Into my 3rd decade of this curious call to correctional librarianship, I’ve noticed an inexplicable, personal immunity to whatever real or imagined powers that Friday the 13th holds over the collective cultural psyche of we mortal men. Perhaps it can be explained by the general negativity and social perversion of the place but, during my work shift, each Friday the 13th always seems to turn out well. I am self-consciously aware when the strange and terrible day/date arrives, but thus far no calamity has befallen to compel me to lament at shift’s end, “What did you expect–it’s Friday the 13th!” In a place where violence, tension, squalor, uncertainty, and boredom are the norms, Friday the 13th hasn’t got a chance.
A constant in the lives of the incarcerated is that one day is indistinguishable from the next. That’s not to say that nothing different or diverting ever happens, but when the prison-wide movie system plays Groundhog Day, most can relate to the sufferings of Bill Murray’s tortured character Phil Connors. The spiritual & emotional purgatory of the prison routine begins at morning’s first light when prisoners are awakened at a specified time by housing unit officers needing to account for their presence. Prisoners then dress in the same clothes they wore yesterday, and break their fast with food that they’ve had dozens of times before. The stuff of the new day between wake-up and lights-out is just marking time. Even the nightly respite, coming after the final evening count, is terrifyingly familiar: slumping exhausted in the familiar arms of Morpheus, then tossing and turning through a fitful night’s sleep in which the same memories haunt and taunt them, only to be awakened 8 hours later by the same housing unit officers performing the same morning count, dressing in the same clothes and then partaking of the same breakfast. “I got you, Babe.” Indeed.
Prisoners don’t mark Friday the 13th except in idle chit-chat. To quote Paul McCartney: It’s Just Another Day. In 23 years with the Kept and their Keepers, I have suffered an unbroken string of disturbingly pleasant Fridays-the-13th. Put it down to the perverted social nature of prison. Or chock it up to unpardonable coincidence. Or maybe it’s because Friday the 13th just doesn’t matter.
I type these words in the morning, as I prepare myself in both body and mind to provide library services to convicted felons. I am also prepared to attribute every negative occurrence to the date of this day. We shall now let Life have its contrary way with us, and observe how events unfold. Upon returning from work–if, indeed, I return at all–I’ll chronicle what took place to determine if the dread power and majesty of the ages-old superstition has finally caught up with me….
* I made it home (“‘Well, I’m back,’ said Sam”).
* It didn’t start out so great. One of the law library clerks felt his on-the-job training was being ignored. This was my fault for not letting him know that I’d made arrangements for him to be tutored by a former clerk. The fact that we’re both hotheads and tend to nurture notions that aren’t quite on a par with the truth meant that it took a while before tempers and nostrils ceased flaring, voices were lowered, and the world was made right again. But it was, much to our mutual delight and satisfaction. “All’s well that ends well” the Bard reminds & reassures us and, as you know, he is rarely wrong.
* I then hosted a cross-training visit from another Department librarian, who needed practice on the law library electronic research system that the person’s law library will soon have in place. I got to teach, they got to learn, and we had fun doing it.
* I ended the day participating in a meeting that was actually necessary and productive.
* And in between, we aided inmates in their further education, rehabilitation, and unstructured socialization.
* Oh yes, and the lady selling lunch tickets gave me my visitor’s meal for free.
All in all, it seems that bad karma was thwarted again. It occurs to me that the 13th falls on a Friday in another four weeks. I look forward to it, filled as it should be with pleasantries and accomplishments.
As a child, certain of us recall saying indignantly to our mothers, “There’s Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but what about Kid’s Day?” Mom’s answer was one despised by children the world over: “EVERY day is ‘Kid’s Day.”
In jail, may each day be Friday the 13th.