The inside of the courtyard of San Quentin Prison looks like the child-catcher's street in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang — Bavarian filigree, ye olde typefaces that say things like CONDEMNED, and wrought-iron bars. You can tell it's the oldest prison in California. I once worked in the college program there, where lower level cons could work toward their degrees. What sent me there wasn't so much the pull to do volunteer work but the pull to steep myself in the macabre, if I'm being honest. It's the same pull that draws in viewers of Lockup on MSNBC.
Lockup, for the uninitiated, is a docu-series that films the inside of maximum security prisons, many of which are in California. There's really nothing to be learned from watching it; no exploration of methods or Foucault-level analysis. It's pure violence and obscenity. This show delivers the goods: blood, mayhem, despair, all of which was summed up in inmate Scanvinski Hymes. Who is Scanvinski Hymes? He's the one going totally fucking insane in the Lockup footage. He's the one being extracted from his cell with guards in riot gear, kicking and spitting and screaming. He's the one face down strapped to a gurney, roaring like a caged beast. One minute he's sitting in a chair, cuffed, the next he leaps up and head butts the guard and breaks his nose. He's a maniac, maniac on the floor... At the end of the show there's a follow-up of him out in the world, free. He's with his kids in the park, laughing and swearing that he will never break the law again unless someone threatens him or his family. Hmm.
Here's my latest thing though: I find real characters like this guy and then look them up on social media. You can find anyone who has appeared on a reality TV show or on a website and even befriend them on Facebook. That's how I found Cory Smits, the dwarf with the clown-tattooed face and crazy eyes ("The man with four eyebrows and five convictions") who made it to The World's Greatest Drunk Driving Mug Shots at weirdnews.com. We are pals on Facebook now ... he's actually a pretty rad dude.
Sadly, Scanvinski Hymes' Facebook page has since been removed, but while it was up it was highly entertaining. You can still see his post on the Lockup Facebook page though. On Oct. 18, 2010, he warned: "I was asked to appear on this new program for Lockup but Im not going to do it because 44 Blue is only exploiting people and dont want to pay anyone for something they making millions on. MSNBC is going to be sued."
Not everyone was supportive of his litigious idea.
M— G—-: "quit bragging about dumb shit u did in prison....U looked like a freaking idiot on the episode i seen!! U lucky I wasnt a guard at the prison when u were there cuz if it was up to me ur punk ass wouldnt have got out ur cell ever. Dumb ass"
He has a witty retort however:
"Bitch kill your self You must be out your rabbit ass mind if you think I give a fuck what a punk bitch got to say on the internet. Suck this long black dick and then kill yourself..."
It goes on from there in a similar vein.
The alleged mother of his child is also on the thread and is at first supportive, saying, "awww how sweet, my baby daddy has dedicated fans." She calls herself "MissCarrie," which I'm not sure she really thought through as a nickname. A few days later, though, she returned to the thread to post pics of her buttcheeks and tatas, surely as a way to cash in on the 15 minutes. Then, a few days after that, the facade began to crumble and we learn that Hymes may not be the father she thought he'd be. "when you gonna start being his father ... you rip n run its months since you seen him ... one minute u bustin out my windows the next you fihhtin with this bitch an gettin hit with hammers ... is that shit all worth it to you ... i dont see how u put yur time into this tv shit but ya son right here an you dont acknoledge him ..."
She posts her phone number for him. He never comments.
Point being that with reality shows, there's often a lot more reality out there to be found. It's a game to connect the dots of your favorite TV personalities' media hotspots.
The image you end up drawing is generally obscene, as you might imagine.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Scanvinski Hymes' name.