Chow hall. Christian table. The guy next to me peels back the foil wrapper on a packet of maple syrup and pours the amber liquid over a stack of waffles.
“Where does maple syrup come from?’ he asks the guy sitting across from him.
“It comes from honey,” he says tearing the skin off a piece of chicken.
“And where does honey come from?”
“I don’t know,” the other guy says, “but it’s got sugar in it.”
I almost spit my waffles out.
Today in the sixteenth of January – Martin Luther King Day – and someone within the BOP must have a sense of humor because the evening meal was fried chicken and waffles.
I considered explaining to the two men beside me where maple syrup and honey come from (technically, this syrup was “maple flavored” and made from corn syrup), but decided against it. Better to leave it alone than risk sounding like a pompous douche. Truth is, I’m an outsider at the Christian table, a presence merely tolerated due only to the inclusive nature of the religion. If it weren’t for that, they’d have banished me from their island a long time ago. No doubt about. The shot caller for the white Christians (yes, even religion is segregated in prison) pulled me aside months ago and accused me of being “a Christian in soul but not in body” which was his cutesy way of calling me a fag.
It’s not something I’m too bent up about. It’s my own fault, really. Community relies on socialization, something I’ve never been very good at or interested in trying. I’ve never been the type of person to approach a group of strangers, introduce myself without invitation, and make small talk about the record rainfall we’ve had or whether LSU will beat Alabama or what the drive is like from here to Jackson. (It occurs to me – and not for the first time – that antisocial behavior is one characteristic of pedophiles.)
What I don’t understand – and this is something I’ve grappled with since kindergarten – is why people find introverts, such as myself, off-putting. My quiet, shy demeanor has caused me to be labeled in my private, academic, and professional lives as “odd” or “conceited.” It continues to cause me problems in prison, not only with the Christians but also with the whites.
And here’s the rub: On the outside, you can get away with being antisocial because nobody cares. But it’s not like that in prison. All that advice the probation officer and the psychologist and my family gave me before coming here – to stay away from people, keep to myself, do me – those approaches don’t work here. Being quiet can draw just as much attention as being loud. There’s a balance to be had somewhere, and I’m still struggling to find the sweet spot.