Curses in Captivity #3 — “Have a nice weekend!”

(In which we are tiresomely reminded that, in this culture, Tuesdays have a peculiar, trans-etymological meaning to a certain mindset….)

“The name ‘Tuesday’ derives from the Old English ‘Tiwesdæg’ and literally means ‘Tiw’s Day.’ Tiw is the Old English form of the Proto-Germanc yaic god Tîwaz, or Týr in Norse, a god of war and law.”      

~ from Wikipedia, “The free encyclopedia that anyone can edit!”

This past week, the segregation case worker calls & asks for more typewriter ribbons for the three machines in the segregation law library.  Before the conversation is over, she informs me that she’s leaving early on Friday, has Monday as vacation, and won’t return until the following day.

Like a putz, I say: 

“OK then, I’ll see yoc ya Tuesdayu next Tuesday.”

Laughs aplenty on the other end.


“See you next Tuesday.”

“Right.  Isn’t that when you’re coming ba—oh.   OH.  Waitaminute–you’re laughing ’cause you think I called you a c–“

“NO!  I know you didn’t.  You said that in complete innocence, which is why it’s funny!”

“I have never liked that phrase.  This appeals to the same people who, when you say “It’s Wednesday, right?” reply ‘All day long!’ with a big smile on their face, like they just channeled Oscar Wilde.”

“Well, I gotta go.”

“See you next Tuesday!  I just called you a c–“


The mindset of the average female prison employee.  Why don’t academics do constant studies on us?  Isn’t corrections a psychological mother lode?  They should be crawling all over the place, like cockroaches.  Don’t researchers strike sociological gold when corrections is their topic?  What gives?

Someone oughta have a TWHS page.  Click the comic for full effect.

he said



Curses in Captivity #1 — “If he only had a brain!”

Friday afternoon, I’m in the process of locking up a reference cabinet.  At the same time, rather than wait for me to finish and move out of the way, my 6’5″ ILL clerk hook-shots a discarded hard cover into the cardboard box marked ‘Hospital’ which rests directly above where I’m standing about eight feet high on top of this same cabinet.  Luckily, the book sails directly into the box. 

One clerk sees this & says “That would’ve been nice: You miss, it hits Bill, he’s out for a month.” 

My cataloger chimes in “Yeah, but now we’re talking brain damage.  You gotta have a brain to begin with!”

He’s calling his boss brainless, and in his presence.  That’s political suicide.  Which is why they do it.  That’s why it’s funny.  What’s he got to lose?  A dollar-a-day prison job?

About 10 minutes later, the cataloger’s there (doing nothing, BTW) when I again walk into this office for something.  “How you doing?” I ask.  But I’m almost out of the room before it dawns on me to add  “And thanks for calling me an idiot 10 minutes ago, appreciate it.”  We laugh. 

My point is, I was going to just come in, do my thing, and go back to my law library office without comment.  His previous ‘insult’ never phased me.

I say to my bookbinder in passing:

Amazing, how many times we slag each other off without taking offense.  It’s just taken in stride.” 

The bookbinder, who is a very polite, quiet man, smiles as he continues his binding and says, “Sometimes we could do with a little less slagging.”
being slagged off

“Think so?  You’re probably right….Nah.  Just bind your books.”

The bookbinder laughs.  For a polite and quiet man, he has a decidedly boisterous, explosive laugh.  Which I proceed to tell him.  But not in those words.

“Hey, nice laugh.  Keep it to yourself, please.” 

More boisterous laughter.  “I guess there’s no hope of the slagging lessening off!”


Abandon Hope, all ye who enter here.


“I feel no comPUNction telling you this”

This happened tonight in our humor-as-therapy class.  This is a long set-u114837-op for a short pun, so take a long, deep breath….
Using PowerPoint, I show the class an image of a life preserver with the words SENSE OF HUMOR photo-shopped on.  I asked a student about the significance of this, & he said: “Because humor can save your life — AND it tastes good, too!” referring of course to a Life Saver.



Since I had a few Wint-O-Greens with me, I said “You mean these?”  The inmate saw that the mint was wrapped in clear plastic, and expressed surprise.   He looked across the room at a known punster and said “Thank God!  I thought he was taking a condom out of his pocket!”

The punster said “Don’t be silly — Why would he be eating condiments?”

This from the same guy who, a few weeks ago in the same class, when challenged to make a pun out of the paper clip he had, hands me the clip before he leaves & says “I would’ve returned this sooner, but you were going at quite a clip.”  Before I could reply, he said “But that’s OK, because you were fasten-ating.”
I’ve stopped wondering why I am the way I am.    

“This ain’t funny, it’s SERIOUS!” New Reality Series

(In which the notions of men once again slam up against stark reality….)

“Skill-Building Techniques for Stress Reduction” is the name of the program we’ve just begun on Tuesday, May 26th.  Imagining this program to be a book & judging it by its title, you’d not think there was anything particularly funny about it.  But apparently the 12 prisoners who signed up for the course expected this presentation to teach them how to be funny.

That’s hilarious.  Comedians go to groucho disguiseschools for a year to learn improvisation, comedic acting, timing, joke creation, dealing with hecklers,  building a rapport with the audience, developing a point-of-view,  and constructing an act from start to finish.  What these prisoners expected to learn about comedy in 12 two-hour sessions is anyone’s guess.

About 10 minutes into the first PowerPoint presentation entitled “Program Overview,” one of the students yawns & says, “Y’know, I thought this was supposed to be funny.”

You can’t please everyone.  I take off my Groucho Marx glasses.  “We’re trying to show why you need a balanced sense of humor, and how you can use laughter to reduce the stress of incarceration.  Did you think you’d be in LA taking a workshop at the Comedy Store?”   Everyone laughs.

Mr. Bored says “See?  That’s more like it!  There should be more laughter!”

Says I:  “We’re barely 10 minutes into the three-month presentation!  Relax.  Take some deep breaths a then let out some big laughs.”

A half-minute later, our noggins awash in fresh oxygen, the glasses go back on.  “By the way,” I say, “What we just did was your introduction to the laughter therapy we’ll be doing later on down the road.”

“I am NOT looking forward to that!” says another.  “That seems silly.”

“OF COURSE it’s silly.  That’s kind of the point.”

“I don’t like making a fool of myself!”

Someone says: “Then why bother getting out of bed?” Everyone laughs.

“That’s destructive humor,” says someone.

“Yes, it is,” I say.  “That’s the kind of thing we want to point out.  Most of us–both Keepers and Kept–have an imbalance in our humor styles because we emphasize the destructive aspect of humor while ignoring the constructive element.”

“I’ve been imbalanced for YEARS!” says someone else.  Everyone laughs.

As I’m distributing a handout on Hans Selye’s Three Stages of Stress, I take off the paper clip holding the sheets together & toss it to a student who likes puns.  “Make a pun outta that before the night’s over.”

By way of illustration, the handout uses Photoshopped images of a mouse noticing a cat (STAGE ONE 1: “Alarm”), the cat chasing the mouse at 90 miles an hour (STAGE 2: “Resistance”), and then the mouse escaping and finding a safe place to recuperate from the ordeal (STAGE 3: “Exhaustion”).

Comments from the group:  “Ah, that big bully.  He should leave that poor mouse alone!”

“Well, EYE was hoping he was gonna EAT him!”

“You’re SICK, you know that?”

“Whaddaya MEAN?  The cat’s gotta eat SOMETHIN!”


More laughs.

I think to tell them not to get hung up in the example, and try to stay in the moment to deal with the stages, but I know that it’s futile.  Inmates ALWAYS get hung up in the example.  They need to comment on what they see.  It’s a part of prisoner psychology in the class room dynamic that you grow accustomed to.  The times when you need to reign it in is when someone wants to spend too much time pontificating on the example.  In this case, that does not happen, so we move on.

“When are you gonna take off the Groucho glasses?” someone asks.  Before I can answer, some one chimes in, “Leave’em alone, he never looked so good!”

Ha, ha, ha.  “Destructive or constructive?” I ask.  “Destructive!” they say in unison.

“My favorite!” smiles Mr.Bored.

“Yes, I know, because you & I go back a ways.  You may discover the joys of constructive humor, where the intent is not to harm the Other but to just share an innocent laugh with someone.”

“Well, I do that too!”

“OK.  Tell us a constructive joke, just off the top.”

Mr. Bored think for a few seconds, smiles sheepishly & says “I can’t think of one, but I know what they are, so that counts for somethin’!”

Across the room someone says “A pig fell in the mud! That’s constructive.”

“Yes, but why?”

“Because it’s just humor.  You’re not saying it to hurt somebody.”

“Correct.  Now, since destructive humor has as its target the feelings of someone else, should we NEVER use it?”

Mr. Pun says “Well, no, because it can be used within a group of friends who know not to feel threatened or hurt when its used.  Destructive humor among friends can be a measure of the intimacy within the group.  The better you know each other, the more intimate the humor dynamic of the group becomes.”

“Excellent.  Isn’t it odd, though, that the better we know people–and this is our FRIENDS we’re talking about!–the more insulting our humor becomes?”Men-VS-Women

Says Mr. Bored:  “that IS weird!  I’ve noticed that, but never really thought about it.”

Mr. Pun says: “I wouldn’t characterize it as ‘weird,’ because it’s a natural extension of the intimacy the friends share.  You wouldn’t go up to a stranger and use insulting humor, because that intimate bond’s not there, and you’re probably gonna get punched out.  But you will chance destructive humor with a friend, because you know each other and you know that the risk of the joke will be offset by the cords of your friendship.”

“It’s getting hard to breathe in these” I say, removing the Groucho glasses.

“Oh God!  Put them back on!”

Ha.  Ha.  Ha.

“See?”  says Mr. Bored.  “If we didn’t like you, we wouldn’t tease you about your looks!  That’s intimacy!”

“Well, at least you’re learning.  Unfortunately, it’s at my expense.”

“Well, that’s the price you pay,” says Mr. Pun.  Everyone groans.

“You can’t help it, can you?”

“Apparently not.”

“Where were we? Oh yeah, we were laughing at my expense.”  I turn to continue with the PowerPoint, but am interrupted by a man who up to now has been quietly taking it all in.

“You say ‘At my expense.’ But I remember when I first met you.  I came to your office just to get some typing paper, and you made about three destructive jokes toward me, and I didn’t even know you.”

“You know why I do that?  It’s to test your sense of humor.  Most guys smile and give it right back.  I want to see if you’re secure enough with yourself to take a little ribbing.”

“Mr. Bored says “I’ve seen you do that many times.  Is THAT the reason?  Here I thought you were just actin’ like an asshole!”

“Actin’ like one?  he IS one!”

Ha.  Ha.  Ha.

“Can I have my class back, please?  We gotta get through the rest of this PowerPoint.”

“Only if you promise to put those glasses back on!”

Ha.  Ha.  Ha.

“Listen to all the destructive humor.  The level of intimacy in this class room is intense.  We must really like each other.”

“PREA!”  someone shouts.

We never did get through the PowerPoint.  It’s now the end of the class and, as inmates paperclipare filing out of the room, Mr. Pun hands the paper clip to me and says:  “I was going to return this to you earlier, but you were going at quite a clip.”

“That took you the whole night?  That joke is just fasten-ating.  Get it?  Fasten?  Paper clip?”

Mr. Pun is nonplussed.  “Destructive humor is more your forte.  Stick with what you know.”

OUT OF THE MOUTH OF CONS: Or, “That’s what Chi said”

First inventories can be rough.

We have a clerk whose unenviable job it is to keep the Vietnamese- & Chinese-language books in perfect sequence. A tall order, since he is Cambodian. They call him Chi, as in Tai-chi. This is Chi’s first inventory, may God have mercy upon his soul.

One of the stats we keep is book format–hardcover, trade paper, and mass market. Now, some of the paperbacks can be confusing, having either a reinforced cover c/o Brodart, or a Permabound cover. If it’s your first inventory, stuff like this can be tricky.  Not to mention funny.

Soon after Chi diligently begins separating his assigned collection, he discovers one of the reinforced paperbacks, and confusion sets in. So, like any good library clerk, he turns to a fellow clerk and asks a question for clarification. Had this moment had a rewind button attached, he would have pressed it & hastily re-worded the question. As it was, he could do naught but suffer the ensuing slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Holding aloft the puzzling tome, he asks:

“How do you tell when it’s hard?”

Poor Chi. He will never be on the earth long enough to come CLOSE to living this down.  First inventories can be rough.


Life’s little ironies: you never know when another one’ll spring up to fuddle, astonish, perplex, or annoy.

At present, we organize our Poetry, Drama, & Literature under the generic number ‘800.’ What separates the stuff is genre labels. It’s a book store arrangement, of sorts. But it beats holy hell out of the strict & kinda bizarre Dewey classification of all authors under country of origin. These days, many inmates cannot tell you Shakespeare’s country of origin. I say this because recently I quizzed several dozen men to see what the response would be. Over 60% of those quizzed couldn’t tell me. Many men answered “I have no idea.” So I’m glad for the bookstore approach.

But now my cataloger’s questioning it, because the new clerks don’t always pay close attention to genre labels, shelving stuff where it ain’t s’posed t’go & mixing Shakespeare with Robert Frost or Jane Austen.

knee jerk

So we’re out there, looking at the 800s, and the cataloger says: “We got 18 shelves of Literature, four shelves of Poetry, and four of Drama. Why don’t we just make new numbers for Poetry & Drama? Like 800.01 for the poetry books & 800.02 for the plays.” I told him, in my knee-jerk style, that I am tempted to knee him for being a jerk for proposing a solution that silly. Says I: “Get out the Index, like you normally do, and find the generic numbers for Poetry & Drama. We’ll use those.”

He does. He comes to me, book in hand, and a most aggressive grin on his face. The grin I’ve seen before. It’s one of a species of grins that tells me I need to wipe egg off my face. Sure enough: the generic numbers for Poetry & Drama, respectively, are 800.01 and 800.02.

Of course they are! How silly of me!

I’m still not going to use them.

‘Protect me from another saucy wit!’ Or, The Prison Library courtesy of

[In which the un-PC bandying of words results, as usual, in some delightful and mentally healthful silliness….]

Rape. One of the worst things imaginable.

Rape in prison. One of the most serious correctional management problems of the New Millennium. Prisoner-on-prisoner rape is no joke. Which is why prisoners make rape jokes all the time.

When one prisoner is annoying another by constant verbal baiting, a third prisoner who’s observing will often say to the annoyance: “I’m not pulling him off you.” Meaning, of course, “If he kicks your ass, you deserve it.” It’s a warning to the joker to consider the consequences.


“If you wish to know the mind of a man, listen to his words.”

— Chinese Proverb


One of my Lending Library workers cultivates a sexually-charged sense of humor.  Very little can be said in his hearing that he is not compelled to make into a sexual reference. Sexual innuendo is his nature, his creed, perhaps his raison d’etre. He cannot help himself, and wouldn’t even if he could.

Yesterday, one of the Lending Library clerks — a consummate ball-buster who mans the circulation desk — is baiting another clerk who’s trying to get some cataloging work done at the computer. The clerk who’s working is obviously annoyed, and warns the man to cut it out. The ball-buster smiles and continues the unwanted teasing. Two other clerks are observing this from their work desks, one of them being Mr. Innuendo. Observer #1 says to the annoyance:

“I’m not pullin’ him off of you!”

To which Innuendo adds, “And I’m not pullin’ him out of you!”

I say to him: “Don’t you have anything to do?”

He smiles and replies: “I’m doin’ my job! I’m a cunning linguist!”

“Funny, you were hired as a typewriter clerk. But all we get from you is sexual innuendo.”

To which the ball-buster replies, “Yeah, but with him, it’s more like ‘In-your-end, oh!’ ”


I didn’t pull them off of him.

“I am a cunning linguist!” Or — WORDS MEAN THINGS

Tonight in the lending library we were discussing our Wednesday plan for processing the books I purchased last week from New England Mobile Book Fair. One clerk said he’d go up to the 2nd-floor balcony at 1PM and bring down one of the four boxes from that purchase that’re temporarily stored there.

Because I have a librarian’s meeting next door at the infamous Walpole State Prison, I reminded him of this by saying that I wouldn’t be in until 6PM because “I have to do Walpole.”

Instantly, another clerk chimes in: “Wow, that’s a lot of guys.”

Nothing like setting yourself up. “I have to do Walpole.” Right off the turnip truck.

I’m glad I surround myself with literate people who have a vulgar turn of mind. The fun we have….