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At six thirty in the morning, I am told to get ready to ride-out. I’ve been waiting so many days, perhaps years, to hear those words that I’m not nervous. I just want to get on with it.
I’m walked down a long white hall that I didn’t know existed and placed in a cell with men of a similar fate.
The paperwork processes us along as the guards shackle up that day’s load, which today was fifteen men. As we waited, some men boasted of previous visits, others recognized one another from time they’ve done together years ago. They asked each other how long they had been out, rather than what brought them back in. They talked about how they would never go back, long before we ever arrived.
As they shackled us, a large man started belittling an older, odd-looking officer. Unfortunately for me, the officer was shackling my ankle. He cranked it down as tight as it would go, making it painful to walk.
We moved to an underground parking lot. Two vans waited like chariots to hell. The banter on the shimmy over was jovial and carried the residue of the previous insults levied at the officer.
By the time everyone was inside the vehicle, I was only halfway across the asphalt. I don’t have a low tolerance for pain, nor am I prone to complaining, but the shackle was so tight that each step caused me to wince.
The officer who cuffed me was by the van and yelled for me to hurry. His partner walked to me. He attempted to lift the thin pant leg. The shackle was too tight for him to tug the material loose. The first guard told me to stop being a pussy, while the second gave me a discreet apology and loosened the iron.
The convicts talked loudly as the guard took count. When the officer slammed the van’s sliding door, everyone went silent as abruptly as if a mute button had been pressed.
The van rolled toward our new life. We were packed in. The air was stuffy. At least one person hadn’t showered in a while. No one spoke a single word, not even when we stopped for gas and many females were in view. This would normally cause an eruption of hoots, hollers, and one-liners, the most popular being the safe, “I’d hit that,” and the most annoying, yet utilized nearly as often, would be a man screaming his name from a police vehicles while wearing manacles and pleading for said female to write them.
I can’t imagine that has ever worked, and for once, no one tried.
The silence reflected the turmoil of thought taking place: what got us here, where we would end up, and what would happen once he reached prison.
I stared out the window at the houses as they went by. I imagined the types of people who lived in such a home, drove such a vehicle, or cared for their lawns in such a manner.
I know that my best chance at retaining sanity is to refrain from thinking about the future or dwelling on the past. I can’t envision the laughs with friends, the monetary loss, or the desolate wreckage that awaits me upon release. I must focus on today, hence this writing.
Quarantine is in Jackson State Prison. Twenty foot high fence topped with concertina wire started a mile before the entrance. Driving past the fence blurred and distorted the massive works of age old masonry behind it. Guard towers waited at the entrance.
Inside we are stripped naked, made to squat and cough, and then dressed exclusively in state blues. An I.D. is made. Tattoos are photographed. Hours pass between each step. Guys talk about their eighteen, their twenty, and their thirty-five year sentences as if they were points racked up in last night’s game. Perhaps flippancy is the only way to process such a looming future.
Once processed, we are lead into the heart of the prison. The inner compound starts with an outdoor yard that is surprisingly spacious, roughly an eighth of a mile squared. There is a white tent the size of hockey arena to one side, It resembles what might be erected during a pandemic. It is corralled by fence and concertina. The grass is mostly brown. There are twelve payphones and one drinking fountain with two spigots to serve the three hundred inmates allowed out at one time.
The quarantine building I’m assigned to lines the rear. It is fifty feet high, nearly three hundred yards long, and looks like something out of ‘Lord of the Rings.’ It’s even outfitted with slots to fire projectiles. I see a shadowy figure cross one. No one needs to tell me that he is equipped with something deadlier than a bow and quiver.
The building is old. As I approach, I’m humbled by its purpose, by the people who have slept there, and by the acts they have committed.
There are six yellow doors propped open at its base. They conjure images of a funhouse ride where once you enter, anything can pop out at you, and its eventual ending is unknown.
Inside, the building is perhaps thirty to feet deep. It’s dilapidated. The mustard-colored walls were perhaps once white, but are now flaked and stained from years of smoking, which is no longer allowed.
My cell is on the 4tth (top) tier where many men, inmate and guard alike, have flown to their death—some voluntary, but most not. The cell is an 8’x6’ and has a filthy cot, rusted storage locker, and a graffitied desk. The room is too small to do push-ups, regardless of how it’s configured. Though I would not do any even if I could—MRSA is a serious threat in this environment, and I’m hoping to keep my appendages.
The day is sweltering hot and drags like none before it.
There is only one rule in Two South: no talking!
So as I sit here in silence, I will thank you for listening and ask that you check on me tomorrow.
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IMPORTANT REMINDER: read the entries in order. 1, 2, 3, etc (last reminder) POST THREE