What a joy it is to finally have a change from what's become the ordinarily freezing temperatures of an Indiana winter. Today could be described as tepid at best, not quite warm even, but the fact that there was still sensation in most parts of my feet after coming back inside from the hour out in the chicken coop is a welcome change of pace. Mr. Anonymous Celly opted to stay in the cell today, so out in the rec cages today it was just Brad, Brad's new celly, Joestrodomos, SpongeBob, Timmy the Psycho and myself. Brad's new cellmate is quite a character. He had been transferred from a prison in McQuery, Kentucky where he lasted in general population only two days before being beat up by the members of a gang he used to belong to after suddenly having a change of heart about his enrollment (if only it were that easy). He introduced himself to me as Quick. After talking to him for a few minutes it occurred to me that he must have lightning fast hands to have earned that moniker or else that is the most ironic sobriquet ever bestowed upon a man. I mean it in the nicest way possible, but the poor guy is about as smart as a bag of hammers, a fact evidenced by his answer given to my inquiry of what inspired him to have a sword tattooed on his face; a sword overlapped by a large red swastika. While answering the question Quick began to excitedly jump up and down, grinning from ear to ear, like a 6-year old telling his mom how he was picked first for kickball at school that day, his head wagging like some sort of neo-Nazi bobble-head. Quick explained that he and a couple friends were discussing facial tattoos when one of them jokingly suggested our buddy have a swazi tatted on him. Quick heard a challenge (uh oh, where has this come up before). "What, you don't think I'd do it?" he told them. They said they didn't. "Well, as you can see, I did it," he said to me. Way to go, Quick; you showed them. Stolen symbol of intolerance aside, Quick really isn't a bad guy, just misguided. He's the most cheerful, generous and optimistic person I've encountered in a long time. To a fault, actually. You see, it's important not to be too upbeat and cheerful in a high-security prison like this one. Certain people become agitated by this behavior and sometimes take offense.
Sounds kinda crazy right? Like a world full of Grinches. Someone told me a few years ago that the average sentence here in Terre Haute is 17 years. There are quite a few lifers around here, so that figure sounds about right. With so many people doing such long sentences, there's usually not much reason to smile. I mean happy smiles. Don't get me wrong, there's quite a bit of laughing and guffawing taking place. Telling the story of how Butt-Naked Bones got the name Butt-Naked Bones by getting drunk and trying to rape his celly, Newt, will have anyone in here rolling on the floor in stitches. A big win at a softball game will have the victorious team in mirthful spirits for a while. These are superficial genialities, though, and a vast majority of convicts are solemn at best or viciously angry at worst. A true glass-is-half-full kind of guy really needs to temper his cheery optimism around here, because being truly happy while in prison is like yelling in the library, a disturbance to those engrossed in their own misery. Engaging in such frowned upon lightheartedness is to incite the resentment or even hostility of the party-poopers around you.
The avoidance of a cheerful countenance reflects a direct correlation between the respect a person is given and the demeanor he usually assumes. For example, to walk around with a look of mild indifference on your face is to be thought of as "a pretty good guy." Someone who prowls the prison yard appearing to be filled with bitter rage is almost always considered a "solid convict." What about me, you wonder? I've achieved no less than king-like status in certain social circles for no other reason than my mastery of a facial expression indicating that all in one day someone had burst my bubble; got my goat; rained on my parade; pissed in my cornflakes; and killed my puppy. This is not a pretty sight. Only one time have I forgotten to wipe this look from my face before looking in the mirror, an incident which ended with me curled into the fetal position on my bunk, gently rocking myself to sleep while sobbing into my pillow.
As an aside, even that isn't my most potent facial expression. The pissed-in-my-cornflakes cast is like playing peek-a-boo compared with the horror of what I call simply The Serious Face. Nina, you know what I'm talking about. Just describing this expression would have everyone who reads the words scrambling for a closet to hide in after immediately depositing their laptops or computer monitors out of the nearest window. I'll only say that the few unlucky guards I've subjected to The Serious Face have all demanded early retirement.
Basically, Quick needs to work on his serious face. Unfortunately, chances are good that he'll eventually be released into general population after his paperwork arrives from McQuery; and after a few months of his enthusiastic smiling, hopping and skipping over things like how good the green beans here are, a few of the surly old-timers will lose patience and send a few of the mildly indifferent youngsters to go give him an "attitude adjustment." Guess it's true that misery loves company. Just as life sentences like misery.
C'est la prison, as they might say in Région Parisienne.