College Football in the Big House

Ah, football in the big house. No, not Michigan. <br><br> An acquaintance of mine once murdered someone in cold blood and was incarcerated for 17 years out at the penitentiary in Monroe, Washington. His experience amid the four-tiered cellblock was a dreary one, and deservedly so. His particular cellblock housed anywhere from 240-400 inmates simultaneously.

The monotony of each day was dull upon his psyche and at times was maddening. He and the other inmates longed for excitement and drama to break up the ceaseless routine. Therefore, it is no surprise that there was hyper anticipation when Saturday afternoons drew near in the fall.

"You could never sleep in on a Saturday," my friend said. "Too much screaming and yelling, and guys getting mad when their team wasn't doing well. Most guys had their own TV, so they'd be in their cells watching the games. The cellblocks were made of concrete so the noise really reverberated in there. Other guys would be in the TV room sitting at card tables playing cards or slammin' dominos, but they'd also be watching the games on the TV."

He continued with his story. "First count was at 6:30 AM, then again at 11:00 AM when the guards would bring everyone to their cells for another count. This would last about 1 ½ hours until lunch. Games would be going on during this time. There were inmates who were both for the Huskies and Cougars, as well as South Carolina, North Carolina, USC, etc. There would be sooooooo much trash talking from cell to cell. You didn't need a TV or radio to know what was going on with the games!"

Gambling was gigantically endemic when it came to college football games at Monroe, especially games featuring the Washington Huskies and WSU Cougars.

"Gambling was very well organized," he said. "Many of the staff would take part, which was against the rules. For the inmates, gambling is a major infraction. You can lose your good time if you get caught. You just had to know which guards wouldn't trip... And there were a lot of inmates who wore the colors. They'd wear the Husky hats and Husky shirts. And they loved to bet on them as well the Cougars."

Among the inmates, the stakes for such gambling ranged widely, with a lot of testosterone fueling each wager.

"I'd say 65-70% of the inmates would gamble on college football in some form. It could range from a bag of chips up to $100 worth of store… (Trips to the in-prison store occurred once a week). Guys with Class 1 jobs were the only guys that ever had $100. Guys with Class 3 jobs would only bet a six pack of soda or a bag of chips. It was obvious to everyone, including the guards, who had won or lost when you saw guys carrying $100 worth of store from one cell to another. And then guys would be taunting each other from their cells… MMMMMMM These chips are so damn good. Ohh! That last one was extra crunchy and carried a lot of flavor, uh-huh! And the guys in the other cells would get to whoopin' and having fun with it."

My friend then broke into a grin. "There were also bets that were paid off with push-ups on call. If you lost a bet to another inmate, if your team lost, he could order you to drop and give and give him 1 or 10 or 50 push-ups, at any time, anywhere. You'd see guys order their push-ups right as the losers were walking over mud puddles, and they'd have to do the push-ups right into the mud puddle. Or while in the Main Line (food line). If one guy owed another inmate, and he saw the other inmate coming, you'd see him looking away, slinking away, pretending not to see him (laughs)."

Interestingly enough, many of the inmates who were born and raised in the state of Washington rooted for the Huskies and Cougars equally. Things were noisy when either of these teams played. But the cacophony of human noise and excitement reached a crescendo when a major bowl game was on TV.

"They had an intercom that was loud, and I mean LOUD, designed to speak over the top of all the noise the inmates were making", he said. "During those big games, it would get so loud that you couldn't hear it! And you'd have guards try to settle things down a bit; and then an inmate would yell at a guard, shut the #### up!, but from another tier so they wouldn't know who had said it, and this would get the whole cell block riled up."

Looking back, my friend sees college football as a vital outlet for the inmates. "Life inside becomes so dreary. Some of the inmates who had lived in Seattle their whole lives, they had maybe only watched the Huskies from time to time, but then when inside they become fanatical about who the players are and what is happing with the team. They get to the joint and they become big fans. It becomes an escape. And (through subsequent gambling) it gives you bragging rights. And inside there, that is so important.

I asked him if there were any funny stories he recalled. He firmly nodded and smirked at the memory. "In the joint there were a lot of guys from California who loved USC. Well one year the Huskies beat USC really badly. I mean they pounded them really badly. For three weeks after that, there were anywhere from 50-100 inmates a day who were doing push ups on call from the inmates who had bet on the Huskies. We were practically walking over them trying to get from here to there…

"It was really something else and funny to see."
Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories