437 | Skittles, Part One

May 29, 2016
Sunday, 6:00 p.m.
Letter #437: Skittles, Part One


Dear Family,

A little over seven years ago, I was housed at my first real prison after three months at a “reception center,” which sounds far more cordial than it actually was. With the move came the privilege of visits, and with visits came the privilege of strip-searches, including cavity checks (which has nothing to do, I tell you from experience, with anything remotely related to teeth).

After several months of weekly visits from my family and the accompanying thorough search going in to the visiting room as well as coming out, I became quite familiar with the routine, something akin to doing “The Hokey Pokey” in front of a stern prison guard, except with less clothing than normal. There is absolutely nothing normal about the strip-search procedure, I assure you. At one critical moment, participants are required to face away from the guard, then “squat and cough.” Why, you ask? Shame be upon you; you should not have asked. This action is designed to bring forth, shall we say, any goods that may be hidden deep inside. Kind of like a psychiatrist or pastor is able to pull things from you that you have hidden deep inside, but less figuratively.

One day after visit, I was helping clean the Visiting Room and discovered a few Skittles candies remaining in my shirt pocket that I’d not finished eating during my visit. I had what I thought was a brilliant idea, and during the strip-out routine hid Skittles in my hand then dropped them on the floor between my legs during the “squat and cough” portion of the highly choreographed maneuver. As the guard exclaimed, “What the heck is THAT?” I hastily scooped up the candies that had scattered on the concrete floor, tossed them in the trash, and said meekly: “Sorry, about that. I was just trying to bring back some candy for my cellie.”

At this, the guard laughed, realizing it was all an act for his benefit. “You’re crazy!” he said, then told me I needed to do it for his buddy who’d be working the following weekend. I obliged, getting the same reaction the following week.

A couple months later, I noticed a new guard working, and the regular guard approached me during my visit to make sure I’d have my family purchase a bag of Skittles so I could “do that Skittles thing to the new guy.” Again, I did as I was asked, performing flawlessly, except we didn’t get a great reaction. This time as I dropped the Skittles, the new guy asked the same “What the heck is THAT?” question. As I gathered up the Skittles and said my line about wanting to smuggle something back for my cellie, the new guard realized it was just a joke and became bothered. “Man, I don’t appreciate you messin’ around like that,” he began before being slapped on the back by one of the two veteran guards.

“Hey, bro, it’s okay! We put him up to it … he does it to everyone.” The new guy relaxed and tried to enjoy the moment while I tried not to laugh out loud in front of him. Both of us weren’t entirely successful.

Over the past seven years, I’ve told the Skittles story to a few friends, but I had never tried it again since the two prisons I was at in Arizona didn’t sell Skittles in the Visiting Room vending machines. With my transfer to Golden State, many things changed for the better, and Skittles is definitely one of those changes. Hooray for Skittles again!

And what did Christopher do when he saw Skittles in the vending machines? He didn’t leave them there for very long, I assure you. I stored three of the little gems in the front pocket of my shirt, downed the rest of the bag, and enjoyed the rest of the visit with my mom that day.

After visiting hours were over, I waited my turn at the back of the line of inmates waiting to get “stripped out,” the common term for a strip-search that makes it sound as if I’m a lug nut that will soon no longer fit properly over the bolt I’m assigned to. At the last possible moment, like Jack and the Beanstalk, I grabbed my three Magic Beans in my right hand and walked through the door of the strip-out room. A young, stern-faced officer awaited my performance, so I made the Magic Beans disappear under the fingers in my hand while I made the hand sign for “I Love You.” I showed him inside my mouth, behind my ears, under my arms and lots of other areas, then turned around. As I squatted and coughed, I released the three Skittles, letting them clatter to the concrete floor and scatter.

I quickly got the standard reaction, “What the heck is THAT?” and I said my standard response as if this routine was a Shakespearean play we’d been rehearsing for months. Well, at least one of us had, anyway, because as I scooped up the Skittles, the officer totally forgot his next lines and instead faced the exit door, pushing the button rapidly to signal Central Control he wanted out. The other inmate who’d performed the synchronized routine with me had this stunned look on his face, so to clear the air I said: “Sorry about that. I was just trying to be funny. I had the Skittles in my hand.”

The officer, facing away from  me, smirked—I could see the facial expression change. At that, the other inmate burst out laughing and said to me, “You’re CRAZY!” The officer shot through the door and went back through the Visiting Room, never saying another word. I had a tiny little “Uh-oh” feeling inside but pushed it away, as I had the other inmate saying how now he had something to write home about.

Back in my dorm, I pulled the Skittles back out of my pocket and ate them (hey, nothing goes to waste!), then called my mom on her way home to tell her my Skittles thing hadn’t gone over real well. That’s when two officers and two lieutenants entered my dorm with a big cart and went straight to my bunk and began packing up all my stuff. Guess that uh-oh feeling was right.