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A Short Course in Prison Nicknames

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"A friend writes…"

That’s the way many New Yorker "Talk of the Town" items used to start, back in the magazine’s most genteel days. Well, nobody writes real letters any more -- except prisoners, deprived of e-mail and text messaging. And here at Westword, we get lots of letters from prisoners, scribbled on everything from toilet paper to legal briefs.

One of our more thoughtful jailhouse correspondents wrote recently in response to "The Good, the Bad & The Mad," last month’s feature on how mentally ill defendants fare in the justice system. In the course of reminiscing about various mentally ill cellmates, our man reflected:

"I have spent nearly 17 of my 51 years locked up. In this time I have met some very interesting people. People with nicknames like Baby 8, Baby Boy, Bam Bam, Bubbles, Cheater, Chino, Chico, Chicago, Colorado, Dangerous Dan, Denver, Downtown, Detroit, Demon, Diablo, George the Whore, Giggles, GQ, G-Hung, G-Ride, Kenny G, Honky, Hot Shower, New York and LA. He was gay...

"Leukemia Lynn, Money A. Papa T, Papa Bear, Big Bear, Black Bear, Little Bear and just plain Bear. Coyote, Porn Star, Penguin, Roach, Shy Boy, Sidewinder, Snake, Little Snake, Spider, Snoop, Snoopy, Snoop Dog and Special K. Tear Drop, Tombstone, Wino, Wobbles, Wolf, Workie, and hundreds, if not thousands, more."

Sociologists seeking an answer to the problem of crime could do worse than ponder this list. The sheer lack of imagination in many of these monikers -- Bam Bam? Snoopy? Kenny G???? -- may be a clue to unlocking the antisocial tendencies of the criminal mind. The possible homoerotic fetishism of the recurring "bear" nicknames is also suggestive. And a few of the more intriguing -- I’m partial to Wobbles, Leukemia Lynn and George the Whore, myself -- pose an inescapable question about whether a memorable nickname leads to a more successful criminal career. If so, why are these bad boys behind bars? -- Alan Prendergast

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