The Dayroom, a personal essay,
by Inmate # 6666666Z, Texas Department of Corrections
Contributor’s note: This essay was recently forwarded to Natalia Sarkissian by its author.
In this prison, there’s a small room, the size of an average living room, called the dayroom. With brown vinyl paneling on the walls, a few grimy windows that don’t open, twenty red plastic seats arranged in rows and a small black-and-white tv set mounted on a bracket high up in the corner, the dayroom is the best room in this place. We watch movies here, listen to the news. And every Sunday at least one hundred of us watch sports. Well before the event begins the room fills beyond maximum capacity—all the seats occupied, all the standing spots with good views taken—and gives a whole new meaning to the expression “packed like sardines.”
Every Sunday during football season I get to the dayroom earlier than most, snagging myself a choice spot, and sit waiting, filled with excitement. It’s that season again. Soon everyone’ll be in here, eating bowls of nachos, frito pies, cookies and popcorn. We’ll be betting on our teams with whatever we’ve got of value. Some of us will win big; others will be wiped out.
Since the stakes are high, people cuss the tv out. “Ho ass bitch, mother effer, can’t you catch the damn football?” they scream, their hearts and emotions running wild. Most times I get caught up in the spirit and forget I’m not in a real stadium. The noise, the hollering, the fried food smell of fritos, and I transcend these fake wood walls. Sometimes though, the magic doesn’t work and I remember. What it was like to be outside in the freeworld. How I used to run on the field. Bull, they called me then.
I’ve been making the same trip to this packed dayroom for the past nineteen years, ever since I was twenty. That was when I got locked up for having burglarized a habitation. Prior to that I’d been in trouble for doing dumb ass stuff that was all drug related. Unfortunately, in Texas, after three strikes you’re out. So by the time I got caught red-handed in an apartment that wasn’t my own, I got slapped with eighty years.
I know I made a lot of wrong decisions. I know I am responsible for my actions, what happened years ago is something I will forever be sorry for—I threw my life away—but in court they put the wrong jacket on my back. “Lifer,” this jacket says. But still, I’ve got hope. Even though hope can sometimes kill a man.
I’m almost forty and I’ve spent half my life regretting what I did to get here. I’ve been studying and have almost completed a BA. I work the night shift, cooking breakfast for the entire prison. And I’ve been steering clear of trouble. I dream of getting out, meeting someone, falling in love for the first time in years. I’m ready to work any job, even the lowliest of jobs, because I’ve seen that the fast lane is a one-way trip to pain and heartache and this barbed-wire facility. I know most of us in here say many of these same things. But I’m not ready to give up. Even with eighty years hanging over my head.
Today in the dayroom I’m watching the before-game preamble. I see that at stadiums across the country tailgating is a national ritual before kickoff. Families and friends grill steaks, flip burgers, roast corn. I watch them standing around, their beers or sodas in their hands, telling the reporters who are out and interviewing them how their team is going to kick ass.
There are no steaks or burgers in the dayroom, but soon I’ll eat the nachos and fritos and cookies and popcorn. The food and the locale may not be fancy, but on good days they can generate the same fine feelings of brotherhood. Maybe, today, watching football in this dayroom on that black-and-white window to the world, for a while I’ll forget where I am.
–by inmate # 6666666Z as told to Natalia Sarkissian