Authors: KM Rockwood
The oversized orange jumpsuit I’d been given the night before was at the foot of my bunk and I reached for it, pulled it on, and snapped it.
Not very warm, but a bit better than just the underwear. I could do with some socks and a sweatshirt, but the prospects of getting them didn’t look very good. Neither did the possibility of a shave. I rubbed my cheek. Maybe I should just grow a beard.
Breakfast wasn’t bad. A good-sized square of reconstituted dried eggs, two pieces of toast which actually had a smear of margarine on them, a carton of juice, and one of milk. I had no idea how quickly someone would be around to collect the trays again, so I scarfed mine down.
My cell buddy didn’t stir. I looked longingly at his tray. “You gonna eat that?” I asked him.
“Shut up,” he said again.
This was going to be cheerful.
First no natural light, now I was going to be locked in twenty three hours a day with somebody who wasn’t saying anything but “shut up.”
We were in the restricted, high security cellblock. People were assigned here because they were considered dangerous, escape risks, or crazy.
How about this guy? An assault charge didn’t seem reason enough to be assigned here, but I didn’t know the circumstances. I hoped he wasn’t a total crazy, although he wasn’t giving me any indication to the contrary.
“Look,” I said. “I’m thinking we’re gonna be locked in here together for a lot of time so we might as well make the best of it.”
He didn’t move, but he said, “I bet you’re not gonna be here long. I’m not going anywhere soon.” He choked on the words. I hoped he wasn’t going to start crying. Can’t say as I’d blame him, but I never knew what to do when anybody did that. Especially when I was locked in with them.
“If all they get me for is the violation and they decide to go ahead with it, I’ll be on the Thursday night bus to the diagnostics center,” I said. “Then on to wherever they’re holding parole violators waiting for a hearing. But if I pick up new charges, they’ll hold me here while they take care of them.”
“You’ll have a bail hearing and probably get sprung.”
I laughed. “Hearing, maybe. That’s standard procedure. Ain’t no bail gonna get set. And even if they did set it, ain’t nobody gonna come up with it.”
Stirring slightly, he said, “Don’t you know nobody who’ll go your bail?”
“Nope. And if someone
come up with the ten percent, no bail bondsman in his right mind would take it.”
He sat up but didn’t look at me. “Didn’t nobody go mine, either.”
“At least you got it set. How much is it?”
“That means, even if a bail bondsman’ll take it, somebody’s got to come up with five hundred dollars. That’s a fair amount.”
“Yeah. And then they don’t get back all of it, either. Bail bondsman keeps ten percent of that. Fifty dollars. You know somebody’s got that kind of money just lying around and can afford to take the fifty dollar hit when it’s returned? Especially on a weekend?”
He paused thoughtfully. “Not really.”
“Besides, if you think you’re gonna pick up some time anyhow, you might as well get a start on it.”
“Look, they always give you credit on your sentence for time served. And if you’re only looking at a short bit—a year or so—and you been locked up for a while, the sentencing judge sometimes just says ‘time served’ and cuts you loose. That can be less time than if you’d been out on bail the whole time. And you’re
“A whole year? That’s not a short bit.”
I laughed again. “Well, it’s certainly not long. You wouldn’t even get sent up state for that, just serve it here in the county lockup.”
“You know. Prison.”
He shivered. “Prison.”
Was he going to start repeating everything I said?
He shook his head. “I hadn’t thought of it like that. Just that my mom was letting me rot in here.”
“You got a ways to go before you rot. Meanwhile, you want your breakfast?”
“Nah. You can have it.”
I took his tray. “You got to eat
,” I said. But maybe not right now. I stuffed his eggs and toast into my mouth and downed his juice and milk before he could change his mind. “Thanks.”
He threw his blanket back and eased off his bunk, stepping up to the all-in-one steel plumbing fixture. Although he was bigger than me, he really was just a kid, and he’d slept in his jumpsuit.
Sitting on the edge of his bunk, he raked his hair forward over his face with his fingers but I could see he was all bruised up and swollen.
“What the hell happened to you?” I asked.
“Got in a fight,” he said.
“Here in the jail?”
That explained why he was in K-pod. “How’d the other guy make out?”
He took a deep breath. “
other guys. I don’t know what happened to them.”
“You give as good as you get on the fight?”
I sighed. “This the first time you been locked up?”
“Yeah.” He sat up a little straighter.
“Well, sometimes you got to fight. Usually it don’t do no good. So I try to mostly keep out of it. But if you
get caught up in a scrape, make sure you give a good account of yourself and do some damage. Then people will think twice about starting with you next time.”
He looked confused. “The guards broke it up. Pepper spray. That stuff really burns.”
I nodded. “Good to know. Some places, they just let you fight it out and write up the reports afterwards. And send you for medical attention if you need it.”
Looking at my face, he said, “What happened to
? A fight?”
“Nah. I got a little upset when the cops were questioning me, so they got a little rough.”
did that to you?”
“Yeah. Slammed me down on the hood of his car.”
“What did you do to him?”
“Nothing, really. Just moved too fast and made him nervous.”
“You pick up resisting arrest charges?”
“Not that I know of, but they could always file them if they wanted to.”
He leaned forward and stared at the floor between his feet. “What’s gonna happen to me now?”
I shrugged. “Depends. You know the person you assaulted? Or was it just some random victim?”
“Why would I go after somebody random?” he asked. “It was my mother’s boyfriend.”
“And why would you go after your mother’s boyfriend? Was he hitting her or something?”
He set his mouth stubbornly. “He was saying nasty things to her. Don’t nobody can say nasty things to
mother and get away with it.”
“Your mother can’t take care of herself?” I asked. “And there ain’t
legal basis for a physical response to a verbal provocation. She happy you stepped in?”
He raised his eyebrows. “What?”
“Your mom. She like it that you butted in between her and her boyfriend?”
“I don’t think so.” He frowned.
“So why should she bail you out? Even if she could find the money? So you could come back and beat up on her boyfriend some more?”
“Well…” He scratched his chin and looked at me. “Would
let somebody call your mother a fucking whore?”
I shook my head. “My mother died when I was a little kid. An accident where she worked. I don’t remember her. For all I know, she might have been a fucking whore.”
“Who’d you live with? Grandparents? Your dad?”
“Never had any grandparents I ever knew about. And my dad was locked up most of the time until I was in my teens. Foster homes, mostly.”
He shifted on the bunk. The flame resistant plastic covering on the mattress crinkled. Looking up at me, he held out his hand. “Willis here. Sorry I was such an SOB.”
I took his hand and shook it. Better to be on good terms with a cell buddy. We’d likely spend hours and hours together.
“Did you do it?” he asked.
“Did I do what?”
My turn to shift uncomfortably. “Well, I was convicted of it.”
“Yeah. But did you
I never knew how to answer questions like that. Shrugging, I said, “I won’t argue with the fact that I’m guilty.”
“You actually killed somebody?”
“It’s not that simple.” I pulled on the shoulder of the oversized jumpsuit, trying to get it to lie comfortably. “In this state, if you’re involved in a felony that results in a death, you’re guilty of murder.”
“So that’s what happened? Somebody died?”
“Yeah. A drug dealer. One of my older brothers probably shot him. I was the lookout outside. I didn’t know anybody’d been shot until it was too late.”
“What’d you mean, too late?”
“I was a kid. Sixteen. Both my brothers were over eighteen, with pretty impressive rap sheets already. We agreed that if anything went wrong, I’d take the blame. Worst I thought I’d get was six months in boot camp. Or a year and a half in juvie hall.”
“If you were sixteen, can’t they hold you until you’re twenty one?”
“Yeah, if the charges are serious enough. But it gets worse than that. Murder charges go to adult court if you’re fourteen or older. I didn’t know that. And I didn’t know somebody was dead. So I didn’t deny it when the cops asked if I was in the apartment. Big mistake.”
“Did they think you were the triggerman?”
“Yeah. My public defender told me I’d better cop a plea or I’d get life. So I did.”
Willis fell silent. I didn’t feel much like talking, either. We sat, both looking at the tiny cracks in the concrete floor.
One newspaper got delivered to the cellblock, but the CO was sitting at a desk in the dayroom reading it. The single TV droned on with a Sunday morning religious service. We couldn’t see it very well from our cell.
“You got anything to read?” I asked Willis hopefully.
He shook his head. “I don’t read much,” he said.
“You stay locked up long, you will,” I told him. “You know if they got some kind of library service here?”
If he came over here, I’d ask the CO. He might be able to get me a book. I wouldn’t be fussy about what kind.
Looked like this was going to be a long day.
I lay back on my bunk and tried to think of anything but Kelly. Not easy. I remembered what I’d been reading back at my apartment. It was a nonfiction account of the Battle of Antietam during the Civil War.
Probably not gonna get a chance to finish it. If I stayed locked up, the landlord would clean out the apartment when my rent ran out. Get a new tenant. Would he bother to return the book to the library?
At least the cat and her kittens were at Kelly’s place.
I’d lose my job. Never get a job as good as that one again. Not that I’d ever be likely to need it if I picked up new charges. I’d be working in the prison laundry again. For the princely inmate pay of a dollar a day and the chance to get out of my cell.
At work, they’d have to pull in a substitute forklift driver from another shift until they could train a new one. Only two lift drivers on our shift, me and Kelly.
Kelly. My breath caught and I coughed. Tears gathered in my eyes.
Damn. I wasn’t going to start bawling now, was I?
I rolled over to face the wall and swallowed the sob that rose in my throat.
What was going on with her?
I half-dozed, trying to think about something else. Anything else.
“Jesse?” Willis said.
“Yeah?” Thank goodness, no trace of tears in my voice.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“I don’t got too many answers, but ask away.”
“You know those guys I said I was in a fight with?”
“No, I don’t know them, but I know what you’re talking about.”
“I kind of got involved in some shit. Out on the street. And they think I might have snitched on them and their buddies.”
“Hell, no. So far I don’t think the cops know I was involved. And I hope it stays that way.”
“What kind of shit was it?”
“You don’t got to tell me if you don’t want to.”
“I got to tell
” His eye twitched.