A Different Christmas Story (Chapter 10)
The Prison Gets Ready for Christmas
That evening the prison was in a festive mood. A band of inmates had been working on Christmas songs for weeks and were now sharing their holiday spirit with their fellow convicts. No one seemed to mind the sour notes.
The Holiday dinner was the talk of the prison. It was always the best meal served all year. Rolls, mashed potatoes with gravy, green bean casserole and a large turkey drumstick, one for each inmate. The prison bakers were preparing for Christmas morning and the warm, sweet smell of cinnamon rolls drifted across the south prison yard. That smell, the prisoners’ cherished sign of the holiday, never made it down into dungeon in the bowels of the prison.
The prison warden had made it clear to the staff that every turkey drumstick bone had to be accounted for from each food tray. This practice took place throughout the prison, the large bones had been made into crude but effective knives more than once over the years. In the main mess hall one by one each and every food tray would be turned in, if the bone was not accounted for, movement was stopped till the large bone made its way back onto the tray and out of the hands of any potential assailant.
It was much easier in the SHU to account for the leg bones. Officer White himself would pass the trays through the rectangle portal and then collect them afterward, accounting for each potential weapon.
The real motivation to get through dinner this Christmas Eve night was the gift each and every prisoner would receive. The Red Cross would service the prison mainline. Cassie and Scott from the Outreach Church would pass out gifts in the SHU.
The Red Cross would give each prisoners a gift of a tall hard plastic coffee tumbler, extra long plastic spoon, two instant coffee packs, two pieces of hard candy, a pen, a pencil and two stamped envelopes. White had decided no candy, pen or pencil for the SHU population.
This would be Danny’s second Christmas in the SHU and his fourth in custody. Sure writs were winding their way through the legal system but it usually took years. Danny didn't add his name to the list of legal battles. He knew it would never help him. His battle was with time and, a nasty demon, cancer. Both were formidable opponents.
Danny had seen people walk out the prison doors on religious holidays after receiving compassionate release orders and he filled his heart with hope that Christmas eve would bring his own gift of early release. As he sat in silence, he apologized to God for his earlier silent outburst and his rage toward another Father he wasn't sure even existed. Over the years, Danny had read the Bible from cover to cover and found the Father to be much tougher than the Son. Carefully contemplating he decided to place his trust in the Son who seemed much more caring and understanding. Danny dropped to his knees and prayed to the Son for an early compassionate release.
Scott wheeled the station wagon into the prison parking lot. Cassie nervously shifted in her seat as she focused on the gun tower. He pulled the shifter up into park and set the break. They had been to the prison before, on the main line, but never in the infamous underground Segregated Housing Unit.
They held hands as they walked to the front gate, in Scott's other hand was the big bag of Christmas gifts. From the top of the tower the guard yelled down to them through a white bull horn, “Open the red box and pick up the phone.”
Scott spoke briefly with the guard then hung up the phone and informed Cassie the tower guard would be buzzing them into the sally port. The sally port, also known as “no man’s land”, was a twenty foot patch of asphalt, an enclosed tunnel between the free world and this city of bars, wire and cement.
All movements throughout the prison were tightly controlled. The gates on each end were electrically synchronized and only one door could be opened at a time. This gave the tower guard complete control and the ability to prevent any unauthorized entry or exit.
The tower guard hit the electronic gate switch and the steel gate lock came to life as it buzzed loudly, allowing the gate to swing inward. Scott pushed the heavy gate open allowing Cassie to enter first, then he followed her in. He then let go of the spring loaded door, it swung back to its locked position and slamming closed, the sound of colliding steen echoing against the hard surfaces of the enclosure.
“What now?” Cassie asked.
“The guard said to wait here and that someone would be coming soon.” Scott replied.
Cassie felt as if they were now somewhere between heaven and hell. She was feeling nervous and starting to have second thoughts. She wondered if Scott felt the same. One look into his eyes confirmed it.
A group of Red Cross volunteers entered no man’s land. Finished with their charity work for the night, they headed through the sally port on their way out of the prison and back to their own Christmas eve plans. They were talking about what they had just seen. Cassie and Scott listened in.
“Did you see the faces on those scary men”
“O my God, I swear some had tears in their eyes.”
“This is the first year I think I understand the act of giving.”
Cassie squeezed Scott's cold hand as they comment after comment reaffirmed this was the right thing to do. He looked at her and smiled. In the distance they could hear the sound of wheels rolling on the pavement -- a small stout steel cart made its way into the sally port, pushed by a guard. They would use this to bring the Christmas gifts down to the dungeon. Almost go time.
Georgia laid in her bed looking at the lights of her tree, blinking in no particular order. At times she thought it was a code of sorts, like a morse code. The nurse convinced her it was just random. Georgia knew the tree spoke and insisted on it. Her gaunt cheeks could no longer hide the pain that was overwhelming her. Although she refused morphine shots, she allowed the nurse to give her a vitamin shot. It took the edge off. It was clear a certain and unavoidable outcome loomed just around the corner.
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