THIS FUCKED-UP LOOKING JAMAICAN GUY WITH DREADLOCKS is hanging with his crew, and he goes to this white kid and says, "Yo, you want some of my cigarette?" And this white boy goes ahead and takes two pulls on the cigarette. This is in Queens Central Booking."

Taking those pulls on the Jamaican's smoke was the worst mistake in that white boy's life. It was the worst mistake Jose "King Boost" Morales had ever seen anybody make in all his years of hard time.

"The white boy gives the Jamaican back his cigarette," King Boost continues, "and the Jamaican guy takes a razor out of his mouth and shows it to him. He says to the white boy, "Now I want those pulls back."

"That white boy starts cryin," interrupts Boost's main partner, Chris.

"Yeah," continues Boost, " The Jamaican guy gets his boys to gather around them, so nobody can see, right? Then he tells them to kick a beat, to cover the noise so the guards won't hear. 'Cause there was guards right outside the tank, and if they would have heard anythign they would have been right in there. Now the Jamaican guys sits down on the bench and he takes out his dick. He says, "gimme those pulls."

"I seen that white boy," says Chris.

"He was cryin', 'cause he knew there wasn't nothing he could do. That white boy put his head down and sucked the Jamaican guy's dick then and there."

IN THE PAST THREE YEARS, EVERY PLACE in New York has gotten safer - but one. In the big house, it's always Jinx Time. To provide up-to-the-minute intelligence on the hazards of the Underground, Jinx magazine interviewed three highly qualified sources on the current situation inside the penal system. What we learned from Chris, Bays, and Boost, three Puerto Ricans from East New York, amounts to a guidebook through the worst hazards of the slam. Between them, Boost and his two friends have served time in Rehab, Juvenile, Municipal, State and Federal detention.

"I'll let you know," says Chris, "since Giuliani took office, they got everybody locked up. Everybody who ran it on the streets is in jail now, kid."

"I'd say eighty percent of the niggers in lockdown is hardcore criminals, repeat criminals," agrees Boost, who has high standards. The situation in other cities is comparable. You're not going to be camping with the Boy Scouts, young sportsman. Be on point.

Welcome to the other side
A night on the town in Central Booking.

YOU'VE BEEN ARRESTED AND BOOKED. YOU'VE EXPERIENCED the warm intimacy of a body cavity search. Whether the charge is plotting the violent overthrow of the government or driving under the influence, you're now headed for the same 12' X 20' cage. Take a deep breath. You'll be sealed inside with as many as 25 fellow guests.

"I had two of my boys with me the first time I got busted," says Boost. "So I wasn't really that worried." Chances are, you'll have better reason to fear than he had. Boost isn't a big man, but his experiences on the streets of New York have made him hard - and known.

If you're alone on your first pinch, scan the cell for familiar faces. Anyone you recognize from the outside, even if you've never said two words to him, is a potential ally. The idea is to make an acquaintance you can stick by. Of course, an acquaintance is not a friend.

"Don't try to make a friend," says Bays. "The problem with these niggers today is they too fucking smart. They play games with you."

Too much familiarity in conversation will be interpreted as weakness, an opening for psychological attack. This isn't group therapy, and you're not going to get anywhere by talking about your free floating anxiety. Be on alert if a prisoner starts trying to find out to much about you, asking you where you're from, how much money you have, whom you know. This man is trying to size you up and determine how to exploit you. There is a defense against this gambit, however.

"Flip it," says Bays. "Turn the shit around on him. Try to ask him the same questions he asking you."

Boost nods, "Don't let him get personal.

In the cage you'll see stockbrokers sleeping under benches. Men's characters will be tried over a few square feet of floor space. Do not be pushed around. You don't want to show weakness by sleeping next to the toilet, where you'll be repeatedly woken up, stepped on and splashed. Your time inside is a tightrope act, a walk along the line between dangerous extremes. It's suicide to show weakness, but no less so to make unnecessary trouble.

"I seen an old guy catch a crazy beatdown that first night," laughs Boost. "He deserved it. He was talking shit to two young black teenagers, and he punched them first."

That old man had to be carried out. He was having a seizure.

THE CORRECTIONS OFFICERS, CONTRARY TO WHAT YOU might suspect, are every bit as dangerous as the prisoners. Consider: they're the ones who have chosen to be here. Antagonize them or disrespect them under no circumstances.

"They'll hide your papers," says Bays. He means your docket papers, the papers that say you exist. "That's the worst feeling in the world - you see guys come in and in three days they get called out before you, and you like, oh shit, when am I getting out of here? 'Cause the guards put your papers back at the bottom of the pile."

"I seen 'em destroy niggers' papers," nods Chris.

The C.O.'s have less subtle methods of punishment at their disposal as well.

"They got a thing on they belts, and if you pull that thing out it's like an alarm, and in two seconds you'll have like eight big motherfuckers putting their sticks on you." Boost says, "I saw one guy who was in a fight, and they came in to break it up. He grabbed one of their clubs," he winces. "I heard that stick, I felt that stick hit his head."

If for any reason the guards should enter the cell while you're in there, turn away. Play the wall or hit the floor; there's going to be indiscriminate violence.

When they do call you out, you'll be glad they did. "I ain't gonna lie to you," says Chris. "When you get out after those three days, it feels good. You glad you went through it and made it."

The good feeling will wear off in a hurry if they sentence you and toss you back in.

Doing a bid
"this is the place where 99 men week while one man laughs." - Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.

THE SINGLE MOST PREVALENT FACT OF PRISON LIFE IS THAT there are powerful gangs. On Rikers Island you'll live among the Bloods, the Neta, and the Latin Kings.

The Bloods are new on the scene, and their tactics have garnished them some unwanted press. Ironically, the very brutality of the Bloods has rendered them harmless. Their mayhem against the Latin Kings, the general prison population and even the guards has forced the warden into a radical policy: locking them in their cells 24 hours a day.

"The bloods don't walk on Rikers Island," says Boost.

If you want to roll with a gang, the Neta may be your best bet.

"They're positive," says Boost, "They're a Latin gang, but they'll take anybody: faggots, whites, blacksŠ"

Being in a gang will give you clout. Your homeboys will be the eyes in back of your head. There is, however, a heavy price.

"One thing about the Neta, they expect you to be brothers for life. If you see a guy from the Neta on the street who was down with you on the inside, you supposed to be down with him on the outside too." If being beholden to a syndicate of armed career criminals isn't your idea of a smart long term plan, don't join. This is a most solemn commitment, not to be entered into lightly.

The Latin Kings are the largest prison gang in New York, as it is in may other parts of the country. The Kings run Rikers Island, and on the streets they have political ambitions and their sights on legitimacy. They're not quite there just yet. You may well find yourself automatically ineligible for LK membership; it is a requirement to have been born on one of the so-called Five Continents: Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, or Nicaragua.

King Boost has a copy of his "Lessons of the Kings," their code of conduct, at his Brooklyn apartment. He's not at liberty to disclose those lessons at this time, and Jinx has chosen not to push the issue. One good Lesson of the Kings we came up with is, "Don't fuck with them."

Into the inferno
Overcoming the White Boy in you

WE ASKED KING BOOST, BAYS AND CHRIS WHAT THE white boy did wrong, and what he could have done differently, to avoid getting his mouth raped by the sword of evil. Sit up and pay attention, now, because you never know when the long arm of the law might tap you on the shoulder.

1. "He shouldn't have taken a hit on the cigarette." An obvious point? Maybe not. Our White Boy probably felt considerable pressure to accept out of politeness. In the mores of the slam, however, it's worse to owe somebody than to snub an offer.

2. He should have feared the shame more than the razor. It will require the hardest stoicism to accept a slashed face or a stabbed eye, but it's worse to submit. This is not a point of honor but of practical necessity. "It's worse to be a punk," says Boost. "'Cause then the whole jail will know they can use you." Anyone so branded is made a slave, sexual and otherwise, for the duration of his stay.

3. He should have fought back and raised his voice. "You don't want to call for help, 'cause that's just as bad as giving in," says Chris, "But you can make noise and fight, and the guards will hear." Making noise would have earned him a crown from the C.O.'s, but having fought back would have earned him some small measure of respect in the population.

THESE ARE THE UGLY CHOICES THAT MUST BE MADE IN THE cage. At times they won't seem like choices at all. Bear in mind at all times, though, that your actions here, as anywhere, will determine the way you're treated and perceived. Remember to make neither friends nor enemies. Neither antagonize nor scrape before any man. Remember that a stare is as good as a fight, but don't divert your gaze so quickly as to appear the coward. Reveal no more about yourself or your mission than is earnestly revealed to you. In short, the best thing you can do in the system is to act as a Friend of Jinx.

As for the worst thing you can do in the slam:

"Be fake," says King Boost. "That's the worst thing you can do. They'll figure you out."