Alert reader and biological sibling of mine Dave “Chocolate Thunder” Chalfant brings this story to our attention, a Cool Hand Luke-type story of freedom, existential anguish, justice, and revenge.
Meet Heriberto Rodriquez, also known by his government-given nickname Mister Pancake, a fella down on his luck who got caught with his hand in the till at a Cincinnati Reds concession stand. I don’t have the details on how much he stole or how he got caught, since the article Dave emailed me is considerably shorter than this blog post about it, but I think we can assume that he was stealing the money to settle an old score.
Well, the law caught up to Mister Pancake, even though that wasn’t his name yet, and he was sentenced to jail time. Yes, jail time. BP executives are still eating caviar right in front of all of us in broad daylight, but there was no way we were going to tolerate concession stand theft. The gavel came down, and he was off the streets, looking for any angle he could find to survive in prison.
Soon, he was given a job in the prison kitchen. I guess the thinking was, there’s no way a guy who just got popped for stealing from the concession stand he was working at would ever steal from the prison kitchen he was working at. What possible motivation would he have for such a thing?
Plus it was a pretty sweet deal. Every day he worked in the kitchen, he got three days credit for his sentence. I had no idea that there was a commodoties market for time served that one could manipulate, but apparently this is common practice. And I’ve never been to prison, but I’ve watched some brain-splitting HBO shows about it, and you can bet your ass I’d be the first in line to go work in the kitchen, where it just seems like it would be safer and considerably less bugger-y.
Well, I think the problem probably was, once he had his mitts in the pancake tray, the other inmates noticed it. Pancakes are probably very similar to cigarettes, when you’re on the inside, and I’ll bet the more generous he was with the pancakes, the less he had to worry about horrifying, graphic prison violence.
I’m of course a little surprised that Mister Pancake thought he’d be able to get away with it. After all, I’ll bet I could send my youngest daughter into the concession stands at a Cincinnati Reds game with instructions to clean the place out, and I’ll bet she’d get away with it. We’d be sitting pretty at Coldstone Creamery counting our money that very night – and yes, it would be “our” money. She’s a minor – Sheesh.
Point is, this guy had already bonked up against possibly the mildest form of security there is – concession stand security – and fell right on his butt. Why did he think he could steal under what one would assume is tighter security, in the prison kitchen?
And he was given very specific instructions to give only two pancakes to each inmate. Apparently it wasn’t a guideline – they were counting the pancakes.
But you just know the sorts of conversations he was having in the prison yard. Very large men asking him if he was their friend or their enemy – you can see how that relates to pancake distribution and prison violence, without bringing either one of them up, yes?
It was a tightrope act. He knew he could get out early by working the kitchen, but working the kitchen put him in the position to get leaned on for pancakes. It’s a story as old as incarceration itself.
Mister Pancake probably decided, there is no way I’m going to re-enact the fade-out scene from The Shawshank Redemption, with Morgan Freeman doing the voiceover full of sadness and regret, all to save the prison system some pancakes. Here you go Big Charlie. Have at it, White Power Bill. Would you care for some more pancakes, Enormous Abraham?
Well, the prison management caught on to him, and said wait a minute. We said two pancakes each, that’s stealing. You’re stealing pancakes, you selfish bastard, all to avoid a horrific fate worse than death. Now your sentence is 180 days longer.
Now keep in mind, if he were able to keep working in the kitchen, that would only be sixty Metric prison days. It must not have worked out that way, because he went and asked Judge Melba Marsh to release him after only 78 days, and she said, okay.
But not before renaming him Mister Pancake, and also not before making a hilarious Aunt Jemima joke, a joke that seemed to suggest that Judge Marsh thought he was keeping the pancakes to himself the whole time, instead of giving them away like a Pancake Robin Hood.
I think that whether or not Mister Pancake found the Aunt Jemima joke to be funny probably depended on how that last 78 days went. Was he a prison hero, protected for his selfless pancake distribution?
Or was he just another dude with no pancakes to hand out?
Either way, the doors have swung wide for notorious food service master thief Mister Pancake, and like Keyser Söze he no doubt stepped out into the Cincinnati night, becoming a myth, a nightmare, a fairy tell concession stand owners tell their kids at night.
After today, my guess is, we’ll never see Mister Pancake again.