Editor's Note:

The Juice, The Jury, and The Joint

I recently had the privilege of being a guest of the United States Government for a year and a half. In 2003 I was indicted for steroid-related crimes and money laundering. It wasn't an auspicious moment for me, but it did mark the beginning of a rather interesting chapter in my life.

Shortly after my indictment, I surrendered to a Federal prison camp in Pennsylvania. That was a rough day. It was the beginning of a rough eighteen months, but focusing on my training made it a lot more bearable than it could've been. If you're about to go to prison and you want to focus on your training, here are some bits of knowledge that may prove useful inside.

1) Nuclear Protein

Microwaves can be used for cooking cuisine, for heating oil, for giving the guy who stole your sneakers a flaming facial, or for food purification purposes.

Prison is, in part, about getting the most out of what you have. Food need not go to waste simply because it's of questionable freshness. If you microwave anything long enough, you'll cook the rotten right out of it.

This is important to keep in mind when protein sources are scarce. Simply microwave something until it crackles for a few minutes and the botulism disappears. Even a mackerel wrap that's been sitting on your desk for three days can be saved. I'm not sure what that amount of radiation does to the food, but hell, sometimes you just need to get your protein.

2) Never Let 'em See You Sweat

Even if you never did cardio before, you're probably going to do it in jail because it takes up time. When you do, find a spray bottle and a rag before you start, and keep them nearby.

If you sweat even a little bit on something that someone else has to touch, wipe it up. Maybe you wander from drippy bench to drippy bench at your local gym, but you can't do that while you're locked up. Sickness spreads quickly in jail, and you need to keep all the body fluids you can under control. The dirtiest bastards – the ones you don't want to piss off – are also the most germaphobic and often wander around with their sprayer in one hand and a roll of toilet paper in the other.

Do your part to limit the amount of filth around you. Things will be gross enough without your help.

3) Everything is Adjustable

You probably won't have all the equipment you want, but with a little ingenuity and a lot of suspended logic, you can make do.

For instance, if you take a flat bench and prop one end up on plates, you now have a perfectly good incline bench. For whatever reason, I never saw anyone get killed this way. I suppose the drama of having your skull under a loaded bar that could at any time fall and kill you is welcome spice in an ordinarily bland routine. A spotter is probably more important than a spray bottle in this situation.

4) Stairway to Salvation

There's always at least one ex-hippie and two stockbrokers who've found cardio like most people find God. The same guys who used to take an elevator from the street up to the sidewalk have adopted stair climbing as their Zen activity. You'll see that faraway glazed gaze in their eyes when they're stepping, that peaceful groove they fall in, that practiced, steady pace that brings them inner peace. You'll want to kill them.

This would be a bad idea. You have to respect their cardio time like you respect someone's religious rituals. Don't tug on their sweatshirts and ask them how much longer they're going to be unless they're smaller than you and don't roll with anyone worth worrying about. Then you can tell them to wipe up their sweat and haul ass before you stab them in the kidney.

5) Dumbbells + Tape = More Dumbbells!

Unlike the life of an inmate, the life of a dumbbell in prison is longer and cushier than it would be on the street. In prison, people tend to treat the weights with respect because, like your cherry, if you break it you lose it, and nobody is going to rush to your aid.

Still, the heavier dumbbells get dropped a few million times over the years. Matching pairs are as rare and dangerous as the tasty pigeon tortilla wraps that the guys in cell B-9 used to make. From what I've seen clanging over my head, the vast majority of prison dumbbells are on their last legs. Tape is of critical importance and extends the length of the prison dumbbell rack quite a bit. You can tape a 75-pounder to a five-pounder and make an 80-pound dumbbell very easily.

The problem is getting the tape. If you know someone who works in a warehouse you can usually get at least part of a roll, or you can simply peel the tape off carefully and reuse it a few times. Those orphaned dumbbells conspiring bitterly in the corner can once again feel like productive members of prison society, and you can do shrugs with just about any weight you choose. 

6) More is Less

An issue that you need to consider when it comes to tracking your progress is that weights in prison aren't going to weigh what they did in 1854 when they were brand spanking new. Even if they haven't actually fallen apart, they're often minus a few chunks or are split down the middle by gaping fissures. I've seen a 60-pound dumbbell that weighed 45 pounds at most, but it had a twin so people still used it.

Trauma isn't the only thing that can damage a weight. They simply erode over time. Their edges become smooth and they wear to the point where they don't roll well anymore. Outdoor weights get rusted and loose.

Keep these things in mind. When you first get to jail and summon up the motivation to work out, you'll be surprised at the weights you wind up using.

7) 400 Camp Pounds = 275 State Pounds

Federal camps are full of dudes with smooth hands and short time, just counting the days until they go home to their BMWs, their wives, and their mistresses.

I heard one guy at FPC Allenwood on the phone bragging to someone that he was doing preacher curls with 60-pound dumbbells now... for, like, mad reps. I saw him performing this feat. It was a broken 60, completely missing one of its ends, and his reps were more like body-rocking partials than anything else. He really believed what he was saying though. 

People would bounce the bar off their chests, have three friends pull it off of them, then go tearing off across the gym to tell their buddies that they just nailed 315. Squats are a great one to watch. Some guys will dip their asses a little, scream, wiggle, and then rack the weight with as much force as possible.

It's okay. You might want to help, but don't point out the whole "break parallel" thing. They don't care.

8) Kitchen Economy

Everyone works in prison unless they have a medical problem. Some people have really easy jobs, while some people bust their asses. When you get to jail and go through A&O (Admission & Orientation), they'll let you request a specific job. If you have a preference or applicable skills, they might even listen to you. As long as you pass the health screen, you'll probably be able to get into the kitchen.

They seem to like putting new inmates in the kitchen, probably because they haven't yet established a network of co-conspirators. Economics in jail are food-centric. You'll bet with food. You'll buy things with food. Someone's services might cost you six-dozen eggs or twenty tuna. A job in the kitchen suits a twofold purpose: you can eat all day long and you can support yourself by smuggling.

Onions, eggs, peppers, oil, and pasta are very sought after. Everyone wants to know a dude who knows a dude with a line on chicken. Get yourself a cooler as soon as you can and fill it with ice from the ice machine. Stock up on perishables from the kitchen and you'll be very popular.

9) Avoid Unfashionable Piercing

You'll find that the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) has been kind enough to secure each barbell to its corresponding bench with a length of steel cable, which is nicely frayed to skewer you the moment you forget about it.

As much as it is a genuine pain in the ass, take the time to twirl the bar end over end until that line is loose and straight. Sometimes you can slip the cable off the end of the bar, but usually if you try to do that you'll just look like a freakish baton twirler. In jail, if it's cool and can be done, someone has already done it and fucked it up for the rest of the inmates by getting caught.

10) Zimmer Who?

The Zimmer Amendment was designed to slowly rid all federal prisons of weightlifting equipment. If something breaks, the Zimmer Amendment forbids the BOP to sanction its repair.

In reality, things do get fixed. Recreation COs will look the other way if inmates begin to discreetly repair or alter damaged equipment. Sometimes they'll even make tools available to you by leaving a door open or clearing the way for you to carry something across the compound. They might facilitate your procurement of specific items, but don't ask them to verify that they're doing so and don't get caught and fuck it up for everyone.

Don't talk about it. Don't thank anyone. Just fix it and move on.

11) Lemon Aid

In prison, creatine monohydrate is more popular than the ethyl esters out there. It's even more popular than steroids. I've heard of creatine going for as much as a buck a gram.

In prison, 500 grams of German creatine will buy you a microwave for your cell, a really sweet shank, a few tattoos, and at least two biotches.

Where people once bitched and moaned about creatine's grainy texture, it proves to be an asset in jail. Creatine masquerades quite easily as the lemonade-flavored drink mix that's available in the commissary of most prisons. If they don't sell lemonade where you are, there are always people who transfer in from other prisons and bring things along with them.

Creatine doesn't look exactly like powdered lemonade, but the CO doing the shakedown isn't going to pay that much attention. He'll pick up the container, shake it, maybe open it and look inside. One thing I've never seen is a guard tasting something he finds in an inmate's locker.

12) Random Observations

Triceps are "back arms." Dave Palumbo wrote about this when he got out and he's right. Tell someone you're doing "tris" tomorrow and most of them will ask who he is and how many mackerel he's paying you.

There are skinny guys stronger than any big guy you know, and there are fat guys who are faster than any skinny guy you know. There are guys who do biceps four times a week and respond well, and there are guys who do them once every two weeks and get huge.

I could easily be convinced that there's no one correct way to train. While you're in jail, you should try things that you wouldn't otherwise.

Country music is almost as bad as Bible stories are for getting jazzed during a workout. While I was locked up, there was one song that seemed to dominate the airwaves for an entire summer. It was about a girl who loved to drink, flirt, and play pool. If you tried to touch her ass, she'd kick yours. Apparently, country girls just want to go out with other girls to play pool, get drunk, and kick dudes' asses.

In other words, you should be ready to train without music if you go to one of the camps that are in the boondocks.

You're going to have to learn to combine foods that would otherwise seem totally unrelated and even contradictory. The Bureau of Prisons feeds you a diet high in starch and low in protein, so you need to be like a culinary MacGyver. Hot chocolate mix and powdered milk mixed with peanut butter and raw eggs provides a post-workout drink that'll take some getting used to, but after awhile tastes pretty good.

When you go to jail, your ass becomes important in a way that it never was before. It doesn't hurt for you to stop and consider its multiplicity now, before you need to.

Finaplix pellets are small and you can fit a hundred in the very tip of a latex glove's finger. They prove ideal in the prison setting.

Before you ask where you're going to get benzyl alcohol and syringe filters in jail, know that you absolutely can eat Fina pellets. There's no debate. Five a day, spaced throughout the day, and you'll grow... so I hear. I'd never actually do this, of course.

As a final thought: if you do choose to enlist your ass for purposes of smuggling contraband, move slowly. You'll walk like a duck, but as long as you do it slowly enough – and everyone moves slowly in jail - nobody will notice.

Besides, if you run they'll shoot you.