CHAPTER FIVE, Letter From the County Jail #2,
THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL
Dear Baby Sis,
I’m still in Camp Jail, which I can’t believe, but . . . there it is: twelve weeks today, and no news about an end to it. Well, you know what they say: no news is . . . BULLSHIT!
Hahaha. Bitter? Me??
In spite of the continued difficulty regarding general communication, I trust my attorney has the situation well in hand. I realize that the words “trust” and “attorney” are words rarely seen in sentences that do not also include the words “do not,” but Michael, my attorney, came to me . . . well, actually, he literally came to me, unbidden, that is, at least by me. The fact is, I don’t know where he came from. Among the many, smaller surprises orbiting that big, daddy of all surprises we call “My Arrest,” was the one that came when I inquired about that court-appointed attorney you always hear will be made available to you should you not have one yourself. It was right around the moment I saw that my bail was set at $250,000 (another tiny surprise) that I was informed that I did not have access to a court-appointed attorney nor would I have such access in the future because I made too much money. Believe it or not, this information was all kinds of good news, the first of it being, of course, that the hearing of it did not cause me to have a heart attack. It also confirmed what I only suspected at the time of my arrest, which was that the prosecuting powers that be clearly thought I was someone else. There was absolutely no other explanation for the fact that my first time arrest on a possession charge could possibly warrant both the denial of an attorney plus that exorbitant bail.
But it also meant I didn’t have an attorney. Checking in with my neighbors that night, I asked them to SOS a couple of friends, stressing the need for legal assistance. It must’ve worked because a couple of days later, I was informed I had a visitor. The visitor turned out to be Michael, who had taken my case on a referral by a friend from a friend of a friend. I have yet to figure out the chain of friends that would lead back to him, but I’m awfully glad he is with me. I’ll admit, hearing the amount of his fee put my heart through another stress test, but when I think how much worse things might be considering what I have learned from guys who are dealing with a public defender, and I think that mine is money well spent. I’ve felt from the first moment that he is someone I can trust. He is kind, but he does not sugarcoat. He gives me his assessment of the best and worst case scenarios, and then he tells me how it is probably going to go. He has been 100% accurate on everything so far except as regards the speed (or lack thereof) at which my case progresses (or doesn’t).
The trouble, I think, has everything to do with the fact that the DA’s office had its heart set on nabbing a relatively important figure in the regional distribution hierarchy. When their informant identified me as a major person of interest, and the arrest that followed was such a piece of cake, they were thrilled, so thrilled, in fact, that during my first several appearances in court, the attitude on display over on the prosecution’s side (or so it seemed even to my inexperienced eyes) was one of barely-disguised gloating. Michael’s preliminary efforts to discourage them from seeing me in the role in which they were determined to cast me were strongly rebuffed, but he soon made headway. My status slipped from its prominence as a major target, dropping lower and lower until I’m barely a blip on their radar. Despite the fact that they still won’t let me go, I’m very happy to have morphed in their eyes from an exciting catch to a minor embarrassment.
Michael says it has not been his experience for cases like mine to work themselves out quite so slowly, but that now, with me sitting here as an unfortunate reminder of what he could have caught (what he thought he had caught), the Assistant DA assigned to my case is having a tough time letting go of his disappointment. Instead, he’s hanging on, hoping for an additional bit of information to drop in so he can hit me once more with the big light that turns me back into Public Enemy #1. But it can’t drag on for too much longer. “Speedy,” clearly, is no longer an appropriate description of the rate with which we can expect this to be finished. But I’m pretty sure that “imminent” is accurate enough if we’re talking about a release date.
Anyway, I got your sweet letter of the 13th. Thank you so much. Thank you also for your thoughtfulness as regards my commissary credit and my burgeoning library. As regards commissary and other food related questions from your letter . . . where do I even begin? Remember the old joke in which the teller brings up the subject of a new restaurant where the food is terrible, and then goes on to complain, “and such small portions?” Ha! If only. Yes, the food is truly terrible, but in this world, where the expression, “Really, I couldn’t eat another bite,” would not be intended as a compliment, the portions, while not generous in size, are certainly adequate. But to what end? Too much of a bad thing cannot amount to very much. All I know is that my jumpsuit doesn’t appear to be quite as voluminous on my thickening body as it did ten weeks ago, and that can’t be totally a result of commissary candy bars.
Physically, visually, that is, most of our food looks pretty much . . . wait, scratch that.
Take #2: physically, visually, that is, most of our food looks more or less like its counterpart on the outside. To identify spaghetti with meat sauce, for example, or oatmeal, or a hot dog, a sloppy Joe from jail-fare presents no real challenge. It (the challenge, that is) is in the actual act of eating. And I know how you (well, not you, but any number of people) could respond to this by pointing that an inmate expecting a jail diet of sirloin steak, foie gras and sushi is likely in for a disappointing culinary experience. But having never expected jail, in the first place, I engaged no imagination and no curiosity around the question of what food I might be served here. And even if I had, I doubt seriously that any speculation on my part would rate the food at a low enough level to be anywhere near the depths I now know to be reality.
It wouldn’t have occurred to me to expect, for example, that at five out of seven breakfasts each week I would be eating almost inedible oatmeal. How, first of all, do you ruin oatmeal?
HIT OR MISS OATMEAL
Into a kitchen equipped with running water, a working stovetop, a saucepan, a wooden spoon and a cup or so of uncooked oatmeal put a person who has never been in a kitchen, but who is an experienced consumer of satisfactorily-prepared oatmeal.
Tell them to prepare the oatmeal.
Leave the kitchen for no fewer than 8 and no more than 12 minutes, after which time, return to evaluate the oatmeal.
Follow that recipe, and you might just end up with ruined oatmeal. On the other hand, you are probably more likely to discover that whatever oatmeal has been prepared by the kitchen illiterate you left behind is (with the addition of some brown sugar, butter and milk) edible at a higher level of enjoyment than what they give us here at the Monroe County Jail.
How, in the name of all that we hold sacred, is that possible?
They say that a dish can only be as good as the ingredients used to create it. Though I’ve only seen our oatmeal in its cooked version, the uncooked oatmeal used in its creation couldn’t possibly be equivalent to what we’ve all seen in the Quaker Oats or even generic-type oatmeal canisters. Based upon the, by now, pounds of the cooked stuff I’ve consumed at the Monroe County Jail, downtown facility, the raw stuff from which it has been lovingly prepared could not come from a canister like proper oatmeal. It must be the dust from or the leavings from the spillage on the countertops and floors, swept up or leftover from when the kitchen made real oatmeal for the jail staff or band of County Jail VIP’s. Because unless the Monroe County Jail is purchasing bags of oatmeal detritus swept up and/or left over from other facilities, there is no other logical explanation for the horror that we’ve been eating.
You’ll no doubt want to put a positive spin on the experience by offering in a cheery way that it all must go down much easier with a couple of pats of fresh, creamery butter and a couple of spoonsful of brown sugar, and indeed, it absolutely makes my mouth water to say that I am sure you would be correct. It is a shame, then, that, outside the odd packet of white sugar I would have purchased (@ .10 a pack, thank you) from commissary, our morning oatmeal goes down unadorned.
Rice Krispies, with sugar packets accompanying, oddly, is our breakfast entre two days a week, and one Sunday a month we get two hardboiled eggs with two pieces (that is, one piece, sliced diagonally) of (cold) toast. At our last Sunday egg breakfast, the eggs came perfectly soft-boiled (and still warm!) While I was thrilled, my 51 inmate colleagues were, to a person, outraged to have been served “raw eggs,” and would not, in fact, calm down until several representatives from the kitchen arrived with 52 substitute oatmeal breakfasts in tow. My original (and very tasty) breakfast of soft-boiled eggs had been long-consumed, and our post-breakfast lock down time had come and gone during the “raw egg" hubbub, so I watched from the other side of my locked cell door as irate inmates dutifully traded in, pair by “uncooked” pair, 102 eggs to receive substitute oatmeal breakfast trays which they, no longer irate, marched back into their cells to consume. Later that evening, just after final lock down, the kitchen staff returned in recompense, and I, as if the bearer of a culinary “Bank Error in Your Favor!” card, received through the slot in my cell door, one pair of perfectly hardboiled eggs from among the 52 surprise, midnight (well, 9:30 p.m.) snacks making the rounds to my self-satisfied roommates.
It was a little bit of heaven, which just goes to show you how low my expectations regarding Paradise have slipped since being incarcerated.
Ugh. More soon.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?