(A slice and dice of several previous red Thanksgiving pieces, including those here and here.)
One Thanksgiving I spent in jail. I was young, and therefore brash and rash, and so thought myself immortal, impervious. Didn’t think then, there in stir, about doing serious prison time, which is what I was facing. Just had to wait for the holiday weekend to pass, I figured, then the lawyer could tease the bail down to a Sane level. Which is what happened. The serious grinding over the prison time, that came later.
Thanksgiving was my third or fourth day in the place. I occupied alone a single-cell, which I belatedly learned was supposed to be a sort of punishment. I could smoke in there—can’t do that no more, in the jails in this state—and I could think and plan and wonder and reflect. There were tolerable volumes from the jail library with which I could pass the time. Nobody bothered me. I could talk to the folks—though yes I couldn’t see them—in the cells on either side of me. But I could choose not to, too.
This was 25 years or so ago, when they still fed you decently in the jails around here. And so on Thanksgiving they shoved through the bars a fair approximation of a traditional American Thanksgiving repast: turkey, mashed potatoes, rolls, cranberry sauce, yams, etc. I ate all of it. Yams I hadn’t much eaten before, and I haven’t eaten them since. But I had already discovered, there a monkey confined to a cage, that I’d eat just about anything the keepers slid my way. You do tend to get hungry, in every way, when your life is caged.
After Thanksgiving dinner the screws punched a video into the TV/VCR combo that sat on a low metal table rolled about on casters in the hall outside the cells occupied by we “serious felons.” I absolutely could not believe it: the film was The Black Stallion, one of my favorite movies, a tone poem completely about freedom, but one that I figured these cynical magpies in the “serious felon” row would hoot down and away, dismissing it as a “children’s flick.” How wrong I was. They, as it developed, had been on this row much longer than I; they had seen this film several times before, and they valued it. They got it as only people who don’t have it could get it.
Because it was Thanksgiving, that night we got a double feature. The second film was a ninja thing. As soon as it was punched in, we heard a groan from the guy in the cell to the far right.
“What bullshit,” he groused in his gravelly voice. “This is the one with the guy who takes more bullets and lives than even the guy in Scarface. What bullshit.”
And it was true. The ninja hero at one point was riddled with what looked like 20 or 30 bullets, mostly to the head and chest . . . but still, he kept on coming. As this nonsense approached its zenith, the guy in the cell at the far right kept muttering variations on “bullshit” and “check out this shit” and “no way.”
My unseen jailbird companion to my left at one point whispered to me: “That dude at the end, the reason why he’s pissed at this stupid shit: he’s in here on murder. He knows what it takes to kill a person. And it ain’t much.”
Several years later I spent Thanksgiving at Denny’s. I didn’t have to be there; I could have been other places, with other people. But Denny’s is where that Thanksgiving I chose to be. Even at the time, I knew that my Thanksgiving in Denny’s was worse than the Thanksgiving I’d spent in jail. Because then, in jail, somebody else had locked me up. But in dining at Denny’s, I had entered a jail of my own making.
Usually, these days, I don’t associate Thanksgiving with jail. But in 2010 it came back at me. Because the day before Thanksgiving, there in 2010, a jury out of Texas decided that Tom DeLay, former majority leader of the United States House of Representatives, had committed enough crimes to stash him away in a cage for the rest of his life.