248 | The Rise and Fall of the Grilled Cheese Sandwich Company

October 28, 2012
Sunday, 4:00 p.m.
Letter #248: The Rise and Fall of the Grilled Cheese Sandwich Company


Dear Family,

Doesn’t it feel great, once you move, to be in a new place? A new office, a new house, a new dorm room—everything all neatly organized and the unnecessary thrown out or donated. With all the pain of moving, there is that one eventual benefit of a cleaner, slimmer, more efficient living space, right? You feel ready to take on the world but would rather sit and enjoy it all.

No, I haven’t moved—I’m glad for that. But everyone here is braced for The Big Search, and that’s worse than the pain of any move! Usually once a year, all activity here shuts down. (I know. That does sound redundant—as if you need to shut down life much more than simply being here.)

Into each housing unit march scores of staff and officers, while inmates get placed off to the side. Then, methodically, EVERY square inch of every cell gets searched and even X-rayed. You know that little paper sack you use for trash? Gone. The box to hold business magazines to lend out? Tossed. Extra T-shirts, socks, or even soap will be confiscated at once.

Nothing more than what is authorized is allowed. Too bad that you bought a used CD player for $30 instead of a new one from an authorized vendor for $70. (Buying from other inmates is smart, but prohibited. All of my appliances I’ve acquired this way, then had staff members authorize the transactions by putting the items on my property inventory list.)

A friend gave me a pair of basketball shoes before he left, but those will be taken in the search, since I already have one pair of shoes. How do I know this will happen? Two years ago, during the big annual search at the prison in Florence, a bag with a bunch of my property never made it back into my cell. Taken for “more thorough investigation,” it simply disappeared. Gratefully, the heist was caught on camera, so the staff knew I’d actually had a bag of items. I had to produce receipts in order to try to get the missing $210 in items back. Eventually, the unit manager offered me $125, which I accepted.

Just weeks ago, the staff here seized 75 TVs, dozens of CD players, and lots of shoes (they take the best pair) from guys in another compound. Items that were allowed in at one time—guitar cases, for example—were taken.

So, everyone here is a bit anxious. Will they take the extra books, even if they are for educational and religious use? Everyone has either hidden stuff away, donated it to someone, or thrown it away. I’d had a “hot plate”—broken hot pot’s heating element—I’d bought for $4. My cellie, Tom, and I made grilled cheese sandwiches on it and sold them in our pod. In two months, we sold 550 sandwiches, at 2 for $1. Considering the jobs here pay $.08/hour, leaving you with $5 at the end of the month, making $5 a day was great while it lasted.

Since the hot plate had been “modified,” it would be regarded as contraband. And though several officers had requested sandwiches (the smell is a great advertisement!), I knew the search team wouldn’t be so kind. To avoid getting my first-ever disciplinary write-up, I tossed the hot plate in the trash. No more grilled cheese, but now I feel prepared for the big search.

All this got me thinking: Have I done more preparation for the return of the search team than for the return of Christ? Sure, my belongings are in order, and I’m fully in compliance … but what about my heart? My motives? My actions? A soul-search is so much more necessary than a cell-search. Take whatever doesn’t belong in my life, Lord! It all is yours. Purify me within, and expose any way that is not of you. Come, Lord Jesus!