I had a friend from out of town come and stay with us recently for a few weeks. The kids love having an “auntie” around, and I am always welcoming of any additional female conversation. Sometimes men just don’t get it, and having a woman who knows exactly what you mean without having to say a word is nothing short of a comfort.
I immensely enjoyed her visit – but there was only one problem. She didn’t want to go anywhere. I mean not even to the drug store to buy her own feminine products.
“Hey Sue!” I’d say. “You wanna come with me and the kids to the zoo today?”
“No,” she’d reply with a yawn. “I’ll just stay home today.”
If it was really sunny outside I’d say:
“Hey Sue! You wanna go for a walk today? It’s going be 70* and beautiful!”
“No,” Sue would say stretching. “But I’ll watch the kids for you. You enjoy yourself!”
Over the course of a few days, this began to worry me. Was I so boring that my friend didn’t want to hang out with me at all? Was my company so abhorrent that I couldn’t tear her away from one episode of Family Feud? Finally, I asked her about it, as gently as I could.
“Heh! Why don’t you ever want to hang out with me, eh?” I pressured. “I’ve never seen anyone want to sit in the house as much as you!”
“Well, if you ask my mum, she would tell you that I’ve always been this way. I’m just a home body!”
With that explanation, I dropped the pursuit of any further clarification. I knew I was a pleasure to spend the day with! But how could she do it? How could she sit in the house day in and out, without even venturing out to see the sun? That would literally drive me mad. I am not suited to sit in the house. In fact, I am only happy when I am OUT of the house. That got me to thinking – how would someone like me fare in prison? Hmmmm…..
**** Lights fading out – New scene*******
The orange prison jump suit was itchy against my skin. The texture of the fabric told the who story – the gals in the laundry room were not using fabric softener. A little Bounty would go a long way in making my sentence slightly more bearable.
I had only been in federal prison for three days, and it hadn’t been going so well. Federal prison used to be a place where gentlefolk did their penance, but now that the US government had legislated the possession and trafficking of a certain amount of drugs as a felony, all manner of people filled these cells. I mean seriously, how is anyone supposed to make a living by possessing a few mere ounces of marijuana? Of course they would need a pound or more to make a profit!
Back to the story.
As I lay looking up at the eggshell white ceiling, I silently reflected on how I’d come to be in the penitentiary. There was a study being conducted to determine how college educated Black women would fare in prison. The study would track the participants’ activity over the course of 2 weeks, and in return any remaining student debt would be forgiven. I signed up right away. After paying on my student loans for 15 consecutive years and only managing to pay off the interest, I was glad to have a chance to have that weight lifted from my shoulders. 2 weeks of scientific study for a lifetime free of the shackles of Direct Loans seemed like a no brainer. I’d think of it as a ‘vacation’ and I was certain I could complete this task with ease. But when the heavy metal doors of my cell clanked behind me on my first night, I wasn’t so sure. It was like a madhouse here.
A loud and jarring alarm startled me out of my thoughts. It was lunch time.
A prison warden yelled for us to line up and turn left. We were then shepherded to the lunch room, which was nothing more than rectangular room with row after row of rectangular tables. The walls and floor were the same shade of grey which was fortunate, because the treys that we carried our food on were grey as well. It was pleasant to have everything so matchy-matchy.
One of my tasks as “the subject” was to interact with as many of the inmates as possible. I knew that telling them why I was locked would only seal my doom, so I decided to come up with something non-threating but awe-inspiring nonetheless. During one of our yard breaks, I told them I had held up a hospital in order to get a heart transplant for my daughter.
“Wait a minute. Didn’t that happen on that movie?” asked one tattooed female. (It would be erroneous to call her a woman. There was nothing feminine about her pierced eyelid and bulging biceps.)
“Huh?” I said, shaken a bit.
“Yeah!” confirmed another prisoner. “That one movie with Denzel.”
“You mean John Q?” I offered.
Crap. They HAD seen it. I thought the numbers for that movie were really poor. I had to think fast.
“Well,” I said with my most charming laugh, “you know what they say about life imitating art!”
I smiled winningly. My fellow inmates were not so won over.
“Naw nigga. What they say about that?”
“Well, you know…that…Look! I did it, they wrote a book about it, then the movie came out! All that sh*t? That was ME.”
I thumped my chest for dramatic effect. The inmates looked me over and then walked away laughing. I had failed. Somehow, I HAD to get into their confidence! I had 40 years of potential debt riding on it!
Once all the inmates were seated, I looked around the lunch room in an effort to identify the least sinister group of women. I zeroed in on some Latinas. Their gelled hair glistened in the fluorescent lightening. Latinos and Blacks mix well together. Isn’t that what a Puerto Rican is?
“Good afternoon ladies! Do you mind if I dine with you today?”
“I said ‘I would like to join you for lunch’.” I set my tray down between a 480 lbs Mexican and her counterpart that was only a fourth of her size. The table looked stunned as I picked at my sandwich.
“Baloney again, huh guys?” I laughed. “I wonder if we’ll ever get some linguini in here…maybe even tacos one day. I bet you’d like that!”
That’s when the fat one hit me.
A flurry of words in Spanish followed, and I assumed the group was hailing insults on me. I couldn’t be sure, because I was using my trey to block the slender woman’s fists which were aimed with alarming precision at my temples.
The guards rushed over to pull me from the melee. They whisked me into the kitchen. They were the only ones who were privy to my reason for being in the pen.
“Look, Malaka,” said Travis, a 20 year veteran. “I’ve seen a lot of people come and go through here, and I’ve never seen anyone screw up as much as you. You’re just not suited for this life. You’re just not a criminal.”
“Travis, please,” I pleaded. “If you send me out of here, I WILL be in prison! I’ll continue to be a slave to the federal government. They have been raping my paycheck for years!”
“Well at the rate you’re going, you’re going to get raped tonight!” barked Travis.
The thought of the oily Mexican woman noodling me made me shudder. I ceased my protest.
“Look. Get yourself cleaned up and go back to your cell. A guard will come for you after lights out. We’ll tell the prisoners you died.”
“I feel like I died,” I said mournfully. “I have failed. This was my one shot at a life that was not plagued by debt.”
Travis looked me in the eye and smiled. Then he slapped me.
“That was to bring you back to your senses. Git outta here. Go back into the world. And try not to come back. You’re not suited for prison.”
*****Scene ends – Lights come back on*****
And this folks is why I’m a law abiding citizen. I wouldn’t last two weeks in prison. There are many things that people are not suited for. What about you? War? Bungee jumping? Street sweeping???
I have my coffee. I’ll wait to hear from you.