I'VE BEEN SERVED

My Daily Journal in Federal Prison

Archive for prison

Day 248 – Part II

Last week, I heard what could have been the most puzzling sound to ever come out of a prison toilet stall. Some guy in there was clearly taking a dump…and out of the same stall came the sound of him cracking open a soda…and pouring it into a plastic container. How refreshing.

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On the last day of Christmas, the prison gave to me:

1 Milky Way

1 Snickers Bar

1 M&Ms

Three Musketeers

2CocoaPacks

1 Bag of Pretzels

Roasted, Salted Peanuts

1 Chocolate Brownie

1 Pack of Cookies

Tiny Bag of Cheez-Its

Honey BBQ Chips

Small Bag of Cheese Curls

2 Soft-Baked Cookies

Plain Potato Chips

1 Coffee Cake

1 Marble Pound Cake

Peanut Butter & Cheese Crackers

Bag of Party Mix

White Cheddar Popcorn

Chocolate & Yogurt-Covered Pretzel

1 Plain White Bagel

1 Big Bag ofHolidayCookies

And…

1 Honey Buuunnnnnnnn.

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The holiday meals here are something to behold. Let’s begin this recap with the first in a string of big-meal blowouts — Thanksgiving.

My first Thanksgiving here was probably the most melancholic experience that I have had thus far, especially considering that it was my favorite holiday on the outside. I’ve always enjoyed this holiday because of its lack of religious significance, the 4.5 day weekend, the precursor to the rest of the holiday season, and the opportunity to flex my culinary muscle in the kitchen. This is also the one holiday that my wife and I typically do not have to travel out of town for and instead entertain her amazing family at our home in the city. I would also be missing the annual tradition of the long walk that my wife and I usually take through the quiet, cold, and deserted city streets (“a kind of hush”) on the morning of Thanksgiving.

In a rather pathetic attempt at recreating that walk, I took a few laps around the rec yard track before the big holiday meal, listening to tired pop renditions of holiday classics and admiring the double razor-wired fence. After jumpstarting my metabolism, I was ready to get stuffed. On the menu: one large, generous portion of succulent turkey breast, homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, instant stuffing, palatable cranberries, salad, and pumpkin pie. Whoo-wee.

Afterward, I was ready to be carted out of the Chow Hall in a wheelbarrow. Being a Federal holiday and all, most of the compound would be shut down in the evening, so we were handed a bologna sandwich brown bag (for dinner) on the way out.

With my belly full of holiday tidings and my shit sandwich under my arm, I started the long trek back to the housing unit (“o’er the compound, among the hoods, my cinderblock house I go…”). Along the way, I began my mental countdown. 10…9…8…7…6…

Inmate: “MAN! That meal was trash. I remember when they used to give each inmate their OWN whole turkey…TWO kinds of pie…(etc., etc., etc.).”

Repeat, ad infinitum.

It never fails. And it normally doesn’t even take that long. Somewhere along the way, the inmates forgot where they were (prison) and who they were (prisoners). This isn’t some 5-star resort where they could lodge a complaint with the management. I suppose the ultimate “message” of Thanksgiving — being grateful for what we have — gets lost in an inverse correlation to the number of years that each guy serves.

Honestly, I was surprised that we had received anything special at all. A meal of this size and quality couldn’t have been cheap. Hooray for your tax dollars.

The Christmas holiday meal was even better. Aside from the very generous holiday gift bag that each inmate received (see above), the meal that preceded the gift distribution was nothing short of spectacular: a thick, Flintstone-sized slab of well-roasted beef, a small mound of baked ham (the first of which I had since my incarceration), mashed potatoes & gravy, pecan praline desert, mixed veggies, and salad. Considering the large Muslim population here (they don’t eat pork), there was plenty of extra swine to go around.

Surprisingly, I heard fewer complaints at this meal than the last. Not much praise, but fewer complaints.

The grand finale of this holiday meal trifecta was the bountiful feast served on New Year’s Day. My anticipation and excitement was, however, tempered with a mild disappointment. I’ve previously described my love affair with the infrequent Sunday pancake brunch…well, it just so happened that flapjack day landed on the same brunch slot as our holiday meal — and we obviously wouldn’t be receiving both. Beggars (or inmates) can’t be choosers, but the eventual meal more than made up for the bait & switch.

Perhaps “management” had listened to the “customer” complaints, as this time were all treated to our VERY OWN expertly roasted Cornish game hen, complete with the usual sides, and for desert — an extra-large slice of coconut creme pie, of which I ate the shit out of.

‘Tis the season to be hustlin’…and many inmates are chronically “thirsty” (that is, poor and looking to make some money.) The first thing that came out of their pocket when they sat down to eat was a clear, plastic sanitary glove in which they stuffed their tasty fowl and carted it back to the unit, ready for sale to the highest bidders.

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Remember when Snoop Dogg went from the “Church to da Palace”? Well, I made the same trip…when I got a new bunky a few weeks ago. You may recall my last celly was a guy named “Bless” — an older brother from theIslandswith a strong commitment to his Christian faith. While I was at work one day, the cops came through our unit for their weekly inspection and discovered some contraband among my celly’s belongings.

They found his spray bottle full of Pine-Sol which we used to keep our cube extra-sparkly prison clean. While I can certainly understand WHY inmates are not allowed to have a spray bottle in their possession (who wants a blast in the face with some caustic chemicals, anyway?), it’s unfortunate that something that is ultimately used for good would lead to my man being kicked out. You see, within two-man cubes, the bottom bunk is a privilege that is designated based on seniority and it can sometimes take up to 2-3 years to even get one. Nearly any infraction or sanction taken against you would be cause for having your bottom-bunk pass revoked for 90 days.

So, when I came home from work that day, I not only learned of my bunky’s fate, but I met my new celly who, oddly enough, was just released from the Hole where he spent 35 days “under investigation” — an all-encompassing umbrella category allowing the prison to hold any inmate in the Hole, at any time, for any reason, without actually imposing any further disciplinary actions. My new cell — I’ll call him “Knight” — was released without getting a “SHOT” (incident report) which thereby allowed him to regain his previously-held, bottom-bunk pass.

Apparently, my new roommate may hold the Unit’s record for the most write-ups and has racked up many trips to the Hole. The Bucket. The Corner Pocket.

But you know what? “Knight” and I have been having a great time. He’s actually a very kind, charismatic, young black man and he has been nothing but respectful of my space. I was a little nervous the first night of his stay when there were no less than 5 or 6 of his homies in our cube at any given time…complete with some impromptu rap battles…but those activities have quickly dissipated.

Actually, it will never cease to amaze me how many friends you automatically inherit in here, just by associating with someone. Now that Knight is my cell…I’m his “dude.” And all of HIS “dudes” are MY “dudes.” And vice versa. And I’m talking about the same guys that wouldn’t give me the time of day previously…but would now take a punch on the mouth for me.  My dude and I are the new “Felix & Oscar” of Unit B.

Day 145

OH-NO-HE-DIDN’T.  (Oh, yes he did.)

Earlier this week, our Counselor had posted a notice in his office window.  A small group had gathered around it, grumbling under their breath.  As I peered over someone’s shoulder to get a better view, I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

To paraphrase:  “effective immediately, you will no longer be able to reserve a seat in the large, multi-purpose TV room.  All seating is first come, first serve.  If I find any newspapers, books, towels, water bottles, magazines, radios, headphones, etc. on a chair or on the tables, they will be confiscated.  If you leave the room, even for a moment, you must take your belongings with you.”

Sometimes I surprise myself at how far I have come in the nearly six months that I have been here, how well integrated and accepted I have been by the other inmates, and how quickly my attitudes have changed regarding certain behaviors.  Shortly after my arrival on the compound, I took real offense to guys “owning” seats in the TV room.  But just weeks thereafter, I came around to the philosophy that there are so few things that an inmate can control while in prison…therefore, why not allow those with seniority the privilege to sit where they choose, and to even claim a spot?  I’ve even taken this one step further by leveraging this system to my own benefit and I often “hold” a seat for myself on nights when there is a movie that I’d like to watch.  In fact, there are even a few spots in the TV room that would loosely be considered as “mine” by me and the other inmates…but I still would never go so far as to kick a new guy out of my seat if I found him sitting there.  Nor would I “gently” inform him of the ownership of said chair, yet still allow him to sit there for the time being.  After all, I hate it when dudes play the “that’s-my-seat-but-you-can-sit-there-for-now” card…then why say anything to begin with??

What’s astonishing to me is that some guy (presumably someone fresh off of the bus) snitched on his fellow man and brought this behavior to the counselor’s attention.  That’s an unforgivable offense.  And whomever said something to the Counselor better hope that they remain anonymous.  I can guarantee that it was one of the chomos, who have been all but banned from that room anyway.

The memo was posted on Monday of this past week.  Guess what has changed since then?  Absolutely nothing.  Not even temporarily on the afternoon that it was posted.  It’s funny, too, because A) the Counselor NEVER goes into that TV room, so there’s no chance that he would have ever noticed this behavior on his own to begin with without someone bringing it to his attention, nor would he ever (moving forward) have the opportunity to enforce this rule and confiscate any items; B) there’s no way that an actual cop would do anything about this because they understand the system that inmates have in place, and C) this was clearly a “Unit” memo, and not a new prison policy, so there was really no way to properly enforce this because the rule doesn’t officially exist.

And besides…even if this new rule WAS enforced, what inmate would be brave enough to dip his toe in the water and actually sit in a seat that was previously owned by another inmate without revealing himself to be the snitch?

Perhaps the Counselor realized all of this himself — or maybe he felt that he did his “part” by addressing the inmate’s concern and posting the note — because the memo was taken down today, not even a full week after it was posted.

Carry on my wayward sons.

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Institution Movie:  “The Grace Card

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Lunch:  Sloppy Joe

Dinner:  Breaded Chicken Patty Sandwich

Day 144

Prison logic can be kind of fuzzy at times.  Snitching is bad.  That’s OBVI.  But you would think that rule would be null and void if someone robs you blind.  Remember the shoe thievery that occurred in my Unit last week?  Well, I have a couple of updates.

For one, the inmates were more outraged at the victim for telling the cop about getting robbed than they were about someone having the nerve to walk into another man’s “house” and take his shit.  In prison, if you get beat up, robbed, or any other form of abuse, you’re supposed to shut up and take it like a man.  Telling a guard is the worst thing you can do — you’d be lucky to not have whatever was done to you the first time done to you again…times infinity.

Oh, and the guy who I thought was busted by being caught in the act on camera?  That wasn’t exactly the case.  Apparently, when the buzz started swarming among the Mexicans, the Whites (or more accurately, the rednecks) had a meeting in their TV room and the guy who took the sneakers fessed up that he stole them and he ended up “checking in” (lingo for turning himself in).  And while he likely would have wound up in the Hole for theft if the cops saw it was him on the tape, the real reason that he went to the Hole was for his own safety.  I think the cop’s exact words were, “We gotta git you outta here.”

The little thief would have been on the receiving end of a Mexican hat dance if he had stayed.

 

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Currently Reading:  “Among the Thugs” by Bill Buford

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Institution Movie:  “Thor“…much better than I expected.

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Lunch:  Fried Fish Patty Sandwich

Dinner:  Beef Stir-Fry

Day 136

One of my self-imposed rules when eating out for breakfast has always been to order the biscuits & gravy whenever it is on the menu.  I don’t care if it’s a greasy-spoon diner or a chef driven, farm-to-table joint — if they have it, I’m getting it.  As a result, I’ve experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I was intrigued upon learning that a “Country Breakfast” (biscuits & gravy, scrambled eggs, potatoes, grits, etc.) was one of the dinners served during the seasonal 5-week dinner menu rotation here.  Considering that the brunch served on Sundays is typically one of the better meals served during the week, I had high expectations.  After all, with biscuits & gravy, there are usually varying degrees of good to great, but it is a meal that is difficult to seriously screw up. Leave it to the Bureau of Prisons.

I think I’ve had this meal three times now since I’ve been here — the first of which set the gold standard.  The biscuits were hot, fresh, and recently dropped.  The gravy was peppery with a viscosity that was none to thick and none to light…and loaded to the hilt with big chunks of turkey sausage.

The second time that I’ve had this meal…there WERE no biscuits & gravy.  Only in prison, can they serve you a meal, without actually serving you the meal.  On that particular occasion, you got the eggs, potatoes, and bread, but not the main event.

Tonight, the gravy looked and smelled terrific…and the sidecars on the tray were heaped with all of the requisite accouterments…but they must have run out of flour because there were no biscuits, only whole wheat bread.  So, I tore up the bread into soft, crouton-sized chunks, stirred it all up, and dug in.  At first bite, I thought they had carved up roast beef into nice thin slices for the gravy meat…and then I realized that I was eating freakin’ bologna!! Bolognain gravy??  Yikes.  Surprisingly, it didn’t actually taste half bad, and it would have been more forgivable with some fresh biscuits, but just the concept of putting the lowest common denominator of deli meats into a savory gray is enough to swear off the meal entirely, and for the rest of eternity.

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Lunch:  Baked Chicken, Salad with French Dressing, Mashed Potatoes & Gravy, Spinach

Dinner:  Biscuits & Gravy, Scrambled Eggs, Potatoes, Grits, Whole Wheat Bread

Day 132

It’s tough being a Chicago Bears fan on Sunday when their games are out of market.  At least I don’t have to watch them lose.

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How appropriate is it that the only true wildlife that I have seen on the compound, other than birds, has been a skunk — both for its black-and-white stripes as well as its odious stature as an outcast.  On Sunday mornings, the prison’s leisure library opens at 6:15 am and I typically like to be one of the first through the doors in order to catch up on the previous week’s magazines and newspapers.  As it is now getting late in the season, the sky is still turned to night at that hour and the nocturnal creatures are still out and at it.  I had actually heard from other inmates about whole families of these stinky guys crossing the compound and I have often sniffed their presence, but this was the first time that I witnessed one with my own two eyes.  (To be frank, this may have been the first time I have seen a skunk, anywhere, in person.)

As I was about halfway across the compound, something seemed to be moving along the periphery of my vision in the middle of the expansive lawn — which is actually off limits to the inmates.  I turned my head to get a much better view and amidst all that green I saw what looked like the top of Ron Wood’s head (if Ron Wood had a white stripe down the middle of his head) ambling across the field, at a rather leisurely and perfect pace for a Sunday morning.  With only my recollections of that French skunk from the Warner Brothers‘ cartoons as my sole frame of reference, the most immediate reaction that came to my lips was, “Aw, how cute!”  Would the same be said of one of us inmates, if spotted by a civilian, crossing their backyard?

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The Death of Pancakes.  Say it ain’t so, Warden.

I was never much of a flapjack fan prior to being locked up — I guess I was mostly indifferent since I preferred savory to sweet breakfasts and on “the Streets” there is, of course, many options to choose from a brunch menu, especially when living in a major urban area.  In prison, you’re typically grateful when your chosen fate is, as my mother-in-law would say, “better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick”…and Sunday pancake breakfasts are much better than that!

Each tray comes complete with a stack of 4 or 5 freshly made hot cakes, swimming in syrup, and served along sidecars of turkey sausage, scrambled eggs, and a banana.  (There is also self-serve oatmeal, if one should so desire.)  Honestly, this is one of those meals worth trying to go through the line a second time and risk the admonition of a Chow Hall cop.

Unfortunately, for some reason, the much beloved pancakes have failed to make the Fall Menu rotation and today’s serving was likely the last time we’ll encounter this pleasure mound for the foreseeable future.  I have much less to despair over the loss of two other meals from the menu, both of which are actually LESS preferable than a sharp poke in the eye — that being liver & onions…and corned beef; the liver & onions for the obvious reasons (funny, since I like pate) and while I’m normally a fan of well-prepared corned beef, I am not a fan of the prison variety which typically comes gray and with the consistency of an old shoe.

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Breakfast: Bran Flakes, Cinnamon Spice Cake,Orange, 2 Cartons of Skim Milk

Lunch:  Pancakes w/Syrup,TurkeySausage, Scrambled Eggs, Banana, 2 Cartons of Skim Milk

Dinner: Chicken Fried Rice (don’t even get me started)

Day 128

I saw a young kid getting his first prison tattoo the other day, a Hispanic guy who couldn’t have been more than 18 or 19 years old.  His choice of branding?  “MISUNDERSTOOD” — in sweeping, elegant, script across the top of his chest.  Really?  I mean, is there really that much to understand?  Do the recesses of his psyche run that deep?  And what happens when he gets older and wiser and he is FINALLY understood?  Will he regret the indelible ink?  Will he reserve chest space on top of this tattoo for a “PREVIOUSLY”…or maybe a “FORMERLY”?

*There is an inordinately large number of inmates here (primarily black & Hispanic) who subscribe to the school of thought that it is not gay to be on the receiving end of a blowjob that is administered by another dude.  I am not a subscriber.

*I miss smoking.  I miss everything about it.  If it was still allowed in prison, I would smoke like a fiend, a chimney, a choo-choo, or any other cliched metaphor.  I’d even smoke the metaphor.  Save me the vitriolic responses — I realize and respect the health risks.  Fellow and former smokers will likely understand — yet something tells me that I wouldn’t be on the receiving end of such vehement admonitions if I admitted to missing drinking, or fast food hamburgers, or riding on a crotch rocket at high speeds without a helmet.

I miss the compact heft and the snug shrink-wrap on a fresh pack of smokes.  I miss the pull and release of the silver foil blanketing the tightly packed cigarettes.  I miss the strike of a wooden match and the subsequent scent of its snuffed essence.  And, most of all, I miss the euphoric buzz of the first smoke after a long nicotine-free respite.

While it would be impossible for me to say that I will never ever smoke again, I would nonetheless be pretty silly to pick it up again once I got out of here.  These past 4 months are most likely the longest that I’ve gone without a cigarette since I’ve taken it up in college, about 15 years ago.  By a heavy smoker’s standard, I probably wouldn’t compare…but I still smoked often enough to be considered as such — usually about a pack every two days.

I can, however, say with all honesty that I’ll never smoke again while in the Joint.  Aside from the obvious reasons of serious disciplinary sanctions if caught, the inmates have, for the most part, resigned themselves to smoking the re-rolled tobacco pulled from the spent butts of the prison guards’ smoke breaks, rescued directly from their outdoor ashtrays.   (The cigs are then lit with a “lighter” made from batteries, speaker wire, and a piece of tissue paper.)

Shortly before I got on the compound, real packs of cigarettes were fairly prevalent, having been smuggled in by an actual guard in our Unit.  Going for $100 a pack, the guard would score up to several thousand dollars a carton (with money being wired to him from the outside from the inmates’ friends & family) and would also look the other way while the inmates smoked in the bathroom.  Apparently, this all came to an abrupt halt one day as he was being lead off the compound in handcuffs.

*Lunch:  Cheeseburger, French Fries, Salad with Italian Dressing, and a bag of Famous Amos‘ Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.

*Dinner:  Roast Beef, Roasted Potatoes, Gravy, and Cabbage.

Day 127

The biggest change for me, since getting here, has been with the company I keep.  While I mostly kept to myself when I first arrived on the compound, and enjoyed my anonymity, I quickly surmised that this wouldn’t last for long without raising a few eyebrows and maybe even leading some to conclude that I am either stuck up or have something to hide.  As I may have said before, the two worst identities one can assume in prison are that of a chomo or a snitch.  And since I am neither, it made the most sense to start making a few friends in order to dispel any doubt.

With the exception of a few white males I’d consider peers — straight, college-educated, and from a major metropolitan area — I’ve found myself associating primarily with the black guys.  For one thing, the vast majority also come from urban environs and, for another, they often have great senses of humor.  Plus, I’d rather be accepted by this group than considered a potential victim.  Considering the alternative — the rednecks and/or the chomos…the choice is pretty easy.  The Hispanics are also good peeps, but they mostly keep to themselves and a fair amount of them can’t even speak English.

As for the chomos, specifically, my tolerance for them has eroded to negative infinity.  Here’s the thing about chomos in Federal prison — they are often a different breed than those found in state prisons who have been convicted of actual physical contact or abuse with a minor.  Those convicted of a Federal crime may have only been charged with the electronic viewing or transmission of illicit images of underage subjects…which isn’t victimless, of course, but it is admittedly different.  However, there are also those here that are of the “To Catch a Predator” variety…those who had made contact, electronically, with someone underage AND had also made or attempted physical contact.  Because of the Internet and the ease of committing and prosecuting these crimes, this place is becoming rife with more creeps than they can shake a dick at.

Consequently, I’ve taken to eating exclusively on the “black side” of the Chow Hall.  On the “white side,” it often looks like a refugee camp for some of the less fortunate survivors of Chernobyl — or a typical Saturday night at the a VFW Hall in Appalachia.  While standing in line to get your chow, you first have to endure the snaggleteeth, ZZ Top beards, and Camaro cuts of my Southern brethren…and then you’re immediately bombarded with the visual feast of pederasts of all ages, shapes, and sizes.  They are mostly distinguishable by the unfortunate prison-issued eyewear that must be adorned by the less financially fortunate — big, bulky, brown plastic frames — dubbed by some as the “Chomo 2000” model.

Picture, if you will, a Denny’s where you are forced to sit in a section exclusively devoted to those on your Neighborhood Sex Offender Watch List.  By the time you’ve reached the end of the freakshow gauntlet, you’ve lost your appetite before you even got your tray.

*CurrentlyReading: “The Town” by Chuck Hogan (previously published as “Prince of Thieves“)

*Lunch:  “Heart Healthy” Tuna Salad, Beef Vegetable Soup, Potato Salad, Lettuce with Fat-Free French Dressing, and an Orange.

*Dinner:  Chicken Stir-Fry.