I'VE BEEN SERVED

My Daily Journal in Federal Prison

Day 126

Last Saturday night, my bunky Bless stayed up past his usual 11:00 p.m. bed time to watch Serena Williams do her thang at the U.S. Open.  Bless is a devout Christian who observes the Sabbath like it’s nobody’s business; consequently, he retires early on Saturday night so that he’s well rested for devoting himself to the Lord the next day.  When a fellow inmate inquired about his being up at that hour, he replied, “I asked GOD if it was okay to stay up and watch tennis.  I wouldn’t be here if he didn’t give me permission.”

Not only does GOD love tennis and the Williams sisters, but he is also apparently a big fan of cheesecake.  Earlier that evening, I was in bed reading a book when one of Bless’s homeboys stopped by to drop off a slice of homemade cheesecake (a popular prison treat made from vanilla pudding, mozzarella cheese, and powdered coffee creamer…Sounds disgusting, right?  You’d be surprised at how good this can be; oftentimes, the inmates even use Butterfingers or Snickers bars to make it extra fancy.)

Well, I just assumed that Bless had made it himself, so I thanked the dude and made quick work of it.  While tasty, I was kind of taken aback by its runny texture — it tasted as if it had not been chilled, unusual since Bless normally takes a lot of pride in his craft.  As his “hustle,” Bless makes a variety of prison delicacies for his fellow inmates — nachos, pizzas, and, his specialty — cheesecakes.

Before bed that night, Bless asked for my thoughts on the cheesecake.  I acknowledged that it was good, albeit a little soft and warm.  He then fessed up and acknowledged that he did not make it but he wanted to see how I would rank it against his own.  I assured him that he makes the best cheesecake in all of prison and that it rivals some of the cheesecake that I’ve had on the street.  To which he replied, “And you know why I make the best cheesecake?  It is because GOD has wanted it so.  All glory to GOD.”

*

When French high-wire artist Philippe Petit crossed a tight-rope spanning the chasm between Manhattan’s Twin Towers, he answered the inevitable journalistic question of WHY with a mischievous, “There EES no why.”

I wish I could have used the same logic when the cop asked me why I was late to work recently — a very daring feat of my own. Would my answer have even made a difference?  Would it have changed the fact that I was late?  A simple “you’re late” and maybe even a “don’t let it happen again” would have sufficed.

At first, I wasn’t sure who he was talking to as I didn’t even realize I was late.  I stopped dead in my tracks, whipped my head over each shoulder, and then squinted at the clock and asked him something along the lines of what time we were supposed to be there.

“Are you trying to be funny?” he asked.  Funny?  If he thought that I was trying to be funny, he must have a pretty low standard for humor.

You see, in prison we have a system of “controlled movements” — meaning, you are not allowed to freely roam the compound, unless it is during a scheduled “ten-minute move,” which typically occurs around the top of each hour.

(An inmate recently wrote a catchy song called “Ten-Minute Move, Ten Minute GROOVE.”)

Essentially, you have ten minutes to get to (and/or from) wherever it is you need/supposed to be.

That particular morning, I never heard the “work call” so I eventually left for work on my own accord…and I thought I was actually a few minutes early.  Apparently, my clock was slow.

For some of these inmates that have particularly lengthy sentences, I’m guessing it will be weird for them when they get out and are able to freely move about their home/city without someone telling them where and when to go.

The worst part about these overhead announcements is that they sound much like an incomprehensible threat against your life, and shouted with the kind of urgency typically reserved for evacuating a burning theater.  Like how I’d imagine the adults in a Peanuts cartoon would sound if voiced by Jigsaw from the “Saw” franchise.

It took me more than a few days to understand what the hell they were saying…at times, I still can’t make it out but I have developed something like a Pavlovian response…after awhile, you just know what they are going to scream at you and at what time…so you just go ahead and do the thing that you are supposed to do at that specific time.  Stand-up Counts.  5-Minute Rec Move.  So-and-so to Visitation.  Your Unit to Chow Hall.

*

According to some of the inmates around here, the past tense of “shit” is “shitted.”  Someone recently shitted in our shower.  And in the rec room by the pool tables.  And then this degenerate meth head from Detroit named “Papi” shit his own pants.  I think we could narrow down the suspects for the former offenses…considered that he lives in my Unit…and he’s a big fan of shooting pool.

*

It was only fitting that my 30th day on the compound would coincide so neatly with my first experience with a prison town hall meeting.  “Town Hall” was the Warden’s choice of words, not mine, as it was made quite clear early on that there would be no Q&A or an open forum of any kind.

Prison often feels like I am working for a bleak and totally generic corporation.  Although, if this really was a true office environment, we would all have received a mass e-mail from our Office Manager updating us of the pertinent “news” (an e-mail which none of us would actually read) and we would all go about our daily business.  Instead, in my alternate reality, our entire Unit was marched, in single-file line, down to the area normally reserved for visitation…the only space large enough to accommodate our motley crew.

The big topic for this gathering was the announcement that, due to popular demand, they would soon be adding the Country Music Station to our outstanding lineup of half a dozen satellite TV channels.  We were also made very aware that it costs thousands of dollars to even add one channel to the lineup, so they have to be very selective in what they choose.

(An inmate behind me whispered, “They should get Comcast…it’s only $19.95 a month.”)

Keep in mind that there is a strong Hispanic population on the compound.  Also keep in mind that with as few channels that we get, two of those are Telemundo and Univision.  And two out of the four TV rooms “belong” to the Hispanics.

I’m just saying this to stress the absurdity of what comes next.  Not only the outlandish request of the Mexicans…but the ultimate response from the prison.

A young Hispanic guy stands up and tears into a 5-minute rant on “why-the-country-music-channel-and-why-not-a-spanish-video station”??  And, furthermore, “Once you open it up for ONE group, you have to open it up for ALL!!”

(Also keep in mind that none of the previous announcements regarding various educational programs raised even a single peep out of this bunch.)

In what was one of the most intense “OH NO YOU DIDN’T!” moments I have experienced yet in prison, the ever endearing Assistant Warden responds, “Come on, now guys…what country do you think this is??  This is AMERICA.”

These be the kind of events that spur riots.  As sad as that may be.

*

I celebrated my first birthday behind bars.  It was my 36th.  My neighbors made me a banana pudding parfait and had a card signed for me by a few dudes in the Unit.  Celebrating my own birthday has never been a big deal for me and I imagine that there will be other more momentous occasions spent behind bars that will make me a little blue.

I still managed to follow a tradition of mine — reading my “if you were born on this day” horoscope from my big city hometown newspaper.  Unfortunately, there is about a 10-day delay from when that newspaper is published and when it actually arrives on the compound, so I didn’t get to read this until nearly August.  So much for news, huh?

Make of this what you will:

“Actor/Director Forest Whitaker (1961) shares your birthday today.  You have an unusual ability to influence others, and this can help you enormously.  You’re also very resourceful about using whatever is at home.  You believe in being useful to society.  Indeed many of you are generous!  You feel a strong responsibility to family.  Your year ahead might be one of the most powerful years of your life — so dream big!”  (Georgia Nichols)

Translation:  You are a con man.  You can make cheesecakes out of non-traditional food items.  You are currently paying your debt to society.  Etc., etc.  As for this being “one of the most powerful years” of my life?  “Dream big”?  Hm…well, there is a prison marathon being held this fall.  No foolin’.

*

To mark my 90th day on the compound, the most notorious cop at the prison coincidentally recognized this milestone by complimenting me on my good behavior.  I wish I could share with you exactly why he is notorious, but I would be breaking someone’s word and confidence.  And even though I COULD describe his behavior under the guise of fiction…his infamy would in the world of the Bureau of Prisons would likely reveal his identity.  Let’s just say that he is a former military veteran and police officer and his tactics are rather unorthodox.  Remember the Sergeant from Full Metal Jacket?  That’s him, with a marginally better sense of humor.

Anyway, I was on my way back from the library on a Sunday morning when he called me over to pat me down and look through my stuff.  I could tell that he was not so much concerned as he was nosy.  He then said to me, “I just wanted to commend you for blending in so well since you got here and not having me get on you about anything.”

This was an enormous compliment coming from someone who normally gets in the face of every new arrival…early and often.

In response, I thanked him and acknowledged that he “entertains me.”  To that, he flashed a shit-eating grin and sent me on my way.

*

After reviewing some of my earlier posts, I realized that there is an enormous gap between when I was released from the Hole and when I got settled in on the compound.  To make a long story short, I walked to my compound that afternoon in May and informed an officer standing outside of my Unit that I had recently self-surrendered.  To wit, he replied, “Sucks to be you.”

*

Currently Reading: “Cather in theRye” by J.D. Salinger

 

*

Breakfast: Farina, Chocolate Cake, Green Apple, and 2 Cartons of 2% Milk

Lunch: Chili Mac (w/ White Rice), Corn Nibblets, Corn Bread, and a Green Apple

Dinner: TurkeyPot Pie with Green Beans

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