April 5, 2004
The Softer Side of Prison
So say you're a young Crip, in prison in California, and it's your cellmate's birthday. How do you make him feel special? Taking their cues from administraive assistants in corporate offices everywhere, gang members in prison are creating and passing around birthday cards for everyone to sign. However, the messages in the cards are more likely to say "Well cellie what can I say. Happy Birthday homie. I got nothing but love for you. Homies will celebrate later, I promise you. All right then fool. Your cellie, Drifter," than "Happy B-day Sharleen, you're the best!!! Don't eat too much cake!!!"
Because of encrypted gang-related messages in the cards, and the use of nicknames that law enforcement might not be aware of, the Department of Corrections in CA is taking notice of these cards. Cards from members of the Crips usually say "Happy C-Day" because of members' avoidance of the letter "B", associated with Bloods. Some cards include obvious references to gang activity that mention specific people, which helps investigations. The cards themselves use both goofy comic book-style drawings and more expressive artwork: "The sillier cards are full of cars and girls and stylized homeboys smoking pot or drinking 'pruno,' the noxious homemade prison wine. The serious ones are more likely to feature buxom pre-Columbian princesses, fantasy-themed collages or the laughing and crying clowns that symbolize the highs and lows of the gangster lifestyle."
The Entenmann's crumb cake, brownies, and diet coke of office birthdays also have their cellblock analogs. In prison, the cards are often presented along with a spread of snacks, some "pruno", and if you're lucky, a dose of heroin. Nice to know that even if you get sent up the creek, your cellies will still make your day special.