The Avenue

Letters from 940

We’ve all seen the movie where the driver falls asleep behind the wheel and the screen goes black only seconds before the loud, very obnoxious air horn of an 18-wheeler echoes through the movie theater and everybody jumps. We’ve all seen that, right?

Well, that’s how I wake up every morning at 5 a.m. I wake up to a loud, blaring, echoing, son-of-a-bitchin’ buzz to the locks of the doors to the cells of the pod in the jail of Rutherford County. This sucks.

“Mornin’, Sunshine,” I say to my celly with sarcasm so thick it nearly makes me choke. But wait, it gets better. Aside from the obvious peace-shattering, blaring, echoing, son-of-a-bitchin’ buzz to the locks of the doors, to the cells, of the pod, to the jail of Rutherford County, would you like to know why I get up that early? I get up that early to eat cold grits, two teaspoons of instant scrambled eggs and two pieces of dry white bread. No sugar, no butter, no jelly, not a damn thing! Did I mention that the grits (as if . . .) were COLD? Quit waiting for the punch line or the verse that rhymes with green eggs and ham, because this storybook breakfast is the real deal. Not even Dr. Seuss could write such a riddle.

Here’s the kicker, I have to get up and eat because that’s roughly 400 of our 1,800-calorie-a-day diet and I cannot afford not to eat.

“Mornin’, Sunshine” my ass, that buzzer is loud.

Now depending on the day, like most inmates, I either go back to bed after breakfast (and I use the term “breakfast” loosely) or I take a shower. See, here at 940, we only get to shower every other day, and if you have testicles, you already know that they are prone to sweat and over a 48-hour period, well . . .

For the sake of not completely boring my readers to death, let me fast-forward the clock until noon, or as I prefer to call it, the hour of famine. This is when, let me clear my throat, ahem, “lunch” takes place. Lunch is somewhat of a mythical concept around 940. A real lunch around here is as likely as the tooth fairy and Lucky Charm guy riding in on a polka-dotted unicorn wearing Dorothy’s glass slippers. This “lunch,” I assure you, is so forlorn that most POWs would have refused it. I have to eat the forsaken three pieces of state-processed cheese sandwiched between two pieces of white bread drizzled with a pack of mayonnaise.

Don’t worry about me, mom. I also have three 2-inch long, quartered carrot sticks, 18 stale, bite-size pretzels and 6 ounces of unsweet tea to wash it all down. Dear Robert Arnold, you are so giving. May we all rejoice in your ominous shadow. CAAAASSSSTTLLLEEEE GRAAAAAAAVE SKULLLLLL!

Post “lunch”: the pod is now awake. My pod consists of 26 two-man cells: 13 on the bottom row, 13 on the top row. Fifty-two inmates is the maximum amount for this particular pod. That may or may not seem like a lot of people, but given the cast list of the usual suspects, critical mass can be ascertained with very little warning. Do you know what it takes to start a 10-man brawl that causes 14 guards to enter a pod full of fighting inmates? A pack of fucking sugar. It is that easy.

Sometimes, immediately following “lunch,” we are allowed out of our two-man tombs for what must be at least 30 minutes. This comes 15 hours after the last time that we were locked down. Also, keep in mind that this possible 30 minutes of heavily confined “freedom” is not guaranteed. Some things that affect the opportunity are the weather conditions outside (though we never go outside, EVER) or other variables of note, such as the height, weight, gender or lack of companionship of the guard in the tower. Then we lock back down into our two-man cells again, assuming that we ever were let out.

After another hour and a half pass by, and with the approval of mother nature and the height, weight and loneliness of the guard on duty, we are again (or possibly for the first time) let out for an hour, perhaps a little more, before briefly locking back down to be served our third, and final, “meal” of the day. It is now 5 p.m. This fine dish could be compared to a lunch that is served in most high schools throughout the country. Quoting Crocodile Dundee, “Well, you can live on it, but it taste like shit.”

We are scheduled to get recess shortly after dinner before locking down again while the nurse brings around the medications. This recess is a crapshoot, 50/50, if you will. The most common excuse we are given for not getting out is, “The nurse is on her way.” Translation: “I don’t feel like doing my job and watching you guys from the tower, so I’m not going to let you out. What I am going to do is sit here and play on my phone.” The nurse shows up an hour later . . . Bada Bing, they got us AGAIN.

So, if we win the crapshoot and manage to get out, it is for roughly 30 minutes before we have to lock down again. That puts the clock somewhere in the neighborhood of 6:30 p.m. When 8:00 rolls around, we are allowed out one final time for the day. This recess, as legend goes, should last from 8:00-9:30 p.m. I have not yet seen that, but 940 folklore says that somewhere in the free world there lives a man who witnessed such happenings. It is more common that we lock down at 9:00 p.m.

In total, we are allowed outside of our two-man cells roughly three of the 24 hours of the day. During these “recreational” hours, we are provided with nothing resembling recreation, unless metal tables bolted to the floor and a single Rubbermaid trashcan classifies as such.

Like shards from a broken hourglass being methodically jammed into my eyeball, these are the days of my life.

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