Caddie Eric Larson and Tommy Chong’s prison encounters with The Wolf of Wall Street
We’ve already detailed the unlikely way in which PGA Tour caddie Eric Larson and icon Tommy Chong became friends while serving time in federal prison.
While there are countless stories about the months they spent together at Taft Correctional Institution in California – many of them detailed in our recent ‘Under the Strap’ podcast – there was one story in particular about another famous inmate that jumped out at us.
Larson had already been in prison 8+ years for drug trafficking before Chong came along to serve a 9-month sentence for selling bongs across state lines. Not long after Chong’s arrival, there was another famous “guest” who checked in: Jordan Belfort.
If that name doesn’t ring a bell, certainly this will: Belfort was the subject of Martin Scorsese’s box office hit, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which was nominated for five Academy Awards. In the film, Belfort is played by none other than Leonardo DiCaprio.
Belfort’s trip to Taft for securities fraud and money-laundering happened in 2003 – 10 years before the movie of his life was released. The movie was based on the book Belfort wrote at Taft.
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All of that brings us back to Larson and Chong.
Upon Belfort’s arrival at Taft, he became Chong’s cellmate.
“Jordan and I, they put us in the same cubicle,” said Chong. “They put celebrities together. Jordan, he’s a genius. He could multitask, put it that way. The only problem was that he’s a thief. We were OK [with each other]. He’d tell me all these stories – which ended up being the Wolf of Wall Street. He was nice. He was OK. So, I said, ‘You need to join our supper club.’”
The “supper club,” had been formed by Larson long before even Chong had arrived. Larson grew a tremendous garden on the prison grounds. The vegetables he grew were donated to the local food bank and not for prisoners. However, since Larson made the garden, he was allowed to eat from it and cook for select inmates at his discretion. As Chong noted, it sure beat the food the rest of the inmates ate in the mess hall.
Each night, Larson would whip up dinners for his buddies from the vegetables using microwaves. It meant something to be part of that supper club.
When Chong invited Belfort, the Wolf of Wall Street was all in.
“So, Jordan said he’d like that,” Chong said. “The only problem was that he was spoiled in a lot of ways. Like, the one thing you have to do when you’re in prison is you’ve got to make your bed. And you’ve got to sweep up your cubicle. Right away, Jordan hired someone to make his bed and to sweep his cubicle, which is OK. That’s what you did there if you had the money.”
It was that air of entitlement that rubbed Larson the wrong way. But, since Chong invited him in, Larson obliged.
It didn’t last long.
“When he joined our crew to eat supper, he brought that attitude,” Chong remembered. “But no, no, no – you don’t do that in Eric’s car. Jordan hired the same guy [who was making his bed] to wash the pots and pans. And that lasted for one day. And then Jordan was uninvited after that one.”
“He thought he could buy everybody in prison,” said Larson, who caddies these days for Harris English. “He came in and he only had like an 18-month or a 2-year sentence, I don’t know. I didn’t really get to know him at all, because he didn’t really care to learn about me or anything – yet he ate with us for a couple of weeks. More than anything, he treated me like an employee, and I didn’t do anything in there to make money. I did it for friends. I said, ‘well, this is a one-way street here, Tommy. I’m not going to socialize with this guy when I get out of prison. This guy could care two shits about me, and I don’t need him.’”
MORE: Eric Larson was a successful PGA Tour caddie before — and after — spending 11 years in federal prison. This is his story.
The real tipping point came when Belfort – perhaps unintentionally – embarrassed Larson in front of fellow inmates.
“The icing on the cake was one day – I had had a long day at work – I’m chopping up food and right in front of a bunch of people he goes, ‘What’s for dinner tonight, chef?’” Larson recalled. “He said, ‘What’s for dinner tonight, chef,’ when Tommy would say something like, ‘Hey, bud, how you doing? What are we working with tonight, my man?’ And here’s Jordan calling me a chef. I’m like, I mean – I was the chef, but I wasn’t the employee. So, I said, ‘OK…’”
When Belfort brought in his bedmaker to do the dishes… well, that was it. Even Chong recognized that if you were eating the meals Larson was cooking up, it was your responsibility to handle the dishes afterward.
“And then the thing with the dishes… He had people paid for everything and I’m like, ‘You’re not paying me to do this. I don’t want to get paid. I’m doing it because I enjoy it and I want to hang out with my friends…’ I told Tommy, ‘You know – I’m going to have to let this guy go. I’m done with him.’ I still kept him included in Friday night ice cream, I think. There were 15-20 people I did that for. That was kind of a ritual that we did,” Larson said.
Chong also had a funny little run-in with Belfort.
“What Jordan would do he would borrow food off me,” Chong said. “There were these little packets of chicken and you were only allowed to have so much per month. Then after that, boom, you’re cut off. So, he kept borrowing my chicken, which I had to give to Eric as part of the food thing. Finally, it got down to the fact that he was not only borrowing my chicken, but he wasn’t paying it back. I realized, we’re in here with thieves. We know how they work.”
So, what did Chong do?
“I got my dog, my big old biker friend, Steve,” Chong laughed. “I said, ‘Steve, Jordan owes me some chicken. Go get it for me.’ And Steve goes, ‘Oh, man, don’t make me do that.’ I said, ‘Nope. You’re my dog, you gotta do it.’ Maybe 10 minutes later, Jordan showed up at my cubicle with the chicken. He said, ‘Here’s your chicken.’ I don’t know what Steve said to him.”
Belfort may have been the Wolf of Wall Street, but not so much at Taft.
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