Weirdo Factor

Feeding time in prison is always accompanied by the dividing up into factions as the line begins to wind its way to the chow hall. The most obvious criteria is the racial barrier, and to a large degree the blacks, whites, and Latinos all do tend to gravitate to their own kind.

However, there is also plenty of racial mixing together, and it is almost entirely accepted. The less obvious but far more important factor to consider is where the weirdos are. There is a lengthy list of less-than-desirables who you don’t want to get stuck beside while trying to eat the already barely stomach-able cuisine. Some guys stink, others talk and spit food, some chew loudly. Aggravations abound to create an atrocious dining experience. It all starts on the walk to chow where you must maneuver as best you can so that you’re surrounded by a decent group of guys.


On this particular occasion I was distracted by a conversation with my buddy Brady who was in line next to me and consequently I miscalculated our proximity to the group of weirdos who all tended to flock toward the front of the line. I preferred leaving a buffer of five to ten people just to be safe, but there was no space at all between myself and them. Once we reached the chow hall the order was set because several lieutenants and sergeants bark at inmates to prohibit them from changing their position in line. There are eight seats to a table, and upon performing a quick count I discerned that I was right on the cusp of disaster. I was side by side with Brady, so I slowed imperceptibly, but just enough to put him in the lead and place him in the last seat with those ahead of us while I would breeze by to a new table. All if fair in love and war. And prison chow time.


We grabbed our trays and headed toward the table, but Brady never slowed as instead he breezed right past the empty seat and headed toward the next table. I was a half-dozen paces behind him, and while his deception had gone unnoticed, the sergeant on duty was paying attention as I tried to sneak by, and I was instructed to fill in the empty seat. As I took my place at the table of misfit toys I shot a withering look at Brady who was grinning wide and guffawing over the misfortune he had fostered upon me.

A Motley Crew

A quick glance at my de facto companions let me know that I was in for a decidedly unique dining experience. Starting at my left and moving clockwise there was Bankie, a bona-fide crack-baby all grown up. He wore a perpetually dazed grin on his face with vacant eyes. He mumbled to himself incessantly, that is, when he wasn’t laughing at whatever he was mumbling about. Bankie put no premium on personal hygiene, so he smelled incredibly ripe. He also had no sense of personal space so he crowded my tray as I tried to eat.

Angie and Hyena were next, the former about six and a half feet tall and stout; the later barely five feet and pushing seventy years old. Where one went the other followed. Angie was big and dumb ala Steinbeck’s Lenny, and Hyena spoke little to no English and talked with a high-pitched amused chortle when he wasn’t whistling an unending, unidentifiable, tuneless tune.

Then came Paprika, and he was the epitome of a dirty white boy. Broke, scheming, two-faced, grimy, thirsty. Beside him was Rosy, and compared to Paprika, Rosy looked downright normal and well-adjusted, although he exhibited many of the same aforementioned dirty white boy attributes. Rosy also talked constantly, usually about cartoons, mostly Japanese anime. Life of the party he was not.

Scraggles looked exactly, and I do mean exactly, like the character Shaggy from the old Scooby Doo cartoon. In fact “Shaggy” would’ve been a much better nickname, but that’s not how it went. Scraggles was a young, dumb, know-it-all who wasn’t even yet old enough to drink legally. He also talked constantly, often complaining, mostly about inconsequential nonsense and trivialities. Lots of macho posturing from a guy slim as a popsicle stick and just as brittle.

Old Man Chevy (pronounced like the car) was the final of the not-to-magnificent seven. He was sitting to my right and creeping up on eighty or death—whatever came first. He wore several layers of clothes, including two hats, nearly year round and carried a musty smell with him wherever he went. Characterizing it as “old man smell” would be an affront to elderly males everywhere. Chevy had concocted and festered an odor all his own. An amalgam of dried sweat, urine, and feces with a hint of soap and a sprinkle of talcum. Then there was me, wishing I could scarf my food and get out immediately.

An Assortment of Annoyances

Angie asked if I was going to eat my Sloppy Joe before my butt had even grazed the seat. After my “yes’, Angie then had to translate Hyena’s broken English and wild gesticulating to ask if I was planning to eat my mixed vegetables. Paprika asked after my Sloppy Joe, then my bread, then my mashed potatoes, and finally my two pats of butter. Rosy wanted my bread. Chevy wanted to know if he could have my orange, he didn’t even bother inquiring if I planned on eating it. I hadn’t yet picked up m utensil to begin eating. Scraggles complained about the mashed potatoes, then the Sloppy Joe, then the bread, then the water, then the plastic spork, then the cracked tray. Bankie chuckled at what I’m assuming was some hilarious observation from one of the voices inside his head. I took a deep breath, let it out in a sigh, and set to the task before me.

Weirdos Galore

I nibbled at my food unenthusiastically and kept a keen eye on the odd eaters all around me. Bankie stared straight ahead, shoveling food into his mouth, chewing mechanically, oblivious to what he left sitting on his bottom lip or dribbling down his chin. Angie stared straight ahead, shoveling food into his mouth, chewing mechanically, not a morsel of food was missed or wasted even between bouts of yammering to Hyena in Spanish. Paprika and Rosy blabbered about cartoon bare-breasted babes between bites while bits of spittle and food flew back and forth between them.

Chevy packaged his food into different little containers and baggies, disappearing each one into his multiple layers of clothes as they become filled. Scraggles only stopped complaining long enough to toss in a comment to Paprika and Rosy’s twisted conversation. I just wanted to eat my terrible food in peace, but with the dual pungent foul fragrances of Bankie on my left and Chevy on my right that was clearly too much to ask. Then Hyena suddenly began screaming in fast-paced Spanish to someone behind me, sending half a mouthful of food splattering across the table right in front of my tray.

Everyone erupted into uproarious laughter except me. I found it to be more revolting than hilarious. Throughout all of this I had maintained a passive, noncommittal look on my face, not wanting to engage with any of the weirdos. However, once the laughs subsided, Scraggles turned to Old Man Chevy and said something that, after all that I had seen, heard and endured was the final straw of stupidity for me.

Momma’s Boy   

“You want my orange?” Scraggles asked Chevy, holding it aloft for him. “What, you don’t like them?” Paprika asked, sticking his nose in business that had nothing whatsoever to do with him. Chevy snatched the fruit and wordlessly stuffed it in his coat pocket before the offer could be rescinded. “No, I like oranges,” Scraggles said. “I just can’t peel them. I don’t know how to peel them. My Mom peels my oranges for me.”

My hand stopped halfway to my mouth with a spoonful of food suspended in mid-air. I was entirely dumbstruck. I did a double, then a triple take at him before finally being unable to control my outburst.


“What? What!? Are you freaking kidding me!?” I waited for a response. “Are you?” Everyone at the table was looking at me as if I were the loony one. The fact is, at the weirdo table, I was the misfit.

I snorted out a sound of derision and disgust before turning my back on the lot of them and leaving my tray picked over but largely uneaten. After about a minute Angie spoke up. “Are you going to eat that?” Paprika tried to lay claim to the bread or Sloppy Joe or both. I stayed out of it and waited impatiently for rescue.

Culture Clash

google_ad_client = “ca-pub-3771513672170817”;
google_ad_slot = “5403921134”;
google_ad_width = 728;
google_ad_height = 90;

“What!? You want me to say ‘please’? I ain’t finna beg you for a damn milk!” Chuckie was a harmless but annoying loudmouth with a big gut and short stature. He was generally little more than an obnoxious nuisance, but in this instance he had managed to grow legitimately intimidating as the fiery ire in his eyes seemed sincere and significant. It wasn’t until this exact moment that I was confronted by the curious concept that the practice of saying “please” was a controversial one.

photo by SOMMAI www.freedigitalphotos.net
photo by SOMMAI

Properly Polite
I have never taken an etiquette class or been formally schooled in the proper manners and protocols for given situations. I have, however, been instilled with a certain amount of sense and courtesy. Unfortunately, neither of those traits is particularly common in prison. Having been raised to mine my P’s and Q’s, I found it bizarre to be taken to task for my upbringing wherein I was taught to say “please” along with all manner of general politeness. Apparently, this was very far removed from the vast majority of the men I was forced to cohabitate with.

Rudely Wakening
Wrenched from slumber only to crowd around the chow table for an early morning breakfast, all eyes were still cemented shut with sleep, and general surly crabbiness was at peak levels. I was staring dazedly at the small circles of dry pancakes that no amount of syrup could penetrate. The gears of my brain were grinding ponderously as I pondered over the puddle of cold grits, wondering what exactly grits were because they’d never been a staple of my childhood, so I had never really encountered them before my stint behind prison walls. Into my reverie, Chuckie butted his unwelcome presence.

“Gimme your milk.” I’d been locked up long enough at this point to know that that’s just how people ask for things, but on this particular occasion, I didn’t feel much like just letting the impolite nature of his words and tone go ignored. Truth be told, I had no intention whatsoever of drinking my milk as I believed it to be the main culprit behind my recent horribly explosive and odorous flatulence. However, Chuckie hadn’t so much asked for it as he had demanded I give it to him, and I didn’t much appreciate it. I uttered the two words that suddenly turned the dull and subdued morning into something far more volatile and exciting.

“Say ‘please.’”

Differing Values
“I ain’t finna beg you for a damn milk!” Chuckie looked like he wanted to throttle me. The fact that his build was similar to that of a Rubbermaid garbage can, or maybe a fire hydrant, made him somewhat less than terrifying, but there was a determined set to his jaw and legitimate rage shining in his eyes. Despite this reality, apparently it was too early for discretion on my part, and I didn’t like being yelled at.

“Beg?” I said, cramming as much incredulity and outrage into that one word as I could possibly manage. “Beg!?” I repeated, raising my volume a half dozen notches past normal, and somehow finding a way to sound even more outraged. “Who said you had to beg? How the hell am I asking you to beg?”

“My daddy told me that a real grown man don’t beg no man, and please is the same as begging.” I couldn’t help but be both surprised and impressed that Chuckie actually managed to sound like an adult human being while referring to his father as “daddy.” I also couldn’t help but wonder what kind of an idiot believes a simple “please” to be tantamount to begging, but I didn’t voice my feelings.

by SOMMAI www.freedigitalphotos.net

Instead I pressed the issue. “How is ‘please’ begging?”

“Because it is,” Chuckie declared definitively. With logic like that it was hard to argue with him, but I tried nonetheless.

“No, it’s not. I’m not saying for you to beg. I’m just saying that you can have some manners and ask me for my milk instead of demanding I give it to you.”

“I’m not gonna beg like some little bitch!” Chuckie yelled. He wasn’t more than an inch from me, chest puffed out and trying to intimidate.

“I’m just saying it’s rude.” I didn’t have anything more to say, but he stood there expectantly like I did. Eventually, it dawned on him that I wasn’t going to speak, so he did.

“So what’s up with that milk?” I looked up at him like he had a dozen heads sprouting from his neck. I snatched the small carton of milk from my tray, opened it, and drained it in two long gulps causing Chuckie to cuss and me and return to his seat.

Side Effects
I suppose I proved my point and learned an invaluable lesson about some of the differences between cultures, but only at a cost. Later that morning, I lay on my rack in the fetal position, farting violently, sporadically, and indiscriminately while caressing my bloated belly as cramps tore through my middle. That day, milk did not do my body good.

google_ad_client = “ca-pub-3771513672170817”;
google_ad_slot = “5403921134”;
google_ad_width = 728;
google_ad_height = 90;


%d bloggers like this: