If you’re new on the cell block, let me explain: this is the third of six parts of a short story (fiction or “alternate facts” for you politicos) I wrote while incarcerated. To see Part Two, last week’s installment, click here. To start at the beginning and read Part One of “X”, click here. Otherwise, the story below might not make much sense to you. Regular diary entries return at the story’s end.
As time went on and Caples rammed into more inmate pudendum and Stamper’s housekeeping tasks took more of his time and money, depression and self-hatred so pronounced themselves in everything he did that they occluded the real reason for his sadness. “This is a burn-out job,” Stamper had been told so many times, avuncular advice from older guards who tried to tell him that his interaction with the inmates broadened his opportunities for unhappiness. The real reason for melancholy was the same as any other prisoner’s: he had penned himself in to an unenjoyable dependence on someone, on that person’s willful amnesty. He only spent as many as eight to sixteen hours in Hampshire prison on his working days, but he imprisoned all of his thoughts and time by his own bad behavior and Caples’ capriciousness. Sure, he had keys and rested his head outside of the prison compound, but Dave Stamper was a prisoner just the same.
His depression grew so severe that he eventually had a hard time even speaking to the inmates; he was either so disgusted by them or so weary that he often lacked the words for the most cursory conversation and could barely upturn the corners of his mouth in one of those clearly forced pseudo-smiles in an attempt to render some polite response to their questions or comments. The politeness he wanted to project wasn’t borne of gallantry but rather self-preservation; when inmates believed that a guard disrespected them, they often returned the favor by causing some difficulty in the housing units or on the walkway. Stamper just didn’t want to hear it.
Even the new inmates, women previously unincarcerated, many with some pretty decent chasses, could earn appreciation from Stamper, but not his usual desire. His dick didn’t even flicker at the thought of bending one over because those thoughts didn’t come anymore. He took uncharacteristically resolute action to avoid inmate contact. Some other guards had this absence forced upon them involuntarily when the facility investigated them for misconduct but Stamper actually wanted to stop his daily dredge through the criminal element so he approached Rick Ralston about an assignment to the SHU, specifically to the in-house control unit, desk job in a housing unit that required only close monitoring of inanimate screens showing the camera’s catches. Once Ralston agreed, Stamper could work alone, avoid speaking to the ‘mates and fester in his own failure. When a fleeting good mood hit him he could always take his breaks with the other guards then retreat into a bubble of self-pity and anhedonia, watching cameras pointed at the inactivity of restriction.
Caples had run up the sidewalk that morning after his overnight overtime shift as Stamper headed towards the SHU for the first in a long string of day shifts.
Dave Stamper stopped but didn’t look around. He knew what was in the offing.
“Sherter told me that Ralston wouldn’t even let him look at the paperwork. He’s rollin’ solo on it. She’s coming in today.”
“OK.” What else can I say? he sighed inside his mind.
“The thing is… We never…. I mean we were gonna but she got called for a random piss test so I never … we never got a chance.”
“Then why are you worried? If nothing happened there’s nothing to investigate. Unless she’s lying.”
“I think, yeah. She is. I’m thinking that she thinks that the piss test was my idea or wasn’t really for her because when she got over to Admissions, they had no record of her being called over. She thought I made it up to, like, get away from her.” Caples explained. “She thinks I rejected her.”
But you wouldn’t have if a state-mandated stream of piss hadn’t interceded, Stamper decided in his mind, anticipating superficial man’s worst adversary: a woman scorned.
“Her name is…” Caples tried to continue, to provide all details needed but Stamper stopped him, cut him off.
“If she’s coming in today, I’ll find her,” Stamper said and continued on to the SHU, at his back was the noise of unsteady, cheap plastic wheels bouncing across worn pavement. One of the workers from the kitchen, pulling an oversized meal cart, a sort of closet on wheels that kitchen workers load and stack Styrofoam trays for the segregated inmates who could not go to the chow hall themselves, leaned as far forward as she could without becoming totally parallel to the ground; in her post-drug binge emaciation, she hadn’t the strength to haul the cart easily.
“Jesus, you’re slow. Isn’t breakfast served at like 5? It’s almost seven,” Stamper asked her without offering any help or concern.
Breathless, the prisoner exhaled the new rule: “All. The meals. Have. To be served. On first. Shift. Now.”
Stamper held the door for her as she rotated the cart to the proper angle to propel it through the door and followed her into the unit.
“Just leave the cart ‘cuz you need to get back to the kitchen for count,” Ernie Scotland, the third shift guard yelled to the inmate. She stopped mid-step and left it right in the middle of the guards’ work area.
“I meant like ‘leave it where you usually do and don’t worry about unloading it’ not just dump it here, where I work!” Scotland boomed after her as she split through the door that Stamper had unlocked.
“This is breakfast, dude. It’s almost seven, You gonna serve it?” Stamper asked him with his thumb authoritatively cocked toward the meal cart.
“Can’t. All meals served on first, now.”
“Breakfast, lunch and dinner all between seven and three? Why?”
“Some bullshit with Rosado.”
“Rosado’s post is in the Carolyn Lerner program. What’s he have to do with chow here?”
“Cameras caught him loading three cases of Otis Spunkmeyer’s frozen cookie dough into his car.” For months guards had raided the prison kitchen coffers like after-school teenagers: burgers for cookouts on the nearby beach, canned pepper strips, spices. Three cases of cookies that would never reach inmate mouths was hardly a big deal in Stamper’s estimation.
“The cameras caught him? Somebody must have told to make someone go back and look at the tape.”
“Not no more. You seen the memo? As of last week, digital cameras been turned on and someone in Springfield’s assigned post is to watch ‘em. All’a dem.” Scotland said, nodding with obvious regret.
Stamper felt a spark of anxiety that was immediately and automatically doused by relief. The emotional swing was so quick that Stamper had to backtrack his thoughts to decide why the camera news shook him so much. His own on-camera dalliance was what started this; his only blessing was that the film was held by private parties and not his government.
The Department of Correction installed an entire system of cameras, the tattletale infrastructure, three years prior. Little red nipples protruding from the ceiling covered multi-angle cameras that hadn’t worked after the cameras had been mounted. The state government spent millions on electronic equipment that not only didn’t work but no one wanted to work. Stamper’s theory on why they were turned on at all was that inmates had caught on that the threat from a guard I’ll roll back the tape and see what you did! was always hollow; if an inmate chose to fight a disciplinary report, she usually discovered that there was no cinematic evidence to bust her. No movies of misconduct on the guards’ parts were ever shown either, probably the best protection they ever had.
“So he took some cookies… What does that have to do with breakfast in the SHU?”
“They found like tons of old trays in his trunk. He was using the chow hall like a takeout joint even though he got those meal allowances as senior staff.”
“OK. Still. Why is this here now?” Stamper asked pointing to the abandoned food cart.
“The memo said some shit like ‘All meals will be served under supervision of the captain. The Shift Commander will report to the dining hall on each shift. For those inmates who can’t’ … you know…. walk to the chow hall, and something like ‘all meals will be served during the unit manager’s shift…’ which we know is first shift, you know and so on.”
“Jesus. Rosado didn’t find out where the blind spots were? They taught us that in the academy for Christ’s sake: every law has a loophole and every camera has a blind spot.”
“True dat. Ours is right there,” Scotland pointed to a small alcove containing the guards’ refrigerator, a counter and a kitchen sink; the words sounded funny coming from a man who was not at all urban, yet not interesting or self-effacing enough to be a redneck. He was a banal, chubby white man, donning ebonics like a size two dress.
“All right. Cool. I think I knew that but thanks,” Stamper said to him with a nod.
“No prob,” Scotland swung his backpack over his shoulder and headed for the door, asking Stamper as he passed: “Pop me out.”
Stamper went behind the control panel and pressed the button to create that springy, metallic bang of doors being unlocked remotely. The door was two inches from being shut when Rick Ralston’s left hand saved it from closing; his right was clasped around Alana Larkin’s arm. When he was inside the door, his left took Alana’s ID card from her left shoulder and he held it out for Stamper to retrieve it from him.
“Larkin. She’s going down to F-1” Ralston said flatly as he maneuvered her down a flight of stairs to her restricted cell, an oblique order to open the necessary doors so that Ralston and his female freight could pass easily.
“Oh. I’m in-house control,” Stamper declined by way of explanation.
“Until your partners get here, you’re on paperwork. Log her in and get me a magnet.” Large, rectangular, primary-colored magnets hung on the doors of every SHU cell in place of inmate ID cards which could be used for self-mutilation. Looking down a hallway in the housing for the most incorrigible inmates, one might harken back to kindergarten.
Despite the swelling caused by desperate crying, Alana Larkin was not bad looking; Stamper understood why she would’ve tempted Murray. Naturally curly blond hair below the shoulder like Sarah Jessica Parker, light brown eyes beneath reasonably shaped brows, unlike so many women in prison who plucked their visages into perpetual surprise by creating a pronounced half-circle above the brow bone. Skin was good but dotted between the inner ends of her eyebrows with acne. Those blemishes, along with the ones that extended down from the corners of her mouth in lines like those on a ventriloquist’s dummy, revealed that Alana was not too far removed from her adolescence. Her youth – combined with the impulsive judgment that landed her in Hampshire for an assault on an elderly woman who held onto one handle of her handbag in a Super Giant parking lot when Alana tried to filch it – justified in Alana’s mind the act of making up a lie about Murray Caples. She also believed that embarrassing him in this way would shame him not only into wanting her again but wanting her so much that he would risk unsuitable physical fellowship with her while she was still in the prison. A mature woman would know that opening her mouth would close all possibilities for close encounters in the future but Alana Larkin wasn’t mature; that was her allure.
As Ralston packed Larkin into her cell and made a few notes in a tiny spiral-bound pad he pulled from his breast pocket, Stamper pushed papers around looking for a magnet. Then he heard the sound of fists thumping on double-paned glass. Both other officers assigned to the SHU – Bruno D’Auria and Jerry Molski – with him were too tired from working the overnight shift to pull out their own keys to get into the building where they would work with him on first shift. Instead, they waited for Stamper to open the door remotely again.
“Morning.” Stamper called out to them. Both harrumphed back.
“I’m in the box…so… Ralston’s downstairs. He needs a magnet for this one,” Stamper updated them and tossed Alana Larkin’s ID card on the desk for them.
“So we worked all night and you get to nod off in that little hideaway?” D’Auria said.
“Well, I’ll probably be kept for second,” Stamper said.
“Yeah, but you’ll go home and sleep. My daughter has gymnastics at four and my wife won’t be home to cook dinner, which, yes, means I will be up until eight o’clock and have to leave my house at ten to get back here for third shift,” Molski said as he leaned back in his chair and disabused everyone of the notion that he might actually work or even be aware of the SHU’s happenings. Stamper headed to the in-house control bubble only to have Molski’s yawning syllables catch him.
“You can do all three meals since you’re so rested,” he said to Stamper and clasped his hands behind his head and leaned back. “Brun, log it that Stamper served breakfast from 7:10 to 7:30.”
“Who’s going to do count?”
“It’s SHU dude. Who fuckin’ left?” D’auric asked and laughed because it was true; the SHU was so confining that there wasn’t even room for an idea that someone would escape.
With that, Stamper delivered the breakfast trays to each floor. He pushed a smaller squeaky cart on to each door on every floor, where he pulled off his keys, opened the trap door – a thud that reverberated and dwindled – placed Styrofoam trays that whined on being pushed along the shelf made by the trap door, waited for each inmate to collect her tray, flipped the door back up, inserted the key again creating that metallic zipper in his ears and locked the trap door. He went to every cell. Squeak. Zipper. Thud. Thudthudthuth. Whine. Pause. Thud. Zipper. Click. He went through forty-seven doors on four floors, holding Larkin for last…
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THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JANUARY 23 – 29, 2017
The week in justice reform in three words:
Check the list. President Trump has issued an executive order called “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” that will require the Department of Homeland Security to post a list every week with the names of undocumented persons who commit crimes. We have these already. They’re called police blotters and they’re bullshit because they report, like Trump’s lists, only arrests and not convictions. Here in the United States, we have that pesky “innocent until proven guilty” albatross to deal with. The list plan was announced two days before Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was Friday, the 27th and reminded us of other lists – Hitler’s, Schindler’s – and how good they are for humanity. Bad idea, DJT.
Follow the money. Donald Trump’s immigration policies mean millions for private prisons. Read about it in Vice.
Raise the Age. New York and North Carolina are the only two states who still insist that 16-year-olds are adults when it comes to criminal responsibility. There’s a movement afoot in New York to change this and Connecticut’s General Assembly is considering raising the age of adult criminal responsibility to 21 in 2017. For a look at a terrible story that has catalyzed the fight to raise the age in New York, try J.B. Nicholas’ story in the Village Voice.