Green Hills Literary Lantern




Let's Get It On



“Keep an eye on the vending machines.” A senior officer pointed to the row of six-foot-tall machines lined up against the prison visiting room wall like soldiers in formation.


Huh? Was a convict going to try and jimmy one to get a free sandwich? Even though this was my first day working San Quentin’s visiting room, I knew that the prisoners weren’t allowed to handle money. Their visitors were the ones who took handfuls of coins over to the row of machines, waiting for them to disgorge stale sandwiches, overpriced snacks, and candy.


Nearby, the coffee dispenser hissed maliciously, spurting out clouds of steam and lumps of powdered instant coffee. A burnt-flesh odor permeated the air.


The visiting room cop pointed to the end of the row. “Cons have squeezed behind the machines, had sex with their visitors. It ain’t the only place. I’ve caught a couple of ’em sneaking into the women’s restroom.”


I’d been a correctional officer for over a year. I’d heard all the stories about visitors hiding packets of meth or crack in a baby diaper, using body orifices to smuggle money or drugs into the prison, and then passing the contraband to the inmate during the course of the visit.


But fucking while smashed between the wall and the grody backside of the vending machines? No way. How could it be physically possible? Walking to the end of the row, I stared at the narrow space, struggling to imagine how two people could squeeze in there, let alone engage in any kind of sex act.


Never did catch anyone pulling that move.


A few weeks later, I had a new assignment—Max B Visiting Area desk officer. My job was to check in arriving inmates for their visits, but mainly to prevent rules violations. As a correctional officer, I was supposed to maintain order. Sometimes I felt as if I was in the movie Stand and Deliver, the teacher struggling to control his raucous East LA classroom. Then the teacher raises a cleaver, hacks an apple into halves, quarters, startling the kids into attention. Except I had no apple. No cleaver. Just my eyes and a whistle in case the shit hit the fan.


Perched behind a blocky wooden desk atop an elevated platform, I surveyed the Max B Visiting Area—cordoned off from the rest of Visiting with a low wood railing. Max B was the step-down unit from lockup—the hole. These inmates were supposed to behave, prove they could make it back in general population. Sort of like school kids who’d just been cut loose from juvie but might not last long in their former classroom.


The rasp of a chair leg scraping against the warped linoleum floor caught my attention. An attractive, thirtyish Black couple were adjusting their chairs to face each other. Close. Way too close. They were up to something.


Inmates and their visitors were slick, good at passing contraband—money, dope. They got by us all the time. We missed a lot, mainly the drug handoffs. Even if you suspected something, catching a prisoner and his visitor in the act was tough. The Visiting Area was usually packed, and they outnumbered us forty to one. Rule breakers generally had lookouts. It was like a cat-and-mouse game. We cops were on the losing end most days.


I was tired of being a loser.


As far as illicit sex, general population inmates had better opportunities than the Max B prisoners since they were free to roam the visiting room. Aside from sneaking behind the vending machines or into the visitors’ restroom, there was always the old hand in the inmate’s pants trick, usually through a pocket whose inner stitches had been torn out. One death row inmate was rumored to be getting his rocks off in plain sight—in one of the holding cages reserved for condemned contact visits. That dude probably was setting a record for hand jobs. I’d hate to have been the male cop who eyeballed his sticky junk during a strip search at the end of the day.


But this couple had a better plan than tug and rub. How did I know? As a reasonably horny, thirty-something woman whose sex life was propelled by hormonally fueled urges, I could recognize when the love-light shone in others. Added to that, my reckless desire to do it in public places attuned me to both opportunities and voyeuristic pleasures. That inclination began with a late 1970’s radio talk show—California Girls—that opened with the upbeat Beach Boys hit of the same name. The best segments featured female callers describing the most daring places where they’d made love. One woman did it on top of the Golden Gate Bridge (her hubby was a maintenance worker with keys to the wind-whipped towers), several made whoopee in airline toilets (joining the Mile High Club), and a couple ladies gave head while their lover was driving. Inspired by the California Girls exploits, my boyfriend and I had midday beach blanket sex. One April night, after a bottle or two of wine, we’d flung ourselves on the dewy midnight grass of a public park and did the wild thing. Didn’t even hide under a bush, just went for it. Pretty shameless, and not particularly satisfying, but the adrenaline high was worth any risk of discovery.


Why didn’t I sympathize with the convict and his lady? Give them a pass? Ten years ago, I would’ve applauded—thought, Stick it to the man.


Now I was the man.


We cops, especially the female officers, had our reputations to maintain; we couldn’t just ignore rule breakers. Let one inmate get away with something and, next thing you knew, everyone was. Like the chow line—an inmate grabs a double issue, a second sausage patty, and then everyone in line after him is trying for the same. If you don’t stop it, the kitchen could run out of food; word gets out that you’re weak; your fellow cops will call you out in front of the entire mess hall. I know ’cause it happened to me—one morning during a double shift, too tired to argue or to fire the inmate server, too spaced out to grab the extra portion or the whole tray and tell the prisoner to hand me his ID, I caved. Pretty soon everyone was getting extra portions. A guy cop pushed his fifty-inch chest against me, hollering, “Stop giving away the store.” I wanted to cry.


No way was I playing the fool again.


In the visiting room, the rules were clear—a short hug and kiss at the beginning and end of each visit. The prime directive—maintain a wholesome family atmosphere. That did not include public bonking. If I’d already figured out what this pair was up to, so had half the other inmates and visitors mashed together in Max B Visiting like New York subway riders at rush hour. I couldn’t ignore the two inflamed lovers ready to copulate flagrante delicto five feet from my desk.


The prospect of doing my job as a correctional officer didn’t quite explain the warm gurgles bubbling up in my chest, a feeling like when you’re at the top of an old-time wooden roller coaster, just about to plunge down the steepest drop, screaming half in terror, half in excitement.


Chair fucking? Yep, this was pissing me off. Not so much because the couple were about to have surreptitious sex in the middle of the visiting room, but that they were trying to pull it off right under my nose, like I was some kind of asleep-at-the-wheel prison guard. OK, you two, I’m going to let you get right to the point of penetration, and then I’m gonna bust your asses.


I had to admit, they were pretty clever. Smarter than me and Mad Max—my former boyfriend. Our fiasco occurred a couple years before I’d signed up to work at Quentin. We’d wanted to grab a quickie in the twenty minutes prior to the start of our shifts at Solomon Grundy’s, the Berkeley bayside restaurant. “Let’s get it on,” he’d said, turning the wheel of his Ford Pinto into the Marriott hotel parking lot two blocks from Grundy’s.


I pushed down my sunglasses. “What, you’re going to spring for a pricey hotel room for fifteen minutes of fun?”


He grabbed my arm, pulling me behind him through the hotel lobby. He must’ve had a plan. Maybe we’d find an empty banquet room or unused linen closet.


No luck.


Back to the lobby. The door to the main elevator slid open. Empty.


Mad Max pressed the button for the third floor, then jabbed the red emergency stop button with one hand while pushing me against the wall. “Don’t worry, we’re stopped between floors. Let’s go.” He unzipped his fly and reached in his pants.


My skirt was around my waist and my panties on the floor when the elevator doors parted like a stage curtain opening on act one. A big-bellied man with a fancy cowboy hat, tooled leather boots, and a bolo tie stood gawking at us. “Well, hell, I guess if you got to do it, you got to do it.” The words spilled out of him with a Texas twang.


I pulled down my skirt and reached for my panties, wishing the man would turn around and take the stairs. Instead, the Texan strode in and pushed the down button, bumping into Mad Max, who was busy stuffing himself back into his pants. Our two-story descent was the longest elevator ride I’d taken in my entire life, each second stretching out into embarrassing eternity.


But this inmate and his lady weren’t embarrassed; they were determined. Every minute or so, I’d scan the room, acting like I hadn’t noticed the pair easing toward a chair fuck. The odor of vending machine coffee and fake-buttered microwave popcorn mingled with the garbled scents of Brut aftershave, Obsession, and Poison cologne, rising in a floral fog that made my nose itch.


The woman glanced my way to see if I was watching, then leaned back while laying her legs over her man’s, pushing her pelvis close to his.


I pretended to check some paperwork. You think I don’t know what you’re up to? I rubbed my chin, debating how long I should wait before I busted them. Better make sure to catch them in the act. Had to have evidence for a beef—a write-up—to stick. This was going to be a classic case of coitus interruptus.


They were just about there.


The outline of the woman’s legs showed under her skirt, her limbs over his, their groins pressed together. She smoothed the fabric over the inmate’s pelvis like a bed sheet. I reached for the desk phone, called for backup. They were gonna be pissed when I broke up their tryst. Probably accuse me of racism or some other bullshit.


A floor cop arrived; we walked over.


“Get up please. Your visit is being terminated.”


The woman’s mouth twisted as she muttered, “White bitch.”


The inmate glared. “We ain’t doing nothing. Why you be messin’ with us?”


I raised my voice. “Stand up. And hand me your ID. I’m writing you up for sexual activity.”


Nearby inmates and visitors stopped talking, turning to watch. They’d seen what the couple was up to, maybe planning to try chair fucking too.


Slowly, the couple pulled apart. The inmate’s erect penis glistened under the visiting room’s fluorescent lights. He pushed the hard-on into his freshly pressed jeans before the backup officer escorted him to the rear search area.


The visitor followed me to the front desk to check out, cursing softly. “Honkey bitch.”


I half smiled as the exit door rattled open on its metal railings. Who you calling a bitch, lady? I thought of the prison's visiting policy—“to maintain and promote healthy family and community relationships.” There was nothing about sneaking a fuck in the visiting room.


The couple would be visiting behind glass—on the phone—for a few months. Too bad you got caught, but don’t blame me for being wise to your moves.


Was I a bitch? Maybe. But I had a job to do, and I was gonna do it. Any sicko satisfaction from busting people was an added bonus.







Christine Holmstrom’s work has been published in Bernie Siegel’s book, Faith, Hope, and Healing. Several of her essays and nonfiction stories have been published or are forthcoming in bioStories, Dime Show Review, Gulf Stream, The Gravel, Jet Fuel Review, The MacGuffin, The Penmen Review, Rougarou, Streetlight Magazine, Switchback, Stonecoast Review, Summerset Review, Two Cities Review, and others. After surviving riots, an armed escape and a death threat while working at San Quentin prison, she finally had the good sense to retire. Christine is now working on a memoir about her prison years.