When Joyce came to San Quentin

In California, only a privileged group of inmates can have
family visits–at most, three or four times per year, for 48 hours.
Typically, inmates see their families in small trailers or
apartments within a fenced area, inside the secured prison
perimeter. Guards are not in the apartments at all times, but the
prisoners are counted day and night.

Herbert’s cell had been empty for three days when he finally
returned. ‘Man, how did it go?’ I asked, hearing his cell door slam
shut behind him.

‘Hey, Bro,’ said Herbert. ‘It was cool. Man! It couldn’t have
been better. But some crazy shit happen though, on that first

I was eager to hear about my neighbor’s three-day conjugal
visit. He had been corresponding with Joyce for eight years and had
wed her in prison just one year ago. She was the first woman
Herbert had been with in more than 13 years.

‘So you liked it?’ I smiled to myself. ‘Was you nervous? Man, I
just know you had to be nervous.’

‘Nervous!’ said Herb. ‘I was freaked. Man, I was so damn nervous
walking over to the trailer that I was just hoping somebody would
tell me my visit was canceled. That’s how nervous I was, man!’

I laughed, and my excitement moved me to the front of my cell.
‘What happened when you got there? Was Joyce already there?’

‘Man! It was a total trip. I walk inside and there’s Joyce. She
said, `Hi Sugar, are you glad to see me, Daddy?”

‘And what did you say?’ I laughed.

‘I just smiled and told her I was. Then the guard who escorted
me left us by ourselves, and we hugged each other.’

‘Is that right?.?.?. is that right? Then what happen, Herb?’

‘Well, Joyce had this pamphlet in her hand. She said the guards
wanted us to read it. It was just rules, though, you know, all the
do’s and don’ts. I just tells Joyce, `Say, Baby,
let’s sit down and read these rules–so we’ll know what’s
happening.’ You know, as a way of trying to get this woman to chill
out. Because right away she was just a-nibbling all over a guy’s
neck and wanting to make love. She wasn’t wasting no time, man. No

‘Is that right?’ I said, still smiling at the front of my cell
bars. ‘So you wasn’t ready for anything?’

‘Let me tell you something.’ Herbert got excited, moving to the
front of his cell. ‘Just being alone like that with a woman and no
guards around was scary enough.’

‘Ah, man!’ I joked. ‘I thought you was going to make some
serious love for three days and three nights–isn’t that what you
was telling me before you left? I just knew your ol’ ass was going
to freeze up. So what happen next?’

‘Well,’ said Herbert, ‘after about a hour or so of reading those
damn rules?.?.?.’

‘Hold on,’ I said. ‘You mean to tell me you spent a whole hour
reading those goddamn rules, Herb? Man, what’s wrong with you? You
haven’t read no rules since you been in San Quentin–and here you
go on your honeymoon, of all places–reading rules. Man, are you

Herbert laughed. ‘Jay,’ he said. ‘You just don’t know how it is
being in that big-ass trailer. That trailer had to be five times
the size of my cell. What would you do in a room that big after 13

Hey, man, Herbert went on, ‘I really did think I was going to go
in there and make passionate love to Joyce just like I was telling
y’all–but man, man! That first day was totally strange. When Joyce
got to nibbling all over on a guy’s neck and sweet talking me, and
wanting to live it up–the fear I had of being with a woman, after
all these years of just beating off, well,’ Herbert laughed. ‘The
honest-to-God truth is my swipe wouldn’t even get hard. Can you
believe that? And man, I damn sure wasn’t going to take off my
clothes, no way! And let Joyce get a bird’s-eye view of my twitty

‘Is that right?’ I fell to my knees laughing, and I could hear
the laughter of all the other prisoners down the tier who had been
listening in.

‘No way!’ said Herbert. ‘And here I been bragging to Joyce for
years on how big a stud I am, about how I was going to rock her
world, make some serious love to her if we ever got our chance.
After all that I couldn’t let her see me take off my clothes, not
having it up–man, don’t you realize how damn embarrassing that
would’ve been?’

‘I hear you, Herb.’ I was trying not to laugh. ‘So what happen

‘OK, after baby and me puts away all the food and stuff that she
brings for the three-day stay, we just talk and cuddle up to each
other for about a hour or two, you know. I’m starting to get pretty
loose, and we ends up kissing and rolling around on this huge-ass
bed. Man, nothing like these prison bunks.’

‘So now you’re ready, huh, big Herb?’

‘Oh, yeah, I was.’ Herbert’s voice became boastful. ‘Man, my
swipe got harder than this here penitentiary steel. Just like these
cell bars, by the time I gets on top of Joyce. And man, just as I
closed my eyes, getting a nice stroke going–man, something inside
that woman grabbed my swipe and squeezed it like it had
teeth–scaring the holy living shit out of me. It scared me half to
death. I screamed and jumped clean off this woman, trying to get my
rabbit-ass out of that damn bed. And them beds is wide, too! It
seemed like I had to swim a mile to get off that bed. I just went
into straight panic, holding onto my swipe, trying to get my damn
feet on that floor.’

‘You bullshitting me, Herb?’ I said, laughing till I cried.

‘I bullshit you not!’ said Herbert. ‘This is the god’s truth!
And then Joyce looks at me, laying over there on the other side of
the bed. She says, `Daddy, what’s wrong?’ in that sweet voice of

‘`What’s wrong!’ I said, standing at the bedroom door, butt
naked. `Girl, what in the world do you have up inside you?’

‘She says, trying not to giggle, `I guess you mean my muscles.
Daddy–you just a-raining in the face. Are you all right?’

‘`Oh, no,’ I said. `Those ain’t no muscles, Baby. That was
something else. I know muscles. That had to be something
else. Because, Baby, I ain’t never in my life felt no muscles like

‘Joyce says, `That’s because you ain’t never in your life had a
woman like me.’

‘You wanna know something?’ Herbert goes on, waiting for all the
laughter to die down. ‘It was totally embarrassing for me to have
lost the real feeling of what a woman’s love was like. That’s what
this prison can do to you. I’m just glad as hell that Joyce took it
all in stride, and found it even more funnier than all of you.’

Herbert wrapped up his story. ‘The next morning when Joyce and
me gets up and makes us some breakfast, she gets to eyeballing me
from across the table. She’s trying to drink her cup of coffee, but
every time, every time this woman brings the cup to her lips, she
looks at me and gets to giggling. For two whole days,’ said Herb,
‘that’s all that woman did was giggle. She laughed so hard by the
end of the visit she’d just look at me and break into tears.’

Jarvis Masters lives on death row in San
Quentin Prison, where he writes and practices Tibetan Buddhism. You
can contact him at C-35169, Tamal, CA 94974.

From Turning Wheel (Spring 1996). Subscriptions: $35/yr
(4 issues) from Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Box 4650, Berkeley, CA

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.