I'VE BEEN SERVED

My Daily Journal in Federal Prison

Archive for New Year

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.

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Day 238 – Part I

I thought I had died and gone to a less marginal prison.  The kind that has a gourmet bakery.

You know those evil muffins they sell at Starbucks that are packed to the hilt with cream cheese?  The ones with muffin tops the size of large UFOs?  Well, they served those for breakfast this morning and I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I don’t know where they came from and I don’t care. I just hope they keep on getting ’em.  A moist, freshly baked pumpkin spice cake surrounded by a plump, cream cheese pillow.  Nom, nom, nom.

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Is it just me, or is it weird how there’s no holiday songs about prison?

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HOW TO EAT A BANANA IN PRISON

1. Avoid unnecessary eye contact.

2. Hold fruit below chest.

3. Peel quickly and without innuendo.

4. Break off an inch of peeled fruit with thumb and forefinger of opposing hand.

5. Insert piece and chew with mouth closed.

Repeat.

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WHY YOU HAVEN’T HEARD FROM ME IN SO LONG

 

I think I’ve become institutionalized…no, not in the ass-raping, tattoo-getting, gang-affiliating way…but in such a way as the things that once seemed so odd and foreign to me here no longer seem that strange.

The fleeting joke of “Hey Mom! Look at me! I’m in prison!” soon became the sharp reality of “Oh shit…I’m in PRISON.”  Not that my experience has gotten any worse since I arrived here last May…au contraire.  In fact, it’s gotten somewhat comfortable (not a good thing, necessarily), yet I’m feeling less like a tourist on some “extreme” vacation than I do an actor playing a bit part. And since becoming ingrained in the prison lifestyle, it’s difficult for me to assume a me vs. them (blogger vs. inmates) mentality…because, for better or for worse, it has become more of an us vs. them (inmates vs. prison) reality.

Which is why I am forcing myself to “come up for air” again and to view this experience as new and fresh…and to remind myself that it is definitely not normal to be here. So, expect much more frequent updates in the New Year. Unless the Mayans‘ prophesies ring true…

Oh yeah, and I owe you some answers to your thoughtful questions from a few months back. Coming soon…and part II of this update later this week.

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PRISON LINGO

Instead of “thank you,” say “good lookin’,” which is shorthand for “thanks for looking out for me” or “good looking out on my behalf.” (At first I was flattered by all the compliments.)

Example of proper usage:

“Hey brother, drop that stinger.  The cop is making his rounds and will be coming through here in a minute.”

“Good lookin’.”

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ANOTHER REASON FOR MY SILENCE

I feel totally ridiculous for saying this, but…I’ve been busy.  I know, that may be hard to believe and I’ll be the first to admit that many of you are leading much harder lives making a living and feeding your families.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I’ve been KEEPING myself busy.  Big difference.

It’s very easy to imagine prison as a bunch of lazy degenerates lying around all day doing nothing — and while there certainly ARE elements of that behavior — prison is what you make of it.  If you have the motivation and the spirit, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t come out of here a better person than when you first came in.

So, how exactly have I been so busy? Here’s a peek at my schedule. Monday through Friday, I get up around 5:45 a.m. and go to breakfast.  At 6:30 a.m. I have a 30-minute Power Yoga class (more on that soon).  My job in the data processing unit of Unicor (Federal Prison Industries) begins at 7:30 a.m. and runs through 3:30 p.m.  After work, I go to Chow, and then I work out for another hour or two with my “crew.” By the time I get back to my Unit, it is usually around 7:30 p.m., at which time I take a shower, do laundry, check my e-mail, and call my wife.  Before bed, I write letters and catch up CNN.  I then read until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. Repeat.

On the weekends, I read, exercise, work on my writing projects, catch up on magazines/newspapers in the Leisure Library, and watch the institution movie (if it appeals to me). I don’t watch much t.v., or at least not anything regular.  Wednesdays used to be my t.v. night when I would watch X-Factor and American Horror Story, but both shows have recently wrapped up.  Every now and again, on Saturday nights, I might catch “48 Hours Mystery” on CBS.

Oh yeah, and I’ve also got involved with Hobby Craft — ceramics, oil painting and calligraphy (more on all of that soon).

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Overheard in the TV room:  “Is that ‘GH’ or ‘One Life to Live’?”

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I grew a moustache-soul patch combo this past November.  My hispter bros from my hometown were diggin’ it…some  other guys told me to shave it immediately…and a few more said that i looked, um, “ethnic.”

Proof positive — I was at the prison pharmacy filling out a prescription form and a nurse asked if I could translate for another inmate.  She had assumed I was hispanic.  (I guess this is only funny if you know who I am.)

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An inmate from my Unit was recently selected, at random, for a breathalyzer test.  He registered a false positive because he just ate a honeybun. It contains a high amount of yeast. Just tell that to the next officer that pulls you over.

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My prison job isn’t that much different than most jobs in the real world.  We typically spend the morning discussing what we’re having for lunch.  Then we find ways to work hard at hardly working — paper shuffling, aimless walking, impromptu meetings, etc.  We return from lunch at the last possible minute.  We watch the clock as if our lives depend upon it.  We invent scenarios that would allow us to leave work early.  And many of these guys would rather sit in a stinky bathroom stall on an extended poop break than sit at their desk feigning productivity.

Oh, and the gossip…anything from which prison employees are having affairs with whom, to which inmate was caught giving another a BJ in the closet.  We have an enormous dry-erase board that details recent changes and updates on standards for performing our jobs.  At the very top of this board, in red, someone  wrote — “If this were GOSSIP, you would read it!”  The same could probably be said for all of the mass e-mails you get at YOUR job, with subject headings like “Corporate Communication.”  Does anybody ever really read those?  It’s so much easier to ask the Office Manager what’s what and then watch her get angry at you for not reading the relevant e-mail.

Although, unlike the cutthroat nature of many jobs in corporate America, very rarely would any inmate throw another inmate “under the bus.”  Because that would be snitching.  And in Prison 101 you learn that a snitch is the greatest severity offense next to being a chomo.  This rule is particularly amusing in my job here at the Federal Prison Industries, considering what it is we do exactly…ensuring that inventors’ patents adhere to the standards of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.  Moreover, we have several layers of Quality Assurance whereby the more experienced inmates check and verify the work of the less experienced, before the patents can even leave our factory.

The QAs are held to a quota of writing a certain number of error sheets — that is, writing up inmates who incorrectly process a patent.  But, of course, a lot of guys refuse to write error sheets because they don’t want to “snitch.”  Can you imagine if the same logic applied in an automobile plant?  “Jimmy forgot to add the brake pads again.  Oh well, I wouldn’t want him to get fired….let’s just pass this one through.”

Oh yeah…and I bet YOUR computer monitor doesn’t just start randomly smoking like a chimney.  True story.

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PRISON LINGO

“Jack my wreck”, i.e., fuck up my routine, mess with me, play around, make things difficult for me, etc.  Origin = carjack my automobile.

Example of proper usage:

“Man, that nigga coming over here to do pull-ups in in this shower stall when he KNOWS it’s my favorite joint.  Why he always tryin’ to jack my wreck??”

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Prison Pet Peeve: Why do all of the inmates here insist on typing their e-mails in ALL CAPS…and then never to turn it off for the next guy??

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Happy New Year.  It was nice not waking up with a hangover this year…although, I did wakeup in prison.