Two Dollars a Day Inmate Job
There were some benefits to working in the mess hall job, but not enough at this point to want to stay. When I was inside the walls there was a level of protection that came with being a cook. Since we were able to provide extra food for inmates at times, we were generally well respected. We were often left alone when others were not. At the LPU, there really was no threat to my well-being and so that aspect of the job was no longer needed.
After two years of working in the mess hall, I finally was approved for a new job working at the Post Commissary. Being at this new job meant I would get paid two dollars a day. It was better than what I was currently making, which was nothing.
On my first day of work, one of the blue inmate transportation vehicles came to get us. We headed off to the Commissary which was about two miles south of the LPU, in the center of the Post. As we pulled into the parking lot, I saw a small trailer positioned to the left of the main building. This was the trustee break room. It was here that we would eat lunch and hang out in between shifts. Inside the trailer were some tables and chairs, a T.V. and a fridge. A guard stayed with us there the whole time.
When I worked in the LPU mess hall, we used to make sack lunches for all the trustees that worked around the post. It looked like I would be on the receiving end of one of these every day. There were enough of us there to work in thirty minute rotations. When thirty minutes were up, we would switch places between bagging and break.
Some of the trustees stayed at the trailer while the rest of us headed up to work at the main Commissary building. This was the military version of a grocery store. It looked like any other grocery store you might find in the civilian world, but only military and their dependents were allowed to shop there.
After our shift we would go back to the trailer and take a break. Some guys would read a book or a magazine but most guys watched soap operas. Because these shows were an hour long and we were only in there for half hour intervals, we only got to see half of each episode. When we left, someone would always say to the guys staying, “Make sure you tell me what happened.” Upon returning, they would expect a full report on what had transpired. It amazed me that these hardened criminals were so fascinated with soap operas. It was hard trying to avoid watching them because, there was an understood seniority and it was the only thing those guys wanted to watch.
Up until now, the jobs I’d had consisted of yard work, paperwork, being an Army Scout and then a cook. This would be my first time working in a place like this so I would have to learn quickly. It seemed pretty easy. As the food came down the belt, put it in bags and then someone else would push them out to the customer’s car, and then load them in the car. We alternated between bagging, and loading the cars. The latter was the better job, because it was not as intense as working on the line.
One thing that made it pretty intense was that there was a specific way that the groceries had to go in the paper bags. Meats would all have to go together, as well as frozen or cold items. Canned foods stayed together, but not too many in one bag or it would rip or be too heavy for the customer to carry. We had to be careful with glass containers. Chemicals had to stay separated from the food to avoid contamination. Bread, chips and eggs would usually be held out last so that they wouldn’t get crushed. Of course this is not how they came down the line. The conveyor belt never stopped moving so as the avalanche of groceries rolled in my direction I picked out and segregated the items to the best of my ability.
What happened next must have been a joke or an initiation. The lane I was assigned to had an older Korean woman at the register. She was notorious for being the fastest checker there. She sent the groceries down the belt so fast that they became almost projectiles. If groceries were backed up on her belt for even one second, she became very agitated. She would bark out, “Fahs-tah, fahs-tah,” which made her go even faster.
Eventually I caught on to the system and became more efficient, especially when in any of the other checker’s lanes. They moved at a much slower rate of speed and it was a bit easier to manage. When I rotated through the ballistic checker’s lane the next time, I was more prepared. Although I don’t think she liked people very much, I was able to finally keep up with her but when I was done, I really needed a break.
The Commissary customers were all active duty and retired military and their families. Most of them were pretty nice to us. They knew we were inmates but rarely brought it up or mentioned it. When we took groceries out to their car, we weren’t supposed to interact with them very much other than the normal pleasantries. Every once in a while, a customer who was unaware of our situation would try to give us a tip. Because we were forbidden to have cash we would have to decline. Sometimes the retirees were quite insistent. It was a little awkward when we had to explain why we couldn’t take it. We never really ran into any problems being integrated with the public.
It did cross my mind how easy it would be to jump into one of these cars and just drive away. At this point, I knew I was getting close to the end of my confinement and so there was no real desire to escape. However in the back of my mind, the thoughts were still there. For the guys that were going to be here a lot longer, I imagine this thought crossed their minds as well.
Or maybe it was just me.
It seems as if there is never ending lure, to the impulsive decisions in life that will ultimately derail us. That is, if we entertain them for too long.