Back in the day, as we old schoolers like to say, you could have food packages sent to you directly from home. We could receive anything friends or family purchased at the local supermarket, from canned goods to freshly baked donuts and cake. This last item often elicited good humor from the guys, such as “That cake doesn’t have a hacksaw middle does it?” *wink-wink* I always found this to be humorous because it’s a stereo type pulled from Hollywood movies or prison lore. Nowadays, every package entering a facility is x-rayed, opened, thoroughly searched and scrutinized, and then handed to you one item at a time. Good luck on that ‘special’ cake.
For us prisoners care packages were always highly anticipated moments to say the least. Family sent me awesome prepackaged Thai meals, canned seafoods, delicious foreign deserts, even frozen sausage and breakfast links. They’d then ship each package next day delivery. Frozen goods arrived to me boxed and wrapped in tin foil still frozen–small slices of home.
Then there were the sundry packages. Clothes boxes brimming with clothing from quality brands and in any color–save for red. If I needed shirts or shorts, washcloths and towels family sent them.
I often ask Mom to wash all the new clothing before sending them. And, so she did. I never told her why though. I’m sure she simply assumed it was easiest for me this way or that because they were new it was the prudent thing to do. Everything always arrived freshly washed, folded with care, and fabric softened.
And for months thereafter I never wore the clothes. I never showered using the washcloths and never dried off with the new towels. No. I kept everything neatly folded in my drawer exactly as they came to me, save for one towel or one new shirt.
I’d then roll the towel or shirt log style, wedging them between my pillow and the wall of my bunk. This way, every night I’d fall asleep to the smell of home. The smell of Mom’s great laundry detergent, and the scents I remember from a lifetime that no longer existed.
Eventually sweet scents of home faded into the pungent odors of prison. When the scents disappeared, I’d promptly replace each log with a new one, maybe another shirt or towel, perhaps a pair of shorts or socks until there came a time when there was nothing left to replace. In which case, my ‘new’ clothes actually became clothes.
Of course, I can no longer receive food or clothes boxes from home.Those days ended nearly 20 years ago. The prison industrial complex has seen to that. Everything has been replaced by exclusive contracts inked with the department of corrections and a small handful of businesses preying off of inmates and their families nationwide.
Through these monopolies inmates are forced to purchase inferior products at prices double and triple that of department stores. Shoes sold are rejected pairs from manufacturers like Nike, Reebok, New Balance and Addidas that have imperfections or failed quality control in some way. Products that manufacturers wouldn’t dare try selling to free world citizens, lest they destroy their brand and reputations.
So, now I buy from predatory vendors and have done so for a long time. At first their extreme high prices were a shock, but time has a way of tricking the mind. When I see a $12.00 pair of socks or a $25.00 T-shirt that retails at Walmart for $2.00 and $7.00 respectively, I find myself comparing prices between the handful of “approved” vendors. “Oh, look,” I say to my bunkie, “Towels are fifty cents cheaper from this vendor!”
I don’t even remember what home smells like anymore. I’ve bought the laundry detergent Mom used to use hoping to catch a scent that triggers a fond memory. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
It’s just the way it is here. What was old remains old, and if you’re lucky you’ll remember what it was like. Sometimes you can get away with telling yourself it doesn’t really matter, but to be honest it does. The moment you forget what it’s like to be free you surrender to This World.
And surrender isn’t an option.