03 December, 2014

Prison Shit’s Got Me Edgy

A mass transfer was announced last week. A slew of lower-level inmates here are about to be shipped to other prisons around the state. While this wouldn’t normally make a bit of difference to me, labeled a maximum-security prisoner by the Missouri Department of Corrections, my cellmate of the last seven months is one of those being put out. Unfamiliarity is always a little scary, but not knowing who I might get stuck cohabitating with, in this place full of bad habits and questionable ethics, is more unnerving than everyday change.

Not that my current cellmate is by any means easy to get along with. He’s impulsive, emotionally unstable, selfish, hyperactive, and lacking the ability to keep his interior monologue inside. He hates silence, which basically puts us at diametrically opposite ends of the personality spectrum. Still, he’s friendly, clean, and has all his own stuff (a plus, since prison life is absent much luxury), and these few high points make the difference between a tolerable arrangement and an impossible one. A fellow can’t be too picky — literally: it isn’t possible.

But now he’s leaving. I’m trying to find the needle in this haystack of misfits — the one guy in a position to move, whom I suspect would make for an acceptable long-term cohabitator. My criteria might appear minimal but are actually hard to meet:
  • Nonsmoker
  • Won’t skim from my canteen or postage stamp stashes
  • Washes hands after using the toilet
  • Doesn’t sleep later than 9 AM
I would prefer that he also have a job that takes him out of the housing unit in the mornings, since I peak, creatively, between 9 AM and noon. On this point, however, I’m flexible. As long as I get time to type what I need to type, and a little peace in which to read in the evening, I’m golden.

Moves are a pain in the ass. They can’t just be asked for, by policy. A guy generally needs to fill out a set of forms and have them signed by all parties affected by said proposed move. Since this process is traditionally on a “body-for-body” basis (a phrasing that speaks to prisoners’ warehoused status, as though we’re all cordwood or already in caskets), that means fours signed assents. Tricky business, that. Almost inevitably, some fickle soul will back out by telling a caseworker, after signing, that he’s changed his mind, that he was coerced, or that the signature is a forgery. The illusion of order imposed on the process by bureaucratic sleight of hand belies the willy-nilly truth.

I have to try, though. I have to. The alternative is just too sketchy. Better the devil you know, and after my current cellmate boards that bus so affectionately dubbed the Gray Goose, his place will go to whatever random convict the system pulls up — cellmate roulette — unless I act early. It’s that terrible game that landed me such odious personalities as Bruce, Ray, Hoss, Bob, Tracy, Snake, and Blake. I’d just as soon not have to add to that list an eighth character study. So I search.

And the search takes time — time I’d rather use to write, to read, to make phone calls to friends, to do pretty much anything except wait around in the library, or in the ridiculous, frigid cold of the prison yard, for a particular acquaintance to happen by. (It figures that the top candidate on my list is the hardest man to run into, a loner, a fellow who minds his own business, a house mouse.) If I don’t find him, or a suitable analog, soon, I may quickly regret it. Roulette’s not my game.

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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.