I was completely caught off-guard when I came into work today. One of the first people I noticed was a new employee who happened to look, at first glance, like one of the friends I’d made during my stint in the big house last winter. My first instinct was to walk straight up to her and say, “Carolynn!!! I thought you were still in prison!!” As it turns out, this would have made for a grave misstep in employee conduct, as I soon realized that she was not, in fact, a former fellow inmate of mine, and it might have been a bad first impression on a co-worker. The oddity of this encounter is especially bizarre, considering what followed.
I shook it off and went outside to the patio. A blonde woman who was sitting at a table instantly caught my attention. She looked exactly like a former inmate who has been ingrained in my memory. This woman reminded me of someone I’d met on the inside, who had made a name for herself at Victorville Federal Prison Camp as one of the more aggressive inmates. Last I’d heard of her, she had been sent to county jail after being caught smuggling prescription drugs through the visiting room. Now, I saw her sucking down a glass of red wine, both elbows slumped on the table. I remember my first encounter with her, in the gym at the prison. My friends had reserved a workout room there, and she had tried to block their entry to the room, yelling that this was her turf. Her outburst was so hilarious and shocking that it was the subject of conversation and ridicule for the entire evening that followed, mounting to a face-off at the chow hall.
I was so sure that it was her that I ran to the front podium of the restaurant. My manager was standing there. I said something like, “Manager, I think I went to prison with that woman at table 104!!” He shook his head and said something like, “Oh, Meili.” I just had to go run an’ tell that. I also ran an’ told that to my fellow server (We’ll just call her “K”) about my suspicion. K told me, “You should ask her!!” I considered my options. I wasn’t assigned to her table, so there was no reason for me to interact with her. Still… I thought about “accidentally” dumping a tray of drinks on her, then turning to say, “Whoopsi. Wait. I know you! Didn’t we go to prison together? Well, I’ll be darned. How the heck are ya?!” Maybe not the best approach, though her rude outburst against my friends in the slammer would have been somewhat avenged.
Finally, I could resist no longer. I approached her table. She sat with two other women, one young and one old. Probably relatives. I said to the group, “Are you ladies all finished?” indicating to their dishes. “Yes,” said the younger one. I collected her dish. I turned to the woman I suspected to be my former fellow inmate. “Are you done?” She looked up at me and spoke in a thick Russian accent. I remembered that accent and that scowl. She said, “Yes. We are done. We are ready for check.” As I collected her dish I said, “Oh, you look familiar. Did I wait on you last time?” She said, “You look familiar too. How long you work here?” I shrugged and said, “Oh, a while. I took a leave though.” She locked eyes with me and said, “So did I”. I just nodded and said, “Nice to see ya.” The women who sat with her chuckled.
I ran to the back to tell K that I had confirmation! She burst with excitement and said, “You need to start a confrontation!! I want to see a proper prison fight! God willing, I’ll never have another opportunity to see one.” I laughed it off and said I’d take a pass on the idea, though it amused me to think of e-mailing my friend back in prison to tell her that, at the restaurant, justice could have been served.
174 days to go.