My Daily Journal in Federal Prison

Day 13

I woke up to sounds of chaos.  Some dude had slipped and fallen out of his bunk at the end of the hall.  Quite honestly, I’m surprised that it doesn’t happen more often.  There are no ladders to the top bunk and the only real way to get up there is by stepping on the nearby desk and literally flinging your body across the chasm and hoping for the best.  And, surprisingly, most of the dudes around here don’t seem to be in the best of shape (that image of gorilla juiceheads, in movies, hulking around the yard?  Myth.  You’re more likely to see the underweight and the overweight looking like they are in dire need of some Vitamin D).

The inmates who have some sort of physical disability, or are morbidly obese, typically get the bottom bunk by default, but that doesn’t mean that the guy on top is necessarily in much better shape.  Once up on the top bunk, if you are a very restless sleeper, you must also face the grave danger of rolling right off on to the concrete floor during the night.

I decided to take up the C.O.’s offer of a Bob Barker razor this morning, considering that it had now been several weeks since I had shaven last.  I wasn’t quite ready, though, to go all clean and smooth and considering that I had the luxury of experimentation with no one here to really impress, I decided to shave everything except my goatee.

I had never worn a goatee before — for me, they conjure up images of either 90’s boy bands, suburban mall rats, or the overweight and chinless.  I usually sport either a light stubble or a clean face, depending on the season and my mood.

My new look creeped me out a bit, but I decided to just go with it.  I certainly wouldn’t look out of place and I was trying my damnedest to look less pretty.  But something about the face staring back at me in the mirror reminded me of David Hasselhoff‘s evil doppelganger nemesis on Knight Rider.  Remember him?  What was his name…Garth?  I forget.

For “brunch,” we served a fried fish filet sandwich and then I set in to read my new book “Total Recall” by Sara Paretsky.  I haven’t read many thrillers/mysteries in my time, but I immediately took to Paretsky’s tone and style of writing.  It didn’t come off as overly mainstream or dumbed down for a mass audience and, in fact, I believe that her work could be easily adapted to a compelling screenplay.  This particular novel was set in downtown Chicagoand the lead character, private investigator V.I. Warshawski, attempts to track down the culprit who had cashed a life insurance policy ten years before a man’s actual death.  Intertwined with that mystery were subplots involving Nazi Germany, a massive insurance company fending off claims for both Holocaust victims and slave reparations, and a therapist who specializes in recovering lost memories.

Around mid-afternoon I was disappointed to learn that I was not only getting a new celly, but I would have to physically move into another cell.  As the lockdown appeared to be drawing to an end, the C.O.s were trying to consolidate cells to make room for all the troublemakers that were the cause of all the problems on the compound.

I was told to gather up all my stuff and I was then escorted down the hallway, handcuffed, past deranged faces peering out their windows, until we reached one of the last cells on the block.  Per protocol, the C.O. opened the door slot and the inmate inside stuck his hands behind his back and then through the opening to get cuffed.  The door was then opened, I was shoved inside, and the guard removed both of our cuffs.

I soon realized that not all cells were alike.  The overall size, layout, amenities, etc., were very similar, but the cleanliness and overall state of affairs were not.  Pencilled graffiti adorned most flat surfaces and every wall could have used a fresh coat of paint.  The best examples of renegade art?  So, the steel door has a vertical window about 5 inches wide and 12 inches long (that’s what she said), and when the guards walk by during the scheduled counts to peer in, their chubby faces are usually perfectly framed.  Some joker wrote on the door, to the side of the window, “Look at me, I’m a big RETARD!” with arrows pointing directly to where the face would appear.  It was difficult not to giggle like a schoolgirl in church during count rounds.

The other bit of genius graffiti was carefully etched into the distress button panel.  Remember?  The same button that I had pressed not knowing its purpose.  The prankster wrote “Press 4 Light.”  Now, considering that these were all written in PENCIL…one would think that they would be erased at some point?  Although, I don’t think any non-inmates typically spend much time in the actual cells to even notice.

This time, I would take the top bunk, as my new celly had already settled into the bottom bunk…and because he looked like a reject from America’s Biggest Loser.  He was a very nice, sweet man, however, and, like me, he recently self-surrendered.   His reason for being down here in the SHU?  He failed the breathalyzer.  Turned out he was drinking for nearly 24 hours before he got here…all the way up from Pontiac, Michigan.

Come evening, my new celly inspired within me memories of my dog (a pug) from back home.  He snored like a buzzsaw, farted without apology, and ate with reckless abandon.  He also seemed somewhat dim.  But at least he didn’t rap uncontrollably.


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