Authors: Jamie Bowers
After several days feeling sorry for himself, Joe didn’t see much of anyone outside of his regular routine. Doctor Gable would visit most days to poke and prod at his wounds and a stubborn nurse came in twice a day to shove pills down his throat and feed him his meals. He had started to become more mobile, able to walk to the window with crutches and sit in the stiff chair, staring through the bars at a world outside the walls of Hampton Penitentiary. Often he wondered if his life would have been for the better if he did live this far from the city. Was there less to care about in a life out here, or do you just care about different things on a different level.
Nearly a week since Warden Tanner said he needed to be in his cell and Joe was waiting to be taken back. Sitting on the edge of his bed, he fastened the top button of his orange shirt, feeling the rough weave of the material already making his skin itch. He looked down at his number ‘#63548’ and caressed it gently with his hand in the hope that this was still a dream and the number would rub off. Slowly standing, not to aggravate the injuries he could still feel, he knocked the bedpan with his cumbersome shoe which made it slide further under the bed. As he looked down at the spinning bedpan, the door opened and three prison guards entered the room followed by Captain Richards. Standing in front of Joe, Richards slowly took his baton from his waist and pressed the end firmly against the number stamped on Joe’s uniform.
‘You see that number?’ Joe looked down at the end of Richards’ hand pushing the baton, ‘that means that I own you. Whilst you are here, Parcoli, I am in charge and that number means exactly that. You are just a number to me and I don’t care if you are here for blowing up a bus full of church goers or stealing a lollipop from a five year old. You are a criminal and you will be treated like one.’
Richards nodded to the other guards as he slid the baton back into its holder on his waist. Two of the guards stepped forward and grabbed Joe by an arm each as the other cuffed his hands behind his back.
Richards held the door open as the guards led Joe into the corridor. ‘We won’t have any trouble with this one now, will we boys?’ One of the guards smiled and nodded as he walked out holding Joe’s arm. Richards was happy in the thought that he and his men made a physical and mental mark on Joe. As the guards ushered Joe along the corridor, he saw Francis in a neighbouring room seeing to another inmate. She glanced at him but didn’t make any reaction to him leaving. Joe thought that she would take care of him, but he hasn’t seen her since his run-in with Tanner, it was always another nurse who came to his bedside. He bowed his head as he walked past the room, trying not to let anything on to the guards as this could result in her to losing her job and they would both get into trouble. As they got to the end of the corridor, they stopped at the doors to the elevator.
Doctor Gable shouted from the office opposite. ‘What is going on here?’ He quickly came to the door with a cigarette hanging from his mouth, ‘I haven’t authorised this man to leave. Put him back in his room.’ The guards stared at the elevator doors as the sound of the carriage got closer.
‘It’s the Warden’s orders.’ Richards exclaimed, ‘He wants him back in his cell tonight.’ Gable placed his hand on Richards’ arm trying to turn him around.
‘I haven’t authorised him to leave yet, there is still some tests I want to do. I have someone I am seeing tomorrow who should shed some light on everything.’
Richards slowly turned towards Gable. ‘Is he walking, Doctor?’ he said as he stared Gable in the eyes.
‘Well, yes.’ said Gable as he took the cigarette from his mouth, ‘but he can’t leave yet, I won’t let it.’ Richards turned back towards the elevator as it arrived. One guard opened the gate and led them all in.
‘All that matters here is that he can walk,’ Richards stated as they turned to face the doctor, ‘if you have a problem with me helping your workload to decrease, take it up with the Warden. These are his orders.’
The guard pulled the gate shut as Gable stood with a look of displeasure. The elevator slowly descended down the shaft, the cold air from the lower levels quickly filling the small space, bringing the reality back to Joe for where he really is. He could hear the sound of echoing voices rattling around the concrete walls as the elevator came to a stop. The gate opened and it seemed as though the level of noise more than doubled. The three guards escorted Joe from the elevator, led by Captain Richards.
Stopping at a locked gate, another guard came out from a side room. ‘Spread your legs please.’ He ordered to Joe as another guard patted him down, to ensure that nothing other than him was transported from the infirmary.
He pressed his hands up and down each of Joe’s legs and walked behind him to check his arms and the collar on his shirt. ‘He’s clean.’ said the guard as he then proceeded to unlock the gate.
With Richards in front, walking tall, the other guards followed, leading Joe along the line of cells. The inmates already in their cells, shouted at Joe as he was escorted.
‘Welcome back, new blood.’ Joe heard one say but he didn’t want to look at the man, just used all of his concentration to hide the pain that his injuries still gave him. They stopped at Joe’s cell, still the same three walls enclosed with a large metal gate.
‘Open up 335,’ Captain Richards shouted down the row of cells. The door opened slowly and the three guards quickly steered Joe to his bedside. Turning him around, one guard removed his handcuffs and they all proceeded to leave. Captain Richards remained outside the cell, watching Joe sit down and stare at the blank wall in front of him.
‘Lock ’em down.’ He shouted as the three guards walked away. The loud noise from the cell door made Joe jump but he remained staring at the same spot on the wall whilst Richards stood in silence watching him. ‘Lights out,’ Richards shouted as he stepped towards the bars on Joe’s cell. In a moment, the lights turned out and the only ones that remained on were the ones outside the cell rows, not enough to see inside the cell from the outside. Joe turned his head and could see the silhouette of Richards still standing there, blocking any light from entering his cell.
‘Can I go to sleep now, sir?’ Joe asked.
‘I’m not stopping you,’ said Richards from the shadows, ‘just remember who has control in here.’
Not bothering to take off his shoes or pull back the harsh woollen blanket, Joe lay down, resting his head on the pillow, feeling the gaze of Richards still standing over him. After a moment the shadow cast by the broad torso disappeared and was replaced by the solid uniform shape of the cell bars, another regular sight that all too many men inside these walls had become accustomed to. As his eyes became heavy and his body relaxed, the pains from Joe’s recent injuries were still evident, although the scars and bruises had almost disappeared. Closing his eyes, sleep would not come easy as he could only see images of Gina and Mary. The emotional pain he felt outweighed the physical feelings, eventually falling asleep with his face soaked in tears.
‘Get up, ladies!’ Joe was awoken by the sound of a guard bellowing down the block as the sunlight from the new dawn tried to pierce its way through the high windows opposite the cells. One of the guards walked down the row of cells, rattling his baton against every bar of every cell to make sure that all of the inmates were awake. Joe slowly opened his eyes, rubbing his brow wondering what pain he would feel when he started to move. Still wearing his uniform and shoes he slid his feet off the edge of the bed and onto the unforgiving, hard concrete. As he slowly stood, all of his muscles ached at different levels, possibly a mixture of his body not yet healing and the night spent on a bed as a solid as the floor it stood on.
As he straightened his shirt, Richards and the other guards lined up evenly spaced against the wall opposite the cells.
‘Open them!’ Richards shouted. With the same dull, unnerving sound as before, the cell doors opened with a bang. ‘Step forward to the line!’ Richards’ voice travelled along all the cells, loud enough so that no one would have an excuse not to hear him. The inmates all stepped forward to the yellow line painted a few feet in front of the cells.
‘All clear.’ The guards shouted down the rows to indicate to each other that the cells they were watching were now empty. Joe looked straight ahead, not flinching or looking anywhere else.
‘Hey, Slick.’ Joe heard a voice whispering from a few feet away. ‘I heard you were dead, or you got a deal to get out.’ It was Aloma. Joe was shocked that he still remembered him as they only met briefly on the day they arrived together. ‘Just follow me,’ Aloma said under his breath, trying not to get noticed by the guards. The inmates all turned to their left, following one another under the watchful eye of Captain Richards and his entourage. Quickly they were led down a corridor to a gate. As they stopped before the gate, the inmates were closer to one another, more than thirty men from the cell row stuffed into a corridor no more than twenty yards long.
This gave Joe the opportunity to talk to Aloma. ‘What do you know about me?’ Joe asked as they both stood in line, still staring ahead.
‘Not much,’ replied Aloma, ‘rumour was that you were killed by the guards. That’s clearly not true, unless you’re a ghost. Judging by the way you look and the heavy breathing when you walk, they sure as hell gave you a good pounding to be away for that long.’ Joe rubbed his eyes, still trying to get used to the morning light, this time shining through a frosted window and metal bars along the side of the corridor.
‘How long have we been in here?’ he asked as he tried to rest his leg by propping himself against the wall.
‘What did they do to you, slick? Have you been asleep the whole time you’ve been here?’
‘I wish.’ replied Joe as he rubbed the scar still visible around his collarbone, ‘The Warden thought it would be fun to welcome me in a different way to everyone else. I’m sure the rest of you guys who came with me have had a better time than me.’
The line of inmates started to move as they opened the gate at the end of the corridor. Slowly following the other inmates, they walked into the cafeteria area. Still being ushered around the room, they approached the food counter. The warmth from the cooking could be felt as Joe approached the station, but there was no aroma you may associate with home cooked food. As Joe got close enough, he knew why there was no smell; all that greeted them was an unhappy looking inmate with a large pot of porridge. Watching the grey, odourless slop being spooned onto the metal trays, it was evident that this was the daily routine and has been for many years. One by one they took a tray and on it was placed a bowl of porridge that resembled wet cement. At the end of the counter was another inmate pouring a small amount of watery milk into metal cups and handing them to each prisoner as they passed.
As Joe and Aloma got their breakfast and took a spoon from a small plastic box, they turned to the tables that occupied the room. Some inmates had already chosen a table and began to eat their breakfast. Joe spotted a length of tables where nobody was sitting and decided to take the space on the end.
‘Not there,’ Aloma whispered in his ear as Joe was about to pick up his spoon.
‘Trust me, slick. You do not want to sit there. Right now I am the only person in here who has spoken to you and you need to take whatever friendly advice I give you.’ Joe shook his head in disbelief and placed his spoon back on his tray before standing up and sliding it back off the table with one hand. Aloma sat at the end of the table opposite and pointed at the seat across from him.
‘You sit there. If you want to stay alive, you sit there.’
Joe sat down and began to eat his breakfast. If he had let go of the spoon, it would probably be able to stand in the porridge on its own. He didn’t really care what the food was, as long as it gave him energy to try and shake the last of his pains. As he scraped the last of the food from the bowl two men sat on the table where he had originally been. He couldn’t help but notice that they both had the same closely shaven haircut which was probably done by themselves and tattoos on each arm, mostly obscured by the sleeves on their matching orange shirt.
‘Is that why we shouldn’t sit there?’ Joe whispered quietly to Aloma.
‘They are the men you don’t want to speak to or look at.’ Aloma mumbled softly, trying not to make it obvious who he was talking about. ‘They control the order around here more than the Warden does. The only way you want to speak to them is to apologise for breathing.’ Joe continued to eat at a slower pace; taking in everything he was being told.
‘You’re a big guy, why are you afraid of them?’ Aloma discretely rolled up his left sleeve to expose the edge of a bandage covering his shoulder.
‘That’s why. On my second day I confronted them in the yard, I figured that if you beat the shit out of the top guy, you won’t get any trouble whilst you’re here. You see, they call the big dog Dannio, he’s the one with the beard.’ Joe looked over briefly as Dannio turned away and could see a fresh scar across the top of his head.
‘Did you do that?’ Joe asked.
‘Slammed his head against a wall when he wanted me to move out of his way. Probably would have killed him too if his girlfriend Mick hadn’t shanked me. I was able to fight him off a bit, that’s why he could only get my arm.’ Joe took a glance at Dannio and Mick once more; he could see that nobody else would sit near them.
‘So why haven’t they killed you since you had the run-in?’ he asked.
‘Well, since that day, they don’t bother me and I don’t bother them. It’s simple.’ Joe raised his eyebrows in acknowledgement to the politics of prison life that he had just been advised on.
‘Sorry,’ Joe said as he wiped his right hand down his front and offered it to Aloma, ‘My name’s Joe Parcoli. I never really introduced myself.’ Aloma shook his hand in response.
‘You don’t need to, it’s a small place remember. I know you were taken away by the Warden and it’s thanks to him that you’re not dead.’
‘Not sure about that,’ Joe replied as he took a sip from his milk, ‘So what’s your name, all I know is Aloma, is that your first or last name?’
‘Last,’ he replied, ‘my first name is Kenway, but my friends call me Ken. I suppose you can too if you want.’ Joe nodded at the thought that someone called him a potential friend.
As the porridge and milk was being finished, Joe had become more relaxed knowing that he had someone to talk to who wouldn’t brush off his comments or be bound to keep quiet.
‘So why are you here, Ken?’ he asked as he ran his thumb across the edge of his cup. Ken looked up from his tray and stared Joe in the eyes.
‘What does it matter? We are all here for a crime, it doesn’t matter what it is, and we are all branded a criminal. Besides,’ he said with a smile, ‘I’ve got ten years, and I don’t want to use all my stories in the first month.’ Joe smiled and nodded.
‘Good point, I suppose stories can wait until another time.’ Ken stopped eating for a moment and placed his spoon on the table.
‘Why have you stopped eating?’ asked Joe, ‘Are you not hungry?’ Ken took a deep breath as he was about to say something important. Joe leant forward and listened with intent.
‘Do you remember the crying man who came in on the bus with us?’ asked Ken.
‘Sure I do,’ replied Joe. ‘His name was Button, wasn’t it?’
‘What do you mean, was?’ asked Joe.
‘Well, he tried to hang himself on his first night,’ Ken explained, ‘tied a bed sheet to the handle on his cell door. He realised he only needed the knot to be higher than his torso to do the job. Only problem was the sheets are so thin in this place, it ripped and he ended up with nothing more than a bump from where he passed out and banged his head on the edge of his bed. The next day, he had to go and see the Warden, he was found later that day in the yard, face down in dirt and blood with a large hole in the back of his head.’ Astonished by this, Joe wanted to know more.
‘Was it the Warden’s doing?’
‘Most likely,’ Ken stated, ‘but I don’t want to ask any questions and end up like him.’
Joe wanted to try and change the subject before they got overheard and someone put a bullet sized hole where their brains should be.
‘The only questions I have are about what has happened to me since I got here. Do you have any idea what the Warden has against me? One moment we are talking and he gives me one of the finest cigars I’ve ever seen and then all of a sudden I get locked in a windowless cell, get the shit beaten out of me and spend weeks recovering.’ Ken leans forward and is about to speak when a bell rings and most of the inmates stand up.
‘Yard time,’ Ken said as he stood up, ‘let’s go, kid. You need to be quick and get a seat in the shade because the sun will burn you like a pig on a roast.’
Joe stood up and grabbed his tray. Following Ken he took one last glance at Dannio and Mike sitting at the table opposite and they stared straight back at him. As Joe walked towards the door and table where the other inmates were, he could feel the two men still watching him. Standing in the crowd of men waiting to leave, Joe placed his spoon into a metal tub and piled up his bowl, tray and cup on the table. A guard was watching each person put the items on the table to make sure that nobody took anything beyond the cafeteria that they shouldn’t. Dannio and Mike soon stood up and pushed their way through the other men. They stood behind Joe; Mike passed something from his hands to Dannio’s as they went through the doorway into the sunlight.
The crowd of people dispersed as they stepped outside. Captain Richards stepped through the inmates and placed one hand on Joe’s chest.
‘Stop there, Parcoli.’ Joe stopped and stared the Captain in the eyes.
‘I haven’t done anything wrong.’ he said as he raised his hands to show his innocence. Another guard then grabbed Dannio by the arm and prized the object from his hand, passing it to Richards to inspect.
‘He got this, sir,’ the guard said whilst keeping a firm grip on Dannio’s arm. Richards took the object with one hand whilst keeping his other on Joe’s chest. He and Joe looked down at what was in his hand, a homemade knife carved from a toothbrush. Joe was shocked as this was his first sight of such a weapon.
‘I just saved your life, Parcoli.’ said Richards as he passed the shiv to another guard to take, ‘He has just earned himself one week in the hole.’ Two guards grabbed Dannio firmly and dragged him away.
‘You got lucky this time,’ Dannio shouted to Joe, ‘but you can’t be guarded forever.’ He nodded to Mike who was still standing there, perhaps a signal for him to finish the job? Richards stepped forward to Mike and whispered in his ear.
‘You have just lost all your privileges.’ He stepped back and shouted to the other guards, ‘one week in his cell, meals in his cell, no visitations and no yard time.’ Mike stepped forward but was restrained by another two guards who quickly ushered him back inside. As the other inmates were allowed into the yard Joe and Ken walked down the concrete steps towards the shade, not acknowledging what the Captain and his men had done.
‘You’re welcome, Parcoli.’ shouted Richards from the top of the steps as they walked towards the far end of the yard. Walking across the dirt covered ground, the dust kicking up with every step, Joe was still getting used to the feel of the orange coarse material on his skin.
‘Can’t wait to take this off.’ he said as they reached the wall that cast a shadow along the end of yard.
‘The only time you can take it off is in the showers or in your cell.’ said Ken. ‘The showers are where you really need to watch your back and your cell is a lonely place; five minutes can feel like five hours. You need to be thankful for what you get in here and the time you get outside like this is a privilege.’ Joe gave a slight smile to acknowledge how he knows this all too well after just a few weeks. They took a seat on a small concrete ledge that ran along the base of the wall where other inmates had already taken their places in the shade.
Ken took a small hand rolled cigarette from his pocket, it looked like it had been trodden on as well as half smoked on a previous day. He placed the cigarette in his mouth and closely lit it with a match he struck on the step beside him.
‘Do you smoke?’ he asked as he took a large inhale.