During my last Christmas in prison, I had this conversation with Two Tonys, a Mafia associate who protected me:
On Boxing Day, I meet Two Tonys at the fence. “How the fuck was your Christmas?” he asks.
“Not too bad. The day before I got a visit from Jade, which gave me a boost. 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?”
“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?”
“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? 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.”
“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, smiling.
“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 in some serious work 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.”