Christmastime always reminds me of my first day on a new job at a juvenile corrections facility. Christmas eve morning had the place bustling with Inmates craning their necks to see visitors. The kids paced the day room waiting for parents to pick them up for short furloughs home. Everyone was amped up. While I waited in the day room of to meet my new supervisor, I overheard this from the mouth of a fifteen-year-old girl.
“The best time to shoot up was when I was pregnant. My boobs were out to here, man. And my veins you know? They were like all popped out and shit.”
The girl—I’ll call her Guadalupe—said this with the inflection I’d use if I’d said, “After Christmas is the best time to find deals. I found this gorgeous hat on clearance, and it was marked 75% off!”
Guadalupe practically salivated as she reminisced her days “on the outs.” I looked away to pretend I hadn’t heard, while internally trying to wrap my head around the concept. Meanwhile, acne-faced John Cougar lookalikes (it was the early eighties) in ripped Levi’s sauntered past, followed by cholos decked out in creased khakis, flannel shirts, and faces tattooed with cynicism.
Now, substance abuse and scrappy, criminal behavior are part of my upbringing, it’s practically in my family DNA. So when they hired me for the job, I brought a generous amount of my own cynicism. That meeting room with its frayed couches and yard sale-worthy rugs wouldn’t offer any surprises to me.
Still, I found it fascinating that someone made an effort to soften the institutional atmosphere with colored lights and handmade, holiday décor. My gaze wandered to the Christmas tree in the middle of the room. Something auspicious and snowy white dangled from a lower branch. I stepped closer and squinted. A fresh tampon seemed to smile back at me, beautified with a red ribbon around it to wish visiting family members a cheery holiday.
The prank left me speechless, even though I’d come from a crazy family who maintained their own wing at the county jail.
Guess I wasn’t as cynical as I thought. Things still existed in the world that held shock value for me apparently, because within minutes, a cherub-cheeked Deadhead with peach fuzz on his chin approached. Probably mistaking me for a visitor, he smiled sweetly and said, “Oh, I see Santa left a twat rocket.”
Later, when my supervisor gave me the tour I inquired about the Deadhead. She told me he’d been brought in after he and his friends dropped acid and broke into a cemetery. There, they unearthed a grave, pried open its casket, and smashed a human skull.
That Christmas was even more memorable than the one when I was six, when my grandmother was released from jail for shooting three of our neighbors.
But that’s a story for another time…