Prisoners put a lot of emphasis on food because, in prison, food is the number one priority. We wake planning the day’s meals and we go to sleep thinking about tomorrow’s possibilities. Like everything else you get what you pay for. Believe me when I say: It is a rare occurrence to get a good meal.
I watched the menu – a four week cycle – posted on the wall of the housing unit, with diligence for the few good meals Aramark served including my favorite meal. My favorite meal consisted of chicken patty, macaroni and cheese, whole kernel corn, salad, and bread pudding for dessert. I recall one time when my favorite meal was scheduled to be served then I laid down and fell asleep. When I woke and realized I had missed it, I was pissed, not only because I had missed my favorite meal, but also because I had to eat a chicken Ramen noodle soup. Now my favorite meal was being served again.
This time, I was bound and determined not to miss it.
On this day after being released to go to chow, I entered the front doors of the prisoner’s dining room. The dining room has two large arrays of twenty-four stainless-steel tables, one array on the right in the front of the doors and one array on the left near the serving window. An array of tables consisted of three four-man tables welded together and bolted to the floor so that nothing moved. As I entered the dining room, I felt confident that all was well. Nothing appeared amiss, although as a seasoned prisoner I knew what things could change in the blink-of-an-eye. I stayed on full alert.
I made my way around the wall of the dining room to the serving window where I received my tray. I sat down at the second row of tables in the array next to the serving window with my back to the front doors. That was unusual for me because I always faced the front so I could see what and who was coming and going. The food looked and smelt delicious. I had just taken my first bite when I detected that the rhythm in the dining room suddenly changed from a normal tempo to a hurried tempo. Looking up, I noticed that everyone directed their attention to the area near the front door. Instinctively, I knew it was bad news and I began eating faster. Only during the chewing stage of eating did I twist around on my stainless-steel seat to see three prisoners fighting. They were throwing blows in every direction and moving fast, and I could not tell, between bites, who was fighting who. I twisted back around to my tray and began eating faster.
I knew that any moment guards would run in and either run us out or start spraying mace. I waited a long time for this meal and I thought: I’m going to eat it even if it kills me. I filled my mouth, again, with food and while chewing I twisted back around to watch the fight. While chewing, I asked, “Is that Essex?” By this time, all manners about not talking with your mouth full were out the window. Essex was in my creative writing class and living the honor dorm and I couldn’t imagine him being involved in a fight like this.
Someone said, “Yes, that is Essex.”
When the guards ran in, they stood facing the fighters with mace in their hands and yelled for them to lie on the floor. Essex still had the poor albino guy by the head. He wouldn’t turn him loose and went to the floor with him.
A big, fat female guard sprayed him with mace. It shot out in a wide, reddish-purple stream. The effects of it soon saturated the entire dining room. Prisoners ran to the back of the dining room choking and coughing. I had only a slight cough but kept eating my favorite meal. I looked around my table and everyone was gone except for one guy. He said, “You can tell who has had tear gas training in the military from those who haven’t,” and then he left. I finished my meal and twisted around to watch. Essex still had the poor albino by the head even after being soaked with mace. The guard pulled out a taser gun that gave out an electrical shock and tasered him. He screamed like a wild Comanche and turned the albino loose. The guards took the three fighters away. I reasoned the mace hadn’t bothered me because of my years in the military. I walked to the back of the dining room where everyone else stood coughing and choking. The dining room was a mess with half eaten trays left everywhere. I remembered thinking: It’s going to take some time to clean up this mess.
The guard opened the back door and let us out. Fresh air filled my lungs. It felt good. As I walked back to my housing unit, I felt content about having finished my favorite meal.