Dusty Orange: Breakfast in Solitary Confinement

Art by Erik Ruin.

Early morning clanging of plastic trays, moving anxiously through metal food ports, signify breakfast time. Come and get it. The rusty, metal tray slots open, and a dusty, burnt orange tray slides into my isolation cell. As my stomach grumbles, awaiting relief, my eyes rest upon a single piece of stale, flat coffee cake, topped with a small mound of dark brown, fear inspiring peanut butter. Holding a sinister grin on his face, a young guard inquires, “Wanna trade your shower for an extra tray?”

Having recently relocated, from the East Block, into the Adjustment Center’s solitary confinement, minus my personal property, hygienic articles and stationery, I now exist within the cold shadow of the gallows. Who am I to turn down this unpalatable gift? Famished, my body craves nourishment. Why shouldn’t I barter away my five minute shower? After all, I am scheduled for three showers a week, but I have not showered in four days. It’s interesting how our priorities change, depending on our living circumstances.

As I hold the dry, hardened coffee cake in my mouth, hoping it will become moist enough to swallow, my thoughts take me back to a time when my pride was the only thing that had to be swallowed. I had once requested, from good friends, any amount of monetary support. Because we are not allowed to hold jobs in this part of the prison, donations would have been my one opportunity to purchase food from the canteen. I was soon assured, in a friendly letter, that the prison diet was quite capable of sustaining me.

As I swallow my pasty, I am hopeful that it will satisfy my intense hunger. Doubts whirl through the corridors of my mind. I ask myself how important that shower is. My self-discipline and fortitude are essential. I will take my five minute shower. “No thanks. I had better get under that water.”

The guards stop asking if I want to trade my shower for an extra tray of nourishment. Days slither into weeks. As they deliver my food, the guards start showing two fingers, in a backward peace sign. We are participants in a war of attrition. Proudly, my head moves from side to side, in resistance to their miniscule offers. I am now three weeks into this nutrition-less, unbalanced weight loss diet of no choice, and things start to look up.

As the dusty food tray slides into my cage, I discover eggs and potatoes are the daily offer. Immediately, I throw up the backwards peace sign. I am gifted with two dusty, burnt orange breakfast trays. This time, my stomach is the winner of this struggle for necessity. Life is almost good.