Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Santa’s Toilet
By Armando Macías

Thump, thump, thump.  I feel the punches drive into my body as I lie on the ground. Psssspsssss…. The long blast of pepper spray delivers a wet burning sensation onto my face, in my nose, in my mouth to burn my lungs, forcing me to cough, snot to freely run out of my nose, my eyes seared shut.

I felt that knee drive into my back as the metal handcuffs trapped my hands behind my back in a tight icy grip.

I know this is the critical part of it all.  I could easily panic and suffocate from the loss of air as others have done so this sort of mantra enters my mind: “Relax, Relax.  It’s “only” the body’s reaction to the pepper spray and weight of the men on top of me.”

I’m jerked up by my cuffed hands, which bear the full weight of my body, causing pain to drive a spike into my shoulders.

Two deputies half drag, half walk me down hallways to a cold cell where I blindly feel my way to the sink to wash off my face, pepper sprays reactivated with water – not a fun process.

Later, some militant looking deputies enter the cell, read me my rights – spit the same questions you’d expect and have seen on T.V.  I invoked my “right to remain silent” because anything I say can and will be used against me.

Twenty-four long hours later I’m put in waist and leg chains, moved from cell to cell, dressed up in a white plastic one-piece outfit, boarded onto a huge, windowless bus in a tiny cage with a bunch of other people.  Naturally it’s loud with all sorts of conversations.  “What the hell is going on?” I think as I hear people talk about family, friends, drugs, their sorrows and committing offenses.  Some worry, some don’t.

We arrive at another jail.  I’m shuffled off to different cold concrete cells with one-foot wide benches along the walls for 24 hours.  It’s called “processing.” Finally I get a shower with a man staring at me, then I’m issued one pair of boxer shorts, one t-shirt and one pair of socks with a jumpsuit and shoes.  Off I go to the hole where a lieutenant visits, finds me guilty in a nonchalant voice for assault with a deadly weapon.  He gives me a lot of hole (solitary confinement) time.  Time begins now. The past week in the hole didn’t count.

Isolation is isolation.  Solid metal door, one foot by one foot bullet proof window in the middle with a metal door on the outside of that window, you stay in those cold cells alone.  Toilet/sink/bed are your company, with cold air blowing as conversation.

The days are monotonous, dead in every way.  My dreams hold more excitement than reality.  Yet I survive.  Every day’s the same; all melt into each other.  After a very looooong month I’m asleep and a deputy appears, yells and kicks the door, saying, “Macias, roll it up.  You’re out of here.”  I ask: “What’s today?”  He says, “December 24th.  Roll it up.”

Two hours later I’m escorted in waist and leg chains through the hallways up to a module, unchained, then told which cell to go to.  It’s late, yet everyone is awake and talking.  When I enter my cell, I hear a voice through the vent on the back wall.  All air vents connect, and I know it’s one of my neighbors calling.  I recognize the voice.  It’s my co-defendant.  “My Kid,” as I affectionately think of the young man from my hometown.  It’s a good night now.  I feel a rare and elusive emotion – joy.  It’ll be a good Christmas for once. I find my sparsely used voice strange as I conversate, It feels strange to be around so many people talking.  Such a change from isolation, where the cold air conditioner was the only sign of life.

My little buddy introduces me to the other men on the vent.  After a man tells me: “Feliz Navidad.  ¿Quieres hablar con una ruca? (translation: Merry Christmas, do you want to talk to a woman? “Ruca” is slang for “woman,” similar to the term “broad”). Naturally, I say, “Si (yes of course!)”  I’m thinking a pen pal or someone who’ll visit or talk to me on the phone. Instead, he tells me, “Take the water out of your toilet,” and explains that women are housed on the floor right above us.  He has a relationship with a girl upstairs and will hook me up.  So I agree.  At this point I have no idea who this guy is anymore. I don’t remember which voice belongs to which name.  I’m reluctant to believe him so I return to conversating with The Kid after clearing the water out of the toilet.  Half hour passes and nameless calls, and, in an embarrassed voice, explains the girls above me don’t wanna start a romance and ain’t seeking a hook-up.  It’s obvious this has become a matter of fulfilling his word. I explain, “I’m not seeking love.  I’m in jail.  If you can set it up, good, if not, not, gracias (thank you) for trying.”  Off he goes on his personal quest to save face.

About fifteen minutes later, I hear something every man in jail who appreciates women desires to hear; a woman’s voice inside his cell.  A very sweet “hello, hello” flows out of the toilet.  I jump down from the top bunk by the vent to respond.  “Q-vole.  Feliz Navidad.  Who is this?”  “Dopey,” the oh so female voice responds.  She explains that she and her cellie only are talking out of curiosity because the nameless guy yelled at his girl. They are wondering who I am.  Of course, I laugh.  

Just some hours ago I was asleep with no expectations or idea I’d have a nice Christmas around men, let alone hear a woman’s voice.

Her cellie, Lupe, reluctantly gets on the toilet-phone after I inquire about her.  Right away I sense the amusement in her angelic, friendly voice.  Maybe it’s the awkwardness of meeting a man in a women’s jail through a toilet that causes her to laugh.  But I quickly see she’s an inviting, charming, respectful woman, with a dignity that I find alluring.  Her laugh is full of joy and contagious.  It seems like this is a Merry Christmas.  Santa made a chimney out of a toilet and gave me the best gift of all; fond memories of Dopey and a true friend in Lupe.

Christmas 2013.  Now I’m on Death Row.  The period of us being able to talk to the women didn’t last long, yet it was a gift.  Today is another Christmas day in the hole with no excitement or joy, so I travel down memory lane and find a very Merry Christmas there.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Armando Macias AI4624
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin CA, 94974

Just Because 
By Louis Perez

Hello to all of you out there…Happy Holidays to you all…I hope and pray that your turkey is roasted just perfect and that your mashed potatoes aren’t “lumpy”…HAHAHA!!

Well, the Holidays are here and that means…FOOD…!!! My God…isn’t that great…??? All you can eat, huh??!!  Well…for us back here…it’s still pretty special…but only if we make it that way.  In all my years growing up, I was like another kid out there, outside playing football, baseball, all that stuff. BUT, I always knew when my mother, grandmother, sisters, aunts were all inside cooking, so I always made it a point to go inside to investigate just what was going on in there.  In doing this all those years I pretty much picked up all of what they were doing.  These women could (and still can) make a meal out of anything…which reminds me of two words my mother would always tell us: “JUST BECAUSE”…!!  Just because you don’t have everything you want to cook with, it is not a reason for you not to make something tasty!!  My mother could get an onion, a potato, a carrot, and a piece of celery and make a soup that is out of this world! I have two brothers and two sisters and they all are WONDERFUL cooks!!! And even now, all our kids can cook pretty damn good too.  To this day my family still has a “Tamalada”.  Shoot, I don’t even know if that is a word! “TAMALADA…or TAMALETA..?? But it’s when our whole family gets together to make tamales.  My brothers are hunters and always bring in deer and wild hogs, so we could mix all the meats together along with pork roast and beef roast.  WOW!! GOOD STUFF!! Well, I’m sure that all of you are asking yourselves: “Why is this guy talking about cooking?”  Well, I’ll tell you…

I still love to cook, even from behind these walls.  I still enjoy my meals as best I can and with all the things I’ve learned from the women in my family, I’ve put those things to good use.  I know that some of you will laugh at some of these recipes, but I gotta tell you, they are pretty good.

I was taught really early to share, even if it’s your last, you offer.  So I just can’t eat alone.  I always offer or at least ask if they want to add something into what I’m making at one time.  I make enchiladas, tacos, mole, tamales, caldos (which are really good during the winter time)…and even now it’s much better because we are now allowed to buy some new spices that the commissary sells: Powder garlic, powdered onions, dried flake onions…and let me tell you something: I use the hell out of them! HAHAHA!  And like my mom would say…”Just because,” I have had to come up with recipes with what I have at hand.  First of all, I am a very blessed man.  My family supports me, and has been doing so for over fifteen years.  I would be NOTHING if it weren’t for them.  I buy things from our store here and I want to share a couple of recipes with you if that’s o.k.

It’s soooo relaxing when I make Tamales because it’s like I’m at home with everybody, plus, it smells DAMN good in my cell. HAHAHA! The commissary store sells a few types of packaged meats (spam, chicken chunks, beef tips, Mexican beef and now that it’s the holiday season, we can now buy summer sausages). These are what I use for the filling of my tamales.  I also use diced-up jalapeños.  All these pouches of meats are processed foods and are really, really salty so there’s never any need for salt, but it’s where I use my seasonings.  I mix meats a lot, but not always.  Once I have the meats I want to use, I mix them all up, smash them up like into a paste and set aside.  Now I make my masa.  We don’t have access to Corn Husks, so what I used to wrap the tamales in are sour wrappers.  I get whoever is going to eat with me to save their sour wrappers and send them to me.  I make my masa with tortilla chips and a handful of corn chips for the grease.  I use three seasonings from the chili soups along with the garlic and black pepper.  I put all those seasonings into a cup, add hot water to them so that they will dissolve.  I crunch up all the chips, add those to my bowl, pour the seasoned water over my chips and add like another 2 – 3 cups of hot water.  Then I start smashing the chips into dough.  Masa! With all of this I can make almost two dozen tamales.  They are surprisingly good!

One of the things my Mom used to make for me a lot was “mole” and it is really simple to make…. even in here!  Once a month we have baked chicken and I’ll get someone to send me his.  My mom made her mole with peanut butter.  I know that out there people use chocolate or that pre-made mole ball. But my mom used peanut butter.  She would boil her chicken, and when it was done, in a cast iron skillet she would melt a big ole spoonful of peanut butter.  She would then add her spices: chili powder, garlic, cominos, salt-n-pepper.  Once it was good and melted together, she would then pour into the pan 3 cups of the boiled chicken water.  MY GOODNESS!  The smell that would come up off out of the pan is something that NEVER left my mind.  But once that mole would start to thicken, my mom would then lay in all those boiled chicken parts.  She allowed that to simmer for like 30 minutes on low heat and there you are…the BEST chicken mole in the world!!!

WOW! I can’t believe that I have just been talking to ya’ll about commissary.  My sister Delia just sent me a care package. (We are allowed to receive care packages once every third month of the year, and Delia just sent me one with some wonderful meats and snacks.  Mil gracias, Delia, ya sabes, eh? Te amo con todo mi corazón!!)

Well, my gosh…I could go on and on about these things, but I don’t want to bore all of you to death (HAHAHA! No pun intended! HAHAHA!)  But I really do wish all of you out there a very merry holiday season.  Please, when you sit down to eat, just think about all the love that was put into that meal, AND HUG THE COOK!  GOD BLESS YOU ALL…HAPPY THANKSGIVING AND MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Big Lou

Louis with his sister Delia

Louis Perez 999328
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351


Lisa Schlosser said...

Louis, I Love You and you inspire me always with your positive attitude, love and the gracious way you deal day to day with your situation. Your sister Delia is a saint and I Love Her and her loyalty to her family is unwavering. You are always in my prayers and I can't wait to see you again some day My Friend.

Love You Always,

Lisa S. xoxoxoxoxoxoxo

A Friend said...

The following comment is from Louis Perez:

Lisa!! It's me... your Hawaiian Teddy Bear! My goodness...where are you? Write to me, okay? I don't have an address for you. I love you too. Hawaiian Bear Hugs!!! Love Lou