31 October, 2019

Halloween in the Hoosegow VI: The Ritual


In prison, a mask is escape paraphernalia, even if it's just a paper cutout. If you're caught with one, you'll catch six months in the Hole. Giving anything away is similarly against the rules, assuming you're unlucky enough to be seen by a staff member petty and bored enough to write the conduct violation. Point being, taking trick-or-treaters at your cell door on Halloween can be a small challenge. I accepted it with childish eagerness befitting the season.


Housing unit rules be damned, on the first day of October, I hung six monstrous heads from the doorframe, stuck spiders and skeletons everywhere, and put a jack-o'-lantern on the desk. If guards wanted to act like Halloween haters, I vowed, let them come and tear my decorations down! They're not dangerous or offensive, and they all come down after a month, regardless.

I've been blogging about my love of Halloween for years. This semiannual series — my "Halloween in the Hoosegow" posts — has run the stylistic gamut, from straightforward nostalgia to overwrought horror-fiction parody, and, like the holiday itself, never gets old for me.

It takes a while to get settled, to find a groove in any new place. I celebrated my first Halloween at ERDCC in what's become my traditional way, sharing mega-nachos with my cellmate, the only guy here with whom I was really acquainted at the time. And while that was a fine, filling evening, Hopper wasn't the kind of guy who made much of a fuss over All Hallow's Eve (or any occasion at all). A certain √©lan is called for, nights like tonight, which is why this year is kind of special.

After a year and a half, I know some people. Several are in my sangha, the Buddhist group that meets in the prison chapel on Thursday mornings. I wanted to do something nice for them, so I bought some Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and jelly beans from the canteen yesterday and went full-on Martha Stewart, wrapping a Reese's and one of each flavor of jelly bean (except black) in a baggie, which I cinched with white thread and attached a black paper spider cutout to. I made seven bags — one to give to each member of the sangha.

While I crafted giveaway candy bags, Jeff, my cellmate of the past three months, busied himself making sour taffy for trick-or-treaters. His ingredients? Powdered peach drink mix, powdered lemonade mix, coffee creamer, and water. Where there's a will, there's a way. I was surprised by how well it turned out. We discussed how to deal with those who come to our cell door. Jeff proposed requesting paperwork proving they're allowed to participate in Halloween (i.e., no sex offenders). It's Jeff's candy, so I'll let him handle that bit on his own, if he chooses to impose restrictions.

I'll likely be too full to care what he does. The refried beans are already warming up. I'm prepping the rest of our copious nacho toppings, bumping my Halloween playlist as I slice the olives, mouth watering in anticipation. I'm cooking for four here. Luke and Tim, our neighbors across the wing, are going in on this meal. Preparing it early was necessary to accommodate their work schedules. The hour doesn't matter, though. Halloween is Halloween, no matter what time of the day you choose to celebrate it.

And as the dark of night creeps on, I'll slip into a comfortable position for the lineup of horror movies on cable TV, my hunger thoroughly satiated and my burst of seasonal rebellion ended. Tomorrow morning, I'll pack up the decorations and bury them in my footlocker. There's a time and a place. Of course, sometimes it's not the place, then you've got to make it the place — hence, "Halloween in the Hoosegow."

19 October, 2019

Halloween Hootenanny


Whether your Halloween plans include haunting the streets or lurking around your own home, a good playlist is essential. I spent some time curating a very Byronic one, heavy on the retro darkwave and post-punk sounds that I love, to soundtrack my spooky shenanigans. Since the Eve of All Hallows is the only time a year when other people don't seem to mind listening to the same music as me, I figure my playlist is worth sharing. Comments are encouraged (especially if I missed something)!
  1. Siouxsie & the Banshees, "Halloween"
  2. Ministry, "Every Day Is Halloween"
  3. Dead or Alive, "Something in My House"
  4. Killing Joke, "Night Time"
  5. Echo & the Bunnymen, "People Are Strange"
  6. The Cure, "Lullaby"
  7. Gary Numan, "Asylum"
  8. Rasputina, "Transylvanian Concubine (Yes Sir, Mr. Sir Mix)"
  9. Concrete Blonde, "Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)"
  10. Depeche Mode, "Black Celebration"
  11. Oingo Boingo, "Dead Man's Party"
  12. Twin Tribes, "Shadows"
  13. Bauhaus, "Bela Lugosi Is Dead (The Hunger Mix)"
  14. Dave Ball and Jon Savage, "Dead Neon"
  15. 09 October, 2019

    The Only Consistent Thing in Prison? Its Inconsistency!


    Allow me to disabuse you of the idea that prison is a place of predictability and rigorously kept schedules. It's not. And while it's not quite twenty-four-hour-a-day havoc, either, a guy expecting dinner to be on time will grumble with disappointment just as often as he'll be satisfied.

    Custody counts here at ERDCC are scheduled daily at 6 and 11:15 AM, as well as at 4:30 and 10 PM. The facility's locked down for these, with everyone but kitchen, maintenance, and factory workers confined to their cells until each count clears. This happens within about forty minutes. Unless it doesn't. Because the staff is either incompetent or negligent, recounts, which drag the whole process out for at least an extra hour, seem to take place every week. Worse yet, the later a count clears, the farther back every other activity gets pushed — mealtimes, recreation periods, school classes, religious services.... Shit rolls downhill, always.

    A count can also begin late. On occasion, an ambulance has to drive in to handle an emergency beyond what on-site medical staff can handle. For institutional security reasons, all movement on the yard is halted until a visiting ambulance is back outside the fence. On days when the facility is below the minimum number of staff Missouri DOC is understaffed), guards have to shuttle from post to post, from housing unit to housing unit, to help out with counts. At least when delays are due to ambulances we're allowed back out of our cells before the next shift comes on duty. Staff shortages, on the other hand, suck for everyone, in both the short- and medium-term.

    Of course, drawn-out counts aren't the only interferences that spring up in the midst of prison life. Even more disruptive to prisoners' day-to-day existence are the lockdowns regularly called for less serious matters. Beginning a few weeks ago, the seventy-two residents of my wing have been made to lock down every time a guard wants to access the fire door. Guards have passed through this door multiple times a day for the past five months without it being a thing. Now, suddenly, prisoners in 1B have to pause their card games, cut short phone calls, turn off the microwave, leap from the shower, or log off the kiosk just so someone can briefly open a door to the outside — outside, yes, but still separated from freedom by two twelve-foot razor-wire fences and a lethal electric one. I guess this is what the "max" in "maximum security" refers to.

    As with everything else, I try to stay flexible. Getting my hopes up, developing expectations, or believing that I'm in some way entitled to more stability just because I'm innocent and wrongfully convicted won't get me anything but grief. This is the world; I'm just living in it.