Eight Days in Prison

By on Jan 13, 2019 in Essays, Featured

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Concert for Change flyer in different negative colors

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Hello again. It’s still Wednesday. I just got back from the gym. As soon as I got to sleep a while ago, they clicked my door and called my name over the intercom: “Chittick! Go to the gym!” I had to break down the stage and music equipment and put it all away, me my drummer and another guy.  We were the only three inmates out in the whole prison except the maintenance guys, who are helping the civilian contractors fix the water main. Oh, and the dietary workers, of course. We gotta eat, even if it does suck… and it does.

They’re going to reschedule our concert for next Wednesday, the 21st. We’ll get another rehearsal Monday, soundcheck on Tuesday, then showtime Wednesday.

They shut off the water throughout the whole prison while I was at the gym. It’ll be off till tomorrow sometime. There’s already a toilet of piss in my cell, thanks to my celly. Can’t flush. I’ve got a plastic trash bag around it, sealed off with a rubber band. I saw this coming. It’s not the first time I’ve had to deal with a no-water scenario. You learn a few tricks over the years. I filled a couple plastic jugs of drinking water this morning before they shut the water off. It should get me through the next twenty-four hours if I’m careful. I can already hear a few idiots out on the gallery, banging on their doors, yelling, “Hey! You have to bring us water! You can’t do this!” Yeah, okay. I’ve been around long enough to know that “they” can do whatever they damn-well please, because “we” aren’t real people to them.

Lunch was passable, I’ll admit. Pulled chicken, corn and rice. The rice was overcooked again, dammit. I’ve been a cook in prison. They boil the rice in these huge kettles, 80 gallons, I think they can hold. Anyway, when you do a batch of rice in one of those things you have to drain it, then rinse it with cold water while stirring the kettle with a huge paddle. It’s a two-person operation. Otherwise, the rice continues cooking in the middle until it turns into a thick, paste-like blob, which is how it turned out today because, number one, it was done by cooks who don’t know what they’re doing; and two, they were being supervised by staff who doesn’t give a damn. We did get brownies for dessert, though, a rare treat. It made up for the rice. Sloppy Joe for dinner tonight, which in here means chunks of undercooked soy meat with tomato paste. Gag me.

I think I’ll only do the journal for a week. Maybe I’ll call it “Seven Days in Prison.” I’m not sure how much I’ll revise it. It’s a journal, so I want to keep the stream-of-consciousness vibe intact, but there’s a lot of errors. I’ll probably restrict my revisions to grammatical and typographical errors only. I’ll leave the prose pretty much alone. Even the parts that make me wince.

I first got into writing when I was behind the wall. I turned to it as a form of therapy and a creative outlet in lieu of music, which they don’t allow in the max joints. Mostly fiction. I like the similarities between music and writing. Each has a certain rhythm and flow, pulse, whatever. With both, if it’s done well, the work lives. Breathes. I’ve had limited success with my writing. My last accomplishment was placing second in an essay contest sponsored by Illinois University, in their periodical “Stateville Speaks.” This was 2014, I think. My essay, “Stemming the Tide: How Can Society Reduce Soaring Incarceration Rates?” got beat by a female writer who won first place. Yeah… I got beat by a girl.

 

DAY FIVE

It’s Thursday, September 15, 2016. Four-forty in the afternoon. I went back to work today. They turned the water back on last night. Didn’t even have to go a whole twenty-four hours without it. Last night, before the water got turned back on, everyone was doing their best not to piss in their cells. Can’t flush, remember? Well, there’s four toilets out on the deck, two downstairs and two upstairs, next to the showers. When they electronically unlocked our doors for dayroom time last night, there was a stampede for the deck toilets. Long lines formed. I was fifteen or twenty guys back. Man, by the time I got up there to take a whiz… whew. That smell could’ve knocked a buzzard off a manure wagon in July. The liquid inside the toilet was a bright, unnatural yellow. Almost fluorescent. So, so bad. Even worse than the five-gallon bucket they make you use on the transfer bus. Everyone was happy when they turned the agua back on.

Like I said yesterday, the concert is rescheduled for next week. The Latinos aren’t happy about it. We’re already two weeks into Hispanic Heritage Month. The Latino musicians showed up today, all like, “No Neek (Nick), ess hour turn now. You time ess over. This band go away now.”

I’m like, “We can’t help it that a water pipe broke. Our concert is next week. What, do you think we’re just supposed to say, ‘Fuck it’? Just blow off our concert after all the time and work we put in?”

They go, “Yes, egg-sackly, ess too bad for you, but you time ess gone. Ess hour turn for the band room now.”  Yes, right. Long story short, the Latinos are waiting until next week. They’re pissed, but they’ll get over it. Hopefully, I won’t get stabbed over it; Latinos are known for cutting people. A stereotype, I know, but stereotypes are for a reason.

Work was okay. It was my second-to-last day. Tomorrow is it. I’ve been a clerk in the counselor’s offices for nearly three years, as I believe I’ve mentioned. Thanks to a new policy aimed at reducing staff-inmate familiarity, prisoners are only allowed to hold a job assignment for six months. It’s like, “You’ve been doing a great job, haven’t done anything stupid to get yourself in trouble. You’re really starting to learn your functions now, so FUCK YOU, YOU’RE FIRED!” At least that’s how it feels. It’s based on something that happened in the New York Department of Corrections with those two dudes who escaped. They had inside help or something like that.

I’m going to miss working for the counselors, if you want to know the truth. They’ve always treated me like a person. They look me in the eye when they talk to me. My boss, the head counselor, used to be a C.O. back in the day. He’s the kind of guy where, if he had a problem with an inmate, he’d take off his badge and key belt and tell whoever to step into the laundry room. And, win or lose, he’d keep it off the books, although I doubt he ever lost many. He’s 6’5″ and 300 pounds plus. I wouldn’t mess with him unless I had a pistol on me. Put it that way.

You know, one thing about working in the counselors’ offices is that you have to be, well… not a creep. There are females. The gals in the office feel safe around me, and they most definitely are. But there are a lot of tree-jumpers (a term applied to a man who climbs a tree next to a sidewalk, then waits for an unsuspecting female to stroll by, whereupon he jumps out of the tree onto her) in here. Used to be the creepos would keep their heads down and stay off the grid. These days, though, they’re bold as hell. Walk around with their chins high, chests poked out, all like, “Yeah, I finger-bang kids, what of it?” They practically host Dance Moms and Toddlers and Tiaras viewing parties in each other’s cells. Scumbags.

There I go again, off on another rant. Stay focused! I start my new job Monday working in caustics. That’s the storage area where they keep all the cleaning chemicals: bleach, Simple Green, Germaquat, et cetera. It’ll be my responsibility to distribute caustics every day in the prescribed quantities to all the cellhouses and other locations like the Health Care Unit, Chow Hall and whatnot. It’s going to demand a bit more of my time than the job I currently have, but I’ll still have time for the band room. If not, I wouldn’t accept the job. The only thing is that I have to relocate to Housing Unit Two, because that’s where the caustics worker is supposed to live. Whatever. It’s still prison, doesn’t matter what cellhouse you’re in. That’s what I keep telling myself. I’ve lived in Housing Unit Three for more than five years, and I’m as comfortable here as anyone can be in prison. Nothing lasts forever, though.

At least I know who my new celly is going to be. This is important. In prison, if you have no peace anywhere in the camp, you have to have the right cellmate. It’s different for everyone, but for me the right cellmate is someone who’s clean, number one, preferably a person who has all their own electronics, has their own money so they’re not begging from you all the time. And someone who doesn’t engage in homosexual activity. Not that I’m judging anyone’s lifestyle, mind you. I just don’t want the drama that goes along with that in my space, and even though I’m tolerant of other people’s orientations (whatever they might be) that doesn’t mean I want a front-row seat to it. Basically, a good celly for me is someone who’s been locked up a while who knows how to do their time. It doesn’t sound like much to ask for, does it? You’d be surprised. For us prisoners, your cell has to be an island of tranquility in this raging sea of chaos. It has to be. I’ve learned that much over the years.

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About

Nicholas Chittick is a writer and musician who lives in Danville, Illinois, where he now teaches music theory. He plans to relocate in 2027. Maybe sooner, with a little luck. You can find more of his work at PrisonsFoundation.org.