"Mom, I know it's tomorrow. The phones are going to be tied up all day, and the bigger guys get to use it first. No, I'm fine. Really. How's Dad? He's OK, his arthritis is better? Yes, I'm thinking of you. Tell everyone I said hi, hug Grandma for me. I love you. Don't cry Mom, it's only a few more years. Love you...Happy Thanksgiving...bye."
It becomes harder with every call. I walk out of the phone room, trying to shake the hole in my heart off.
It was prison that made me born-again. Without these walls, I'd still be a drunken frat boy taking advantage of the first girl who didn't say no enough times. Yet, I have a hard time feeling gratitude toward Oz at the moment.
"Yo Coush, hear about Governor Devil's big splurge?"
I turn to the table seating Pierce and Wangler.
"We're getting free turkey dinners."
"And no tv dinner shit either, real turkey."
Only months ago they called me every derogatory name they could think of. Perhaps being yourself does win points after all.
"Bet it's gonna taste good Bible bitch."
"I think Sister Pete had something to do with this."
"Nah, motherfucker just wants good publicity."
Looking around the quad, everyone's so down, thoughts of their family and friends weighing on them. This dinner might do some good.
Mark Mack's waving. I know better than to go down that road.
So he joins me. What an egotistical runt.
"Hey...y'know Cuntaine...I have to wonder, why are you such a wuss? Guys with our skin are supposed to be tough."
"I have to go. Can we continue this conversation some other time?"
"Can we continue this conversation some other time? He's a fag!"
The whole crew laughs. Why is it that only one can speak at a time? Do they share a voice box?
My shoulder gets a painful squeeze, and I feel that fear when I'm pushed toward the stairs. Surely He will protect me.
"I heard you got put in here for raping some bitch?"
"That's none of your business."
"Everything's my business pal."
We're under the stairs, and nobody cares. None of the hacks ever care until they smell blood.
"Just leave me alone, please."
I hear unzipping. Oh no.
"Ain't Christians supposed to give? It'll be Christmas in a few months, so you're giving and receiving."
The wall meets my back. Nowhere to go.
"Go play nice boys."
Mineo. Praise Jesus. Mack sneers as we go, but I'm not completely worried. I'm so meaningless on the food chain, he probably came to me because the gays were busy.
"Thank you Officer Mineo."
He just looks at me as he walks away, like I'm a lower life form.
"It's my job."
Leaning beside a tv monitor helps me to catch my breath. Sometimes I still can't believe I'm in Emerald City. Or prison at all. Next up is Whittlesey, looking down from her throne.
"You have to bulk up or stay out of trouble. This place isn't for the innocent."
No shit Sherlock. What does this woman do all day? I didn't see her helping Mineo, she stayed at the tower. I can't stand people who put on airs when they have no reason to. I'd rather deal with a guard who doesn't care than a guard who pretends to while she pours icewater from her veins.
"Officer Mineo, may I have a visit with Sister Pete?"
We walk along to her office. Did I just curse?
"Hello Jonathan. What's up?"
"Are you responsible for the turkey dinner?"
She laughs. Amazing someone in a job with so many burdens can find the time for humor. She's an amazing woman.
"If I had that much power with the governor, this state would be very, very different. Surely that isn't the only reason you came to see me."
"It isn't. I...I wanted to say a few words during tomorrow's Thanksgiving lunch."
She gives me a look combining pity with some sort of wonder at how naive I must be.
"I don't think that's a good idea. At best you're going to be ignored, at worst you'll be stabbed with the carving knife."
I just have to be blush from being such a stupid fool.
"I'm sorry, you must think I'm a moron. But this is a rare opportunity to save souls."
"When I originally came to Oz, I suggested the same thing to the warden. It took everything he had to stop from laughing."
It's a relief to know we're close to being in the same boat.
"To be honest, Jesus is going to be the last thing on their minds. He comes a distant third behind white and dark meat. Maybe I could talk to Father Mukada about letting you say a few words during his service tomorrow?"
"That's great. Thanks."
She can see right through me without even trying.
"I cursed to myself."
Her entire face lowers from disappointment.
"You're going to burn in Hell."
"I didn't mean to Sister! I....are you joking around?"
Her smile says yes.
"You're remorseful and repentant. Christ has already forgiven. In Oz, dirty words are the least of His worries. This is just a little secret between us, but sometimes even I curse to myself. It's human."
I actually feel better.
"God bless you Sister."
The rumors were already flying before we trudged into Father Mukada's sermon. McManus was too busy to talk. I feel sorry for him, coming to work today.
After the last few file into the early morning service, Glynn steps up to the microphone.
"Governor Devlin has decided to cancel the turkey dinner."
I stop myself from covering my ears during the loud chorus of boos and profanity.
"The food will go to a homeless shelter. Have a nice day."
Wangler was right, this is a publicity stunt. Take away from the prisoners and give to the homeless. Devlin probably thinks this will boost his flagging public image. I'm actually glad, they deserve it more than we do. Few here would agree.
Mukada waits for the noise to die down. Finally, it does.
"Before we begin, Jonathan Coushaine has something to say."
I stand up, knees knocking, willing myself not to look at all the angry faces. They don't hate me, they hate what the governor did. Don't they realize, no matter how underhanded his tactics were, street dwellers and families living from meal to meal deserve the food more? Am I really that much better than these hardened hearts? Hopefully I can get through to them.
I open my mouth to speak, looking over the crowd. How thankful I am to know some of them. Hill, Rebadow, Busmalis. And my pompousness leaves me behind. I'm no better than any of these men. Each and every one of us are criminals, paying penance for our sins. To lecture them on morality, today of all days, would put my soul in a far worse light than theirs.
The first Scripture that comes to mind flies from my mouth.
"He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God."
I turn from the mike, not wanting to look at their faces, knowing I've done nothing to make a difference. But I look back anyway, saying the final words with every ounce of courage the Savior can give me.
And in that moment, for what little it may be worth, I'm grateful.