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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Gotta Make 'em Pay! Part Two

By Santonio Murff

To read Part One, click here

It was an exceptionally hot day in mid-July when Abracadabra came moseying by like a cowboy who'd been riding the range too long. I was talking to Captain Lopez about a job in the O.D.R. (Officers Dining Room), which he assured me that I wasn't getting. O.D.R. food taste drastically better than prison food. Most of the offenders who prepare the officers' dishes have obtained their degrees in culinary arts. Officers usually quickly develop a respectful rapport with them, because they have to trust them with their food and beverages on a daily basis.

"Bishop! Brang it here!" Captain Lopez bellowed over my shoulder to a quickly disappearing Abracadabra. "Don't make me chase ya, Bishop!"

Abracadabra had sped up his pace the moment he heard his name. Hearing it a second time, caused him to pause. Sgt. Ike turning the corner in front of him ended all contemplations. He turned back to Captain Lopez, quickly making his way over to him. Chop-Chop strolled up to see why the Captain was yelling. "Hey, Man!" Bishop extended a hand as if to shake and Chop-Chop laughed. Officers and offenders were strictly forbidden from having any physical contact with each other.

"I ain't ya man!" Captain Lopez was no nonsense. "And, why you walking like somebody been tampering with ya backside back there," he nodded towards Abracadabra's butt.

Abracadabra shrugged good-naturedly, lifting his hands palms-up like he had no choice but to tell the truth. "Well, Captain, because I got a wedge of cheese jammed up my ass."

I burst out laughing and headed away.

"My God, what he say?" Chop-Chop was lost.

"What?!" Even Captain Lopez was taken back by that one.

"It's just twenty slices, Captain, to get me some toothpaste," Abracadabra smiled his snaggled tooth charm, "I gotta take care the few I got left."

"You got cheese in yo' butt?" Chop-Chop was still lost. "Who da hell eat dat?"

They laughed as she walked away shaking her head and mumbling, "Cheese in da butt.”

"Captain, ya know I love ya," Bishop hung his head as Lopez turned stern eyes and skeptic lips on him. "I come in on my off days, work late, and cover for others whenever and wherever ya need me, but now I'm at your mercy. I can dig, up-in-my-buttock," he worked his humor, "and give you this cheese, and you write me up, take my job, have to find someone else who willing to risk a heatstroke every day for ya by going in that furnace of a scullery...or we can just forget this ever happened."

Sometimes a situation is beyond words. This proved just such a situation. What's understood need not be said is a popular saying in prison. Captain Lopez knew exactly what Bishop was saying. Was twenty pieces of cheese worth losing one of your best and most dependable workers? Was it worth trying to find someone else who could be depended on to work the scullery with competence and without complaint? He needed not answer the questions.

So he didn't. He turned without a word and walked away to the Officer's Dining Room. Later, when he called Bishop to his office it was only to remind him that he owed him one. The cheese got sold. The scullery flowed smoothly. And, Chop-Chop learned about the "tuck-game," where offenders double wrap contraband like cheese in two bread bags and tuck it high up the inside of their thighs, snug against their testicles, so even if stripped naked the contraband will remain concealed from frontal view.

Everyone left the kitchen happy.

***          ***          ***

"You ain't nothing but a half-breed charlatan," Billy was red in the face with anger.

"I'm a fraud and you're a fool," Abracadabra laughed. "That's why you lost your hundred dollar bill and ya pan of oatmeal bars."

Billy took a timid step like he may attack, Abracadabra tilted his head like "do you really want to do that". Billy reconsidered, turned on his heels, and left the scullery with a final warning. "You're gonna get yours one day."

Billy and Abracadabra had a long history of dislike for each other. Billy was actually at the heart of his nickname "Abracadabra" sticking. Billy had come back from a visit, a year prior, bragging to anyone who'd listen about the hundred dollar bill that he'd smuggled back. All he wanted for the bill was five packs of Bugler cigarettes (FYI: In Texas, where all tobacco products have been removed from prisons, an offender can make more than four hundred dollars worth of commissary off five packs of Buglers.)

The minute he heard him, Abracadabra said, "Look at that cluck chirping to get plucked." He bought ten cigarettes from a friend at a discount of 10 for $8. (They normally go for $1 to 1.50 apiece according to the unit.) Then he struck up a quick friendship with Billy, assuring him that he could get him 7 packs for his hundred. The free cigarettes that Abracadabra plowed him with facilitated the friendship and easy trust that sprouted between them.

"I appreciate that, Bro, but it's got to be C.O.D. I'm not putting my money in anyone's hands," Billy was no fool. He knew if a story of lost came back instead of his packs, there would be little his 150, rail-thin frame could do about it.

"That's the only way I operate, Bro. I got my own cash. My boy breaks me off 8 for a hundred so I usually give 6 for a hundred and keep the two, but you're good People, so I’ma give you the seven.” Billy was all smiles at Abracadabra's words.

Nine cigarettes, a bunch of laughs, and only 72 hours later, Billy would've trusted the six feet, muscular, jokester with his life. So when Bishop amused the dayroom with his mystical magical powers, swearing that he could hypnotize people and make cash money disappear, Billy was all laughs just like everybody else. Only Playboy Pete was skeptical to the point of anger.

Him and Bishop got into a heated argument that resulted in Bishop yelling for Pete to bet something then. They ended up betting $20 in commissary. What had started out as fun and games, had turned serious in the blink of an eye, as too oft was the case in prison. Tempers flared, challenges were made, and fist usually flew. Bishop's face was still a heated scowl when he turned to Billy and said, “Let me see that yard. We're gonna eat good tonight...on this chump."

They'd eaten together the last three nights so Billy didn't hesitate. He knew Bishop had some kind of trick up his sleeve to fleece Pete of the $20 and he wanted to play his part for his partner. He kicked off his tennis shoe, dug in the sole and handed the yard (hundred dollar bill) over.

Bishop smiled. Pete smiled. I think, at that point, everyone in the dayroom watching knew that Billy had got taken. Yet, the show went on. Bishop expertly folded the hundred dollar bill in half long ways. Then with a demonstrative flipping of his wrist, folded it again, and yet again. "You see it!" He held it before Pete's eyes until he nodded.

"Now you see it, now you don't," he closed his fist around the bill with it before the eyes of dozens in the dayroom, bounced the fist over to Billy's lips and asked him to blow into the side of the fist. Billy blew and he turned his fist over so everyone could see that it was empty. "And you never will again," he finished with a laugh.

Everybody laughed, including Billy. He still hadn't caught on.

"I owe you twenty dollars, homie. You really made it disappear."

There was more laughter and discussion about Bishop's feat, before somebody posed the question, "When you gonna make it reappear?"

Bishop looked shocked at the question. "What?"

"Make my money come back!" Billy spoke up.

"Oh, I never learned that," Bishop walked away. "I can make it disappear, but I can't bring it back."

The dayroom erupted in hooting laughter. Billy looked crestfallen. "Quit playing, Bro. Give me back my money."

In short, Billy never got his money back. He could find no one willing to do anything to Bishop for him and he didn't have the heart to try and do anything himself. Bishop did indeed get eight packs for the hundred. He broke Playboy Pete off for the role he'd played in the plucking of the cluck, and even chunked Billy a pack for no hard feelings. Billy took it and kept his hard feelings to himself. I don't know who started calling Bishop "Abracadabra" after that, but due to the oft telling and the humor of the story, the nickname stuck.

Everyone began calling him that; everyone that is, but Billy.

And, now Abracadabra had plucked the cluck again, unleashing the suppressed hard feelings. "He wouldn't bless my right hand man so I had to get him," Abracadabra had explained.

Billy is a baker. The bakery is one of the most coveted positions in the kitchen, because sweets are going to sell--FAST! Billy's specialty is oatmeal bars. A simple, but delicious concoction consisting of 10 cups of flour, 10 cups of brown sugar, and ten cups of oatmeal with a sprinkle of baking powder and a stick and a half of boiling butter. You merely mix the ingredients, pack it down in a pan, bake it on 375 for 15-20 minutes, cover it with an icing made from sugar and "Walla!" you’re $20 richer.

Flash loved the delicious treats and wanted Billy to sell him a whole pan for half price. Billy flatly refused. Enter Abracadabra. "Give me $5 and I'ma give you the pan," he'd said. Money exchanged hands that day.

The next day, when count time was called and all offenders filed out to the chowhall to be counted, Abracadabra was in the restroom. The bakers went out and he went in. He calmly entered the bakery, went to the back, top racks, where he knew they kept their stash and relieved them of a still warm bake pan of oatmeal bars. He deposited the whole pan in the bottom compartment of the dishwashing machine, then turned it on high so the machine would be hot to the touch.

Once assuring himself that the goods were secure and not getting damaged by any leaks, he joined the other offenders for counts.

After counts, Billy quickly discovered the missing pan and first assumed that Captain Lopez had found it and discarded it or taken it to O.D.R. for the officers as he'd done before. He played such games, allowing the offenders to fret and threaten each other before summoning the bakery workers into his office to issue his own threats of termination for their thievery.

Abracadabra called it "double stealing," a form of poetic justice. "He stole it from the State and I stole it from him."

It was the next day, after Flash had sold half the pan to other offenders on his wing, and feasted on the rest of the delicious pastries with friends after a lavish spread (communal meal prepared with commissary items) that Billy had determined through an unnamed source that Bishop was the one who had stolen his sweets. He'd come barging into the scullery with his allegations and gotten something that he didn't expect: The truth.

"Yeah, I gott'em and we enjoyed them. And, if you don't get up out of here, right now, we're going to come together; black, white, and Mexican, and kick the holy hell out of ya." The scullery erupted in laughter at Billy's shocked expression. He'd obviously expected denials.

He said what he had to say, issued his warning, and quickly departed.

"Is d'ere no honor among thieves?" Martinez, the one who sprayed the trays clean before sending them through the machine to be sanitized queried.

"Not nary a tadbit!" Abracadabra cried and everybody laughed.

Another day in the kitchen. Another day of making them pay.

***          ***          ***

Sgt. Washington is a raven-haired exotic beauty with some astounding curves on her petite frame. A middle-aged military brat who'd seen and heard it all in her travels and more than a decade in the system, she has a warm understanding nature, but does her job with a calm competence and efficiency. Due to her undeniable sexual appeal, offenders confided any smidgeon of gossip from around the unit to her for a moment of her attention...and maybe a smile. Nothing went down in the kitchen that she couldn't get the scoop on.

So when Billy passed by her and discreetly whispered the question, "What's wrong with Bishop's arm?" She knew exactly what he was doing: dry snitching. And, she knew exactly why: the oatmeal bars. She gave a chuckle without even looking his way, and headed off, stepping in front of Bishop before he could turn the corner to the scullery area. "Just give it to me, Bishop," she extended a manicured caramel hand.

"I'd love nothing more than to Give-It-To-Youuu," Abracadabra's roaming eyes and the smirk upon his lips left no doubt to his meaning. "Unfortunately, I don't have time right now--"

"Don't play with me," Sgt. Washington warned.

"What? I don't have nothing," Abracadabra lied smoothly.

Sgt. Washington gave him that twisted lip, arched brow of skepticism African American women perfected. "Do a jumping jack."

Abracadabra did a one-armed jumping jack that made them both smile and offenders looking on laugh out loud. Had luck been on his side, all would've ended amicably with him turning over the goods and Sgt. Washington returning them where they belonged without much fanfare. But at that moment, Sgt. Ike turned the corner into them.

"What he steal now!" Ike didn't give an offender a chance. "Hand it ova, Bishop! NOW!"

Abracadabra knew that Ike would only get louder and more theatrical. The man would turn a loud fart into a threat to national security. He didn't play any games with Ike, he let the bag of punch fall from his armpit, reached under his shirt and handed it over. Ike's eyes expanded like saucers as his mouth formed a dramatic "O" of wonderment as if he wasn't well aware that offenders’ armpits were a common area that they secured and commuted contraband.

Chop-Chop walked up to look from Ike's face to Bishop's to the bag of juice. "Chees up da butt, punch up da pits--dis place is crazee," she continued on.

"Should've given it to me," Sgt. Washington shrugged and followed in Chop-Chop's tracks.

"Come with me, thief!" Sgt. Ike grabbed a firm purchase on Bishop's bicep and marched him to the Captain's office.

Bishop pulled his arm away, "I can walk."

Ike jerked out his pepperspray, "You try to run--I blind you! And, take you down--Hard!"

The looking on offenders laughed. Abracadabra just dropped his head with a shake of dismissal. Ike was comical, but a true Robocop (strictly by-the-book officer). The key to longevity in the kitchen wasn't not hustling, it was not getting caught hustling. The Captain knew what went on, even gave his tacit okay. As long as his hard workers didn't get greedy, chow flowed smoothly, and no heat was brought to him forcing his hand he could overlook the petty hustling.

Ike didn't understand such penitentiary politics and wasn't overlooking anything. He could quote the rule book word for word and enforced it to the letter. So there was no smile on Abracadabra's face when he stepped into the Captain's office with Ike on his heels. He crumbled to his knees, threw his hands to the heavens and cried, "I have sinned!" His passion was heartfelt enough to get a half grin from Lopez.

Ike slammed the bag of punch down on the Captain's desk like exhibit 1. "I catch him trying to steal!" He patted under his armpits twice like trying to put out fire. "Tried to hide from me--HERE!" He patted again.

Captain Lopez breathed a hearty sigh. He tossed the bag of punch to Ike. "Put that back where it belong." He dismissed a crestfallen Ike. Ike had expected fireworks, a "Good job!" talk of a disciplinary case, something. "Good job, Sergeant!" Captain Lopez brightened his whole world as he headed out with a firm nod of acceptance.

"Get up, Bishop," he ordered. Abracadabra rose. "Twice in one week? You need to chill out for a while, find a new profession, or tighten up, because you know what that third strike means." What's understood need not be said, but sometimes it's said anyway. "You're out!" Captain Lopez left no room for misunderstandings.

"Yes, Sir. Appreciate it." Abracadabra headed out...with a smile. He didn't like getting caught. It was bad for business. But, as long as he didn't get a case, he felt as if he'd won. "Got to be more careful," he chastized himself as he headed back to work. He would send the 10 breakfast sandwiches back to the wing to be sold at 50¢ apiece. He couldn't risk drawing any more heat to himself or the scullery today.

Flash stopped him on the way to the scullery. "I moved the breakfast sandwiches, Bro. I figured Ike would go shake down the scullery. Somebody snitchin'! Man, he went straight to that compartment in the machine where we keep everything."

Abracadabra's eyes slitted as he looked around the back of the kitchen area. If he could’ve seen Billy's smirking mug then he wouldn't have known the source of his bad luck, but Billy was sequestered in the bakery so he just nodded his acceptance of that fact.

"I put the sandwiches in the size 13 boots in the top left corner," Flash informed him. "What Ho-pez talking about? He let you make it?"

"Yeah, I'm good. I gotta chill though. I'ma just send them sandwiches on to the wing to be sold since I already gott'em." He started towards the boot room.

"I gotcha. I'll send'em back for ya. You stay out the way for a couple of days. I need my right-hand man to complete the mission." Flash halted him with a hand to his shoulder.

"Make 'em pay, Boss?" Abracadabra played along, glad he didn't have to move the sandwiches.

"Make 'em pay, like Ho-pez weigh!" They both headed off with laughter and a commitment to the mission.

***          ***          ***

No hustle is expected to last forever in the penitentiary. There are too many variables that you can't control. Too many eyes that will always spy the slick moves you make. Too many lips that will whisper what they've spied. Too many snitches, haters, robocops, and competitors--all vying to knock you out of the mix.

The kitchen's allure lies in its abundance of booty for sure; but more so in its blessing to the palate. Who don't like a delicious meal? Who can't appreciate a position which enables them to eat to their full? (Most of the time.) Working in the kitchen, you're no longer restricted to the sparse druel stingily doled out to the unit of offenders. You can purchase, barter, beg, or steal the almost daily treats made in the bakery, cheese-burgers from the cook floor, breakfast sandwiches from the O.D.R., peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cold cuts from the johnny makers' table. The possibilities are really endless. Only limited to the hustler's ambition and culinary skills.

Cellphones, narcotics, tobacco products--there are an assortment of precarious penitentiary hustles that are much more lucrative than the kitchen, but even those daredevils for dollars must turn to the kitchen for their pleasuring of the palate. As surely as everyone must eat to live; they must expend their funds, contributing to the kitchen hustle to eat good. In prisons, where pleasures are severely restricted, a great meal is only topped by masturbation as most offenders favorite pastime.

To truly understand these realisms, is to understand why Abracadabra was back upon his soapbox. Is to understand and truly feel his sermon.

***          ***          ***

The scullery was hot! In temperature yes, but also "hot" as in the slang for under extra scrutiny by the authorities. Still, Abracadabra had a full house as he stood upon the upturned milk crate and cried. "Willie D. told ya back in '94! You gotta let a hoe be a hoe!"

Martinez, Flash, Lil Chris, and I all laughed, familiar with the Ghetto Boys' song, and knowing exactly who he was speaking of. Word had gotten out and around, as it always did in prison, that Billy was snitching. Nothing had been proved, but it didn't have to be in prison. All it had to do was make sense to the shotcallers. Billy had already been accosted by a couple of nefarious characters who informed him in no uncertain terms that if he got in their business, if they even thought that he'd gotten in their business, he be finding out what that oven looked and felt like from the inside…while it was on--High!

"I'm not mad at Billy! And, ya'll shouldn't be either. To be angry or upset is to have expected more out of him." Abracadabra continued, pouring sweat.

"Preach on, Brother! You ain't said nothing wrong!" Flash laughed.

"He need some steel between his ribs," Martinez didn't smile. Lil Chris nodded.

"Nooo!" Abracadabra cried in mock despair. "We're hustlaz, not killaz. Besides, if we killed off all the Billys, what the bootie bandits gonna do?"

Everybody burst out laughing, dispelling the dark cloud that tried to move in.

"What's so funny?" Officer Andrews had strolled up to the outside grate unannounced. About five feet, thick, with braids, and full luscious lips she was so cool Abracadabra didn't even change his spiel.

"We talking about these hoes, Drew!"

"Well, you got a lot to talk about," she laughed.

"I call'em authority prostitutes! Pro-sti-tutes!" Abracadabra stamp his feet on the edge of the crate for emphasis. "They snitch on us to ya'll, Drew. They snitch on ya'll to the sergeants. They snitch on the sergeants to the Captain. And, will snitch on him to the warden. Authority prostitutes."

"You know them," Drew headed off with a chuckle.

"They want to make us out to be the bad guys, Flash," Abracadabra jumped down.

"Um-huh," Flash nodded his agreeance.

"But all we're doing is serving our fellow man...cakes, cheese, punch, spices, and whatever the hell else isn't bolted down!" He slapped hands with Flash, as his co-workers laughed. "We're the ones who enable the unit to burp with glee, and poot with pleasure! Weee, put the smile on the fat man's face." They all laughed as he threw his hands to the heavens with the drawl.

"You're my best worker," Flash snuck in.

"It ain't no easy thang being no Boss," Abracadabra shot back. "Surrounded by serpents, backstabbers, robocops, and Billys. But, I walk this treacherous walk to put a whole lot of joy in some sorrowful hearts...and quite a few snacks, sodas, and viddles in my locker."

"A small reasonable fee," Flash stepped to him with a nod. "It's the American way!”

"And, we're patriots through and through!" Abracadabra threw his arms wide.

"I love you, Bro!" Flash embraced him.

"I love you, Man!" Abracadabra hugged him fiercely and Chris hooted with laughter.

"Homes, you two vatos, crazy for real!" Martinez made his exit with a chuckle.

"We’re no more than what the system has made us." 

"Brothers in the struggle," Flash finished for him.

"Brothers in the struggle to not starve or stank," Abracadabra amended.

"And, Aaaamen!" Lil Chris ended the sermon, and got them all to work.

***          ***          ***

To read Part Three click here

Santonio Murff 00773394
French M. Robertson unit
12071 FM 3522
Abilene, TX 79601


1 comment:

Barbara Grant said...

The antics of the characters had me laughing, each person portrayed was consistence with the personality formed for them.