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(1) I didn't want to be too close to, or too far from Thanksgiving on this one for reasons that (I hope) will be obvious by the end.

(2) But for the War on Drugs I would never have been imprisoned for over nine years of my life, and but for said imprisonment I would have no quaint, or funny, or whatever prison stories to tell, so that's what makes this a "Drug War Story" for me. (And I think that I can say something very similar on behalf of millions, and millions and millions of my fellow Americans over the course of the last 40 years.)

(3) Similar to "Join the Army to see the World", but different, is "get thrown in Federal Prison to be able to travel around the U.S.". I mean, while I was under federal jurisdiction I spent anywhere from a couple of days, to three years in the federal prisons located in El Reno, Oklahoma (but almost every federal inmate has a horror story for this one), Tallahassee, Fla., Talladega, Ala., Memphis, Tenn., Texarkana, Tex. (the drinking water was carcinogenic here), La Tuna/El Paso, Tex., Englewood, Colo. (2 of the 3 Institutions), Black Canyon/Phoenix, Az. (the drinking water was carcinogenic here), and Safford, Az. (the asbestos insulation was carcinogenic here). It's called "diesel Therapy", and happens to any of us who repeatedly sue our wardens for violations of established Bureau of Prisons policies.

But, anyway, let me jump right to my last year down, and quaint, little, out of the way Federal Correctional Institution (F.C.I.) Safford.

When I hit Safford in 1992 it was still in the process of growing up. It had gone from no fence (the status that is commonly labeled as "Club Fed") to one fence several years prior, and had just started being upgraded to two fences (what, 12, 14 foot tall, the top two or three feet coiled razor wire, and a 12 foot zone between empty of all but various sensors before arriving at the twin, and, then, of course the corner towers, and/or perimeter patrols). So, naturally, opportunists viewing the inevitable, and not too distant completition of the second fence (and Safford was jam packed with guys facing being deported not too many miles South of there sometime within the next several years) had this natural enough propensity for seeking early freedom at fairly regular intervals. None ever made it down from the razor wire without assistance, and the mere attempts were required to result in long term general lock downs, but, hey, the booze and the drugs would have flowed that night (in relative terms) for the resulting celebration if any had.

So that sort of set Safford apart from the other "joints" for me. That and the asbestos abatement (inmates working "naked", staff and outside contractors all with respirators, rubber suits, etc.). Oh, and there was also the Thanksgiving dinner fail that year.

In the vernacular, guards are "hacks", and hacks, while they do come in some variety, would pretty much all be somewhere else if there were somewhere else for them to be. And that certainly goes no less for "kitchen staff". In general, kitchen hacks are no different from living unit hacks, or perimeter hacks, or yard hacks, or laundry hacks, or rec hacks, etc. That's just the station they drew in the quarterly rotation, and they had no choice but to work it to the best of their ability (or inability, as the case may be).  And then Thanksgiving Day, 1992 came, and those of us who knew started to gather early at the locked unit door to get good places in the dining hall line for what should have been the pastries and coffee designed to tide us over for the turkey feast (relatively speaking) scheduled for a few hours hence. And then when the doors didn't crack, and a few guys were hustled surreptitiously off somewhere, the speculation started. And then it ran rampant. And then the truth could no longer be suppressed and all knew that the kitchen hack(s) had gotten lazy/stupid, and had tried to hurriedly bake half thawed turkeys (and not just a few of them, since they were intended to feed 700 inmates and an entire holiday level prison staff), with the result that the turkey exteriors made it, but the interiors only barely warmed past thawing, and then, while sitting over night, started to rot, and then finally had the interior gas pressure build past the explosion point.  

The resulting mess was said to be both totally captivating, and putrid beyond belief.

And it took the better part of 24 hours on lockdown for the Warden to arrange the replacement meal.

And I doubt that even that would have happened but for the fact that Thanksgiving is always treated as a 4 day paid holiday in the Federal prison System, and it was decided that all would be better off if tradition were honored.

Originally posted to oldpotsmuggler on Wed Nov 30, 2011 at 09:21 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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