Authors: Iceberg Slim
I want to say at the outset that I have become ill, insane, as an inmate of the torture chamber behind America's fake facade of justice and democracy. But I am not as ill as I was, and I am getting better all the time.
I want to make clear that my reason for starting these notes at a point of personal anguish and suffering is that these experiences marked the end of a corrupt pimp life and were the prelude to a still mauled but constructive new life.
I dedicate this book to the heroic memory of Malcolm X, Jack Johnson, Melvin X, Jonathan Jackson; to Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Ericka Huggins, George Jackson, Angela Davis; and to all street niggers and strugglers in and out of the joints.
want to say at the outset that I have become ill, insane as an inmate of a torture chamber behind America's fake facade of justice and democracy. But I am not as ill as I was, and I am getting better all the time. And also, I want to make clear that my reason for starting these notes at a point of personal anguish and suffering is that these experiences marked the end of a corrupt pimp life and were the prelude to a still mauled, but constructive new life. I am not “playing the con” for sympathy.
In the cold-blooded academy of ghetto streets I was taught early that suffering is inevitable and necessary for an aspiring pimp, pickpocket or con man and even just a nigger compelled to become a four-way whore for the Establishment. I learned also that sympathy is a counterfeit emotion for suckers which is usually offered with a crooked con grin of amused contempt and rejected with a spittled snarl.
Within the moldering walls of Chicago's House of Correction, in one of its ancient cell houses, is a row of steel punishment cubicles where rule-breaking inmates spend at most several days. In 1960, I was locked in one of the steel boxes for ten months. I owed the joint an unserved part of a sentence from which I had vanished thirteen years before like a wisp of black smoke and without the usual damage to joint fixtures or guards' skulls. And apparently the sweet joker who ordered me stuffed into the steel box to commit suicide or go mad (when I was returned to the joint on escape charges) felt he
owed vengeance on me to his long-ago fellow clique of torturers and grafters who must have suffered a shit storm of consternation and rage when nigger me bypassed their booming instant release service and hadn't bought out, but thought out.
But that second mob of debonair demons sure butchered off a hunk of my mental ass. For even now, a new life and a decade later, I will lay odds that until the grave the images and sounds of that violent, gibbering year will stomp and shudder my mind.
One instance, among many: I am in a pleasant mood when I hear through an open window the profane chanting of teenagers playing a merry game of ghetto dozens
âthe denigration of another's parents or ancestors) that explode in a montage of pain, bright as flame, that shocks my brain. Again, for the thousandth time, I see and hear the likable little black con in the steel box next to mine, my only buddy, suddenly chanting freaky lyrics of a crazy frightening song about how God is a double-crossing cocksucker, and how he is going to sodomize and murder his crippled bitch mama.
I cry out like a scalded child, leap off my straw mattress and stand on trembly legs peering into Shorty's cubicle through a ragged break in the weld of the sheet steel wall. He's buck naked, and his soft black baby face is twisted hard and hideously old as he stands slobbery with his hands flying like frenzied bats up and down his long stiff penis.
I have the vague hope that he's “gaming,” playing the con, for the heartless white folks for some personal benefit or advantage. But there's a chilling realism, a perfection about Shorty's awful performance, so I rib him gently.
“Buddy, put your pants on and stop that chump jeffing. (
âplaying or employing a low grade of con based on one's blackness and the projection of the contemptible âSambo' or âRastus' image.) Instead of a hospital broad tucking you between white sheets, the ass kickers will show any minute now. Dummy up for me, pal. Huh? I like you, and I got a weak belly.”
Shorty gives me zero response, and his walling eyes are like coals of white fire. I feel a jolt of panic in my chest and a terrifying fluttery quaking inside my skull.
And because I know that madness can be catching I get stupid and scream, “You little jive ass, you're supposed to be a player. Remember? What you gonna do, let these dirty white folks crack you up?”
But he's so pitiful I go soft and plead, “Shorty, get your head together. Please, pal, listen to me!”
I beg him until I stink of emotion sweat and my voice fades to a squealy whisper. But Shorty doesn't listen for the pathetic reason that he can't hear me or anything else except his private hellish drum beat.
The guards come soon to take Shorty away forever, and he yelps and whimpers like a puppy under their fists and feet. I quiver, and my teeth slash into my bottom lip with every thud. And as Shorty is dragged away I sink to the concrete floor and roll myself into a fetal ball against a frightening chaos of pulsing green-streaked puffy bladders that whirl madly in terrible near collision on a shuddery screen inside my head. I feel great anguish and terror as if the berserk missiles are really sections of myself facing bloody destruction.
The tragedy of Shorty and its recurring long-range misery for me is but one “House” horror among many that haunt my new life.
A day or so before my expected legal release date from the “House,” I was taken from my steel box to an interview with a charmer who told me with a choreographed Billy Graham-type smile that a new computation of my time served and owed left me in debt to the joint for two additional months. I had spent the two months in County Jail where I had been taken after Captain Churchill, a “House” bloodhound, backed by city police, crashed my pad and cracked me on an ancient fugitive warrant for the escape from the “House.”
I had expected the attempt to steal from me the two months
served in County Jail. I stood battered but tall before the desk of the head Nazi and bombed the freakish grin off his fat face with the recital of an affidavit I had composed and memorized. Having no legal training, I could only sense its validity intuitively.
My position was that Captain Churchill, a “House” official, had arrested me. I was from the instant of that arrest legally in the custody of the “House,” and even in the event that Captain Churchill had somehow managed to jail me on as unlikely a place as the moon for two months, I technically would have been serving “House” time. I closed my argument with a flexing of fake muscle based on the misfortune of a “House” guard who had furnished grist for recent newspaper headlines. He was then under indictment for selling and delivering a hacksaw blade to a group of half corpses in the steel caskets down the way from mine.
So for a dramatic flexing of that personal muscle I hunched my wasted frame forward and arrogantly glued my palms to the mirror-like top of the Nazi's desk. I flinched back from a remarkable likeness of the wolfman staring up at me and switched my eyes to the fat red face before me. I told it in that low, disarming tone of voice used by sneaky cops just before they stomp or kick you into insensibility that the notorious guard under indictment had delivered, to a friend of mine on the outside, several pieces of explosive and embarrassing (for the Nazi and his City Hall bosses) mail.
His face turned from red to white to blue, and I remembered the rumors about his faulty pump. I stood there grinning and watched him choking and gasping for air. I went on to assure him that the letter contained the names of racketeering guards and an exposÃ© of corruption within the joint that perhaps even he was not aware of. And I assured him that my friend would make public the contents of the letters if I did not get my legal release date.
I secretly hoped that convict me and my threats might have triggered a fatal attack. My emotions made of that pulse-leaping moment a monument of vengeance, an event that could not have
been excelled except by the exquisite pleasure of blowing out his diseased brains. And for the first time since I'd been caged in the steel box I felt like a human beingâlike a man.
He seemed to be strangling as I smiled at him and slipped out the door to the escort guard waiting in the corridor for me. I paced the steel box in an agony of suspense: Was the torturer dead? Then panic and despair: I couldn't survive in the box for those extra two months! Wouldn't the muscle of my bluff and my chance for a legal release date die with him?
Later that afternoon the cell house vibrated with the sudden thunder of profane raillery and the feet of shop cons going to their cells on the tiers above me. I tuned my ears up high, but no gleeful announcement of the head keeper's death filtered down through the bedlam of voices and epidemic farting.
He had survived and the chances were that I would escape the steel box within forty-eight hours. But suddenly I was terrified at the prospect of freedom. Almost immediately I realized why. I was caught in the nightmare bind that an older pimp faces after the age of thirty-five. He is then prone to many setbacks and disasters. Any one of them can put him on his uppers and without the basic gaudy bait, like an out-of-sight car, psychedelic wardrobe, the diamonds necessary to hook and enslave a fresh stable of humping young whores.
I still owned a portion of the mind of a young whore. But my bottom, or main, whore of many years had delivered my car, jewelry, clothes and other vital pimp flash to an obscure but younger, fresher monster than I. The young mud kicker had written me frequently, and she had regularly sent me small money orders. She had left a Montana bordello to run afoul of a spermy gambler who ruined her commercial curves and blew away my heady dreams of mountainous greenbacks by blasting a squealer into her belly.
And now her sobby letters indicated that she was petulantly waiting for me, her favorite field marshal of cunt huckstering, to liberate her from her slum pad and her unwanted motherhood.
But she didn't know I'd had the jolting insight that I had been a sucker, conned by my own velvet bullshit that the whores had bought for a generation, about the magnificence of the pimp game. She didn't know I was determined not to join that contemptible group of aging pimps I had seen through the years and pitied as they went their pathetic way with a wild dream of new glory and a big fast stable of young freak mud kickers.
Young whores give an old pimp down on his luck merciless treatment. They flirt with him, play on him, give the corrupt old dreamer hope and then viciously poke fun at him as they coldly reject him. No, I was not going back to become one of them. And I was just as determined not to become a suicidal stickup artist or other “heavy” hustler.
But how was I going to make it out there in the free world with no training except in the art of pimping? I vowed there in the box to kill myself before I became like “Dandy” Sammy. He had been a boss pimp whom I had idolized as a boy when I was getting street poisoned.
One dazzling summer afternoon in Cleveland at the peak of my pimphood I was confronted on the sidewalk outside my hotel by an old, stooped black man. He clutched a shoe-shine box, and he stank of the vomit encrusting his ragged shirt front. His pitch was a poem of pathos.
I declined a shine, but the seamed ruin of his face nudged a ghost inside my skull. Almost mechanically I gave him a twenty dollar bill and went past him. His face haunted me across a dozen states and cities.
Six months later I was shooting “H” in a fellow pimp's pad. An old whore got dreamy eyed and cracked about how much bread she had made for Dandy Sammy and what a helluva pimp he had been. And then suddenly I knew who the filthy old bum with the shoe-shine box had been.
Now I waited in a steel box with compounded misery, Mama was dying of an incurable disease out in California and the guilt I felt for
my neglect of her through the years was crushing. Mama's friends had sent me more than enough money for the trip to California. I had promised Mama I would come to her upon my release.