Illustration by Liza Burns

A Good Week In Prison

The small things matter once you’re inside

By OMike

A good week in prison? I know what you are thinking: That’s an oxymoron if you have ever heard one. 

To be honest, there was a time I would have agreed with you. Back before I had ever spent even a single night behind bars, I could never have had imagined such a notion.

Now, after more than three decades and over half of my life spent inside, I look at things differently — very differently. 

The Oregon Ducks won their football game to end my week, and back when I took my life for granted, this would have been the highlight of the whole week. I would have not paid attention to all those little everyday things that make life special. How easy it was to take them for granted and not appreciate what I thought I would always have. I don’t just miss those times. I miss not being able to make more memories.

And so I have learned not to take things for granted. I have learned to appreciate small things. This past week, for example, started with the simplest of pleasures: From the prison laundry, I got a somewhat clean and relatively stain-free set of sheets without any tears or holes in them. 

All our sheets are handed down or donated from other institutions and hospitals and such throughout the state. When the penitentiary receives them at our laundry, the first thing they do is wash them and dye them a dark forest green in hopes of hiding all the stains. This does not often work. True, my pillowcase was missing, and I had to run one down, but that was an easy fix. 

This past week was also a good one for food. Food is everything to prisoners. I relished the two “free world” meals I got to eat at two special events. On Tuesday we had a fundraiser for the hobby shop (two chicken breasts and a bratwurst). On Thursday, there was an athletic club/basketball fundraiser (pizzas from Pizza Hut). We inmates pay for these outside meals ourselves. The state spends $2.70 a day per inmate on our three chow-hall meals. Sometimes you allow yourself to be fooled by the chow-hall menu. “Chicken” it reads. This is generally closer to what most would call “mystery meat.” Who knows what part of a chicken it might have come from. Or even if it did come from a chicken. Whatever it is, it is always cold. 

This past week was also a good one for movies. A lot of the men here have 13-inch TV sets in their cells. Of course we buy these. They are not provided. The content we get on those TV sets is controlled from a “movie room” staffed by inmates. We can watch certain movies at certain times. There is also a selection of news, sports and other channels. I’m a sports guy, not a not a movie guy. I hardly ever remember the titles of what I’ve watched. 

What I do remember is that this week when I was watching a movie, the tier was unusually quiet, and the system didn’t cut off the movie 10 minutes before the end. This almost always happens. So the experience of watching a movie I didn’t care about and don’t remember now even just a few days later counts as a high point. 

This, for me, was a good week in the big house. I hope yours was better. ν

OMike has spent the last three decades in Oregon penitentiaries.