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May 11, 2014 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Lifting weights in an American prison means joining a culture unlike any seen in a free-world gym, full of crudely welded pig iron and rust. Men forsake masturbation to improve their bench-press stats and consume cans of Jack Mack, the cheapest tinned fish in the world, along with the filthy broth it's packed in for every one of the 72.5 grams of protein promised on the label. It's a manly, aggressive universe with rules and customs of its own. I lived it for 10 years. An Ex-Con's Guide to Prison Weightlifting.
posted by Ghostride The Whip (53 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Then I became a heroin addict for long enough to get desperate and commit a couple of amateur stickups. They give you 10 years for that."

A bit of an overreaction given a rich kid can get off the hook for being, well, rich. Is consistency of sentencing in the US completely absent.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 9:27 AM on May 11 [3 favorites]


That last paragraph might be a huge stretch, no pun intended.
posted by davebush at 9:27 AM on May 11


GallonOfAlan, I thought armed robbery was very commonly punished more severely than murder in most countries? Murder doesn't really do capitalism much harm at all, but armed robbery actually begins to do serious damage to the stability of the system fairly quickly...
posted by colie at 9:31 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]


The BB.com forums are an awful place, but if you haven't seen MrEggs there you are missing out: http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=149363183

http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=147988723
posted by rubadub at 9:32 AM on May 11 [22 favorites]


I don't know Colie - here in Ireland for example murder is a mandatory life sentence but very few spend the rest of their natural in prison even for murder. Armed robbery where no actual violence occurred I'd say 5 years would be the average. Then again armed robberies are very few and far between here.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 9:36 AM on May 11


Some might argue that Genis was a comparatively rich kid, but he used a knife, not a gun, which would have netted him more time.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:48 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]


And in our society, apart from the white-collar offenders, it is really the weak who commit the crimes, not the strong.
I assume it's "weak of character" or something of the kind that he means. I won't accept that steroid-rage-induced crimes committed by muscle-culture devotees are some kind of fiction. Example: Jared Remy.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:00 AM on May 11


I think his 10-year sentence for multiple counts of armed robbery probably already shows a significant amount of discretion in his favor. In NY State, robbery with a deadly weapon (apparently his thing was knifepoint robbery) is a Class B felony, up to 25 years. So somebody did him a solid; if they hadn't — as perhaps they might not have if he were less photogenic or less well educated — he might still be in prison.

Anyway: I wonder where the weightlifting equipment originally came from? He mentions that it's DIY stuff, crudely welded together, but that implies access to a welder. It seems odd that people who (apparently) can't be trusted with store-bought free weights would be trusted to use an arc welder. Is it all a legacy of more lenient days in the past or something?

Somewhat related, Genis assisted in this NY Daily News piece about what had changed in NYC while he was upstate. (Warning: Brooklyn hipsters feature prominently.) Also he apparently wrote a steampunk novel in prison, which I think is the one referred to in the bio at the end of the weightlifting article. Interesting guy.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:00 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]


Can't wait to see his pruno recipe
posted by thelonius at 10:11 AM on May 11 [4 favorites]


Damn that was an interesting article. Made me think about Henry Rollins' essay "The Iron."
posted by codswallop at 10:13 AM on May 11 [4 favorites]


GallonOfAlan, I thought armed robbery was very commonly punished more severely than murder in most countries?

Do you just make this stuff up off the top of your head?
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:14 AM on May 11 [18 favorites]


The weights were probably made in the prison.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:14 AM on May 11


I was thinking of Rollins too, like what would it be like if he were the prison warden. No cable TV, but lots of weight rooms.
posted by thelonius at 10:15 AM on May 11


Don't they do vocational training in prisons? That's where the welder probably came form.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:16 AM on May 11


I assume it's "weak of character" or something of the kind that he means.

I assumed "weak in socio-economic resources," such as money, status, connections, skills.
posted by notyou at 10:17 AM on May 11 [5 favorites]




Interesting note on the barmen's build staying the longest. Was it because of the exercise, or because they don't require a lot of equipment?
posted by benzenedream at 10:23 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]


Interesting note on the barmen's build staying the longest. Was it because of the exercise, or because they don't require a lot of equipment?

Equipment. You can do it almost anywhere. On the subway, parks, you can even exercise in a closet with a sturdy clothes hanging bar if you really want to.
posted by Talez at 10:29 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]


A public defender friend of mine has described prisons to me as "monster factories." He was talking about what prison does to people mentally... But, given that's the way they are, I'm rather less happy that prisoners also focus so much on becoming physically more powerful. Of course I'd rather change the first problem, thus making the second one less serious... But...how about, say, running? Or learning a trade? Or reading? Or playing basketball? or some other thing that would give these guys an opportunity to do something hard and engaging?

I've heard this argument before (that weightlifting is, on the whole, a good thing for inmates)... And the conclusion may be true. But I guess I'm not convinced that there aren't other activities that would be just as good for them, and possibly better for the outside world after they are released...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 10:37 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]


Interesting. But I guess I was hoping for more about the lifters and their interactions.
posted by Splunge at 10:38 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]


Fists O'Fury: " Or learning a trade? Or reading?"

There are training programs, but do keep in mind that practicing your trade for money requires someone else forget to ask the question 'have you been convicted of a felony' somewhere in the hiring process.

And prisoners do read quite a bit, I'm told.
posted by pwnguin at 10:48 AM on May 11 [6 favorites]


I recently re-connected (on Facebook) with an uncle who went to prison for armed robbery back in the 60s, when he was 18. I don't know a lot of details about his life but he is now in art school, and he is pretty good! From what I can gather he earns money working as a handyman.

It is so, so strange; another world. I grew up in relative privilege (His oldest brother, my dad, did well) and I find it hard to understand what the hell my uncle was thinking... like the author, he was not that poor, but was a heroin addict (although it's not clear to me whether that happened before or after prison).
posted by maggiemaggie at 10:57 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]


Do you just make this stuff up off the top of your head?

Just had a look at the UK's Crown Prosecution Service website in the UK:

"[For armed robbery] the sentence should be considered in the context of those imposed for murder. Starting point for a single armed robbery where no serious injury was caused was 15 years."

For murder, minimum term is also 15 years (if not premeditated).

I personally knew someone who got 17 years for armed robbery in which the gun wasn't fired. So it's not that crazy a discussion to have.
posted by colie at 11:06 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]


Continues: "25 years may be appropriate where convicted of more than one [armed robbery] offence... The carrying of a firearm should be the subject of a separate count."
posted by colie at 11:13 AM on May 11


Kadin2048> Anyway: I wonder where the weightlifting equipment originally came from? He mentions that it's DIY stuff, crudely welded together, but that implies access to a welder.

That might have been his figure of speech (I think the actual article uses "home welded"). From what I've read, the barbells in prison gyms have the plates welded to each other and to the bar. The reason for that is to prevent the plates from being used as weapons. The welding was probably crude because it wasn't done by the the original equipment manufacturers.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 11:15 AM on May 11 [3 favorites]


I'm rather less happy that prisoners also focus so much on becoming physically more powerful.

I believe that there is an argument to be made on behalf of the benefits of iron; the former coworker who used to train me had, as a teenager, been involved in some illegal activities, and to hear him tell it the discipline that he developed (and sustained) from spending 90 or 120 minutes in the weight room five times a week also led to him sticking to education. And holy mackerel, spending 450 to 600 minutes a week in the gym also led to some muscles.

It's true that I'd rather deal with a weaker criminal than a beastly one, but I don't know how many restrict themselves to bare-handed transgressions.
posted by mr. digits at 11:16 AM on May 11 [6 favorites]




Right - so the dude was simply a mugger with a knife, not an armed robber? Although he says 'stick ups' in the article, 'armed robbery' as a phrase in the UK basically means sticking up a bank with a gun. That explains most of my comments about sentencing.
posted by colie at 12:14 PM on May 11


Then I became a heroin addict for long enough to get desperate and commit a couple of amateur stickups. They give you 10 years for that.

Right - so the dude was simply a mugger with a knife, not an armed robber? Although he says 'stick ups' in the article, 'armed robbery' as a phrase in the UK basically means sticking up a bank with a gun. That explains most of my comments about sentencing.

When reading something by a prisoner (or ex-prisoner), it's wise not to get too hung up on details of what they write about the crime or the trial or the investigation etc.. You are dealing with a manipulative and hardcore mendacious crowd, much, much more so than your run of the mill lying civilian. Whether that's the way they end up because of prison, or already start out as such which is how they end up in that situation, the fact is that they're super-duper unreliable wrt. that information. Now, details about prison life and so forth, yes, it may be quite truthful and certainly very interesting, but the other stuff is for the birds.
posted by VikingSword at 1:16 PM on May 11 [3 favorites]


What? How do you know this about every prisoner, everywhere? Or even most prisoners anywhere? Or this former prisoner here?
posted by cmoj at 1:36 PM on May 11 [7 favorites]


What? How do you know this about every prisoner, everywhere? Or even most prisoners anywhere? Or this former prisoner here?

Because I have been alive for more than fifteen years, and so understand very basic facts and basic statistics. Yes, there exist two-headed cows, a fact which doesn't invalidate the observation that cows are born with one head. To then brightly pop in with a statement "well you don't know that about every cow or this cow" or "well you can't know that about every prisoner, or this prisoner" is fatuous in the extreme. There are innocent people unjustly or mistakenly imprisoned, but if you were to listen to prisoners, it would seem as if that's the vast majority. Prisons are filled with highly manipulative individuals, and they most often are extremely unreliable sources of information about their own crimes. If you are not aware of that basic fact, then I can conclude with - wait for it, no qualification! - absolute certainty that you either (a) are a very young and idealistic person or (b) have no experience nor have done any research on the subject.
posted by VikingSword at 1:56 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]


Right - so the dude was simply a mugger with a knife, not an armed robber?

Armed robbery just means robbing someone with a weapon involved, in the USA. No implication of banks, guns, etc.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:59 PM on May 11


If you are not aware of that basic fact, then I can conclude with - wait for it, no qualification! - absolute certainty that you either (a) are a very young and idealistic person or (b) have no experience nor have done any research on the subject.

But I thought you knew this just by being over 15, so what does (b) have to do with it? Are you saying that your first sentence, [I know this] Because I have been alive for more than fifteen years is not a complete description of why you think you know all about prisoners? Surely the only possible conclusion you could come to is that the speaker is under 15?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:01 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]


You are dealing with a manipulative and hardcore mendacious crowd

Also, cowardly and superstitious
posted by thelonius at 2:01 PM on May 11 [15 favorites]


Armed robbery just means robbing someone with a weapon involved, in the USA.

I get that now, apologies for the slight derail - in the UK a 'stick up' and 'armed robbery' really does mean going into a bank with a gun and a mask over your face, in common parlance.
posted by colie at 2:13 PM on May 11


Meh, I liked him better in prison.
posted by spitbull at 2:17 PM on May 11


Because I have been alive for more than fifteen years, and so understand very basic facts and basic statistics.

"Because I know," is not good evidence for me. I would be interested in the research done about the levels of manipulativeness of the formerly-incarcerated versus "civilians" that leads you to believe that a convict who is honest about their crimes is as rare as a two-headed cow.

I've known a few people who have been incarcerated. Some I did not judge to be trustworthy, others I did.

And since your argument as presented seems to ride on my age, I'm over 15.
posted by cmoj at 2:29 PM on May 11 [7 favorites]


But I thought you knew this just by being over 15, so what does (b) have to do with it?

What is the point of this? Do you think that you are making a clever observation by trotting out petty semantic points of no relevance? Because even on its own terms that fails - just to humor you, let's do conceptual analysis 101. The statement I made about being over 15 obviously has implicit conditionals. How do we know that? Because if someone, is, for example comatose from age 2 to 15, they can hardly have any opinion about anything... right? Absurd? Why yes, necessarily absurd in answer to your absurd attempt at semantic point-scoring.

We were discussing prison populations in the contemporary U.S. (the subject of the FPP). Someone objects to a generalization made about prisoners being, well, for the most part criminals (because exceptions!), as if the existence of exceptions invalidated basic facts. Criminals notoriously lie about their crimes. That is not controversial. We know nothing about the reliability of this particular prisoner, so have no reason to think he's more reliable than a statistical prisoner. If that's the case, then the statistics apply to this case: prisoners are highly likely to lie about their crimes. To attack that statement as if it's wrong on the facts, inverts that basic statistic reality: s/he asks how do I know this about this particular prisoner - this inverts the reality because statistics are on my side, and in order to claim that this person is more reliable than the average prisoner would necessitate special knowledge about this prisoner which is lacking. So the burden of proof is on the person who describes a less common scenario (the prisoner who doesn't lie about his crime). What are the circumstances under which someone could be mistaken as to this basic fact? And that was my answer and so there's your answer.
posted by VikingSword at 2:32 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]


Since pretty much every guy in my neighborhood who is over 25 and not white has been in prison, I would say that given the sample, some of them can be trusted and some can't. Some of them were in for drug busts under the era of strict sentencing. Some for other things, including violence. I would also characterize many of the people I know, white or not, in my neighborhood and out of it, as manipulative truth-bending schemers who are out for themselves much of the time. I don't know that those are traits confined to people in prison.
posted by Peach at 2:54 PM on May 11 [9 favorites]


If it's any help, my friend the parole officer says he likes to hang out with murderers more than with robbers. He says they're usually more honest and less manipulative. The more anecdata the better, I always say.
posted by sneebler at 3:04 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]


Uhh jerking off heaps is actually one of the better things you can do for your gains because t levels. Just sayin'.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:11 PM on May 11


Ignoring the shittiness of the derail, here is a recent high-profile letter from an inmate and a rebuttal from the family of his victim about how he characterized his crime. MeFi discussion from then for people to get their fill of the "can we even trust what he says" debate.
posted by pahalial at 3:17 PM on May 11 [4 favorites]


this inverts the reality because statistics are on my side, and in order to claim that this person is more reliable than the average prisoner would necessitate special knowledge about this prisoner which is lacking.

Dude, what fucking statistics? You have cited zero pieces of actual statistical evidence, you're just waving around the abstract concept of statistics as some kind of condescending talisman while making vague appeals to things that "everybody knows" and insulting people who disagree with you.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 3:31 PM on May 11 [11 favorites]


Proof that prison gets you yoked: Kali Muscle.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:37 PM on May 11


[the weird statistics derail can stop now. Thanks.]
posted by restless_nomad at 3:37 PM on May 11 [4 favorites]


I've heard this argument before (that weightlifting is, on the whole, a good thing for inmates)... And the conclusion may be true. But I guess I'm not convinced that there aren't other activities that would be just as good for them

There are, and the availability of weightlifting does not eliminate them. (However, there will almost certainly be resentment about any form of prisoner betterment that you can come up with.)

and possibly better for the outside world after they are released...

Let's examine this idea for a moment. Putting aside all of the good that regular exercise and challenges do for a person mentally, how exactly is being able to lift more weight going to impact someone's ability to do harm?

They are not going to be able to punch significantly harder, as they would be able to do if they were boxing. They are not going to be better coordinated. They would be if they were playing basketball. They are not going to be able to better chase someone down as they would if they were running. They are simply going to make the more insecure among us more uncomfortable.

I think this is silly. There is a reason most robberies are committed with guns and knives, not HUGE RIPPLING PECS.
posted by ignignokt at 3:40 PM on May 11 [26 favorites]


Re the crimes he committed, that NY Post article I linked to earlier is not written by him. He sounds pretty decent as far as muggers go:

Still, in one incident, according to cops, a “courteous” Genis, after taking her cash, returned a wallet to a woman he robbed after she asked for it back, telling him that it contained all her identification.

But back to the OP, which I found really interesting, especially the lengths to which prisoners went to get protein powder and vitamins. I'd have liked to hear more about the "barmen" - people can do some amazing things with a pullup bar. Here's a before/after from a guy on Reddit who spent 4 months in prison doing bodyweight exercise.
posted by pravit at 3:49 PM on May 11 [4 favorites]


I'd have liked to hear more about the "barmen" - people can do some amazing things yt with a pullup bar

That form of urban gymnastics is so much less annoying than parkour.
posted by sparklemotion at 4:11 PM on May 11


They are simply going to make the more insecure among us more uncomfortable.

You seriously believe those lies? It's well known that prisoners can channel their muscular size DIRECTLY into their power meters, building energy levels beyond what most of us are familiar with. By letting their meters fill up completely, they can actually execute what are known as "Blast Moves" that can utterly DESTROY innocent men. The most nefarious aspect of this is that these Blast Moves are COMPLETELY unpredictable, since every prisoner's move is different. Some involve simple laser-cannon-like energy beams cutting horizontally across the ground; some involve duplicates of the prisoner rushing into the area, each one delivering a quick uppercut; and some actually summon a "helper" (usually a bird or a demon) to inflict harm upon their opponents. Studies consistently show that more muscular weightlifters are EXTREMELY brutal in this type of combat situation, and between fights, they're even more adept at criminal activities like destroying old cars or small brick walls.
posted by Greg Nog at 4:53 PM on May 11 [58 favorites]


He sounds pretty decent as far as muggers go

I think you just summed up Elmore Leonard's oeuvre.
posted by valkane at 6:27 PM on May 11 [5 favorites]


Was initially confused about "barmen" keeping their fitness levels - "how much exercise can you possibly get serving drinks??" I wondered. Maybe it's shifting all those beer barrels...
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:30 AM on May 12 [4 favorites]


It's well known that prisoners can channel their muscular size DIRECTLY into their power meters, building energy levels beyond what most of us are familiar with.

lol don't be ridiculous, no-one can increase their energy levels over 9000, it's just not possible.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:32 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]


lol don't be ridiculous, no-one can increase their energy levels over 9000, it's just not possible.

2014 welcomes you

don't get too excited about 2008
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:15 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


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