Sunday, January 24, 2010

Correctional Officer of the Week

Recently, when I wrote about my experiences as an inmate of a New York correctional facility, I hoped that most readers would recognize my remarks as satirical. I have never committed a felony — at least one for which I have been successfully prosecuted, or, indeed, prosecuted at all — and have never spent a moment of my life behind bars. It was in front of them — as a correctional officer (that is, guard) in the criminal alien detention facility outside Stoughton, Wisconsin, that I spent seven months in 2007 and 2008.

One can’t really make ends meet on the starting salary offered by the Corrections Corporation of America — most criminal aliens are looked after by CCA and other private contractors hired by the Department of the Interior — so nearly all of us new “screws” had to supplement our income by dealing contraband to the inmates. In addition to such staples as heroin, methamphetamines, pornography, and Celine Dion CDs, a lot of my inmate customers wanted tapes of Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadien hockey games. While the vast majority of the criminal aliens incarcerated in America crossed the Mexican border illegally, you see, the facility at which I worked housed mostly Canadians, who’d sneaked across our northern border to escape their country’s health care system.

Standing Water, the leader of Cree Nation, composed of inmates descended from Canada’s largest indigenous group, had a much more specific request — for foundation that would complement his bitch Running Water’s skintone. A chiropodist in civilian life, the small, frail Running Water had apparently had no recourse but to impersonate Miley Cyrus in exchange for Standing’s protection. By candlelight, she actually looked very presentable, if nothing like La Cyrus.

There weren’t African-Canadian inmates, and thus not much call for an Aryan Brotherhood, but a couple of prolifically pockmarked diehards met every Thursday evening in the rec room to watch CMT and give one another really ugly tattoos. In exchange for a couple of bottles of cheap vodka distilled not from potatoes, but from asphalt, they would pretend to enjoy some of my own country-flavored songs, some of which appear on my indispensable new album Sorry We’re Open. Product placement!

Being a correctional officer is, of course, a dream job for a sadist such as myself. I loved being able to beat inmates capriciously, and to force the youngest and cutest to perform unnatural acts, either with me or with fellow inamtes. Perhaps most cruelly, I would stand outside the cell of an inmate I knew to be very proud of his country’s contributions to popular music and assert until he banged his head against the wall in frustration that whatever good music Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Shania Twain, and Rush may have made over the years isn’t enough to offset the first Alanis Morrisette album. That awful rancorous yodeling! Has anything — Kiss, Motley Crue, the Grateful Dead, all of hair metal, all of The Clash except “London Calling”, all of grunge, and all of gangsta rap aside — ever been worse?

Don’t imagine they didn’t try to retaliate. Don’t imagine they didn’t succeed; Canadians are capable of greater guile than we sometimes give them credit for. After I’d been in uniform a little over three months, the inmates voted me Correctional Officer of the Week, and suddenly I was shunned not only by my colleagues, but by people in the community at large. On at least two occasions shortly thereafter, fellow guards replaced the contents of my Thermos with urine. And one night when I went to Home Depot for a part for the upstairs toilet, none of the orange-vested brigade would deign to help me find it. The kids were harassed on the school bus, and someone put a plastic bagful of dog feces in our mailbox. At Walmart, the missus was Maced by a fellow shopper who bitterly recounted having died in an emergency room that was busy treating Canadians.

I saw little recourse but to abandon my career in corrections almost before it had begun, and to go back to graphic design.

[Just holler if you'd like to read the short story from which this was adapted. Facebookers: Read more zany essays just like this and subscribe here.[


  1. Hyuck! Had me going for a moment there, John. And then I just lay back and let the wordy things do their job.

    V funny. x

  2. That's the Mendelssohn I remember, John. Attaboy!