As I write this while eating a piece of chocolate pie made in the bathroom by a friend I call Bounce because he walks with a bounce caused by cerebral palsy. I take for granted many weird occurrences here at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp which would seem odd to a normal person unacquainted with prison life.. Many of these are directly or indirectly related to eating.
Our Chow Hall has a capacity of 44, with 11 tables each seating 4. If everyone eats, that means that 175-200 inmates need to circulate through there in 30 minutes. So our seating needs to turn over several times to make that happen. It's not a leisurely dining experience; but then again the food's not that good either, so there's no need to linger.
Typically when an inmate is finished, instead of saying, "Excuse me" or "See you later," he simply knocks once on the tabletop. Then the other 3 inmates knock on the underside of the table and acknowledge the knock and extend their "Goodbye."
Why would anyone do this? The knock on the table is supposedly to alert those sitting nearby that the inmate is getting up only to leave and not to harm anyone. Others knock back to acknowledge receipt of the message of non-violence. Apparently in state prisons, inmates aren't allowed to talk while eating. It's true that many inmates here have done some time in state prisons, but many haven't. As we are free to converse here while eating, why would we care what the rules are at a state prison? Maybe this practice developed as a way to in effect "stick it to the man" even though "the man" allows us to talk in the Chow Hall. Maybe it's an expression of solidarity with all the prisoners who can't talk while eating.
While I prefer just saying, "Later guys," I have caught myself doing it more than once. Regardless of whether I verbalize or knock my goodbyes, at least one inmate at my table will still knock underneath the table when I leave, even if he also says goodbye.
Hopefully it's not a habit that will stay with me after I leave this place. But I'm convinced I will never forget about this odd practice either. Maybe it will just be thankfulness that I'm not here.