If you have no money on your books in jail, the County gives you what they call an Indigent Kit. It has basic toiletries (one half toothbrush, one Maypo-colored hotel-size bar of soap, a tiny tube of nondescript toothpaste, and an overgrown vial of shampoo) and some instructions printed on green county paper in an industrial-size Ziploc.
I had seen the Indigent Kits previous to knowing they were called that; I had thought the Indigent Kits might have been some Standard Issue Hygiene Pittances you might purchase at store. I was learning new things every day teaching in jail, like the phrase, "catching the chain," an colloquial expression that means being transferred to state prison, or better yet a federal facility. I used the phrase on my vocabulary test, except I messed it up and put: taking the chain, which my students rightly imagined was a completely different experience. "Hey mister, can we get extra credit because you were wrong by putting taking the chain instead of catching the chain?," one of my inmates might radio to me from the far reaches of the last spider tables.
Even though I've never been the recipient of an Indigent Kit, I see how several of the inmates approach receiving an Indigent Kit: with the glum, indifferent embarrassment usually reserved for the super poor who frequent the buses and unincorporated jitneys. It must mark some rock bottom watermark, even for inmates in the County. Khrimyan, for example, has never had to receive an Indigent Kit because his Armenian peoples put money on his books. Living off your people, you can stay locked up a pretty long time. I did not know what he had done, or why he was there, but I could trust him a little more, in theory, than the rest of my inmate-students because he was a trustee. The word trust was literally baked into my relation with the man.
And the man stood about five foot four, and was maybe 165 lbs, but tattoos encrusted his neck, hands, and slowly crept up the jawline into the mandible's hockey stick canvas. Khrimyan was also real bembon, meaning big-lipped, so all the anomalies competed for dominance on his face and manner. For example, he cocked his index finger to the side, like when he pointed or used his finger for illustrating tenor. Something told me he was a little Hollywood and a little south side, like possibly this person had fired a strafe of bullets into the illicit loam of an illegal target range and overseen various drug retail ventures and security exchanges. Khrimyan moved like the day room was a monastery of sorts, a laboratory of manners.
But not everybody can be Khrimyan, and so for the people that do have to go that route, there is the choice of getting one and living off that until the next time you go to store. Store is where you use the money on your books to get you the stuff that you need like deodorant, shaving cream, and all your basic ointments and comfort salves. When I come in on Mondays, it's usually after store; so, on the first Mondays of each month, there is no body odor in the module, but imagine what it gets to be by the last, mellifluously musky Monday of the month. "Ripe!, Mister!, Ripe!," one of my inmates might scream out from the last spider table in the known galaxy on the last day of the month toward me like some wayward seal.
"Mister, I was hoping you could bring me a picture of Albert Einstein, sticking his tongue out," Khrimyan said one day completely out of the blue. I had always known him as Sam Jr. because he mirrored the most important trustee on the floor: Sick Sam. Sick Sam was the most trusted trustee on the floor; he knew how to work Excel spreadsheets, and plus he was a native, so he knew a lot about gangs although he was never affiliated, and he spoke the best broken Spanish on the floor; but, he was also mostly shameless, and never forgot to remind you that "gratitude can be shown in many ways, Sir." Then, Sick Sam would proceed to lean in close and tell me you how certain guards let them stay up late and watch DVDs, etc. Now, this was very vorbotten but as long as it was kept All in the Family , it was acceptable.
If Sick Sam was always clammoring for tips like some grubby major domo, then Khrimyan was like some elder statesman of restrain. He walked across the day room with a jump in his step but there was no clamor in his heart; Sick Sam was constantly treading or forcing other's to tread, but Khrimyan was more accustomed to leading people to their grave. Sick Sam seemed destined to walk himself into his grave on the D.E.R.'s dime. The D.E.R. (Department of Educational Rehabilitation) ran the sickest floor in the jail. And by sick, I mean, free from racial racketeering and racial baiting and simultaneous reverse xenophobia mongers and all the sick shit the jail is famous for fomenting and being a victim of and suffering from, et al.
A Spanglish blog dedicated to the works, ruminations, and mongrel pyrotechnics of Yago S. Cura, an Argentine-American poet, translator, publisher & futbol cretin. Yago publishes Hinchas de Poesia, an online literary journal, & is the sole proprietor of Hinchas Press.