Sunday, 4 January 2015

Mail-Order Grooms by Naomi Elana Zener

The walls revealed the building’s geriatric age. When the winter wind howled, the drywall covered concrete blocks whistled—the cracks were almost too wide to continue to conceal the mice living inside of them—alerting the residents looking for an alternative way out that Mother Nature would soon offer a viable escape. Natural erosion was a prisoner’s best friend. Warden Polish sat in his office, surrounded by floor heaters, wearing a heavy Aran sweater atop his uniform, which was reinforced by his duffle coat to provide additional insulation. Despondent over the state of disrepair of his ward, known in the slammer business as the worst maintained penitentiary in the system, Polish reviewed the prison’s budget with his head guard, John.

“At this rate, with a crumbling infrastructure and overpopulation at an all-time high, the inmates are going to be running this place really soon,” John complained. “We’ll be lucky if we get out of here with our lives.”

Polish nodded his head. He couldn’t deny it any longer.  The cost of running the prison continued to skyrocket. Dollars disappeared at a fast clip. There were inmates seeking higher education funded on the taxpayers’ dime. Many had taken a page from Suze Orman—they kept more of the pin money they’d earned working in the laundry room or making license plates, instead of paying off the guards for greater protection in the yard. Then there were those who made demands of the prison librarian to acquire more up to date legal materials to be used for their self-written appeals. All of these additional strains made the anticipated government cuts, which threatened to lower the guard to inmate population ratio, that much worse. In a few months, the prisoners would be able to use their makeshift shivs to loosen the bars from the aging cement walls, finding themselves in no time at his office door ready to plant those shivs in his chest. Warden Polish was terrified.

“There’s just not enough money trickling in from the state legislature because they’re not getting enough from Washington. If the prison system doesn’t win the Powerball, the inmates are soon going to be out-mates,” Polish surmised. “I’m just not sure where I can find more money.”

Polish had exhausted every moneymaking avenue at his disposal to use the contingent of incarcerated men in his purview to help fill the prison’s dilapidated coffers. He’d even tried using inmates to meet the “offshore” staffing needs of call centres, especially those working for Air Duct cleaning services, to no avail. Unable to exercise any self-control upon being cursed at by the people they harassed with their spammy phone calls, the inmates started to threaten the lives of the targets of their peddled services. Polish had no choice but to tell the call centres to find better-behaved telemarketers in Bangalore, India. At the end of his quickly burning tether, Polish was open to any ideas, no matter how unconventional or from whom they came. John sat opposite to Polish, twiddling his thumbs, waiting for the right moment to pipe up.

“I’ve been toying with an idea. Before I share it with you, you have to promise not to say a word until I’m done. And, you can’t laugh at me,” John explained.

Polish smiled. “The floor is yours.”

“Well, as you know, I’m a single guy.  I’m in good shape and have average looks. I hold a job with decent pay. Own my own home. I have brunch with my mother every Sunday after church. And, I’ve never been charged with a crime. But, for the life of me, I’m still unmarried at 32, and Charles Manson has a hot chick on the outside dying to marry him. A mass murdered with whom she can never really play house with.”

Polish nodded. He, like every other law abiding male in North America—and perhaps elsewhere in the world—couldn’t for the life of him figure out how a woman would rather marry a murderer, behind bars for life, than a man like John.

“I’ve done it all: EHarmony,, Christian Mingle, Tinder, JDate, and even JSwipe—heck, Jesus was a Jew, too—but I’ve gotten nowhere. I even paid one of those fancy, big city matchmaking services a few thousand bucks out of my 401K to help me find the woman of my checklist dreams, but she came up with nothing. I even thought about ordering a wife out of one of those mail-order bride services, where you get a lady from Russia or Asia, but quickly dismissed the idea. Most are sold into sex slavery and I’m not one to exploit women—I like to think of myself as a feminist. So, one day when I was eating my lunch in the guards’ lounge, I saw an eye looking back at me through a sizeable hole in the walls. It was blind Big Eyed Pete—you know, the one in for the triple homicide, who blinded his victims so they couldn’t ID him in court if, on the off chance they survived. Suddenly, I realized that we are sitting on a goldmine.”

“How do you mean?” Polish interrupted.

“I told you to let me finish, boss. Like I was saying, we have the ability to make a shit ton of money using our inmate population. If a guy like me can’t find a woman, but women want the pieces of crap in our custody, we should take a page from the dating websites and profit off the bat-shit crazy chicks out there who want to marry an inmate.”

“Are you suggesting we create a Tinder-like app for dating the prisoners? Are you insane?”

“No, not Tinder. That’s a GPS-based app and it won’t work. Our prison is in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town only has about 70 women in it, a third of whom are already inmates at our sister prison.”

“Then what are you proposing?”

John jumped out of his seat and joined Polish behind his desk, where he’d remained seated. Without asking permission, John went online to show his boss, who’d been happily married for thirty-eight year, how his concept would work.

“So, you see, what I’m saying we do is set up online profiles for all of the inmates who want to participate, and who haven’t lost their Internet privileges for bad behaviour, and we mash up the Christian Mingle/JDate-style sites with a mail-order bride concept. The women pay money to join and where a match is successful, they pay another fee to have us arrange their nuptial to the criminal of their choosing,” John advised.

“Let me see if I understand you correctly. You want us to create, in essence, a mail-order groom service offering our single inmates as grooms for sale to young women looking for husbands?” Polish asked. Sarcasm dripped from each syllable enunciated.

John nodded his head like an eager puppy. “Absolutely. And, only the single ones. We aren’t in Utah.”

“And, you actually think women are going to pay for messed up men?”

“That’s putting it mildly. I’m telling you that if Charles Manson can get married, so can any inmate. Chicks dig bad boys, and we are plum full of them. So long as we don’t have any law holding us back, and as long as we use the inmates who have email and Internet privileges, I think this is a brilliant idea. The money we’d charge the women is no different than if they paid it to EHarmony, with the exception of one additional fee to take care of the incidental costs associated with marrying the men off. And, it’s not like we’re tricking the women either—we’d be upfront about the mobility restraints on the men on offer.”

Polish, who’d been mildly amused by his deluded colleague’s imagination, flopped back into his chair. It was not a half-bad idea. There were no laws in place preventing the implementation of such a scheme. Polish knew he’d run out of options. He nodded his head at John.

“So, how do we do this?”

“We market it as a ‘last stop shopping before spinsterhood or perennial bachelorhood.’ With gay marriage now rapidly being legalized, we should showcase our male wares to both the female and male populations on the outside. Don’t you agree?”

Polish smiled. He was no bigot or homophobe. Hell, he ran a male prison and was a big fan of the cancelled TV series Oz.

“No inmate will be off limits…”John continued.

“Whoa, now! Given the nature of some of the crimes committed by these bad guys, I’m not so sure that…” Polished piped up.

“Hey, if Manson can marry, then why can’t any one of them?” John interrupted. “Well, not the ones who are already married.”

Polish knew John was right.

“Ok, so we slap on a ‘buyer beware’ disclaimer telling the women, and men, that they order and marry their selected groom at their own risk. No refunds. And, for the heterosexual unions, if they consummate their union and it bears children, we give no guarantees on the quality of sperm or that the inmate will pay any child support,” Polish prompted.

John agreed. “Makes sense.”

“One more thing, I think we put the unmarried inmates who’ve got a real shot at winning their appeal and being sprung from jail, on account of having been wrongly incarcerated, as our featured bachelors. After all, they truly deserve a chance at happiness.”

“Yeah. And, if they really didn’t commit the crimes of which they were accused, then once on the outside, their new wives really won’t have anything to worry about. No chance for reoffending.” John was pleased. He eagerly took notes as Polish laid out further ground rules for the new venture. Based on John’s estimates, the prison would be in the black a few short months after the program was off the ground. They’d be the most profitable prison in the system.

“There’s one hitch. How do we actually market these prisoners? Or, the platform in itself?” Polish pondered.

“I’ve thought about that, and I played around with a few ideas. Want me to read them to you?” John asked. Polish vigorously nodded his head.

“Ok. So, let’s say we have a death row inmate—the baddest of the bad asses around—like a Scott Peterson. I suggest something along the lines of Manson may be off the market, but Scott Peterson is still available. Sitting on death row, this is a limited time offer. Hurry ladies before he’s served his lethal cocktail and can’t go for drinks with you. And, if you do marry him, the Warden will personally oversee to it that you remain unharmed during your conjugal visits.’ What do you think?”

Polish remained mum. Colour drained from his face at the thought of chaperoning captives copulating. John recognized that his advertising copy needed some minor adjustments. John sensed that his dark humour was a bit much for his boss.

“Ok, how about if we have a white collar guy, like Bernie Madoff? We could say something like ‘he may have made off with people’s money, but he hasn’t yet made off with your heart. No ponzi scheme in this love match.  He’s looking for someone who can bear him children, but don’t expect them to inherit any of his money to when he dies. Everything’s been seized by the government to repay his victims and debt to society.’

Polish was speechless. Impressed with his guard’s creativity, although slightly disturbed by it too, Polish thought that John’s energy needed to be funnelled in another direction. Perhaps he just needed to get laid. Polish shook his head.

“Maybe we don’t even advertise the men, only the service?” John suggested, noting Polish’s discomfort with his copy.

“That may be the best idea you have yet. Hit me with your advertisement that will attract women and men to sign up and pay up to date a deviant.”

John knew that the future of his proposed mail-order groom service depended on his final elevator pitch. He stood up and smoothed out his uniform. He cleared his throat, ready to hit Polish with the jingle he’d devised—a little ditty he came up with when he’d been watching The Little Mermaid with his niece.

Look at our men.
Aren’t they neat?
Would you say our offering’s complete?
Wouldn’t you think we’re the prison,
The prison that’s got everything?
Look at our men.
Husbands unsold.
How many men can one prison hold?
Looking at their profiles you think,
Sure, they’ve got everything.
We’ve got rapists and kidnappers a plenty.
We’ve got robbers and murderers galore,
Want a serial killer? We’ve got twenty.
Sign up NOW. We’ll give you a deal, ‘cause we’ve got more…

John held up both of his hands. “I’ve heard enough!”

Polish stopped singing while he still had a job.

“I think I now know why you’re single, and it ain’t your singing voice,” Polish offered. “You may be as twisted as the people you guard.”

John paused. “That may be true.”

“But, your twisted idea is going to make the prison a fortune, and it will save our lives.”

“So, can I get a raise?”

Polish contemplated the question.

“No, but I’ll throw in a free profile for you as a featured groom. I won’t even charge the extra marriage fee should a woman pick you. Something tells me that the kind of woman you need is looking for a mail-order groom like you.”

© 2014. Naomi Elana Zener. All Rights Reserved.