It sounded like a huge ice chunk clanging against metal. He said nothing but you could hear his blood pressure rise.
It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and one of the Food Prep Supervisors, Green Bay Packers, had prepared a pre-emptory holiday meal for the workers. Sausage stuffing made with cornbread that Green Bay had carefully culled from breakfast leftovers and frozen throughout the past year, broccoli and cheese casserole, buttered corn, pumpkin pie. It may sound like holiday de rigueur but, to us, this was like a spread on a ship-board cruise.
And not only was Green Bay treating his workers in Food Prep, he included laundry workers, workers from the prison school, from commissary, the property office, DataCon (the data entry site turned sweatshop), a total of about 100 people. If you’ve ever prepared Thanksgiving dinner for 25, then you know it’s a ton of work and an assload of food. For these one hundred women, Green Bay did four tons of work and had four assloads of food. He was ready to load a four-tier cart and roll the assloads out to the mini-dining hall where he would serve the assloads to us assholes.
But when Green Bay grabbed the cart to pull it in from the hallway, the ice chunk that fell was a broccoli brick, stashed by an inmate after she stole it from the freezer. The usual way a C/O busts a thief is by catching her with the booty on her body so inmates who steal from Food Prep think they employ super stealth when they swipe something and hide it in the hallway for future retrieval.
This asshole thief snatched one of the broccoli bricks from the case opened for the holiday meal and opted for a really shitty spot to hide it: between two carts that Green Bay or another supervisor could and would pull apart at any moment sending the broccoli brick to the floor, making it a crime scene.
If lieutenants just rewound the surveillance cameras with lenses directed at the hallway, we could spot the swindler, she’d be fired and Green Bay and his broccoli and cheese would cool down, but that is entirely too easy. Instead inmates like me have to get all CSI in the hallway, particularly with perishable food: If it’s still cold, no condensation? The heist went down less than twenty minutes before. Cool with condensation? During the current shift. Room temp and bone dry? At least one day, maybe more. Because I have worked there the longest, lead investigator status usually falls to me.
“Chandra, we found cubed chicken/cheese/margarine/roast beef out in one of the recycling bins!”
“Hold on. Don’t touch anything,” I say as I glove up and quickly examine the scene. Bending down I assess the evidence, holding my index and middle finger on it like I’m taking its pulse.
“OK. I’m gonna call it. Time of Theft within the last hour,” I strip off my gloves and announce to grim faces because that means the perp is probably still on the scene and the supervisors are about to disallow coffee, juice and the occasional muffin to us as punishment. No one is that concerned that the bandit remains among us. We’re in prison; the perp is always among us.
But I didn’t have to call the Time of Theft on the broccoli brick. The frost on it looked like matte fuzz and Green Bay knew the robber and the brick walked right past him as he put the finishing flair on the meal. Green Bay was understandably cheesed off.
“The only reason you’re getting to eat this is that I’ve already invited so many people,” he announced.
My parents were once extravagant entertainers during the holiday season and my mother eschewed caterers; she insisted on cooking everything herself. When pre-party anxiety crept up my parents spines and they squabbled, my mother would say the same thing. “I’m only finishing these crab cakes because we have people coming!” The holidays really are the same wherever you go.
“After tomorrow, nobody’s gettin’ nothin’!” Green Bay continued as he rolled his four assloads of food to us. We ate with the commissary and the laundry workers but the food in my mouth tasted metallic and faint. The perp among us had slammed our bosses’ generosity backward and sucked any heartfelt holiday spirit out of the dining hall and into the hallway.
Our supervisors Food Prep are real chefs, artists whom the state supplies with only the lowest quality components (us) and the food ingredients aren’t much better. But year after year they combine us low quality components with special holiday meals. They could be – and have been – executive chefs in upscale establishments but instead they choose to supervise pre-menstrual yet premenopausal, hysterical yet morose, angry yet frightened, unworldly yet manipulative women. They get punched, ripped off, insulted, cried upon, hit up for tampons every hour. It makes them look like gluttons for their own punishment when all they really try to do is relieve ours.
We stayed on punishment until mid-December. No extra coffee. No cheese with our eggs. Until the perp was identified. The lady assigned to the pot sink it was, but the supervisors couldn’t can her because they “lacked objective proof,” a phrase, when translated from correction, that means “no one with a badge saw her but almost every inmate told on her.” They couldn’t prove she took the broccoli brick but they spied her tasting a corner of the roast beef we were slicing for Christmas dinner and pounced on her for stealing that. To me, snacking on one of the meat ends was not a ticketable offense; I had done it many times, even that morning.
“Wait! In the interest of full disclosure, I think I need to tell you that I ate a piece of roast beef, too,” I confessed, hands up like I was caught in a searchlight, to the butchers’ supervisor, Bengals, as he completed Pot Sink’s disciplinary report.
“Yeah, so?” Bengals asked as he signed the ticket. They were looking for anything, a flinch of a fuck-up, barely a breath of transgression to excise Pot Sink from the culinary workforce. The ticket was handed off to lieutenants who would start the process of serving the paper to Pot Sink in her cell.
Right then I learned the single-most important lesson in corrections: even if you got away with something, you’ll never get away with it entirely; your sin will always find you. Even if they never connect your face with the perp on the news who knocked over a liquor store, you’ll get hanged for accidentally bouncing a check. Even if police never connect you with a homicide they’ll bust you for the drugs in your house when children’s services comes to investigate your upstairs neighbor. They busted Pot Sink for broccoli but the charges read “beef.” When successfully fleeing from felonies you will trip over multiple misdemeanors. The only way anyone gets away with anything is not to do it. On Thanksgiving, we should give thanks for our ability to think twice.
“OK. Everything’s back to normal!” Green Bay boomed as the ticket wound its way to the Lieutenants’ office. Coffee pots and sugar packets appeared on cue, like the Thanksgiving thievery never happened.
“I’m cooking for our girls only this year. That’s it.”
“And DataCon,” added Giants.
“No, I’m not. Only our girls.”
“And laundry,” Giants went on.
“How many is that, total?” Green Bay wondered.