Tag Archives: prison stories

REBEL HELL Prison Memoir Info; Blog Review, Author Q&A

 zzzz RH BACK excerpt
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My new prison memoir Rebel Hell: Disabled Vegan Goes to Prison is getting rave reviews from everybody who’s read it. This wildly original and “outrageously candid” book delivers something for everyone–from dark and utterly shameless humor to raw poignant emotion, from enlightening facts & visuals & analysis to lyrical descriptions of the hellacious and the divine alike. It is a substantially important book addressing myriad social issues from a powerful, bold, no-holds-barred perspective; above all, though, Rebel Hell is a captivating story about “justice” in modern America, and about navigating the kaleidoscopic maze of prison absurdity that’d launch even Franz Kafka into a fit of paranoia and disbelief. Finally, there’s yet another dimension of intrigue–how I managed to survive the horrific onslaught of prison as a disabled vegan!

CLICK HERE to read a review from the lovely blog “black. female. christian. vegan.”

And here’s a short Q&A about my Prison Experience with antinatalist guru and author Laura Carroll.

The book is now available around the world in electronic format as well as the gorgeous paperback!

Now available around the world in electronic format as well as the gorgeous paperback!

If you’re in AmericaHERE  is the Amazon link [Note: you do *not* need a Kindle to read the e-book; simply download the FREE KINDLE APP and read on any tablet, smartphone, or device!]

If you’re in Canada, Spain, Italy, Germany, the UK, or France:
Click HERE  and scroll down below the cover image, where you’ll find all the Amazon links [or you can just search “smitowicz” and my books are the only results!]

Alternatively, you can order directly from me and get copies signed and personalized! Visit the Rebel Hell page on my  WEBSITE. I also provide terrific bulk discounts [5+ copies] for teachers, book clubs, gift-giving, etc.–simply contact me at SmitowiczAuthorPublicity@gmail.com. Finally, message me if you’re interested in my FREE book club / classroom appearances via Skype for discussion and/or Q&A [minimum five [5] readers]!

~Love & Liberation~

*Last Chance* to Read My Prison Memoir Excerpt & WIN FREE PRIZES!

This weekend or early next week I’ll be sending out my very first monthly e-newsletter–which will include the opening 20-ish pages from my soon-to-be-published memoir Rebel Hell: Disabled Vegan Goes to Prison. The excerpt is emotionally resonant, intense, funny, and intriguing, and includes the wild, infuriating scene in which I was first arrested for marijuana after an illegitimate traffic stop and illegal search & seizure. This will be the first and only place I’ll be sharing the excerpt any time soon.

The next few days are your last chance to get yourself on the list and receive the exclusive preview! CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP. If you don’t like what you see, unsubscribing only takes a click or two; but I vow to try my very best to provide entertaining, interesting, informative, funny content every single month. I doubt you’ll be disappointed!

My first email newsletter will also feature an EXCLUSIVE CONTEST that involves no purchase of anything . . .


Don’t miss out–sign up now! Thanks.
~Love & Liberation~
Jan @ www.JanSmitowicz.com



Hard Time Vegan: An Ex-Prisoner’s Story

Image drawn by vegan prisoner Danielle Wolfe in Dickerson Detention Facility (2013)

Image drawn by vegan prisoner Danielle Wolfe in Dickerson Detention Facility (2013)

A simul-post with Negotiation is Over! and my political/eco blog, The Rewild West.

Next month (April 2014) will be my eight-year Veganniversary. From 2010 through 2012, I served just under two years in Illinois prisons. Aside from a few accidents based on false information, I stayed vegan in County Jail, in Receiving (24-hour lockdown), for my 18 months in the high-minimum-security Jacksonville Correctional Center, and my three months in the medium-security “Disciplinary Prison,” Logan Correctional Center. You may be surprised to find that, overall, it wasn’t at all hard to be vegan, even in Midwestern-U.S. prisons!

Note that I used the caveat overall. Because at the beginning, it was physically outrageous. Dangerous, even. When my mother and I said our tearful goodbyes on the Henry County Jail steps, I was chubbier (on purpose) than I’d been since early puberty. That fine spring day, I weighed 183 pounds.

My two weeks in County Jail were . . . less than nourishing. I ate mostly white bread, peanut butter and jelly, dry cereal, mushy canned vegetables, and plain noodles. I didn’t know if they had any kind of vegan or even vegetarian tray. I didn’t even bother to ask. I was overwhelmed, scared, mentally/emotionally anguished. I just wanted to acclimate to my new environment before making waves. One of the worst things a new guy on the unit can do is show himself to be different. Especially in ways that are interpreted as weak in that environment. Those two weeks were unpleasant, but they were an absolute party (with a buffet!),compared to what followed.

What came next was probably the worst two weeks of my life. Every prisoner in Illinois has to go through “Receiving”, where they enter your information into the computer system, determine your security level and which prison they’ll ship you to, and where, I believe, they try to break your spirit by keeping everyone, from serial killer to joint-smoker, in conditions only found in a supermax. During my two weeks there, I got out of the cell one time, for a ten-minute shower. There’s a reason the food trays at Stateville Receiving are referred to as “Lunchables.” Consider: I gave my cellmate all my animal products, and hewas still hungry. I could barely sleep. Desperate for relief from the gnawing, churning ache of emptiness and hunger. They served lots of potatoes; yet they were undercooked to near inedibility. We couldn’t decide if they were supposed to be boiled potatoes or potato chips. When I mercifully made it, at last, to Jacksonville Correctional Center, I was 164 pounds. From 183 to 164 (19 pounds, evaporated into the ether) in just 27 days. That means I lost two pounds every three days. Madness! Pathologically inhumane!

I was grateful toward religion/religious people for one of the only times in my life when I finally got to prison. At Jacksonville, I found out they had a designated VEGAN tray list for religious reasons. I claimed Seventh-Day Adventism. Unfortunate, but you’re not allowed to get on the list for ethical or health reasons—only religious ones. Silly, I know, but one of the only things that carries weight in prison is religion. Dig this: it didn’t used to be so easy. Claim a religion, see the chaplain, and BOOM, you have access to three vegan meals a day. No, back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Dietary staff would just laugh if you asked for even a vegetarian meal. But thank Earth for us ethical vegans that there were some ultra-religion people who took their faith—and faithful diet—very seriously. Guys went on hunger strikes. They filed lawsuits for violation of religious freedom. And some upped the ante even further; guys would attack guards and fellow inmates, flood their cells by jamming up the toilet, and even take guards and other prison staff hostage in an attempt to be heard, to be taken seriously. To receive their legit vegan meals. And they won. Because of those handful of inmates who fought, literally and figuratively, for animal-free meals, every one of the 15-plus state prisons in Illinois now has a designated vegan tray.

First off, that’s fucking awesome on their part. Second, that’s fucking pathetic on our part. Physically assaulting guards and inmates, taking prison staff hostage—“just” so they could receive vegan meals. Imagine for a second. Just imagine! What would it be like if everybody took veganism and animal liberation that seriously?! Those guys had so few resources and abilities at their disposal, and yet just a handful of men changed an entire state’s policy. And this ain’t Rhode Island, folks; Illinois has close to 50,000 people in prison, with a higher per-capita rate than California. They literally risked having years added to their sentence, risked months or years of solitary confinement, risked even their very lives.[1] Imagine if even 10 percent of those who say they believe in animal liberation were willing to take those kinds of risks. A powerful lesson—one that should both shame and inspire us—can be taken from the fight for adequate vegan meals in Illinois prisons.

I damn sure benefitted from it. The vegan trays were far, far better than the regular ones. And not just for the obvious reason that they contained no animal products. The food was tastier, with a greater variety. It makes sense. Inmate kitchen workers can make much higher quality food when they’re preparing for just eight or ten people, versus 800-900 people! The latter received trays of the lowest common denominator, and ones with food that was as simple as possible to cook. But we got stuff that was sometimes great. Spicy chili and cornbread. Garlic-butter noodles with soy crumbles. Mixed-vegetable fried rice. Perfectly spiced black-eyed peas and collard greens. Polenta casseroles. Fried cutlets of zucchini, zucchini grown in a garden maintained by the horticulture class. Fresh fruit at least once every single day (guys on the vegan list were the only inmates to receive fresh fruit—ever). Giant, warm biscuits slathered in non-dairy butter. The guy in charge of preparing the vegan trays, Duff, wanted to hook us up. Simple supply/demand allowed him to spend more time on our trays, enabling him to show off his cooking skills. He succeeded. For prison food, especially in the Midwest-U.S., Jacksonville’s vegan trays were comparatively spectacular![2] Because of my disabling chronic nerve pain condition, I only went to chow once a day, for lunch. Breakfast was far earlier than I wanted to wake up, and dinner in the dining hall was served during my afternoon siesta—a required nap, because my pain was most unbearable in the late afternoon and early evening. So I prepared my own dinner every night. Purchased the ingredients through Commissary. I made one of two things for my entire incarceration: either (1) spicy fried rice with noodles, or (2) a delicious meal of spicy refried beans, knockoff Ramen noodles sans the MSG- and chemical-laden seasoning packet, minced onion and garlic, pickled jalepeños, and spicy chili corn chips, which were accidentally (miraculously) vegan. Some other vegan treats they had on Commissary were ridged potato chips, granola bars that were fantastic with peanut butter, off-brand Golden Grahams, Oreos, knockoff Nutty Bars, and Sierra Mist Natural soda.

All in all, and considering the circumstances, I almost never felt like I was suffering for lack of decent food. Of all the challenges I anticipated leading up to prison and faced while incarcerated, staying vegan was definitely one of the easiest. Not every state is like Illinois in this regard—most are worse, but some are actually even better. I hear federal prisons have vegan options far superior to any state prison. But luckily I landed in a place that made it simple and predictable. For this, I’m hugely indebted to those incredible warriors who Took Shit Seriously and battled with almost unimaginable ferocity to receive acceptable vegan meals. I only hope those of us in the free(-ish) world will learn from their example, and be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve our own goals and dreams of animal liberation.[3] Let’s be more like those prisoners; let’s REALLY begin to Take Shit Seriously. Let’s learn from those human prisoners so we can make a real, tangible (not symbolic) difference in the lives of nonhuman prisoners.


[1] I know in Illinois, at least, if a prisoner takes someone hostage, the policy is shoot-to-kill; in fact, staff members have to sign a waiver saying they understand, basically, that if they’re taken hostage they’re most likely fucked.

[2] Ironically, Duff contributed to getting me kicked out of the special Drug Unit, which cost me 4.5 months of good time. He almost made up for that despicable treachery w/ his slick vegan cooking.

[3] BAMN!—By Any Means Necessary!

Gay-Bigotry in Prison: A Scene from my Memoir

The following is an excerpt from my prison memoir-in-progress, called Rebel Hell: Doin’ Time for Barely a Crime. In this section, our 100-man Drug Unit (a special unit with its own rules and jobs and responsibilities that included daily meetings/classes) just finished watching the movie Philadelphia, in which Tom Hanks plays a gay man with AIDS.

*NOTE: although many people in prison thought I was gay, I am not. I’m simply an advocate for equality and social justice, which brought me myriad problems and animosity and drama–though of course what I experienced was NOTHING compared to what actual gays in prison do.

This is how I felt on a daily basis during my two-year incarceration.

This is how I felt on a daily basis during my two-year incarceration.


In any case, Jay’s bunkmate Pete[1] also complains about the movie, offering a more specific and incisive critique. “That was the gayest fuckin movie I’ve ever seen,” he says, and guffaws in his particularly buffoonish staccato way.

“Well,” I tell him, “it was a movie about gay people, so it kinda makes sense.”

Several people stare at me. Duff says, “Did you like the movie, Jan?”

I hesitate for a moment. Then decide I don’t care. “Yeah, I did, actually. I thought it was a pretty damn good story.”

Awkward silence.

Pete. Man, he’s one scummy motherfucker. Made all the more malignant by the fact that he has an outgoing personality and a strong sense of humor, which makes him liked by most Inmates. But I see through the façade.

He’s a scumbag, plain and simple. Unkempt black hair, a goatee, and a big toothy grin that brings to mind beavers and other large-toothed woodland creatures. I think he’s locked up for selling guns—at the very least, he claims to’ve been involved in slinging handguns on the black market. On his left pectoral muscle, he has a tattoo of a pistol. Wow, dude, I want to say. You’re SO cool! You’re such a badass! I wanna be just like you when I grow up.

He gets his rocks off talking shit about other people all day long, like Jay and Capone. He may not be the number-one worst gossip queen—I think Capone is planted immovably atop that throne—but Pete’s the loudest and most obnoxious one. He also happens to be a bigoted fucking moron. In a homophobic wasteland, this guy is one of the most outspoken gay-haters I come across my entire incarceration.  Dude calls Spongebob Squarepants a “gay conspiracy to turn kids into fags”—that’s right, Spongebob Squarepants, the silly innocuous show on Nickelodeon (wish I were pulling a James Frey and fabricating that, but sadly I’m not—it’s a verbatim quote).[2] This may seem over-the-top-ridiculous to the point where it must be farcical, but no. He’s dead serious: he truly believes things like this. So it’s no surprise that his favorite show is Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura. Favorite by a central-Illinois-mile. No surprise either that Pete seems to have a borderline homoerotic affinity for the former governor of Minnesota.

The plot thickens—like a blood-engorged dong. He makes tons and tons of gay jokes (Pete, not Jesse Ventura, at least as far’s I know). Seems a little “queer” to me. If you will. A huge percentage of everything he and his few closest buddies in the Unit say to each other involves a cock or balls or men’s assholes or teabagging someone. Teabagging is when a guy dips his balls in and out of someone’s mouth, typically when the victim is asleep, and hence helpless. Pete freely admits to having teabagged a friend’s mother, as well as numerous friends. Friends both female and male. The plot further thickens—like the width of an anus getting fingered.[3]

He’s frequently claiming celebrities or actors who appear on his TV are “fuckin faggots”. He makes jokes almost daily about how I love Elton John’s music—obliquely and often not-so-obliquely implying that I’m gay because I enjoy the songs of an immensely popular and well-respected musician who happens to be gay. Finally I get sick of it one day. Time to fire back.

“You know,” I tell him—purposefully loud enough for everyone in the room to hear—“some big-time university did a study about people who hate gay people. There were two groups of people: ones who openly admitted they dislike ‘homos’, and others who said they have no problem with gays.” There are about 10 guys in the room, and all but a couple (who don’t notice because they’ve got their TV headphones on) are watching us closely. “Both groups,” I continue, “were shown gay porn. Get this: the dudes who self-identified as homophobes were far more likely to be sexually aroused by it.”

Pete backtracks faster than an NBA point guard in the fourth quarter of a close game. “Hey, I don’t hate gay people! I just think they’re funny.”

“Oh yeah?” I’m not a little concerned he’ll realize what I’m suggesting (that there’s a significant chance he’s gay), especially since I’m doing it in front of the whole room, and that he’ll get enraged and kick my ass. My heart’s clomping like the hooves of wild Mustangs; I’m struggling to keep my voice both casual and steady, free of weakling-trembles. I am scared. Willing to admit it to you, my Dear Reader.[4] But I’m so goddamn tired of his outspoken bigotry toward gays. Can’t hold my tongue anymore—I’m compelled to confront him on it. “You think they’re funny, that’s what it is?”

“Yeah! I think it’s funny they like sucking cocks, HUH-HUH-HUH-HUH!” That’s his laugh—it sounds like a super-fast reproduction of Butthead’s from the MTV show Beavis and Butthead.

“Gotcha.” Right. He doesn’t hate gay people at all! Even though one day he makes an offhand comment, during a news segment about Clay Aiken, that “All fags should be hunted down and shot.”

. . . . !

That kind of unadulterated, brazenly violent hatred just blows me the fuck away. I can’t believe people actually feel like that. Let alone speak it out loud! It literally makes me ill, crushes my heart. Is it because he’s a latent (or closeted) homosexual, and he’s fiercely terrified/angry about it, or is it just plain old vile hate, rooted in ignorance and stupidity? I truly don’t know which one is worse. It’s the precise kind of sentiment that resulted in Matthew Shepherd’s getting savagely beaten to the brink of death in Wyoming, then tied to a fence and left to suffer and slowly die. Same attitude that led to the rape and murder of the transgender man Brandon Teena. Same one that got thousands and thousands of black people lynched, tortured, mutilated, and murdered in post-Civil War America. Pared down to its fundamental basis, it’s the extreme hatred of the other. Of people who are simply different from the so-called norm. It’s vile, it’s revolting, and it’s dangerous.

[1] Who is also another of those humanoids for whom I could make a strong argument for classification as a separate subspecies of homo sapiens, b/c he’s such a vile scumbag.

[2] Amusingly enough, big tough-guy musclehead Duff happens to love Spongebob Squarepants (along w/ many other cartoons). Also amusing: I notice that Pete never once makes this claim when Duff is around. Ha!

[3] (Not that there’s anything wrong w/ that!)

[4] Love you! ::smiles::

Dream-Sequence Excerpt from my Prison Memoir

This dream sequence occurs after I’ve been in prison for about 9 months, from my memoir-in-progress, REBEL HELL: DOIN’ TIME FOR BARELY A CRIME.

I’m back home in California, the only place I ever belong to live. No—not back home—I never left in the first place! The whole incarceration-thing was just a terrible, and terribly vivid, dream. A nightmare that went on for an absurd length of time. But now it’s over. I’ve told Rebecca about it, and now the three of us—Rebecca, Rikki, and I—are running along a path through the towering old-growth redwoods of Humboldt County. We’re laughing at the idea that I’d ever go to prison. And yet there’s immense relief there in the laughter—relief that I’m not in prison, that it was just a terrible nightmare. Rikki’s running around joyously. Being Forest-Rikki, as we say. She’s bolting in and out of the thick vegetation, appearing for a second on the path and then disappearing again into the bush. A fog bank is rolling slowly into the forest and it brings with it the smell of the nearby Pacific. The air is so clean, fresh, moist, invigorating, life-giving. I close my eyes and hold out my arms as the fog swirls around me and breathe deeply, so deeply, inhaling hard and long enough that it brings a spike of pressure into my chest—but it’s good, oh so good, everything’s good, it’s perfect. I’m with my two favorite people in the wide world, in my favorite place. I’m smiling so much it’s starting to ache, my lips are, but I can’t stop. To stop would infringe on the magic of this moment.

Rebecca comes to me, wraps her arms around my back and presses her body to mine. Our faces are inches apart. She’s smiling, too, that amazing toothy grin of perfect, pure happiness that just lights up her face with an almost-visible aura, a ghostly reflection of her inner state, like she’s encased in it, like the whiteness of a fresh Polaroid that’s just starting to reveal its subject. She kisses me. Then she’s saying something, but I can’t hear her. I can’t hear anything anymore.

Because I’m coming out of the dream.

And I realize it, there with her arms around me and her smile and the fog and the redwoods and the palpable earthy fecundity of the moistened woods, I realize that I’m just dreaming. Everything begins to fade, to drop away, the finished Polaroid in reverse. I try to hold onto the image, the smells, the soft soil under my shoes, the feel of her body’s weight against mine. But I can’t make it stay, no matter how hard I try. I’m shackled, powerless—a slave to reality.

And then I’m awake and the dream’s over, it’s all gone except in flashes that I have to willingly conjure instead of just being there; my eyes are still closed, but the sensations and images appear only in brief flitting pops, like the white veneer over everything in sight that pulses on and off and on in your vision after a bright camera’s flash.

Now I know it was just a dream, that I am in prison, that I won’t be with Rebecca and Rikki again for another year, 52 weeks. But I refuse to accept it. I haven’t opened my eyes yet. I keep them closed tight. I’m willing reality to change; why not? There’s no sense behind any of this. Maybe I’ve awoken in a parallel world, where the threat of prison was real, but where true justice was the norm rather than an aberration, and where Judge Hamer didn’t pretend to believe Trooper Marlow’s blatant lies, where the judge decided that the Fourth Amendment and my life and the truth was more important than political gain and money, a world where I dodged the prison-bullet and I am free, and I’ll open my eyes and see Rebecca’s sleeping face, and Rikki splayed out at her feet. That’s what will happen. If I just want it bad enough, and will it hard enough, reality will realign itself into something sensible and just. Still my eyes are closed. I have to give it just a few more seconds for the shift to occur. And then I’ll open my eyes and everything will be right again—I’ll be free, and we can collect the shattered fragments of our lives and put them back together and move on….