Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Don't Mess with the Allowance Clerk


When I was a teenage inmate at a state operated boarding school for cripples, which I affectionately referred to as the Sam Houston Institute of Technology (SHIT), I had a student/work job. I didn’t apply for this job or anything. They just gave it to me.

I was the allowance clerk. Every Friday evening a staff member would receive a bunch of envelopes that looked like miniature manila envelopes and each one had an inmates name written on front and a few coins inside. The staff member would pass out the envelopes to the various inmates and that was their allowance. That was basically the money we spent on the vending machines around SHIT.

Before any of that happened, I went up to the Social Services office every Friday afternoon and fulfilled my duties as allowance clerk. Waiting for me was a metal box full of coins, stacks of those envelopes and a list of every inmate who received an allowance and how much they received. I would write the name on each envelope, drop in the appropriate amount of coins and seal the envelope by licking the adhesive patch under the flap.

Not every inmate got the same amount. Some received as much as a dollar and some only got a quarter. Every inmate had an allowance account that their parents or whoever was their legal guardian put money into. How much they got depended on how much was in their account and how their parent or legal guardian designated that it be distributed.

I was among the ones who weren’t even on my list because we didn’t get any allowance. At first that made me jealous of the kids who received a dollar. I wanted to be one of them. But I came to realize that those kids were the ones everyone referred to as wards of the state. That meant that the state was their legal guardian because their parents were AWOL. So nobody wanted to be like them, even if their allowance was a dollar, because the reason they got a dollar probably was that the state felt sorry for them because if the state didn’t give them vending machine money no one else was going to.

I figured I didn’t get an allowance from SHIT because my mother didn’t establish an account because it wasn’t necessary. She was very present in my life. I went home every weekend and if I needed money for vending machines and such, she gave it to me. I was lucky I didn’t need a SHIT allowance.

 Being the allowance clerk gave me a certain sense of power. If someone pissed me off, I could put a snotty Kleenex or a cock roach in their envelope. And every inmate knew that I knew a deep, dark secret about them (how much allowance they received), so, I could tell the whole world who only received a quarter. But somehow, I never did. I don’t know why. It’s not like I took an oath of secrecy or anything. But nobody ever pushed me to the point where I  wanted to do that. Maybe they all knew better than to mess with the allowance clerk.

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