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."

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