The Prison Writer – Chapter 19

By Joshua Ryan

So, off the boat, and a few comments from fellow passengers — “Enjoying your vacation?” “How’s your day goin?” “Have a good time, losers!”  Too bad — those guys had to stay in some hotel on Water Street, but I was going to prison!  Then the ride through town and up the mountain — big deal; I’d been there!  But coming to that fence again, the fence that separated prison property from everything else — that was major!  When I was a little rich boy with a spotless record, they wouldn’t let me through the gate; now that I was a criminal being taken to his place of punishment, no problem — come on in!  Welcome to the nation’s most exclusive country club!

So the gate opened and the van rolled in, and it seemed like right away — there it was!  The big house, the end of the road, the concrete mama, the consequence of my crimes, the place where I’d be spending the rest of my life!  I can’t pretend about this — when I first saw it, I thought, “What have I done?”  I’d felt small when I was sitting on the deck, getting yucks from those college kids.  How small did I feel when I saw this place with a wall that was 30 feet high!  I’d wanted to go to prison … Did I want to go THERE?

Answer:  Oh yeah.

So all the other prisoners looked like somebody had just kicked them in the balls, and the officers up front were straightening their shoulders like, OK, we’re here, I’m lookin forward to lunch.  This huge thing that was happening to us in the back was totally nothing to the men up in front.  They were happy they were about to get rid of us.  Hey!  I would have been happy too!  I mean, who wants to spend the day hauling bags of refuse from one side of the state to the other?

Not surprising, either, that the driver sped up.  He knew the road, or I hoped he did, because it went around the side of the prison, next to a cliff!  Same cliff I’d seen through my Science Club Foldable Binox from down at the village three years ago, only it looked a lot more serious when viewed from the top than it did from the bottom.  But just when everybody in the back — including me! — was freaking out, we stopped in front of exactly the kind of ancient steel gate I was hoping for.  I mean, you looked at that thing, and you knew — they are NOT letting you out!  Not now, not never.  And to make it MORE emphatic, there were two sets of gates, one after the other.  The van had to go through one, then wait (forever!), then see if it could get through the second.  VERY exclusive!  And the first stuff you see when you get through is the slummy looking back end of the institution.  Def ghetto — old garbage buildings … even a Quonset hut!  I mean, is this a World War II movie?

So … Want to change your mind, Colly?  Uh … Does it matter what I think?  No!  If you want to be humiliated, this seems like a good way to start.  It isn’t some great romantic movie.  It isn’t even one of those videos about the Fifty Roughest Prisons, where everybody’s got a knife or something and it’s nothing but drama.  It’s just cargo being unloaded in the type of place where you unload cargo.  It’s just a new batch of convicts being dumped in the joint.

Even the officers don’t hang around to watch!  The way they do it, they march you into an old brick building and scan your wristband and take off your restraints.   Then they’re gone.  Left the building.  Gettin that meal.  Something.  From there on, it’s convicts that boss you.  So right away, as soon as they come out you get to see what YOU’RE gonna be lookin like by the end of the day.  Sweet!

So … After I knew I was going to Maskawa, I hadn’t wanted to find out too much about where I was going — why ruin the punchline?  As if I could have found out, anyway.  They keep Maskawa as quiet as they can — not hard when it’s out on an island in the middle of a lake where basically nobody’s around, six months of the year.  But I was thinking that the wardrobe choice would be something in orange or maybe stripes.  That’s what most guys think of when they think of “inmate,” right?   So when I see the first one of these Intake guys coming forward to take me In — whoa!  The guy was a monster!  What a freakin outfit!  All blue, all denim, all thick as concrete, buttoned to the neck, with a big white number across his pec and another one on his thigh.  Actually WEARING a number!  Numbered like a boxcar.  Like a bitch!  Guys at St. Swithin’s used to laugh about the janitors, about how they had to wear their names on their shirts.  Which made me wish those guys had weighed a little less than 250 pounds, cuz I thought those clothes were fuckin hot!  I mean, manly humiliation, right?

But this intake dude didn’t even have a name on his chest — just a number!  He said some bitchy things about what we looked like after he told us to climb out of our jumpsuits (“no wonder we call you fish”), and he turned around to talk to another one who was coming on the scene, and fuck!  Stenciled across his back, in BIG letters, there’s the number again!  And on his ass cheek!  So many numbers — how could they carry them all around?  Then I got distracted by the second one, who had his coat open, and underneath it was another layer of, like, gross humiliation, which was this UGLY bluish work shirt with a number on its chest, just like the coat, only stenciled in black.  So now my eyes are trying to take him all in, and I see a pair of heavy black boots, and at the other end of the convict, a kind of stiff, square cap that really made you think of a janitor, or maybe something out of old-school Army, only totally ugly.  It was like the cap was saying, yeah, when you put me on, you aren’t just wearing a thick heavy uniform, you’re joining an army of fuckin janitors!

But I didn’t mention, I could already tell that this place was, what should I say, gay friendly?  Ha!  Love that joke.  “Friendly’s” not supposed to mean, hey, welcome to prison you guys; have we got a great life for you!  But anyway, from the way they were talking it was obvious that most of these dudes working Intake were trės gay.  But despite that, they were totally butched up in those uniforms.   So I couldn’t wait to try one on!  Although, yeah, I wouldn’t be just trying it on — I’d be wearing it for the rest of my life.  Gulp!  Or shiver!  Because us newbies were still in our birthday suits.

Then a bunch of things happened.  They made us smear this really ugly stuff all over our hair and our pubes and our pits and even our crack, and it was supposed to “get rid of all those nits ya got on ya.”  Meaning lice!  Take out that humiliation meter again — if you saw me you’d think you were looking at the creature from the black lagoon.  But that’s what you get if you’re convict trash — a session with the exterminator.  I did feel sorry for Alec.  I knew he was picturing himself sitting in his office when a janitor comes in and tells him he has to get naked, and leaves him standing on the carpet with a ton of de-louse dripping off of him.

Well, that was fun.  Then into the shower and wash it off and line up for — a haircut!  I should have known that was coming, so I’d have more to look forward to.  The monsters in blue lined us up in front of a stool and sat us down on it, one by one, and a convict removed our hair.  ALL of our hair.  First thing he did, though, was take off his coat and hang it up, so you could see that huge number on the back and also follow that big number on his chest as he whacked off guy after guy.  He had some line of bull he was yapping all the time, but I was just watching.  I was fourth, so I got to see it all.  Tight lips on Alec and the second guy, even though Alec was losing at least a 200-dollar haircut, and the other one was looking like “if I was on the street you wouldn’t get close enough to even look at my head, dude.”

The third guy had really beautiful, long brown hair.  Which the barber said was “very charming and becoming, I’m sure,” just before he sheared it off like a bunch of brush and then buzzed his head down till there was nothing left.  Didn’t take long, but by the end the dude had tears running down to his chin.  All he got for that was an “OK, next fish!” — which was me.  I seated myself on the throne and in about 60 seconds I was bald.  I guess the barber didn’t like me, because I never said anything back to what he was saying, which was mainly joking about the hardon I was carrying around, so at the end he said, “Take a look, SIR,” and brought out some old hand mirror and held it up.  “Bet this is the cheapest haircut you ever got, sir.  How do you like it, sir?”  If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time worrying about what’s gonna happen to your hair — you know, checkin out your relatives and finding pictures of your grandfather at different ages, and hoping you won’t fuckin lose your hair.  And now, looking back at me in the mirror is this HUGE whitish dome with some little blue eyes poking out from beneath it, like weird little animals that got lost in the snow.  “Looks great!” I said, which was true.  “Wait over there,” he said.  “Boy.”

“Over there” was a counter managed by a couple other Intake gays.  “Welcome to the Gear Box,” the guy at the front said.  “The world’s most unique men’s clothing store.  Show me your credit card; I want to see if you qualify.”

“Credit card?”

I could hear laughter in the rear.

“Don’t mind me, honey.  I mean your wristband.”

I presented it to him and he typed something on a keyboard and stared at a screen.  “OK, you’re a member.  Now what are your sizes, sweetie?”

He made a lot of comments about my waist size and my head size (“I mean the head on top of you, not the other one, which looks somewhat larger … or you wouldn’t be in here, right?”) and told me to go over and sit on a bench and “wait there with the other cons.”  So I was now a “con”!  Just ANOTHER con!

There were four of us naked on the bench in front of the Gear Box, and we kept sitting that way with our hands over our junk except when they strayed up to our skulls to make sure that, yeah, we were bald.  The Intake queens laughed and chatted and did mysterious things that took a long time and made everybody nervous.  I guess that was the point.  Once I was at a party and somebody said something rude to me and made me unhappy, and somebody else came up to me and said, “What is it that you don’t understand about the words ‘evil queen’?”  So then I felt better; it was just part of nature.  I remembered that and I began feeling good about these guys taking time to humiliate me.  They seemed to be taking a l-o-n-g time, and I was enjoying it completely, even though I was so nervous and excited I thought my dick was gonna blow a geyser right there and then.  Thank God I have big hands, or I could never have kept that thing halfway covered.

I wasn’t the first guy to get his uniform; I got to watch a couple other guys being called to the counter and given a huge pile of shit to put on.  First one was the former longhair, who looked like he was still dripping tears from his shearing.  Evidently he’d guessed that from then on his head would be clear-cut, with no possibility of regrowing any natural cover.  He had a pretty good body, but when he picked up his pile he sort of wilted, like he didn’t have strength enough to carry it to the bench.  He was NOT excited; his cock was curled up like a snail.  I’d never watched a dude put on his clothes before. — not just sat there and watched — so I really enjoyed seeing him pull and tug and flail and dance, trying to get into his new suit of clothes.  When he reached down to zip up his crotch, a chorus of laughs broke out on the other side of the counter.  The gay boys, it turned out, had taken a break just to watch this moment.

“Whatcha lookin for?”

The guy looked up, totally dazed.  He’d reached for the zipper, and there wasn’t any.

“Probly his dick!”

“No wonder he’s confused — ain’t got one!”

They must have made those jokes a thousand times before, but they were laughing like they’d just come up with them.

“And you don’t get no zipper, honey!  Zippers are SO expensive.”

“Gotta button it in, sweetheart.  Shouldn’t be hard — cuz it ain’t!”

The guy wasn’t even trying to figure all of it out, but eventually his fingers found the buttons and started pushing them into their holes.  Clearly he had no experience doing things the old-fashioned way.  Come to think of it, neither had I!

Finally Hippie Dude was sitting on the bench with his uniform on and his head in his hands, and Alec was finishing up his outfit.  When he went to sit down he made that little gesture that guys who wear suits are always making — you know, they pinch their pant legs and pull them up an inch so they won’t be all tight on their thighs.  Watch em — they really do that!  And he did it with those denims they gave him, coming in just above the knee and just below the big white number on the thigh.  Force of habit!  And he looked fuckin miserable!  Of course he hadn’t been sporting a hardon — MUCH of one, anyway!  Might be worth investigating sometime — except … With his hair gone and his body lost someplace in that mountain of denim, I had to admit that he’d lost most of his executive allure.

But the same thing was about to happen to me.  Hurray, I was next!  “759384!  Belly up to the bar.  Here’s your gear.  Start gittin into it.”

Hippie Guy was right — that stack was heavy!  You had to admire how they did things at Maskawa — everything was SOLID.  Even the undies that I had to wear.  When I’d crawled into my new dead-white boxers and my new dead-white tee, I was ready to scare the dick off of anybody!  Seriously, these things were UGLY!  Not to mention the big black numbers the lads at the Gear Box had stenciled on them, back and butt, pec and thigh — 759384.  Dead-white, black numbered, and COARSE!  But not as coarse as my sox.  I sorta had a thing for feet, and I’d always pampered mine.  Like they were pets!  If they were good, I’d give them gifts.  Here’s your new silk outfit, boys.  If they were bad, I’d still give them gifts.  But their new uniform was just thick, dumb, and scratchy, with numbers printed on the soles.  Even my feet had to wear numbers!

So I was already being enveloped in my new coarse heavy life as a convict when I pulled on my shirt and started buttoning it up — to the neck.  I could see that was the local custom.  When was the last time I’d buttoned a shirt to the neck?  High school graduation?  So I had one very surprised neck.  But once you’ve buttoned yourself into that prison shirt — again with the appropriate numbers, back and pec — you know, really know, that you’ve arrived.  This is your life, Colly, that you’re buttoning yourself into.

That number 759384 that was getting posted all over me — it made me think about all the stuff you’re taught about your identity.  How important it is.  How necessary it is to “find your own identity” and “celebrate your identity,” and make sure that others “recognize your identity” and “respect your identity.”  At the same time, you’re taught that if everybody does that, the community will all get along and work together perfectly.  So — mission accomplished!  I’d found my identity.  I was 759384.  It wouldn’t change.  It would be that way forever.  And it couldn’t NOT be recognized.  Everyone who looked at me would see I was Convict Number 759384.  Of course, it wouldn’t make me recognized in the sense of being “respected” and “celebrated.”  Which was fine!  I wouldn’t need to go around exhibiting all that social pride.

The good thing — well, there were lots of good things! — about my prison number was that it identified me so I could be managed and controlled.  I wouldn’t need to control myself — the Department of Corrections would control me.  Convict 759384 could always be located, supervised, worked, fed, uniformed, disciplined, punished, and maintained in a totally standardized way with other convicts in “the community.”  I didn’t need to choose — in fact, I couldn’t choose — what I wanted to be.  I was 759384.  Period.

The shirt was about a size too big for me, and when I flopped open the pants I thought, oh shit, these things are so huge, they’re gonna fall right off.  They looked like, hey, I’m goin out to shovel some cow shit, don’t get in my way.  But they also looked a little bigger than they were, the way gross, thick things always do.  And there was a belt — one of those web belts that Boy Scouts wear.  As a kid, I was a snot — but you probably guessed that! — and I was too snotty to join the Scouts.  But now they got me; I was finally putting on the belt.  I yanked it through the cheap steel buckle and looked admiringly at the number posted on the thigh of my big convict denims.  759384.  Yup, that’s me again!  I’d like to say that those buttons on the crotch didn’t cause me problems the way they did Former Longhair, but fuck!  When you’re pushing steel through a layer of thick new denim, and your dick is about to explode, you may have some problems!  Actually, the biggest problem was that I wanted to prolong the “agony.”

But OK, once I was inside my pants, with my shirt tucked in and my dick buttoned in, I looked down and saw … a pair of boots, standing on the bench.  So now I had boots.  I’d always wondered why so many gay guys made such a big deal about Boots.  Now suddenly I knew.  I just didn’t know how hard it would be to screw my pampered never-worked-in-their-lives feet into my new WORK boots.  It took me a while to push my toes down into those huge slabs of leather and then lace all the holes up around them, but once I’d fastened the two loads of concrete to my feet I knew everything had changed forever.  No more tripping down to Warbucks in my shiny little running shoes.  No more shopping in my sandals or paddling around the house all day in just bare feet.  Now I’d be made to work at some shitty job, wearing weights on my legs!

I sat on the bench, studying these huge boots that had swallowed my feet.  Then I heard one of the queens at the counter telling me I could jerk off later; now was the time to put on my coat.  “And don’t forget the cap.”  Oh yeah!  The final items I needed to put on were still sitting on the pile of “gear” he’d given me — all those extra shirts and pants and sox and undies that would provide a change of clothing, if not a change of style, as my days in the facility went by.

I’d been issued the same giant coat that Hippie Dude was still struggling with, pulling and tugging on his sleeves to try to make it fit like normal clothes.  When I shopped, I always looked for the lightest, smoothest stuff I could find.  I didn’t want to notice that I was wearing clothes.  I hadn’t understood that if I went to prison I’d be wearing the heaviest stuff they could put me in.  And the coat was the heaviest item.  I held it up in front of me and it bagged open, about ten feet square, slapping against my legs like a curtain.  Oh shit!  But I had to wear it.  When I got my arms inside and felt how heavy it was, I knew what it would be like to carry the weight of the fuckin world on my shoulders.  Those numbers on the back seemed to weigh a ton, all by themselves.  But big as the thing was, the Department of Corrections didn’t waste any money — it gave me only four steel buttons on the front of my coat.  Buttoning up was more like latching the door to a barn than buttoning a garment you were actually going to wear.  But I had to admit: that coat was worth more than I was, so the Department was over-spending.

I’d put the cap aside without noticing it.  Now I saw it, looking up at me, blue and stiff, with my number in little white figures on its back.  I was definitely gonna look like a janitor.  My brother would be so proud!  The cap fitted my bald head perfectly — it was mine.  I looked down at myself.  Uniformed and numbered — heavy, ugly, stinking of new denim and the ink that stenciled my numbers.  All right!  I had arrived.

I stood around feeling horny until, what do you know? An officer showed up again.  He put us in a line and give us a lecture about how we were now convicts and we had better get used to it and we would have to obey all orders and regulations and “do so promptly and cheerfully.”  The dude was reciting some text, which was hot because he was a young guy and must have had better things to do than memorize some words and recite them to a bunch of convicts.  I got the idea that he was substituting for some old guy who was too important to do this kind of job — funny, because as a convict (!) I knew that I’d never have a job that wasn’t a hundred times more menial than this one.  The guy didn’t end; he just sort of stopped, by saying that we were going to our cellblocks now and the boys at the counter would take our pictures and issue our “cell supplies.”   He went away, and we lined up for our mugshots.

I’d never had any before — except at the DMV, LOL! — so a huge thrill for me!  I loved standing in front of the height chart.  I’d seen it on TV a million times, and now it was me that was the criminal standing there getting mugged!  Can’t get more of a story reversal than that!  And I was wearing exactly what I’d want everybody to see me in — my total convict uniform, numbers and all.  The photographic genius told me to “take off the fuckin cap, stupid!”, which was totally right.  I should have remembered that now I was bald and that was a vital part of my identity.

Once I’d had my class picture taken, I went back to the counter and got all my cell supplies, which were great stuff like sheets and toothpaste.  While they were passing these things out, the Gear Box boys were congratulating each other about “runnin em through fast today.”  So Einstein was right — time is relative.  Then there was the usual lining up and so on, and you can picture me hefting my pile of extra pants and shirts and undies, and a baggie with a toothbrush and other things, and some sheets, and a rule book, and being marched off to my cellblock, where I was gonna live.  You can imagine how excited I was, although the stuff I was carrying was sort of wobbly and hard to manage, and getting used to those work boots was gonna take a while.

I guess the officers were saving their energy again, because it was just convicts in charge of the newbies assigned to this cellblock or that one.  I was going to Cellblock B, and my guide was a young prisoner named Greggy, who had lots to say about the attractions we were passing — “that over there, that’s the Shower Shack, that’s where you get your showers” — but to me it was basically a tour of gnarly old piles of masonry, until we got to this giant open space that Greggy called, in reverent tones (which book do I remember that from?), The Yard.  He said it was so many amazing feet square.  To me it looked like one of those concrete slabs that are left after they’ve torn down some old factory, but he said it would be a big feature of my life as a “Maskawa convict.”

So I was deep in the territory now.  I was getting more and more into my role as ant-size convict, and I could see there was a lot more to come.  I was headed for the biggest flippin building I’d ever seen, which was Cellhouse 1.  Inside it was a place that was only half as big, but still enormous — Cellblock B, my new place of residence.  I was shrinking even smaller!  I’d wanted to be in a place where I was nothing except a convict; now I was in a place where I was nothing.  How would you feel if you were put in a room made of stone and brick, 60 feet high and hundreds and hundreds of feet long, with nothing in it except steel cages going up and up, so far up that the ones on top looked like little dog cages or rat cages?  And one of them was yours.  OK! That’s how I felt!

My faith in my future had been shaky from time to time, but those walls and bars restored it completely.  The place reeked of security, stability, and the intention to give me exactly what I wanted, which was permanent management and control.  And punishment!  There would be plenty of that.  It was built into the walls.  Who wouldn’t feel humiliated at a sight like that?  I had total confidence that I’d come to the right place.  And up there in that zoo someplace was Steven!

Greggy walked me up the stairs and along the walkway to the cell I was going to live in.  Of course I was as scared and nervous as an animal that’s being put in a cage — because that’s what I was!  The cells looked incredibly small and narrow, and on the other side of the bars there were always TWO animals looking out at me.  I’d never realized there was so MUCH difference between being on the outside and being on the inside.  Those arms and legs and faces were just an inch away, inside those tiny cages.  I was walking outside, in a big room with a big view, all around and up and down — scary, on that little narrow platform, but BIG.  But I was about to be put on the other side of those bars, and then I’d know what everything looked like from that direction.

“You’re here,” Greggy said.  I saw a number stenciled in black over the bars: 435.  This was the moment!  I was there!  “Break 435!” he shouted to someone below.  The bars slid back.  I walked inside.  “Close 435!” he shouted.  The bars slammed shut behind me.

The space was so small … How did I even GET inside?  My body, the gear in my arms … I seemed to fill the whole little slot between the uniforms hanging on the left wall and the bunks attached to the right.  Double bunks — and a man lying on the bottom bunk.  Lying face down, his belly resting on his plastic mattress, his face lodged in his plastic pillow, his butt sticking up, his convict number stamped on his denim pants.  He rolled over.  He sat up.  He faced me.  It was Steven Meres.

(only two more chapter to go!) …

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