Marshmallows and Pizza

Tom Henry: Confession of a Killer

One sign of maturity in humans is the ability to defer gratification. Small children must have what they want NOW! As we become adults, to a greater or lesser extent, we are able to understand how waiting for something might improve our satisfaction on achieving it.

In 1972 researchers at Stanford did an experiment on this very subject. They selected a group of children ranging in age from 4 to 6. Each child they placed in a room where a marshmallow rested on a table. They told the child he (or she) could eat the marshmallow whenever they wanted to, but if they would refrain from eating it for 15 minutes, they would get two to eat.

The researchers discovered what they thought they would; that, as children grow older, their ability to defer gratification increases. But through a follow-up study years later they discovered something they had not anticipated. Those children who had exhibited the greatest control turned out to be better behaved and superior academically.

So it should come as no surprise that prison inmates are among the worst in this respect, none more so than the inmate Tom Henry told me about one night in our cell.

(This short story got cut from the Tom Henry manuscript as part of the editing process whereby 1,100 pages became 350 pages.)

By the time of this story Tom Henry and I were Lifers. The Lifers were an organization of inmates with long sentences. They were chartered by the prison administration as a program to help inmates learn real-world skills. The Lifers sold snack foods and articles of clothing. The Lifer salesmen stopped by each cell each night to take orders for delivery the next night. In each cell house was an oven for heating pizzas and hot sandwiches, and a cooler for keeping ice cream.

Tom Henry was the Lifer runner (cell house order taker) on one and three galleries of the South cell house. One night, upon returning to our cell from Lifer duty he told me this story.

“One of the guys on the bug gallery stopped me last night,” Tom Henry said.

“‘Hey, Lifer man.’ It was a guy who had never ordered. ‘I got fifteen dollars from a visit today. I hate going to that damn chow hall.’

“‘Okay. What do you want?’

“’What will fifteen dollars buy?’ he said. I showed him the menu. ‘I’ll have two supreme pizzas, uh, two sub sandwiches, a vanilla ice cream—pint, uh, let’s see here, uh, two ice cream sandwiches, uh, a six-pack of Pepsi. Do I have enough for that?’

“’Well, hold it a second, man,’ I said. ‘Why don’t you buy one thing each night? Then you can stay out of the chow hall several nights.’

“The guy got real mad. ‘Are you gonna friggin’ take my order or not?’

“I helped him figure out the most he could buy for fifteen dollars and I took his order.

“Tonight, I was taking Lifer orders about an hour after tonight’s food was delivered. As I passed that guy’s cell, he was standing at his door in his underwear, eyes bulging, stomach tight as a stretched drum skin, and on his top bunk was the packaging for two hot sandwiches, two pizzas, two ice cream sandwiches, and a pint of ice cream.  Still on the bed was a whole pizza, minus one piece, and some Pepsi.

“‘Hey Road Dog,’ he said. ‘Want a piece of pizza?’”

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David Hendricks

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5 thoughts on “Marshmallows and Pizza”

  1. I don’t have the time to read this, so can you give me a quick one minute summary? If you can’t capture my attention in 10 seconds, you can’t have it at all.

    Only kidding; great read and story as usual.

    1. Hehehe. Actually, you make a good point, Tom. Internet readers don’t give you a lot of time to catch their attention. I read once that the three most attention getting words are free, sex, and win, so I’m thinking of titling my next blog “Win Free Sex!”

      1. Throw in the Free iPad, or tickets to a free concert, and you’ve got it all…Maybe a free lunch too.

  2. This was a great irritant of my Dad’s – this day of “instant gratification”. So – this past summer, we purposely ordered online some things we needed – just to feel again what it was like to actually have to wait in anticipation for something. You know – it felt really good!

    Waiting is a lost “art”. It’s no wonder why so many people “lose” sight of God’s hand in their lives. In Psalm 27:14, not only are we told to wait on the Lord (hope for and expect) and be of good courage, but then we’re told again to wait (hope for and expect). And then in Psalm 37:7(AMP), we’re told to “be still and rest in the Lord; wait for Him and patiently lean yourself upon Him”. It’s in our “waiting”, that strength is renewed, where we will soar high on wings as eagles (NLT); run and not be weary, walk and not faint. Totally goes against today’s mindset. Something I need to challenge myself in, so that I can (in due season) reap the reward promised to those to do not grow weary in doing good. (Gal 6:9)

  3. Very true David. I have started giving my 7 yr old an allowance. He must work for it and he receives $5.00 a week. He of course wants to march right out and spend it. I of course try to point out to him the bigger and better things that he can purchase if he waits and saves his money. But as your post points out….he wants the instant gratification . It is tough to get through to the little guy. My 13 yr old son gets it. He has always been one to save his money. My 18 yr old daughter once ‘had it’ but has reverted back to her 7 yr old brothers mindset. ha ha

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