179 | Chuck E. Cheese Is My Cellie

June 23, 2011
Thursday, 6:00 p.m.
Letter #179: Chuck E. Cheese Is My Cellie

Dear Family,

The best part of being confined in my bathroom for the last three weeks is that there really isn’t much to do. I’ve spent less than two hours out of my cell in that time period, thanks to showers three times per week. I have had a lot of time to think, read my Bible, and pray, and I’ve also written letters, organized my belongings, and begun some ambitious art projects.

My cellie, on the other hand, just eats, poops, and sleeps. He does not read, watch TV, or even look out our four-inch-wide floor-to-ceiling window. He does not talk, sing, or make noises. He has no personal property, he writes no one, and no one writes him.

Andrew is special. You’d notice immediately that his long hair is wildly enjoying its time in prison without being encumbered by a comb. The only one in our group who refused to get a shot to test for tuberculosis when we arrived, he subsequently received a “115” disciplinary writeup for refusing a direct order.

Some of his peculiarities are funny—cleaning his razor with his only toothbrush or twirling with his clothes in hand a sheet wrapped around him to airdry them—but I’ve always had a heart for the underdog, and it bothers me when others don’t treat those people with the same respect, love, or attention they would their friends.

With Andrew, his nauseating body odor clouded my senses and affected my judgement. I didn’t want to be his cellie again, though of course the thought occurred to me that perhaps God had arranged this cruel joke as a backward birthday gift. I didn’t relish living with my shirt up over my nose all day long, so I tried immediately upon arrival here to let the staff know that this was not going to work. Every staff member who interfaced with Andrew gave that funny twitch as soon as his specialness hit their olfactory glands. Some asked me how I did it, living with him, and others would ask if I was doing okay. I was told I had to wait two weeks before I could move. If I didn’t die before then, I thought. I was not happy, but I had to make do in the meantime.

I decided to become Andrew’s friend. Now, I had been VERY nice to him, defending him from others who wanted to hurt him for his smell (not like you hurt someone for the keys to their car or their diamonds), and sharing my things with him. But, I hadn’t befriended him. I began to get to know Andrew. In the process, I discovered that he has dressed up as Chuck E., while working as a pizza party facilitator for Mr. Cheese, he has a nearly two-year-old son (named Rain, of course), and he is supposedly very talented as a sketch artist.

Once I got over the fact that Chuck E. Cheese is my cellie (who am I kidding—I’m still not over it), I decided to put his drawing claims to the test. Oh, my. This rat can draw. Problem is, he throws away everything, regardless of its value, so I have to confiscate his drawings before he shreds them. I will be his agent, selling cards he’s drawn and custom portraits he will do, as soon as they let us off of this lockdown. He’s using my art supplies and loving it.

I got out the Risk board game I have and taught him how to play … and let him win. I had him sing me his favorite songs, and I dressed up like a rapper—sunglasses, baseball cap on crooked, saggy pants—and made up songs to go with the artist and CD titles we found in a CD catalog (think: Granddaddy Purple: “Do or Die Medicine Man,” and Princess Superstar: “My Machine”).

We got to laughing, and smells got brought up … by him. The door opened (only metaphorically, unfortunately), and I was able to talk about good hygiene habits, such as using soap when we wash our hands. (He said, “When did that tradition start?”) We actually accomplished something, as he’s agreed to possibly wear underarm deodorant (I’ve ordered some for him). The past week, I’ve only caught a bad scent once … but more importantly than fresh air, I’ve gained a friend. Sure, he’s different, but I’m not exactly normal, either.

A few days ago, an officer opened my door and told me to pack my things, that I was being moved—upstairs, across the building, with a Christian cellie and a view of the sunset and sparkling city lights, instead of a prison yard. I smiled at him and said, “No, thank you. I’m good right here. Andrew and I are friends.” He was trying to help me out, but Chuck E. Cheese and Princess Superstar have some serious art projects we’re working on.