Illustration by Liza Burns

Convicts and Cookies 

The Lifers Club at Christmas

By Chris

Six convicted killers locked in an industrial bakery storage room deep in a maximum-security prison are busy bagging up cookies. But their conversation has nothing to do with the cookies.

At the moment they are laughing as one of them tells a story about shoving a couple of batteries up his ass.

“I don’t know why you’re laughing,” he says. “This is my ass we’re talking about.”

None of them respond. They are hooting and slapping their knees as rivulets of tears cut through the dusting of flour on their faces.

“My biggest fear,” the guy says, “was that, even though I had time to wrap them in plastic, the batteries would somehow shock me. So I’m walking around the yard thinking I’m feeling these little ZAPS.”

He begins to walk around the storage room clutching his rear and jumping every step or two.

“ZZZTTT. ZZZTT. The whole while I’m worried not about the cops finding anything. I’m worried that I’m gonna get electrocuted from the inside out.”

The warm smell of dough, yeast and freshly baked cookies fills the air. If it weren’t for the padlocked door, the barred windows and the 25-foot concrete perimeter wall guarded by armed sentries, this might be a normal day at work.

About a year ago, some of the most dangerous men in the state got together and decided they were going to do something about the Christmas bags. These are small paper sacks containing special gifts handed out to every convict on Christmas Day.

Decades ago, a man would get disposable razors, sausage and jerky, a variety of sweets, a candy cane. But over the years the bags got smaller and smaller until they contained only five hard candies, an apple and a two-pack of store-bought cookies.

Many of the men who call this place home have nothing: no family, no income. For a lot of people behind these walls, the Christmas bag is their only chance to get a little something extra. So men in the Lifers Club, like the six cons laughing in the bakery storage room, decided to do something. They decided to bake. They would supplement this year’s Christmas bags with homemade cookies.

The Lifers Club, the oldest and biggest club in the prison, agreed to fund the purchase of extra ingredients for the holiday bake by — ironically — buying cookies from the prison’s own bakery during the fall and selling them to fellow convicts who could afford them. Cookies are a hugely popular and, not surprisingly, frequently “smuggled” item.

Fast forward four months to that bakery storage room where a half-dozen tattooed convicts — at one time all dangers to society (I am one of them) — are laughing as they bag-up the cookies they’ve baked while watching a guy jumping around holding his ass and making buzzing sounds.

Right now they are just six guys, each wanting to do something nice for a change. Right now, they are just six guys, laughing and working. ν

Chris is serving life without parole in an Oregon prison.