When his jailmates kept asking Daniel Genis for money to buy tobacco and coffee, he devised a humorous plan. Genis, a literature-loving math tutor who was doing time for a string of armed robberies, would only furnish the coin if his fellow prisoners agreed to give him something in return: their souls.
In an article for Vice, he writes:
Having recently read both Goethe’s and Thomas Mann’s takes on the subject, I embarked on a new venture: cup of coffee for your immortal soul, step right up! I quickly printed up a few contracts of exchange, which to my later chagrin appeared all too authentic. I announced that the price of coffee is simply to sign on the dotted line, and included creamer and sugar.
That evening I had five customers. I dutifully poured the coffee and collected the signatures. Everyone had a big laugh, and repetition was impossible because it was understood that each man came with only one soul.
Genis made the mistake of not destroying the contracts. There was no need, he thought. It was a lark; what was the harm?
I was handcuffed in the yard the next day, thrown into a van and admitted to solitary after a cavity check. My belongings were haphazardly packed up and partially thrown to the winds. I sat in the hole and pondered my fate. When I was served with a ticket for ‘unauthorized exchange’, I could not believe this was really happening. The misbehavior report was a Tier III, which is the highest level of malfeasance, for which the punishment can be years in the box.
At the hearing, I felt my oats a bit and asked the man whether he was really willing to sign the papers convicting me of buying five human souls for cups of coffee. He was. Just like the cop who found the contracts lying around my bunk, he was an evangelical who had no taste for the satanic. They all went to the same fire and brimstone church down the hollow. I explained that it was a joke, that it was just to stop the endless beggary, that I did not really exchange anything because it was impossible to exchange souls.
His protestations fell on deaf ears, and he received 90 days in “the hole” (solitary confinement).
It turns out that in the fine print of the unauthorized exchange rule, giving something [such as a cup of coffee] is also forbidden. I was found guilty and sentenced to three months in solitary for a cup of coffee. Of course, in reality it was… for my godless vibe and Mephistophelean education. It was for being an overly clever New York Jew.
These days, Genis is a free man — possibly the only one with five souls.
(Image via Shutterstock)