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Off the hallway between the common area
and the cafeteria is a heavy metal door
with dents in the frame and cheap
weatherstripping at the sash
to keep the cold in and the convicts out.

It's the walk-in freezer, and you'd be amazed
at the places you can hide when someone
cracks the door to look for a twenty gallon drum of
generic tomato soup and stale crackers
and huge blocks of frozen vegetables.

They keep everything in the freezer
because the lock on the kitchen door
is busted. Even bread.
Even iced tea mix.

We used to thaw dinner up on
the roof of the kitchen building until
the warden saw that we could throw things
at people if we wanted; we didn't,
but it gave us something special;
special things make people suspicious.

They didn't know about the freezer, though.

It's quiet back behind the boxes of peas
and almost warm, shielded from the vents
by huge bags of potatoes and sacks of flour;
It still comes in sacks if you look hard enough.

- - -

I'll never forget the look on your face when
I produced the key from the niche I'd
carved in my cell wall behind the
bedpost, and I'll never forget how disappointed
you looked when I told you what it was for.

I think you thought it was the key to the fire exit
(prisons don't have fire exits)
or to a laundry van
(we do our own laundry).

I explained that yes, it was cold, but that
cold is good in prison, that it provides
a point of reference, that sitting
in the freezer was like learning
a foreign language.

- - -

The thing that made it easy was,
the guards assumed if we were
doing something wrong,
it had to be something fun,
and they didn't think being cold was fun.

- - -

The parole board asked me
what I had been doing with my
time, and I told them that I had been
doing a lot of thinking, which was true.

It was the right answer.

I didn't look back when I
walked across the parking lot
and caught the bus to the city.
I knew you wouldn't be there, watching me go;
you'd be in the back of the freezer,
Looking for stars in the ice and
trying to remember what special felt like.