Stephen Newman

The Store-Bought Pasta Salad by Stephen Newman

On the streets, if you’re having a holiday meal with family, and something is “store-bought,” it’s typically thought of as “bad.” For instance…

(“Grandma used to make everything from scratch. I can’t believe now she gets store-bought pumpkin pie for our Thanksgiving.”)

Last night, during our prison’s 4th of July dinner, I took a bite of my pasta salad and said, “Wow, this is really good! It’s definitely store-bought.” I hadn’t thought about it before, but in here, if something comes from a store, it is a big upgrade. Out there, if you eat food from a store (not made from scratch) it’s a definite downgrade. Everything is relative, I guess.

Our 4th Of July Menu:
-Cheeseburger (with weeds from the garden, pickle, tomato, ketchup, and mustard)
-Pasta Salad (perfectly cooked pasta and veggies, just the right amount of dressing and seasoning).
-An Ice Cream Sandwich, still in its paper wrapper
-Grossly undercooked baked beans (Did I chip a tooth?)
-Strawberry Shortcake (with white and blue whipped cream, making it a red, white, and blue dessert!!)
-Corn on the cob (it was 1/2 of a cob, but still really awesome, with a little pad of melted butter, salt, and pepper)

I brought down my mayonnaise jar, salt and pepper shakers, and chopped up pickles and jalapenos that I put in a plastic container that I had to rinse peanut butter out of from the day prior. It’s tough to bring pickles down to the chow hall, because inevitably they will leak onto clothing, but this container served its purpose. I was going to bring cheese, with the floss pick I use to slice the cheese, but then someone said cheese was already included so I didn’t bother. I wish I would have, though, as the cheese we got was one of those fake ‘kraft singles’ style cheeses, which you can’t really taste. The cheese I was going to bring was also fake cheese, but somehow it tastes a lot better.

It was a good meal. I just wish they’d stop feeding us the bitter weeds from the garden. It’s arugula, and it’s every salad, and every piece of lettuce we’ve had for months. As they say in Mexico, it’s “No Bueno.” Or, as I call it, “a real waste of good thousand island dressing”.

I’m still living in solitude. In other words, yes, my cellmate is still giving me the silent treatment after almost six weeks. I should be moving into another 2-man room, just two doors down the hall, on Saturday. As my former friend Mark C., a Boise realtor, said once I was convicted, “Good Riddance!”

So here’s the “Stupid Inmate of the Day Award” The guy gets fresh tattoos on his chest. A day later, he has a visit. All inmates get strip searched after each visit. During the strip search, the guard notices the “fresh ink” of a red and inflamed tattoo, and says, “Is that new?”

“Uh, no, I’ve always had it.”

“Hmm, then why is it swollen and bleeding? And by the way, I don’t remember seeing it the last umpteen times I’ve strip searched you.”

Yeah, so a word to the wise — if you’re going to get a tattoo in prison — and I strong suggest NOT doing that, but if you do — don’t ask people to visit you that same weekend. Wait a few months, you know? Wait until the scars heal.

Now the guards are continuously searching the cells in his area, trying to find the tattoo equipment. Often, the motor used is taken from something like a typewriter, a clock radio, even beard trimmers. I imagine if they don’t find what they’re looking for, our whole unit will be locked down in the near future, and all of us strip searched, and everyone’s cells torn apart.

I promised my mom, when I was sentenced back in 2008, that I wouldn’t get any tattoos in prison. She doesn’t have to worry — I’m scared of the pain. And of Hep C.

Here’s the other thing that’s been on my mind lately. There’s a guy who is just 32 years old, who was sentenced to 35 years to life. He’ll be, at minimum, 67 when he gets out. And then I met another guy yesterday, only 32 years old, who was sentenced to 20 years. The kicker is that…both of these are really good guys now. Sure, I don’t know what they did to get arrested, and I’m guessing it was likely quite bad. Reprehensible. Atrocious. Vile. Disgraceful. Shameful. Heinous. Or any of the words the media might use to depict the crime they committed and elicit fear in society. But I wasn’t part of that crime. I didn’t see them at their worst. I do see them in here, though, every day. I eat dinner with them. I share stories with them. I listen to country music with them. I gossip with them. I talk about TV shows with them. I cry with them when their relative dies. I invite them to join my weekly therapy group, to talk about their grief and loss. These “monsters” are quiet, polite, they go out of their way to help others, they share with the less-fortunate inmates, they care about others. Whatever they did out there…it does not equate to who they are in here.

Conversely, there are guys in here, total shitsticks, who constantly do drugs, yell at their mom and their girlfriend on the phone, calling them cunts and bitches and whores. They steal from inmates. They fight. They threaten people. They do drugs. But they only have to serve a year or two. And during that year or two, they constantly talk about how they’re gonna “get out and fuck the shit out of some dumb fat bitch, then get high as fuck and rob a store.”

It’s a tough dichotomy to wrap my head around. Why do the “good guys” that you’d want to invite to your family Thanksgiving dinner get life sentences, while the ruthless assholes you’d want absolutely nothing to do with, they only get a year or two. The length of one’s sentence has no correlation to how “good or bad” someone is as a person. Is this what’s truly best for society?

It’s sad, very sad, to imagine a young 32-year-old walking out of here when he’s 67. The year: 2053. What a waste.

Stephen Newman
DOC #90843

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