A Crappy Commute

When did the daily commute become a trial by fire?

These days my daily commute consists of a few yards from the coffee urn to the desk. Barring unforeseen complications, I make my journey in a few minutes, negotiating the stairs and stray dog toys. On those occasions where I am required to leave the compound, I’ve found that the commute has morphed into some sick survival of the fittest, a throwback to Mad Max. Road rage, tailgaters and lane changers.

The morning commute image from zimbio.com

The morning commute
image from zimbio.com

In my commuting prime, I’d make my hour drive to work, park my car and then start my commute at the East Gate of Folsom State Prison.


My office was at the far end of 1 Building,  Security Housing Unit II, or SHU II, at the time. SHU II housed about 600 inmates who couldn’t be housed safely in the general population. You stab another inmate, you went to SHU. Assault a Correctional Officer, off the SHU. Escape attempts, drug smuggling and weapon possession, you went to the prison within a prison, the SHU. A select clientele.

After grabbing all the files and paperwork from Records, the three of us assigned as SHU II Correctional Counselors made the quarter mile trek to the sallyport where we entered the prison’s main yard. Through the double iron gates to the yard where the general population inmates slapped dominos on metal tables, played basketball, or walked endless circles around the track, waiting for yard recall. No fewer than four gun positions watched over the yard for the first sign of unrest.

1 Building in the background image from folsom prison museum

1 Building in the background
image from folsom prison museum

SHU II was on the other side of the yard and at 1 Count Gate we were keyed into the housing unit. This is where you donned the stab resistant vest and signed into the log book before you entered.

The building, was constructed in the early 1900’s in two blocks of five open tiers of cells. It was reportedly the the largest single cell block of its time. My office was converted from a shower on the back side of the first tier.

1 Building C Side Courtesy of the Folsom Prison Museum

1 Building C Side
Courtesy of the Folsom Prison Museum

My morning challenge was getting to the office without one particular inmate throwing bodily fluids at me, which is never a good way to start your day. His particular talent was in using fecal matter as a sculpting medium. He would lay on his belly in his darkened cell and wait. He had little balls of poo all lined up and flicked them at you as you passed.

A morning of bob and weave, bob and weave. One morning he left a little poo bunny sculpture on the bars. It was actually well done.

Every time you needed to go out on one of the tiers, go to a classification committee, He’d be waiting with his bitty balls.

The people I worked with in SHU II were some of the best correctional professionals ever. Good people doing difficult work, work that most people on the outside don’t understand, or appreciate.

So, when you think your thirty minute commute behind a guy with his left turn signal on is bad, it’s better than having poo balls tossed at you.

It’s worse than the time I carjacked a van full of commuters. Have a commute story you want to share?


  1. That’s the worst, (but somewhat funniest) commute story I’ve ever heard. I worked at a State mental hospital on their forensics unit…you know, the criminally insane or wannabes, so it didn’t surprise me. Pretty disgusting to have to say I can relate to that. :/

    1. It’s amazing what we can relate to in our little circle.

  2. We once had an elderly patient on the nursing unit where I worked who would line the poop balls up on the bed rails and flick them at the staff. Might have been the inmates grandmother.

    1. My sister! We poop ball survivors need to stick together.

  3. I rode the BART to downtown Oakland and saw many strange things but luckily no poop sculptors plying their trade.

    1. Remember to bob and weave, bob and weave. The poop throwers usually don’t get as far as the train before they’re netted.

  4. Man, how you survived I have no idea. You sound like the ultimate optimist “it was actually quite well done”, when referring to the “bunny sculpture”.

    1. I know good art when I see it. The medium could have been a bit more refined.

  5. I thank God everyday for my commute. Ten minute drive through a wooded country road. Even living in the city I was thankful I had somewhere to go each day. Great post James.

    1. Until my recent “retired” commute to my desk, I never had a short commute. I consider myself very lucky now.

  6. stephanie710 · · Reply

    Whew. I really like your new commute better than the old one. 🙂 Poo ball art?? Hmm, I give those workers a lot of credit because it takes a special person to deal with that kind of inmate. I remember the jail days well but it was nothing like this. Great insights. Hey, Folsom—did you ever see Johnny Cash??

    1. Yep, poo ball art. Interesting times for sure. Johnny Cash was before my time, so I got the Hillside Strangler instead.

  7. […] at the end of the tier was a perverse game of Frogger, dodging poop balls tossed from the cells. I mentioned the particularly talent of molding human poop into little bunny figurines once before. Perhaps, this has something to do with why I’m not fond of ceramic pottery […]

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