There are nine televisions in our unit–five for the blacks, three for the Mexicans, and one for the whites. You may watch whichever television you’d like, regardless of race, but only blacks may change channels on the black TVs, only Mexicans may change channels on the Mexican TVs, and only whites may change channels on the white TV. The number of televisions designated to a race isn’t preordained by prison policy or by the officers but by the inmates themselves through diplomacy and warfare. Cops don’t run prisons. Inmates do.
Since football season began last week, three of the black televisions have been dedicated to the sport full-time. On game nights, just before kickoff, the whites drag their chairs to the black side to watch the game in a small, safe cluster. The Mexicans, who don’t watch football unless it’s of the Latin American variety, stay put on their side of the unit (which they share with the whites) and tune into one of the many colorful slapsticks on Telemundo in which there’s always one character running around slapping the others upside their heads with a yardstick.
During these game nights, the unit takes on the aura of a seedy sports bar–an amalgamation of shit talk, booze, cigarettes, gambling, and junk food. Last night, one of the Cubans got so drunk that after the ten-o’clock lockdown he began body slamming his cell door and shouting obscenities at the officers. Too tired to deal with a drunk inmate so late at night, the cops gave him a choice–either lay down and sleep it off or go to the hole. Reluctantly, he quieted down.
The official nosh of prison game night is the Nacho Bowl. Every sports lover has their own recipe and method of preparation, but the basic premise is a tupperware bowl layered with tortilla chips, rice, beans, meat, and cheese–a Tex-Mex lasagna of sorts. Some guys prefer the meat lovers variation with diced summer sausage, salami, and pepperoni in lieu of rice. Others go easy on the meat and splurge on cheeses–mozzarella, pepperjack, queso with chilies, and squeezable cheddar. For an extra kick, some guys add layers of jalapenos, chili-garlic sauce, and sriracha. One Nacho Bowl can last over the course of two or even three game nights, on account of all the sodium and preservatives. They can easily be stored in the inmates locker without refrigeration.
But if you’re pressed for time on game night or just feel like eating out, you can grab a meal on the yard from any of several vendors hawking homemade burritos, pizzas, quesadillas, and cans of chilled soda on ice.
“Burritos! Burritos! Burritos! We got Burritos! Meaty, cheesy, and greasy! We got burritos!”
“Ice cold sodas for sale! Ice cold! Sho is hot out here, fellas! Get you an ice cold soda! So cold, they damn near froze! Taste like a slushy! Ice cold soda!”
Cans of soda sell for a dollar stamp, burritos (steamed or fried) sell for two to three stamps, and pizzas and quesadillas go for a book (five stamps) Ironically, the best burritos are made by an Asian, one of five on the compound, all of whom are named Lee.