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Pros and Cons
People say prison is the last place they would want to live. I’d say, “Try a rooming house, then give me a call. We should talk.” The few months I rented a room smaller than a two-man cell, still haunts me; it was a nightmare. But, hindsight is wonderful’ it can heal us from a distance. I’ve used hindsight as an opportunity for humor as often as possible. I’d rather laugh about the insanity I go through than cry over it.
Take cooking for example; using a microwave is basic enough, right? No, not I, I could barely boil water or defrost a frozen chicken breast, alone in my tiny little room. Mastering the art of reheating a cheeseburger, of the dollar menu, evaded me. With every attempt the steaming lettuce would burn my fingers and scorch the roof of my mouth. I would try to gulp down a soggy mass of meat before the bun got chewy and turned into a hockey puck. The cheeseburger battle is lost to this very day.
Yet, in MCI, cooking was a breeze. Everything on the canteen list is freeze-dried, precooked or comes with microwavable directions. I remember receiving hands-on training, too. I may not have known it at the time, but no one wanted me to fail. A kitchen disaster can take away from the next person’s cooking time and basically can smell atrocious. It was do or die. I had to learn quickly or conveniently, my name would never find a free slot on the cooking list. I baked cakes from cookies, fried turkey into bacon or put together make shift pizzas and pasta medleys to drool over. My battle was won!
In all fairness to the rooming house, many activities were not frowned upon: farting, belching, bad breath or snoring too loudly was not a reason for eviction. No one noticed if I talked to myself or if my bed was unmade. But, then again, I never had many visitors. There was no place to put them. “Sigh…”
I could wear what I wanted, decorate in ghastly colors or slam my door ten times a day (by mistake of course). Even having an animal, taking home some vegetables or smoking a few minerals was allowed. Not once did the temptation to smuggle butter home in my sock get the best of me. I noticed none of my neighbors in the house mumbled under their breath or shot me the ole evil eye when we passed on the stairs, which happens more than less on chicken frajita night; my uniform of onions and old socks from working the dish room. Well…except for the fruitcake in room four, but she doesn’t count; she’d glare at us all and mumble to fire extinguishers on her daily walk. God bless her! Yet, there was a latrine and shower to share, mice to deal with, cockroaches and bed bugs that bite! Bitten or not I was my own person. I could come and go as I pleased.
How could I begrudge my freedom? On my key chain swung a set of keys to all the doors. Simple answer, to that question: the resident maintenance man. “He whom shall not be named” came down a bit too often to man the heavy auto-locking door in front. His brand of maintenance had CO written all over it. He made sure to watch who had guests, who those guests were and, upon his discretion, who were allowed to be my guests. I was convinced the man needed a day job, then maybe he would stop monitoring the hall, stop rifling through the community trash barrel by the emergency exit of each floor; and, Dear Lord! What was he doing stooped over breathing heavily, no no…sniffing my door knob? I swear it! I found myself building a fort in the woods one day before I realized maybe it was time to move on. I paid the rent. I was no longer a prisoner.
In hindsight, let me laugh. Let me laugh as I move forward from both the rooming house and state prison. Let me laugh and learn, and make sure to keep a nest egg squirreled away just in case moving is a necessity in the future.