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  • “Downtown” turned out to be the San Fancisco City Felon Tank – a very scary place! I was put into a cell-block that had 6 cells with 4 prisoners to a cell, and left there for two days. I was very concerned that the Navy completely forgot about me. I had no idea how long I would be there. It was like a really bad dream, only it was real. This turn of events had not been part of my plans.

    I quickly learned about the currency that cigarettes are in the tank. I went in with a couple of packs and within about an hour, most of them were gone. I was trying to be friendly, but soon realized that I must look like an easy mark. I was, really, and I thought this might be a problem. Some of the characters in there just scared the hell out of me. I'd heard stories about what went on in jails. The potential, here, looked worse than any of the stories I'd heard. I was frightened to my bones.

    I determined that I needed to do something to make myself look tougher than I was, else they would just smell my fear. There were several tables for playing cards around the cell block, and when they let us out of our cells to wander around, I got myself into a game of spades. I knew how to play cards, and I wanted to win some cigarettes back.

    This one character, who jumped into my game, was far and away the scariest and meanest looking dude in the whole block. He had these crazy bug eyes that would dart all over the place, and pierce right into your heart when he glowered at you. He was thin and wiry, but very strong looking. I was just sure that he would cut you as soon as look at you.

    He was doing some serious cheating in the game. It was blatant. The others had to know, but no one wanted to be the one to call him on it. My competitive nature just could not take it any longer - cigarettes were on the line here! Somewhere in the insane side of my brain, I decided that this was my moment to establish myself in the block. I'd had enough of "crazy"'s cheating.

    I slammed my cards down on the table, stood up, looked him straight in the eyes, and said, “I’ll be damned if I’ll play with a cheater!” He jumped up, leaned into me with his eyes wilder looking than they'd been before, the veins in his neck bulged to where I thought they might pop, his nostrils flared– but I just stood there staring right back at him. Where these balls came from, I had no idea – I'm dying inside, just sure that I was about to get stabbed or worse. But I dared not show my fear.

    All other games and activity in the block stopped - all eyes were fixed on the two of us, on this showdown. I just kept looking right at him with a look that I hoped to God said, “Go ahead, give me your best shot, asshole!” It was one of those high adrenaline moments – everything was in sharp focus, I was hyper aware of everything around me. After what seemed like hours, but was only about 15 seconds, a crazy grin spread across his face, he shook his head, let out a laugh like a howl, and said, “Sheeit, man, yer crazier than I am!”, and sat back down at the table.

    All the tension left the block in that moment. The game resumed like nothing had happened, activity in the block went back to "normal", but something had definitely changed. I intuitively felt, for the first time since I’d arrived, that I was going to survive this experience. He and I steered clear of each other, and everyone else left me alone after that.

    It was late on my second night in the tank that a guard came and told me that the Shore Patrol had come for me. It was time to leave the tank! I’ll never forget that moment, that scene...as I gathered my stuff together and started to make my way to the cell door, one guy tapped me on the shoulder from an upper rack and handed me a couple of smokes – “Good luck, man”, he said.
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