Lockdown

I read in Gretchen Ruben’s The Happiness Project that people who live together eventually turn into each other. That is, they tend to adopt each other’s habits and behaviors. Over time, they may even begin to resemble each other physically. In married couples, for example, chances are high that if one partner is overweight, the other will become overweight, too, since most spouses share the same eating habits.

After reading this, I laid the book across my chest and glanced down at Rod’s feet which happened to be outstretched in the chair beside our desk. He was twirling his toes–first the right ones, clockwise; then the left ones, counterclockwise. He told me once that if he turns the toes on one foot without turning the toes on the other, his feet will feel “uneven.” The psychology books call this form of OCD a “symmetry obsession.” If it’s true we become the people we live with, I’m in trouble.

My father was visiting when the riot broke out in F4 between the blacks and Mexicans. Over twenty guys were sent to the hole, and one was sent to an outside hospital for stab wounds. I didn’t learn this until later, after visitation ended at three. When I got back to my unit, the compound was secured and all inmates were locked in their cells. After the four-o’clock census count, officers performed a door-to-door “upper body check” on all inmates to determine who, if anyone else, was involved in the riot. When an officer came to our window, Rod and I took our shirts off, raised our arms, and twirled around to show we had no injuries.

I’ve only been in a few lockdowns and none have lasted for more than two days. I don’t mind them really. They’re like snow days; you stay inside, read, listen to the radio, do a crossword puzzle, nap. And best of all–no work. What’s not to like?

There’s always chaos before a lockdown: guys jumping in the showers, raiding the ice machine, hiding contraband, buying last minute provisions from the store man. And for those not lucky enough to own a stinger, there’s a sprint to the water fountain for the last of the hot water. Meanwhile, an officer begins locking cells one by one, first along the bottom tier, then the top. Inmates literally slide into their cells as if sliding into home–arms loaded with thermoses and trash cans of ice and hot water–just as their cell door is closing.

Rod secured two bags of spicy pork rinds from the store man; I got ice.

It’s lucky my father visited when he did. Had he come after the riot, during the lockdown, they would have turned him away at the gate as per protocol. There are no visits during lockdowns. Even if your ninety-nine-year-old grandma Edna just flew in from St. Paul plugged into a respirator and it may be the last chance you get to see her before she sucks her last breath of air, she won’t be getting through the gate. No, sir. It happened to my old cellmate. Bo’s mother flew here from Oregon on two occasions and was turned away both times because some asshole just happened to pull a shank on someone that morning. His family stopped visiting as a result.

After baring our chests to the guards, they released us for dinner which we brought back to our cells in Styrofoam takeout boxes. Tonight’s meal was Philly cheese steak (with chicken in place of steak), a sad mound of canned green beans, two slices of moldy whole wheat bread, and a bag of potato chips that expired in May. While unpacking our meals on the institution-gray desk in our cell, I asked Rod if tonight we should use the wine glasses or the everyday tumblers.

Rod isn’t as abrasive as the other guys I’ve bunked with, but he does have a few habits that start to grate after awhile, especially when locked in the same cell together for prolonged periods. He’s an obscenely negative person. Everything out of his mouth, is tinged with either sarcasm, racism, or anger:

“Good morning, Rod.”

“What’s so good about it?”

“How’s that landscape painting coming along?”

“Didn’t work on it today. Too many loud-mouthed mother fucking wetbacks in the art room.”

“You call your daughter today? How’s she doing?”

“How would I know? Stupid bitch won’t answer her phone.”

The only thing more noxious than Rod’s disposition is his gas. Jason, his ex-cellmate, said, “I’ve never met anyone who farts as much as he does. Never. It’s brutal.”

I’m a heavy sleeper, and yet there have been many times in which Rod has awaken me with his flatulence. On one especially horrifying night, I awoke to the sounds of him taking a shit five feet from my bed. He told me once that he was taking pills for his gas problem. I asked what kind; obviously whatever he was taking wasn’t working.

“Laxative pills,” he said.

“Laxatives?” I asked. “You know that’s for constipation, right?”

“Yeah, but I figure if I get the shit out, I won’t have to fart.”

As I write this, I see from my window a lieutenant escorting another inmate to the SHU. The investigation will continue on into the rest of the evening and possibly into tomorrow morning. Inmates will be questioned, some bribed with stamps in exchange for information. A few will snitch. The lockdown will be be lifted only when officers are certain that the people involved in the riot are off the compound and there will be no repercussions. Until then, I sit and wait. I’ll write a few letters, continue reading John Updikes’s Couples</em, and maybe catch the last half of A Prairie Home Companion on NPR. A snow day.

“Hey, Rod. How’s that book you’re reading?”

“It sucks.”

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