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.
For the majority of you that have never met me, I have an enormous tattoo of an eerie jail scene covering my entire back. From one shoulder to the next it reads, “Only The Strong Survive” which unfortunately – for the better part of my prison existence – was my creed and I lived it to the fullest. Needless to say I didn’t wait in many phone lines.
Now I’m much older, and after having a revelation in which I vowed to live more humbly, I patiently. That includes even in the dead of winter when the temperature routinely drops into the minus digits in these mountains.
I stand there and do the pee-pee dance without needing to shed a drop. My beard – which I grow out for just this reason freezes like an arctic explorer’s. By the time I get on the fucking phone, I’m actually pissed off someone cares enough to be waiting for my call, As if no one cared, frostbite wouldn’t be setting into my extremities. Here is where my patience gets tested – while I wait my turn (hopefully next to someone I can have a decent frozen conversation with) without fail, there are always several idiots that didn’t have an epiphany and decide to cut the line.
To make matters worse, as if to test my humility, I could smash these people’s skulls and not even be winded when I was finished. This would give me ample time to make a call before they came to take me away. So, when it happens, I look away to give my pride a chance to reboot and just pretend it never happened.
During one such instance I turned only to see my friend Matthew chewing a hole through his bottom lip while making a face as though he’s struggling to pass a ten-pound turd out his five-pound Irish ass. As the smoke billows from the top of my friend’s head (which is now redder then his homemade mittens) I try to convince myself that’s what happens to bald people in the winter; even if he is wearing a wool hat and a hoodie.
I can feel Lucifer tapping on my shoulder and calling me a bitch. How could I stand there while this happens? How could I stand there and do nothing? My feet start to move towards my target, when I realize why I was in line in the first place. Along with knowing someone cares enough to wait for my call, I desperately want to hear if there is any news from my attorney even though I know it’s too soon. So I have no choice but to walk in circles with my friend like the penguins on PBS. To break the tension, I pretend to have an egg carefully tucked between my feet.
In the end, Lucifer lost his battle. His request went unanswered. My decision to live more righteously was still intact. I can laugh with my friend – head still steaming – who is also walking like he has an egg between his boots.
Now, I just have to look skyward and pray that my comfortable wife has a cell phone signal.