Inside America's Toughest Jail

Shanks are on the menu, but it's not lamb. Step inside the US's scariest cells and get up close and personal with the inmates.
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Tell them their tshirts make them look gay, I dare you



‘My mouth’s killing me. How do I get a toothbrush?’ I asked.

‘I’ll grab you one, dawg,’ Rob said. ‘I’m the head of the whites for this pod. Used to be in the Marines.’ He held out a tiny toothbrush. Splayed and stained.

‘Thanks, Rob. Why’s the toothbrush so small?’

‘So we can’t make shanks out of them.’


‘Jailhouse knives. You’ve gotta lot to learn, dawg.’

‘Got any toothpaste?’

‘Here you go.’ Rob smeared the toothbrush with AmerFresh, a brand made in China that Sheriff Joe Arpaio provided the inmates – five years later, the FDA found AmerFresh to be contaminated with diethylene glycol (DEG), a toxic chemical used in antifreeze and as a solvent.

‘Do you mind if I brush my teeth at your sink?’

‘Nah, go ahead, dawg,’ Rob said. I shuffled past them to the sink. The AmerFresh put out the fire in my mouth.

‘You need to take a shower, too,’ Rob said. I thought of all the shower scenes I’d seen in prison movies.

‘Everyone coming from The Horseshoe fucking stinks. You’re making our race look bad going around smelling like that. We don’t wanna have to smash you for bad hygiene.’

‘No problem. Where’s the showers at?’ I asked, still brushing my teeth.

‘In the corner, next to this cell,’ Rob said, pointing at the wall.

‘Better get in there before they call lockdown,’ the mid-sized one said.

‘What time’s that at?’ I asked.


‘All right, I’m off to the shower then.’ I cupped water in my hand a few times to rinse my mouth with, then stepped towards the door. Rob blocked me. I flinched.

‘Not so fast. We ain’t finished with you yet.’ His last sentence crushed me.

‘What is it?’ I asked, afraid of what he might say. Rob cocked his head back, narrowed his eyes.

‘What do you know about your cellies?’ Accusation had returned to his voice.



‘Not much. I guess Boyd’s here a lot, but the other one, David, has barely spoken a word.’

‘Yeah, we know all about crackhead Boyd. What about the other one? Any idea what his charges are?’ Rob trained such a gaze on me, I gulped.

‘No idea.’

‘We think he’s a mo.’


‘A chomo. A child molester.’

‘Uh oh.’

‘You can get smashed in here for having a celly who’s a chomo.’ My tension escalated again.

‘What should I do?’

‘Usually, we’d tell you to tell him to roll up, but we’re gonna handle it for you.’

‘OK. Thanks,’ I said, unsure why I’d thanked them. ‘I’d better go and

get my shower then.’

‘You do that. And don’t go in the shower barefoot. Towers’ foot rot ain’t nuthin’ nice, dawg.’

I returned to A12 for my towel. In the day room, I stripped to my boxers, and placed my clothes on one of the vacant tables. I was relieved the shower area was tiny and not one of those big communal affairs. Out of the two showers barely separated by a small divide I chose the one furthest in, as it provided more reaction time if I were attacked. Tiny black flies bothered my face as I balanced my boxers and towel on the showerhead. I stepped into a puddle of scum and pubic hair that swirled around my shower sandals when I turned the water on. I found a piece of soap in the puddle, rinsed it off and applied it to my armpits and genitals.

Feeling vulnerable, I showered fast and got dressed in the day room. Figuring the skinheads had told David to leave by now, I was surprised to see I still had two cellmates. I climbed up to my bunk, mindful not to bump my head. There were no pillows, and the thin mattress was uncomfortable. Trying to sleep with my head so close to the ceiling and my nose to the wall was like being in a coffin. My body ached, and rotating through various sleep positions only relieved it temporarily. My pulse remained fast, but I eventually passed out from exhaustion.

Extract from 'Hard Time: A Brit in America's Toughest Jail' by Shaun Attwood.

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