21 March, 2014

The Liability of Being Liked: A Kinda-Sorta Retraction

Having whined in a post last month about the unfair way I felt I was treated because of the number of visits I receive, I’m now compelled to take back some of that smack I talked.

What irked me wasn’t merely that my visits were used as cause to deny me a four-day-a-week position in the relative poshness of the staff dining room. I was aggrieved mainly because this supposed ineligibility didn’t keep me from getting pulled from my assigned duties, every single Friday for a month and a half, to fill in for the server who did get the job. (Fridays, I hasten to point out, are visiting days here at Crossroads.) So: barred from the job I wanted, thanks to visits I wasn’t getting, I was still the substitute of choice.

The prisoner for whose absence I played Band-Aid worked one day before leaving the facility — and the state — for a court appearance. The clock on his Missouri sentence, meanwhile, continued ticking as his time slot and his assigned bunk sat empty (and his cellmate no doubt enjoying some privacy), awaiting his presumptive return. Like Motel 6, the Missouri Department of Corrections is a gracious host; it’ll leave the light on for you.

Last week, the sergeant in charge of hiring, firing, and schedule changes for kitchen workers took me aside. “Tell me about your visits,” he said, which prompted an immediate misunderstanding on my part, since I thought ne was just hungry for some gossip. Then he clarified, asking, “What days do you get them, usually?”

It seemed the schedule gap couldn’t go unfilled any longer. Feeling suddenly optimistic about my prospects, I ran down the specifics of my average week’s visits.

And just like that, Sarge told me, “I’m giving you Sunday, Monday, Tuesday off.”

The staff dining room is a long, open-ceilinged space equipped with ten four-top tables. Brightening the gray walls a little are framed motivational posters of the kind you’ve seen in at least one generic office setting (one of which is a stock photo of the Blue Angels flying in formation, reading, “ABOVE & BEYOND — When A Team Of Dedicated Individuals Makes A Commitment To Act As One…The Sky’s The Limit”). As I write this, I’m the only person here. For more than half of my shift I am all by myself, every day. The day’s menu items steam in their warmers beside me, creating swirly patterns of quickly disappearing condensation on the sneeze guard. A beverage dispenser gurgles next to the coffee maker and ice machine, and there’s an occasional whir from the vending machines by the entrance. Otherwise, it’s quiet.

Windows look out to B-yard’s empty basketball courts and softball field through a chain-link fence topped with razor wire, but I’m not here for the view. There’s almost nowhere else in the prison with consistent isolation and tranquility like I get here. I wanted it badly, hence all my earlier complaining. A poor excuse, I know.

In another hour or so, a few guards will come in for dinner. Until then I’ve got this time to write, much needed, much appreciated.

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Lacking computer access of any kind, Byron cannot respond to your comments but is relayed them and appreciates your kind remarks.