16 October, 2018

The Ice Brigade

Desperate men do desperate things. Men in prison seem to live in desperation, make a tenuous home there, furnish it sparsely, and, on occasion, enjoy a nice, cool beverage there.

In my wing, where cell doors come open at 6:40 AM and the inhabitants are free to move about until almost 11:00, the line forms early. It runs up the center of the wing: thirty-some Coleman six-pack coolers and Rubbermaid pitchers and insulated mugs — a perfect row of multicolored plastics set on the polished concrete, in preparation for the big moment. The men whose containers these are want what’s coming.

A low-grade viciousness possesses the assembled, behind masks of bonhomie. One prisoner nonchalantly sets his cooler on the floor in front of someone else’s in the queue. Eyes everywhere watch to see who’ll be the one to call him out. The cricket in one of the shower stalls is chirring, and an alarm clock beeps from behind someone’s closed door. No one speaks.

Some of the men take up space on stools by the phones, some lounge on the stairs, others lean on the desk that stores the wing’s meager board-game collection, still more slouch at the four little tables anchored to the floor several yards away. They have their eyes closed, braving the morning for the coming scarcity; or they’re alert and indifferent to the rule against wearing headphones in the wing, and their heads nod in time with beats bumping from hidden CD players. Real subtle, guys, I think, yet none of the guards in the control module notice or care.

Then comes the double sneeze of the door’s pneumatic lock. Shouts go up — “Ice! Ice!” — and everyone’s on his feet, moving for his container. The porter wheels in an insulated brown cart the size of a newspaper box. He parks it along the front wall, then gets the hell out of the way. The throng surges forward. Boy band fans jockeying for a glimpse as their heartthrob exits the tour bus would be only slightly more avid. Feet nearly touching, they stop, assembled in a staggered line, lost in anticipation. One by one, but barely, they step up.

Each man takes his turn with the red ice scoop. Because the rolling Cambro cooler’s small, shoveling more than one container’s worth of ice from it meets with round scorn and loud derision — double-dippers have to return after the rest of the line’s shuffled away. There’s mild jostling. Surprisingly, though, no one is ever outright belligerent. The ice brigade carries off its chilly plunder without incident.

Relief! The wing’s sodas, burgers, pizza rolls, no-bake cheesecakes, chicken sandwiches, stolen kitchen food, and sundry leftover prison-burrito fixings will keep for another twelve hours. By that point the day’s second bin will be wheeled in for plundering. And the cycle continues.

04 October, 2018

A Seasonal Stew of Spooky Cinema

For the first time in sixteen years' imprisonment, October will be chockablock with shocks, thanks to my move to a new prison with a superior cable package. This Halloween aficionado and movie buff was pleased, after coming through one TV programming guide, to find so many of the suspenseful, horrific, and just plain eerie films that I love filling the weeks leading up to the thirty-first. I'm excited. Not counting the classics that'll show up all month long on the in-house movie channel — stuff like Carnival of Souls and Black Dragons — here's my must-watch list:
  • The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
  • The Lady Vanishes
  • The Thing from Another World
  • Nosferatu
  • The Seventh Victim
  • The Night Digger
  • Faust
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Return of the Living Dead
  • 28 Days Later
  • The Old Dark House
  • Isle of the Dead
  • Bedlam
  • The Dead Zone
  • The Witches of Eastwick
  • Fright Night (1985)
  • White Zombie
  • Mark of the Vampire
  • Hellraiser
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (three different productions!)
  • Curse of the Cat People
  • The Bad Seed (1985)
  • Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte
  • Island of Lost Souls
  • Mad Love
  • Spirits of the Dead
  • Black Sabbath
  • The Pit and the Pendulum
There's also a PBS miniseries, The Woman in White, and my trashy FX pleasure, American Horror Story, to follow. No way could my little stash of movie snacks hold out through all of these. I wouldn’t want it to. Eating too much junk too early would spoil me on that epic junk-fest that is Octoberfeast. (Stay tuned for the fifth of my "Halloween in the Hoosegow" posts, by the way, coming in four short weeks!)

29 September, 2018

Guidelines for Adjustment to Incarceration

From the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic & Correctional Center Offender Orientation Packet (featuring snarky commentary by me):
Avoid Getting in Debt. Avoid gambling, borrowing, and lending. Be aware of inmate protection groups that promise to provide you safety in exchange for money, cigarettes or canteen items.
[“Be aware” isn’t helpful. Beware is more direct and has another, more pointed meaning. You should be aware of things like 30% discounts on Little Debbie Zebra Cakes nearing their sell-by date; you should beware a bunch of guys you don’t know, offering to take those Zebra Cakes — and more — off your hands.]
Substance Abuse. Drugs and alcohol; Prescribed medication should be taken according to the authorized Doctor’s orders only. Drugs and alcohol are not permitted. Possession/use of controlled substances is against Missouri Statutes and may result in prosecution.
[Beware unauthorized “Doctors.” This place is crawling with faux physicians. Many will promise you a scrip for OxyContin in exchange for a physical examination. Be aware that this medication is not generally considered an effective treatment for prostate issues.]
Unauthorized Organizations. These organizations will want you to become a member. It is your responsibility to choose your friends wisely as these individuals might not have your best interest in mind.
[In seventeen years I’ve never been approached by anyone representing a gang. I feel a little rejected, frankly. What’s wrong with me that I’m undesirable to these groups? I can get thug nasty! I can wear my trouser waistband below my butt! I can gesticulate with my hands in ways that imply I have some variety of palsy!]
Verbal and Physical Harassment. Harassment and /or strong-arming may occur. In the event of such harassment should occur and you think you need assistance in handling this problem, contact a staff member for help.
[You might be harassed because other prisoners think you’re weak. Take your problem to prison staff and you’ll be harassed because those other prisoners know you’re weak.]
To Avoid Sexual Assault. Choose your company carefully. Avoid being alone. Avoid any -qpe of indebtedness. Do not borrow anything.
[“Choose your company carefully” — that’s good, solid advice. While imprisoned, the last thing you want to do is put yourself at unnecessary risk. Do not, for instance, engage with any convicted criminals.]
Mind Your Own Business. Don’t discuss your personal business such as money, sentence/offense family, career, or criminal history.
[The perennial getting-to-know-you question is “What’re you in for?” Don’t answer this! Make that busybody guess and then go bruiting around the yard that your secrecy must mean you’re a sex offender. An alternative to discussion might be to start a fun game of Charades.]
Keep Your Possessions to a Minimum. The more you have, the more you become a target.
[This is why billionaires traditionally own only one set of clothes and take the bus to all their big, important business meetings — so they won’t be targeted for…whatever they might be targeted for.]
Avoid Idle Time. Get involved in self-improvement activities such as education, vocational training, recreation, jobs, and religion.
[Actually, it’s my opinion that the vast majority of prisoners could use a lot more idle time — specifically, the kind that encourages introspective thought and self-analysis. A mandatory hour-long period of silent contemplation, after some variety of daily group therapy session, would go a long way toward improving the average prisoner’s behavior, thought processes, and emotional stability — at least the ones who didn’t just use their hour to masturbate.]