It started with six bars of soap, one cup, one spoon, some coffee, and a fragment of string. Between the carving out of pieces with the backside handle of a disposable white plastic spoon, the molding of equally more pieces with the excess soap shavings and the dying of half the pieces with a stain made from a thick coffee past, six days worth of doing time flew right on by. And on the seventh day, we played chess. The chessboard was penciled in on the flipside of a large storage bin container. The white pieces had a robust smell of soap, while the marbled brown pieces had a lingering coffee scent. Without a doubt, the queens on both sides stole most of the board’s spectators’ attentions. Merciless is the only word to suitably describe the intensity of their presence on the board.
For the next two months, the pieces engaged in many hundreds of battles. Constructed from a material more fragile than glass or marble, some damage was incurred during these ferocious contests. One of the white rooks looked as if a corner of its towers had been blown to rubble by an enemy catapult. One espresso colored horse had lost an entire ear as if the other side’s knight had taken a lance to it. Where the opposing pawns stood in almost perfect uniformity, one brown pawn gained a slight bloatedness as if possibly showing signs that he was the regiments ordained cook. And finally, the white king stood tall but flawed, lacking a tooth on his grand crown as if a bolt from an enemy’s crossbow damaged it in a nearly successful assassination attempt. In a world of mass consumer, assembly-line, plastic chess pieces, these soldiers, royalty, and clergy had some unquestionably unique character to say the very least.
Many prizes were won as a result of some of those battles. Most likely, a side might lose a single pre-stamped envelope or a preservative-laddened, cheese-less, cheese Danish with a shelf-life that makes a package of twinkies seem rapidly biodegradable. But there were a few costly battles in which the victor might acquire an entire $4.15 bag of child-slave harvested instant Nestle coffee, or where the defeated side would forfeit three days worth of breakfast trays. Personally, I never won anything more than experience, but damn, do I have a vicious game now.
The pieces, when retired from fighting, would stay inconspicuously hidden inside a frosted white plastic cup with tight fitting lid. Even during many jailhouse blitzkrieg shakedowns, they never once attracted the attention of contraband fiending correctional officers. But that would all change on one fateful morning.
Incredibly fitting, that morning I was awoken from a dream in which I was a small child in a Jewish family during the Nazi Occupation of Poland. I went from dreaming about a Gestapo raid, to find two very real Gestapo like characters forcefully rendering my cell to an early morning surprise shakedown. Their faces were unfamiliar and the tone their words took to was one of extreme sarcasm. They found the cup and with it, the contents it dearingly held. They then interrogated me about the means to which I carved and dyed the pieces. They wanted me to confess to cutting and shaving the soap figurines with an illegal razor blade, but I continued to contest that my only means was a length of string and a plastic spoon. Before the interrogation tired, two to three pieces at a time, the chess set was taken from the safety of its homely cup and casually placed into the side pocket of one of the guard’s mock military, navy-blue, commando pants.
Throughout the rest of the morning, a number of dedicated chess players and myself vigilantly tracked and followed the bulge in his side pocket, hoping to witness the protusion against the pants’ fabric disappear. If his pockets did deflate, it meant that our pieces, my beloved creations, had made their way into the garbage can behind the guard station. We already began the plans for a real world, covertly militaristic operation to extract them back in an act of defiant reclamation. But the bulge remained an obvious apparel accessory for his entire eight hour shift. A couple chess-playing inmates distastefully and unfruitfully begged and pleaded for him to leave them in the garbage oh his way out of work. Yet each time, wordless, he only replied with a convincingly despicable grin.
After being un-racked from the afternoon shift change that acted as his dramatic exit to stage left, we asked the more familiar guard, officer Senger, about the officer he had just relieved. Officer Zeena was the superfluous name of the swindling swine responsible for stealing our hand-crafted soap chess pieces. Senger explained that Officer Zeena continually brags about auctioning off jail-house contraband on the internet for a plush in-between paycheck lining of his pockets. Knowing the artistic integrity of the pieces, being that he had caught us playing before, Senger in a futile attempt to comfort us, reassuringly stated that officer Zeena the fuck face would probably earn $300 or more off of our jail-house chess set. He continued to tell us how Officer Zeena that shit bag, in an attempt to increase his auctions values, would create harsh and false back-stories about riots in which the items he stole and auctioned off were supposedly confiscated during.
It breaks my heart. All of it. The whole ordeal. Even the knowledge that, as inmates, we are out of a chess set to play countless more games with is unbearably saddening. Even more depressing is the notion that some Obama-worshiping, rich liberal, chess fanatic will win, the now auctioning chess set and then place them as brut artifacts, incarcerated to a shelf in his den or office. Never to see another battle again, two contending groups of mercenaries will minimally act as a reminder to some mid-level, Prozac-popping accountant that his professional occupation offers him the ability to afford such luxuries, on top of his guaranteed full medical benefits and transferable 401K retirement plan. Perhaps the most disastrous and sickening thought of the whole jail house debacle is the knowledge that Officer Zeena the good-for-nothing scum face will most likely be purchasing in excess, some name brand, over-priced, cancer causing chewing tobacco, to accompany cases upon cases of some commercialized, over-rated, piss tasting brewskies and all at the expense of inmate jailhouse ingenuity.
But instead of wallowing in the civil injustices of abusive power structures, I think I’d much rather start subversively widdling away at those same abusive power structures. Because it’s only a matter of time before the alienated and disempowered exclaim to their faultering oppressors, “Check Mate!”
Written from the Nueces County Jail
(Transcribed by Charity)