The Prison Writer – Chapter 13

By Joshua Ryan

No one wants to read a complete account of my daily life.  I’ll hit a few of the high points on the tour.

Food:  Early morning, noon, late afternoon — you go to the Chow Hall, which is that huge concrete thing on the Yard that looks like a feature of some winter Olympics.  You sit on a steel stool attached to a long steel table, squeezed into your seat together with miles of other men with numbers on their backs.  The food is substantial: mes compliments au chef.  It’s also cheap, greasy, and ugly.  First time I went to the chow hall, Finn showed me how to line up and get my grub.  I sat with him at a table and he told the other convicts, “Here’s my new bunkie, Ven.”  “Ven” for “Steven.”  All right, I was Ven.

Movements: Convicts are managed by restriction of movement.  Any of my movements that are not entirely routine require scans of my wristband at the start and end, and/or the issuance and receipt of a written pass.  As a convict, I am also subject to random searches.  I am frequently pulled out of a line or grabbed in the Yard, put up against a wall, and patted down or strip searched.  When outside and in transit from point to point, and not carrying an article I am mandated to carry, I am required to do the “duckwalk” — arms clasped behind my back.  This posture makes the front of my body vulnerable to inspection and is effective in depriving me of my sense of personality and adulthood as well as the use of my hands.

Labor detail: As a convict I am required to pay for my maintenance by performing menial labor.  The kind of labor chosen for me on entrance to the institution was the scrub detail.  It was decided that I would be a scrubbie.  There were a lot of other scrubbies.  We met every morning and went forth with our mops on our shoulders and our pails in our hands to make sure that the floors of Maskawa State Penitentiary were mopped or, in response to the supervisor’s whim, scrubbed.  Scrubbed means on your knees, dude.

I mopped and scrubbed all over the prison.  I got used to cons running into me and saying, “Watch where you’re goin!”  I got used to lieutenants and captains running into me and saying, “Watch where you’re going, convict.”  After a year I put up an ask to get reassigned to the library.  The ask was denied.  More on the library later.  The cons that work there don’t know the alphabet.  But you gotta do your own time and not think about shit.  I learned that.

Punishment: My second night in prison, Finn explained it to me.  For “little, penny ante stuff” you get “scored up” by a guard.  Or he might just give you a smack.  (“Which is usually easier on you.”)  You get too many scores, or one big one, and you’re punished.  You might get “restricted,” which means confined to your cell — not during your labor detail, of course, but during Yard and visits and anything else you might like.  “Could last for a week.  Or could last all year.”  Or you might get “restricted diet,” which means only one trip a day to the Chow Hall.  Or you might get “transfer,” which means being put on a worse labor detail.  Or you might get the Spot.

About a week after I came I was leaving the Chow Hall after “breakfast” and I saw a convict standing on the Yard.  He wasn’t moving; he was just standing there.  The streams of convicts parted and passed around him.  Some of them slowed, like you do when there’s an accident on the freeway, although there wasn’t much to see.   The con was buttoned up in his coat like all the other cons, with his boots on his feet and his cap on his head, but he wasn’t doing anything except looking sick.  “What’s with him?” I asked.  “He’s on the Spot,” Finn said.  “Huh?”  “See that circle painted on the ground?”  Yeah, there was a black circle on the concrete, maybe two feet wide.  “That’s the Spot.  Guy got some infraction, so he has to stand on it.  He can’t leave it.  He can’t put a foot outside it.  He can’t sit down.  He has to stand there until the guards let him go.”  He stopped and surveyed the man on the Spot.  “Probly been there all night,” he said in a professional way.  Just then the man on the Spot wobbled to one side, and an officer came out of nowhere and told him to get back in his place.  “How long can he last?” I asked.  “Oh,” Finn said, “they all fall over, eventually.”

I know you want to find out about the Hole.  Every prison story talks about the Hole, which is supposed to be the ultimate punishment and so on.  There isn’t any Hole at Maskawa.  If they decide you’re crazy, they ship you off the island.  Otherwise, they don’t want to lose you from the labor force.  But the Spot is good enough.  “Works fine,” Finn said.

Hygiene: Three times a week you get five minutes to stand under the heads in the Shower Shack.  If you’re on a really dirty detail — like Finn, who worked on Grounds — you get a shower after work every day.  Once a week you get marched with your tier to the Laundry building, where you turn in your bag of dirty uniforms.  Once a week you get marched back to pick them up.  Laundry Detail is “a great gig,” because stuff gets smuggled inside the clothes.

Screws: “Their job ain’t to watch you.  Their job is to make you scared that they’re watchin you.  When actually, they’re off on their phones someplace.  Until -— there they are, right in your face.”

Recreation: For an hour a day in summer, Monday through Saturday, and two hours a week on Sunday, all year long, convicts are allowed to wander the yard.  Most cons wander with their cellmates.  I wandered by myself.  Finally I got acquainted with Jet — Outside name, Jeffrey — a sweet 21-year-old who’d gotten into a car when he shouldn’t have and earned himself a conviction for aggravated manslaughter, and Cameron, who’d been in grad school when he suddenly blew up the lab where he worked.  Unluckily, his dissertation director was absent at the time, but Cameron confessed his intent to kill.  Prison names had never stuck to him, maybe because he was Chinese American and therefore regarded as too different to get a name, and maybe because, as Finn let me know, he operated one of the biggest contraband businesses in the joint and liked to keep his distance.  So did I; that’s how we met.  Cameron seemed to read a lot, but neither of them had ever heard of Steven Meres.  To them, I was just another queer guy in prison.

“Your cellie is a hunk!” Jet told me.

“You’re so cute when you talk dirty,” Cameron said.

“I meant that MY cellie is a hunk!” Jet said, giving Cameron a coy, tiny nudge.  Cameron was hot, but he was not a hunk.  He was, however, Jet’s cellie.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Finn is irresistible.”  Meaning that whenever he wanted his cock sucked, I had to do it.  He instructed me, and I “got better.”  Actually, he wasn’t bad.  He let me masturbate in my bunk after I sucked him.  He told me how to hold up convenience stores, which is what he was in for.  He told me how to behave in prison, how to sneak a smoke (I started to smoke, whenever I could), and how to score some blow (I started doing coke, whenever I could).  He said there was more contraband on the Maskawa ferry than there were passengers, and a lot more cash, too.  He said the screws were hard on us just so they could keep the prices up.  Besides teaching me those things, Finn taught me how to read literature.  Once a month we were allowed to go to the prison library, where Finn always got the maximum number of books.  He tore through them at a speed of at least 60 words a minute.  They were all sci fi and fantasy.  He acquainted me with some of the most “bitchin” authors.  Since there wasn’t much else to get from the library, Finn and I spent many hours in the old-fashioned way — reading through one piece of junk after another.  We were locked in, so there was no one to disturb us.  A literary paradise.

I discovered that I no longer had any interest in writing.  It had disappeared.  It had no use.  After a while, I barely remembered doing it.  From the time Finn stuck his dick in my mouth, the idea that I was serving time in Maskawa in order to write a book about my experiences went completely away.  After a while, I was just serving time in Maskawa.

During the first year, I kept hoping that “one year” would mean one year.  Sometimes I was sure that Dean meant what he said.  Usually, I was sure that he didn’t.  There was too much brick and stone to allow me to think he would get me out of the place where he’d carefully put me.  At the end of month 10, the go-boy, the convict that runs the errands in Cellblock B, dropped a piece of paper through my bars.  It was a form letter telling me that the Review Committee had met and had not considered it appropriate for me to be released.  At the end of month 22, the form letter said the same.  It also said that the next review would take place prior to the end of my fifth year of incarceration.

I think I’d actually known it as soon as I put on my uniform in the Reception building: I was never getting out.  Whether that was just the system, as Finn said, or that was how Dean had fixed it — I didn’t know.  But as Cameron said, “Why should you worry about something you can’t change?”  He should talk!  He had the nicest cellmate in the joint, and they were in love.

I’d been at Maskawa for 24 months when I got transferred to The Chain.  That was the detail that was trucked down to Maskawa Village, to work the parks.  It’s a punishment gang.  I’d been running a few infractions — contraband, failing to follow orders, disrespecting an officer, that kind of thing.  Bullshit beefs.  They never actually caught me with anything.  But now I was on the chain gang.  Naturally, if you’re outside the walls you need to be restrained.  So every morning I reported to the Street, which meant the place where everybody first comes into the joint — you’ve been there! — and I was shackled up and loaded onto a cattle truck bound for the work site.  They’re called cattle trucks because that’s what they are — just trucks with a big bed and wooden slats all the way up the sides and a gate at the back that’s triple padlocked.  I thought it would be interesting to ride in the cattle truck, because I hadn’t been on the Outside in such a long time, but what are you gonna see out there? Trees, and rich people’s houses, and shit that you’ve gotta clean up.

Generally we worked in the park next to the beach, where the hotels and the restaurants are.  They’d take us off the truck in our shackles and put us on the long chain.  There was a ring sticking out on our right ankles and they’d run the chain through it and lock it on with a padlock wherever they wanted to put us on the chain.  Some jobs, there’d be ten cons on the chain, five feet apart.  Like when you’re chopping brush or something.  Other ones, there’d be three cons on a chain, like when they’re putting new gravel on the lot and you’re shoveling it off of the truck.  Or maybe there’s just two of you, like when they put those orange cones up in front of the restrooms and you go in and clean them.  That’s a typical two-con job — you’re swabbing the floors and scrubbing shit off the toilets.  They could do it with one con, but they like to see you chained up to something.

When you’re working the chain, you can depend on tourists stopping to enjoy the spectacle.  Also dog-walkers and retired people in loud shirts and families with screaming brats.  The guards go off to use their phones or catch some coffee at a cafe where they can allegedly watch you from across the street.  You’re left at the mercy of the picture-takers and the friendly passers-by.  The chain isn’t mainly to keep you from running; you can’t run off the island.  It’s there to keep you from assaulting the next young man who sings out, “Move the log, chained like a dog,” or smacking the next old gentleman who wants to know what kind of crimes you committed to “land you in a situation like this.”  But it was a good place to pick up cigarette butts and half-drunk beers and the cash that people drop without knowing it.

Another good thing was that my chain mate was usually Ernesto.  Ernesto was about my age.  He was Spanish and he’d come to the U.S. to open some new branches of his fashion stores.  They were boutiques, and he opened four or five of them, one of them in Glenvue, where he bought a home.  From what he told me, it must have been in the most exclusive neighborhood.  Then something happened, and Ernesto ended up doing life in prison.  I never asked him what his crime was.

He was a great guy — always smiling, always entertained by being chained by the screws and having to call them Sir and stand at attention and keep his cap straight and so on.  When one of the cons said, “You seem to enjoy being in prison, Ernie,” he grinned and said, “Why not?”  He had the kind of face that you expect to see on the cover of a men’s magazine, and the kind of body that, you could tell, was svelte and elegant before the chain gang built it out.  If only he could have been my cellie!

One day when we were digging out some brush he started telling me a story that was long and didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.  I’d never heard him do that before.  On most days he’d just make a witty remark or two, delivered in a slow, silky accent that drove me crazy.  I couldn’t follow the story, but I noticed that he kept coming back to something that his college dean had said.  “The DEAN,” you know.  “The guy that we called the DEAN.”

And suddenly I knew.  I wasn’t the only one.  Who knows how many others there were, but he was one of them.  “You don’t mean Dean Brannigan,” I said.  “Do you?”

“Oh yes.”

I thought I heard the sound of an officer’s boots, so we stopped talking.  But the next time we were working the johns, which as I said was a two-con job, I asked him how much Dean had demanded.

“If I told you,” he said, “you’d have to give me a kiss.”

We were just finishing the men’s restroom.  We were chained together by the leg and were standing, facing each other.

“OK,” I said, leaning closer.

“Oh, I paid him fifty thousand,” he grinned, “and it was — what is the expression? — very well worth it.  I would have paid him more.  Now where is my kiss?”

He got it.  “How much would you have paid?” I asked.

“I do not know,” he replied.  “But already I have enjoyed a million dollars worth of punishment and humiliation!”

I knew what he wanted, so I gave it to him.  “Get down,” I said, “and suck my dick.”

Immediately he had his cap turned backwards and his knees on the floor.  I made him open my belt and buttons, and as soon as his wide soft lips got around my cock, I grabbed his bald stubby head and started face-fucking the shit out of him.  After I came I ordered him to collect my cum.  Then he had to open his pants, pull out his dick, and polish my black convict boots with it.  I could see he was trying not to cum right away, but he did.  Then he licked the cum off my boots till there was nothing left.

And that’s how Ernesto and I became close friends, and how I learned to enjoy life on the chain.  Because he knew what I wanted, and half the time it was him giving the orders to me.

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