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Christmas Time in The Big House
by Robert McCandless

Featured Article

    Twas the season to be jolly and even though we were locked up, a sense of the season seemed to permeate the attitudes of everyone, maybe a little too much for Blanton. Some of the guys with short sentences were saddened about not being at home but us with, what we called, a butt load of time, just chalked it off to another year.

    Working for the prison school district that provided vocational programs for the prisoners left me with vacation days like any public school. Sitting in my cell the day before Christmas Eve, while most everyone else was working, I heard it.

    A handful of guards walking down on the ground level floor below my third-tier cell. The pace told me something was up, but my door was locked, and they were pass me before I could grab my shaving mirror and hang it out the bars to see. It was unusual for that many uniforms to be on the block, but I paid it no mind. Maybe a fight in the next building attached to mine. You get used to sounds and lack of sounds in prison. Lack of sound means trouble.

    Their footsteps disappeared and a minute later, I heard the quiet of the almost empty cellblock disturbed by a mixture of odd, disconcerting rattles and scrapes. Almost like fingernails on a blackboard, interrupted by what sounded like glass breaking every now and then. Grabbing my shaving mirror, I extended it through the bars to see. Coming down the cement floor was a guard dragging a fully decorated Christmas tree, complete with lights, by its base, tinsel falling and balls breaking as they went. Just behind was two more guards flanking Blanton.

    I, and everyone knew he had a tree and, I suppose a couple of guys knew the secret as to how he got it into the maximum-security unit, past the guards at the picket and into his cell. It must have been the lights that gave him away.

    Through the mirrored image, I could see the ear-to-ear grin on Blanton's face... a sort of pride for having gotten away with something that big for a week or so. It was as if he was fearless of the consequences facing him. One could hear a few muffled "Boos" from cells on the third row where it was safe to do so, but the guards were not deterred and continued their march, onto the Major's office, where Blanton would be found guilty and sentenced. 

    Fourteen days cell restriction, meaning, other than going to work and back, Blanton had to be in his cell. No TV, no commissary, no yard. It was much better than locked up or solitary which could have been handed out, but Blanton was a stalwart figure in the system, and he did hold a job in the captain's office, so leniency was granted. 

    The restriction didn't count for much because the holidays found a "spread" in the deep window in front of Blanton's cell almost every evening to discuss the event and although his door was to remain locked, the building tender turning the key forgot many times, making it easier for Blanton to get his plate of Christmas food. 

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