El Burro

I remember the first time I laughed—really laughed—in prison. Bo told me about a guy at Coleman whom everyone called El Burro, meaning "the donkey" in Spanish. He was given the name because of a medical affliction that resulted in his having a member roughly the size of a deli salami. It literally, from what Bo said, hung down to his knees. Of course, everyone knew of his condition, officers included, because the damned thing was impossible to hide; he walked around the compound looking as though he was smuggling something in his drawers, and that's indeed what led a new female officer to pull him aside one day as he was leaving the chow hall.

"What have you got there? What is that?" she asked. And El Burro, who didn't speak much English, replied timidly, "My penis.

"The woman was not amused. "Come on, now. What is it? What have you got there? A loaf of bread?"

"My penis," he said again.

Angry and offended, the officer escorted him to the lieutenant's office. The lieutenant, who was well aware of the man's medical deformity, decided to have a bit of fun with the new officer. "All right, now," he said. "Let's see what you've got. Strip.

"El Burro complied, and the story goes that the young woman was so shocked by what she saw that she began to cry.

As Bo recounted the story to me—complete with Mexican accent—I was surprised to find myself laughing. I knew then that I'd be okay.