The inspiration behind this week’s blog post came about when I least expected it.. Per usual! I tend to mentally backtrack, analyze the chain of events and ask myself: “Why did I do that? Had I seen something similar before and subconsciously wanted to see more like it?” It’s a general question, but in this particular case, I asked myself this when I was reminiscing about a tour my S.O. and I took in San Francisco to.. Alcatraz! I was instantly enthralled by its size, history and architecture; so much in fact that it prompted our most recent tour to the Ohio State Reformatory. I highly recommend both tours by the way!
So, there I was.. racking my brain as to why I scheduled these tours.. then.. finally, it came to me! ‘Twas most likely when I first toured a jail! Ten-ish years ago, I volunteered my graphic design services to a small marketing agency located in one of the business suites in Butler County’s old Municipal Building. During one lunch break, my boss decided to take me on a private tour of the abandoned jail on the top floor, which I didn’t even know was there! I remember taking a school field trip of my hometown; which included the old Municipal Building! I only recall seeing the 911 Dispatch Center in the basement and the Fire Station on the northside of the building, which is now a brewery (also, highly recommend). Luckily, I was able to go back up to the jail and take photos! This week, I decided to change it up and write a story from an inmate’s perspective. Something you might read in their journal or hear from their interview in a documentary.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the blogger’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
I’ve been sentenced and fined; it’ll be a three months stay, I’ll pay a fortune to Uncle Sam, plus probation. Two plump Police Officers escorted me from the municipal courtroom into a freshly polished gray marble hallway where we waited for the elevator operator to accompany us inside a cramped lift. The operator hovered above a little stool in the corner. He latched a squeaky metal gate, pulled a stiff lever, and an outer door folded to a close like an accordion. We shimmied our way up a couple flights. I could barely make out the weathered plaque above the operator’s head. I managed to finally read it without my glasses: “Maximum weight limit: 400 pounds.” Oh, yeah, we’re not gonna make it, there’s four of us and we each weigh at least a hundred pounds! I just hope it’ll be a swift and painless death as we plummet to the bottom of the elevator shaft into a large steaming meat pie to feed the other pigs.
As the operator unveiled my new dwelling, the air felt different; stale and humid. I winced with disgust and shook my head as I could already smell the sweaty inmates. It was just my luck to get stuck in the clink on the hottest day of 1959. The judge reassured me that this was a temporary stay until they made room in the overcrowded Butler County jail. My double shackles rattled as I shuffled out onto a dirty concrete floor. I could feel the flames lick me as I walked into a beam of sunlight past a chain linked door, which I noticed had two sets of stairs behind it; one up and one down. I’m sure I’d find out where they each lead to later. I noticed another ray of sunlight coming from a window at the end of the hallway. That surprised me because I envisioned jail to be a windowless dungeon where they locked you up and threw away the key.
The salt and pepper haired Police Officer rhythmically rapped upon a massive vault-like steel door. This sort of door belonged in a bank protecting money; not a jail, protecting society from criminals. He slowly opened a latch to look through a miniature window to visually verify our arrival to the inside guard. I squinted to make out a faint etching on the plate glass that read:
“Let me out.”
I finally admitted to myself that I was petrified. What will I have to endure here for.. who-knows-how-long?! I distinctly heard tin cups clanging across jail cell bars. I thought that only happened in the movies.. The massive door opened in slow motion.
There were eight cells; each were equipped with two bunks, a toilet and a sink. That’s it. Parcopresis quickly set in. How am I gonna drop a deuce without feeling like I’m on display for these perverts to gawk at?! I counted fifteen inmates; some greeted me with their hoarse catcalls, pocket mirrors, and/or tin cups. The other inmates were laying motionless in their bunks. I was lucky number sixteen. We officially became a full house. I stepped over a carved-in-concrete checkerboard in front of my cell. This gave me hope that we had some freedom outside our six by eight cells. I’m a whiz at games. That is what ultimately landed me in here. I ran an illegal gambling ring out of my loft downtown and.. it got raided. I managed to weasel my way out of doing hard time upstate thanks to my hotshot brother-in-law lawyer, Peter. I really owe him. Big. Might as well start by conning these poor schmucks’ out of their commissary items to purchase something fancy for him. Least I could do. He’d prefer I not reoffend though. My mother has openly admitted she’d rather have Peter as her son than the washed up criminal she biologically spawned.
The rookie guard had difficulty releasing me from my restraints because he couldn’t get a firm grip on the key with his sweaty hands. The other guard slammed the cell door closed and lingered nearby. I ignored my cellmate as I quietly settled in to the bottom bunk. A metal spring from my paper thin mattress poked me in the shoulder blade as I laid down to catch my breath. The metal spring propped me toward a window; I discovered the cell bars perfectly framed the Butler County Courthouse across the street. This view reminded me that I could’ve been tried there and received a harsher punishment of three to five years instead of three months. Just gotta hang on for three months. This thought was interrupted by the sound of my cellmate taking a piss.. in the sink. Ugh, I can tell we’re not gonna get along. First impressions are everything. Wonder what his first impression of me was? The strong silent type? Retarded? I quickly dismissed this thought as he aggressively shook his dick.. and moaned loudly. Oh, my God.. He’s jerking off! Disgusting. I rolled over to face the wall and pulled my pillow around my ears to muffle the noise. I finally opened my eyes to see a row of tally marks scratched into the paint. I counted seven. Wonder how long this guy’s sentence was? I bet he died of heat stroke in this oven before he was transferred to county. I forced this thought out of my head. I will make it. I had to. My cellmate might not make it though. I may just smother him in his sleep.
I must’ve nodded off because I was startled awake by a guard barking orders to line up for Recreation. Whatever that meant. I instinctively sat up and busted my head on the bottom of the top bunk with a loud thunk. I spit out, “Fuck,” and rubbed my forehead. I cautiously inspected my wet hand. It wasn’t blood. I looked down to see a body outline of sweat left on my mattress. I felt like crying. I was so uncomfortably hot. I’m sure my tears would’ve been masked by the sweat pouring down my face. I dizzily stood up, stretched with a yawn and accidentally punched my cellmate in the shoulder. I forgot I wasn’t alone. Our eyes finally met.
“Oh, ‘cuse me,” I muttered.
I extended my hand, “Patrick O’Reilly.”
My cellmate chuckled, “Eugene Schwartz.”
We exchanged glances and shook hands. I immediately regretted shaking Eugene’s hand. Bet he didn’t even wash his hands after he pissed and.. came. Yuck. I wiped my right hand on my black and white striped jumpsuit and shoved both hands into my pockets. Each pocket had a pinky size hole in it.
The guard barked again to line up. We faced forward and waited for our cell door to open. I caught a glimpse of something above our heads. I reared my head back to get a better look. The sun shone through a line of cutouts. My eyes adjusted to make out the shapes. They were shamrocks. I bowed my head, crossed myself, and quietly said a prayer to Saint Christopher to protect me during my journey ahead.
We exited our cells, the guard counted us, and the other guard confirmed the head count on his clipboard. We marched single file out of the cell block and into the hallway; one guard was playing follow-the-leader while the other guard rode caboose. We went through the chain linked door and proceeded upstairs. With each step we climbed, I could feel the temperature rise ten degrees. Sweat just poured down from my brow onto my jumpsuit. I wiped my forehead with my already wet sleeve. While we pivoted on a platform, I used this time to check how much further til we reached our “Recreational” destination: another set of stairs to go. I noticed the ceiling and walls were deteriorating. Pieces of plaster sprinkled my face so I instinctively averted my gaze, shook my head and marched ahead.
We finally reached the top of the stairs to a door exiting out onto the roof. I peered through a metal handrail and thought I saw someone waving. They weren’t waving. It was a statue on top of the Hamilton memorial monument across the street. I can’t remember the official name of it. A burst of dank air expelled when the door to the roof opened. My thinning hair tickled my face as I blinked into the afternoon sun. I mentally added a pair of sunglasses to my list of needed commissary items. The guard barked, “Enjoy your two hours of playtime, kiddies!” The other guard snorted at his co-worker’s childish announcement. The inmates segregated themselves: whites on the left, colored to the right, and beaners down the middle. I didn’t join any group. I just paced alongside the ledge and admired the Great Miami River. I just wanted to jump in and cool off. I’ve always been a loner. Content with my own company. Sometimes, I did long for more. I don’t mind admitting that I have regularly paid for company with a lady of the night.
Recreation time had come and gone already. “Time’s up! Line up,” the guard’s booming voice sent a scared pigeon fluttering toward me. I covered my face with both arms and crouched down. I casually dusted myself off and joined the line. During head count, I noticed there was not a single guardrail, fence, or barbed wire to keep anybody from falling off the five story building to their death; whether accidental, suicidal, or homicidal. There wasn’t anything recreational about this “Recreational Roof” at all. No weights. No basketball hoop. Nothing. How I longed for a book to get lost into. Anything to distract me from this cruel reality. I mentally added some books to my list of needed commissary items. I’d read a telephone book, a dictionary, a Bible. Anything. Maybe I’d write a book. Hell, I got the time. Eighty-nine days to go. In a six by eight jail cell.
Did you enjoy the story? I hope you did! I really enjoyed writing it! I definitely pushed myself out of my comfort zone with this one. I’m open to hear any constructive critiques you may have to help improve my storytelling. Feel free to drop a comment below!
I hope the next time you find yourself mentally backtracking how/why you decided to do something, especially something uncharacteristic; that you’ll be inquisitive to take a moment to examine the chain of events that lead you there. I guarantee you’ll learn something new about yourself! Please share any groundbreaking revelations you’ve discovered about yourself in the comments! I’d love to hear about them! I’m sure the other readers would too!