The Candy Bar
A candy bar was a precious commodity. Some of the men had money in their accounts at the PX for a bag of M&Ms or a Snickers and others didn’t. The world of Florence South was a miniature of the outside: the have and the have nots. The lucky ones had outside support—parents or a wife, usually. Kids weren’t much help; they were too young or had lost interest. Hector’s mother couldn’t figure out the system for putting money in his PX account; his father was who knows where. Hector had gotten lucky with shoes and shaving cream that he had inherited from another inmate when that guy finally stepped out beyond the walls. Hector loved those things, but to have a candy bar—that oozing sweetness and creamy chocolate. It called to him the way alcohol had on the outside.
Gary had money in his PX account. He was older than most guys in prison and had a certain status like an elder of a tribe. He had taught in the prison school and gave advice. Hector had been in Gary’s English class. Strange, he thought, how much he had hated school a couple of years ago and how much he had liked it prison. He would have continued if the program had not been cut back. Gary had seemed pretty bummed about that too. He had been a lawyer, or so he said, and he sounded like it. He would listen and answer questions. After talking to Gary, Hector was almost convinced that his appeal stood some chance of success. Was Gary right or just talking– or worse just trying to make him feel better?
Gary always left the PX with a few candy bars, one already unwrapped and on the way down. Hector thought about asking him for one. But, if he asked, maybe other guys would and where would that end? He thought he could stop at just one so he wouldn’t always be asking, but how would Gary believe that. Hector once made a point of watching Gary unwrap a candy bar, put to his lips, and sink his teeth into the dark softness. He never did that again– imagining was no good for him.
Another day like every other during a break in the yard, just a little less hot. Gary had laughed, Hector remembered, when a guard referred to it as “free time.” This day and once every month it really was work time for the inmate who had cleanup duty. It was Hector’s turn. During recess, Hector joined a group of guys, leaning against one of the picnic tables scattered around the yard—a downtrodden schoolyard where the yells of kids free from schoolroom chairs echoed in the here and there, loud and soft voices of men in orange suits. He noticed that Gary was talking fast and with authority to two guys under the corrugated shade of a piece of veranda. The bell rang for the next phase of the day. Hector got his plastic bag and stick to clean up the wrappers and cigarette butts. Under the veranda he saw the wrapper of a Three Musketeers lying on the ground—no not a wrapper; he had found a candy bar. He picked it up with a quick glance around; it was his now.
The next month when he had clean up duty again he would find another of Gary’s candy bars.
In Memoriam, Paul Inman December 3, 2012