It was the end of morning feedup and I was going back to my tier when one of the case managers stepped in front of me as I was headed out the door. He motioned me over to a corner and pulled out my base file which he had tucked under his left arm. He stood there reading my base file as he talked. No eye contact at all, he seemed just fascinated by my paperwork.
"Chaplain needs a working man. You can type?"
"I can type. Eighty words a minute," I said.
"You can read?"
He knows I can read. He's got my base file. He's got my presentence investigation report and he knows I'm an English major. He's talking out of habit because these are the questions he asks every inmate. An institutional robot worker.
"I can read," I said.
"Good. Report to the chaplain's office 0700 tomorrow."
Getting a job was the best news I've had the whole time I've been locked up. Getting a job means extra privileges like housing on the working man's tier or in your own private cell. It means extra time off your sentence and a little money (two dollars a day---a fortune!) in your pocket. It means coming out every day, all day, with something to do other than sitting on your thumbs. A job in the chaplain's office is about as good as it gets too because there's hardly any direct contact with other inmates. Working feedup or cleanup or maintenance or ID means constant inmate contact with all the chances for getting into a fight. In the chaplain's office the worst thing that could happen is getting sent directly to hell if he hears you cuss. I can handle that. Especially knowing that our chaplain cusses a little himself. We call him the Anti-Chaplain.
By the time I got back to the tier I was in a good mood. I knew Puckett was around because I could hear the hoppers cursing as he tore their cells apart:"Yo, you can't touch that, man! That's legal papers!" I saw a kid with a wierd bloody cross tattooed on his forearm take a swing, either at his papers or at Puckett, I couldn't be sure which. Instantly, Puckett put him in a pressure point take-down hold and set him down on the bunk. Puckett hovered over that kid like Godzilla over Bambi. The kid couldn't have been more than sixteen. He looked up at Godzilla and locked eyes with a mixture of defiance and pure cobra evil. Suddenly the size difference didn't seem to matter so much; I just knew I didn't want that kid looking at me like that. Puckett lowered his voice, calm and chilled: "Because you're a kid I give you one chance. One chance. I ain't writin' you up this time. Next time, your ass is mine." He let go and left the cell. As he walked past me Young Dog looked up at me and smiled. I couldn't help myself.
"How ya doing dawg? You working with Puckett here? You got him reading Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner? You got him reading Shakespeare? Dickens? I bet you're a great teacher."
Young Dog dropped down on his butt and started licking his genitals.
"Yeah, that's what I figured," I said. "That's probably what I'd have to do to him to get him to read."
Puckett exploded---laughing. It was a disturbing sight, like seeing Jesse Ventura dressed in a kimono. It just didn't fit.
"Man, you a trip. You always a trip. Come on, Bo." He tugged on the dog's leash and the animal lumbered to his feet. They moved on down the tier.
Bo. Young Dog's name was Bo. Puckett told me the dog's name and he didn't kill me afterward.
Life was good.