They were on me at once, each with their own manner of eagerness and exerting their righteous belief in violence for violence’s sake.
They tore away at my shoulders and arms, beating, demanding I release my grip from Luky Roberts.
Some voices were familiar, most were strange and hostile, as I had come to expect in Compound RR4, one of the lightest secured cell units in the Saratoga Range District Penal System.
The rank odors that had been roasting for days and weeks, many over the course of months, for prisoners who had been denied bathing privileges, smeared their stink over me, branding my overalls with the mark of a target.
“Move away,” I heard Sergeant Carl Redding thunder through the assault.
The onslaught continued, as though the prisoners weren’t taking the Section Chief’s command seriously or understood the true nature behind what clearly sounded more like a suggestion than a demand.
Finally, Redding pulled me away from Luky Roberts’ unconscious carcass. I woke later that night with a head covered with bloody bandages and manacled to one of the hospital beds.
“Prisoner number 07811,” the warden said, standing over me with a sheath of papers, the file of my life, or why I had spent the better part of my thirty-eight years on this fucking planet, in prison.
“What of Roberts?”
“Yes, poor man suffered considerable head trauma.”
I eased back, took a few deep breaths, and looked around. The infirmary was empty, a rarity even in a minimum-security facility. I had been in here before. Several times against my will.
“Of course, there will be an inquiry, but from what I already understand, you may have been acting in self-defense.”
“I was sir; you can depend on it.”
“It’s Warden Dunne.”
“Yes, Warden Dunne. Sorry, I meant no disrespect.”
“We are probably going to transfer you to the Southern Regional System in a few weeks because of this last incident.”
That wasn’t the deal. The Southern Regional System was maximum security, housing some of the worst in the State. “The Southern Regional?”
“Now, don’t you worry. We will tell you all you need to know when the time comes, after the inquiry.”
“I believe this was my third time, Warden Dunne,” I said, making sure not to make eye contact with the man.
Roberts was soundly taken down as was agreed. It was the third time I was asked to do the system a favor and, as a result, I had earned one in return. That’s how the system worked. That’s how the deal was made.
Dunne continued to flip through my file, then turned to an orderly mopping a few feet away. The old man slopped his mop back into his bucket and moved to the end of the infirmary where two other orderlies had abandoned their poker game.
“And, prisoner 07811, are you implying I can’t count?”
“No, Warden Dunne. I would never do that. It wouldn’t be true.”
“What then, in your opinion, is true?”
“As you see it, of course. After all, not all truth is absolute, is it?”
“Warden Dunne, you know I would never argue with you, but this was my third time.”
“Well, it’s good to know you appreciate the rules of this institution, which is here, as you well know, to protect those in our care from harm.”
“Like Danson Powell?”
“I don’t believe I recognize the name. Is he a prisoner here?”
“He’s doing time over at North City Corrections.”
“And that’s of interest here, because?”
“Because, it’s my third time.”
Warden Dunne folded several reports back into my folder, the red file folder that was my life, my very record of existence. It contained every judgement from the first time I boosted a car to running drugs in South Florida as a boy. It knew everything about me, probably able to predict how long I would last whenever it was that I would be sentenced out, or the certainty that my appeal for early release would be heard and summarily denied.
“And this ‘Powell’ fellow has something to do with your mentioning a third time, though I don’t seem to recall the connection.”
An orderly approached with a handful of pills and a cup of water.
“What do you want?” Dunne demanded.
“I was told he has to have these, every four hours.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“Then, Warden Dunne, sir, I don’t know.”
“And do you think I don’t know that and strictly follow all prison protocols to ensure the safest circumstances for all our prisoners?”
“Yes. Of course, Warden Dunne.”
“Then I would imagine you got the time wrong and will return with those pills and water when I am finished here.”
“My mistake, Warden Dunne,” he said and returned to the infirmary office.
Dunne clasped my file under his arm and started to move away. “Powell? Danson Powell?”
“Yes, Warden Dunne.”
“I do recall a conversation we may have had regarding such a person.”
“Yes, Warden Dunne.”
“And that poor Luky Roberts fellow, will never be the same?”
“Made sure that was the outcome, I did, Warden Dunne.”
“Fortunately your Section Chief intervened or you could have been seriously hurt.”
“Sergeant Redding is a good man. He commands the respect of all the prisoners.”
“I would imagine so.”
“And you’re saying that that incident, however unfortunate for the both of you, was your third time?”
“I believe so, Warden Dunne.”
“Too much to do and not enough money or support. They expect me to run this place with pennies and idiots. Fucking bureaucracy running us and this fucking country into the ground.”
“Just not right, Warden Dunne.”
“Your third time is it?”
“I believe so, Warden Dunne.”
“Ah, I do recall something coming over the wire several hours ago about an accident or incident over at North City Corrections.”
“Was Danson Powell involved?”
“I believe that was the name, though I couldn’t be sure.”
“You have so much to do here, so much responsibility and so little support, Warden Dunne.”
“Seems he was badly hurt.”
“Badly hurt?” That wasn’t the deal either.
“Now I recall, he fell from a third-floor walkway. Broke his neck. I don’t believe he survived.”
“Accidents do happen, Warden Dunne. Even in a place so well run as this.”
“Yes. I was just thinking the same about that Roberts fellow.”
“A shame about that.”
“Yes, well, I will have the orderly get your medication,” he said and walked away.
Danson Powell, the man who raped my young sister three years ago, and instead of getting ten to fifteen years with his record, was sentenced to eighteen months and was going to be released out in three weeks.
My baby sister Katie was gone. Took her life soon after Danson Powell’s brutal, drug-fueled attack.
Dunne had kept his word.
Even in here, there was something to trade. A favor for a life. An eye for an eye, and the closest I will ever come to receiving real justice.
Though most days I am not sure life out there had much more to offer than that.
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