The First O. J. Book
I got the idea for an O.J. Simpson book long before all the others came out. The inspiration came in a flash at three in the morning as I lay awake on “B” row in L.A. County Jail’s “High-power” section. The only sounds on the row of twenty-five, one-man cells were cockroaches scurrying across the concrete floors . . . the same floors worn smooth by the thousands, perhaps millions of feet that have tread there. I was absolutely certain that I wasn’t the only one in High-power that wasn’t able to sleep that night. There had to be at least one other inmate whose conscience wouldn’t allow it.
Over on “G” row the Juice had to be having at least a twinge of nostalgic remorse. That’s if the guys got even a drop of humanity in him, because this was, exactly to the day, the one year anniversary of the vicious killing of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. It wasn’t O.J.’s problems that were keeping me awake however. By coincidence, it happened to be my wedding anniversary. I’d lost my wife and kids when I’d gotten myself arrested a year ago, and I was considering how a guy could get himself so screwed up and leave such a horrendous trail of heartbreak and sorrow in his wake. Those made me think of O.J., that’s when it dawned on me that I was in the perfect position to write the very first, original, and now long lost and forgotten O.J. book.
I used to be a reporter, mostly radio news, beat stuff. Show up at the scene of a crime or car wreck, murders, coke busts, some politician’s news conference, pretty boring fare actually. I was just doing it to bide my time until I could fulfill my real dream: progressive rock disc jockey. That turned out to be a bust though, come to find out, spinning the same records over and over, no matter how cool it seemed at the time, is beyond monotonous. I should have stuck with the news.
The good thing about working around a newsroom is, you learn things you never realized existed. Twenty-four-seven the wire services are feeding the news over the teletypes. One line blurbs, three line headlines, five page in-depth coverage. Unusual words and places and names are phonetically spelled out, background information is available. It was the internet before the net existed. I was doing the midnight to six a.m. anchor shift when John Lennon and Elvis died. I got the inside skinny on Ted Bundy and Son of Sam. I learned what leads, how to write, what the professionals consider newsworthy and entertaining. When you’re around that atmosphere for a while you get a sense of what’s interesting to the public. If it bleeds, it leads, isn’t just a slogan, it’s a newsman’s credo. And on this special occasion, Nicole and Ron’s blood was still warm and dripping all over The L.A. Times and every local and national newscast across the country and world. The trial was being broadcast in real time, live, all day. We’d sit on the rows and watch every minute of it. The defense was brilliant, the prosecution was pathetic, and drama was dynamic. And I knew how it could all work for me.
I’d write not only about O.J. and the trial, but also the inside story of the inner workings of L.A. County High-power and what really goes on with the Juice (and everybody else) on the inside. The real deal about the belly of the beast, and there was the title, “Deep Inside the Belly of the Beast." I’d use the profits to finance my own legal defense. At the time, I didn’t have a lawyer, not a real one anyway. I promise you, the only justice you or anybody else is going to get in the L.A. justice system is equal to what you can pay for. That’s not an exaggeration. I’ve seen guys who weren’t even remotely guilty get life or worse, while others walked free, tracking the trail of the blood of their victims behind. O.J. did a county year for double murder.
By sheer luck I was in a unique position, physically, to work on my project. There are seven High-power rows, A through C, each with twenty-five one-man cells, the rows sectioned off from each other. High-power houses the worst, most violent, most notorious, or notable. You’ve got shot callers, guys down from death row, guys you can’t mix in the general population because they’ll kill or be killed, and you have the escape risks. I was the latter. I’d been caught red-handed with a hacksaw blade at court. I was in county six years fighting cases, picking up cases, delaying and evading. The years I did in High-power were the best time I’ve ever done. It’s extreme high security, you’re handcuffed and shackled anytime you leave the cell and you rarely see the light of day. But, if they allow you to remain in High-power, I mean the prisoners . . . the shot callers, and then you’re in. Everything is shared. The gang shot callers wields impressive, potent control over almost everything that goes on in not only the county, but throughout the prison system and even on the street. I’ve never seen so much dope, so much money or so much political influence concentrated in one place, before or since. In High-power you can get just about anything you could imagine, and yes, that includes women (there are ways). Anything that money can buy, it’s available in High-power. There are teenagers who are pulling in ten thousand a week while locked in a cell.
You can also get yourself cut or killed with the wrong word spoken or from a simple misunderstanding. There’s long respect given and received on those rows, you learn the rules quickly, or you die. My cell was in the front. There were only two or three cells in the whole unit that didn’t have mirrored glass in front, mine had clear glass and I looked into the control booth and entrance way. Anyone coming or going was in my view. I knew who went to showers, visits, court, anywhere. There was one other windfall bonus to my location. I could see directly into the guard’s booth through the window in their door. On the desk was a five-inch TV monitor of O.J.’s cell over on G row. The Juice had his own row. He had an exercise bike, every night returning from court he got two big pitchers of orange juice and cold water and food from the officer’s dining room. I recall one holiday, Christmas or Thanksgiving, the Lieutenant came rolling into the unit and announced, “Go get O.J. a big plate of fried chicken from O.D.R!” They sent the most red-neckest, tobacco chewinest, Klan meeting attendingest guard there was. He was NOT happy about it and they all had a seriously good laugh. Jail is, without a doubt, the most segregated and hardcore racist sub-society that I personally have ever encountered. However, O.J. was celebrity, and a FOOTBALL hero at that . . . he was cock-of-the-walk, rook-of-the-roost. The Juice was treated extremely well. It was this dichotomy between his treatment and the rest of us that lead me to believe that a real, behind the scenes story would be interesting.
I started writing and taking careful notice of every move. O.J. was in court nearly every day and on non-court days he was in the visiting room where he had his own visiting booth. He and Shapiro and the blond assistant would be out there all day long. He was escorted by five guards, coming or going anywhere.
Occasionally, we’d pass in the entry way. The guy’s got a presence about him. Energy sparks off this dude like lightning bolts hitting a transformer in an electrical storm. He’s physically imposing, about six-three, back then still in good shape, a huge head, and he’d stare you down. You got to have something special about you to be a record setting running back in the NFL. If you recall, he nearly single-handedly carried the Buffalo Bills to the Super bowl in the mid-seventies. Not quite, but the 2,003 yards in a season, in Buffalo, no small feat. If he could tap dance around two hundred fifty pound linebackers and slam into three hundred plus pound defensive linemen and still be able to gain that kind of yardage, a couple of Brentwood socialites are no competition. Ron and Nicole didn’t have a chance. That’s like a lawnmower breezing through a daisy patch on a warm summer day. One time, Juice came back from court and he noticed I’d hung up that big cover shot of Nicole from the National Enquirer on my cell wall, right where he could see it. I thought he was going to come through the Plexiglas. Honestly, he rushed up to the glass and played it off like he was trying to get the basketball playoff score from the TV, but he was livid and even in handcuffs, a maniac.
I began calling around to the Century City attorneys. I’d get them to come visit by feigning interest in their representing me on my case. Although that was in part true, the first priority was in finding someone politically or otherwise connected enough to get an O.J. book brokered. And it had to be someone who understood the potential. I found a well-known, very expensive attorney willing to work with me. I’d wrap the manuscript fairly quickly, get it to him and he’d handle the rest. Within days, he was back with an offer, based solely on the idea. It was from a tabloid, a hundred thousand for the story, but, they also wanted pictures. They wanted to sneak a miniature camera to me and were offering bribe money to get a guard to get shots of O.J.’s cell or even O.J. himself. It was doable; all the obstacles could be overcome. I could get the camera back to the unit, take pictures, even bribe the overnight guard and get everything back out. There was only one thing that would prevent the deal from going through. Me. I turned it down. I was holding out for the book deal, the numbers were too tempting. On a book that would sell for around twenty a pop, you figure it’s a million seller . . . that’s twenty mil, the author gets ten to fifteen percent, that’s two to three million. That’s the kind of money I would need in order to pay off the attorney and buy my way out. The lawyer saw it too, we agreed to hold out for the book deal and I got back to work.
Juice was back and forth to court, the TV coverage was ove
was interlacing stories of jail exploits and the horrors
of being in L.A. County with the O.J. story. I’ve been in seven full blown riots, witnessed stabbings where the victim got hit sixty plus times, seen and/or been involved in jailhouse romances involving guards, nurses, lawyers or girlfriends hired as “legal assistants” and brought to court where they’d meet with the client (prisoner) in private for “legal conferencing." I’ve known of deals where judges traded time for sex or money. When cigarettes were banned from jail and prison, it created a black market that rivaled alcohol prohibition from the twenties. Suddenly, a pack of cigarettes could be broken down and sold in tiny pieces that made the net on a pack, two hundred forty dollars. That’s better than anything I’ve ever seen on the New York Stock Exchange, and the profit on heroin is even greater. I’ve actually seen guards get on the intercom to the rows on visiting day and advise certain inmates that, “A thousand was dropped off,” (credited to his account). When visitors dropped off money to someone’s account it gets credited on his books. It was a joke, sometimes a guy would get several large amounts dropped off, placed on his account, in one visiting day. The guard would literally be advising the dealer that his buyers had paid, or not, which meant a client whose people didn’t make the payment could be in serious trouble. There are many times when two cell doors were “accidentally” opened on the tier at the same time. It was common knowledge that when that happened, you were supposed to “deal with it.”
All of this created an incredibly fertile field of interesting characters: hardened gang members of all ages, grizzled guards with their own brand of foibles, rich attorneys, ambitious prosecutors, corrupt judges. Mix in sex and violence, money and greed, politics, drama, and throw in a celebrity involved in a double murder of his wife and alleged lover in the case of the century . . . an irresistible story, what could possibly go wrong?
Somehow, the jail administrators caught wind of my little project. Not the tabloid offer and the camera smuggling, but just the writing end of the deal was enough to produce a response worthy of comparison to the seven plagues of Egypt. In a move reminiscent of an S.W.A.T. operation, I was unceremoniously gaffled up and swept away to the darkest, dankest, most desolate and remote region of the jail. High-power overflow it was in the far corner of the jail, on an upper floor of the old county, as far away from O.J. as they could get me. Twenty-five one-man cages, there the crazies and forgotten dwelled. There was a good inch of water on the floor of the tier, mice roamed freely in the thousands. I went twelve days without a shower and you could forget about recreation or phone calls or civil rights. Those were things you heard of once in a dream. I was in the last cell, on the last tier. They cell fed, and if they ran out of trays at the end of the tier, they weren’t coming back. I used stubs of pencils and whatever paper I could scrounge and for the next thirty days, I wrote. There was absolutely nothing else to do anyway. I was so weak from hunger and neglect that I just wanted to sleep. Depression was a constant threat and I fought it off long enough to get the manuscript done. Now I had to get it out. At an investigator visit I slipped it to him with instructions to get it to the attorney (who would get it typed, edited, and dealt to a publisher). Two weeks later when I saw the investigator again I asked how it went. He replied, “Oh that was a really good story!” I was taken aback and asked, you read it?” I thought I’d been clear that it was urgent to get it to the lawyer ASAP, my confusion increased to alarm when he said, “Yeah, I’m a bit of a writer myself, I submitted some stuff to Reader’s Digest but got rejected.”
Now the alarms were going off in my head like those big steel ones they use in school auditoriums to signal some imminent disaster. I struggled to remain calm and politely inquired if he might possibly be sure that the attorney gets the manuscript as soon as possible, it’s important. He assured me it would be done. A year and three court orders later, the P.I. was forced to hand over my hand written manuscript in court. I’m pretty sure he sold the story to one of the tabloids, I had read one that the attorney showed me that seemed vaguely similar. They had used some fake, studio composed cut and paste to represent O.J.’s cell, and it was pretty tacky. But by that time, it didn’t matter anyway. The trial of the century had ended, everybody and their neighbor’s brother had written an O.J. book and my window of opportunity had slammed shut, been double-locked with those locks that they shoot rifle bullets through, and laser-welded tight with me inside.
I read the others, Clark, Darden, Bugliosi and some other versions. N
I’ve moved on since those days, to state prison. I’ve pursued other writing projects, spent a lot of time on self-discovery and improvement. The Juice is doing his thing in Florida and Vegas. Looking back, reliving the events on these pages, it seems so bizarre and surreal now. The oddest part is, every word is true. The End