It’s hard to tune a ukulele when you’re being whipped on the back with a bullwhip. Just as you’re about to get two strings in tune…plunk-plunk… plunk-plunk…KA-RACK!, the whip hits you on your back, and the guard yells for you to hurry up.
I wasn’t very good at making or tuning ukuleles, so they moved me to the lei-making department. (A lei is a Hawaiian necklace of flowers. You may say that you already knew that, but I don’t think you did.)
But it was the same thing there. Just as you’re trying to decide between two orchids, KA-RACK!, YOWW!!
If people knew that leis were made under such horrific conditions, they might not buy them. Every time I see a photo of a smiling tourist wearing a lei, it makes me sick to me stomach.
Just as I thought I would lose my mind, I got a break: I was made a “trusty.” I was given a whip. My job was to whip the other inmates. For a while it’s kind of fun, whipping your fellow prisoners. But then it gets boring. And your arm and shoulder are killing you at the end of the day.
I started slacking off, barely whipping very hard — sort of limp-wristed. It didn’t work. They noticed, and soon a guard was whipping me to whip harder. So now my back and my arm were sore!
I was moved to the most humiliating job of all: whip maker. The bullwhip is the most popular tourist item sold in Hawaii, In fact, the word “Hawaii” means “Land of Whips.”
It seemed so unfair, being whipped by a whip while you’re making a whip.
How did I wind up at such a horrible place? It’s a long story. My friend Don and I came to Hawaii from America to find the Golden Monkey. We found it, and I stole it, but then it was stolen from me by my Uncle Lou. I was arrested, tried, and sent to Aloha State Prison. I guess it wasn’t such a long story after all.
The Hawaiian justice system is really unfair. If you steal something, but then someone steals it from you, shouldn’t that erase the first stealing?
I was sentenced to twenty-five years, with credit for the one week I had spent in jail. So it was actually only twenty-four years and fifty-one weeks, which I thought was pretty good.
In Honolulu, a big group of us convicts were made to change out of our regular clothes into the prison uniform: a flowery Hawaiian shirt, cutoffs and flip-flops. It’s well-known that if you see someone in a Hawaiian shirt and cutoffs, he’s probably an escaped criminal.
We were loaded on a boat and shipped up the mighty Aloha River. As we passed the House of Forbidden Aloha, the girls came out and waved. I waved back.
We continued upriver. The sun was shining brightly and the birds were singing in the trees. I started thinking, Maybe going to prison isn’t so bad.
One prisoner jumped ship and tried to swim to shore, but he was attacked by crocodiles. It was horrible! The water was strewn with blood and pieces of flip-flops.
The guards herded us into the main yard at Aloha State Prison. The warden was waiting. “Welcome, gentlemen,” he said, but the way he said “gentlemen,” I felt, was a little sarcastic. I hate to judge someone, but that’s the way it seemed.
The warden said no one had ever escaped from Aloha State Prison, and that we shouldn’t even think of trying. That’s when I noticed the main gate was still open, and I just walked out. Then I ran.
The guards caught up with me, beat me, and threw me into a cell. To this day I still wonder what the rest of the warden’s speech was about.