Yesterday, we shared the first part of Saaphyri’s first interview after spending the past 22 months in jail for forgery. While that half focused on her case and arrest, the second half below discusses Saaphyri’s experience in prison in at times graphic and almost always hilarious detail. Prison lesbianism, the food trade, bathroom woes and hanging out with murderers (including a Manson girl) are among the topics discussed. Saaphyri also lets us know what she’s up to now, making it clear that her spirit is indefatigable. Where there’s a will, there is a way…and a weave.
What’s your day-to-day life like in prison? Take me through an average day.
I had two different things that I had to do. The first was I went to Fire Camp. Now let me tell you about Fire Camp. First of all, I am not athletic! [Laughs] I don’t know if you could tell by looking at I Love Money. But I am not athletic! So it was this program called Fire Camp where you could get out of prison early if you go and fight fires. First I joined up because I wanted to get out early. Well it’s mid-July. They have us waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning, running around a track and stuff. You’re supposed to do a mile—a mile!—in under ten minutes. I can’t run at all, under no minutes. Then they have you doing burpies, you know what burpies are?
Child, let me tell you. Burpies, those are those things in the military where you have to fall down on the ground, do three push-ups, do some mountain climber thing and then jump back up and do a jumping jack, then go back down to the ground. OK, so they had us in like it was military training. And not only that. It was like a hundred degrees. And we’re doing this stuff. Now after fire camp, I crumble out there because, like I said, I wasn’t athletic. I was like, “I am not going to be able to get out early, since I am not athletic. That’s not right.” But anyway, then the next situation when you’re there is, they make you work. They turn people into slaves, Rich. And when I say work, they make you work doing dumb stuff. I had like six jobs, I kept getting fired.
Why did you keep getting fired?
Because I didn’t want to do it!
Did you have an attitude?
No, I didn’t have an attitude. I had situations where my body wouldn’t want me to work. And Rich, let me tell you how much they pay you. They pay you a whopping—whopping!—18 cents an hour. You would have to wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning. This this C.O. comes, and he shines a bright light. Everyday it’s like you’re in a Nazi camp, because he’s coming and shining this bright light in your face early in the morning so you can wake up and go to your quote unquote “job” so you can get paid. I worked in like the kitchen as the server. And the people steal food. They steal a lot of food. [Laughs] And they sell it! You have people selling pancakes! And peanut butter! And potatoes! They sell this stuff, right? And the potatoes, they sell for more, and you try to buy them they stab you in your gums. So then they would have to go to the emergency from getting stabbed from potatoes.
How much does a potato go for in jail?
They go for a noodle—a noodle is 25 cents. [Laughs] Top Ramen are precious items in prison! It’s like the barter system, because you don’t get actual money. Everything is traded for like noodles, hygiene products, stuff like that. It’s crazy. Food is like the utmost important thing in the world.
Then what do you do with it? Do you hide that in your cell?
Yeah you keep in your cell. You have it in your locker. I was not stealing any food out of the kitchen. I was trying to not eat anything, so the good thing about prison is that I lost weight.
Was the food terrible?
It was to me! I was surviving off of chicken broth. Chicken broth and salad.
How much weight did you lose?
Probably about 20 lbs.
At least you have something to show for your time.
I know! And wait a minute, look, something even better: I quit smoking cigarettes.
Yeah, anybody want to ever quit smoking, go to prison, and you will quit.
That’s a great plan. What about entertainment? Did you read at all? Watch movies?
I had a TV.
In your cell?
Yeah, you could get your own TV.
How much does that cost?
A few hundred dollars. You get your own TV, your own radio, a typewriter. I did a lot of typing. I’m working on my book.
What’s the book? Just your life story?
It’s different pieces of my life story. It’s my life alongside others. It’s a tell-all. It’s got a lot of different people in here. A lot of different people from Michael Jackson to, oh my gosh, everybody.
You knew Michael Jackson?
I met him when I was a little kid.
Did you have a friendship with him or did you just meet him once?
I’ll tell you exactly what happened. When I was like 3-years-old, my friend’s dad used to play for the Dodgers. So they had this big thing—the Jackson 5 is gonna be here on such and such night. So we go to the thing, I totally turn into a 3-year old-groupie. [Laughter] I’m like, “Michael! Michael!” And that day I grabbed on to him, this little boy, and I would not let him go. So they were laughing and they ended up signing everything for me. I just would not let him go. The whole night we stayed there and we had a dinner. We kept talking, I must have talked to him for like hours. They were trying to eat, they couldn’t eat. I didn’t eat nothing because I wanted to talk. And at the end of the day, to make a long story short, he actually remembered that. We went to the NAACP, like years later and I was backstage. I ran into him and I was like, “You don’t remember this little girl when we were at the L.A. Dodgers function a long time ago?” He was like, “That was you!” I was like, “Yeah!” Because people laughed at me for years at how I would not let go of him. And he actually remembered, out of all the groupies in the world. He was like, “You were so little, you were so cute, that was so funny.” I put Pac in my book. Dr. Dre, Eminem, Ronald Isley, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Griffin, Martin Lawrence, oh and Sammy Davis, Jr. They’re all in there.
I saw some reports of your age online. People we’re saying you were 43, but I thought you were younger than that.
So, are you 43? I mean the Jackson 5 story dates you…
I’m only 23, Rich!
So what it was the Jackson 5 Reunion Tour?
Uhhuh! [Laughter] I was an embryo! I made a mistake. But no, I am 23. And I will stay that age for the next 56 years.
What about the social aspect of jail? Did you make any friends? Are there people that you stay in touch with?
I did. There are really some funny people in prison.
There were some people that were so funny, I would get cramps in my side laughing at a couple of these girls. There was, a girl named Gigi, a girl named Swa, this lady named Shebrah, and who else?
Yeah, S-W-A. She was like a black, female Jim Carrey. [Laughs] She would run around and always remind me of The Mask! And Gigi, she tells stories like Charlie Murphy. And Shebrah is hilarious. She’s like an old lady, but she’s short, and had this big stomach. She would take her clothes off and walk around the cell and tell you stories of her boyfriend. It was funny, funny, funny.
Were any of these people violent criminals that you were hanging out with?
Is that weird, to be laughing along with people who are violent?
Do you know I was sitting there talking to the Manson lady?
The Manson killer lady!
Really, which one? Leslie Van Houten?
She was at C.I.W. The other one died in Cowchilla.
Yeah, Susan Atkins died a few years ago. The other one was Leslie Van Houten. That’s amazing. [Note: Patricia Krenwinkel is also incarcerated at C.I.W., so it’s possible that Saaphyri spoke to her, and not Van Houten.]
Yeah! I was like, “Is it true you were a Manson murderer?” She didn’t look like she could hurt me. I mean, she was skinny and stuff, and she wasn’t even ugly or nothing. She did not look like she had did that to that lady, but she was looking at me like kind of crazy, right? And then this other lady came over was like, “Oh that’s Saaphyri, we don’t tell her nothing. She’s from TV.” She was like, “I haven’t seen none of those shows.” You know, because you don’t get cable. And she’s like, “Well, girl, when you get back you tell everyone that I am not as bad as they say I am and I should get released.” So I guess I’ve done that. [Laughs] I was in it with her, Betty Broderick…
Who is Betty Broderick?
Remember her? They did a Lifetime movie about her about her killing her husband. I was in there with the lady they call the “Zebra Killer”
Yes, a Zebra Killer. The lady was killing interracial couples because she was mad.
Is it strange being in an environment with killers? Does that make you fear for your life?
No. It was like crazy though. I’ll tell you. At C.I.W., they walk around and it’s like, you don’t really notice that they’re killers. But at Cowchilla, the other prison, you know that they’re killers, because they did some of the most hideous things. I cried when I was listening to some of these stories about how people killed their babies and put them in the oven. That right there I hated. It was so dark. I was a very, very dark environment to have these people that were hard-time murderers in a cell with somebody that stole some stuff from a store or you know? You have to stay in the same room, in your cell, with eight people. Eight women in a cell that’s as big as a bathroom.
What, with four bunk beds?
Yeah, but they’re like hard with a slither of mat—like a mat you would do yoga on. Yeah, that’s your mattress.
Does that hurt your back?
Yeah, it hurts your back, Rich! [Laughs] I know you gotta ask questions but, yeah it hurts your back!
I know it might sound obvious, but I’m just trying to get the full picture.
It’s horribly uncomfortable! Maybe if I was from Tibet or something it would be OK, I would be used to it. But I’m not used to it. I’m used to Tempur-Pedic mattresses. It was not like that. I mean, you had this one little toilet. And the door to where the toilet is has a big hole on the bottom so basically anybody could see you, you know what I’m saying?
Yeah, what’s that like? That must be terrible, if you have to take a crap.
It’s torture! [Laughs] For the longest I would like, hold it in, until I was probably getting sick I was holding it in for too long. So I was like, “Well I can’t hold it in. Got to do it.”
How big are the cells?
They’re small, they’re small. They have eight people in one cell. And the walls are bricks. And there’s a bathroom, well not a bathroom, but there’s a toilet and there’s a shower. And there are two sinks and there are eight lockers. And under each double bed there are two drawers—a drawer for the top and a drawer for the bottom.
What did you miss the most?
My family. I missed my family. And then, after that, I missed my weave! [Laughs]
I saw a picture that was a supposed mug shot of you. You didn’t have your weave in and I thought, “Oh, she’s suffering.”
[Laughs] But you know what? If there’s a will, there’s a way. And even though I didn’t have my long, luxurious weave, I ended up with some hair anyway [laughs].
How did that work out?
Oh, it worked out fabulously. Instead of a weave I ended up having individuals. You know?
But where did you get them? How did you get hair?
Isn’t that something? It’s amazing. I’ll have to tell you that part when I get off of parole. But yes, your girl had hair. Everybody would be like, “Where did that hair come from?” and I would be like, “Don’t worry. I have hair.” Long, luscious individuals, and they were so cute.
Since coming out have you put a weave back in?
Oh, honey-boon, yes! Yes, the first thing I did was stop and picked up some needles and some thread and get some hair. I was so happy. My friends were laughing because the hair is so long. I gotta cut it. I wanted it just lying around my head. I’ve been slinging it around, getting a feel for having hair again. It’s a lot, but I missed that. And I missed my eye lashes! There was no way to get those. I tried to make some out of some hair, it did not work. It did not work. So all those people who want to do eyelashes stitches, where you just stitch in your eyelashes, they don’t look right. They don’t look right at all.
What about the lesbian factor? Do a lot of women engage in lesbian activity in jail?
Yes! [Laughs] Yes, they do, Rich!
No! You know what though? I will tell you this, the girls that come in, they look like boys. I mean for real, like, really boys. Right? And you start to forget, it’s like your mind starts taking you adrift and all, and I had to tell myself, “No that’s a girl. That is a girl. That’s not a boy, that’s a girl.” But, yes, it’s a lot of that that goes on. And for all the people that are going to read this and think, “Oh, that’s hot! All these lesbians and these girls,” no it’s not hot. You have to see these people. You got somebody who looks like Tiny Lister, but it is a girl. It is a girl. OK? And her girlfriend has a mustache with two barrettes in her hair, but when she sings she sounds like Mariah Carey. That is the kind of couple that you see there, OK? It is not a pretty sight. I wasn’t hard for me not to become a lesbian. It was not hard. It was some funny looking couples. I’m telling you, people there that you know are a little slow, you know that can’t do nothing but spell their name. And they come [in a lowered voice], “I got a girlfriend, her name Carmen.” [Laughs] What?! Spell Carmen! “X-O-X-O, that’s Carmen.” It was crazy.
It seems that however miserable it was, it seems there was plenty of stuff to laugh at. Did you use laughter as a coping mechanism?
Yes. I mean I got a million stories about there. Some things are really funny and some things are really heartfelt. There were people that were losing their children, you know, and you feel really sorry for them. And then there’s people like this one lady was there because she stole a pack of tampons because she didn’t have no money. [Laughs] She didn’t have no money at the time and she started her period and she had on white pants. OK? Now she’s in prison.
You were there for 22 months. Is it at all weird now to be away from this thing that you’ve been ensconced in for almost two years? Is there anything you miss about it, even?
Hell no! [Laughs]
I know that sounds like a dumb question but it just seems like you would just get so used to being there…
No, I’m gonna tell you. In my brain, this is what I learned about myself that I didn’t know: I could actually shut down. Everyday was like, “I’m leaving here, I’m leaving here. I am going to laugh, but I am not actually going to become accustomed to being here.” You know what I’m saying? So I stayed focused that fact that I was leaving. It was like, “I’m laughing with you guys, ha ha ha, he he he, but I’m leaving.” [Laughs] And I will not be eating no more noodles ever! I didn’t really become attached to my environment. I guess that goes even for out here in the world, you know? Even if you are in an environment that’s not the greatest environment, you can always get out and go somewhere else. That’s the way I took it. I felt like I was in the streets. It don’t get no more ghetto. [Laughs] It’s a horrible thing. And they make you where the ugliest clothes. Blue. I don’t want to wear anything blue. Everyone looked like Smurfs. And blueberries. I don’t want to wear blue, no blue.
Have you talked to It at all since you’ve been out?
I sure haven’t. Should I talk to him?
I don’t know. If you want to.
[Laughter] It’s a horrible thing, when the last person you had sex with was It, and then you couldn’t have sex no more. That’s not good, huh? I’m just saying hypothetically speaking.
I don’t know. I always thought It was cute.
You’re the one who slept with him. Anyway, now what are you doing? You mentioned you were writing a book but what else are you doing with yourself?
I am writing my book, of course. That’s going to be coming out soon. And you’ll see me back on TV. [Laughter] Oh yeah, for sure. I don’t want to talk too much, but all I want to say is you will see me, you will see me. Lots and lots of me.
What does that mean? Are we going to see you naked?
[Laughs] I don’t know. Right about now, I feel like being naked. I don’t think you are going to see me naked just yet.
But maybe sometime in the future.
You know? There’s a good, kind of, maybe. Who knows.
But how are you supporting yourself right now? You have money?
I have some money. I have some money but it’s running low so they gotta give me some more. [Laughs]
You have to get back on the Lip Chap hustle.
Oh, yeah definitely. I will. I’ll definitely be on that very soon. I just got out four days ago, so it’s still like I’m putting everything together and getting everything in order even though I’ve had a plan for months. I haven’t had anything to do but make a plan. I definitely am going to get the Lip Chap back on. Lip Chap is not done, it is not over it. But when you’re running things and it’s like you’re by yourself and then you leave, things go haywire. But I’m back. And trust me I’m back with a vengeance.