An Insider on the Outside…

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.

Bored and Boarded

I sit here.

It is 10:50pm.  I’m sitting on a yoga ball and listening to the Kooks on Pandora in my apartment (for some reason I’ve recently felt compelled to share my listening menu with you- not sure why, but hey, why the hell not?).  I just woke up from a nap.  It’s safe to say that was a bad decision, to begin a nap at 8:30pm, because now I’ll be awake all night.  Damn it.  Especially when you consider that my day of being conscious started at 1pm.  I didn’t work or have any Leave scheduled for today, so other than a routine waddle around the back yard and a pathetic attempt at exercise in the gym, I was locked in all day.

My gym time has been staggered and halfhearted recently, to put it generously.  I’ve mostly just been walking on the treadmill at a geriatric pace, leaning my entire upper body weight against the safety bars, and watching Breaking Bad on Netflix on my iPhone.  That show is mighty good.  However, it’s a little masochistic that I watch it because it hits a little close to home for me and sometimes it gives me bad dreams.  I have few vices while I’m on house arrest, and it might be true that watching Locked Up Abroad and Breaking Bad are among them.

I watched a lot of TV today, at least by my standards.  I probably watch TV an average of once a week (usually, that would include Netflix on my phone).  Today it was game on for the boob tube.  I kicked it off with War Horse on demand, and spiraled downward into daytime TV after that.

Today has been a blur.  Some days on house arrest are like this.  I find myself trying to break the monotony.  Just to switch it up, I took my coffee with a little sugar (I usually take it black), I played some music from the twenties, I shaved my head bald, and I watched CNN.

Okay, not all of that is true.  I never watch CNN.

182 days to go.

When I Grow Up

I listened to Elton John on the drive home from work today.  I took a different route back to my apartment.  I do that sometimes, just to see different things.  Maybe notice different things.  And maybe feel some appreciation for them.   I am so restricted in what I can do now, and things can get very monotonous.  In two days, I will have been on house arrest for six months.  I’m at the halfway point.

I’ve found myself reconnecting to the way I felt when I was in high school, before graduation.  When you were there, you were so aware that you had your whole life ahead of you.  You thought about what you wanted to be when you grew up.  In a way, I can look at my release from house arrest as my graduation.

I’ve been writing a lot in the last six months.  I’ve begun studying books about varied forms of the craft.  One of the most prolific gurus of screen writing and story structure is Robert McKee, whose work I’ve only recently been exposed to.  He talks about how writers must learn to appreciate limitations and use them to their advantage.  My interpretation of what he says is that when, creatively, we are forced into a kind of confinement, that our energies are channeled in a way that they wouldn’t be if we had every option in the world.  I’ve found that to be true.

I never gave much thought to writing before my arrest.  Well, if I ever did think about it, I certainly didn’t express it much to anyone.  I guess I doubted that I could ever do it, and I was afraid of trying because I might fail miserably.  Well, I’ll tell ya what- if nothing else good came from being arrested with a Range Rover’s worth of illegal drugs and being unceremoniously thrown into federal prison in plain view of my family and friends-  It did help to eliminate my fear of failure.  There is nothing like an epic (and very public) failure to lower the bar going forward.  That’s one way of looking at it.  I don’t mean that to be a negative.  On the contrary, that perspective has helped me to try things that I never thought that I was necessarily capable of.  That in itself is a kind of freedom.

I say all of this knowing full well that it’s very possible that I will fail again, and miserably.  There is also the chance that I won’t.  Let the games begin, I say.  As long as my next failure doesn’t send me to prison- or, if it does, that my next mug shot is at least vaguely attractive, and not resembling some kind of androgynous, exhausted mule after a long day of plowing fields.


186 days to go.