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WELCH'S GRAPE JELLY



The sounds that are made by large steel prison doors slamming are sounds that have never left my mind or my ears even after 40 something years. That horrible hollow echo bounced off one steel wall to another and then traveled more than a quarter of a mile to wake up each and every prisoner who was confined within the prison's large steel unforgiving cage.

I was just a 19-year-old boy who bought a six-pack of beer at a party, who is now dressed in prison attire and ready to serve another long day of his four years, five months and 28-day sentence. Out of the small steel cell he walked and headed down the concrete and steel walkway. He walked with hundreds of other prisoners, three stories above the concrete earth below to receive his breakfast.

Upon entering the large steel dining area, still half asleep, the echo of clanging, banging, hammering steel never ceased; it never stopped. The noise of the steel walls, the steel doors, the steel pots, the steel pans, the steel trays, the steel silver ware, the steel benches and the steel tables were a constant reminder. The sounds of steel were daily reminders of the terrible, unforgivable deed that he committed against the society in which he once was allowed to live.

He shuffled along very slowly, dragging his scarred, bent steel tray down the long stainless steel line as the kitchen inmates threw, slammed and splattered disgusting looking food onto his three-partition steel tray. He never made eye contact with anyone and he never stopped moving slowly forward. He raised his hand to his mouth to remove the cold, solid grits, which have splattered onto his hands and arms, as the food was pitched toward him and landed on his cold, steel tray.

When he reached the end of the line, he picked up two pieces of cold, burnt toast. He then mashed them, as hard as he could down into the other cold food below. Then he walked toward an old painted, peeling steel table that had probably been painted gray for the 53rd time. Finally, he sat down, placing his face in his hands for a moment. He gave thanks to God for the little bit that he might have in his life, whatever that would be.

There will be no tears from this scared young boy. Tears are a sign of weakness and weakness is a sign of trouble in any prison. He reached over and picked up the one thing he knew had been made out in the "free world. Its a small packet of Welch's Grape Jelly, with a peel-off top. He held the packet up to his eye, toward the large steel prison lights to look at its beautiful purple color. He finally lowered his hand and stared at the small package. He wondered if some free, beautiful woman in a small factory somewhere might have touched that same package with her warm, kind hands, before sending it off to him in this ungodly place of sadness.

He picked up his fork, took a large portion of powdered egg and places it in his mouth, chewed once or twice and then slowly opened his mouth allowing the disgusting eggs to fall back onto his steel prison tray. He pushed the tray away and just sat there quietly with the one small package of Welch's Grape Jelly sitting before him on the table. Other prisoners at the table asked him if he wanted his food and he told them to take what they want. He reached over and picked up one piece of the burnt toast, shakes off the cold dried grits and places it on the dirty, gray steel table. He opened the small jelly packet and spread the firm purple jelly onto the toast, then slowly raised it to his mouth and took a bite. Then he suddenly placed his head face down on the large steel table so no one could see the tears rolling from his eyes. He secretly cried.

I will never forget that wonderful split second of pleasure for as long as I live. Nor will I forget the mixed tears of sorrow and joy that I shed that day, sitting at that steel prison table. In spite of all the sadness, the meanness, the hatred, the gloom, the horror, the death and the misery that surrounded me, I realized for the first time in my life that "goodness" could have a feel and taste. That goodness was supposed to have a meaning, and be appreciated and enjoyed - that some form of goodness could be found anywhere, at anytime, even in the worst of places.

Even to this day, I love Welch's Grape Jelly. I have it in my refrigerator and a spare jar in my pantry at all times. It is and will always be, my favorite jelly. I have eaten jellies and jams from all over the world and have never found the same ingredients in another packet of jelly, large or small, and I do not believe I ever will.



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