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Featured Article

by Robert McCandless

Featured Article

   We were an elite sort. Working for the Windham School District gave us may privileges not afforded others. We worked in clean, air conditioned, offices under the supervision of civilian clothed personnel that treated us like free world folks, while others worked in various facilities within the prison under the eyes of uniformed guards. The guards at the Walls Unit were the most understanding and easy going in the system but avoiding them was still a high priority job of the inmates. It was understood by both prisoners and guards that this unit was the best in the system and any screw ups could result in transfer to a work farm for either. 

   Windham had it good. We worked nine to five, developing curriculum for the prison school system. One of the biggest perks was holidays. While everyone continued to work, we took the same holidays as our supervisors who were on the same schedule as all state school districts. Christmas and Easter brought two weeks of lying around in the cell or hanging out all day at the library while everyone else in the system, including guards, worked. That may have been what triggered the situation.

   About two days into our Easter vacation a guard came by the cell looking for me and my Cellie who also worked at the media center and told us to report to the Major's office. I was afraid but could not possibly imagine what the authorities wanted us for. I feared that my Cellie was keeping drugs in the cell and had been found out. Arriving at Major Murdock's office, we met what looked like half the media center as more continued to arrive. Once we had all gathered, the Major came out of his office and began his spiel. "You think you been getting away with something, don't you?" "Well, let me tell you that you are still convicts and you still belong to me and while you're in my prison, you're going to work. I have a little job for you while you are on this vacation of yours." "You're going to shell my peanuts."

   We were then marched down to the lower yard behind the mess hall and each given a one-gallon coffee can. The guard told us that when we had filled our can, we were free to go back to our cells. That sounded good to me, but how long did it take to fill a can. I soon found out that it took a lot longer than I thought. As we began to shell it also became obvious that some of us were much faster than others. As the day progressed two of our group finished and were allowed to leave. The rest of us figured that if we all chipped in, we could help one another and all get off about the same time and go on our merry way, so we began.

   By mid-afternoon it was obvious that our plan was working, and it looked like with a concerted effort tomorrow we could turn this all into nothing more than a minor inconvenience. Major Murdock had a different plan. Getting the rumors, we were finishing or having seen some of us walk by his office early, he sent Captain Michael down to the shower yard where we had been placed to do this mundane job. We were informed that we would not be allowed to go as was first promised and that peanut shelling would continue until 4 p.m. Some of the group got angry and complained. I could see in the captain's face that he didn't care for the renege on the deal either even though he did think we should be working instead of goofing around for the two weeks. We went back to work but very slowly. Some just sat and talked while some of us decided to begin eating the peanuts. 

   The next day found us inside the storage room of the mess hall where the peanuts were kept. It was obvious that we were never going to get them all shelled for there were huge bushel bags stacked head high. We sat a second day talking and eating peanuts. It didn't take long for the guards to figure out what was happening, so we were reassigned to different jobs throughout the mess hall. One of our members, Griff the office clerk, decided he had had enough and asked the major for a job. Major Murdock gave him a job in his office. In rebellion, Wayne and I consumed a whole 18 x 24 sheet cake, and 18 x 24 cobbler, a three gallon can of peaches and several things that were meant for the guard's kitchen downstairs before someone figured out it was costing more to keep us than it was worth. One day we gathered at the door to our cellblock to catch out for mess duty and no one showed up to call us out. We went back to the dayroom and watched television with the anticipation we would be called on at any minute. It was two days and several sightings by the major that convinced us that the charade was over. When Easter break came, we heard nothing from the major about having to work. Did Griff fight our case or did the major just want to make a point? Did our supervisors pull some strings with the school district or were really that big a liability to the mess hall? We never really knew but were never asked to work again. 

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