Weekend Work Program
We cannot tell these Sunday drivers that we have already faced judgment, that we’ve pled no contest to our sins, that we are only lesser criminals, serving a softer version of hard time. Their looks could never be as harsh as handcuffs and a hangover on the hard benches of a holding cell. We are only faces in the windows of a silver sheriff’s bus, and they cannot see the bright orange vests, the sign of a sentence that reduces a man of words to three letters: WWP. Because words have no place here, I turn to numbers, breaking down hours into fractions and percentages on a cheap wristwatch; I am 15% through this day’s hardship, with 6.8 hours until freedom. The Spanish volleyed up and down the aisle is a reiteration of the correlation between Mexican men and crime—or, at least, convictions that put callused brown hands to work. We can tell from the scarcity of darker bodies that things could be worse, that there are preselected alternatives for those whose complexions stray too far from the color palette of tortillas or skin that scorches to the color of mild salsa—like the man in front of me who complains loudly, needing a cigarette. I’m sharing a seat with a middle-aged man with whom I’ve formed a meek fraternity, a silent friendship of smiles and nods as we shirk gathering garbage in the shade beside buildings and under bleachers at the fairgrounds until we are scrambled by a crotchety woman on a Gator who alternates between offering idle threats and cold water. At lunch, I am 50% through this day’s hardship, with four hours until freedom. Some of our colleagues gather and distribute dingy cigarette stubs they found in the dirt, light them with smuggled matches; the red-faced man from the bus is one of them. On the ride back, his fingers drum on his bouncing knee, and he grabs his head, breathing deeply. He notices my watch and asks the time: we are forty minutes from freedom, 90% through this day’s hardship. The freeway’s passenger-side jury cannot see our orange vests, but until next Sunday, at least I can take mine off.