The Short Story of a Paroled Ex-Con Finding His Way On the Outside

For anyone who wants to know about what my smile looks like I want you to picture this scenario and then you’ll get how awkward smiling all the time feels to me. 

You’re an inmate at San Quentin State Prison serving 20 years for an armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon convictions, but at the parole hearing you had yesterday you were told because you were a model inmate the last 17 years you’re getting released on parole. You are finally going back into the world as a free man. 

The next day you walk out the chain link fence covered in razor wire looking over your shoulder thinking “I don’t ever plan on coming back to this bitch.” You’re free now, but the world has changed a lot in 17 years. The public transportation in this country sucks so you need to get a car to get anywhere around town but you haven’t even had a valid driver’s license in nearly two decades. The guards told you on your way out to take an Uber from the halfway house down to the DMV. What the fuck is an uber?

Your eyes scan the parking lot for your ride and see your brother waving from his faded teal Geo Metro. He says “Hop in and lets get the fuck outta here.” It was a short ride to the halfway house and you wished your brother could stay to hang out but he had to work his graveyard shift at the auto plant. This was enough action for you today, you get to sleep on a real mattress with a pillow tonight. That’s right my man, your days of sleeping on that shitty Bob Barker prison mattress with no pillow are over now. 

Morning arrives and you make your way to the DMV so you can get a new driver’s license. You grab a number and sit in the lobby. After 20 minutes of waiting the large black woman behind the desk at the front yells “NEXT, 32!” Her name tag says Latoya. She updates all your personal information and you’re standing there watching her wondering how she’s even typing with those ridiculously long fake nails…better yet, how does she manage to wipe her ass? 

She motions her hand at you and tells you “Now step in front of the camera, look at the red dot above the lens and give a big smile for me suga.” All of a sudden you’re standing there feeling very confused. You know what exactly a smile is, people do this shit to show they’re happy, but you forgot how you’re supposed to make your face contort in the proper way to demonstrate a smile because you’ve been locked up all that time. You’ve had not a single reason to ever smile or be happy because it’s prison, and all those other convicts in the place didn’t have reasons to smile either because their lives had been just as bleak and drab as yours has been for so long.

So the face you attempt to make feels like what you think looks like a smile but when your license comes to your halfway house two weeks later you look at your freshly minted license to see you are by no means smiling. What you thought was smiling ended up looking like the face you’d make when you’re really straining to take a morning shit because all you’ve eaten is really shitty cheeseburgers on McDonald’s dollar menu for every meal for the last two weeks. 

However, you know those really shitty cheeseburgers that burger bitch keeps forgetting to put pickles on are a lot better than food you’ve grown accustomed to for a very long time. You’re so glad you don’t have to beg your mom to make sure she puts $50 in your commissary account every month so you actually have an opportunity to eat enough because they only give you just enough prison food to survive. Without that commissary money you knew what it was like to live every day, always feeling hungry until the next month’s deposit came in. Your mom kept it to herself, but she didn’t have that money laying around. She’d have to take the bus downtown to give plasma for it on the first Friday every month. 

You couldn’t stop thinking about those burgers now so you walked down the block for some food to bring back. Damn it, that same burger bitch gave you no ketchup packets to help dilute the heavily salted large fry you bought and the recently paroled tweaker staying in the room across the hall with only three real teeth left will only eat ketchup because he’s an idiot and pretty much unable to chew food anymore. Why can’t the damn tweaker eat PB&J instead,l! It is probably better for you than just ketchup and no teeth are required man.

You start to feel nauseated watching him stand in front of the shared fridge as he sucks the ketchup straight out of the bottle and that feeling only gets more intense when you get a real good view of what the inside of his mouth actually looks like. Why couldn’t that stupid bitch give me a couple of ketchup packets…fuck man these are so salty you have no desire to finish so tell across the hall, “Yo tweaker! I got free fries you can have!” You pull the wallet out of your pocket again and stare at your new license. You are completely disappointed in this and now have to wait four more years until you can retake that picture, but you’re hopefully you’ll figure out how you’re actually supposed to make a smile in that time, after all you just served 17 years in the can so having to wait four years so you can update that photo you know how the time will fly by. 

Just then the PO walks up to the stairs and stops at the tweakers door to hand him an envelope that came in mail. Guess what? He also got a brand spanking new driver’s license. He’s pretty happy about it and keeps shoving it in your face to show you. You snap it out of his fingers as he’s waving it so you can take a good look at it without it moving around nonstop. Damn man, even the god damn tweaker knows how to make a proper smile and this bitch only has three damn teeth left and they’re all rotten.

Just then you feel a weird tingling sensation in your face, you’re feeling slightly confused by what’s happening to your face. It hits you like a bolt of lightning, “Is this how smiling is supposed to feel? Wait, I’m smiling because I feel happy. What do I have to be happy about?” You’re happy to know that when it comes time for that new picture in four years I’ll have figured this shit out by then. Then your face forms an ever so slight semblance of what most people would call a shit eating grin because you just realized when the tweaker gets his new picture in four years he ain’t gonna have any teeth left and his smile will look alien because he’s all gums. You have full intentions of being able to show off all 32 of your pearly whites when the time comes.

I have never been a person who walked around smiling everywhere I went. I actually don’t smile all that much on a regular basis, which is why I wrote all this short story as an intricate way to illustrate how smiling for me will always be an awful feeling because I do it on a fairly infrequent basis. To add to this, you pair the person who feels uncomfortable when trying to smile with someone who smiles often and its god damn big and bright that the first person always feels kinda weird when you take a picture of them because well their face is stealing the show and you look like you’re trying to take a shit. If you want proof go look at my Instagram.

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