12 August, 2017

The Eternal Search

Contraband takes myriad forms, from the dangerous (shanks, zip guns) to the innocuous (excess photos, empty boxes), and guards' mission to rid the prison of it all is as Sisyphean as it is multifaceted. Still, they persist.

It seems that I can't leave the housing unit without someone wanting to touch me all over. Pat-downs are such a regular part of life at Crossroads, I almost don't resent them to the core of my being anymore. Walking to breakfast, at not quite 6:00 in the morning, one of the assembled badge-wearers smoking outside the dining hall will probably wave me over. Nothing's quite like a good manhandling, when it comes to waking a fellow up whose coffee has yet to do the trick. The popular prisoner will often get a second frisking on his way out. Who knows what malfeasance an apple-smuggler might get up to, after sneaking a Red Delicious back to his cell.

Showing up for my job, there's usually a queue of kitchen workers relinquishing their ID cards at the door and assuming the position. It's against the rules to bring anything into Food Service except the state-issued clothes on your back, but this rule wasn't always strictly enforced. Workers used to load up on crossword puzzles and sudoku, instant coffee and sugar, Bibles and Our Daily Bread booklets — to get through the many idle hours of their shift, when they're forced to just sit in one of the dining halls. To judge from the current tedium, you'd think the guards patting down deserve commendations. They pat-search everyone again at the end of every kitchen shift, but enough tuna, egg mix, and sliced cheese makes it back to the housing units (usually in plastic "diapers'' made of bread bags) to make you reconsider any reward for apparent thoroughness.

While stolen food is a perennial issue, some prisoners' cells pile up with other stuff that the administration prohibits. Being deprived of so much inclines one to hoard the littlest things. This so-called nuisance contraband is the first to get thrown away during routine cell searches. You probably have a junk drawer, or a whole closet of crap, at home. It's no different for the imprisoned person, who might keep a small Tupperware bowl filled with bread ties, thread, used batteries, fingernail clippers, broken headphones, adhesive wall hooks, empty bags, spare cords, et cetera, buried in his footlocker. I do. So does every cellmate I've ever had. Certain objects come in handy only infrequently. But the rules demand that everything in a prisoner's possession be kept to a minimum. Having more than one bowlful of miscellanea invites hassles.

Bigwigs in Jefferson City, the state capital, have enumerated the limit for each possible item a Missouri prisoner may own (e.g., one transparent-plastic TV, twenty CDs or cassette tapes, fourteen ramen soup packets, two bars of soap, seven pairs of underwear, two jars of peanut butter, one hundred postage stamps, two sets of headphones, ten pouches of loose tobacco, one tube of toothpaste, two jewel-free stud earrings, one cooler, fifty #10 envelopes, and on and on, surpassing tedium, into outright microscopy). I once had a guard confiscate a single package of ramen because I was in possession of fifteen after buying my allotted limit at the canteen that morning. The following week, the property room summoned me to determine what would be done with it. The staff member working the window rolled her eyes at the pedantry of the confiscating guard, slid the package across the counter, and said, "Eat it." So I did.

Some cell searches are excessive, even by the standards of the most slavish henchman. Policy states that cells are to be left in orderly condition when the guards exit, but I have survived incursions that left my space looking as if a natural disaster — a tornado or an earthquake of significant magnitude — had struck. Individual pages were strewn from folders, bags of foodstuffs had been pulled from sealed boxes and crushed, photos were removed from my album, splayed-open books sprawled over random objects, CD cases sat cracked underneath heavier things, laundry detergent and oatmeal was spilled, an eating utensil floated in the toilet, and everything else — everything else — was heaped on the bunks, irrespective of whether the stuff was mine or my cellmate's. Sorting out whose towel was whose came down to a sniff test.

Then there's the strip-search procedure endured before and after every visit. A guard has to watch me disrobe, waggle my tongue, show my open palms, expose my armpits, lift my soles, hoist my scrotum, and, in a final indignity, squat and cough, before he'll provide me with a set of visiting clothes. Strip-searches are also done, in cells, during shakedowns, when entire wings at a time are subjected to intensive cell searches by specially trained guards wearing camouflage fatigues — this composite violation being proof that, in prison, personal space is at best a temporary privilege, at worst a total delusion.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Byron does not have Internet access. Pariahblog.com posts are sent from his cell by way of a secure service especially for prisoners' use. We do read him your comments, however, and he enjoys hearing your thoughts very much.