Holy Mackerel! SF Attorney On The New Prison Currency: Canned Fish

One of the last times we heard from San Francisco criminal defense attorney Tony Serra, before he went to prison for not paying his taxes, he was ranting about mackerel. Funny, then, that the next time he enters our periphery, he’s on the same subject (only in a very different context).

In 2006, the long-haired, hippy-seeming lawyer used the image of that particular fish to slam a witness who testified against his client, 26-year-old Jason Cazares. Cazares pleaded guilty to manslaughter to avoid a murder charge in the killing of Gwen Araujo, who was beaten and strangled, then buried in a shallow grave after four men, two of whom had had sex with her, discovered she was transgendered.

During the trial, Serra tore into key prosecution witness (and co-defendant) Jaron Nabors, “calling him ‘an ugly human being’ and a ‘pathological liar’ and comparing him to a mackerel: shiny on the outside and twisted, deformed and smelly on the inside.”

Well, a couple years later, after serving his own nine-month prison term, Serra is back on his favorite topic, commenting this time in a Wall Street Journal article on the new prison currency: canned mackerel. The fish took over for cigarettes after prisons banned smoking in 2004.

Here’s how it works:

Unlike… more expensive delicacies, former prisoners say, the mack is a good stand-in for the greenback because each can (or pouch) costs about $1 and few – other than weight-lifters craving protein – want to eat it.

So inmates stash macks in lockers provided by the prison and use them to buy goods, including illicit ones such as stolen food and home-brewed “prison hooch,” as well as services, such as shoeshines and cell cleaning.

So did Serra pick up a taste for the fish while in the clink? Couldn’t say, but if so, it seems a good number of places around town serve it. If you want a little taste of prison, just run a search for the stuff here.

Mackerel Economics in Prison Leads to Appreciation for Oily Fillets [Wall Street Journal]
Tax Evasion Sends Renowned Attorney to Prison – Again [The Recorder]
Nabors to get 11 years for role in Araujo’s death [Bay City News/Fog City Journal]
Find-A-Food Search [MenuPages]

[Photo: Via adactio/flickr]

Holy Mackerel! SF Attorney On The New Prison Currency: Canned Fish