I'VE BEEN SERVED

My Daily Journal in Federal Prison

Day 135

In my Unit, there are inmates that go by the following names:  “Six-Eight,” “Six-Nine,” and the least impressive “Six-Four.”  Creative, huh?  Something tells me that it wouldn’t have the same gravitas if I went by “Six-Oh.”  Before you know it, we may have to start doubling up on these names (just like our many “Flaccos” in the Unit) unless there is a sudden influx of dwarves and giants.  Or perhaps the inmates will have to start assigning monikers based on weight.  “Pleased to meet you, I’m One-Eighty.”

*

Some people have a lot of nerve.  There’s a guy here serving time for a child pornography charge, which is repulsive enough, yet word has it that in preparation for his sentencing he had the audacity to furnish a character reference letter purported to be from a parent of one of the victims.  The problem?  The perp had fabricated the letter himself.  At the actual sentencing, the judge gave him ten years…that is until his little stunt was revealed and the Judge tacked on another ten.

Guess what his hustle is here in the joint?  Prison lawyer.

*

Lunch:  Cheeseburger, Fries, Salad with Italian Dressing

Dinner:  Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, Spinach, Garlic Bread

Day 134

You’d be amazed at how many dudes are here because of violations to their probation.  Mark my words — once I’m out of here, the system will never see me again.  I’ve made my mistakes, I’m doing my time, and I’m leveraging this experience as an opportunity to improve myself as much as possible.

What’s even more puzzling about these violators is that I’ve recently learned that many of their infractions have been intentional.  Meaning, they had committed these violations for the sole purpose of returning to prison.  Why would they do this?  In the majority of probation violations, the convicts typically exchange their freedom for any additional “paper,” or time under probation. In the minds of some of these guys, they would rather spend their time under the less watchful eye of a prison guard, than on the street having to check in with their probation officer, hold down a job, and keep their piss clean.  Usually, when they are sent back to prison on a violation, they don’t have any additional probation when they are released again, but that can also vary from case to case.

And while some of these guys might be on the streets for a year or two before coming back, I’ve seen guys return with a sheepish grin on their face in less than a week or two.  Look at the rapper T.I. — he was sent back to prison ONE DAY after his release…and this was after he was ALREADY back on a violation after his first bit.

*

Lunch:  Chicken Patty Sandwich

Dinner:  Sub Sandwich

Day 133

I always knew there was something up with that strange, fat black man.  First off, he was incredibly nosey.  Shortly after my arrival on the compound, he was always getting up in my business.

One of my biggest pet peeves here is how everyone makes it a point to tell you how you should do your time.  I would be a fool not to make the most of my time here — for me, that means spending most of my time reading and writing.  Not only is it what I enjoy doing, but I know that those are activities that will further my goals once I get out of here.  Some people take exception to that…and tell you to come down off of your bed, or come out of your room.  I guess I should take that as a compliment since the guys here want to get to know me…but after awhile, I find myself not doing the things that I really want to do, only so I could avoid hearing their goddamn opinions.  But the last thing I want to do is waste my time here watching t.v., gambling, or engaging in illegal activities.

This dude — I’ll call him D — was one of the worst offenders.  Stopping by announced, always asking me what I was reading…what I was writing, etc.  One day, when I was on e-mail, he was at the computer terminal sitting next to me.  Out of nowhere, he says:  “You don’t talk much, do you?”

So, I say to him:  “Someone once told me that you shouldn’t speak unless it is an improvement upon silence.”

And he says, “Well, alright.  Just want to make sure that you are okay.  Now, if you ever need someone to talk to…if you need a friend…”

Fast forward about 2-3 months.  Every couple of weeks a bus will show up and drop off a brand new bunch of riff raff.  One of these dudes had to have been one of the most unfortunate looking human beings that I had ever seen in my life.  I don’t know what was more repulsive — the excessive amount of fat on the back of his bald head…or the expansive veneer of zits covering it.  He kind of looked like Sloth, from “The Goonies,” only a little less pretty.  Of course, I could only assume that he was a chomo since he fit the profile — all around creepy.

One day I was walking to the Chow Hall with a buddy of mine and we were talking about a very specific area in Michigan.  This dude, I’ll call him Rocky Road, happened to be eavesdropping behind me and says, “Gosh, I don’t mean to interrupt, but one of my favorite wines is a Riesling from that area.”  Barf.  Just picturing this turd lounging around with a nice, crisp Riesling was enough for me to shudder into eternity.

Fast forward another week or two, and someone from my Unit opened the Storage Closet where we keep all of the cleaning supplies and walked right into Rocky Road, on his knees, performing fellatio on D.

Ebony.  Ivory.  Living in perfect harmony.

While that would have been a sight for any pair of sore eyes, it just happened that the most outspoken homophobe in our Unit just happened to be the one who caught them.

If this place is any indication, I can only imagine how quickly gossip travels in a WOMEN’S prison.  This event made the morning news across the entire compound.

*

Breakfast:  Oatmeal, Cake with White Frosting, Banana, 2 Cartons of 2% Milk

Lunch:  Chicken Fajitas, Spanish Rice, Black Beans, Salsa, Green Apple

Dinner:  Meat Loaf, Mashed Potatoes & Gravy, Green Peas

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.

*

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?

*

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.

*

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 130

Best Lunch Ever.  Best Meal Ever.  (Relative to all other prison meals, I should clarify.)  God bless the Mexicans and their national holidays.  Due to the ever present misinformation rife in the Joint, I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of the purpose of the actual celebration — I’ve heard everything from Cinco De Mayo (huh??…isn’t that in May?), the Mexican New Year (what???), the Mexican Revolution (plausible), and Mexican Independence Day (a possibility).  Unfortunately, I can’t just hop on the Internet and quickly determine the answer.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, our meal was Mexican in flavor, and contained ingredients that I never thought I’d taste again while behind bars.  On the menu: a quarter baked Mexican-spiced chicken (cooked perfectly so that all of the meat fell immediately clear of the bone), a wonderful pork soup with traces of hominy, a small scoop of pico de gallo (tomato, onion, green pepper, and CILANTRO), steamed rice, a large flour tortilla, homemade salsa roja with fresh jalapenos, and for desert?  A massive cluster of fresh, fried cinnamon-sprinkled churros.

Yum.  Even the Debby Downers that must describe each and every meal, whether warranted or not, as “cold garbage” and “some bullshit” lauded this meal with heaps of praise.

The only event that would ultimately send my post-meal spirits crashing was the news that the prison’s surprisingly delectable pancakes have been STRICKEN from the Fall Brunch Menu.  Boo.

*Institution Movie:  “Tyler Perry‘s Madea’s Big Happy Family”

*Lunch: Mexican Baked Chicken, Pork & Hominy Soup, Pico de Gallo, Flour Tortilla, and Churros.

*Dinner:  2 Grilled Ham & Cheese Sandwiches, Potato Salad, Mixed Veggies, and Lentil Soup.

Day 129

Nothing quite lifts an inmate’s spirits like a little consumerism:  the Commissary Shopping Day.  When I recently solicited questions from my readers, there were a number of you that had inquired about the prison commissary (or “the Store,” as inmates often call it).  I’ll answer some of those questions today and I will still devote a separate post next week to answer all other questions, including a little more elaboration on some of things that you can buy (legitimately) here in prison.   Also, keep an eye on the blog for a posting of the actual commissary slip, which will appear sometime within the next few weeks.

All inmates have an assigned register number — which is sort of like the SSN of the prison world.  This number is eight digits — the last three identifying the geographic region of where you “caught your case.”  Most often, this number is also your hometown, but that isn’t always true.  The fourth and fifth digits of your number correspond to which day of the week you’re allowed to shop.  That’s right — unfortunately, you can’t just shout at your bunky, “hey honey, gonna run out to the store to pick up a few things…”; you can only shop once a week and only during two specific times of the day — either in the afternoon (between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.) or, if you work during the day, you can shop at night when the Chow Hall is open for dinner.

While “the Store” is an actual, brick and mortar, free-standing retail operation, inmates are not able to do the hands-on shopping themselves.  We’re crooks, remember?  Inmates fill out their slips in advance, show up at the store on their designated shopping day,  get their slips stamped with a 3-digit number by the A-hole working the door (Walmart customer service does not exist here), commit that 3-digit number to memory, check to make sure that none of their desired items are out of stock and, finally, deposit their slip in the tiny mail slot and patiently wait for their number to be called.

The commissary shares a waiting area with the barber shop (another blog topic entirely) so, if you time your visit right, you can walk out with your hairs did along with a laundry sack full of honeybuns.  There’s no “paper or plastic” here…if you’re planning a large order, you better bring your mesh laundry bag for hauling off your merchandise, otherwise you’ll be juggling your goods with your own two hands.

While “shopping” can provide a momentary euphoric rush, it is also a mildly stressful experience — there’s always some danger of having your shopping privileges revoked for that day as a result of either knowingly or unwittingly breaking one of the many odd and draconian rules.  Some of their demands are fairly reasonable — like…they will not fill your order if its not your shopping day…or you need to be around when they call your number… and make sure that you REMEMBER your number.  Their other requests are a little more enigmatic — such as “items marked on your slip with a highlighter will not be accepted”…and “no talking though the tiny mail slot where you deposit your slip” (there’s an inmate on the other side that retrieves your slip)…and there’s a 7 quantity limit on protein bars (the powers that be don’t want you hulking up and overtaking the guards).

Once you’ve deposited your slip in the little slot, you pop a squat on one of the locker-room benches, elbow-to-elbow with the other shoppers, and wait for your number to be called.  This next part would be a hell of a lot funnier if I wasn’t in prison, but one of the best parts of this experience is listening to the Hispanic cop incomprehensibly call out the slip numbers over the squawky loud speaker, which he repeats two additional times (again incomprehensibly) before they throw out your order.  But this is not before a white dude, speaking as clear as day, comes on the loud speaker and publicly berates you for not “hearing” your number when it is called.

The actual “store” is separated from the waiting area by a cinderblocked wall with three numbered booths (with doors) about the size of a large phone booth.  In the inner sanctum, with all the merchandise, inmate store clerks retrieve the slips from the mail slot and begin to fill the orders in little red baskets, like the kind you’d find at your local CVS.

When your number is called, you step into one of the booths,  close the door behind you,  and then press your thumb against a fingerprint scanner as your form of identification. Behind the BULLETPROOF GLASS (a little much?) is a prison cop who rings up your merchandise and sends it through a little shoot, while simultaneously barking at you for not bagging your goods fast enough.  And God forbid you have the audacity to question the veracity of your order.

When my wife’s grandmother passed away, I went shopping for a sympathy card and checked off the appropriate box on my slip.  Thankfully, I checked my purchase before leaving the booth.  What did I receive instead?  A “Thank You” card.  After pulling some teeth to swap out the card, I trusted that they got it right the second time, so I didn’t check it again until I got back to my Unit…and I found a “Get Well” card.  Get well, indeed.

 

Lunch: Fish FiletSandwich, Macaroni & Cheese, Spinach, Green Apple

Dinner: 2 Chili Dogs, Tater Tots, Baked Beans

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.