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Joey Tomatos by Mark Anthony Given


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A person who seeks help for a friend, 

while needy himself, will be answered first.
-The Talmud
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    I HAD THIS celli when I was in federal prison that looked like a bonified nineteen sixties pop star who could have been Frankie Vallie's stand in, doing five years for trafficking a couple hundred kilos out of South Florida.  Owned a famous restaurant and was opening two more while we were in a cement air conditioned cell in north Florida. He was tripping on Marianne Williamson's "A Course in Miracle's," new age religion and exercised all day.  His job was to clean three water fountains on the second floor of Mohawk Unit.  Mine was to keep two showers clean.  Took all of twenty minutes a day and hit the yard.  We both paid a less fortunate non-English speaking individual ten or fifteen bucks a month to do it.  We called him "Joey Tomato's," because most people had someone they knew in the Kitchen to bring you whatever you wanted for a few bucks.  Joey Tomatoes had five or six.  He wreaked of Garlic and our cell smelled like smoked oysters and pastrami and fresh cilantro and jock strap powder.  He ran every day in black nylon's and New Balances under the constant blue skies and Florida sunshine.  Less than a hundred miles away from the Florida Panhandle occasionally you would get a smell of the Gulf of Mexico.  He walked like he just crawled away from a car accident. Bent over, cockeyed knees, his upper body twisted askew and a pained expression on his face like twisting open a child resistant pill bottle having never seen one.
          IN THE FEDERAL SYSTEM and probably most state joints, the entire compound is suddenly thrown into "Lock-down," where you froze in place because a fight broke out somewhere, usuallyTwelve hundred and eighty two prisoners in five housing units in a "Controlled Movement," institution, you may be in there for years and never see most people there.  I was leaving the yard on the ten-thirty am movement when we were freezing at the gate with probably thirty inmates and four guards between the yard and the compound when I see this black cover for a pair of expensive Koss Porta Pro Headphones they sell in the commissary for fifty bucks.  I walk over to lean against a pole and I see Mr. Tomato bent down against the pole, tieing his brand new New Balances;  he looked like he was 'right off the bus, and his new headphones were missing one new black pad.  I got his attention and then pointed to the pad laying on the ground twenty or thirty feet away, and he got up and went and got it.  When he walked back over where we were I asked him where he was from or when he got there.  The moment he opened his mouth I could tell he was from New York.  Turned out we were both in the same unit and being from New York, I had a New York Number 01863-055 you can see by googling 'Inmate Locator.'  May something 1998 I left FCI Marianna and never been back.  He was ten years older than me and never been in any trouble before.  After he seen all the big shots cases I was working on he let me look at his PSI, but he didn't need my help.  He already had some of Miami's best lawyers and he bought and paid for exactly what he got.  A big fucking break only rich people get.  He like a lot of other Fish was worrying that their plea agreement provided they cooperate with law enforcement.  It was a standard provision but so many people came to me about it, I knew it was a real concern but didn't need be.  A lot of them made them give away their right to appeal...  
          THERE'S AN OLD PHOTOGRAPH from the cover of Life Magazine taken in the fifties of an old man on the banks of a river in South America and he's wrestling with the biggest snake you ever saw.  His name was ------ and he got caught with 3,304 pounds of pure cocaine hallowed out in rare wood from Honduras.  They took away a giant office building, cars, accounts, locked up a dozen people, he was doing twenty years and he needed my help.  He wanted to pay me to read his entire six-week trial transcript because his lawyer's paralegal signed an affidavit that they did coke in the bathroom during his trial and that the judge was sleeping on the job.  Every week for months he brought me a blank commissary list and told me to fill it out, whatever I wanted.  They didn't get all his money....
          I READ HIS TRIAL TRANSCRIPTS and the largely covered barge with rare blond Honduran four by fours was placed in quarantine for three days and then would be released on its way.  During that three days, a Border Patrol Agent noticed a young dark skinned man looking at the boards real hard. After he left the Agent went over there and drilled a hole in one and wala, one of South Florida's biggest bust of the eighties. They followed it when it left and it went straight to his office complex and that's where he was arrested.  He was in his sixties facing life in prison. I didn't think he had a chance in hell of getting out..... but he did....
         JOEY TOMATO'S didn't know how to jail.  A complete fish out of the water and if it wasn't South Florida in the seventies and eighties he probably would have never been in any trouble.  I remember he was always talking about how bad he felt for putting the person he loved most in harm's way.  I'm not sure why that bothered him so bad but it did.  You really get to know someone when your shoulder to shoulder for several months or years.  And in prison, you will live and die with the people who you are seen talking too...

           JOEY TOMATO'S had carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands from counting the money he so fucking rich.  You think I'm kidding you?  He tried to tell me it was from shucking oysters when he was a kid on Long Island but I didn't believe him.  He also told me he was a big star in the nineteen sixties and actually knew Frankie Valley and Joe Vannelli (I Just Want to Stop!"), but you don't know what to believe, even from someone who has never lied to you.  One day years later were stuck in traffic on I-95 in West Boca somewhere, I'm wheeling him around in his brand new gold Lexus and he's mougolin on the phone with vendors and contractors.  At some point were sitting there in silence for a long time like you can only do with someone you been around a long time.  I'm jockeying the radio on the steering wheel and could always land real fast on a good song and leave it there.  Right out of the blue this fucker starts singing quietly to a song on the radio and I nearly shit my pants.  He sounded exactly like a white Aaron Neville, I was floored.  I tried several times to get out of him why he quit the music business but he would never say.  He just has a far away look on his face and a slight sign of disgust at the thought of it.

         THERE'S NO REMORSE in prison.  Nearly everyone I met would spend days and hours pouring through law books to get back in front of a judge to get their sentenced reduce.  No one claimed they were innocent.  A technicality was as good as an out right reversal.  When you did encounter someone who was truly contrite and lived day and night in a kind of agony, like a state of bad grace or born under a bad sign, except it never goes away.  It was kind of refreshing.
           I WAS IN FEDERAL PRISON at FCI Marianna in North Florida in the television room in the late nineties when O.J. got an acquitted and the entire Mohawk Unit A and B of 240 inmates each went off!  Black people went berserk and I was glad I had a black celli that day.  Joseph Davenport, III I wrote about in "Pussy Whip Cake," here on this blog.  Probably the most scared I have ever been in prison.  I think that without restraint a lot of bad things would have happened that day and probably did. 
 To be continued.

  1:06 PM 12/21/2015
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Copyright 2016 by Mark Anthony Given 
All Rights Reserved 
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