weight lifters give off a religious smell. They move about their lifts like
priests about a ritual, and as is true of most priesthoods many are called and,
as usual, few chosen. There are those who start weight training programs as
regularly as they quit smoking. They last a few days, a few weeks. Others sneer
at bodybuilding. The dream and its demanding discipline is put down as iron
freakery, and it's suggested (safely out of earshot of the iron freaks) that
they're all narcissists and undercover faggots. Powerful motivation is
essential because if bodybuilding is going to work it must always hurt.
The king of the
weight lifters was the legendary Big Dutch. His best lifts were close to the
world's heavyweight record, and it may be true—as it was often said by his
admirers—that if he could have stayed out of jail so that he could have eaten
and trained properly he could have been the world champion. He was also agile
enough to be a member of the wrestling team. Fortunately, he was good-natured—a
huge man with a large red face and small but amiable blue eyes. He was a career
convict doing—as the jest has it—life on the installment plan. Occasionally the
parole board relented and he was released long enough to tie on a good
On one, Big Dutch
went into a bar where he had already made himself unpopular and asked for a
drink. The bartender said, "No." Dutch, already bagged, assumed the
bartender hadn't heard, and asked again. "No," the bartender said.
"I said no. I mean no. You are eighty-sixed forever. You will never gel
another drink here as long as this bar is standing."