Read Prison Nation Online

Authors: Jenni Merritt

Prison Nation (2 page)

just another one of the stupid shrinks.” The man grumbled.
Shrink? I had never heard that word used before when talking about another person. It was typically only associated with clothing that no longer fit properly, or gross anatomy. I turned my head ever so slightly toward the couple and held my breath.

Dr. Eriks is the head psychiatrist here,” the woman said, her head leaning back on the wall as she looked up toward the ceiling. “She is the queen of the damned.”
The man chuckled. “Yeah well, lucky for me, I don’t have to sit through her mind melting sessions anymore. Still…” he stood and stretched, watching the fight for a moment.
The guards had finally pried the two inmates apart, the men still fighting to get back to each other regardless of the guards’ strong arms. Blood sprayed across everyone. Bruises, long and growing dark, stretched across the inmates’ bodies where the guards had battered them.
The man let out a slow breath, his head shaking slightly. “I don’t trust them. All they do is try to brain wash us. Every single session, it’s just the same old brainwashing. The same hypnotic voices and indoctrinating crap.” The man stared at the dying fight a few seconds longer before lowering his eyes to the ground, his face clouding over in sudden emotion. “I don’t trust them,” he repeated, his voice now soft and barely audible.

I don’t either,” the woman said, her eyes still watching the ceiling above. “None of us do.” She lifted a hand and softly stroked the man’s arm. His jaw clenched a moment. Then his eyes flicked over to me.
I pretended to watch the fight, the inmates still yelling obscenities at each other as the guards struggled to keep them apart. The crowd that had gathered around the two inmates broke apart, leaving them with just the guards and the blood. I could feel the man’s eyes look away from me.
Thinking back to the session I had just had with Dr. Eriks, I let an image of her fill my mind. As her smile flashed across my memory, I felt the same chilling goose bumps as before start to prickle along my arms and down my spine. I shifted my weight, pushing slightly away from the wall in anticipation. I wanted out of that hall.
The guards finally got cuffs on the two inmates and started to drag them down the hall away from us. I could hear the guards threatening the inmates. Their voices were harsh and angry, and loud. One of the inmates limped roughly, the other barely walking as he leaned heavily on the guard that shoved him into the shadows.
The couple watched the bloodied group walk away. Pushing from the wall, the woman pulled the man against her, giving him a small smile as she ran her fingers along his arm.

Hey, no worries,” she purred at him. “Never any worries. Remember?” The man watched her for a moment, then smiled back. Letting out a slow breath between her lips, the woman pulled him beside her as she started a slow walk down the hall. They barely glanced at the blood splattered walls as they passed.
The goose bumps were still thick on my arms, the knots tighter than ever in my stomach. I licked my lips, then carefully stood back up and followed the now disappearing couple.
I had always known there was something more to the goose bumps and dislike of Dr. Eriks’ smile that left me so rattled after each session. I had thought it was just me, that I was reading into everything too much. Now I knew better.
Now I knew others felt it too.
There was something about Dr. Eriks that I could not trust.


ow voices rumbled ahead of me. Lifting my eyes, I saw three men leaning casually against a wall. Their arms and necks were covered in tattoos, rising above the matching white shirts like snakes trying to find their way out. One of the men saw me and nudged the other two, a crooked smile spreading on his unshaved face.
Lowering my eyes quickly, I scurried past, trying hard to block out their guttural laughter and disgusting remarks. One called out to me, but his words blurred in my mind. I could hear the rumble of laughter erupt again.
The laughter and taunts faded behind me as I rounded a corner and emerged into a room full of people.
The large Commons echoed with voices, bouncing off the high ceiling that always seemed to disappear in the floating dust. I didn’t have to look up to know that the fist-dented walls were covered in plain white paper, the rules of the prison listed in solid black words on each flattened poster.
A few inmates grumbled angrily as I pushed my way past their small groups. In the middle of the day the Commons was always packed, leaving me with no other option but to push my way through the groups. I hated having to push, to touch, most of the people surrounding me. But stopping to ask them politely to let you pass usually got an answer you were not looking for. To get through the crowds, to live in Spokane, you had to be tough, even if it was just on the surface.
I placed my hand on someone’s back, felt his low laugh as I shoved my way past. Hair pricked out of his worn white shirt and scratch against my palm. Everything about him ranked of musky sweat. Cringing, I scurried away. The man called to me, inviting me to join his group with another low laugh. I didn’t even turn to respond, the feel of his scratchy hair still fresh on my sweating palm.
I hated this walk.
Emerging from the crowd, I glanced up to the wall in front of me. A new sign, still clean and smooth, hung carefully taped over a dent in the plastered wall. I moved closer, curiosity leading my feet.
In thick, black typeset, it read:


Spokane Prison
Plans to expand facilities
set for coming year.
Sign up now available
for labor workers.
Ask Warden


Spokane Prison,” a woman’s voice huffed next to me.
I turned my head slightly to take in the owner of the voice. A woman, old and bent almost double, stood a few feet away, her eyes still riveted on the sign. Her hands shook slightly as they dangled limply at her side, her white shirt hanging off of her frail looking shoulders like wet laundry.

I remember when this was a city. Just a city,” she said, turning her eyes to me.
I cleared my still dry throat and looked back at the poster. “That was a long time ago,” I replied, willing my voice to stay even.
I didn’t want the sudden butterflies in my stomach to make themselves known. Though I would casually talk to others when the need arose, I preferred the mostly antisocial life. I had never been in any sort of fight or dispute, and I owed it all to my willingness to not make lasting friends. Or, most times, to even speak.

Yes, well, if you can’t tell, I am pretty old.” Her voice cracked as she let out a snicker. “I barely remember that city. Only went there myself once. But it wasn’t a bad one. Then they plowed it through and made this… prison.” The old woman sighed and slowly shook her head. Her eyes, sunk under wrinkles, turned to look at me. “Are you a convict or a Jail Baby?”
I clenched my jaw at the name. Without answering, I turned my eyes back to the poster. It was hard to believe that Spokane was once a city. I tried to imagine it: skyscrapers touching the clouds, sunshine beating on tourists, sprawling parks full of green grass and laughter. I had seen the photos enough in my lesson books, snapped at their peak of majesty. It shouldn’t have been that hard to picture one more city. As hard as I tried, all I could see was the endless gray walls.
The old woman cleared her throat.

Been here forty years now myself. Ten more and I might finally be allowed that parole hearing of mine. If I am still breathing by then.” She lightly chuckled. I could feel her eyes watching me. It took all my control to stay calm, breathing steady with my face slack. Turning and running off now wouldn’t look good.

Not much of a talker, huh?” She asked, her voice slightly cracking. “Must be a Jail Baby then. We convicts, we’re the criminals, the evil-doers. And boy do we know it. No need for us to keep all clammed up and goody-goody. We have already been screwed. Jail-babies are different. Born here and cursed with the unlucky sentence of being stuck with us until you turn eighteen. Unluckiest of all draws if you ask me. Though maybe…” The woman suddenly started to cough. I let my eyes glance over to watch her, her frail shoulders shaking as a thin hand reached up to pound on her nearly flat chest.
My hand twitched at my side. Something made me want to reach out and comfort this old woman. I could feel my fingers lifting, and forced them back down against my leg.
A moment of quiet passed. The old woman licked her lips, her eyes darting to the poster before glancing back to me. They were dull, swimming with a milky white that made me wonder exactly how much of me she actually saw.

If this prison gets any bigger, there won’t be anyone left out there for you to be released to, you know.”
I couldn’t break my gaze from hers. The milky clouds in her eyes drew me in, my eyes searching hers for any sign of actual sight.

So?” she asked, her voice low and rough.
I blinked. “So?”

Convict. Or Jail Baby?”
I looked away, my throat strangely tightening for a second.

I was born here,” I said curtly.
The woman went quiet, her eyes studying me. I felt my stomach tighten. Her eyes had turned sad, her lips twisting down at the corners slightly as she took me in. The moment passed. Shaking her head, the woman glanced at the wall once more.

Pity. What a pity,” she muttered, then limped away. Her left foot dragged slightly along the ground, her hands still hanging limply at her sides.
I stood frozen for a moment, watching the old woman walk into the Commons crowd. My eyes stared at the spot her bent back had disappeared into, my stomach still dancing with the angry butterflies that were desperately trying to break free.
Tearing my eyes away, I turned and ducked into the nearby door. The hallway beyond was long and dim. And empty. I hurried into the corridor, letting the noisy chatter of the Commons disappear behind me. My feet wobbled and my head spun as I tried to regain my bearings on the world around me.
There was no real reason for this uneasy feeling that had taken me over. She had just been a lonely old woman, looking for conversation. I kept repeating that to myself, willing the words to stop the jittery feel that radiated through my entire body.
The hallway opened up into a small enclave, a single metal door waiting on the opposite end of where I stood. A guard stood near the door, his arms crossed lazily over his chest and his face clearly bored. As he saw me approach, he grumbled something under his breath then pushed away from the wall to block my path.
Out of reflex, I lifted my left hand. The small bracelet I had worn my entire life dangled from my wrist, my name inscribed onto its dull metal surface. It was locked on, given just enough room to spin. Sometimes the metal dug into the skin around my bones, scraping it raw. I rarely noticed anymore.
The guard yawned, then pulled a small boxy device from his utility belt. Holding it up to my wrist, he pressed a button and waited. The enclave fell silent. I tried to swallow, but my throat was still dry. A beep finally cut through the air, a small green light flashing on the black box. The guard slid the device back into his belt and pushed open the door behind him. He didn’t even glance at me again as he went back to his bored leaning, his eyes slightly drooping shut.
I stepped through and quickly turned to the left, making my way down the narrow, fenced in walkway. People moved about inside their cells, the doors still open for the daytime hours. The occasional shuffle of feet mixed with the low murmur of voices echoed down the stretch of floor B.
Most inmates preferred the Commons during day hours. Some had assigned work, others chose the fenced-in exercise yard. The rest packed inside the Commons, the only social place inside Spokane. Things were different on my floor. Inmates here, on floor B, tended to stay in their cells. Solitude had become the best companion for the convicted.
I had heard the stories, ever since I had started school and my teachers drilled the images into my head, of what these criminals were capable of. We were told of detailed, horrible crimes, the images from the stories frightening us awake at night. A few times I had tried to ask why those born inside, the Jail Babies, were kept in here if the people surrounding us were so dangerous. The teachers always would look at me the same way. Their face would go cold, lacking any sympathy, as if angry at me for even thinking the question. Then they would repeat the same reason: That it was our parents’ faults. Their explanation always ended at that. Finally, I had stopped asking.
In their unspoken words, they told me this was something I just had to accept. And so, I had.
The old woman’s parting words echoed in my mind.
Pity. What a pity.
I shook my head, chasing the words away, and pushed myself forward.
As I made my way to my cell, I barely had to look up. I had made this walk my entire life. It was as trained into me as breathing or blinking. The voices of other inmates filled the air around me. I could feel it pulse. Beds rustled, pacing footsteps shuffled back and forth in cells as I passed. Someone called to me. The world seemed to swim around me, the sounds of life growing stronger in my ears until it dulled into an angry roar. I paused only a moment before moving on. I never looked up.

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