Working in food services here at Graceville Correctional and Rehabilitation Facility affords me some benefit. We eat very well, and a lot of the time we get to eat items that the compound does not — fresh salads with cucumbers, tomatoes, pepper jack cheese and diced chicken breasts. Stuffed bell peppers, Tater Tots or shredded chicken fajitas with peach cobbler for dessert. Really, really good stuff using very good ingredients.
In the chain gang, there has always been a black market and a high demand for quality ingredients back in the dorms. A lot of convicts do not eat the trays here since the great T.V.P (textured vegetable protein) “Bitch-Tits” scare plagued the Florida Department of Corrections. They instead make all their meals using food sold in the canteen. Even then they sometimes require help from the kitchen. That’s where a lot of food service workers make money bringing back stuff like cumin, garlic powder, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, bananas, tuna, sardines, chicken broth, bone in and boneless, white meat and dark. Eggs are a hot commodity, both hard boiled and scrambled.
Anything not readily available in Canteen is brought back from food services — illegally, of course. The contraband is generally strapped to the inmates via Saran wrap or tied to their nuts to hang between their legs, and, believe it or not, this is an acceptable form of conveyance.
Of all the items available for stealing, the onion is the most coveted, at least at this camp. Large, white and sweet, the onion is used raw or cooked in all “bricks” and “goos.” Cooking the onion is made possible by the use of a stinger, a device used to boil water made of Brillo, wire and a few other items which are then plugged into an outlet or light switch. Everyone wants onions, especially the “Sauce Man.”
Recently, there was an opening for me to sit at a different table for meals. My presence was requested at the behest of the three remaining members of the table after the fourth E.O.S.’d (End Of Sentence). They had a group discussion and nominated me to take his spot namely because I’m not a child molester, I’m relatively funny, I shower regularly, don’t ask them for food off their trays or fart at the table, something that was apparently a real problem for them in the past.
I graciously accepted and moved from the table I was occupying with my bunky N.Y. Eddie, the most miserable Yankee in history, and Big Dread, a Puerto Rican dude also from N.Y. Unlike N.Y. Eddie, I liked Dread very much because he was funny, saying things to Eddie like, “Your breath looks like it stinks. I feel sorry for your spoon.” And, “You look like some sort of creature from the Children’s Television Workshop.” Dread is right, you know. Eddie’s face looks like a crushed Coke can and he’s so bitter I wouldn’t be surprised if he had an actual hand up his butt like a Muppet. So now I sit at my new table.
Enter the Sauce Man. Sauce Man is a 50-something dude who specializes in making different sauces by combining seasonings from ramen noodle soups and other sauces and ingredients to make surprisingly good BBQ sauce, honey mustard and even McDonald’s Big Mac sauce, which tastes dead on.
He can make Thousand Island dressing if he has the right ingredients, and he makes them all by taste. Being a new addition to the table, he makes his creations readily available to me free of charge, something I am grateful for because sometimes the regular chow trays need all the help they can get. All he asks in return is that if we get any condiments on our tray that we relinquish them to him for the next sauce. I suddenly had an idea to help him in his sauce-making venture. I told him that I work in the kitchen and that if he needed anything that I could get my mitts on to let me know. He immediately responded with an earnest look of hope on his face, “Could you get some onions?” I said sure, but I didn’t know when I’d be able to. Wouldn’t you know, the very next day onions were everywhere! Fortunate for me, right?
At the end of the day, I filled my tumbler that I take to work for water with what amounted to two-and-a-half fresh, sweet, white onions already cut into strips. When it was time for the officers to search us, we went into the search room and did our dance of the nuts ‘n’ butts with no issue. But coming out and walking down the hallway to head back to the dorm, there stood Officer Cousin Fucker (O.C.F.), the epitome of backwoods, hillbilly, po-dunk you could imagine being on the cover of Guns & Ammo magazine.
He was a tall, rail thin man with big ears and patchy facial hair that resembled Emperor Ming from “Flash Gordon.” He looked like a walking toothpick with buck teeth and wall eyes, so you’re not ever sure if he’s looking at you, which gives him this air of confusion like you handed him a football bat. And O.C.F. loved his job. You could imagine this kid had a very tough time in school. His appearance being as gangly as he is probably got him ass kickings of biblical proportions. As my luck would have it, the waterhead honed in on me like a tick on a tampon.
“Hey, Inmate Whidden, come ’ere, yuk yuk. Whatcha got fer me?”
“Nothing for you,” I respond.
“Oh yeah, whatcha got in that cup?”
Shit. How unfortunate. I opened the tumbler stuffed full of onions.
“Hey Boss, they were leftover from today’s prep and were just going to be thrown out. Waste not, want not, correct?” Wrong.
“Oh yeah,” he says. “I got something fer you. Come with me fucktard.”
I already knew where this was leading … The O.I.C.’ s office (Officer-in-Charge) aka, the captain, where I would be made to eat the entire contents of my tumbler.
“You’re going to make me eat these onions, aren’t you?”
“You’re going to eat every last bit, Motherfucker, hee yuk yuk, yes, sir. And you better not throw ‘em up, either, or I’ll beat yer ass!”
I thought it a little excessive to threaten bodily harm due to vomiting, but that wasn’t a concern. I love onions. I decided to fiddle with him a smidge. “Sakes alive, I thought you were just going to make me throw them away. Do you think I could have some salt to go with them?”
He actually took the question seriously. I was floored.
“You can’t have nothin’, and yer gonna eat every last bite, heeyuk!”
On the way to the captain’s office, the rest of the food service “fun-ployees” were walking with us. So everyone was aware of what was going on, and I decided that if he thought that I was serious about the salt, then he was actually as stupid as he looked. So I asked him, “How much do you think them onions weigh, Stretch?”
“I don’t know, but you gonna eat every last bite!”
“We’ve established that I’m going to eat all the onions, repeatedly. I was just wondering, for the record book.”
He had no retort.
We got to the captain’s office, but the captain was on the phone. There was only one other officer in there, a Black gentleman, young and in great shape. Cousin Fucker announces that I’m going to eat the entire contents of my tumbler or he was going to kick my ass. “Get started, Motherfucker.”
About five minutes into my meal, they all put on their face masks because the odor from both my cup and my mouth was kicking like a six-legged ninja. Cousin Fucker looks at the other officer and sees that he’s having a hard time.
“Oh, yeah, you don’t eat no onions, do ya?”
“Nah, man. They’re disgusting. Say dude, if you don’t mind me asking, what were you gankin’ those onions for, anyways?”
You could tell he didn’t think too much of Cousin Fucker’s little game. I didn’t mind at all. “I was getting them for the Sauce Man. He makes a really good BBQ sauce. And he asked if I could get him some onions. They were throwing some out, so Bob’s your uncle. Just making some sauce. No biggie.”
He nodded in understanding because every dorm has a sauce man.
“Well, he ain’t making none today, heeyuk, yuk, yuk,” said Cousin Fucker.
Then the other officer piped up. “Yeah, but buddy’s over there smashing onions like a straight gangster, and I’m over here ten feet away, eyes waterin’ and shit. I don’t know how you doin’ it, Playboy.”
I get down to the end and tilt my cup to O.C.F. to show him that the cup was empty… well, almost. At the bottom was about two inches of pure onion juice. He looks in the bottom of my tumbler then slowly and dramatically looks at me and says, “Drink it.”
At this point, I’d been eating fresh, raw onion for 15 minutes. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t get a tad rough towards the end. The fumes were very potent and my mouth was stinging. But I really did love onions and am thankful for that fact. If I had been stealing carrot coins the outcome would probably be a very orange puddle of vomit in the middle of the O.I.C.’s officer, accompanied by the Captain, Cousin Fucker, and the other officer rubbing my face in it.
I downed the onion juice while staring directly in the eyes of O.C.F., then finished the meal with a fumey, loud onion burp. That was a mistake, not because it was taken as a sign of disrespect, but because it completely and utterly gassed the shit out of the office. They were absolutely stunned. The Captain stood up, hung up his phone and said, “Oh my gawd! Leave now while you can. Go before I paint the wall with you!”
He turned to Cousin Fucker… “You dumbshit! It stinks to high hell in here! You bring him in here, blah, blah, blah…” The fading of an epic ass-chewing. That’s all I heard as the door was shutting. I saw the look on Cousin Fucker’s face when I downed the juice but before the burp: disappointment.
By the time I got back to the dorm, word had already spread. I told my story and received praise from my fellow convicts. I also smelled like a Wendy’s for two days, even though I showered half a dozen times. I told the Sauce Man that I was sorry, I got knocked off muling onions back. He said, “No, man, I heard what happened and I’m sorry.”
The next day, I went to work, put my hairnet on along with rubber boots and went to my area in the dish pit to organize and get shit ready. I lifted the lid on the first pan I encountered … onions. Fresh, sweet, raw onions sitting there waiting to be thrown away … or taken back to the dorm to be made into BBQ sauce.
Did I get some for the Sauce Man’s sauce, nay, for our table’s sauce? You know I did! I wouldn’t be a convict if I didn’t go for it again. Though this time I only filled the tumbler a quarter full, just in case.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.