This morning I received another letter from Denis Martinez, the Sing Sing inmate I met last summer with whom I’ll be corresponding until his release (and probable deportation) this coming August.
Denis and I agreed some time back that we would publish a kind of running diary of his experiences in prison. Most particularly, he’ll describe the inmates’ daily watching-the-news ritual, a part of the day that gives birth to some wild conversations. In Denis’s wing at Sing Sing, a special unit for inmates who’ve excelled in school or other areas, he holds a particular place in the hierarchy. He’s the guy who owns a current Almanac, which often makes him the arbiter of factual disputes that break out on the wing. There’s no Google in the cell block.
In my last letter to him, I asked Denis to write about the inmates’ response to the Charlie Hebdo story. He wrote back:
You think emotions are high out there over the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris? Well, I wish you were here to see and hear the clamor in the gallery.
You’re probably going to be puzzled by this, but there’s one group of guys who have unanimously and vocally expressed support for Charlie Hebdo‘s decision to publish the prophet cartoons: Muslim prisoners. As you know, Muslims in Sing Sing – and every prison in New York, for that matter – outnumber any group.
In fact, they’re stronger than the Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, Trintarios and any other gang combined. So when they have an opinion about something, unless the prinsoner is someone who’s a close friend, everybody else treads carefully to avoid World War III.
Loudmouth Ali was the first in the gallery to notice the breaking news and condemn the attackers. He’s one of the oldest, but biggest Muslims in our area. His usually pathetic commentary tends not to fit the wisdom we would expect from someone over 50, but that Wednesday he was making sense.
I was in my cell, around the time ABC News comes on at noon, when I heard him crying out – and by crying out, I mean loudest-mouth-East-of-the-Hudson crying out.
“Stupid motherfuckers! They shootin’ unarmed dudes for some cartoon. That’s some coward shit.”
“You know what else is some ‘coward shit’?” interrupted Ricky. “When someone sends remote control planes to the other side of the world to drop bombs on ‘potential’ terrorists without a trial.”
Ricky is a muscle-bound, thirtysomething, dreadlocked Rastafarian man with a passion for ranting about geopolitics. He stood right in front of the TV, essentially replacing the ABC anchor. “Not only did those Haji motherfuckers warn them Paris dudes about the Mohamed cartoons years ago, but they went there personally and looked them in the face before the pushed their wigs back.”
“Still ain’t right,” countered Ali. “Muslims ain’t supposed to draw the prophet, but they can’t force a non-Muslim in a non-Muslim land to live by shari’a law.”