Christmas Post

Happy Christmas everyone! Thank you for your support in 2012. Thanks to the help of many kind people, I have accomplished more than ever this year. We go onwards and upwards from here. In prison, Christmas is the time when suicides peak. Here's what I wrote about my last Christmas in prison (2006), plus a conversation on Boxing Day with Two Tonys, a Mafia mass murderer, now deceased, who protected me.

“Standby for chow, Yard 1. You’re getting breakfast first.”
On a cold crisp Christmas morning, below a pink and blue sky, I join the prisoners drifting towards the chow hall. Most look miserable, as if suffering a winter virus. A few swap greetings and gang handshakes.
“Merry Christmas, homey!”
“Happy Hanukkah, you sarcastic motherfucker.”
“Happy Kwanzaa, dawg!”
“Felice Navidad, ese.”

Inside, each of us takes a tray as it emerges from a slot in the wall. Breakfast is pancakes, scrambled eggs, cinnamon rolls, cereal, and an apple. A guard with a clipboard checks off names, and jokes about how hung over he is. The rising sun floods the room with light, illuminating the dust motes dancing over our food. After fifteen minutes, the guards order everyone out. The prisoners rise from tables strewn with spilt milk, corn flakes, and apples stabbed to prevent hooch brewing.

We retire to our cells. While I reflect on being absent from my loved ones, a sad silence spreads across the yard. No basketball. No pull-ups or dips at the workout stations. No squabbling. No “motherfucker” this and “dawg” that. No announcements.
At least it’s my last Christmas here. I read to take my mind off the mistakes I made to lose almost six years of my life.

At Building B, a guard starts a security walk. “Put away your hypodermic needles! Don’t let me catch anyone drinking hooch!” 
By the time the swing shift arrives, the sun is shining through a sky mottled with clouds like the hide of a cow.
In a slow sarcastic voice an announcement comes: “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 animates with obscenities and threats:
“Merry fucking Christmas to you, too!”
“Shank you very much, motherfucker!”
“Come and say that to our faces, bastards!”
The guard continues: “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.”
Two guards – a female and a Mexican we call the “Fruit Nazi” who overzealously seizes apples and oranges from inmates leaving the chow hall – raid cells, scattering property, confiscating food, thwarting hooch operations, and doling out disciplinary tickets.

Late afternoon, we emerge for a surprise. The Gatekeepers – a young and high-spirited choir – sing carols from the other side of the perimeter fence. Briefly, I’m not a prisoner anymore. I’m someone’s son, brother. I’m human again.

At dinnertime, skimpy portions of roast beef, mashed potatoes, and broccoli provoke outbursts that unsettle the guards. 
After eating, I join a queue for phones that barely work. Written on the faces of the prisoners are the usual concerns. Will our loved ones be home? Will they accept the expensive call charges? Unable to get through, some prisoners hang up, cursing life.
Nearby, a demolition team of pigeons is savagely pecking the cling film off chow trays abandoned by the guards. From a burst of blowing dust that deposits sand in my mouth, a flock of Chihuahuan ravens descends – a vortex of big black birds with a purple and blue iridescence – scattering the pigeons and ravaging the spoils.

A final announcement at 7:55pm: “Yard 1, rec is over. Take it in and lock down.”

On Boxing Day, I meet Two Tonys at the fence. “How the fuck was your Christmas?”
“Not too bad because the day before I got an unexpected visit from Royo Girl, which gave me a boost,” I say, grinning. “It’s been so long since I saw her, I almost wrote her off. We got a little kissing action in, and she said she’s coming back soon. How was your Christmas?”
“Good ’cause I ain’t got no beefs,” Two Tonys says. “Let me ask you something, Shaun. You ever heard of Chad or Somalia or Sudan?”
“Yes.”
“Well how nice a fucking Christmas do you think those poor motherfuckers had?” he says, raising his chin.
“I see what you’re saying,” I say, nodding.
“Do you know how many pieces of apple pie I got?”
“No.”
“Three, and two issues of roast beef. It might have looked like shoe leather and tasted like shoe leather, but that’s OK ’cause guess what?”
“What?”
“Ivan Denisovich would have snorted those motherfuckers up with his left nostril, and been as happy as if he were having supper with Mikhail fucking Gorbachev.”
We laugh.
“That’s my barometer now: how rough Ivan had it,” Two Tonys says. “Imagine being happy to lick some carrot gruel off a spoon. Or having to ride the cook’s leg to come up on some extra gills and tails in your fish-eyeball soup. Or Slingblade grabbing your bowl of oat mush, and you’ve got to go toe to toe with the fucking Neanderthal or starve to fucking death. My point is this: how the fuck can I complain when there’s always someone worse off? Of course I’d like to be chowing down on a Caesar salad, some escargot, a little bowl of scungilli, and some ravioli stuffed with spinach, but I ain’t gonna let those thoughts get me down.”
“What did you do on Christmas Day?” I ask.
“Played a little casino card game with Frankie. Watched a little TV. Sang some fucking Christmas carols to myself: ‘Silent Night,’ ‘Jingle Bells,’ and all that shit. How the fuck can I get depressed in here? This is my retirement home. Not just any motherfucker qualifies to be in here you know. You don’t just hop on a bus and say, ‘Driver, take me to the big house.’ This is an exclusive club. You’ve got to put some serious work in to get here. And what’s good about it is they can’t ever kick me out, ’cause I’m doing life. If things get shitty in here, I just tell myself, Get a grip, man. What would Ivan Denisovich be thinking? Would he be raising hell about his waffles being cold in the morning? Would he fuck! Like I’ve said before, that’s PMA, bro. That’s my positive mental attitude.”

Shaun Attwood

100 comments:

Anonymous said...

Happy Christmas! Mandy

Jon said...

you too Mandy x

Anonymous said...

Have fun cousin Shaun

Sadie xxx

Anonymous said...

Happy Christmas 2 all

Michelle

Anonymous said...

The fruit nazi! So awesome! Can remember it like yesterday

Zack

Anonymous said...

Happy christmas shaun

Anonymous said...

Their not in prison because they were good . A lot of families are sad because what has happened . But you can change and better the world . Merry Christmas Shaun :))

Mick

Jon said...

cheers, guys

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas Shaun, from Melbourne, Australia Can't wait for the next book

Neisha

Jon said...

Thanks so much, Neisha. Hope all's going well in Melbourne.

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Anonymous said...

Was Two Tonys a fella named JP?

Jon said...

Who wants to know if Two Tonys was JP?

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Anonymous said...

Jon,

I'm just a mafia buff who stumbled upon your blog and connected some dots. Not trying to intrude, though you mention in one of your TT articles that he wanted or didn't mind his name being made public. And from what I've gathered from various online resources, he certainly wasn't media shy. I'd also add your stories seemingly just scratched the surface of a man who lived one heck of an "interesting" life to say the least. Hope you end up writing that book or at least some more blog posts about TT. I'm particularly curious about his early years in D and how he became acquainted with certain people and "the life".

Regards,

Rust Belt Reader

Anonymous said...

PS - Did he ever mention Hoffa? ;)

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