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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (April 25, 1973)
Prose from the pen
George E. May wrote to the Daily Nebraskan
!ate in January asking for a subscription. After
his name was put on the subscription list, May
wrote again in March requesting permission to
write a series of articles. The first article
Editor Tom Lansworth and staff writer Tim
Anderson visited with May and toured the
prison, viewing the things that he had written
May, 45, operated an illegal check ring
throughout the United States for 17 years,
before being arrested in Omaha in October,
He and his three "assistants" would go into a
community and "set up" the town. Then they
would write bad checks that usually amounted
to thousands of dollars.
May was given a sentence of four to six years
in prison and is up for parole in May. He has
been active in Checks Anonymous, which he
will explain in one of his articles, and the prison
chapter of the Jaycees.
After May was arrested and imprisoned in
Nebraska, he received word from the stale of
Ohio that he was wanted there for a similar
May now owes Ohio either two years in
prison or a monetary restitution of several
thousand dollars. To pay off this detainer, May
has developed a birthday card idea which he
hopes to sell to a greeting card company.
His card has the birthdays of famous people
printed on the inside with a space for the name
of the person receiving the card.
For example, May found out the birthday of
the president of Hallmark Cards and then found
out a long list of famous people with the same
The list of names was printed on the inside
of the card with the president's name at the
bottom. Near the bottom it read "Join the
Club." The president did not buy the idea; May
has not paid off his restitution.
A key turns, freedom escapes inmate's grasp
Today the Daily Nebraskan runs the first in a
series of five articles written by George E. May, an
inmate at the Nebraska Penal and Correctional
The articles deal with the orientation into prison
life; rehabilitation facilities inside the prison; Checks
Anonymous, an organization of former illegal check
writers inside the prison; the return of the inmate
back into societv and the cemetery at the prison,
which includes graves of executed criminals.
by George E. May
Part one: The clanging doors
Where I live, we do not shake hands.
Where I live, we do not hear a baby cry.
Where I live, we do not hear kind words.
Where I live, we do not hear a happy child laugh.
Where I live, we do not have pets.
Where I live, we do not have trees.
Where I live, we do not have money.
Where do I live? In prison.
The deputy sheriff opened the rear door to let us
out. The inside door handles had been removed. We
eased ourselves through the door-a difficult feat
when you are wearing handcuffs and leg-irons. We
somberly viewed our new home. The only emotions I
experienced were relief from the discomfort of the
crowded station wagon and fear.
We started shuffling toward the little building
where we were relieved of our fetters and the long
chain that tied us together. Here we were searched
while standing spread-eagle (called a shakedown) and
then moved forward through the first of many doors.
Between the first and second door, the impact hit
me! I had just entered the prison grounds and,
between here and the next door, I would have my last
look at freedom for many years.
I he full weight of my plight was almost unbearable.
Straight ahead, I saw the foreboding walls and the
gun turrets, replete with indistinguishable men in
blue, cradling shotguns.
The third and fourth doors took us to the turnkey
area-the pivotal point where two doors cannot be
opened at the same time and where the "turning of
the keys" is accomplished electronically, by someone
in a glass cage, The stop in this little cuibicle allowed
the guard stationed there to subject everyone passing
through to a shakedown.
Three doors later, we found ourselves in the
dress-in room, immediately below the turnkey area.
Here, I suffered my first real indignity-being assigned
a number. This number will be a part of me during
my entire incarceration and will be used to identify
me each day,
We were then photographed, fingerprinted,
showered and subjected to another indignity-being
sprayed with DDT. The purpose was obviously to
prevent communicable vermin from infesting the
But the callousness shown when spraying a man
with the same type of cannister used on ordinary
garden weeds' only helped to accentuate my
surroundings, They seemed to be saying, "you are
now number 27571 -and you damn well better not
We wore then relieved of our money, clothing and
other valuables and issued our new clothes-denim
shirts, trousers and jackets. The supervisor
disappeared and we talked to the photographer, who
was the first inmate we met. He immediately took us
into the next room where we viewed the electric
chair. He briefly told us about the last electrocution.
We then returned to the clothing area, where he told
us the prison taboos:
-Stop in your trucks if you are outside and hear
the whistle blow. That tower guard does not use
Wednesday, april 25, 1973
popcorn in his shotgun,
-Never fraternize with the "screws." (Guards are
variously called "screws," "hacks," "bulls" and other
-Never try to talk religion to another con. God
doesn't live here.
-Never ask another con what his rap or sentence
At this juncture, the "screw" returned and I
couldn't help but think that I had just received the
first of many contrived experiences. We returned to
the turnkey area, were again shaken down and, seven
doors later, encountered indignity No. 3 losing the
i imagine everyone says the same thing to the
inmate barber, "don't cut it too short," and each
haircut seems to come out the same way-short. After
the three-minute haircut and two additional doors,
we entered the interior of the prison, the yard area.
If the reality of our situation had not registered
before this, it certainly did then. We were in a yard
area of about an acre and could see nothing but
concrete and steel around us-and five visible guard
towers. We were escorted to the Reception-Diagnostic
Center, not too affectionately called "the fishtank,"
which was to be home for the next thirty days.
We were greeted at the "fishtank" door by another
officer and another shakedown. Then we were
assigned to specific groups. I was assigned to the third
floor and allowed to proceed unescorted. I was met
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by another locked door, another officer and the
After he determined that his fellow guards had not
permitted me to possess any contraband (anything
not specifically issued to me), he gave me an inmate
handbook, admonished me about responding when
my number is called and allowed me to enter the
"day room" to join the other inmates.
As I entered the huge room it seemed that every
action stopped for a fraction of a second. I was being
appraised by every man in the room. A feeling of
unfriendliness and indifference seemed to permeate
the air. I quietly found a place to begin the task of
studying the rule book.
I coufd neither concentrate on or compiehcnd the
contents of that book. I laid the book aside and
started pacing the floor until the bell rang-the
repeating ritual of announcing all activities in the
We lined up at the dooi , weie shook down and
marched to the main dining room for the evening
meal. Here I got my first glimpse ot the geneial
inmate population and a view of the entiie inside
Here also, I had my first conversation with another
"fish." He nudged me, pointed to another inmate and
told me in a conspiratorial manner about the
escapades of one of the multiple-lifers. I detected a
note of awe in his voice as he revealed this Tittle
tidbit. This was my first exposure to one of the
greatest fears of prison life the omnipresent fear of
I imagined it would be difficult sleeping the fust
night, but I was wrong. I was physically and
emotionally drained and slept like a baby.
The next morning I began the first of a seiies of
tests, lectures, interviews, examinations and
form-fillings that would occupy about three houis a
day for the next three weeks. The othei 21 houis
were spent in reflection and becoming acclimated to
Three weeks later we got the woid that activities
had been concluded and we would be classified for
job and living quartets the next week. I didn't look
forward to a week of inactivity. Spending three; houis
each day in special activities had become somewhat
pleasurable, I would have liked to continue staying
The day finally arrived. The thirty days in
quarantine were finally over and I could begin earning
"good-time" as soon as I saw the classification board
that morning. I had seen or heard all of them in
lecture groups or interviews but that day they
decided where I went from there.
They placed me in the plate factoiy - making
license plates. Being an accountant by profession jnd
possessing the noimal clerical skills of typing,
speedwriting, office machine use and so foith, I
thought they would use those skills ah curly acquit en,
rather than send me to an unfamiliar job.
I knew they had cleiical openings because one
supervisor stopped over to talk to me the week befoie
about my background. But then I remembeied a
conversation I heard a few days earliei between two
men in the day room, One fellow was explaining to
another the way to go about receiving your choice ol
Although his method of explanation was a little
more involved, the gist was: the bather will novel get
a job barbering, but will be assigned as a welder. A
welder will never get assigned to a welding job, but
will be assigned as a barber. The point being lltat in
order to become a barber you must tell them you are
a welder, so you can continue yout tonsoiial skills.
Confusing? Maybe, but for me this was my first of
many lessons in "How to Iwat the system."
Tomorrow: Rehabilitation-A joke or a promise?
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