Worst Prison Job and Best News Yet
During certain holidays, the powers that be would decide what meals we would serve everyone. We never cooked typical prison food. For Thanksgiving there would be turkey and stuffing. For Christmas, usually ham was the main choice.
In January, for Martin Luther King Day someone thought it would be a good idea to have soul food. There were special items sent in for us to prepare and cook. Our supervisor sent me and another guy over to ten large industrial sized buckets that looked like the kind you would use for painting. We were informed that we would be cleaning chitterlings (pronounced chitlins).
Since I spent a lot of time in the South, I had heard of chitlins before. What they actually were was a mystery to me. I was sure that I had never eaten them even though I had tried things like; alligator tail, frog legs and rabbit. Nothing could ever prepare me for what I was about to experience. When we took the lid off the first bucket, the smell almost knocked me over. The aroma was like a backed up sewer.
What the heck was in this bucket? When I peeked in the container I saw a bunch of whitish, slimy, worm like things immersed in water. My shift leader told me, they were pig intestines that are finger-cleaned of debris and fecal matter before they are cooked and consumed. Why would anyone eat these things? Me and the other guy had to strip the inner membrane from each one and rinse them all off one by one. This meant that for several hours, I had my hands in pig guts and excrement. This was the single-most disgusting experience of my life.
Between the two of us, we cleaned five buckets each. When we were done, we realized that the smell had transferred to our hands and would not come off. Normal soap and water wasn’t doing the trick. Grabbing some lemons, we squeezed them onto our hands and rubbed them around to see if that would help. It didn’t and so the next step was pretty desperate but we chopped up some onions and rubbed them all over our hands and even that didn’t work. As a last resort, we took bleach and washed our hands with this chemical in hopes that it would kill this putrid scent that had become so attached to us. This did not work either. So we both smelled like lemon, onion, bleach and fecal matter all in one whiff.
The other menu items were pretty Southern, but innocuous including greens, black eyed peas, and cornbread. They also had pigs feet, which is another thing I would never like to look at again. Someone else worked with those since we were so busy with the chitlins.
When the mess hall opened, there was quite a commotion. Many of the guys who had converted to Islam during their incarceration were furious. They couldn’t understand why these meat items were being served on this holiday. It was pork and they couldn’t eat it for religious reasons. It made sense that they were upset. There were no non-pork items for them to eat in place of the pork choices. However, some of the guys were quite abusive to the trustees on the serving line. None of the mess hall workers had anything to do with picking the food items. Someone even said it was a conspiracy and that maybe they wanted inmates to riot. It was a pretty tense situation. Having gotten used to the serene surrounding of the LPU, the angry outburst was out of place. It was quite a nerve racking experience. Thankfully, no one wanted to lose custody over food items so it blew over. There were complaints filed through the proper channels and so no one got out of control.
Not too long after this incident, we got news some interesting news. A team was being put together to work in a different dining facility. They needed four of us to work there in February, and they offered the spots to the 20 year Air Force Chef, my work out partner, the guy from Lincoln and myself. Without hesitation, I said yes. It was one step further away from the DB and one step closer to freedom and peace.
Beyond the LPU, there was a farm colony that was run by about thirty trustees. They took care of the animals and worked the land. They also lived on premises. We would be cooking for and serving food to the farmers so they didn’t have to be transported out to the LPU.
One of the blue military vans came to pick us up pretty early in the morning. We traveled about two miles north of the Castle. When we arrived it was still dark outside which made it hard to see how big the farm colony actually was. We knew we had arrived because of the large sign that identified the facility.
Positioned at the entrance to the farm there was a small dining facility that looked like a normal building from the outside but on the inside had the feel of a little country restaurant. In the kitchen area, there were a couple stove top ovens on the right, a prep table to work on in the middle, and to the left was a room with a sink where all the cleanup work happened. Further inside, was where the dining area was located. There were several wooden tables set up in the shape of an L. The tables were covered with a red and white checkered table cloth and there were wooden chairs surrounding the tables. Very quaint, and to top it off, country music was playing on the radio. My dislike for this music did not stop me from subliminally memorizing the lyrics to every country song played in 1992.
As soon as we entered the building, we got to work. The farm Trustees got up pretty early and would need to eat. Since we were on our own for the most part, the Chef would make special items from scratch that weren’t on the menu for the day. No one complained about it. My favorite was a cinnamon crumble coffee cake. Regular items included bacon, ham, pancakes, potatoes, biscuits with gravy, omelets, and scrambled eggs.
The farmers would come in and eat and then go out to work in either the fields, the greenhouse, or with the livestock. These guys worked pretty hard. When they came back in for lunch they looked completely different, covered in mud and smelling ripe. The worst of the lot were the pig farmers. The smell that followed them in brought back the memories of cleaning the chitlins. There was really nothing they could do about the smell that attached to them, but I made sure I ate before they came in. After breakfast, we cleaned everything up and prepared for lunch, and then repeated the same thing for dinner.
The Chef was so good at what he did that the farmers raved over the food every meal. The guards who ate the food talked about how amazing it was. His reputation was discussed through other channels and it got to the point where they started bringing people out to the farm mess hall to try the food. Eventually they started setting up special dinners for high profile officers that were attending the US Army War College at Fort Leavenworth. One evening they brought a couple of Israeli Generals to eat our food. They warned us ahead of time, so that we made sure the meal was kosher. It struck me as a little funny that some of the world’s top military leaders were being served by four military inmates.
There were maybe a few guards hanging around the farm but whoever was assigned to us never really bothered with us. So, in March, once it warmed up, I would leave the mess hall during down times and head up to the fence that separated the buildings from the fields. Every once in a while there would be a horse that would hang out near the entrance. Sometimes I would bring carrots and give them to the horse. It was small moments like these that almost made me forget that I was in prison.
Back at the LPU, one of the guards handed me an official Army envelope. Inside was a letter with a response to my request for Temporary Home Parole. In April, I would be going home for seven days.
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