March of the Convicts

When people think of the things they could lose when they go to prison, after your freedom, the big-ticket items are the first to come to mind. In no particular order it’s: the wife, the house, and the car, usually with the wife driving it. Also, each of us has a slightly different list of toys that goes bye-bye.

What no one thinks about is the little things, minuscule segments of your life you never give a second thought to, like opening a fridge when you’re not hungry  or just to see the light go on. Using a toilet bowl with a seat, even though you refuse to put it back down. Taking a shower when you want, or at least before the hot spots start smelling like a well-stocked pork store; or – the foundation of this very story – being able to use a phone.

The first time I heard one ring after twelve years it scared the crap out of me. Answering it after so long was actually uncomfortable. I felt like one of Jerry’s kids as his mother intently watched to see if I could complete this newly assigned task. “Come on, pick it up, now say hello.” Then a loving, “your so smart,” before I got a pat on my back.

The reality of it is, aside from having to use one every two months for a phone count, I never hear or ever think about picking up a ringing phone. Let alone dialing one. Instead, I have to use one of eight pay phones in the sand-encrusted, element-exposed yard. You might think this is not so big a deal, and it isn’t, except there are eight phones and two hundred and twenty inmates in a cellblock.