It's like Christmas in July right now ... all because my prison commissary just got Nutella. And today is my shopping day. I am on a quest to get some.
The commissary is the prison version of a corner store. It's where I am able to purchase stamps, medicine, toiletries and food items. They stock standard items like mackerel, oatmeal and Suave shampoo. There is also a list of "rotating items," which are products that rotate monthly so we get some variety.
Most of the items we get are pretty basic -- our current rotating items are powdered donuts and Milky Way candy bars.
So of course teh entire complex, of 1,000 women is in an excited uproar over the special addition of Nutella. It is bound to sell out within a few days.
Other than calling my mom, shopping at the commissary is the highlight of my week. It's the small treats, such as a Hershey's bar or a box of Cheez-its, that make this place more tolerable.
But some Nutella...well, that would make for a truly awesome week.
Unfortunately, there is a huge setback in my quest. The sign advertising Nutella was posted after I ordered. Add-on items are not allowed.
One might think an exception would be made for a new product but this is prison. There are no exceptions. There are just rules.
Here in prison, I do my weekly shopping via a paper order form. Each week I receive this standard order form to fill out. On my assigned day, I need to deposit this form in the commissary drop box by 10 a.m.
This morning I dropped my shopping order in the drop box at 6 a.m. At 7 a.m., they posted the sign showing Nutella for sale. So, I missed my opportunity to order. However, I had to hold onto hope.
I thought, perhaps when I get to the commissary check-out window, the correctional officer will show me mercy and still sell me a jar of Nutella. It was a long shot and fully contingent upon the mood of the officer that day.
At 3 p.m., the commissary staff posted a list letting us know which checkout window to go to and our number in line. Today, I am number 26 at Window #3.
Oh no, the dreaded window #3! This window is manned by an intimidating, mostly unfriendly officer who rarely makes exceptions.
Many women leave his window in tears because he throws the items at them fast and barks rude comments at them. If you ask him for a favor or to return something, he will belittle you in front of everyone. I personally have left his window close to tears when he screamed at me for trying to add cold medicine to my order because he said I should have known in advance that I was going to get sick. (I now stock one of each medicine, just in case.)
The commissary opened at 5 p.m. and I stood patiently outside with the other 100 shoppers waiting for my number to be called.
A prison commissary is a unique place. Ours is a complete store built behind steel walls and glass. The only thing outside that exterior wall is the checkout window. The inside has aisles of products, a conveyer belt for those items, and a cash register for checkout. It is manned by an inmate and correctional officer staff. All that is visible to me is a checkout window with an 8-inch drop slot to receive my items.
I even receive an itemized receipt that tells me my starting and ending balance as well as a breakdown of how much everything cost and how much of my monthly spending limit I have left.
Normal spending limit is $360 a month. And as previously posted the items are extremely expensive, so money doesn't go that far. Food, medicine, toilet paper and personal items are the most commonly purchased items. Everyone is grateful for any financial deposit to our accounts.
When my number was called, I went up to the window and scanned my thumbprint to confirm my identity.
Then an inmate started loading my order from a basket onto the conveyer belt.
The dreaded Correctional Officer then took my items off the belt, scanned their barcodes and started slinging them quickly at me through the drop slot. I could barely keep up and kept dropping my items on the floor.
The whole time I was standing there trying to find the courage to ask for Nutella.
A woman in the line, in front of me, asked to add tampons to her order. She was told no. The officer said that she knew when her monthly issue was going to come and should have planned accordingly. She argued that she didn't have the money to purchase it before and the conversation continued to go south.
However, I figured the officer now had his need to yell at someone out of the way, and Nutella is surely worth the risk of public humiliation.
To my surprise, after questioning why I didn't write it on my order, I was told to "Say please nicely."
I did. And this lucky inmate got her Nutella.
And I am sharing this Nutella with someone who has never tasted it because she has been in prison for 18.5 years.