On the second of August 1990, Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait. Being that we were in a military prison, this breach of freedom became the topic of discussion every day, all day long.
It seemed as if everyone was an instant expert on the Middle East and exactly what was going on over there. Especially the older veterans and the Marines. Not to mention the Green Berets, Airborne and Ranger guys that were incarcerated in the DB.
There was a rumor going around that the Armed Forces were stopping all ETS’s (Expiration, Term of Service) and all discharges. Another rumor was floating around that all inmate’s records were to be re-evaluated for restoration to duty. Pretty sure that it was only a rumor, but I doubt my record was one that would be in the running.
The only action I would be seeing was the short order grill. I was put in charge of that area because some inmates had been reassigned to another area of the kitchen. Others had moved up in custody or somehow got a detail change and out of the dining facility. Being the senior guy on the grill didn’t mean anything really, except if something didn’t get done, they would yell at me. It was pretty stressful, it was extremely hot and very greasy. No one ever said thanks. Inmates acted like you owed them something because they were in prison.
There were always special requests for omelets or burgers to be cooked a certain way while 250 inmates were trying to make it through the line. The Muslims would make us use a different spatula or tongs if what we had in our hands had touched bacon or hot dogs. It made sense and I never said no, but man it was annoying. Many inmates expected extra food upon request, even though there were always guards watching. If you got caught giving out extra food, you went to the hole.
There was a system for hooking people up and we only did this for the people that we wanted to. There would have to be some sort of reciprocation. It had to be worth the risk. The inmates responsible for cleaning up the tables after inmates ate and left were the carriers. We would let them know who to give the food to. They would usually have a piece of fried chicken or beef patties wrapped in a paper towel.
Once in the dining area, they would pass the item off to another inmate while the guards were busy doing the exit shake down. Weeks was one on my list because he was my workout coach. We didn’t have to worry about too many inmates snitching on us because it was always inmates against guards when it came down to it. However, there were always snitches, so we played it safe.
If there was an inmate that we had issues with, sometimes we would sabotage their food. I never did anything gross like you might see in the movies, but this was prison and so things like this were bound to happen. Taking about three feet of cling wrap and wrapping a sandwich up was a fun way to mess someone up. By the time they unwrapped the sandwich, the thing was pretty destroyed and the time limit was up.
Another trick was to use the rough, or charred part of meat for a sandwich. This was pretty common to get to someone. Putting onions on a grilled cheese, or green peppers in pancakes were some other creative ideas. The majority of these messed up meals usually ended up on the plate of a Chester. Those inmates never got any respect.
On September 29th, 1990 I turned twenty-one years old. There were no plans in my future, especially in the immediate future to do any drinking. It was fun running around, telling everyone that I was legal. Turning twenty-one in prison ended up being pretty uneventful. Besides, I think I did enough partying before prison, to last a lifetime. Some birthday cards came in the mail and it was a nice break to feel remembered outside the walls.
Around October I was reassigned to the position of DRO or Dining Room Orderly. This meant that I would take dirty plates and cups on a cart to the inmates running the dishwasher. Then, I would run clean cups, and silverware out to the dining area during the meal. This also meant that I would be running the extra food out to whomever made it into the secret extra food society. Luckily, we never got caught.
Once the meal was over, I would sweep and mop the floor as well as wipe down all the metal tables. An inmate named Jim Woods was mopping the kitchen with me when our eyes and noses started to burn. As we kept working, it got harder and harder to breathe and I started to feel dizzy. Something wasn’t right and I could tell Jim was having a hard time breathing as well. “What did you put in the mop bucket?” I asked Jim. He said, “Bleach and ammonia, why?”
The bleach breaks down to form hydrochloric acid, which reacts with ammonia to form toxic chloramine fumes. “Crap, we need to get out of here.” I said, as I turned and ran out of the kitchen. Jim came out and his eyes looked like he had been awake for a week straight. The Sergeant in charge ran into the kitchen screamed at everyone to evacuate the kitchen. He took care of the bucket and we couldn’t go in there until all the fumes cleared. They set up fans to blow it all away. Jim got his butt chewed up and down by the Sergeant, who threatened to have him court-martialed for attempted murder.
There was a particular inmate that I worked with in the mess hall, Rick Tooley. He was a former Air Force Staff Sergeant and was serving a seven year sentence for sexual assault. He had been locked up for about eighteen months. Rick was extremely nice and seemed very out of place in the DB. He brought his Bible to work with him and he read it on breaks and prayed regularly. Rick’s faith was very strong. Once in conversation he mentioned that he did not do what he had been accused and convicted of. This was the only time that I believed an inmate when professing innocence.
He had been praying and praying pretty hard because he was having trouble with his wife at home. The separation was getting to them. He really needed to get back home but had a long time left to serve out his sentence.
One of the guards told him his mustache was too long on the sides and made him shave the whole thing off. The next day Rick was gone. Come to find out, his case was thrown out. The baby sitter who had accused him of sexual assault, had lied in his court-martial. Nothing ever happened between the two of them and she finally told the truth. The other good news was that, Rick had a critical job in the Air Force and so was returned to active duty at the same rank. They had to back pay him for the entire time he was confined.
Most every inmate would tell you that they are not guilty. When Rick said it, I had always believed him. He never gave up hope that one day the truth would set him free.
It was about this same time that, I passed my first year of confinement.
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