Thursday, April 2, 2015

Gotta Make 'em Pay! Part Three

By Santonio Murff

To read part two, click here

Everyone in prison surely is not a hustler. Most offenders would prefer to avoid the multitude of headaches and stress that come with hustling. But there are very few; like myself, with a lovely, loyal, incredible blessing of a woman whose financial support puts me above the fray. Makes it unnecessary for me to have to hustle. Makes it possible for me to abide by the rules; neither starving nor stanking, as I pay my debt to society with my eyes on the prize of returning home.

Hustlers basically fall in three main categories in the kitchen. You have your hustlers of necessities like Rodriquez who eats their full, but will only engage in minor thievery to meet their hygenic needs. Rodriquez would only sell two pieces of chicken every week, netting himself four dollars a month. Funds he expended on a deodorant ($2) and toothpaste ($2). Such pleasantries as shampoo, lotion, baby powder weren't entertained. A pint of ice cream--unimagined.

Lil Chris was a frugal hustler. "A dollar a day, keeps a smile on a poor man's face," he was fond of saying. He wasn't much of a thief, and had no patience for the penitentiary politics that went with surviving the hustling game within the kitchen. So he'd help Abracadabra with the bagging of the product, sometimes do both of their jobs as Abracadabra moved the product, and basically assisted however necessary while keeping the scullery running smoothly so that no heat was drawn to it as business was conducted.

For his loyalty and services, Abracadabra paid him with one dollar of product a day. One dollar worth of product that he graciously sold for him, because Lil Chris was no more a salesman than a thief, and had absolutely no tolerance for tardy payment. It had only taken one time of Abracadabra having to rush from the scullery to pry Lil Chris' hands from around a rapidly turning red whiteboys' throat for him to realize it was more conducive to customer service for him to sell Lil Chris' product and collect his $1 for him. "You can't kill off the customers for being one day late, Lil Chris," Flash had chided him later.

"He didn't forget, he was playing them games," Lil Chris was serious about his money. "I bet he won't forget again."

"Naw, because he brang his money with him now!" Abracadabra cracked. "So I guess there's a silver lining even in strangulation." They laughed.

That $1 a day that Lil Chris earned, provided him with the means to not only meet all of his hygenic needs and wants, but the pleasure of being able to roll over and grab a pastry (75¢) and soda (55¢) on occasion. Maybe, catch the weekend movie with a bag of Party Mix ($1.55) that he graciously passes around to friends to get them a handful until it's gone. For sure, it afforded him the funds to pay someone to bring him an ice cream on a hot day, which really cannot be overrated.

Now Abracadabra and Flash were bleed-the-block hustlers! What they did wasn't out of necessity and there was nothing frugal about their hustle or spending. A bleed-the-block hustler is trying to make every dime that he can, every day that he works. Like any other professional, he may take a vacation to enjoy his gains and escape the bustle of making them pay. But, like a workaholic, he can't wait to get back to the grind and see his rewards.

A bleed-the-block hustler will almost certainly be one of the hardest workers in the kitchen, and he'll be in a key position. He'll be the one who'll work any position he's needed at without complaint. He'll come in early and leave late. He'll make himself valuable, if not indispensable to his kitchen Captain, because he knows eventually he will be caught. Eventually, he will need a pardon from his benefactor. And...he'll get it.

The Captain can control the kitchen. He can control the officers beneath him. He can shred their disciplinary cases or order them not to be written. He can protect then his key workers, as long as they keep their transgression within his jurisdiction.You enter that hallway though, trying to take something back to the wing and sell, and you better make damn sure that you don't get caught. Because, you're on your own.

You've entered a whole new world of ranking officers who don't give a damn about your work ethic. All they see is a thief, stealing state property, and having the audacity to try to commute it down the hallway under their watch. In the spirit of Ike, they will take you down--Hard!

We all knew that Abracadabra would fall one day, but no one could've imagined how big a splash he would make. It was a day that would be long talked about on the unit. Reputations were ruined. Heroes were made. And, Abracadabra rose to heights of glory with the gloriously impassioned plea he laid before the administration. In short, he made us all proud.

***          ***          ***

On The Stringfellow unit, it came once a month. On some units, never. A discharge day the only day more looked forward to by some. Fried chicken day! Pure pandemonium!

Extra officers were assigned to strategic positions throughout the chowhall to control the madness. All stereotypical assertions were laid to rest as all races jockeyed equally for an extra piece or two of that southern fried barnyard pimp. The going price was $1, but even Rodriquez would part with the pimp on that day.

Abracadabra had waxed poetically about why he steered clear of the fried fowl. "A $1 is a $1," he said calmly. "So why join the chaotic fray of amateurs and idiots on chicken day; with extra officers, being extra attentive, assigned to extra posts throughout the kitchen?"

"I'ma let them fools chase that chicken money," he chuckled wryly. "I'ma get a sack of peanut butter, a couple of onions, or a loaf of bread even--that no one's watching or concerned about...and make that same dollar!" He'd laughed.

"Bro, you're a genius," Flash laughed.

"And, that's why I'm the Boss!" Abracadabra crowed as Flash's laughter dried up abruptly.

We all laughed then. They were quite a pair.

***          ***          ***

How ironic that Abracadabra's fall would come about by the breaking of his own cardinal rule. How fitting for one of such noble character (to those within his fold) that he'd take that fall for the love of his brother, his P.I.C., Flash.

"My birthday on Fried chicken day!" Flash had bellowed when the week's menu was revealed. Fireworks were guaranteed. The talk of a mega-celebration started in the chow-hall and carried on to the wing.

"We're gonna do it so big," Abracadabra jumped up on the steel bench in front of the television, "Soo big! That chickens around the nation are gonna raise their feathers in protest!" Cheers went up and Abracadabra would've undoubtedly continued if the officer hadn't shot a commanding finger at him and then to the floor. He jumped down, shooting his own finger to the officer's back as he turned away.

"Gave him his bird early," Flash cracked too much laughter.

After much boasting of the birthday bash to come and even more laughter, Abracadabra dropped the coup de grace to sew them down in the history books of The Stringfellow unit. They were gonna pull the coup of all kitchen coups--AND CHARGE NOTHING for their booty! Chicken and french fries would be spread upon all of the four dayroom tables with everyone invited to partake in the festivities.

Victor Mims, a notorious hustler from Houston, Texas, and a baker agreed to contribute three pans of oatmeal bars, leaving it to Abracadabra and Flash to get them back. He spurred Martinez to volunteer his services, "lf ya'll supply the sugar, I'll make the hooch (liquor).” Fresh cheers went up, drawing a scowl from the officer manning the dayroom. No one paid him any attention. Caught up in the celebration to come there was smiles all around. By the time the dayroom was racked up for the night, deals had been cut, plans made. It was set in stone: It was going down on Fried Chicken Friday!

The wing was bubbling with anticipation when that fateful day came. All was set. No one knew how they'd do it. The odds were against them. Too many officers. Too many eyes. Yet, if anybody could do it, Abracadabra could pull it off--All agreed. Prayers went up, even as palates watered. More than one offender was heard singing the old Betty Wright single, "Tonight is the night..."

It was time to mak'em pay in a major way, but sometimes it's not the State of Texas who pays…

***          ***          ***

Abracadabra's success lie not only in his shrewd intellect, but in his networking skills. He'd know that there was no way possible that him and Flash would be able to snatch the chicken from right beneath the hyper-alert officers' mess, let alone cook enough french fries to feed the masses once the fresh patrolling morning shift came on. We have a saying in prison, "Stay ahead of the game." That's exactly what him and Flash did. They stayed ahead of the game, and the amateurs, idiots, and sharp-eyed officers who'd be coming in at 6 a.m.

Everything had gone like clockwork. The plans had come together beautifully. The two P.I.C.s had risen for breakfast at 3 a.m. Instead of returning to their cells after eating, they'd reported to work four hours early. Abracadabra quickly dipping to the vegetable vault to grab the potatoes he'd stashed, and Flash heading into the office to smooth everything over with Sgt. Hernandez.

"You know, today my birthday, Sarge," he extended his offender I.D. for verification. "I don’t want to spend it all in the kitchen. You know how long and crazy chicken day is."

Hernandez nodded and waited. He wasn't much of a talker. He worked the midnight shift, and merely wanted to complete his paperwork and clock out. He was happy he didn't have to deal with the lunch rush, and hoped that his co-workers wouldn't be late, postponing his departure.

"So, if it's alright with you, I'm going to go ahead and prep everything, get all ready so that as soon as shift change me and my co-workers can gone get to it, get it done, and get out of here."

"Okay," Hernandez said simply. "But, don't you cook anything until the next shift get here. I don't want chicken bones all over the kitchen. We're finna clean up and get out of here."

Flash smiled, "I gotcha, Sarge. Thanks."

By the time he arrived at the scullery to deliver the good news, Abracadabra was already finished dicing up the dozens of potatoes to be fried for the celebration. "I knew he wouldn't care. He just want to go home. He won't be coming out of that office until his paperwork is done. Is the O.D.R. door still open?"

"Yep!" Flash smiled. Hernandez always left the door closed, but unlocked, because he didn't want to be bothered by offenders needing to use the restroom or anything else while tending to his paperwork.

Abracadabra matched Flash's smile, and added a wink. "Then let's mak'em pay, Bro!"

***          ***          ***

Big Shawn was the key to their plan. They knew Hernandez would not allow them to turn the fryers on, but O.D.R. kept a grill and fryer on for officers' request to be met.

"Ya'll want me to cook 60 pieces of fried chicken and all of them french fries?"

"We want you to be a hero!" Abracadabra had roared.

Big Shawn had thrown up a huge palm. "Don't even try it. I like ya'll so I'll do it for only $5!"

Bishop had quickly agreed. Coaching Shawn into only dropping six piece at a time so if an officer did stumble across him, he could easily explain that he was making him and his co-workers a couple of pieces, because they wouldn't be returning for chow after getting off at shift change. An often occurrence. Abracadabra shot like a bolt of lightning to the O.D.R. with the french fries after Flash gave him the nod that the coast was clear.

"Do these first, and I'ma get them on out of here," he deposited the two deep pans of chopped potatoes in front of Big Shawn.

Flash had indeed prepped the meat. The meat for his party. Abracadabra assumed the position and nodded to him the all clear. Flash shot in the O.D.R. with the two pans. Big Shawn secreted them on a bottom shelf of a condiments rack and slid a top over them. "Remember, just send them out, double wrapped, at the bottom of the trash can. We'll take it from there."

Big Shawn scowled. "My brain is as big as my body."

Flash just looked at him like that made not a bit of sense.

"I'm not stupid," he amended. "I got ya'll. Now get out of here, drawing heat."

By 5:30 a.m., Big Shawn had cooked off the bird, seasoned and turned the potatoes into a golden crisp. Abracadabra had deposited the fries in three long bread sacks and flattened them out. He'd strategically placed the three flat sacks beneath the elastic back-brace that he'd had made in the garment factory for just such a mission. With his t-shirt and state shirt on, you could see not a bulge.

He was not stopped or questioned as he blended in with the pillcall traffic to commute the fries back to the wing. Two thirds of the mission was accomplished when he deposited the still warm potatoes at Playboy Pete's cell to be held with the oatmeal bars that Victor Mims had baked off for them the day before. All was left to do was navigate the barnyard pimp home, and the festivities could begin as soon as Flash got off. He kicked back and waited for work call.

***          ***          ***

Abracadabra had pulled off the impossible. He had not a bulge nor a hair out of place. Ms. Andrews had opened the gate to let the next shot of chow out. The four officers in the chowhall watched every offender for any suspect behavior. Lieutenant Bassinger stood sentry by the scullery window to make sure that nothing was passed. No one paid any attention to Abracadabra as he blended in with the departing offenders to head back to his wing.

"Stop him! He stealing all the chicken," came a hysterical cry.

Flash appeared from nowhere to wrap a hand around a struggling Billy's mouth. To his credit Abracadabra didn't look back. He made a desperate dash for the door. Unfortunately Bassinger beat him to it. Locking it quickly to contain a riot if one ensued. Officers rushed Flash as he attempted to drag Billy back. "Just joking guys," he released Billy as they converged.

"He's got chicken all over him!" Billy pointed Abracadabra out, as offenders' bodies and voices rose in outrage.

Abracadabra leapt upon a table stool. "Ya'll calm down. It's not that serious. To get mad at him is to be angry at a dogs barking--It's his nature."

Bassinger quickly ushered Abracadabra, Flash, and Billy to the back of the chowhall. Flash was permitted to disappear to his duties. Billy let it be known that he wanted to be placed in protective custody and shipped off the unit. He was taken away. And, then before the kitchen staff and Bassinger, Abracadabra was stripped naked.

When he took off the back-brace and three bags of strategically placed chicken quarters were unveiled the "oohs and ahhs" rose from all. But when he dropped his pants, and another 30 pieces were discovered in some too little long john pants he’d squeezed into, officer Ike went to cursing, "Damn thief! Let me gas him." Ike reached for his gas, Lopez waved him away.

"You gone dis time," Chop Chop assured, heading away.

Captain Lopez could only shake his head. "You know you wrong," Bassinger scolded.

Abracadabra's solemn expression when he turned to Bassinger was rooted in the knowledge that he knew he was gone. "I'm wrong?" He shook his head. "I'm wrong for wanting to bring a tidal wave of joy to an otherwise dreary place? I'm wrong for wanting to bring unity to a world of disunity? I wasn't making a penny off of that chicken. I took these chances; I make this sacrifice for the love of my brothers in white."

"That’s my Bro, man!" Flash cried with equal passion. Then darted off when Lopez scowled.

"Tonight! Black, white, Mexican, and others were to sit down to feast, and to laugh together in camaraderie. And, I can't see how that's wrong..." He gave a loud sniff.

"No, we aren't wrong," he rose proudly, chest and chin out. "This system is wrong for forcing us to labor long hours for no wages or be placed in "the hole" indefinitely. For providing us no way to meet even our most basic hygienic needs."

"You tell'em, Bro!" Somebody screamed, sounding remarkable like Flash, from an unseen position.

"Look at my shoes, Lt.!" He waved his foot. "I have a hole at the toe. These aren't my work shoes, these are my only shoes!" He cried. "Do you think I want to walk around with meat in my socks, cheese in my drawls? I, we, have no choice!"

"I feel your pain," Bassinger said with not a bit of conviction. "Now, turn around and put your hands behind your back." The traitor Ho-pez laughed as she cuffed him and took him away. Flash appeared to give him a sharp salute, and many others lined up to follow suit.

With the proud thrust of his chin and dry eyes, Abracadabra made a final declaration, "Ya'll boys stay true to the mission now, ya hear. Mak'em pay, mak'em pay, mak'em pay."

***          ***          ***

The 300 pound immigrant Juan Rodriquez was placed in the scullery, because he'd let it be known, he couldn't hustle. "I get fired, I'll starve to death!"

Billy was shipped to parts unknown. Abracadabra was written a disciplinary case for theft of State property that mysteriously disappeared; however, his job was changed to laundry. Lopez assured him that he'd be given his job back after a few months, but for the moment he had to make him pay!

The end.

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


Margaret Bogenrief said...

I love love love your writing! Rest assured someone is reading in Chicago with interest and outrage. Thank you for your talent.

Barbara Grant said...

This writing is great, getting ready to read the other parts.