“Miss, have you ever seen a big, muscular guy faint at the sight of a needle?” I asked the Italian American nurse when it was my turn for the medical assessment that all new federal inmates arriving at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) Brooklyn, New York, have to undergo.
It was 2am. I had now been waiting in the holding cells at R&D (Receiving and Discharge) for seven hours. There were 60 prisoners in my batch who had all arrived with me on the same bus from Rhode Island.
All of us were split among three holding cells. This meant 20 prisoners to a cell that was four paces long and two paces wide. There was only sitting room for six in each cell so the remaining 14 of us had to stand. We had now been standing for seven hours.
There was one steel toilet in the corner. If you need to urinate you just stand there and do it, in full view of everyone. Inmates usually avert their eyes out of respect.
“Ha! I see it all the time,” the nurse smiled as she replied to me with the typical New York twang. After two years in the United States I was now beginning to distinguish between different American accents.
The subject of needles arose when she pricked a needle inside the skin of my forearm for the mandatory tuberculosis test administered when every federal inmate arrives at a new prison in the United States.
This was the second such tuberculosis skin test I had had in 48 hours. I had lost count of how many medical needles had penetrated the skin of my arms as I entered my eleventh year in prison. I was worried of returning home to my family looking like a heroin addict.
I had asked the same question to almost every nurse in the UK and US that had pricked my skin with a needle. All of them had given the same answer. They were used to seeing big, muscular prisoners go weak at the knees whenever a needle was produced.
“Lobster boys.” I remembered the concept that Khalid had taught me during my first weeks in prison ten years earlier in 2004.
“A lobster’s skeleton is on the outside, so it is hard on the outside but once you crack the shell, it is soft inside,” Khalid used to say. “A human, however, is soft on the outside but under the soft flesh is a hard skeleton.”
Khalid loved to speak in parables to simplify life concepts in a way that everyone could understand.
During the 11 years I spent in prison, I saw many lobster boys, sometimes known as plastic gangsters. The way they would walk and talk, you would think that they were the toughest men on the planet.
They would tell stories about how much weight they could lift in the prison gym, their knowledge about firearms, all the big and bad criminals that they knew and how many [female dogs] they had “conquered.”. This was the talk.
And the walk?
They would walk through the prison with a strut and a bounce, wearing their prison hats in ways that suggested they had swag or confidence.
They would frequently be seen in the federal prison compounds “pumping up” with pull-ups and press-ups before a topless photoshoot to ensure that their muscles rippled for the photographs.
These photographs would be then be sent to a friend to be posted on Facebook, the idea being that they could tell everyone at the dinner table a few days later how many [female dogs] had liked their photograph.
These same lobster boys would then be seen the next morning lining up in the medication queue for anti-depressant pills because they couldn’t handle being in prison.
Now there is nothing wrong with someone taking anti-depressants. The problem is when you act like a tough guy superhero but in actual fact you are nothing like a tough guy superhero.
I met many prisoners, tall, muscular, with “tough guy” tattoos, strutting through the prison as if they were God’s gift to humanity . One of their biceps was equal to both of my legs put together.
But these same prisoners would be unable to sleep at night because they could not handle prison.
“Empty vessels make the most noise,” Plato once said.
When you are empty or weak inside, you try to talk, walk and act in such a way that others think you are actually tough.
But the more full you are inside, the less you need from other people.
The real tough guys in prison were the quiet, humble, respectful ones. The ones who did not jump the food line and did not strut through the prison as if they were on the catwalk at London Fashion Week.
The ones who, instead of telling stories, actually tried to downplay how big they were. You would only hear about these prisoners from others.
“In my experience, the bigger the charge, the nicer the prisoner,” a barrister once told me. (A skilled lawyer, not one who makes coffee, a “barista.”)
The real “Mr. Bigs” don’t have to prove anything to anyone. They don’t need other people’s approval to demonstrate how tough they are, how much confidence they have, how much pressure they can handle.
They have high self-esteem. They know who and what they are so they don’t care what others think about them.
Since being released from prison I see lobster boys everywhere. At the gym, on the streets, on public transport.
For fun, I sometimes like to scare lobster boys out of their shells by going up to them and asking whether I know them from prison. Their demeanour changes instantly. It turns out that they are not really “bad boys”; they are just trying to act as if they are.
Honesty with oneself comes before honesty with others. Be honest with yourself first, and then honesty with others will flow naturally from that.
Being honest with yourself means acknowledging your vulnerabilities. It is a sign of strength, not weakness, to acknowledge your vulnerabilities.
Because once you know what your weaknesses are, you can work to turn them into strengths. But if you don’t even accept that you have any weaknesses, it will catch up with you sooner or later and you will fall flat on your face.
You can fool some of the people some of the time. But you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
So be yourself, be a human. Not a lobster.
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Have you taken the 16 personalities test?
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I just tried it, very interesting. My results were (!):
Personality type: “The Consul” (ESFJ-A)
Individual traits: Extraverted – 94%, Observant – 54%, Feeling – 95%, Judging – 80%, Assertive – 78%.
Strategy: People Mastery
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Lol to the people mastery! I like that one. “Hey, get out the way! I know people mastery” I can see people darting in all directions hombre
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After 11 years of living among every type of crook, hoodlum, scamster and conman you do learn a bit about people.
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You got that 100% right bro. People mastery is something that can’t be taught in a degree! Can’t wait to read your blog hombre after a day at work with a nice cappuccino and some flake!
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This is an epidemic today people just are not content with being “normal” or themselves.
Especially within our community i would plead with our youth stop playing this “wannabe gangster” , no one is able to starve in this country and the majority of you dont live in ghettos and are actually laughed at by others whom you try to imitate.
The prisons here are packed with these same plastic gangsters whom the majority would fair better in the long run with a normal job , but then we come back to the question of people feel they are “too good” for certain things and entitlement!
Everybody has a role in society if everyone sat on the dinner table how is the food going to be cooked.
I personally have just given up with people especially so called gansters because when push comes to shove they are the first to break just as in society itself they want all the priveliges and no work so they want to play gangster but do no jailtime!
I myself used to sit there and draw inspiration from you that for a totally hard working legitimate guy (for whom had it not been for these bogus charges i say bogus because in comparison to other cases at the time and having read most of your legal arguments against extradition there was no way you were a terrorist)but
Would probably have never visited a police station unless as a victim was sitting in maximum security units fighting tooth and nail against your “doctored extradition” for years and then went to the dragons layer as they would say and took a 25 year plea.Now that is the integrity of a real man not some plastic gangster and it is a very rare trait today whether from a criminal/prison perspective or on the outside.
Now had it been one of those big ass so called gansters (i have to add this it also includes these so called isis supporters) they would have cracked in a minute and would have been ready to invent stuff on people ie ; snitch to get the hell out , easily would have been forgotten those “loyalty till death” tattoos or any religious brotherhood.
It is a sad depiction of society today that although technologically we have advanced so much in a short space of time yet we have become so selfish its like dog eat dog.
Just a few clarities to help understand because it hasnt been done thus far in this blog and i feel it could help and i feel you are too modest to mention it brother.
Firstly high security units even in Europe are very very harsh in terms of psychologically , i feel being in normal population is freedom compared to being in the unit.Unless you have been in units you really havent seen jail.
In simlple terms being in a unit is like you have no freedom for anything at all you are woken up once every hour at night , restrictions on who you can communivate with the list is endless whereas being in a normal prison is like being free.
For the US units i have only heard they are like physically living in hell.
Second clarity is that by taking a 25 year plea in the US any federal lawyer in the US would tell you this is not indicative of any guilt , i know this may seem bizarre but the reality is that if you had gone to trial you would easily be found guilty on their legal standard and be faced with life which actually means life.Any self respected lawyer would tell you being indicted in the feds is bad but being indicted a muslim for alleged terrorism offence you are screwed.
There isnt much space here but understand US federal law is not like hollywood where people beat cases on legal arguments , the tenets of US federal law are so bizarre they go against common sense forget human rights!
A lot of people are fake out there, women included – 7 billion people, 14 billion faces.
Great reading your bblog