Monday, June 25, 2007


I was working in the Anti-Chaplain's office when the ruckus broke out. Father Joseph (as he was known by the new intakes) immediately went to the door to check out the problem. I stayed put, working on the latest daily stack of 75 inmate emergency phone call requests. A lot of them were duplicates, including one inmate who put in repeated requests to call home about a dead grandmother who was confirmed as alive and working at a local Walmart. Nevertheless, by prison policy we are required to investigate and respond to each request. This time instead of calling the local hospital I called Walmart. The store manager promised to get in touch with grannie and tell her to call me back.

As I was waiting for the call back Eddie came in to pick up the trash. Technically this violated the "no friends in the office, ever" rule but since Eddie was assigned to work cleanup the rule didn't really apply to him.

"You hear the hopper go off?"

"Yeah," I said, reaching into my pocket to pull out three one dollar bills. "That's all I've got on me. If you want stamps I can give you stamps."

Eddie grinned, "I'll take stamps. Told you he wouldn't make 36 hours. He came in 28 hours ago."

"Like you should talk," I said. Eddie had perfected the art of defensive camouflage, like the moths with the big eye spots who avoid being eaten by birds because they look like predators. He was tall with long wild hair and a lot of bad prison tattooes. Everybody thought he was White Supremacy because he was from Texas. In fact he was more Southern Baptist than White Supremacist. Once when we were both in maximum I saw him jump from the top of an eight foot painting ladder to get in the face of some guy who had walked by and made a comment about his hair. Eddie was in this guy's face instantly, screaming: "You trying to start something? You want it? You got it! Do it! Here! Now! Do it!" I knew that Eddie wasn't going to fight and Eddie knew that Eddie wasn't going to fight, but the other inmate didn't. His eyes got big and he backed away. Eddie went back to painting. He could turn it off and on at will, and that impressed the heck out of me. When he came to me for help with his sentence modification I filled out all the paperwork for him and made sure it got filed. In return he kept the gangs off me. When you're a naive young white boy doing your first bit in a maximum security facility it helps to have a mean-looking friend. We transferred in to CCCF together.

Eddie picked up the waste basket and started to dump it into his bin. "Whoa!" he said, and reached into the trash. He pulled out a small grey field mouse with tiny oil-drop black eyes. The mouse was quivering as he dangled it by the tail.

"Not here, Eddie. Please don't stomp it here. The chaplain didn't specifically mention a 'do not stomp mice in the office, ever' rule but I'm sure there is one," I said.

"Not to worry, buddy. This one's getting duct-taped to the back of the AW's chair," he said.

"Oh Eddie, please," I said. "Please, you really really gotta think about that." I knew very well that the average time span for Eddie between an idea and an action was the space of about ten seconds. For him, 'thinking about it' meant maybe a twenty second delay. Any prank involving an assistant warden required at least that much thought. Much of my friendship with Eddie over the years has involved me pleading with him not to act on his irresistible impulses. He routinely ignores me. I have to admit though it's kind of fun to have a friend who actually does all the stuff I don't have the guts to do.

"Naw," he said. "It's gotta happen. I was working back there yesterday and I heard the AW tell Warden Price that ZZ Top was crap. ZZ Top is the best band in the world." He dangled the mouse over the chaplain's desk until just the front paws touched. The mouse walked handstands across the Holy Scripture.

Just then the Anti-Chaplain came back. The mouse vanished instantly. I swear I was watching Eddie constantly but I still have no clue how he palmed the mouse. I had seen him palm things before, usually small bits of sharpened metal that he produced magically in front of the new intakes, but I had never seen him do wildlife.

"Can you believe it?" the Anti-Chaplain groused, "I swear there must not be any juveniles walking the streets of Charm City at all anymore. I think we collected them all. You know that saying 'What Would Jesus Do'? Well I'll tell you what Jesus would do. He'd drop them all in a well and leave them there until they turn thirty, then he'd let them out only on the condition that they leave the country until they turn forty. That's what Jesus would do. If He could change water into wine he's gotta be able to make something out of the piss that comes dribbling into this place."

Eddie and I made eye contact and shared an identical thought: "This man is responsible for our souls."

1 comment:

Emy L. Nosti said...

75 requests? How big is this prison? Can't remember if you said.