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WATERMELON

It was a good summer for watermelon, long and hot. The vines in our patch
flourished, the little yellow male blossoms dotting them regularly by early August. But
our soil was sandy and poor; we had only six female blossoms, identifiable by the
bulbous perfectly round baby fruit at their base. Two set small fruits that rotted. Three
bore their fruits so late that I had to pick them off and let the plant’s energy go into
finishing the one fruit that was doing well. And how that one did grow! By mid-
September it was twenty inches long and weighed over twenty pounds. I let it grow for
as long as I dared, to be sure it was ripe. Finally the rains threatened and I could put off
the harvest no longer.
We had two choices about picking the melon. I could sneak a plastic pancake
spatula from my housing unit kitchen down to the garden and split the watermelon into
five pieces, which we would have to eat on the spot. But the assumption here is that we
are all thieves and will steal or strong-arm everything that is not vigilantly overseen.
There are rules: No Eating In The Yard. All Garden Produce Must Be Registered With
The Rec. Officer Immediately Upon Being Picked. I could not bring myself to commit
the flagrant violation of the rules that a watermelon picnic would entail. I decided to go
through official channels and ask for instructions on how to proceed.
Picking and dividing a watermelon is not something the prison has an established
procedure for. And thinking up solutions to such a problem on the spot is not a strong
point among personnel in an organization where order is the highest value. Inevitably,
the answer was a little wacky. It only worked at all because the captain who commanded
the three-to-eleven shift was a real human being. On the way to dinner I spotted him and
proposed my plan: That evening when the yard opened, I would pick the watermelon, cut
it up in my unit kitchen and distribute shares to the other gardeners. He countered with
instructions to pick it right then and bring it to the main kitchen to be cut up. You don’t
argue with a shift commander, especially one who is trying to help you achieve a
complicated project. I complied.
The Yard Officer hesitated when I asked him if I could go into the off-limits
garden area of the closed prison yard right in the middle of dinnertime, citing the
captain’s orders. But he was no rookie. He made a judgment call about the credibility of
my story and escorted me to the garden where I picked the watermelon, hefted it onto my
shoulder, and began the walk across the yard. A whole watermelon in an inmate’s
possession is a shocking sight, enough to make anyone forget her manners. “Hey,
where’s my piece?” “I know you’re going to be passing some of that watermelon my
way.” Even my escort did not inhibit requests, threats, and harassments as I made my
way across the yard. The Yard Officer left me at the institution Building door.

38 Of course the Corridor Officer stopped me. “Where are you going with that watermelon, Miss Power?” I repeated the captain’s instructions; she let me pass. I had to laugh and joke my way past another gauntlet of women who would do a lot to get their hands on a watermelon. Once I got to the serving room, I informed the Officer Who Supervises the Dispensing of Forks of the captain’s plan. He put the watermelon on the dumbwaiter and phoned the downstairs kitchen to tell them it was on its way. “Yes, a watermelon. Miss Power grew it in her garden, and now it seems she wants to share it

with her friends… She needs it cut into five pieces… Because the captain said so… Yes,
just put it in plastic… No, five separate plastic bags, and send it back up.”
The job took twenty-five minutes because the inmate kitchen workers had already
cleaned up their counters, and all the knives had been checked back in, counted, and
locked up for the night. It seemed like hours to me, though, as I waited pressed against
the wall, trying to stay out of the way of the last of the women in line for dinner.
“What’s on your shirt?” the Fork Officer asked suspiciously when he noticed the
mud from the ground-lying side of the watermelon that had caked the right shoulder of
my T-shirt. Nothing here goes unremarked. The Door Officer asked the Fork Officer
what I was doing there, then hollered the story across the room to the Serving Room
Sergeant. “It seems Miss Power grew this watermelon….”
Even when the dumbwaiter bell rang and the five long wedges of color-of-
summer watermelon, each in its plastic bag, were handed over, the project was not done.
Only one of the garden partners lived in the same housing unit as I did. Now I had to
walk all over the yard delivering the other three pieces. We are not allowed to enter any
housing unit except our own, so once again I had to face down Officers Guarding Their
Doors and repeat the captain’s instructions that the watermelon wedges be delivered to
the authorized garden-participant inmateconfirm the bizarre story.

At last I was ready to enjoy my own share of the watermelon. I long ago learned
that sooner or later you finish the last bite of even the most special treat, and all that’s left
is the story. I decided that all thirty of the women in my corridor should share the fruit of
the summer’s sun and the buckets of water we had hauled the fifty yards from the
greenhouse to the garden. With a plastic knife I cut it into two-bite chunks, and we
partied.

About Katherine Power

I didn’t set out to be a terrorist. As a student activist, I moved from protesting the war in Viet Nam to waging guerrilla war to overthrow the government….

Recent and Upcoming Appearances and Publications
11/13/18 A Journey from Guerrilla to Grandmother, Lifelong Learners: An Independent Collaborative, Temple Shir Tikva, 141 Boston Post Road, Wayland, MA 01778
10/10/18 Provincetown Women’s Week Reading from Doing Time:Papers from Framingham Prison, AMP, 432 Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA
4/6-9/2018 The Nature of Change, Radical Imagination Conference, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
1/15/2014 Complexity and Social Change, Occupy Radio
10/31/2013 Surrender, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
10/25/2013 Surrender, Taos Community Theater, Taos, NM

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