By Joshua Ryan
THIS IS A STORY ABOUT ADULTS, FOR ADULTS ONLY
“There ought to be a world like that.” That’s what went through my mind every morning that fall.
It will take me a while to explain what I mean. I’ve got the time. Do you?
I was working for Freer and Sons, in the new industrial park. They’d opened their building about three months before. They were one of the first firms out there. There wasn’t much of anything except new-laid blacktop, naked white sidewalks, half-empty offices, and a deli that felt free to overcharge. The Freer Building overlooked a park that the city had about half developed and, just down the hill from that, a long stretch of land that used to be somebody’s farm. That’s where the next set of streets would go. In the meantime it was nothing but weeds and rubbish, with some surveyor’s sticks planted here and there. And convicts. There were convicts working in that field.
I found out about the convicts when I was waiting for my bus. Every morning at 7:09, the commuter train left me at the new station on Executive Way, and I waited at the curb for my shuttle bus. And one morning in late September, the convicts went by. Like me, they were on their way to work.
Of course, they didn’t look like me. I was wearing the gray suit that had cost way too much for a guy just out of college, and I was holding the briefcase that I’d bought for $650 and had stamped with my initials, JSR, because I’d noticed that every guy at Freer had a briefcase like that with his own initials stamped on it. Every guy that was ambitious, anyway. Every guy that wanted to establish who he was. When you’re as junior as I was, you’ve got to spend enough to make them take you seriously. That was one reason why I didn’t drive my car. Besides having to pay for parking, I couldn’t afford to let anyone notice what a piece of junk I owned. I knew that they’d never mention it, but I also knew that they’d be talking behind my back about how I wasn’t “bringing much to the firm.”
The Freer Building was only three-quarters of a mile from the station. I could have walked it, but by the time I got there, my hair would have been messy and I might have started to sweat. Workouts were for the gym. So I stood there watching the sun climb over the vacant lot and waiting for my shuttle, which was always at least five minutes late. Service workers have their ways of letting you know who’s important. Compared to the bus driver, I was nothing. I was just the typical young business geek, pretending to read his Wall Street Journal and glancing around surreptitiously to see whether Mr. Carter or Mr. Dietrich or someone like that had caught the same train that I had. They never had, even though the train stopped at Piedmont, where people like them lived, before it got to Lawton, where people like me lived. But they came to work a lot later than I did. So I didn’t have much to do at 7:20 except hold the paper and suck on the putrid cup of coffee that I’d grabbed from the machine on the platform inside. That’s what I was doing, when the convicts came.
They were in a truck, a flatbed truck–the kind of truck you use to carry cattle. That’s what I thought, the first time I saw it: what’s a cattle truck doing here? The truck was white, with white wooden slats on the sides, and there were men in the truck, standing shoulder to shoulder, with their hands holding onto the slats on top and their workboots protruding between the slats on the bottom. Looking back, I’m sort of surprised that I didn’t pay more attention to them, the first few days. I guess there’s a lot of things you don’t pay much attention to at that time of the morning, especially when you’ve had trouble just getting up in time to catch your train. I was glad to have my job, but I wasn’t exactly dying from fascination with it. And for all I knew, that truck was just another vehicle taking farm workers out to the fields. There were a lot of immigrants in town that signed on for a few days, doing field work. You saw them from time to time, riding in old schoolbuses and things. So the first few mornings, I barely looked up when the truck went past.
Then one morning, I did look up. I don’t know what it was that made me. Maybe I’d noticed that the men in the truck were mostly whites. Maybe I’d noticed that they were always completely silent. Maybe it had finally occurred to me that there must be something special about 30 young men in a truck . . . But I remember what got my attention. It was their clothes. They were all wearing exactly the same clothes. They were all wearing the same brown caps, the same brown coats, and the same brown shirts. Through the slats, you could see that they were all wearing the same brown trousers and the same black boots. Their faces all looked the same to me, too: young, hairless, empty faces peering out through the narrow space between the caps and coats. Then I looked closer. There were letters stamped on their clothes. On the front of each of their stiff little caps there was stenciled the word CONVICT, and underneath it was stenciled a number. A six digit number. My eyes dropped down to their big brown coats. There, over their right pockets, was the same stenciled word; and there, over their left pockets, was the same six digit number. . . . These guys were convicts, wearing their convict numbers!
I’d seen it in movies: convicts were given numbers that they had to wear on their clothes. But these convicts were real! I’d seen white buses and vans on the streets before, with bars across their windows, and I knew that there were men inside them, on their way to jail. You could never really see any men; all you could see was the bars. But these were real men, and they were really convicts.
The next morning, I wasn’t reading my Wall Street Journal. I was waiting for the convicts. That’s when I realized for the first time that there was a sign painted in neat black letters across one of the white slats of the cattle truck: DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, DURANT UNIT. It didn’t say “prison”; maybe that’s how I missed it. “Durant” must mean the village out north of town; I’d heard of that. And “unit” must mean a prison of some kind. So there was a prison in Durant. If I’d grown up around here, probably I would have known that. At the moment, I didn’t do a lot of thinking about it. I was just thinking about the convicts.
I’d never seen one before–and suddenly, here they were, 30 of them at once. In fact, I’d never seen 30 men in the back of a truck before; I’d barely seen one, and it wasn’t me. I’d never ridden in the back of a truck in my life. Suddenly it occurred to me, looking at the convicts: there were a lot of things that you picture guys doing, that I’d never done. I went to the gym once or twice a week, like a lot of the guys I knew; and in high school I’d gone out for track. But I’d never played football, or worn a pair of muddy boots, or been part of a gang of guys being trucked out to work. Except for my track suit, I’d never worn anything that had a number on it; I’d never even worked in a place where you had to wear one of those things that says “Hello! I’m Jason! How can I serve you today?” But like every other guy, I felt embarrassed when I saw anybody who looked any tougher than I was, and here were 30 guys like that, coming right at me down the street. And it was strange: whenever I got embarrassed, I never felt sexy anymore, I just felt ashamed, and my dick shriveled up–whenever I got embarrassed, that is, except now. My dick wasn’t shriveling now. As usual, I’d jerked in the shower before I went to work, but now my prick was ready for action all over again. I couldn’t have read the “Journal” if I’d wanted to. I had to keep it hanging in front of me, to cover my hardon.
I wondered what was happening. The only thing like it was when I was a freshman in college and the rugby team ran past my dorm. They did that every morning, and I was always sure to be walking by the window when they did. I was fascinated by those big, hard bodies, all working together, all doing the same thing, all wearing the same expression, all knowing exactly what to do with each other, with no possibility of doing anything else. It was like there was only one guy, but his strength kept multiplying over and over and over again. . . . They ran in pairs. I would pick one out and imagine that I was running next to him, hearing his breath, smelling his sweat, feeling his shoulder touch mine as we turned the corner and climbed the hill . . . God, how I wished I was one of them. In some other world, that’s what I would be. That world didn’t exist. But I couldn’t mistake the symptoms: I knew that’s where I wanted to be. And if the rugby guys were tough, the convicts were ten times tougher.
It wasn’t that they were acting tough. They were just standing like cattle in the back of the truck. But I was standing in my stylish suit, holding my svelte little briefcase in my carefully manicured hand, and I was looking forward to an arduous day of calling people on the phone so I could put some new data into column B on the spreadsheet; and meanwhile, fifteen feet away from me, there was 5000 pounds of manmeat–booted, suited, numbered, and packed into a prison truck, on its way to a day of slave labor. They were the ultimate males, viewed by the ultimate nonmale. That’s how I felt. I didn’t exactly think that, but that’s how I felt.
Wherever you have convicts, you’ve got to have guards, and I got a look at them too. There were four men riding in the truck’s big cab. They were wearing flattops and shades, and shiny gray shirts with gold emblems on the sleeves. The two on my side were smoking, and behind them, I could see guns standing up in a rack. Those were guards, all right. One of them was talking to another one, and he turned toward the window with a grin on his face. Then he saw me, and the grin went away. I’d been standing too close to the curb, and he noticed it. The convicts also noticed it. As the truck pulled past, they all turned in my direction. I was embarrassed. And excited. The convicts were coming alive to me. They were beginning to look more like guys, and not just bodies in a mass. When they looked at me, I knew it was guys looking at another guy, even though, when they looked, they all looked together. From then on, I decided, I would stand well back from the curb.
The surprising thing was that none of them looked unhappy. They didn’t look happy, either; they just looked like guys who were doing what guys had to do. I wondered if I ever looked that way. I also wondered where those guys were going. They must be going someplace where they were worked pretty hard, because one day I left work at a different time than usual, and I saw the cattle truck returning. You could tell that the 5000 pounds of meat was somewhat the worse for wear. A few of the thinner ones were leaning against the others, like they were having trouble standing up, and the boots were a lot muddier than I’d remembered they were in the morning. So where did they work? I asked some of the other people in my office, but nobody except me appeared to have seen them yet. When I mentioned it to Peter, the guy who had the cube next to mine, he started saying, “Ummm, baby! I didn’t know you were into THAT stuff!” and making jokes about how I must be “hot for a little S and M action.” Peter was a professional queen, and if he discovered that you were gay, you would never hear the end of stuff like that. So I decided to shut up about the convicts. But every morning, that truck went past. And then, after a week or so, I found the answer to my question.
I was in Mr. Dietrich’s office, waiting for him to check out the stats that I’d just delivered, and while I was waiting, I looked out his window. He’s a vice president, so he has an office with windows. Guys like me, we just have cubes. Anyway, it was a beautiful fall morning, one of those days that makes you certain that everything is upside down and summer is coming back again, only better, much better, this time. The sky was blue, the trees were still green, and there were white fleecy clouds chasing each other across the horizon. The air was crystal clear. You could see everything: the big curve of the freeway, the tops of the new buildings downtown, the rolling green hills where the suburbs began, and finally the scrubby brown lots where Phase Two of the Executive Village was slated to go.
I’d known that the field was out there, someplace, but I’d never taken the time to look for it. It was interesting–a big space, but one that couldn’t have been used for years. I’d heard that it had once been a pasture, but that must have been a long time before. It would have taken some time for the edges to grow up in scrub the way they had, and there was even some scrub in the center. Way in the distance, you could see something that looked like a stone wall separating the end of the field from the end of the so-called park; but the park wasn’t anything to brag about, either–just a strip of rough ground falling down from the plateau of Phase One, with a couple of jogging trails and some tennis courts hugging the street. Even the wall didn’t run all the way; it barely got started when it gave out, and after that all you could see on the park side of Phase Two was a lot of scrub and swampy looking brush, with an old wire fence dodging through it. Then I noticed. There was something moving on the field. It looked like a line of brown dots. There was a line of brown dots, and there was a white truck parked next to them.
“Rossetti,” Mr. Dietrich said.
“Yes sir,” I said. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t know you were finished with the statistics.”
“You seem to have found something of interest out there.”
“I was just . . . I didn’t know that Phase Two was still so . . . ”
”Unfinished? They’re taking their time. After all, Phase One isn’t filled yet.”
I’ll say. There were a lot of empty offices, right in the Freer Building.
“So what are they doing down there in the field right now?”
He edged up in his chair and looked out the window. “Oh. That’s the convicts. They’ve got a gang of state penitentiary inmates, brushing out the field. You look surprised.”
“No, sir. I mean . . . I’m just surprised that they’re . . . I thought that convicts . . .”
“Just stayed in their cells watching TV and filing lawsuits?” Mr. Dietrich snorted. “Not anymore. They’re finally getting tough on them. And now that we have these new anticrime laws, you’re gonna see a lot more convicts working a lot more fields. You can’t just stroll out behind the high school gym and smoke your pot anymore. Not in this state.”
“No sir.” I remembered the gym at my high school. I couldn’t remember anybody smoking pot behind it. Maybe Dylan McBride. I think Dylan did. But I didn’t hang out with Dylan’s friends. I was always on the honor roll.
“Then there’s this new program, Turn Em In. That’s having its effect.”
“You’ve seen it on TV. You must have.”
“No sir, I’m afraid I haven’t.”
“Well, you ought to. You ought to keep up on these things.”
“Yes sir.” Why? I wondered. I didn’t smoke pot.
“The Turn Em In program,” he continued, somewhat wearily, “provides rewards for people who observe illegal conduct and report it. It’s remarkably successful. Think about it. How much money does it take for the police to send just one culprit to state prison?”
“Uh . . . a thousand dollars?”
“That’s very amusing, Rossetti. It costs over $50,000 to investigate the average felony and secure an arrest leading to conviction. It used to cost that much, anyway. Now the reasoning is, why not provide a modest reward to people who might help out? Get more people involved–shorten the process! It works in major cases; why not minor ones, too? But no crime is really minor. We want to get these felons off the streets. That’s the reason for Turn Em In.”
“I see, sir.”
“Of course, with the increased rate of apprehension and conviction, the streamlined court procedures, and the new, longer sentences, the state has to come up with new ideas about what to do with all the convicts we have. Naturally, people want them put to work wherever jobs can be found for them. And convicts work cheap, of course. They’re slave labor. That’s why they’re naturals for something like Phase Two down there. They cut the brush, pull the rocks, get rid of the trash and debris that’s built up over time. They’re even building a wall. You can see it out there at the end . . .”
“Yes, I see.”
“Of course, they don’t work very fast, but that’s not required. It’s just good old-fashioned slave labor.”
“I see, sir.”
“Well, that’s that. So much for the convicts. Now, look, Rossetti, I need better numbers on this report. Go down and tell Gary Franklin . . . ”
That day I didn’t eat in the cafeteria. I walked over to the deli and bought a sandwich in a paper bag, and I spent my lunch hour in the park. I wanted to see the convicts.
First I tried the main jogging trail, but that was all it was, a jogging trail. You couldn’t see anything from it. Finally I found a path that looked like it was going in the right direction. It led to a big rock that they must have been planning to use as a focal point or something, because they’d cleared everything out around it, and it stood on a rise overlooking Phase Two. I went to the rock . . . and there, down below, were the convicts.
They were a lot closer than I’d expected. They were no longer dots. They were dark brown lumps rising out of the light brown field, with the white prison truck beside them. They couldn’t have been more than 500 feet away.
Instinct told me not to let myself be seen. I dusted off a board that was lying on the ground and sat down with my back to the rock. I looked out through the trees. Nobody could see me from below. I looked back over my shoulder, toward the Freer Building. There were trees there too. Nobody could see me from there. So this was the place. I reached into the bag and drew out my sandwich. Odd: my fingers were shaking. I hadn’t realized how excited I was. It was hard to get the sandwich unwrapped. But my mind wasn’t on my food. My mind was on the field. There were islands of rocks and stumps in the middle, where there had once been groves of trees, and there was a slope on the opposite side, where some of the brown things were working, cutting brush. The others were doing something on one of the islands. They were inching across the ground, pulling things out . . . they were pulling out rocks, dragging them out and hefting them into a bin or trailer or something . . . a steel trailer with six big wheels. Where’s the tractor? I thought. Then I saw that there were six convicts standing in front of the trailer. They were wearing harnesses, and their harnesses were attached to the bin. They were the tractor!
I gulped. I’d heard of hard labor, but this was the real thing. I had a can of diet coke, and I popped it and took a swig. Shit! Now my hand was really shaking. But I had to see more. Most of the convicts were lined up close together, and when they moved, they moved stiffly, as if they were attached to something that I couldn’t see. They had shucked off their coats–that must be what that big pile of brown was, lying at the side–and they were working away in their shirts, lifting and pulling and twisting . . . There was something on the backs of those shirts, something large and black against the brown. . . . I couldn’t see. I had to move closer.
The path snaked away from the rock, riding a little ridge that cut into the field. I walked on, trying to get closer without losing the trees. Were there any laws about this, I wondered? I made out two guards, leaning against the truck in their bright gray uniforms. One of them was holding a long, thick stick. That must be a rifle–time to turn back! Then I saw the barbed-wire fence that separated the field from the park. The fence was old; it was only a couple of strands, but it was a limit: I wasn’t on prison property, or anything like it. I was in a public park. If I stayed on my side of that fence, I should be safe. And anyway, I couldn’t be a coward, all my life . . .
I was much closer now. There were two convicts on the edge of the field, cutting brush, but neither of them looked up. All the convicts were working with their eyes to the ground. I had seen cattle looking like that, grazing. It was fascinating, seeing men treated like cattle, working in the field where cattle used to graze. Then the shadow of a cloud raced away, and I saw a glint of sunlight on steel. It came from the feet of the convicts that were lined up together. It was the glint of a chain. Those convicts were chained together! Chained by the feet, like the convicts that I’d seen in movies. It must be a big chain, too, if I could see it from there. A big, long, heavy chain. I stopped. I felt my hand raise the coke to my lips again, but the lump in my throat was too big to let me swallow. Now I could see what was on the backs of the convicts’ shirts. It was the same thing I’d seen on the front of their shirts, only larger, much larger. On the back of each man was a name–CONVICT–and a number, a convict number. They were chained like cattle, and they were branded like cattle.
Suddenly I realized that I was standing in the sun, totally exposed. One of the guards was turning in my direction. I dodged back into the shaows and walked quickly up the trail. He probably didn’t see me, although you couldn’t tell, what with the distance and the shades he was wearing. . . . But I was scared. Now I knew what a convict must feel like, when a guard turns to look at him. I was too scared to come back–for a few days, anyhow.
When I did, I found a better spot, and I stayed longer. It was a hot day, much hotter than the last time. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky; there was only the white, early-fall sun glowing above the trees. The convicts were working with their shirts rolled to their shoulders. I could imagine what those guys would look like if I was really up close and could see the muscles rippling under the cloth as the men bent down, two guys together, to heft the rocks and sling them into the bin. . . . And now I saw that the same numbers that were stamped on their shirts were also stamped on their legs and asses. I wished I could have seen those ass muscles twisting, underneath that prison brand . . . .
It’s easy to get carried away when you’re watching something like that. For a while, I lost all sense of the guy who was sitting there, the guy in the shiny shoes and the brand new tie, light green, with modest blue checks to complement his dark brown hair, munching his Healthburger and swigging his diet coke. But eventually that guy came back to himself. He remembered his body again. Like I say, it wasn’t like I’d never played sports or I never worked out. But that’s not what those convicts were doing. It wasn’t a game, and it wasn’t a workout at the machines down at Pexx. I felt small again, very small. I felt like a toy, like a little Ken doll, waiting for another little Ken doll to come along, but with no anatomically correct equipment between his plastic legs.
Then I realized, that’s who I was. I WAS a Ken doll. I could just see myself, sent to jail–if Ken dolls ever got sent to jail, which they didn’t, they were too nice for that to happen–trucked out to the fields, chained by the leg to 20 other convicts, forced to spend my day mucking up rocks to throw in a bin, or standing in harness, waiting to drag the bin across the field.. . . What would the other cons say to me, the first time the guards locked my foot in that chain? My dick was boned to the max, but my guts were shriveling. It was time to go. It was obvious that I shouldn’t have come in the first place. There’s a kind of porn that makes you hate yourself. . . .
I was putting the remains of my food back in the paper bag when I noticed the other trail. It looked like a trail that an animal makes. You could hardly see where it started. But the closer I looked, the more I could see of it. It ran down from the trail I was on, dipped into some tall brush, and came out at the place where the barbed wire fence ran next to a bunch of scrub. That would be closer to the convicts–a lot closer, the closest yet. My hardon had left, but now I felt it rushing back. If I got down there, I could see better. Maybe I could hear something, too.
I hurried down the path, my feet scuffling over the little stones and shit that always wash across a trail that nobody uses. It was pretty banged up, but I got to the bottom without breaking my leg. There, right ahead of me, was the barbed wire, rusty and dead, and the trail running beside it into a little patch of sunshine. I walked into the sun, and the light blazed in my eyes, much brighter than I thought it would be. . . . and suddenly, something reared out of the brush! It was a man, an enormous, naked man . . . and he was right on the fence–there were only a few strips of wire between us. He could jump that fence in a second. He had something in his hand . . . he was pointing it at me! I hit the ground, waiting for the thing to go off, and I heard my coke can go clinking away into the rocks..
“Hey man! Hey, I didn’t . . . I mean . . . ” The voice sounded as scared as I was. I raised my head, just far enough to see what he had in his hand.
It was a baby bottle.
A plastic baby bottle. It was smashed almost flat, and it was covered with dirt, but I could see what it was. What the hell! And the guy who was holding it wasn’t naked; he was only stripped to the waist. I stood up. He wasn’t enormous. He was about my height, or a little shorter. Unless you counted the muscles. Then he was enormous.
“Hi,” he said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I . . uh . . . you didn’t,” I said. As soon as I said it, I started to laugh. He laughed, too. “Well, a little bit. I thought you had a gun.”
“Oh,” he said, looking down at his hand. “This thing. You find all kinds of shit out here.” His hand twitched, and the bottle went flying into the wheelbarrow behind him. “I guess you’re wondering . . . I guess you’d like to know . . .”
“You’re a convict, aren’t you?” I heard someone say. Then there was silence. It must have been me who said that. Most of me was just looking. Looking at the man standing in front of me.
He had the face of a kid. Long. Narrow. High cheekbones. A little square jaw. I could even see some acne on the cheeks. But he had the body of a gladiator. I don’t mean it was one of those bodies you see in a gym–slick and smooth and bulging in funny places. This body was tough and hard, but you could tell at a glance that it didn’t come from steroids. It wasn’t made for show; it was made for work.. Wide, thick shoulders. Pecs like a ridge of naked hills. Abs like stairs of rock. Then a tight brown waist diving into his thick brown trousers, smooth and brown and warm as a sunbaked field . . .
But there was something you saw before you saw anything else. Across the right side of that deep brown chest, above the thick tubes of nipples and the high cliff of muscle, there was a line of black letters, and the letters spelled out a word: CONVICT. It was a tattoo–oh, man! he had CONVICT tattooed on his fuckin pec! There was something spelled out on his left pec, too. It was a number: 351699. God! I thought. They stamped it into his skin! It was like those tags that guys wear on their shirts: “ROPER’S AUTO BODY” over one pocket, and “ERNESTO” over the other. I’d always thought those tags were degrading. But these things were engraved in his goddamn flesh. He could never just take them off, throw them into the laundry, and put on a nice dress shirt. They were on him for good. This guy didn’t even own his own body.
“That’s right,” he said.
I’d forgotten my question. “What did you say?”
“Look, I’m sorry, man. I hope you didn’t . . . rip your clothes or anything.”
His eyes were in the shadows, under his cap. It was a brown cap with the same prison brand on it, one line over the other: CONVICT 351699. I wished I could tell if he was laughing at me.
“No, I . . . ” I reached down and dusted my slacks. I had to find something to say. “What are you doing . . . ”
“We’re cleanin the place up. This part here, it’s supposed to be a . . . an arbor- . . . an arbor- . . .”
Suddenly he was grinning. He had long, full lips, and a long, kidlike smile.
“That’s right–that’s the word. What it means is, we’re takin the stones outta the field, and we’re pilin em up along this fence. They call it a wall. I call it a big pile of stones.” There was that grin again. “After we’re through, they’ll take the fence down. It’s pretty close to fallin down now. Then they’ll plant a whole lotta expensive trees. In the meantime, I’m here to take out the trash.”
I looked in the wheelbarrow. I saw a length of iron pipe, part of a chair, somebody’s lunchbox “(“The Lion King”), a lot of styrofoam, and the baby bottle. Behind the wheelbarrow, a line of broken underbrush led back toward the field. That’s how he got here, I thought.
He bent down and picked up a coke can. It was my coke can. It had wandered to the other side of the fence.
“Sorry,” I said.
“That’s what I’m here for,” he said.
I wanted to think of something more to say, but I couldn’t. Somehow, I’d never pictured convicts being able to talk. Now that there was one in front of me . . . I was abruptly conscious of the facts: I’m free; he’s a slave. Marked and labeled, public property. I looked down at his trousers. CONVICT stenciled above the right knee; 351699 stenciled above the left knee. The trousers were wide and thick, rolled up at the bottom over his boots: wide, thick, square, heavy workboots, scuffed and muddy, black, with fat black laces . . .
“Say, man,” he continued. “I think I’ve seen you before someplace.”
“Maybe you have. I’ve seen . . . you guys, down at the shuttle stop. You know, in the morning . . . ”
“Yeah, I guess so. You’re one of those guys that wait there, right?”
“Right. That’s me. . . .” This is so stupid, I thought. I can’t think of anything real . . .
“But listen,” he said. “I shouldn’t be talking to you.”
He shrugged. “I’m a convict. You’re a civilian. Besides, I gotta get back to work.”
“No, wait,” I said. “Wait. I want to ask you . . .” What was it I wanted to ask him?
“EEEYYYOOO! EEEYYYOOO!” Somewhere behind the trees, there was a whistle or an alarm going off. I almost jumped out of my skin. Had the guards seen me after all?
“EEEYYYOOO! EEEYYYOOO!” Shit, man! I gotta get outta here.
The convict turned to his left, listening. “Chow horn,” he said. “Gotta go.” His shirt and t-shirt were hanging from one of the handles of the wheelbarrow. He reached down and started pulling them on. Both of them had the same numbers, in the same places: big and black across the right pec–CONVICT–and big and black across the left pec–351699. He turned and grabbed the handles. He was leaving! On the back of his shirt was the same brand: CONVICT 351699
“Stop!” I wanted to say. “Wait! When will you be back!” But I knew that I couldn’t say that. I was too afraid to say that. I was too afraid to talk to a fuckin convict slave! So that was it–I’d had my adventure. The most adventure that a siss-boy like me will ever have. A coffee break with a convict. One hundred words exchanged. A memory you can cherish for the rest of your life. And in short, I was afraid.
Then, abruptly, the wheelbarrow stopped. The convict looked back at me over his shoulder. I couldn’t see his eyes, but his voice was stronger, to cover the distance.
“See you,” he said.
“OK,” I answered.
“Maybe I’ll see you again.”
Then he disappeared in the brush.
There ought to be a world, I thought, where I could get to know that guy. There ought to be a world like that.
To be continued …
Note: This story by Joshua Ryan appeared in the Cellblock Stories yahoo group, and it is posted here in the Metalbond Prison Library with the author’s permission. You can also see and read more from this author at the Prison Process Tumblr and Flickr pages, available here and here.