I was out in the Rec yard at FCI Miami, a Low security Federal Prison, just walking in circles.  Yes, everything in prison is circles and lines, circles and lines.  Lines for medical, chow hall, the phone, laundry, commissary, you name it.  It grates on you at times, until you remember that your sentence is passing regardless and you just sort of let it go, out of necessity.  Out in the rec yard, it’s circles, typically on the track.  The only way to get any kind of cardio.  On this night, though, I was doing smaller ones, in the volleyball court which, incredibly enough, had a base of sand.  I had my shoes off, enjoying the sensation of powdery sand squishing through my toes, listening to a local jazz station on my radio.  With my eyes closed, I could almost imagine I was back in Costa Rica.

Not too far off, a basketball game was in progress.  The court was old and ragged, with cracked asphalt, but served its purpose as two teams battled back and forth in front of crowded stands.  It was a Rec Department organized league game and I could make out the score on the cheap electric scoreboard in the nearby distance.  One team was comprised of black players and the other Puerto Ricans.  Things weren’t supposed to be like that.  They were supposed to mix things up to avoid problems, but officers get lazy and let inmates do their own thing.  At least for something minor like that.  It’s no big deal, things work out just fine, well, normally that is.  

One black guy got fouled hard.  It had been happening the entire game.  This time he took exception and pushed back, with the Puerto Rican falling to the ground.  His teammate came in and started swinging but got socked in the mouth and hit the ground as well, as the entire stands erupted to join the melee.  It was the blacks against the Puerto Ricans, with the blacks outnumbered two-to-one.

I was watching from a relatively safe distance, and froze in my tracks entranced by the scene, as dozens of people ran by to jump into the fray.  Prison protocol mandated that Rec officers should have been outside supervising, which probably would have kept everything from escalating.  They were, however, hanging out in the Rec building mindlessly surfing the internet instead, and would later claim it was an unsanctioned game. 

“Get the fuck out, everyone out,” they screamed, once they realized what was happening.  All inmates in the building were kicked out into the turmoil as the officers barricaded themselves inside.  In the meanwhile, a full-on race riot was breaking out, enveloping half the compound.

Makeshift pipes and shivs came from out of nowhere as inmates pummeled each other left and right.  I started backing off, realizing this probably wasn’t the safest place, as I saw one person grab the scoring monitor, bashing another guy upside the head.  It was five-on-one a few feet away, with someone on the ground beaten unrecognizable while crumbling into a fetal position.  The odds were better in other spots, but not all that much.  In fact, some were giving almost as good as they got, until they were surrounded by packs howling like hyenas, popping in for little cheap shots.  Lingering tensions now unleashed, as all hell broke loose.     

About 10 minutes in, officers started rushing the scene en masse and that scared off some inmates, but there were still too many battles for the guards’ liking.  They were woefully outnumbered and didn’t want to get beaten themselves in the process.  Lord knows, many inmates would have loved the opportunity.  Things got so bad that the prison actually called 911 asking local police for back-up, which is typically taboo at a Federal facility.      

“Get on the ground, get on the ground,” officers screamed, as more of them swarmed on in.  At this point, the numbers were shifting in their favor, so most inmates complied, not wanting to get in trouble.  I took the opportunity for full retreat back to my Unit, after all, I understood the potential consequences all too well.  It was best to be as far away from this debacle as possible.

It took another half hour, but the officers regained control, locking up a few dozen inmates in handcuffs and roughly tending to the wounded.  A few guys were still unconscious, and one had a knot on the back of his head the size of a softball.  All told, almost a dozen inmates were sent to the hospital, some with major injuries, but all amazingly survived.

An hour later, the entire compound was paraded back out to the Rec yard, it was time for discipline.  Standing for an hour, at full attention, while the Captain dressed us down, screaming and taunting, threatening to ship the entire lot of us.  That hardly sounded fair, since only a couple hundred, or so, were involved at the most, but prisons are like that.  Group punishment for all, for the actions of a few.  The officers then inspected every one of us for injuries to see who else to charge.  There were, of course, too many people for just the SHU so they’d be shipping people out in the morning, sending them to the SHU at the downtown Miami detention center as well. 

Total lockdown.  Compound wide.  Ross, our third bunkie Eric and I confined to our cell.  Food was delivered three times a day, mostly pre-packaged baloney sandwiches and cookies well beyond the expiration date.  At least for the first few weeks, until they started serving food with no expiration dates at all.  Only three showers a week and no access to phone or email.  It was like being in the SHU all over again.  When would it end, who knows?  Rumors were floating around that the blacks were planning revenge and one guy, a former NASA rocket scientist, claimed to have heard there was a gun buried out in front of G Unit.  It turned out to be bullshit but left us locked up a couple extra weeks as guards tore bushes and shrubs to shreds, turning a once beautiful garden into a graveyard.  The rocket scientist, himself, got sent to the SHU and then shipped as his bad info turned up nothing.  Stupid shmuck.