James St. James: Let’s talk about your stay in Southport.
Michael Alig: What do you want to know about Southport?
James: You were in solitary confinement there — for how long?
Michael: I was in there for about two and a half years.
James: Wow. So for two and a half years, walk me through your typical day.
Michael: You know James it’s really difficult because you’re not allowed to wear a watch or anything, and there’s no windows, so the only way you know when the day ends is by the meals. Breakfast comes at six AM, lunch comes at 11:30, then dinner at four. And so from four in the afternoon until six in the morning, you don’t have anything to eat, and so you never know what time it is.
James: And what do you do during that period?
Michael: Well, I tried to write a lot but, you know, they limit you to one pen a week and that would go dead after one day, with me, so I would have to trade my food for pens, and so it’s really like a never-ending hustle of trying to keep yourself in pens and paper and stamps.
James: So all this time you are just in a cell. How big is the cell?
Michael: Oh, it’s pretty big. It’s about 10 x 10.
James: That doesn’t sound big, Michael.
Michael: Well it’s almost twice as big as what I have now.
James: You didn’t have a television?
James: Did you have a radio?
Michael: When you behave for a certain amount of time they give you one of those receiver things like Lily Tomlin had when she played Ernestine the Operator on Laugh In. You plug it into the wall and you have to hold it up to your ear. It’s not like a headset, it’s only one ear, and you have to hold it to your ear because it doesn’t attach on in any way, and it doesn’t reach from the wall to the bed, so if you want to listen to it you have to go stand next to the wall.
James: I remember you telling me about this. There were only three stations, right?
Michael: Yes, there was rap, sports or Spanish. (James finds this hilarious) And every once in a while they’d let us have, like, an ABC special or something.
James: So for the two years you were there you didn’t see TV at all? Not even BUFFY?
Michael: Oh no. In fact, you know – you’re going to think I’m crazy – but I didn’t believe that 9/11 really happened for a long time.
James: Wait, what?
Michael: I thought it was a joke. I thought they were joking with me.
James: Who came to you and told you the towers had fallen?
Michael: Another inmate, and he was speaking in half-Spanish. He was telling me something about a plane crashing into a building. . . I was waiting to go to the dentist that morning, and when you’re waiting in the dentist’s office there are cages in the waiting room – you’re in individual cages, and there are six cages. . . .
James: OMG – that sounds just like MY dentist’s office!
Michael: Anyway, I was in one cage and the guy next to me was telling me that a plane hit a building on West Street. Now I didn’t really know what West Street was. The more he was telling me in his broken English, the more it was sounding like the World Trade Center, and I said you can’t mean the World Trade Center, and he said: “Jes, jes” — and I said, “That didn’t happen.”
James: No guard came to you and told you?
Michael: Well, then about half an hour later a guard came in the room and said, “That’s it! The building collapsed’ – I guess that was the first one – and I thought he was playing with us, because cops do that all the time in here, they play with your head all the time.
Michael: I didn’t believe it at all. Then I went in and the dentist is looking at my teeth and whispering something to the officer behind me and the officer was whispering something to him and I’m all paranoid thinking they’re talking about yanking my teeth out or whatever, I don’t know what they’re talking about, you know – you get really paranoid when you’re in solitary confinement.
James: I can imagine.
Michael: You get really super paranoid, like if I didn’t hear from somebody in X amount of time I would write them CRAZY letters like “what have I done, why aren’t you responding?” – just crazy stuff. But anyway. so then I went back to my cell, and nobody’s talking about it and nobody says anything for lunch or dinner and it was almost a week before I really believed.
James: You don’t get newspapers in solitary?
Michael: No, in fact, the way I found out about it was from New York magazine.
James: So you were able to get magazines?
Michael: Somebody had gotten me a subscription and it was on the cover a week later. By then I’m thinking that there might be some truth to this. So it wasn’t like a total shock. But it was just the proof that I needed.
James: Tell me more about that time in solitary. It sounds so crazy. I want to hear more about how paranoid you get.
Michael: Yeah, you get really paranoid. I thought they were fucking with my mail. OK, well, first of all, I had this problem – this nerve problem – and it was making me, you know, impotent. I felt like they were putting something in my food, and I even discussed this with you. It makes sense: you’re in solitary confinement, a bunch of guys, and I was in a place where there are a lot of sex offenders and it makes sense that they would put something in the food to make you not get aroused, you know? And so I was thinking that, and I was paranoid to eat my food and so I was switching food with my neighbors and my neighbors were paranoid to eat my food and you just get that way. Then the doctors were telling me it’s all in my mind, and there’s nothing wrong with me. . .
James: . . .and you think they’re just fucking with you because they’re on the payroll.
Michael: Oh yeah.
James: What about the guards – were they mean?
Michael: Some of them were nice to me because I got so much mail. I don’t think they’d ever seen that much mail, you know? I was just getting piles and piles of mail, and the guards when they see you having contact and visits – when they see you having contact on the outside – they treat you differently. Either they respect you more or, in my paranoid mind, they were treating me better because they knew that if they did anything wrong, I would be able to get the message out to people.
Michael: And that’s kind of true. If they know that you have no relatives or friends or people visiting or writing you, they can treat you anyway they want, because they know that nobody’s ever going to find out about it. That’s really scary.
James: That IS scary. So you were there two years. . . .
Michael: Two and a half years. I am always meeting people now who are saying, “Oh I met you at Southport,” but I don’t remember anybody there because I was just in a daze, you know? And it’s like, any time you leave your cell, even to take a shower, you are in shackles. You’re handcuffed and your feet are shackled.
James: So when you would take showers with people. . . .
Michael: You don’t take showers with people.
James: So no contact with anyone, ever. You were alone except for the guard and the porter.
Michael: Except for the porter, who was the junkie, coming to my cell every day and nodding out on my bars, drooling on my bars.
James: Were YOU still a junkie at this point?
Michael: No, but this was when I had my relapse.
James: You relapsed? Why?
Michael: WHY? GEE, I DON’T KNOW. “WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO DO THAT?” (James dissolves in laughter) “COULDN”T YOU FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO DO?”
James: How were you getting money for it?
Michael: This is the thing: I wasn’t . And I was racking up bills.
James: As is our way.
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