Just like the rest of human civilization, I will be watching the Super Bowl on Sunday along with the rest of my inmate population. Inside the prison system we observe EVERY single holiday, as well as a lot of invented occasions as well. We can look forward to extra counts just to remind us that we belong to the system. On the grand daddy of holidays, such as Christmas, New Years, and the 4th of July, we are provided special lunch trays of mostly fried chicken. For dinner we eagerly await a bagged bologna and cheese sandwich with some chips and cookies. This is the BOP’s way of letting us know how much they appreciate the job security we provide to them with our lives.
Super Bowl Sunday however is different. It’s OUR holiday. It’s the climax to the 6 months of weekends that mean something to us cons. Not everyone is a gambler, but during football season, even the brokest con on the compound can participate. All you have to do is scrape together 3 stamps and place a bet on the impossible 20 pick special that guarantees a locker full of ramen noodles for the year. Super Bowl Sunday is also the finale to another block of our lives as we get closer to coming home, or closer to the grave.
I started my time knowing that I had 15 summers and 15 football seasons to spend behind bars. I was also lucky enough to serve most of my time in areas that showed the Steelers every week. Just like the city of Pittsburgh, I shut down when the game is on. There’s no calling home or using the computer. There’s no going outside to deal with any of the prison politics that never seem to stop. When Big Ben is on TV, stay the fuck away from me. When the season is over, that escape from prison disappears until next year. Even though the Steelers didn’t make it to the big game this season, I’m still overjoyed to be watching the extravaganza in what will be my last Super Bowl in prison. Anything will far exceed how I had spent the previous one.
During last year’s Super Bowl I was locked down inside the SHU (Special Housing Unit) for the grievous offense of not receiving the warden’s permission to write for VICE magazine. Anyone that has spent years locked inside the SHU knows how to make the most of what you have. As long as you can pick up the game on your radio, if you’re lucky enough to have a radio, then it’s all gravy. My celly at the time was a 50 year old con from Tennessee that went by the name of Pete Pretzel. He was a 100% good ol’ boy that was like a real life version of the Droopy Dog cartoon.
We received our obligatory lunch of fried chicken and dinner bag around 5pm. Everything runs late in the SHU because, well, who the fuck are you going to complain to? We ate half of our food because when you’re in the hole, you save the other half for later or you WILL fucking starve. Once that momentous occasion was over, we hooked my ear buds up to a pair of cones made out of notebook paper in an effort to envelop the cell with the sounds of Super Bowl madness. We sat back with a joint of some of the shittiest weed to have ever come out of another man’s ass within the entire SHU. I light the shitty ass bud MacGyver style with two batteries and a staple. Then I gave thanks to the weed Gods for providing to us on this holy day. The weed began to take hold as I crawled up onto the top bunk and listened to the National Anthem.
Just as Lady Gaga belted out the ending to America’s tear jerker is when I heard the 1st blurbs ring out from my toilet. I really didn’t pay attention to the sound at first, chalking it up to the weed, then I heard it again. It was a belching sound coming from the stainless steel toilet that did NOT sound human, closely followed by the very human cries of, “Ahhh hell! The toilet is flooding!”
“What?!” I said as I quickly shot out of the bunk. “Jesus Christ, ” was all I could say as I saw the brown water inch higher toward the tipping point of catastrophe. “Give me a fucking cup, quick!” I screamed at a dumbfounded Pete Pretzel. He handed me his small styrofoam cup, the only one he had to drink from, and backed away in fear of the flood. I jammed my arm into the shit water and plugged up the hole of the steel monster. Foul piss and shit water spilled from the basin and onto the floor as the flooding stopped rising. I used an old sheet to slide the sewage towards the door when I heard a scream from down the range. “My fucking cell’s flooding!”
I then yell across to my neighbor to check in on his condition and heard him yell, “Ahh fuck!” I surveyed the water level in my toilet and smiled. I was convinced that I had outwitted everyone else and saved myself from a fucking nightmare. The gratification was short lived. An eruption of foulness splurged out of my shower drain. “Oh fuck!” I yelled. “Throw your fucking blanket on that shit,” I demanded, stunning the southern gentleman. He threw his blanket into the shower to stymie the flow or raw sewage, but the cotton blend was no fucking match for the excrement of hundreds of men. In less than a minute, the shit water was pouring over the ledge of the shower and onto our concrete floor. Just like the Steelers offensive line, there was no stopping it. Our only hope was to contain the madness.
We built a barrier with all of our sheets, blankets, and clothes. You already have nothing coming in the hole. You damn near have to sell your soul to Satan for an extra blanket, so we all used the minimum amount of our shit as we could. In a calamity the size of this one, everything must get tossed at the evil. We created a path towards the door in hopes that it would lead the turds off to never never land. The crude embankment actually worked for a bit. The inches high sludge rolled like a volcano out under our door and left us with at least half of a cell, about 3 feet, to maneuver around. There are 24 cells on a tier and each cell houses two inmates. Every one of us inside our cells had the same idea. To get the shit as far away as possible!
The CO’s came onto the range after hearing the dire screams from cons rooting around in shit. “What the hell?” said one of the middle aged good ol’ boys from West Virginia, the State in which I was incarcerated. “They flooded the damn tier,” his cohort yelled out to the other two officers that work the hole.
The officers didn’t even make it a quarter of the way before realizing that this shit was serious!
“Everybody stop pushing the water towards the door,” a CO bellowed out.
“Man, fuck you,” came a scream from an exasperated con.
“Get us the fuck outa here,” demand another.
“We’ve got no open cells,” shouted the CO.
“We can’t move any of you. Just do the best you can,” said another.
“Motherfucker, get us some blankets,” a con demanded.
“We’re all out of sheets and blankets,” the CO responded.
“We need the damn plumber!” said one CO to another.
“Man, it’s the Super Bowl. Do you think he’s going to come in for this?” his partner responded. Now mind you, the “plumber” is an officer that supervises a few of the working inmates.
“Yeah, probably not,” he replied, dropping his head. “Just ….fuck! Do your best.” These were their parting words as they left the range of 24 inmates to go and celebrate their Super Bowl Sunday in style.
So, as Cam Newton was dodging Denver pass rushers, I was stuck inside of a glorified closet while dodging turds. Inmates yelled at the CO’s all night when they would come through every 30 minutes to make their rounds. Cons were screaming for a blanket to cover up with, or a cup to drink from, but not me. I know better. Behind the walls, and even more so in the hole, we’ve got nothing coming to us.
I laid on the top bunk listening to the game and eating the remainder of my meal in a shit filled, sewer stinking cage. If I had to take a piss, I’d crawl onto my desk and aim it towards the door. I mean, it was all going the same place anyways, right? I stayed in this foul cage until the next morning when the plumbers came and the shit logs disappeared. This might seem like a nightmare to pretty much everyone. It was to me too, but I kept telling myself, “Only one more in here.”
This is why the football season means so much. It’s the ending to another milestone of a life that nobody wants to live through. With every passing calendar year and every passing Super Bowl, comes a trophy of sorts for making it one more year. For this last big game, I’ll place my final football bet on New England and the under as I watch the game alongside the other drunken fools inside the big house. The inmates placing their meager prison wages on the arms of Tom Brady or Matt Ryan. I’ll enjoy the commercials and I’ll talk shit to my neighbor from the dirty south. When the game is over, no matter if I win or lose, I’ll have a huge smile on my face because I know it’s the last one that I’ll have to watch behind the walls of the United States Penitentiary.