You might not think it, but election night here in prison is a festive occasion. Each group, clique, gang, or religious organization has their own way of doing things, but most involve some form of prison “cook up” (meal prepared using blackmarket vegetables, meats, and cheeses; and rice, chips, or ramen noodles ordered from our commissary), possibly a soda or two (our unit has a soda machine), and lots of laughter and good-natured arguing.
Here at Thumb Correctional, my unit has four TV rooms, and every one of them is packed to pandemic-capacity levels. We convicts sit around eating and jeffing (convict speak for talking shit) as the polls begin to close and the vote counts start trickling in.
Those not eating food wear cheap, paper-thin masks which the oh-so-generous State has provided at no cost. Some wear thicker masks they’ve crafted from cut-up jogging pants or re-sewn handkerchiefs. All do their best to stand or sit six feet apart, though that’s not always possible.
Luckily (or unluckily) for us here at Thumb Correctional, the “Rona Monster” has already chewed its evil, sinister way through our ranks, strewing several dead and many Covid “long haulers” in its wake. (I’m a Long Hauler. I still suffer side effects 8 months later.)
My buddies and I have chosen to sit in the TV room closest to our cells (the cells where all the prison dog trainers for “Paws With a Cause” live), simply because it’s the one we most often hang out in. I’m not eating, and I don’t drink soda because it costs so much, but I’m having a great time. As a writer, I love times like these. Times where I can sit back and study humanity for future use in my writing. I ease back and relax as much as possible in my ergonomically incorrect plastic lawn chair and listen, soaking everything in. The smells. The smiles. The conversations. Plus, like everyone else, I like to talk a little shit.
As for me, I can’t stand the way Donald Trump acts, and I’m no fan of Joe Biden’s 1994 Crime Bill which kicked off the “Lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key” era here in Michigan, so I have no horse in this race. Which means I can get some jabs in on both sides.
“Oh shit,” I say to Dirt (an African American convict who supports Joe Biden simply because he finds Kamala Harris attractive), as Wolf Blitzer reports Trump’s early leads in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. “Looks like your boy’s about to lose.”
“Fuck you,” Dirt grumbles. He’s one of those people who like to rock back and forth when stressed, so he’s rocking like crazy. He and the other Biden supporters in the room look crestfallen.
The Trump supporters on the other hand look almost giddy. Every convict in the room–me included–had been certain Joe Biden was going to crush Donald Trump right out of the gate in the “Purple” or “Swing” states that truly decide the Presidential election every four years. Now it appears as if Donald Trump may be on his way to an easy victory.
I shift my gaze to the TV hanging in the corner of the triangle-shaped glass TV room, and even though the CNN men and women reporting there caution us that it’s too early to form hasty conclusions, I spy the forced smiles and the twinges of panic in their eyes.
They too are worried.
“I told you Uncle Daddy (name used for Trump in prison) was going to steal this shit!” Nova, an African American, and one of my best friends in prison hoots and leaps from his seat to better emphasize his point. “Fuck Biden and his racist-ass crack laws,” he says, jabbing a finger at the TV. “That (N-word) labeled us Super-predators. That shit fucked our communities for decades. Hell, that shit’s still fucking us. I got 50 years in prison and I didn’t even kill anyone!”
Rico, another one of my best friends, who hails from Puerto Rico, is now arguing back and forth with Dirt. Rico is an avid Donald Trump supporter for no other reason than he’s rolling with whomever he thinks is going to push prison reform, and he–like many others in prison–believes U.S. prison systems are going to swell under a Biden administration. Here in Michigan, our government has spent decades cutting funding to schools and neglecting our roadways, only to keep pumping billions into our barbaric prison system, and Rico believes Joe Biden wants to bail out our state so they can continue business as usual.
And I agree. The only real chance at prison reform we convicts in the Great State of Michigan have is for our state to grow so broke the government is forced to reduce our extremely-high per-capita prison population due to a lack of funds.
“Fuck Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” Rico says with a sinister laugh. “With them in office I might fuck around and die in this bitch of old age. They’ll never do anything for us. They only care about all those rich fucks who donated money to their campaigns. How many Puerto Ricans do you think had enough money to buy any favors from them? Especially after the way Trump fucked us after Maria and Irma wiped us out. None I know of.”
Dirt shakes his shiny bald head. He’s still rocking. “Look. I don’t give a damn about Biden’s racist white ass. He’s ancient. When he dies Kamala Harris is going to inherit the Presidency. I want to see the sister succeed. We need another black person in the White House. Trump’s racist ass hasn’t done anything for black folks.”
“Trump’s done more than Biden’s stankin’ ass has ever done,” Nova replies with a chuckle and a quick poke at his glasses to adjust them higher up on the bridge of his nose. “And more than Biden’ll ever do.”
“Biden said he’s sorry for all that crazy shit in his past,” G, another African American friend of mine says with a shrug. “If we want people to believe we can change, don’t we owe it to him to at least consider he may have changed too?”
G’s got us there. The day room grows quiet as everyone considers the weight of his words. True, Joe Biden did fight bussing, and he probably was a racist way back in the day, and he did call young black men “super predators,” and he did get the 1994 crime bill passed. But what he never did was kill anyone, sell drugs, rob people, or break the law like we convicts have. And he was a pretty good Vice President under Barrack Obama. Every one of us convicts has a past we are ashamed of. A past that makes us look bad. But that’s not us now. Not the men we are at this moment in time.
One by one, we all nod.
“Yeah, you’re right,” Nova admits. “So I’ll tell you what, if that (N-word) wins, then I’ll give him a chance.”
And I also agree. I too believe people can change. Hell, I’ve witnessed it in myself and several of the men hanging in that TV room with me.
Jerry Metcalf 251141
3225 John Conley Dr.
Lapeer, MI 48446
email @ jpay.com