Friday, February 15, 2013

The DOC Does Not Have a Sense of Humor

Slightly Pre-chewed Anecdotes by Jeff C.

I am the veriest varlet [worst scoundrel] that ever chewed with a tooth.
--William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1, 2.2.22-23

'Twas the night before the night before Christmas and all through the Big House not a creature was one jolly pack-rat going full-on freak-organized trying to exactly evenly divide over $200 worth of nearly every kind of sugary substance sold by the prison commissary.

And a commissary is what my single-man room looked like when the two guards came by for midnight count and saw (it's easy to remember as I've since seen the Polaroid "evidence" photos in my Permanent Record file) 16 nefarious packages of Red Vines, 3 cases of soda, 14 six-pack boxes of Nutty Bars, 14 six-pack boxes of Swiss Cake Rolls, 35 bouquets of seven-packs of Tootsie Pops, bunches of butterscotch, and boxes of all sizes filled with opened M&Ms (plain and peanut; segregated), Milk Duds, Whoppers, Jelly Belly jelly beans (all the colors co-mingling), caramels, and various other assorted candies--each and every one with a Post-It on it with a Sharpied number, all the better to exactly evenly divide all these purchased empty calories between the four score convicts on what I (now clandestinely) label my Prayer List.

The counting duo saw all this opened, sugary, ready-to-be-assembly-lined order laid out on my bed, my desk, and on the top bunk, and the immediate question in their halted count was, "You're not going to EAT all that, are you?"

Ah, no, the siren song of suicide by sugar does not sweetly summon me.

Instead of saying this, or laughing, I slowly said, "Nooooo."

This was not enough for their inquiring minds.

What I intentionally did NOT say was what I hoped these Graveyard Shift guards would figure out without me confessing: that it was two days before Christmas, so....

But though I gently resisted, they persisted. Eventually I spoke the truth, and a pretty much truth: "It's not a gambling thing, and I've got receipts for it all."

After skeptically scanning said receipts for the last six or more weeks of Store, they handed them back and, I thought, continued merrily along their counting way.

Phew, I thought.

Not even 30 minutes later, when the six or more Correctional Guards arrived, en masse, at my cell door as I was bagging up my twelfth sack (with 3.5 Red Vines, 1 Swiss Cake Roll, 1 Nutty Bar, 4 butterscotch, 3 caramels, 3 Tootsie Pops, 1 can of soda, and specific numbers of all the other delicious delectables--including, of course, the personalized name tag stickers in each plastic goodie bag), something else entirely occurred to me at the sight of this Goon Squad:

Shit, I thought.

These guards were not the questioning sort.

"Turn around and get on your knees," the most muscular one calmly instructed me.

This I obeyed, without resisting.

But before they reached through the bars to cuff my hands I asked if I could grab the receipts. This was permitted.

Not even 3 minutes later, when this personal escort gripped me past the now awakened unit, firmly clenching my biceps to guide me as if I was both sugar-blind and diabeticly enfeebled, I was sitting--still cuffed, but of course--in front of the Lieutenant's desk.

This seemed like a good time to tell the truth, the whole truth, and pretty much the truth.

"They're Christmas gifts, I paid for them, and I--I've got the receipts," I confessed.

I explained to this rather soothing (and dare I say) Santa-esque Lieutenant that I do this every year and that I don't expect anything in return, it's just my way of spreading Christmas joy. I rambled at this, hoping persistently for a--cue the inspirational music--Christmas miracle.

I could not afford another $3000 infraction.

He looked up from scrutinizing the disordered and incomplete stack of receipts and maybe my subtle allusions to the Christmas Spirit worked or maybe he just didn't care because he said he was going to let me go (which turned out to be after the Goon Squad went into my room, flashing their, I'm told, loud Polaroid, and scooping up every last juju and wham-wham into garbage bags--all while I was held in the Segregation's shower stall). He said, "I'm going to let your Sergeant and CUS figure this out in the morning."

Shit, I thought.

I thought this because the Custody Unit Supervisor (essentially the manager of each unit) was a pleather-jacketed, speechifying, micro-manager who was as easy to talk to as a pack of Dum-Dums.

After breakfast (where I was assailed with what-the interrogations by all those who'd seen me get led out in cuffs and heard my room being packed-up, but didn't see me get to walk, unassisted, alone, quietly back to my cell nearly two hours later), I got called into the Sergeant's office.

It was there I was scolded by the thin-lipped, cheaply clothed CUS about how and why "borrowing, lending, trading, and"--news to me--"giving" were oh-so very, horribly wrong. It was there where it was repeatedly pointed out that, yes, I had receipts for 95% of these items, but not all of them. It was there that Red Vines became, ever-after, the candied culprit that cost us convicts Christmas because though I could prove I'd bought 10 packs of them, "What about these other six packs of Red Vines--where's the receipts for these, Mr. Conner?" It was there, staring at his too-short pants and proffering up possible reasons for this apparent inconsistency that I stood, with my arms behind my back, rigid as a Butterfinger, in apparent respect.

But all I could think about, while standing in front of the CUS at Parade Rest, was what he'd told me my last Yearly Custody Review, six months prior.

I've only ever gotten two Major Infraction write-ups. At the time of this Christmas Scolding I was actually still suffering from the second one: I had a bunch of magazines I didn't want and I traded them for some O'Boy Oberto meat packages. But I stupidly kept the "here's what I got, here's what I want" list and when it was found during a cell search I earned myself a "Borrowing, Lending, or Trading over $10" Major Infraction that cost me, oh, about $3000 because I lost my Gate 7 Clearance card for a then six months when I had a minimum-wage paying job. So I was anxious to avoid another such infraction as I was on month five of my sanction and champing at the Bit-o-Honey to get back to work.

My first Major Infraction was what had got me shipped out of the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. I'd been co-running, as a TA/worker, the closed circuit TV station, KWSP (the Joint Channel), and I thought it'd be cute to, on the evening after we had a Food Strike, play the song "Hunger Strike" by Temple of the Dog (a one album tribute group formed by the members of the amazing Pearl Jam and the awesome Soundgarden) underneath the video the panicked counselors had us film of them that afternoon. The Food Strike had a, scary-to-them, 95% participation (only the diabetics and the oblivious went to the Chow Hall that day). The short, soothing video was of three counselors saying that the rumors about them taking away tobacco and personal clothes simply weren't true (which was true, until it wasn't; we no longer have tobacco or personal clothes).

But I'd stupidly "forgotten," as I looped this three-minute video on the Joint Channel, that besides the 2,500 convicts who watched KWSP, there were also guards who watched too. And even though the song was only on every other playing, and only in the background (well, until the end where I raised the volume while the video faded to black with the "I'm going hungry" chorus blaring), the Goon Squad came forth with a fury.

I immediately admitted the truth: it was moi, all moi.

In front of an anxious Lieutenant with hard little Gobstopper eyeballs, I listened as he told me that, "If any officer is hurt this weekend you'll be taken downtown and charged with assault." And though I calmly told him what he clearly didn't know: that the Food Strike was only a one-day thing, and I didn't make the video until after dinner, he was swallowing none of it. He demanded, "Do you know how long a Superintendent stays at a prison?"

I mumbled, "No."

He gleefully declared, "Six years--and you're gonna see six of them!"

(By the by, I was sanctioned not to an additional threatened 18 years in prison but instead to 10 days in Segregation with a six-month suspended sentence of six months loss of Good Time--which I never lost a day of--and was sent across the state, next to my family, as "punishment," where I soon had a minimum-wage paying job. Oh, and I was told that, "Walla Walla doesn't want you back." Thank you kindly for the "punishment," good sirs.)

But for years, until I had the infraction for "Borrowing, Lending, or Trading" (or, as I like to call it, the Capitalism write-up), only the "Inciting in or Participating in a Group Demonstration" / "Inciting in or Participating in a Hunger Strike" dual write-ups showed up on the computer during my Yearly Custody Reviews.

And it was during my last review prior to the kerfuffle at Christmas, that the pleather-jacketed CUS chewed me out about my "Hunger Strike" (or, dare I say, my Freedom of Speech) write-up of years prior. And when I tried to explain that it was just a joke, he cut me off—

"The DOC does not have a sense of humor."

No shit, I thought.

Months later, still standing at Parade Rest, I was still listening to this same middling manager drone about how wrong my actions were to give away anything. He was careful to break it down in bite-sized pieces for me, saying how it would be wrong even if he "wanted to give a cup of coffee to her, to give it to my Sergeant here," and he thumbed behind him at her, unable to see her roll her eyes in agreement.

As he kept re-explaining his super-subtle point, I kept glancing behind the Sergeant at the evidence lockers, seeing the color poster of all the prescription pills and details and stats about them--they reminded me of the Enemy Aircraft identification cards we had in the Army. From my distance and through my attempt to keep following the assorted samples of hypothetical wrongs laid out by the CUS, even though all the colors and shapes of the illegal pills looked like little candies, I saw no M&Ms, butterscotch, or any other of the candy they'd confiscated.

Eventually he listened to his Sergeant that maybe I did pay for all of these items and the proof was on the missing receipts, as I'd been suggesting. Of course my suggestion was pretty much not the truth--those darn 6 packs of Red Vines and the other 5% of the "evidence" was bought by friends for me in exchange for coffee to get around the weekly item limits (and me stupidly not planning ahead enough).

Strangely, the pleather-jacketed CUS was not concerned with my confessed plans for it all--aside from lecturing me about the evils of giving gifts--merely the items I couldn't prove, then, that I'd bought. Certainly stating my Intent to Deliver on behalf of Santa (though not in those words) would have been enough for a write-up.

Strangely, he listened to his Sergeant who said she'd send off to the commissary for the miraculously missing receipts that could prove my story true. Though I neglected to mention that they'd have to go back to the previous year to find 6 packs of Red Vines. But if I have gleaned anything from my Dad, it's that when you tell a lie, you must commit to it: lie, lie, deny.

Strangely, for once, my Dad was right, because it worked.

Oh, sure, by holding hostage my garbage sacks full of edible goodies the pleathery Grinch cancelled Christmas, but a month later, when I was working again and when the CUS was on vacation, his Sergeant told me to come "get that crap out of [her] office."

And, sure, I was only allowed "whatever you can fit in one box" to haul out of there (leaving two-thirds of it, I'm sure, for her guards), but my "Yes, sir, bought it all, sir" stalling for "proof" worked. It took too long for the receipts to arrive from the commissary, apparently, because I never got the Illegal Gifting write-up.

EPILOGUE (aka "Lessons Learned"):

Now, ten successful Christmas Capers later, I've learned to be a bit more subtle. And plan ahead. And keep receipts. And pass the goodies out only a few at a time (always less than the now-more-strict $5 cut-off amount for a Major Infraction).

I've also learned a bit about human nature doing this. No, it wasn't any chewy epiphany inside of these candy-coated, regurgitated anecdotes about the unthinking enforcement of misapplied rules--I already knew that. I've actually learned that some men simply cannot accept a simple gift--despite my "not necessary" protests; maybe 5% will force on me whatever they scrounge in their room--be it Top Ramen noodles or hygiene items. And I've learned to not buy potential comfort food too early--until this lovely winter, Decembers and impulsively eating my emotions were an expensive combination because depression could tear through and discard self-control as easy as a candy wrapper.

Oh, one other thing I learned: how to make "Death by Chocolate," the perfect Christmas treat. Who knew that a faux-Oreo and milk chocolate concoction could elicit not only request for the recipe, but perhaps the best response ever to any Christmas gift: I was told by an acquaintance and convicted felon, after he asked around to find out where it came from, he said, in all sincerity, "You restored my faith in humanity."

RECIPE (for "Death by Chocolate"):

1.)    Break apart any sort of Oreo-type cookie into a pan (I use an empty case of Top Ramen noodles and line it with clean plastic). No need for "double stuffed" or "candy corn stuffed" Oreos, or anything fancy like that. Just plain Oreos or any generic "duplex" cookie with the two "plain" and "dry" outer layers and the creamy white stuff on the inside. I have a friend (whose recipe this was, but I love it so much I've adopted it as my own), who likes to really just break the cookies all the way up (making a practical powder out of them--and it's good, but it makes more of a fudge-type thing--my recipe is different), I take the cookies and break them up into roughly quarters, leaving, if they stay that way, the two sandwiched parts together. It doesn't matter though--it's a texture choice, not a taste difference. Then you spread the whole package of the cookies (about 20 ounces), broken up, in the bottom of your "pan" (no need to "grease" the pan, though).

2.)    Melt 3-5 (5 ounce) bars of decent quality chocolate (it doesn't have to be super fancy stuff). I prefer to use a double boiler, not a microwave (as it can too easily burn), but I don't have access to a stove. So I put a bowl in rolling boiling water and break up the chocolate in that bowl and let it begin to melt--then stir. It'll take some effort to get it to that creamy consistency, but it's worth it.

3.)    Pour the chocolate all over the cookies, trying as best as possible to cover the cookies during the pouring (you'll save yourself some work later if you do this now). Scrape out as much of that chocolate as you can (oh, by the way, I use Sweet Obsession milk chocolate; but I’m not a fan of dark chocolate--but feel free to experiment), but be sure to lick whatever's left in the bowl; waste not and what not.

4.)    Stir and don't be gentle--you'll want to have the concoction clump together--the chocolate will act like concrete. And all that chocolate will fall in between the cookies (it should really only take a minute or two) and get as much covered as possible. You can use less cookies or more chocolate--but it's going to be, trust me, rich enough as it is, so don't do too much chocolate (that's junk food hangover experience talking here).

5.)    Spread evenly and let cool. I put a big bag of ice in my sink and then wrap the plastic from the inside of the soup box around itself, sort of swaddling this chocolate baby and I put it on the ice bag--then put another ice bag on top of the chocolate cookie concoction and let cool for like 30 minutes. You, however, might want to use that newfangled freezer thing I've heard so much about.

6.)    After it's a solid brick of a mass try to break it up (it ends up being, for me, about 9" x 13" and about 3/4" to 1.5" thick). And this brick of chocolately scrumptiousness will be difficult to break up. I take it, still in plastic, and use my whole body weight to lean into it at the edge of my desk's sharp edge and it breaks into irregular geometric shapes. You, however, might want to use one of those things I've heard about that you might have access to: a knife. I actually think a good WHACK! from a meat cleaver might be best (any stray pieces can be eaten up as the baker's bonus).

7.)    Serve to people and watch them enjoy an orgasm in their mouth (the good kind). And then shock them when you tell them how cheap it is (and easy) to make. I can make a batch in 40 minutes--start to on ice. Be careful, though--it's extremely addicting and once you start eating it, it's hard to stop and if you care at all about dieting or anything like that just skip the whole frickin' thing because, in a batch that I make, which serves 4 to 6 (huge) portions, it's got only like 1100 to 1800 calories per serving. But oh, it is good.

8.)    Once it's done I don't feel a need to refrigerate--it's just chocolate and cookies and unless it's super hot out it's not going to re-melt. Besides, if refrigerated it becomes almost too hard to eat. But I don't like my chocolate frozen or in the fridge, so maybe that's just me.

9.)    Oh, before giving away, be sure that you're not violating any local laws or regulations restricting any and all gifting.

--February 2013

Jeff C.

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