Read Prison Nation Online

Authors: Jenni Merritt

Prison Nation (9 page)

Jude chuckled. I could see the shadow of his hand sweep across his face, as if painting his words in the air. “Guard Force, prison number 4. A permanent name change and a high risk job, with all the perks that low pay can offer you.” I heard his hand drop back to his chest. He let out a soft sigh. “Can you believe that there are three more prisons out there in the Nation, just like this one?”
I didn’t answer. Spokane was huge, with its constantly expanding walls and packed cells. It was too hard to believe that there were three other prisons just like it. Each corner of the Nation, stamped with a prison. I slowly shook my head, trying to chase the thought away. Something about it caused my stomach to tighten.
We lay on the ground in silence for a moment. I could hear Jude’s steady breathing, his finger as it aimlessly tapped against his armored vest.

Do you hear from them? From your family?” I finally asked.
Jude didn’t respond right away. I thought I could see a shadow pass over his face. His lips seemed to tighten, his eyes blinking faster. Then it passed as quickly as it had come. “No.”

What is the Wall like?”
Jude chuckled. “It’s a wall, Millie. A very large, very cold wall. You can see it stretch into the distance in both directions, and you never see the beach. You just hear it.” Jude let out a sigh, rolling onto his back. His face disappeared into shadows. “But it protects us. Our great Nation built it to keep the good in and the evil out. We are in our sanctuary.”
I recognized the words. They were the exact words that were printed in all of my school books. Dr. Eriks repeated those words to me in almost every session. I felt my lips moving along with his, silently reciting them.

We are the good,” Jude said softly.

And the strong,” I whispered back, tears trying to sting my eyes.
Jude let out a sharp breath of air, then rolled back to face me. “What were you going to ask me? Before I interrupted you and corrupted you with music?”
I didn’t respond.
Jude spun the music player in his fingers again, then waved it at me. He smiled. “Want to hear more?”

Really?” My voice came out too loud and I quickly glanced up to my parents. My mother stirred, then settled back into sleep.
Jude glanced at a watch on his wrist. “Yeah, I have some time. Think of it as an early birthday present.” With that, he hit the button. Music flooded into my ears again. I laid my cheek on the ground, letting the sounds envelope me as my eyes closed. I was floating, carried away once more by the music.
I could hear Jude humming along, and I let my voice quietly join his. My smile felt warm and welcome. I couldn’t imagine it leaving my face in that moment, even if I wanted it to. My eyes grew heavy, my breathing calming as the songs lulled me to sleep. I didn’t feel it as Jude tugged the piece out of my ear and disappeared to rejoin his shift. I didn’t notice the cold floor or the dim light. In my head, I listened to the endless music as sleep finally claimed me and whisked me away into empty dreams.


| | |


The pool of drool under my cheek woke me up. Blinking my eyes, I lifted my head and looked around. Every inch of my body hurt. Pulling myself up, I felt the pain in my hips flare from sleeping on the hard ground. My hand wiped the drool off my cheek as I moved to stand in front of the metal mirror.
The music still played in my head. I could see Jude smiling as his song played over and over. I found myself wishing that more people could be like Jude. Somehow, even though we hadn’t seen each other for weeks, he knew the exact gift to give me to chase away the nightmares that had stayed fastened before my eyes.
Shaking my head, I turned on the water and splashed my face. The air was warm, leaving a sheen of sweat on my body regardless of the fact that I had been sleeping on the always cold ground. The heat would be dying out soon, quickly erasing into a chill that blankets and jackets would never chase away as autumn crept in. Wiping the water from my face, I crawled up onto my bunk and slumped against the wall.
The buzz cut through the air, announcing morning. The doors suddenly clicked, then slid open. I could hear my parents stirring in their bunk below me. Before they stood, I quickly curled onto my side and closed my eyes into slits. I could see my father stand and look at me, his shoulders sagging. He moved to the sink and let the water run over his hands before splashing it on his scruffy face.
My mother stood, moved to the center of the room, then suddenly spun and looked straight at me. I was sure she knew that I was awake. I didn’t move. I slowed my breathing to even, long draws and stared at her out of the slits of my eyelids. She just stood and watched me, a strange mix of confusion and pain painted across her tired face.

942B,” a voice suddenly cut into the air.
Both of my parents jumped in fright, then quickly spun to face the guard who stood in the door. I didn’t need to sit up to know who it was. I could hear the smirk in his voice. The pierce of his gaze sent strange shivers down my entire body.

Alan 942B,” Carl continued. “As of today, you have been reassigned to Assembly. You will be expected to work five days per week. If you accomplish this, your points will be increased per week as well. You begin today.”
I could see my father nod, trying to mask the sudden confusion that flooded his face. “Leann 942B, when not in your therapy course, classes, or on assigned cell rest, you have been assigned laundry room duty. You begin today as well.”
My mother started to stammer, the words mixing together in confused chaos under her suddenly thick tongue. My father stepped forward and placed a hand on her shoulder. As if drawing peace from his touch, my mother calmed and nodded. “Thank you, GF,” she said, her voice lacking any of its often distant loftiness. “It will be grand to work again.”
Carl chuckled. “We must make sure that all of our inmates are properly taken care of. As you both are.” I could feel him look at me, his words slow and meaningful. I swallowed the lump in my throat. Clenching my eyes shut, I tried to keep my breathing even. Dr. Eriks must have done this. She was telling me that my parents weren’t my responsibility anymore.
I should have been relieved. Instead, I suddenly felt sick.
I could hear the rustle of paper. “Alan 942B, when your daughter wakes up from her sleep, would you please make sure she gets her agenda. It is needed to prepare for the Finals.”
My father must have nodded his acknowledgement. I could hear Carl’s clipped boot falls as he left the cell, joining with the morning flow. Creeping my eyes open just enough to see my parents again through my hooded eyelashes, I watched as my father glanced over the paper then softly laid it on my bunk next to me. His hand lingered a moment, then he curled his fingers up and pulled them away.

Alan, Alan! You got a new job!” my mother chirped happily. In a very dramatic voice, her hand painting the word out in front of her in the air, she proudly announced, “Assembly.”
My father just nodded again, falling back into his usual shadow existence. Smiling, my mother bounced past him and turned on the sink, splashing the water on her face and into her hair. She paused to look at her face in the mirror, pulling back the wrinkles in her forehead with a finger. “And it is about time they gave me a job. I am just stir crazy!”
You are something crazy,
I thought.
My mother tried to run her fingers through her matted hair. Disgruntled, she let out a huff, her face wrinkling up like a child’s. “I think I will go take a shower before my new day begins!” she chirped.
Grabbing her rarely used towel and a stack of clean clothing, which I had washed and folded and never been thanked for, she bounced toward the cell door. Just before she passed through the door I saw her pause, her chin turning slightly towards me, her back stiff in anticipation. I didn’t move. Her shoulders sagged, a heavy sigh escaping through her lips. She paused a moment longer, then suddenly perked up again and bounced away down the walk towards the showers. My father grabbed his own stack of clothing and quickly followed, not even bothering to pause.
As soon as I was sure they were gone, I sat up and snatched the paper. I wished that I didn’t feel so secluded from them. I could feel myself longing for the ability to let the fog permanently take away the newfound memory of my mother’s unremorseful words. But I couldn’t. When I saw her face, I saw a murderer.
I blinked my eyes then looked down, forcing them to focus on the white page in my hands.


Discharge Procedures
Nation Prison No.4


0500 – Lights on
0530 – Breakfast


0800 – Report to Exam Room
0830 – Begin Exam
0930 – End Exam, Dismiss


1300 – Report for Parole Board


Reminder: Exam will be delivered orally and
before the five listed parole board members.
Be prompt and prepared.


Warden Frank Binns
Honorable Judge Albert Wood
Reverend Rolan Smitson
Dr. Marta Eriks
Oscar Ramos


I read the list again. I hated seeing Dr. Eriks’ listed, but I knew there was no way they wouldn’t include her in this decision. The Judge and Reverend meant nothing to me, and the Warden was to be expected. I had no idea who Oscar Ramos was.
I had heard that many times they would pull in a random citizen from one of the nearby farms to sit in. They thought it helped the inmate feel like the decision was fair, being as one of the five was of no power. That must be who Oscar was. A powerless nobody.
I laid the paper aside and pulled out my textbook. With nothing better to do for the next two days, I figured I might as well brush up on the material that my brain needed to remember in order to pass. Before standing in front of the parole board, it was required for all Jail Babies to take an oral exam. I would need to prove that I had the history of our Nation drilled so well into my head that I could recite it in my sleep.
Which I could.
I cracked the book open and began to read the same pages I had been reading my entire life.
I knew every word before I even read it. When I had turned six, this exact book had been assigned to me. Ever since then, I had read it, cover to cover, at least twice a week. The pages were full of the history of the great Nation. Why the Nation had to do what it did to save itself. How we needed to be the good, the strong, to bring the Nation back to its greatness. I hated reading it. The words were dull and boring, often repeating themselves every few pages. But twice a week, while I still attended school, we had to sit quietly in the cold schoolroom and read the book cover to cover.
No one ever failed the exam. And no Jail Baby was ever denied parole.
That knowledge only made me even more nervous.
The nerves I felt twisting in my stomach at the thought of the coming Exam wasn’t only fear of the test itself. It was of the results. How I did on the test would put a stamp on me. It would decide where I would be placed after my release. It decided who I would become.
If they liked me, and if I proved to be a promising citizen, then my life outside would be easy. But if I got a bad label, one bad note, I would be watched. I would be doubted. And, as many of the younger convicts here, I would finally wind right back up where I did not want to be. I had seen it happen, too many times. I needed to prove that I was the good, the strong.
Realizing my mind had drifted, yet again, I slammed the book open until the spine cracked and started reading from the beginning.


finished reading my textbook, then flipped it back to the first page and began again. By now I wasn’t actually reading. My mind had become a thick mess of solid fog. I could feel my eyes swimming uselessly, barely focused on the pages. They seemed to be moving more out of memorized motion than out of actual need.
Every time I heard someone pass outside my cell, my entire body tensed. Their shuffled steps, soft from the same worn sneakers that we all wore, would finally calm me. Then I would hear movement again, and tense back up. I felt completely ridiculous. I hadn’t been this uneasy since I was little.
I felt on edge, and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t seem to calm myself down.
A few times I heard the clipped, heavy steps of boots as the patrolling guards passed. They wouldn’t even pause as they walked past my quiet cell. As the day wore on, that changed. Every time I heard the heavy boot falls, I would glance out of the corner of my eye at the open door. The boots would slow as they approached my cell, pausing a fraction of a second in the light of the opening before moving on down the walk.
Each time, I could see Carl’s darkly smiling face take me in.
The boots approached again. Even though I already knew who I would see, I still found my eyes trailing over to the door, my breath freezing in my lungs.

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