The Rogue Voice

A LITERARY JOURNAL WITH AN EDGE

August 01, 2007

Life in the cage: Sweet escape















Although there is no exact prison rule prohibiting recorders, just as there is no specific rule prohibiting cell phones, possession of such items would be considered contraband, subject to a serious write-up.

I was once told by a veteran convict that the best way to get rid of a cell slug, was to masturbate when he is in the cell.



Sweet escape

How I landed a spot on national radio from my prison cell


By Tito David Valdez Jr.


Exiting the law library about 2:45 p.m., I headed west-bound down the long corridor to make it back to my cell block to shower before the rush of inmates arrived. An alarm suddenly sounded in the infirmary, guards ran down the corridor to the scene, while another guard waived me to enter into the prison chapel until the alarm was clear.
I’m not a regular at the chapel, so when I entered, I didn’t know anyone. I spoke with the chapel clerk to pass time.
“So when is Jesus coming back?” I asked.
“Very funny. The Bible says he will come like a thief in the night. We have to be ready for his return,” said Elder John, a dark-skinned, tall African American who spoke like preacher T.D. Jakes, his words very persuasive.
“I bet Christians thought Jesus was coming back, believing Hitler was the Antichrist during World War II.”
“The word says there will be many false prophets, sheep in wolves’ clothing. There have been many after Hitler, like David Koresh, Charles Manson, Jim Jones. There is even a guy now in Puerto Rico claiming to be Jesus himself.”
“Yeah, I heard of that guy, an ex-con, saw him on 60 Minutes. How do you know Jesus wasn’t just a con man, a chameleon?”
“The Bible tells me so.”
“Yeah, but do you realize how many times that book has been edited?”
“Yes, but the Word tells us to obey authority. We trust that the current version is exactly what God wants it to be.”
I looked around the chapel and observed the many men praising the Lord. Hard to believe I was in a prison; seemed like I was at an on-fire Baptist church, men with tears in their eyes, hands and arms up, rejoicing, singing. This wasn’t even a service, it was choir practice.
Chaplain Ray, an overweight 50-something white man with suspenders holding his pants, spoke to Elder John.
“John, I need you to clean out that closet in the corner, place all the music equipment into this box, then give it to Officer Jackson who will be locking it up from now on in C-Block. He will be by in about ten minutes. Throw away anything that is not useful.”
“OK,” said Elder John.
I observed John going through the closet, separating things. He then threw away an old tape recorder into the trash can.
“John, what’s wrong with that recorder?”
“I don’t know, but I’ve been here five years and no one has ever got it to work. Why? Do you think you can fix it?”
No, but if you are throwing it away, can I have it? I may know someone who can fix it.”
“Yeah, go ahead. Just promise me you won’t be using it to record Led Zepplin or Snoop Dogg songs over our Bible study cassettes.”
The intercom relayed, “Alarm clear, resume corridor traffic.”
Like a child who was on a mission to obtain something sweet from the local ice cream truck, I rushed into my cellblock, with the recorder hidden in my pants, skipped the shower, and went to Cell 305, where the prison’s tech wizard resided, an inmate called “Gadget.”
“Gadget! Gadget! Hey man, come to the door!”
Gadget, a lanky tall white guy in his 40s, who looks like Howard Stern with big nose and long hair, was wearing bottle cap thick eyeglasses, soldering a circuit board. He took off his glasses, coming to the cell door.
“Yeah, what’s up?”
Pulling out the recorder from my pants, I showed it to him.
“Can you fix this?”
“Don’t know. At the next unlock in ten minutes, let me take a look at it.”
“All right.”
At 3:30 p.m., the unit guard opened the cell doors and I handed it to Gadget.
At 6 p.m., Gadget walked with me to chow.
“Where did you find this Dave?”
“The chapel. They were throwing it away as garbage.”
“It’s a gem. I already fixed it. Superb recording quality. You are going to love it man.”
“What exactly was wrong with it?”
“The electrical cord had a serious short. The gears on the recorder were bent. A few resistors were fried. But it’s just like new now. Got any tobacco?”
“I wish. If I had some, I’d be selling it making a grip of cash!”
“Got any coffee?”
“No, but I’ll get you some. What’s the damage, what is this gonna cost me?”
“Ah, just get me a $2.50 pouch of Maxwell House when you go to canteen.”
“Deal!”
After dinner, I returned from the unit, retrieved the recorder from Gadget, and tried it out. My cellmate, Rafael, who was watching television as he does all day and night, looked down, curious.
“Hey, where did you get that?” he said, while sipping coffee from his mug.
“Found it in the trash.”
“Does it still record?”
“I don’t know. Gonna try it right now for the first time.”
I tuned in my portable radio to X-103.9, the local alternative rock station, placed a Bible study cassette in there, hooked up the male-male cords and pushed “record.” Then played it back.
“Hey homie, it works!” said Rafael.
“Yeah, it really works!”
Although there is no exact prison rule prohibiting recorders, just as there is no specific rule prohibiting cell phones, possession of such items would be considered contraband, subject to a serious write-up.
I felt uncomfortable having the unit in my cell, especially where my cellmate who never leaves, would possibly be using it to record oldies cassettes for his homies, bringing a lot of activity in and out of our cell. Such activity would catch the attention of the unit guards, and soon, they would do a shake-down. Gadget kept it in his cell and when I locked up every night after dayroom, I’d retrieve it. I spent many nights listening to the radio, recording all my favorite songs on Bible study tapes. I catalogued each tape: rap, rock, country, classical, etc.
One evening, while listening to the local college radio station at UC Santa Cruz, I felt compelled to send all my favorite songs to a female jock who always played my requests on her goth-industrial show called “Dark Circles.”
With no access to a real microphone to record, I experimented using my headphones as a microphone, and amplifying my voice with a small equalizer, which I purchased from the vendor catalogs. It worked. I spoke on the tape and had it sent out to her.
She received it, thanking me on the air. Like deja vu, an idea came to mind which seemed unrealistic, yet, possible.

***
Recognizing that crime television shows obtain the highest ratings and that a new television show “Prison Break” was about to debut on Fox, I felt the timing was right for a prisoner-hosted radio show.
Prisoners have a First Amendment right to communicate with the outside world and use of a telephone is an instrument to exercise that right.
For the last 10 years, federal death row prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal has hosted radio commentaries for National Public Radio.
I felt I could do the same, catering to a more liberal audience, potentially creating a two-hour
show, playing the best alternative rock flashbacks from the ‘80s and ‘90s.
A real radio show hosted live, by me, a state prisoner, via prison telephone. It would be edgy, a gimmick that no program director could turn down, once pitched.
But I needed to create a demo tape, give them an idea of what the show would sound like.
I got to work right away.

***
Any movie or television sitcom always starts with a script.
I quickly produced the outline of what the demo would sound like. But I needed bells and whistles, something that I could only obtain by listening and recording bits and pieces off the radio.
For weeks, I recorded station sweepers, commercials, even radio personalities speaking, and about one-hundred songs onto ten different Bible study cassettes. Each tape was labeled and the music or voice bits I marked in a journal the number on the counter of each bit for future reference.
After writing the script, the real challenge came in being able to create the demo tape, with my cellmate always hanging out. I needed to be alone, to do my thing, to speak into the headphone to record my voice.
I was once told by a veteran convict that the best way to get rid of a cell slug, was to masturbate when he is in the cell.
“Hey, man, what the fuck are you doing?” said Rafael, as he stepped down off his bunk to take a leak.
“What does it look like?”
“You are disrespecting me, holmes.”
“You never leave the cell! I am a man, I got to relieve stress.”

***
In 1993, as a free man, I could produce a demo tape in three to four hours, having access to a real microphone, harmonizer, reel-to-reel, mixing board.
In the joint, in 2005, I was faced with the challenge of producing a demo tape with an antiquated 1970s recorder, three different Walkmans, a headphone as a mic, and a Bible study cassette as a master tape.
With my cellie now out in the dayroom, I could concentrate. It was extremely difficult to time everything right, while pushing play on two separate Walkmans (one Walkman playing music, the other playing snippets of a woman’s voice) and trying to speak into the headphone all at the same time. I became frustrated, feeling like smashing the recorder on the floor. But I persevered, and four months later, the final demo was completed.
Taking bits and pieces of conversations from recordings I made of a local female disc jockey, I spliced her voice and sentences to sound like she and I were having a real conversation. The edits were so clean and tight that no one I shared the tape with could tell she wasn’t really talking to me. After 400 splices, the one-hour show in real time was ready to pitch.
I went to Hungarian Johnny, the prison’s hustle man, to find out what it would cost to smuggle a cassette tape out of prison. We aren’t allowed to send cassettes or CDs through the U.S. mail.
“Hey, Johnny, I need to get another cassette out.”
At his usual spot on the yard, in front of the canteen, he stood selling items on consignment, smoking a contraband cigarette. He sported a beer belly from eating so well, his white skin sun-damaged from being on the yard all day, every day.
“I can get it out. Gonna cost you $20. You got any
tobacco?” he said with a thick heavy Russian accent.
“No, but…”
“Coffee?”
“Yes.”
“We have a deal. Give me three jars of Folgers coffee and an address.”
As a former salesman of computers and telemarketer for the Los Angeles Times in my younger days, I learned that everything in life is based on the law of averages. It even applies to picking up chicks at the local bar. For every ten people you try to sell something to (or try to get laid with), one will buy.
One week later, thanks to Hungarian Johnny, my brother was in possession of the one-hour demo tape. I had him duplicate ten copies on CD and he sent them to numerous alternative rock station program directors.
I waited two months for a response.
Nothing. Not even a rejection letter. They probably thought I was a nut case.
In March 2006, morning radio personality Howard Stern moved from terrestrial radio to satellite radio for a whopping 500 million dollars over five years. I heard celebrity Adam Carolla took over the syndicated morning slot on CBS Radio’s FREE FM. Adam formerly hosted the popular daily teen advice show “Loveline” for 11 years with Dr. Drew Pinsky, and had produced and hosted 100 episodes of the “Man Show” on cable with Jimmy Kimmel. I remembered his monologues, where he spoke about his dealings with ex cons, having hired many of them to do construction work. I told my brother to copy one more CD and send it to him, being confident he would be receptive to the concept.
In May 2006, I got a call back. The producer of the radio show didn’t want to give me my own radio show but offered to give me a weekly segment, a convict calling in from the joint live, to talk about “life in the cage.”
The day I talked to the producer was the most meaningful day of my imprisonment. I was judged for my talent, not my crime or for wearing blue. Given an opportunity instead of being rejected or sold off as a loser locked up.
Though there has been many obstacles which have prevented me from doing my live weekly segment on scheduled mornings, due to fog or lockdowns, the radio show producers have been understanding and patient. They recognize the segment is indeed a novelty.
I’ve been given a second chance at doing what I do best.
Reflecting back to how I inherited that recorder, for a second, I wanted to believe it was a result of divine intervention, that there really is a God…
Nah…what was I thinking? §


Editor’s note: In May 2007, Dave celebrated one year on the air as “Prisoner David” on the Adam Carolla Show. Listen to his archive radio segments with angel Adam Carolla, devil Danny Bonaduce, and temptress Teresa Strausser at: www.jailhouseroq.com. View video clips of David’s 1993 television/radio show Hollywood Haze at: www.habeaswiki.org.


Tito David Valdez Jr. resides at and writes from the minimum security Correctional Facility in Soledad, Calif. Listen to his radio segments on prison life on the nationally syndicated program, “The Adam Carolla Show.” For times, visit www.adamcarolla.com. Tito can be reached by email at davidv@inmate.com, or by mail: Tito David Valdez Jr. J-52660, CTF Central E Wing Cell 126, P.O. Box 689, Soledad, Calif., 93960-0689.






Read more of his "Life in the Cage" series here:
  • Mischief in the prison chapel
  • Jailhouse pruno
  • A momentary breath of freedom
  • Breakfast Club
  • Trapped
  • Institutialized
  • Evening dayroom
  • Destination ASH
  • Sleepless in Soledad
  • Jailhouse lawyers
  • In the hole (part 1)
  • In the hole (part 2)
  • The idiot box
  • Shower time


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  • 1 Comments:

    At 1:59 AM, Blogger Phil Lorenzz Mendoza said...

    Thats my homie from the early 90's David Valdez. See you soon my friend..

     

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