Authors: Annette Heys
1663 Liberty Drive
Bloomington, IN 47403
© 2012 by Annette Heys. All rights reserved.
Cover Design by Zoe Cox
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.
Published by AuthorHouse 08/25/2012
ISBN: 978-1-4772-1808-2 (sc)
ISBN: 978-1-4772-1809-9 (e)
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To Ernest for his encouragement and support.
Keys rattling in the grey steel door focused Kate’s attention. Twenty minutes had passed, broken only by the faint rustle of paper from the security office and the nervous rumbling of her stomach. And now at last the door swung open to reveal a diminutive man with cherubic features.
‘That’s me.’ Her voice sounded hollow against the cheerful greeting she had practised in her head. Jumping to her feet she looked again into the low glass cabinet where a variety of crudely fashioned weapons lay, a subtle warning to all who entered this bleak establishment. Her insides lurched at the sight.
After a brief introduction, she picked up her case and followed Bill briskly along lifeless corridors. They passed through a series of metal doors that yielded to the swift turn of a key, its fellows jangling with each revolution. Kate’s eyes attended the silver chain which hung down from the bunch of keys in his hand and looped back up to a black leather pouch on his belt. She watched it swing back and forth against his trouser leg with each quick stride, her fear suppressed by its rhythmic motion.
When the final door opened, they were accosted by the smell of stale sweat mingled with disinfectant from recently mopped floors. A wide flight of stone steps faced them. Bill grabbed the metal rail and climbed them two at a time. He reached the top ahead of her, pushed open a door, and waited. Sitting behind a desk immediately outside the room, a prison officer looked up from his newspaper and watched as she hurried past.
Bill moved to one side and pushed the door back against the wall. ‘This is the staff room. No one here yet.’ She squeezed past him into a small rectangular room. ‘Help yourself to a brew while I finish my prep. T’lads won’t be up for another half hour.’ He indicated a sink crammed with an assortment of unwashed crockery.
Kate picked up a pan scrub and attacked the inside of one of the least stained mugs. Reaching for the kettle, she glanced out of the window. Below, in a square courtyard, a dozen or so men in pairs or alone, paced round and round. One man jogged, weaving inconspicuously between them. A black guy with long dreadlocks and the physique of a panther occasionally dropped to the floor and performed several press-ups before resuming his pacing. Some walked in silence, their heads bowed towards the concrete path, while others chatted to the person next to him between long drags on cigarettes. Beyond this enclosed area, green lawns stretched out into open space, but not
space, for this was fenced all around by steel mesh topped with razor wire.
‘Hello.’ Kate turned quickly as if caught in the act of something slightly wicked. A small, bearded man, fiftyish, flopped into a seat and began to sort through papers. ‘You’re watching the circus.’
‘They look pretty ordinary . . . just walking around out there.’
That lot are
ordinary. That’s why they’re here. Don’t ever think they’re ordinary or you won’t last two minutes. I’m Gordon, by the way.’ He walked across and stuck out his hand.
‘Kate . . . Kate Stuart.’ A plume of steam rose from the kettle and spread across the window obliterating her view. She wished she herself could be as easily obscured.
No sooner had she sat down with her drink than two women entered the room in conversation with a tall, thin man. Apart from a perfunctory glance towards her, they continued to chat amongst themselves. Gordon was quick to note the oversight. ‘This is Kate, everyone.’ He quickly introduced her to each of the staff.
Jean, a small woman with wavy blonde hair and generous hips, regarded her with a frank look, ‘Have you worked in a prison before?’
‘No, in fact this is my first teaching appointment.’
Jean raised her eyebrows but it was John, the tall man, who jumped in with a piece of advice, ‘Don’t take any nonsense from them. They might try it on once they find out you’re new. Just remember not to tell them anything about yourself, and if they ask you to do anything for them, check with someone first. Had your security talk yet?’
‘I had a brief chat with someone in education at my interview.’ A look passed between them and Kate felt she was enduring some sort of test devised to catch her out.
Once again, John spoke up. ‘Don’t worry; you should get the full works in a couple of weeks. ‘Till then, if you’re not sure about anything, just ask. Better safe than sorry.’
Cathy peered at her over half-moon glasses as if trying to work out whether she was the right material. ‘If you just keep in mind where you are, you should be OK.’ Cathy had been there nine years—a longer stretch than most convicts, Kate thought.
‘Provided you’re not too worried about the company you keep,’ quipped Gordon. ‘We have quite a mixed clientele in here.’
Bill came back into the room and greeted everyone before taking a seat in the corner. There was a familiarity to their conversation that was alien to an outsider. It made Kate feel every bit the newcomer, trying to smile in the right places but finding nothing to say. After a short discussion about inmates, the conversation turned to the weekend. Their voices became indistinct as she looked at their battered briefcases and then at her own, the newness of it telling its own story. Her stomach churned and she decided to pay a visit to the lavatory before the lessons started. She managed to attract Jean’s attention who nodded towards a door at the end of the staff room. It seemed embarrassingly close to where everyone was seated.
Their voices were still audible as she closed the door behind her. An empty toilet roll sat in the holder and she searched around for a spare. There wasn’t one. Bugger, she thought, as the aching in her bowels intensified. And then the warning shout, ‘They’re on their way up.’
‘Blast and bugger!’ She dashed outside to find everyone scooping up their folders and heading for the door, except for Cathy who was feverishly rummaging through her bag. Kate leaned over her and asked quietly where she might find some toilet paper. It seemed Cathy was far too occupied to concern herself with toilet paper as she continued her search, muttering to herself, ‘Where the hell have I put my whiteboard marker?’
Clearly, her loss was greater than Kate’s. She looked at the clock. 8.45 a.m. Classes finished at 11.30. She realised she would have to wait until after the lesson. Her sphincter tightened at the ordeal before her as she went out of the staff room into unknown territory.
The corridor was now thick with prisoners either making their way to classrooms or waiting to be frisked by a couple of officers who greeted them at the top of the stairs. Kate felt ridiculously small as she weaved her way through the men, the majority head and shoulders above her. That narrow passage was claustrophobic to her and the sense of relief when she walked into the empty classroom was like coming up for air.
She placed her briefcase on the floor beside her, sidled into a chair behind the desk and opened the register. Eight names leapt out at her in bold, black ink. She straightened her back and looked around the room. Eleven tables placed end to end formed a half square. Soon they would be occupied by prisoners bearing these names.
Through the open door she could see men passing by in their striped shirts and navy trousers, honed bodies without an ounce of spare fat on them. The absence of beer and junk food most likely contributed to their healthy looking torsos, but their pasty faces gave testimony to a lack of sunlight. Kate wondered how it might feel to be locked inside for years on end and decided she would rather be dead.
Realising her posture had descended into a slump, she decided she might appear more authoritative if she stood in front of the desk. A quick move had her standing with her buttocks firmly pressed against the solidness of its frame. It took only a few seconds for her to feel overtly conspicuous and she dashed back behind the desk, straightened up and clasped her hands in front of her.
The first students arrived and she noticed that they came into the room individually and made directly to a particular place without looking around them. From the determined way they entered the room and pulled out their chairs, she imagined they would not be challenged for that place. It seemed to her that the limited space they were allowed to occupy, whether outside in the courtyard or here in the classroom was regarded as their own.
She remembered her teacher training and wondered if this behaviour was so unusual; perhaps she just expected them to be territorial because of where they were. Like these prisoners her peers would gravitate to the same seat every lesson. After a few days the tutor asked them to move around so they would have to sit with somebody new each time. He disrupted their sense of security by making them interact with everyone, not just the people they felt comfortable with. As she cast her eyes over these students, she didn’t think she would follow his example.
She also noticed that no two prisoners sat next to each other. Kate imagined that to sit next to someone meant there would have to be some sort of friendship or trust between them. With these people, it wasn’t likely there would be much of either.
Waiting for the class to fill up was anathema to her. The furtive looks from those who had already taken their places, the hush in the classroom contrasting with the noise outside the door and her own real sense of presence induced a feeling of nausea and short of dashing from the room, there was nothing she could do about it.
When there was no more movement on the corridor and most seats were taken, Kate checked the register against the number of students to make sure everyone was present before introducing herself.