Walls, Wire, Bars and Souls: a teaser

My memoir of prison chaplaincy, titled ‘Walls, Wire, Bars and Souls’, will be published on or about September 20th.  I asked my friend Lawdog to write a foreword for it, because he and I go back a long way together;  he works in the prison/corrections field;  and he can ‘tell it like it is’ with great authority (and frequently a side-splitting sense of humor).

To give you a small taste of the book, here’s his foreword.

I first met Peter Grant by way of the Internet over a decade ago.  Since then I have come to know him as a friend, a confidant, and a counselor.

He is a witty and engaging speaker, his tales of Africa often have listeners howling with laughter, and shaking their heads in disbelief.  As a child of Africa myself, I’ve noticed that it’s the stories that make the average listener shake his (or her) head in disbelief are the most Africa-esque.  If you haven’t been in Africa, a lot of the stories he and I tell are – quite frankly – incredible to most.

The same is true for Detention/Corrections.

Much like Africa, to the average citizen of America the Detention/Corrections field is a mysterious world, with its own incomprehensible language; cultural mores that make complete sense to the natives, but are completely illogical to outsiders; a rigid code of behavior, and – like Africa – has associated myths that, while shocking, are frequently less so than the reality.

For those of us who have Africa in our blood, explaining it to people who have never been there is extremely difficult.  The worldview and mindset of the average American makes it extremely difficult for them to wrap their minds around the reality of sub-Saharan Africa.

The same is true for the Detention/Corrections field.  Describing “gassing” (don’t ask); “trying to find the keister bunny” (you don’t want to know); “chomos”; “ducks”; “nuts-n-butts”; and the other realities of large jail and prison life to someone who has never walked a tier is… difficult, at best.

Finding someone who can draw the mental picture of Detentions/Corrections for Joe Citizen is priceless.

Peter is one such person.  As I read this book, I found myself nodding.  I have spoken to the people he writes about – well, not those exact people, but I have interviewed a predator just like the one he speaks of.  I have seen “rabbits” identical to the one in these pages, and find his assessment of the average inmate’s sense of responsibility for his (or her) actions to be spot-on.

Peter writes this book from the perspective of a combat veteran, a priest and an astute observer of the human condition – an observer who has the uncommon ability to take the results of years of observations and make them comprehensible to the average reader.

What is in this book is not comfortable to think about, but it is reality.  If you have a loved one walking a run in a detention center or a prison; if you’re interested in Criminal Justice; or if you’ve been there and you wonder if anyone else saw the things you did:  read this book.

Or not.  Parts of it may give the average reader nightmares – but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Well done, my friend.  Well done, indeed.

Thanks, Lawdog, ol’ buddy.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help, and your words.

By the way, for the month of September, Lawdog is publishing selections from his prison logs, in his own imitable style.  Here, for example, is an extract from his latest entry.

I was feeling my oats a bit at that time, so I had officers tell East/3 – on the down-low – that they were catching a shakedown, but if they threw out their contraband, the officers would try to talk me into leaving their coloured boxers in the tank. Last I checked the hallway in front of East/3 was ankle-deep and folks in East/3 were offering to trade commissary to East/4 in return for more stuff they could throw out.

While East/3 was unloading their contraband, we hit the kitchen and the laundry. Came up with five chicken quarters, two sandwiches, and two Styrofoam cups of sugar hidden in various places. Then we started on the SHU cells, beginning with Inmate C in SHU/16, since he has a fresh tattoo. When we woke him up, he was wearing a set of white boxers on over a set of coloured ones, and he got kittenish about giving up the coloured ones. I said not to mind, put him in the hall and started searching his cell. Good lord. We got string, a magnet, string, four sparkers, string and I’m pretty sure we accidentally dropped his tat pick into the light fixture trying to get it out. Then we brought him back in, explained that the white underwear made his coloured underwear contraband, and might we please have them?

Inmate C is a bit of an oik. He got a case of the arse, and told us we weren’t getting the underwear. Then he offered to give us a proper thumping if we tried. I demurred, said that I wasn’t leaving the cell without the contraband and Inmate C told me to go get rank. I checked my sleeves to see if I had remembered to put on my stripes, and Inmate C sneered for me to go get “real rank”. Further declared that we would have to go get the Sheriff and that if the Sheriff came out right then and right there told him to give up the underoos, then – and only then – would he give them up.

We got the boxers. Since he had more fishing line, a bit of paper folded into a weight and two notes to and from Inmate F who’s currently two doors down from Inmate C’s solitary cell tucked into the front of his boxers, I’m guessing that’s why he was such a numpty about giving them up.

There’s a lot more at his blog, and will be during the coming month.  I’m looking forward to every entry!



  1. Use to work at Richmond City (VA) Sheriff's Dept. Jail.
    Big Joe worked at Virginia State Prison.
    Our paths crossed when installing telecom equipment for GTE.
    Our first lunch together we compared who, when and where. Many jail inmates progressed to his care after trial.
    Once lunch was over we looked around and EVERY table in ear shot was empty. Our co-workers were aghast and, to be frank, rather scared of us for some time.

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