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Featured Article

  Mashed Potatoes
by Robert McCandless

Featured Article

    God knows I love mashed potatoes. It had been a particularly bad week of food at the chow hall, in the Walls prison unit, for some unknown reason. I mean breakfast was always good but many of us who had money on the books went to our cells for lunch and avoided the prison food. The menu was always posted on a board just inside the chow hall entry but for some reason this day I decided to go in without reading what it had to say. I saw it on the metal trays of those already sitting.

   As I approached the serving line, I saw nothing else that struck my fancy. You got only one meat entree and one dessert, but the rule was you could have as much as you wanted in the ways of vegetables. The only catch was that you had better eat them all or you would get a case, meaning you would spend your evening and weekends polishing the historical brass bars in the front of the prison. "Fill it up" I told the guy dipping from the big pan of white fluffy ambrosia. Man, I was in heaven and my buddies in front of and behind me knew it. I got lots of butter to really grease them up with and went to the table with four others who would be sitting with me. 

   I looked at the plate with a sort of lust and dug in.

   "What the hell.....? This isn't potatoes." The taste was awful. It was turnips. 

   It started as disappointment but quickly turned into fear as it occurred to me...I have to eat this stuff. I didn't like turnips as a kid. Up north they throw away the greens. Down south we throw away the turnips. I was in a real pickle. How would I ever get past the guard with all this food on my plate?

   Some days they didn't have a guard watching the line leaving but today I had seen Captain Michaels watching the empty trays going through the window. I could see him now as I looked from him to the tray of poison, I had in front of me. Thankfully, I had come to chow today with guys I knew, so I asked them to cover for me. After they had eaten, we got up and headed out. It was Ben's job to get the captain's attention and lure him into conversation. Ben was the editor of the prison newspaper and knew the captain as well as a convict can know a guard. Captain Michaels was a fair but firm man that everyone respected and liked but he wasn't about to let me throw away four pounds of turnips. Captain Michaels had seen me leaving the chow hall one day with scabs all over the right side of my face from falling trying to foot race a friend on the asphalt behind the laundry. "McCandless" he said "What happened to you? Who were you fighting?" I felt a case coming on but when I told him that I had fell, he smiled and said, "If anyone else told me that, I would call them a liar, but you...Go on get outta here."

   As we approached the tray service window, I was forth in line, Ben says "pardon me Captain Michaels do you know if ....?" The captain turned to talk with him and the other two acted as if the conversation between them blocked their procession out the door as I pushed the tray of goo through the slot fearing some convict on the other side would see it and sound an alarm. Quickly we all got around the ongoing conversation and I to my freedom. Ben came a few minutes later with a big smile on his face. We had put one over on the Mulligans, as we called the guards, again. 

   That afternoon I went to the commissary and picked up payment for my co-conspirators. We ate Blue Bell that evening and laughed at our successful adventure. 

   Ben, the editor of The Echo, was paroled a few months after me and moved back to Boston, Ma. where he originated. Ben and I had graduated from Sam Houston State University together while locked up. He had been convicted of one of the most notorious crimes in Lubbock's history while attending Texas Tech. In his spare time at the prison, he began making jewelry in the craft shop and became a jeweler upon returning to Boston. 

   Captain Michaels, one of the prisons most liked officers, eventually became a warden and now has one of the prison units named after him. Gail and I went back to the prison rodeo three or four years after my release. When the captain saw me, he came over and said, "How you doing McCandless?" Twenty years later, I was involved in prison ministry at a unit close to Austin. The assistant warden of the unit had come to give us the training required before we went in. As she ended her talk, she mentioned that she had been involved with the prisons for over thirty years, and that her prior husband had worked his way through the system up to the status of warden. When I asked her his name, imagine how surprised I was to hear her say Mark Michaels. Captain Michaels had suffered from Parkinson's Disease and had died shortly after becoming a warden. We shared stories about his life and my escape from the turnip patch along with what the prison had been like "back in the day." We became fast friends on the weekends during my prison ministry.


Previous Articles

  • The Keys to the Car

  • Billy

  • Christmas Time in the Big House

  • Print Shop Radio

  • Pinky

  • Strawberries

  • The First and Second Battle of the Walls

  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - Again

  • The Curious Sentence of Convict #86388

  • The Great Escape

  • Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery

  • Texas Prison Rodeo

  • Peanuts

  • The Many Unanswered Questions About the Death and Burial of Texas Prison Convict Jim Norton

  • Awww, Bananas

  • Saturday Night Lights

  • Supply Room Boss

  • Scroggs

  • Major Murdock

  • The Last Day

  • A Tale of a Frozen Dog

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