Guying Around in Prison: Jail Hoops

I felt the need to share this story on my blog because I think a lot of readers have seen movies about prison life in the US.  Obviously, movies are fabricated, so you can’t believe everything that you see.  When I was in University, I played basketball.  When I finished my eligibility, the guy that ran our student rec center would organize a basketball game against the inmates at a maximum security prison.  He knew someone that worked at the jail so he would have this game every spring.  He would usually take the former basketball players and any other former athletes to fill a 7-8 man roster.  Now I said this was a maximum security prison, the inmates there were guys who had committed some heinous crimes.  Some of these guys were serving life sentences, multiple life sentences, or decades long sentences.  They committed crimes like murder, rape, armed robbery, real stand up guys in there.

I’ve been Guying Around since I was born, so when the Rec Center guy asked me if I would play I said yes.  Not even thinking about my safety going into a maximum security prison to play a bunch of bad dudes in hoops.  Why not?  What’s the worst that could happen in this situation?  All of the inmates were on good behavior for years, so this was going to be a cool experience, right?

We went out to play them on a Saturday morning, we had 6 guys on our team ready to play.  We had three former basketball players and three students to make up our team.  The prison we played at was called the Marianville State Penitentiary.  When we arrived at the prison, we had to go through a number of security checks to make sure we weren’t bringing anything illegal into the prison.  The guards also debriefed us saying that we should not accept anything from the inmates, just act normal and play ball.  If we were to accept something from them, the inmates will try to manipulate us into doing things for them on the outside.  The guards warned us that this is what they do all day, they don’t have much else to do.

After going through security, having our debriefing, we got to walk around the prison while everyone was on lockdown.  It was almost like the movies with the yard they use for weight lifting and free time.  When we arrived at the gym where we were playing my first reaction was “Wow, this gym is nicer than my high school gym!”  The facilities were really nice, a nice indoor hardwood floor with nice backboards and a brand new scoreboard.  US tax dollars working at its finest!

We began warming up and then a buzzer sounded, a guard came in leading the inmate team into the gym.  During our debriefing, the guards told us that this team of inmates was like their all-star team or their best players.  They have different leagues in the prison based on ability every night of the week.  The team that we are playing is their most talented and well behaved team.  There are two inmate coaches that pick the team, they run plays and have practice, just like an actual basketball team.  Also, there were inmates who were filming the game, they broadcast it throughout the prison that night.  The guards told us to not expect any calls either as there were inmate referees as well.  The inmates all bet on this game, so the referees and the guys keeping score are all involved in it.  The inter workings of prison are so complicated, I remember having questions for the guards, but that would have lead down another rabbit hole of prison life.  All that mattered at that point, was just playing ball.

When we began the game with the jump ball, the inmates were all really nice, shaking our hands wishing us luck.  After the jump ball, it was just a normal game, except these guys were some of the strongest guys I ever battled in the post.  One of their post players had shoulder muscles bigger than my quad muscles.  He also had a glass eye and 4 teardrop tattoos on his face, resembling that of “Deebo” from the movie Friday.  I could not keep him off the glass.  We relied on our outside shooting most of the game because the referees were not giving us any calls.  We knew that going into the game, calls were going to not be in our favor.  The shot callers and prison bosses controlled the refs that day.  Also during the game, there was only one guard in the gym, a female guard who stood by the door all game.  I thought that was interesting, if something popped off in there, who knows what would have happened.  Luckily it didn’t, otherwise I would not be writing this today.

The game was a back and forth battle, much better competition than I expected.  We battled and clawed until the end, coming out with a narrow 3 point victory.  The inmates did not talk any trash or say anything to us the entire game.  This is their release from their everyday life, so they don’t want to mess it up.  They are human and made some pretty terrible mistakes that they’re paying for, but at the end of the day they just wanted to play ball.

In the handshake line one of the inmates ripped the tag off of his jersey and wrote his name and inmate number on the tag at the scorer’s table.  He gave the tag to one of the guys playing on our team and told him to contact him.  My teammate gave the tag to one of the guards like we were instructed, not wanting to get the inmate in trouble, but just listening to what the guards asked of us.  We don’t know what happened to that inmate, but we did have his name.  Once we left the prison, we googled his name out of curiosity and found that he committed a double homicide 8 years prior and was serving two life sentences.  Crazy stuff, but that’s a prison for you.

My suggestion to you is, if you are ever Guying Around in the US, don’t do anything to put yourself in a maximum security prison.  Playing jail hoops was an awesome experience, but it also reminded me to never make those kinds of mistakes.  That is a place I never want to go and Guy Around in!

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