Perhaps it was the arsenal of shanks and pointy sticks that prompted this morning’s shakedown. Rumor has it officers armed with metal detectors unearthed three-hundred weapons buried around the compound yesterday. I wonder how many of them were buried years ago and forgotten. I told Rod it must have been the squirrels.
The shakedown began after a belated breakfast–blueberry scones for those lucky enough to get them before the kitchen ran out. The flushing began as soon as we were locked back in our cells, a symphony of sixty-four toilets all going at once, disposing of everything from gambling tickets to dope needles–any contraband small enough to fit down a commode. While Rod was hiding his oil paints and cardboard, I organized my belongings. I have a theory that officers are less likely to pillage your locker if they see you’ve gone through the trouble of keeping a tidy home. But it depends on the officer. There is one which all inmates detest–Shakedown Shorty. Named for her favorite pastime and diminutive size, Shakedown Shorty sniffs for contraband like a hog sniffs for truffles. I heard she once got stuck in the ceiling looking for wine and spent fifteen minutes dangling while inmates took turns slapping her ass.
Shortly after lock down, a caravan of garbage bins arrived. No matter what department an officer is assigned–medical, education, recreation–all staff are expected to participate in shakedowns. They began working the opposite side of the tier, three cells at a time. I spied Shakedown Shorty leafing through someone’s books. She look like a kid digging at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.
When our time came and our cell door was unlocked, Rod and I stepped out to be patted down. The woman who frisked me was very thorough, not at all shy. We were then directed to wait in the defunct TV room where inmates use to watch television before fighting led to the TVs being moved out into the unit. I watched our cell get searched from the TV room’s window. We were assigned Sanford, one of the good guys, the kind of officer who knows that a happy inmate makes for a happy prison. Tattooing, drinking, cooking–he doesn’t care. As long as you’re not running around popping holes in people, he leaves you alone.
Sanford hardly touched a thing. He picked up the mesh gym bag I keep hanging beside my locker where I store my socks and underwear, fluffed it as one would a pillow, and hung it back up without unzipping it. Our neighbors meanwhile weren’t so lucky. Shakedown Shorty gave on of the guys hell for having too many stamps in his possession–you’re only allowed sixty forever and twenty-four one-dollar stamps. She counted.
After our cell was searched–which took all of one minute–Rod and I were released to go back. On our way around the tier, we passed several piles of contraband containing spray bottles, mops, brooms, duct tape, cardboard, stingers, extra clothes and blankets, empty bottles, homemade curtains and speakers. I even saw a strand of Christmas lights that had been used in last year’s holiday decorating contest. Sanford left everything of ours intact. He didn’t take a thing, not even the honey bear container of ammonia I had bought for five stamps to clean the cell with.
Steve, the tattoo artist a few cells down, didn’t fare as well. Shakedown Shorty spent a solid twenty minutes in his room. He told me afterwards that they confiscated one tattoo gun and five guitar strings which he uses to make needles. He also received a write up, a “shot” as they’re called.
“Eh, it’s no big deal,” he said. “I went to the lieutenant’s office. Said they might take away my phone and commissary for a few weeks. Asked me if I’m gonna stop tattooing. I says to him, ‘Absolutely not. It keeps my locker full.’
“He just laughed. They don’t care. They ain’t gonna do a thing.”