241 | Politics Prison-Style

September 6, 2012
Thursday, 4:30 p.m.
Letter #241: Politics Prison-Style


Dear Family,

With America just having finished listening to all the speeches, fanfare, and promises from the Republican National Convention and now right in the final moments of all the speeches, fanfare, and promises from the Democratic National Convention, I thought it would be the perfect time to discuss politics: Prison Politics. Now, I realize that in most states felons no longer have the right to vote in any future elections. However, politics are alive and well behind the chain-link fences and barbed wire coils that comprise my front yard.

Here are just a couple of examples of the unspoken rules and regulations (added by inmates) that are standard in any prison.

  • When at the fine dining establishment affectionately known as the “chow hall,” you must wait until everyone seated with you at the six-man table finishes eating the meal before getting up and leaving. Once finished, someone says, “Ready?” and it is then polite to knock twice on the tabletop before standing up.
  • You must not spend longer than absolutely necessary speaking one-on-one with a staff member, unless you actually are snitching on someone, in which case, you might as well ask for protection as well.
  • When approaching someone’s cell and you need to get his attention, do not simply wander up to the steel door and stare in the strip of window as you do at the baby koala bear exhibit, regardless of whether or not the creatures inside are nocturnal. Instead, you must hide off to the side where you cannot be identified and wave your hand in front of the window for an annoying amount of time, until I am forced to jump off of my top bunk, where I am contentedly writing or reading, just so I can answer your question about if I need a canteen order form or a Request for Service form or will I loan you a bar of soap, which I could have said yes or no to from my bunk.
  • You may not use a shower that has a rag, towel, or sandal hanging from its towel hook, reserving it for someone who may be in his cell or outside on the yard, unless you are trying to send a clear message that you (a) don’t care about random pieces of cloth or (b) don’t care to wait for some guy to finally show up to take his shower and then do his laundry or (c) don’t care if you get beat up over a shower.
  • If you are waiting to use one of the two microwaves (for 120 people), and no one claims the food or beverage ahead of you once the timer runs out, you may not remove the item yourself. You may not touch the cup, plate, or bowl. You may, however, yell, “Microwave!!” and then participate in jeering and laughing as the forgetful man who couldn’t stand by his food for 30 seconds (or, from what I’ve heard, his woman either) comes running to claim it.
  • If you happen to bump into someone (hopefully not a staff member—you could be charged for an assault on an officer and get an extra bonus! year in prison) and yet aren’t attempting to send an aggressive message challenging that person to a fight, you must excuse yourself, preferably with the Spanish slang, “spensa,” or in the case of my buddy Stanislav Zavrotny, you say with a thick Russian accent, “Eez veneetsya, paszolsta,” to send a more appropriate message that not only is the Cold War over, but you follow the rules.

So, amid cries of every kind from each political party and emotional pleas from candidates on both sides of the aisle, I view politics a bit differently than mainstream America. Every day, the campaigning for being politically correct goes on. And on. And on.

I’m not planning to stay here forever, so I’m not trying to live by every prison rule. Instead, I just relax in who I am, while staying polite, gracious, and keeping everything in good humor. But don’t you dare come visit me and forget to knock twice on that table before you get up to leave. My house, my rules, politics or not.