Unfortunate incarcerations strike my family from time to time. But don’t you know, they teach prisoners useful things on the inside that they can pass on to inquisitive family members once they’re out, so it isn’t all bad. After all, that’s how I learned to make lollipops in the microwave.
It was only recently that I discovered a new arts and crafts skill from a jailbird in my bloodline.
When I was really little I had a third cousin who was always in and out of jail. I never knew for what exactly, but since we didn’t live in the kind of neighborhood where that that was common, the idea of being around a criminal freaked me the fuck out.
I remember visiting my great aunt one morning when our paths crossed. She was sitting at the kitchen table eating her usual breakfast of grapefruit and coffee. When the other family members said that my cousin was at the door and coming inside, I hid under the kitchen table. Because squatting on linoleum next to an old woman’s falling down knee highs and orthopedic shoes keeps evil at bay.
By the way, my cousin’s nickname is Butch. That’s not the name his friends with bad reputations gave him. That’s the name his doting parents gave him. Perhaps, unless you’re naming a pit pull, that’s not a moniker you want to bestow on someone you have high expectations for. And the fact that his grandma called him Butchie did not soften the connotations.
I still don’t know exactly what was on his rap sheet. We don’t really have heart-to-hearts. I’m not the type, and I haven’t bothered to find out if he is. But, now that I’m grown, I suspect it was a mix of drug charges, drunk driving and a good deal of disturbing the peace. Also, my dad claims Butch was kicked out of the U.S. Army for trying to sell his gun. But my dad married in and then divorced out of the family, so that claim might be exaggerated. Probably not.
As I got older, I feared him less. Like all successful middle aged men, he lived with his grandmother when he wasn’t in prison. My family didn’t like the way he was using her, so I was trained how to hang up on his collect calls from prison if I was ever at her house and the phone rang. I wonder how many of my fellow elementary school friend received similar training.
He was living with her again when I was in college and would stop by for visits. In those days he was wearing an ankle monitor and had to check in with a parole officer. I didn’t have to ask him about his high tech ankle bracelet, I knew all about it from my Lindsay Lohan research, thank you.
But not everything about the situation amused me. The saddest line I ever heard her say was when she was telling a story about their recent dinner. Apparently some guy owed Butch something and paid him in food stamps, which he used to buy quality stakes. My great aunt said that when she heard what they’d be eating, she said, “Ow, Butchie, tonight you’re the king and I’m the queen!” And then she laughed with joy at the outcome of her story.
She was not a woman who needed food stamps. Her husband left enough money when he died, she was only in that situation because of sweet Butchie.
Anyway, I never learned any home ec skills from that particular jailbird cousin, but luckily crime runs in the family, and I got another chance with a different cousin who, despite avoiding criminal-esq nicknames, in fact ended up a criminal.
This cousin, a first cousin, spent about a year in prison on some drug related misunderstandings. I saw him for the first time after his release during the Thanksgiving holiday. Ah, sacred family time. What would I discuss in future therapy sessions if deprived of such joy?
Anywho, as I had already learned from my mom and his mom though phone calls (which can be just as therapy inducing as face-to-face family time), my cousin had learned to make lollipops while paying his debt to society. A win-win situation, really.
Here’s the basic recipe, if you’re dying to find out. You’ll need bags of Jolly Ranchers, Skittles, gummy Life Savers along with popsicle sticks and a silicon candy mold. Mash the Jolly Ranchers and Skittles into little bits and fill the candy mold half full with them. Then, take stick the gummy Life Saver on top, and shove the popsicle stick in it, and finish filling the mold with the mashed candies. Put your creations in the toaster over for a bit, pop them in the microwave for a bit longer and set them in the freezer to harden.
I can’t tell you any more, or I’d be giving away family secrets.
Turns out this isn’t exactly the way they make them in prison. My cousin modified the recipe once he got out.
In prison, where they don’t have fancy silicon candy molds they use plastic deodorant caps. Just thinking about some murderer’s Old Spice stick makes your mouth water just as much as watching an episode of Paula Dean, am I right? I’m sure her skills are an inspiration to them, too.
In addition to the candy mold, my cousin also uses his mom’s garlic press to crush the hard candies. On the inside, I’m sure they just use the brut strength of their fists. However, if the Pampered Chef wanted to do a specially line of kitchen tools, I may have a few suggestions, with some royalties set aside for my inspirational cousin, of course.
While he toiled on his delectables, I entertained my cousin with photos from my recent African safari. Then, when the pops were in the microwave, and it was his turn to spin some yarns, I listened to a few antidotes about the men on death row and suspected child molesters. So alike, we’re practically brother and sister, not just first cousins.
His stories left me with so many unanswered questions. Perhaps I’ll learn more during our next holiday together. I feel a new family tradition coming on.