Authors: Jamie Bowers
‘Why me? I’ve only just got here, I haven’t done anything wrong.’
The Captain stared back at Joe seeming not to listen. ‘Warden wants to see you in the morning, don’t be late. Lights are on at 6am sharp.’ He walked away without so much as an explanation for the request. ‘Why me?’ Joe said to himself. ‘Maybe he thinks I will be trouble. Or maybe he knows more than me and he can explain to me why I’m here.’
‘Don’t even try to fuck me over or I will fuck you.’ Aloma’s deep voice echoed from the cell next door.
‘What do you mean?’ questioned Joe.
‘He probably wants you to be a snitch. Guys like you can probably make friends with anyone.’ Joe was confused.
‘What do you mean a guy like me? You don’t even know me.’
‘You’re white and slick, you can make friends with anyone and fuck them over just as easily,’ Aloma replied, ‘You see, I can’t do that because everyone sees me as a mother-fucking silverback and it isn’t exactly welcoming.’ Joe went silent not knowing what to say.
‘I’m not a grass and don’t deal to rat others out.’
‘Your choice,’ replied Aloma, ‘but I’m warning you not to fuck with me. Now shut up and let papa bear get some sleep.’
Joe could hear Aloma pull on the light chord followed by the straining of the rusty bed springs under his great weight. Joe stood up from his bed and walked towards the small eighteen inch square window that provided little light from the outside. Looking out at the sun quickly setting, it cast a dense shadow into the courtyard from the giant walls and towers. It started to sink in that this was the darkness of his life; whatever he had done has sent him here. ‘What did the Warden want? What have I done that has drawn his attention?’ Joe kept on asking himself the same questions through his head over and over.
Eventually, Joe put on some of the clothes provided. Slipping on the white vest and stepping into the trousers it reminded him of doing the sack race for school sports day. The roughness of the material scratching his legs made it feel more uncomfortable than he could have imagined. He tossed the matching orange top onto the floor in the corner of the cell before lying on the bed. The mattress felt hard and the springs were stiff under his weight. His head awash with thoughts from the day so far, Joe wanted to get some sleep before meeting the Warden in the morning. He closed his eyes trying to recall what has happened to get him here. He got flashes of voices from the court room but none of it seemed to make sense. Self-defence, mentally unstable and patriot were the phrases he could remember the most. The same things kept repeating over and over in his head throughout the night, causing him to wake several with more questions than answers.
Joe opened his eyes slowly to see the sun starting to shine through a small window high up opposite his cell. It looked like a spotlight beaming onto the floor, the dust in the air glistening as the light catches it. He hears a few sounds echoing around the wing of chatter and movement from the other inmates. Feeling like he is still in a dream state, he stretches his eyes open and sits up from the bed. His cold feet on the concrete floor quickly gave him the consciousness of where he was. The noises from the other cells appear to get louder as he hears the sound of something rattling on cell bars accompanied with an uproar. He could hear a guard walking down the row of cells, tapping his baton in rhythm against the bars like an alarm clock to get everyone up.
Joe stood from his bed and looked out of his window, trying to imagine how it would feel to be out there watching the sunrise in the free world.
‘Parcoli.’ the voice said. Joe turned his attention to his cell door where he saw Captain Richards grasping his baton firmly in both hands. ‘Get your shirt on and come with me, it’s time to see the Warden.’
Joe picked his shirt up from the chair, sliding it over his head and slipping his arms in, the short sleeves covering most of the tattoos across his shoulders and upper arms. It felt fitted to his athletic torso, being made from the same material as his trousers didn’t make it comfortable to wear. He looked down and saw his number ‘#63548’ stencilled onto the chest. Rubbing it with his fingers his heart sank with the realisation of where he is and what is happening.
‘Come on Parcoli,’ said Richards still grasping his baton. ‘Open up 335!’ he shouted down the cells. The sound of straining metal crept along the block and the cell door slowly opened. Richards stepped into the doorway, ‘Don’t try anything stupid.’
Still in a dream state, Joe didn’t respond, he just looked at the Captain with a straight expression showing little emotion.
‘Follow me.’ ordered Richards as he turned and started to walk away.
Joe followed along the front of the cells, being watched by the other inmates as they got dressed and then turning to go up the metal steps. As they got to the top, Richards stopped to unlock the gate and they proceeded down the corridor. Another guard locked the gate behind and followed them both as they walked along. This was a different environment that felt more like an office building than a prison. The floor covered in patterned tiles with no dirt. Shiny brass handles decorated the clean wooden doors. They walked up to a dark mahogany door with frosted glass covering most of the top half. On the glass is etched the name ‘Warden W.D.Tanner’.
Captain Richards got to the door first and turned to Joe. ‘Stop,’ he said, placing the end of his baton across Joe’s chest. ‘Wait here with Morris until I tell you.’
Richards opened the door and walked into the office closing the door behind him. Joe stood staring at the frosted glass; he could barely make out a blurred shape on the other side that he thought to be Captain Richards. He could hear him talking to the Warden but the sound was too muffled for it to be audible.
Joe turned and looked at the guard, a young man in his early 20’s with slicked back blonde hair. ‘So how did you manage to get this piece of shit job?’ Joe said whilst looking the young guard up and down. Joe looked at his name tag, ‘James Morris. Sounds like a rock star. Bet you feel disappointed winding up here, don’t’ you?’ Morris didn’t respond, he just kept one hand on the baton hanging from his belt. The door to the office opened.
‘Come in, Parcoli.’ said Richards holding the door open. Joe walked into room and he could see a large wooden desk in the middle, behind it a tall green leather chair facing the window. As he stepped forward he could hear Richards and Morris leave and the door behind him close.
‘You wanted to see me?’ Joe leaned over the desk towards the cumbersome chair.
The Warden’s voice came from the chair. ‘Why are you here?’ The sudden response made Joe jump although he was expecting the reply. Joe didn’t answer back, instead he was more interested in the room with the smell of tobacco and furniture polish filling the air. A book case on the two walls either side of the desk filled with literature about law. The walls adorned with the same dark wood that made up the desk, bookcases and door.
The Warden was still sitting in his chair staring at the sunrise through the blinds that seemed to emulate bars on the cell windows. ‘Are you still there?’ said the Warden as he reached onto the arm of the chair for a cigar and lighter.
‘Yes.’ Joe replied. ‘You wanted to see me Warden?’ Joe looked past the chair and could see a photograph in the window. It was a picture a younger Warden in an army uniform shaking hands with the then president John F. Kennedy. The frame was gilded and well-polished, clearly something that was cherished. He looked around the room some more and noticed a display on a bookshelf with various medals and what appeared to be a letter in a picture frame.
‘Were you a soldier?’ Joe asked.
‘Why did you leave?’
Tanner turned in his seat and faced Joe, resting his elbows on the edge of the desk, lighting a cigar with the lighter he took a large inhale. ‘Why do you do anything?’ he asked. The Warden stood up, pushing the chair back as he blew smoke into the air. ‘I left because it was forced upon me. Is that what you wanted to hear?!’
Joe stayed silent for a moment not knowing what to say or where to look. After a few seconds Joe plucked up the courage to speak. ‘Sorry sir, I was just trying to be friendly,’ he said with a quake in his voice.
Tanner slowly sat back in his chair and took another large puff on his cigar. He slowly exhaled smoke into the air above him. ‘Are you here to make friends? Do you think we could be friends, Parcoli?’ He smirked and stubbed his cigar into a brass ashtray in the middle of his desk, extinguishing it in a careful way so that he could continue to smoke it later.
Tanner stood from his chair and walked around to Joe’s side of the desk. He perched himself on the corner and nudged a chair towards Joe with his foot. ‘Take a seat. We need to talk.’ Joe slowly sat down and stared at the cigar butt still smoking.
‘What did you want to see me about sir?’
‘I see from your record, you were in the army.’
‘Yes sir, seven years. I would have stayed longer if I could, but they sent me home on a medical technicality.’ Tanner looked at Joe from head to foot wondering what it was that was wrong with him.
‘You see Parcoli. I was in the army for nearly forty years and got discharged in sixty six. A god-damn dink shot me in the leg when I was in ‘nam.’ Tanner turned to Joe and held out a cigar that he took out of a walnut box neatly organised with the other items on his desk. ‘Did you go and fight the gooks?’
Joe cautiously took the cigar, looking Tanner straight in the eyes. ‘No sir, I was based in Laos. Due to go to Vietnam but they sent me home.’ He held the cigar to his lips as Tanner leant forward and lit it with his lighter.
‘What was wrong with you?’ Tanner asked, ‘Surely in times like this, they could have used a young guy like you. You’re not even 30, barely left your mother’s nipple and they send you home?’ Joe stared out of the window for a second and contemplated what to say. He considered lying, but then thought that all this could be in his record and Tanner could just be testing him.
‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ Joe exclaimed whilst focusing on the sun rising higher over the prison walls.’ He took an inhale of smoke from the cigar and turned his eye towards Tanner. ‘Why did you want to see me again?’
Tanner smirked and raised his hand in the direction of the bookshelf with the war memorabilia. ‘You see that there?’ pointing at the framed letter surrounded by medals and ribbons, ‘that letter says that I am no longer welcome in the US Army. Kennedy sent me out there but Johnson insisted I came home. I asked if I could stay out there and help from behind but apparently it was better for everyone if I came home.’ Slipping his hand into his trouser pocket, Tanner took out a small brown envelope that had been neatly folded in half. He placed it on the table in front of Joe, keeping one finger firmly pressed as he slid it towards him.
‘I asked you here for a chat before the queers got into your head.’ Joe looked at Tanner and slowly took the envelope from the table.
‘What’s this then?’ he questioned as he unfolded it to look inside.
Tanner put his hand over Joe’s and exclaimed. ‘That’s for when you are alone, not here. It’s got all the answers you need.’ Joe was curious as to what it was but acknowledged Tanner’s instructions. Joe folded the envelope back up and tucked it slowly into the pocket of his orange trousers.
Tanner stood up and walked back to his chair, the green leather looked as though it had been sat on many times for many years, but still kept a well-built comfy quality that only money can buy. He sat down and leant back, cupping his hands across his chest. ‘Tell me, Parcoli.’ Tanner said as Joe continued to smoke his cigar and flick the ash into the expensive brass ashtray. ‘Why are you here? I’ve read your file and I know what you’ve done but what I want to know is why did you do it and what makes you think you could get away with it?’
Joe rubbed his eyes, trying to remember what he could. ‘I’ll be honest with you, sir. I don’t remember a thing. I was not feeling very well and the next thing I know I’m being thrown on the bus at the courthouse and driven here.’
Tanner sat forward in amazement. ‘Do you seriously not know why you’re here?’
‘No sir, I keep getting ill and when I do I have to lie down, it makes my mind race and I think I’m going to pass out so I just lie down to try and settle it.’ Standing from behind his desk once more, Tanner walked along the front of his bookcase, looking at the many items he had collected over the years.
‘Do you remember being sent here?’ he said as he picked up and shook a snow globe with a palm tree inside, ‘Were you feeling ill when you had your trial?’ Turning in his chair, Joe faced the Warden as he placed the snow globe back in its place.
‘I didn’t feel well, but I had to stay in court. I remember a few things that were said but nothing makes sense to me. Are you able to tell me?’
Tanner turned his head and walked closer to Joe, looking down on him. ‘You are asking for my help? Well, let me tell you something. If I help you, there is nothing in it for me.’
‘Please, sir.’ Joe said feeling intimidated by the Warden’s stance, ‘I just want to know what I am supposed to have done and it can help me to remember.’ Tanner did not looked impressed by this plea and the stare in his eyes clearly stated that he was not a man who would help anyone.
‘Don’t try to fuck with me, boy,’ he said as he took his previous position perched on the edge of his desk, ‘this is my prison and I won’t tolerate people who lie to me.
Joe leant forward. ‘I’m telling the truth, sir. I don’t remember anything and I know you do. Whatever my file says I did, I’m sure I didn’t. But if I did, I don’t recall.’
‘Let’s see if you remember this.’ Turning to the telephone on his desk, Tanner picked up the expensive looking receiver and placed it to his ear. Pressing a single button on the dial, he began to speak in an aggressive manner. ‘Get this piece of shit out of my sight. One week in the dark should be enough to show this guido!’ Joe quickly bolted up to his feet, dropping what was left of his cigar on the wooden floor. Captain Richards and the accompanying Morris charged into the office. Before Joe knew what was going on, each man had grabbed an arm and quickly restrained him.
‘I’ll teach you not to fuck with the big dog,’ exclaimed Tanner as Joe was quickly dragged off his feet and into the corridor. Everything happened so fast that Joe struggled to comprehend what was going on. Before he knew it, Richards and Morris were pulling him by his arms down a concrete stairwell into a damp smelling corridor lit by three small bulbs on the wall. This was the bowels of the prison where prisoners were taken to be punished and forgotten about. He tried to anchor his feet into the ground but he could not get any grip on the dusty surface. He summoned up as much strength as he could and tried to move his arms to break free from the iron grip of the two men. Richards reacted quickly, grabbing his baton from his belt, he struck Joe across his collar bringing him quickly face down on the floor. Morris stood in front of Joe as he strained to get his breath back, trying to push himself up off the floor. Beads of sweat dripped from Joe’s face onto the ground next to the clean shoes of the Captain.
‘If you want to be a fuck up then get up and fight,’ said Richards as he looked down upon the broken Joe, ‘I’ve got all day and whole lot more fight. Besides, do you really think you are going to win?’ Richards stepped over to Morris and spoke quietly into his ear. Joe was unable to make out what was being said, either because it was too quiet or because his heartbeat was throbbing so hard he could hear it pounding through his head. Morris discreetly stepped away and walked up the stairs. Joe heard the slam of a large iron door behind him and knew that he was alone with the Captain Richards.
Richards walked over to a large solid steel door, unclipped his keys from his belt loop and used a great amount of strength to open the lock and pull it from the solid metal frame that held it in the concrete structure. Joe gained his composure and brought himself up to one knee.
‘Do you think that you’re a brave man?’ he asked Richards as he pushed a foot against the floor to stand, ‘if you think you can push me around forever, you are mistaken.’ Richards didn’t respond, he just stepped over to Joe, grabbed him by his collar and pushed him towards the door. Throwing his arms out to try and grab the frame on the door, Joe held on as hard as he could before Richards swiftly kicked him in the back of his knee, forcing him to fall into the lightless room.