January 2015

Clay Howard


Somewhere in Northern Indiana, in a supermax-isolation joint, a guy named Joe Reed—in cell two—offers a stamp to buy some sleeping pills. Well, they're not actually sleeping pills, but the side effect is drowsiness. So naturally, they are highly sought after in the isolation (SHU) units.

Joe Reed's in luck! Joe Brown, down in cell eight, has two 40 milligram sleeping pills for one stamp. Hey, that's a deal!

Joe Reed lives at one end of the range and Joe Brown at the complete opposite.

You just need to fashion a string or cord of over 25 feet, made out of sandwich baggies or trash bags. It works as long as you apply the right method.

Only if you tear the bags in certain long strips and then fold each strip width-wise about two to three times then pull and stretch it ever so gingerly. Everything on lock-up is determined by whether one applies the right method.

Once you have the 25 feet or so of cord ready, you attach it to a plastic Zip-lock bag that is weighted down with wet paper or wet soap that’s been pulverized into a powder then turned into a thick paste using water.

This bag—or as inmates call it a "car," can now become flat, smooth, and heavy. Just the sort of thing we can throw or “drive” out of a small slit in the bottom of the door that is wide enough to let a magazine slide under.

If you apply the right method, you could throw the car from cell two to cell eight.

Well, almost anyways. You see, to "drive" a "car" all the way from one end of the range to the other—you gotta be pretty damn good. You have to perfect a method that's spot on.

Joe Reed is new to isolation units. He's also young and not too familiar with prison in general. Hell, he goes home in May of this year—what does he really care about perfecting the right method?

Joe Brown? He's not that good at driving either—not enough to traverse such a distance. He's sixty and been down since the seventies. He's doing life as a notorious serial killer. Still, that doesn't guarantee he can drive—regardless of how many people he's killed.

They need a middle man—Clay, in cell four—to pull this little deal off.

Joe Brown throws his car down the range, and simultaneously, on the other end—Joe Reed throws his car—as far as their abilities will allow…and that's right in front of Clay's cell.

They need Clay’s help, and it’s a good thing he’s such a nice guy. Or is he?

Joe Brown doesn't really want a stamp anyways. He has regular business with Clay because Clay sells him ramen soups—a stamp a piece.

Joe Brown wants food. Joe Reed wants to sleep. Clay wants a stamp and half of one of the pills.

Nothing is free in prison, but everyone knows that.

The next night—just a day later—a random shakedown was performed on Joe Reed. You could hear the C.O. say something to the effect of, “Contraband in an envelope.”

Oh, that greenhorn Joe Reed! Not used to the ways of supermax and ignorant on how to properly stash away things you're not supposed to have, like another person's medication!

The pills are confiscated. Joe Reed receives a write-up, all because he was careless with where he kept the pills. Now he's going to have his outdate moved back a few months.

What was Joe Reed still doing with pills anyways? Didn't he need to take something immediately? Yes, just not all 40 milligrams. See, Joe Brown is a sixty-year-old serial killer—doing life in a supermax. He gets extremely high doses of medication, and that makes him drowsy. Eighty milligrams a day is enough to keep the killer down, but Joe Reed and Clay? Well, all they need is 20 milligrams to be ableto sleep. You know, people who aren't deranged, who aren’t psychopaths don’t require as high of dosage as others, but one does, however, run across a lot of psychopaths in the supermax.

Another night comes, and another shakedown. Certainly not random. It's Joe Brown this time. Well, obviously, because Joe Brown is the only one on the unit who gets those particular pills. Not much detective work there. Nothing found in Joe Brown's cell; he’s hid his property well.

The nurse is going to watch him a little more closely at med-pass. What can they really do to him? He's already killed fourteen people.

Joe Brown wasn’t the only one to be part of a shake down that night. Joe Reed's neighbor, Mike Gibson, gets shook-down as well. Once they were done with Joe Brown, they moved right down to Joe Reed's neighbor.  The C.O.'s assume he had a hand in it as well—since Joe Brown lives so far down the range.

What about that middleman, Clay? You know, the one who assured the whole pill-swap could come off in the first place?

No one suspects him. He's passed over completely.

That whole situation fades like a shadow at sunset, and with the dawn of a new day, something altogether different begins to captivate everyone's attention. Over in a different pod a lifer was found dead in his cell. Rumor is that he cut himself and strangled himself with a home-made noose. Applying just the right method, it seems.

More info is coming down the pipes.

No one's thinking of the pills now, no one except Joe Reed. He's pacing in his cell.

He can’t sleep.

The only person who is sleeping is Clay. He added another stamp to his stash. It's anyone's guess what he does with them all.

Clay popped half of a sleeping pill. He's out like a light. Sleeping like a newborn babe.

Middlemen always make out the best in prison.



"While living in Supermax in January 2015, these events unfolded around me. Once the lifer was found dead, I felt the need to document these events, as they seemed to be common occurrences in all Supermax facilities. I had been reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and studying my Handbook for Writer's in Prison from the PEN American Center."

"I'm 33 years old. I've been incarcerated since 2001- in Supermax since 2007. I'm fighting a false conviction to murder from 2014. Seeking all help and support for a new trial and subsequent release. I enjoyed soccer, yoga, and throwing pottery on a wheel when I was free. From Lafayette, IN."