25 Dec 07
Holidays such as Christmas are the loneliest times of the year for prisoners.
Here’s a piece I wrote about Christmas last year.
Shortly after 6am came the first announcement: “Standby for chow, Yard 1. You’re getting breakfast first.”
It was a cold morning. Below a pink and blue sky, prisoners drifted toward the chow hall. Most seemed miserable. But a few swapped gang handshakes and greetings.
“Merry Christmas, homey!”
“Happy Hanukkah, you sarcastic motherfucker.”
“Happy Kwanzaa, dawg!”
“Felice Navidad, ese.”
Prisoners lined up in the chow hall. As quickly as they could be made, orange trays containing pancakes, scrambled eggs, cinnamon rolls, biscuits, cereal, and apples were shoved through a hole in the wall.
A guard with a clipboard checked off our names, and joked about how hung over he was.
After grabbing their trays, prisoners joined their own races at picnic tables, where they traded food and ate.
“You gonna eat your cereal, dawg?”
“Nah, you gonna use your sugar?”
The sunlight in the chow hall illuminated the dust motes, which danced over our food.
Soon the chow hall was empty except for a few guards who seemed to be meditating on the mandala of tables strewn with spilt milk, corn flakes, and apples that had been stabbed to discourage the brewing of hooch.
As if the prisoners had been infected by a winter virus, a sad silence spread across the yard.
Walking past Building B, Officer Stewart yelled, “Put away your hypodermic needles. Don’t let me catch anyone drinking hooch.”
It was sunny and sixty-eight degrees when the swing-shift guards arrived. In a slow sarcastic voice Officer Lewalski made an announcement: “We would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas and to thank you for providing us with such a wonderful 2006 - ”
The yard briefly came alive with obscenities and threats on Officer Lewalski’s life.
“ – and you’ll all be pleased to know that we fully intend to keep up the time-honoured Christmas tradition of shaking your houses down.”
Officer Lewalski and her co-worker, a guard known as the “Fruit Nazi” (a Mexican who ransacks our cells with the zeal of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor) had been on the rampage all week confiscating extra food, thwarting hooch brewing, and doling out tickets.
The bright spot of the day was a surprise. The Gatekeepers, a young and high-spirited choir of missionaries carolled us through the perimeter fence. Briefly we weren’t prisoners any more. We were someone’s son, brother, father – we were human again.
At dinnertime, the measly portions of roast beef, mashed potatoes, and broccoli caused the prisoners to gripe
Outside of the chow hall a demolition team of pigeons pecked the cling film from some trays abandoned by the guards – until a group of ravens descended from a burst of blowing dust and appropriated the spoils.
Watching the ravens seemed to be the only entertainment available for the prisoners standing in line to use phones that barely worked. Written on their faces were the usual concerns. Would their loved ones be home? If so, would they accept expensive collect calls? Many of them walked away from the phones, cursing life.
The last announcement came at 7:55pm: “Yard 1, rec is over. Take it in and lock down.”
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Copyright © 2006-2007 Shaun P. Attwood