Saturday Morning Special

Tim Boland is also known as Convict #232240. He is Senior Editor at the The Lino Ledger, the newspaper at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Lino Lakes, where he writes a series of essays on prison life. Read his extended bio.


“He ain’t sick, but no, he ain’t well either.”
— Moby Dick

 

Bundled like a peasant, committed to the cause and poised to endure. I make the pilgrimage while the freezing rain bombs down in .40 caliber beads. Bang. Soaked to the bone.

At the chow hall, I join the herd of breakfast-ready men. Steaming skulls form a jagged palisade along the sheetrock wall. In the livid fluorescent light we jockey forward slowly, vigilant. The crackle of police-radio babble adds a layer of tension to the air. Just like that and the joint can jump.

At the front of the line, in military rhythm, the trays barrel through the stainless steel anus and into our hungry clutch. Smash, grab and get lost. Glitter and cupcakes are a nice theme for a third-grade birthday party, not for breakfast in the concrete boondocks.

We converge at the table, four strangers from scattered ends of the solar system, united here and now in the penitentiary slum. We come in a rainbow of colors. We represent different generations. We are all recovering from something: our histories, our travesties, ourselves.

It is a table of madmen.

 

There is the kid.

The fearless amateur. The 20-year-old speedball doing a velvety soft two-year whirl who really hasn’t lost anything because there wasn’t much to lose anyway; who aside from the mild distress of exposing his little johnson in the communal cellblock showers and the punch in the mouth he took in the St. Cloud Pen for talking sideways to a goon, hasn’t truly been humbled; hasn’t opened his mailbox and discovered death or divorce; who still falls asleep to fragrant dreams of scandal and fame; who feels a growing swell in his child heart about the prospect of returning to his rural hayseed village and conquering the rackets of cunnilingus and crystal meth and dazzling the townie hoodlums with his freshly minted convict status and his hard-ass prison lingo and his chiseled prison torso and his epic prison stories. Riots! Mayhem! Treachery!

He will be a local hero for at least a week.

 

There is the preacher.

The notorious one-upsman. The self-righteous playboy who today is a holy roller through and through. On fire for the Lord. Hallelujah! A temple of enlightenment. A seeker of truth. A fountain of wisdom in all matters tall and wide… But miraculously this same philosopher-genius just a few short weeks ago was choke-slammed trying to slip out of the grocery store with $86.53 worth of razor blades and beef jerky stuffed into the waistband of his greasy wino pants and subsequently hauled off to the county jail denouncing all the stunned onlookers as “a bunch of fuckin pissant motherfuckers” and threatening lawsuits for millions. Says it was all a terrible misunderstanding. Says he was just going out to his friend’s brother’s car down the street to get his money clip (that in actuality contained three one-dollar bills and a coupon for a free couch dance at The Lamplighter) so he could go back in and pay for the goods. Says the cops had it out for him and the judge was a punk and his old lady set him up and so on and so forth.

He is now here (again) in the Lino Lakes Correctional Facility as a Parole Violator. With clean pants.

 

There is the old warrior.

The original outlaw dog. No stranger to the gladiator circus. Been down a dime on this bid alone. He claims to be 59, but looks more like 159. Stoically he suppresses his terrors, but I can see it on his face, his iguana skin crimson with belligerence and the afterglow of a whiskey sunburn. Outwardly affable, but locked inside the strongbox is a busted down spirit. And I know those eyes. Eyes of estrangement. Eyes vanquished and haunted from doing too much time. He has swallowed enough suffering to never be naively whole again. His entire tragic empire could fit into a cheap drifter suitcase. He is a creature in harmony with the brutal way of the world, and also the recent recipient of a very bad jailhouse haircut.

He shakes the salt shaker over a swamp of sawdust grits like a bayou cowboy on his last ride.

 

There is me.

The four-eyed loner. The foul-mouthed poet. Blazing through a pile of cardboard waffles and two cartons of what I assume is milk. 74 inches and 192 pounds and 35 years of private outrage. Too old for this without really being very old. Deserving to be here, but not belonging. Had a rough stretch and a wreck, but not chance’s victim. Passionately intolerant of the mindless and the nonessential. Zero patience for small talk. Diesel-driven to the edge. Necessarily angry to evade mediocrity. A hoarder of privacy in its rare presence. Mad with supreme anticipation of freedom. Prone to the view that life requires mystery even when all the facts are known.

I used to be a major heart attack, but now I’m just a minor headache.

 


# # #

 

Without parting glances or a trace of sentiment, and before the badges come over to give us the heave-ho, we divide as quickly and casually as we united. We suit up for the marathon march back to our stale routine of naps and novels and newspapers and boredom and jokes and phone calls and card games and titty magazines and TV shows and push-ups and pencil drawings and Ping-Pong and real live prison drama.

Leaving the chow hall, I look up to see a small Cessna muttering in the Saturday morning airspace over the penal colony. The sky has opened and the clouds are strewn like white graffiti on a wall of Superman blue. I ponder the prospects of the day, the week, my life. All the things I have left behind and all the things that will come toward me new again.

There is no better moment for transient happiness. Take it from a man who knows.

# # #
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Tim Boland

About the Author

Tim Boland is also known as Convict #232240. He is Senior Editor at the The Lino Ledger, the newspaper at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Lino Lakes, where he writes a series of essays on prison life. He is, in his own words, "not a thug or an ice-cold menace or a career loser but a once-promising kid from the suburbs who went to State (St. Cloud) on a baseball ride and majored in creative writing and wrote for the campus paper and chased tight skirts and noble dreams but then one day drifted off and got reckless and lost in a ten-year cocaine smog and ended up arriving at a colossal achievement in idiocy." He's scheduled for release in 2015.
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