Go to all chapters of "Medium Security".
"There's some new meat coming in," said Beemer to his pal, Andy, as they played cards in the Rec Room. Beemer worked as a clerk in the main office, so he knew the ins and outs of Stanton Correctional. "I think they're putting him in with me."
"Lucky him," said Andy. Andy was in 3 to 5 for burglary. He was glad to be in Stanton. Medium security for Andy was a fucking gift, he knew, especially since it was his third time inside. But he was in his fifties and non-violent, so Stanton was a good fit. "You knew they were putting somebody in there, Beem. Ever since Fred got out you been getting a free ride. So join the club. I hope the new fish can put up with your fucking snoring."
"You should come in with me, Andy. We're buddies," coaxed Beemer. His real name was Richard, but everyone called him Beemer because he was always bragging about the BMW he used to drive before they caught him running a fraud on a bunch of senior citizens in Scranton and gave him 2 to 6. "They can put the fish in with Bri Baby."
Brian looked up from his newspaper. "Don't fucking call me that," he warned. He was sick of cute names. "And I don't want any snot-nosed kid stuck in with me. Forget that shit!"
Brian was only 29, but he preferred to cell with older guys like Andy or Beemer. They were quiet and they left you alone. Brian had gotten used to hanging out with the older guys from living so long with Ron. Then, when Ron got out, Brian had been glad to have Andy move in with him instead of some young fucking hotshot who would be playing a bunch of macho games and disrupting Brian's well-ordered routine. The older guys were mostly short-timers who only wanted to do their time and get out in one piece or long-termers well beyond mixing it up or having to prove themselves. Brian stayed out of the macho thing. At this point, with Ron out of the picture, all he wanted to do was lay low and survive as best he could.
"What's the kid coming in for?" asked Andy, picking up a card. He had a lousy hand, as usual.
"Drug charge, what else? It's all drugs now, you know? These kids are all on fucking drugs!" Beemer answered with disgust.
"Drug charges are bullshit! Fucking victimless crimes. Fucking fascist government," mumbled Brian into his newspaper.
"Yeah, we've heard it all before, Trotsky. Preach to someone who gives a fuck," sniffed Beemer.
Brian shook his head and tossed down the paper. He didn't usually open the Law Library until after lunch, but he was bored with sitting around watching Beemer and Andy play cards. Or watching the other guys staring at the television set. Both of those things, which made up the majority of recreational activity at Stanton, bored the shit out of Brian. He thought about going up to the iron pile and lifting some weights, but the Bros, the black gang in the Quad, owned the pile in the mornings, before they had to go to work in Industry. Brian usually hit the pile in the late afternoon, when things were quiet and everyone but the men on disability were at their jobs.
Brian walked along the tier on his way to the Library. He must have walked this route a million times in the past 9 years. And he'd probably walk it a million more times before he got out. Or before he died there in Stanton. Which Brian had no doubt that he would do. That was just the reality when you were facing a sentence of 20 years to life.
Brian decided to go out into the Yard for a smoke before he went to work. It was Monday, which meant that he had files to update and forms to fill out and he had a new case to hand over to Ron when he came for his monthly visit on Thursday.
It was cold in the Yard and Brian's old sweater was threadbare, so he huddled close to the door, out of the biting January wind. He supposed that he should ask Ron to send him a new one, but he kept forgetting. During Ron's short visits there was so much to cram in about pending cases or other issues that the Prisoners' Legal Defense was taking up that Brian's personal needs were usually pushed to the side.
Other inmates had families, usually mothers or wives or girlfriends, who thought of such things and sent guys better socks, underwear, warm sweaters and new shirts. Just about anything was nicer than the government issue clothing each inmate received once a year. But Brian didn't have any family visitors to bring him the niceties of life. In fact, he had no visitors at all other than Ron. And he'd had no letters from his family since his mother had sent him a religious pamphlet about 5 years before.
Not that Brian thought about it much. It was just the way things were. He didn't need his family. They had blown him off years before, practically from the minute he was arrested. But even before that he had never felt close to them. His old man had never liked him and his mother didn't give a shit about anything but her church, so it was stupid to think that they'd go out of their way to drive 50 miles to bring a pair of socks to their convict son. Brian imagined that they gave little thought to him or what was happening to him and he gave little thought to them -- except sometimes late at night, in the dark, when he felt totally alone in the world.
But working as the inside liaison for the Prisoners' Legal Defense was what kept Brian from going crazy, especially during the past 8 months since Ron Rosenblum had been paroled. It was also the thing that gave Brian whatever small status he enjoyed in Stanton Correctional. Of course, the guys would never, ever treat Brian with the same respect they had accorded Ron. Ron had been a real lawyer, after all, no matter how discredited. But Ron had trained Brian during their 8 years together to do almost all of the legal work that Ron himself had done inside. How to file an appeal. How to work up a case. How to get an inmate ready to face a hearing or the Parole Board. But most of all, Brian's work on their cases gave the inmates hope that someone was paying attention.
At first the guys had been dubious about trusting their cases to Rosenblum's young punk. They felt that once the lawyer was out of the joint, he'd forget about them and their pending cases. But Ron had been as good as his word. He'd been jailed in 1965 for defrauding clients to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. It had been a famous case in its day and Ron had wealthy and important victims who made certain that the full letter of the law came down on him. But prison had politicized the man. Prisoners' rights and concerns became his cause and when Brian entered Stanton in 1969 and they hooked up, it became Brian's cause, too. Now they both worked, one inside and one outside, for the Prisoners' Legal Defense, a group of socially aware attorneys and legal aides that had been organized during the turbulent 1960's to deal with civil right and anti-war cases. But now, in the waning 1970's, it was more about drugs and gangs. And that seemed a battle that was being swiftly lost.
"Hey, Bri Baby. Got a smoke for a lady?"
Brian shrugged and offered a cigarette to Emmy. She came out and stood next to him in the shelter of the concrete archway that led into the Yard. The Yard was empty except for a lone inmate walking in circles around one of the basketball courts.
Emmy had long light brown hair and pretty blue eyes that she used to great effect on the men of the Quad. She was wearing a bright pink sweater over her chambray government issue shirt, which was tied up to bare her trim midriff. Of all the white queens in Stanton, Emmy was certainly the most stylish. She took the cigarette from Brian's fingers and shoved it into her pocket. Emmy didn't smoke, but cigarettes were as good as cash inside.
"You must be freezing your nuts off out here, Bri Baby. Come in where it's nice and warm," she purred, sliding her eyes at Brian.
Some of the other queens turned up their noses at Bri. To them, he wasn't quite all man. A punk without a daddy. "He's nothing but another sister dressed up in men's drag, honey!" insisted Loretta, the leader of the black queens.
But ever since Bri's old man, the lawyer, had been sprung, Emmy had been looking at this boy with new eyes. He was no one's kid anymore. Not at all. She took in his broad shoulders and tall frame approvingly. She and Brian had gotten down quite a few times and Emmy knew that Bri Baby was more than capable of holding his own sexually with any of the macho jockers in the Quad. Emmy had been at loose ends since her last old man had attacked a C.O. and gotten transferred out to a maximum security facility on the other side of the state. No, it never paid to take a swing at a Corrections Officer, as Floyd had found out. Since then she had suggested to Bri that they hook up, but he'd told her to forget it. Brian had made clear that he wasn't about to play that game anymore, even from the other side of the fence.
"I'm almost finished with this, Em," said Brian, smoking the cigarette down to the bitter end. It didn't do to let anything go to waste here. He took one last drag and then tossed the butt into the Yard. He was shaking with the cold, but at least the air was fresh outside. Once he went back inside all he'd be breathing was prison.
Emmy followed Brian around the lower tier, past the Chapel and the Chow Hall, on the way to the Library. Just outside the Library door was a small multi-purpose room where A. A. held weekly meetings. Otherwise it was convenient for other kinds of encounters.
Brian shut the door and Emmy was on her knees in a second, giving his dick her all. Brian had to admit that Emmy had the best mouth of all the white queens -- and Brian had tried them all. But Emmy could out-suck the best of them. Christ, thought Brian, she could suck the head off a fucking nail!
"Thanks," said Brian, zipping up his fly. He gave her three more cigarettes.
"The pleasure was all mine, Baby," Emmy cooed. She rearranged her sweater and smoothed the dust off the knees of her pants. "Big Melvin thinks he has the biggest cock in the Quad, but he can't hold a candle to you, Bri!" she flattered.
"Don't tell Big Melvin that or he'll come after me with his shiv and make certain that he keeps his reputation," Brian replied, only half-joking. Men had been killed for less things, even in a medium security place like Stanton, where there wasn't a lot of overt violence. "No jocker worth his salt can stand to think that some punk's dick is bigger than a man's. It upsets the natural order of the universe."
Emmy giggled. "I LOVE the way you college boys talk!"
"Yeah, whatever the fuck," Brian sighed. He was a long way away from being a college boy anymore. "What are you doing wandering around in the middle of the day, Em? Shouldn't you be working?" Emmy was an orderly in the Hospital.
"I'm on the night shift all this week, Baby."
"Well, don't get into trouble with the C.O.'s," said Brian, pushing open the door of the small room.
"I won't, Baby. I never get in trouble. After all, guards have dicks, too!" Emmy laughed.
"Watch yourself, Em. I'm not kidding," said Brian. He knew that Emmy was hot to hook up with him. Having a man, even one a little suspect, gave a queen some status with her peers. But Brian didn't want to admit that, although he had sex with them when the opportunity arose, he just wasn't attracted to queens. The whole drag thing and all the melodrama attached to them got on Brian's nerves. Besides, if he hooked up with Emmy she would want to cell with him and then all her friends would be in his face every day. Brian didn't think he could stand that.
Brian liked his privacy, which was an almost impossible luxury in the joint. That's one reason why he treasured his job in the Law Library. It was quiet and he could spend hours alone there, arranging his files, writing out notes on cases, going through law books, or working on his own manuscript. That was the main thing he treasured. Ron had encouraged him to start writing it as a kind of therapy about 5 years ago when Brian had been in a major depression and he'd kept working on it ever since. It was a combination prison diary and memoir that detailed how he had gotten to Stanton and then how he had survived once there.
Murray, the librarian, greeted Brian as he opened up the little annex that made up the Law Library. His desk was there, with his file cabinets and shelves lined with reference books. And the old Royal typewriter which he used to fill out forms and write reports. But Brian's own book was written out in longhand on yellow legal pads. Typing such a manuscript would call attention to what Brian was doing and he was afraid that his 5 years of work would be confiscated by the C.O.'s and destroyed. So he wrote as he sat at the desk and then he hid the pages away among the inmate files where no one else would ever look.
Brian sat down at the desk and began preparing material to give Ron when he saw him on Thursday. This desk, these files, this typewriter had all been Ron's. He'd set up the office after a furious struggle with the prison administration. But Ron had won that battle in the end. For years Brian had sat at the tiny table in the corner, taking notes or looking things up in legal books and journals to bolster Ron's cases. And he learned a lot about the Law and even more about the workings of the penal system from his mentor, who was also his cellmate and his old man.
For 8 years the two had been virtually joined at the hip and sometimes Brian still forgot and turned to make some observation to Ron, only to realize that Ron was now gone. He was back in the real world. Living with his wife and children. Going to work at the Prisoners' Legal Defense. Visiting Brian on the second Thursday of each month at Stanton, where Brian, in all probability, would still be in 10 years. And maybe even longer than that if the United States Government had any say in the matter.
Brian worked until just before 3:30, when he closed the office and headed back to his tier for 4:00 lockdown and head count. Andy, his cellie, and Beemer were lounging outside the cells, waiting with the rest of the guys for lockdown to begin.
Every day at 4:00 the inmates were locked in their cells and counted. It was more a ritual than anything else, since escape attempts from Stanton were rare. At 5:00 they were all released to go down to dinner. After dinner they could go back to their cells or to the Rec Room or TV Room or the iron pile or just hang out until 10:00 nightly lockdown. Then lights out at 11:30 and in the morning the routine would begin again with 7:00 a.m. wake up call and breakfast.
Afternoon lockdown on Mondays was also when they brought in any new fish. Because Stanton was medium security and fairly small as state prisons went, it didn't have a separate fish tier just for new inmates. Instead, they came straight from the Processing Center in Harrisburg and were introduced directly into the population of their new home away from home. The new fish were instantly recognizable by their white workpants, distinct from the khakis worn by the veterans. The fish, especially first timers, were usually put in with older inmates who could show them the ropes and offer them a modicum of protection until they knew their way around. At least that was the theory. But it rarely worked out that way.
"Here comes Beemer's new cellie," whispered Andy, looking out the cell door after they'd all been locked in. Beemer's cell was the last in the tier, two down from Andy and Brian's, at what was considered the quiet end. "Looks like trouble on two legs." Andy shook his head sadly.
Brian looked out over Andy's shoulder, now curious to see the fish. He could hear the obscene catcalls and the hoots and whistles going all the way down the tier. And then he saw the reason for the uproar. The new meat. Short, slight, blond hair, and skin so pale it was almost transparent. The kid was clutching his bag of gear tightly. Brian also saw the look of helpless terror in his blue eyes as the C.O. led him past.
"Shit," said Brian. "Fucking fascists, putting a boy like that in here." Brian knew something about that from bitter personal experience. And he shuddered to think of what would happen to the kid when lockdown ended and all the wolves descended on him.
Brian and Andy walked down to the Chow Hall with Beemer and the new fish. The kid looked shell-shocked, answering in monosyllables and flinching whenever someone brushed against him.
Beemer was not happy about this turn of events. It was bad enough having to deal with a first timer, but a really young fish like this was a magnet for grief. Beemer knew that every horny jocker in the joint would be smelling this kid's ass, trying to get a piece of it before he hooked up with someone full time.
"I ain't no fucking babysitter!" he complained to Andy. "I told you that you should have moved in with me before they had a chance to stick me with this goddamn punk!"
"Shut up, Beem," warned Brian. "Can't you see the kid is fucking terrified? Just cut him some slack." Brian picked up a plastic tray in the chow line and handed one to the kid. "Here. Sit with us and it will be okay."
"Thanks," the kid answered, his voice barely audible.
"What's your name again?" asked Brian.
"All right, Justin," said Brian. "Try not to panic."
Justin knew that if simply going through the food line in the cafeteria was this much of an ordeal then he didn't know how he would survive the more difficult aspects of prison. Justin felt himself starting to tear up and he tried to stop himself.
"Don't let them see you cry, kid," Brian said to him softly. "Never let them see you cry."
"I won't," Justin replied. I'll try, he thought. If I don't break down completely.
Justin had gone through his arrest and then his trial and sentencing in a state of total denial. At every stage of the process everyone, from his parents to his lawyer, had told Justin that the charges would be dropped. Or that they would be offered a plea bargain. And then that Justin would get time served or else a short stint in a minimum security workhouse. After all, Justin was an honor student at an exclusive private school. His parents were well-to-do people living in an upper-middle class neighborhood in Pittsburgh. The Taylors were white. They were WASPs. They were privileged. Boys like Justin didn't go to prison, even after being arrested for DWI after his high school graduation with enough pot on him to get the entire St. James Academy Senior Class stoned. So at every step Justin waited for the nightmare to be over.
But none of those things happened. There was no dropping of charges, no plea bargain, and no short term in a white-collar country club. The prosecutor of Justin's case was bucking for a political career and drugs were a hot issue. So was the uneven application of justice, with rich kids getting off and poor ones getting the shaft. At least that's how the prosecution spun things. In reality, even a ghetto kid arrested on a first offense marijuana possession charge would probably have gotten probation. But instead Justin got 5 years.
And now he was in Stanton Correctional Facility. And he didn't know what the fuck he was going to do.
His roommate was an old guy who obviously wasn't happy to have Justin in there with him. But all the other men he'd seen so far had been large and scary-looking. Up until now Justin had been largely shielded from other inmates. He had been bailed out soon after his arrest. And in the county lock-up he'd been segregated from the general population because he was the prosecutor's pet project and the man didn't want him roughed up before sentencing. That wouldn't have looked too good in court. Justin had also been in the Processing Center over the Christmas holiday when it was relatively quiet and he had a cell to himself. But even there he had been the object of threats from the other men. Words whispered about what they would do to him if they could get hold of him. And about what would happen to him in prison. Where he now was. For real.
The only person who had said anything to him that wasn't a creepy threat or a direct insult was Brian, the tall, skinny man who seemed to be friendly with his roommate, Beemer. He looked pretty young and Justin thought that he had a sad, beautiful face. He'd encouraged him. Told him not to cry. Like he understood what Justin was feeling. He probably did understand. He'd probably been where Justin was once upon a time. Justin tried to smile at the man, but he couldn't. He just couldn't smile about anything.
"I think it must be Friday," said a large white man whose arms were covered with tattoos of skulls and blood-dripping knives. He was sitting at a table with a bunch of other very big white guys with long hair and lots of tattoos. "Because it looks like FISH is on the menu tonight. Young, tasty fish."
"Back off, Hoss," said Brian. He glared at the tattooed men and they all guffawed. Brian hated these guys with a passion. They weren't the same bunch who had victimized him so long ago when he'd been a new fish, but they were like those guys. Brothers in arms, so to speak. And Brian could not forget what they had done to him. He'd never forget that until the day he died.
Brian nudged the kid toward a table near the back of the Chow Hall. "Stay away from those guys, kid. And I mean that."
"Who are they?" asked Justin, his hands trembling so badly that his tray of food was rattling.
"Low-riders," Brian answered grimly. "Biker gang members. They pretty much run the drug trafficking trade in this state. They bring the dope up from Mexico on their motorcycles and carry it all over the country. These guys are only lower level scum. Short-termers in medium security, so they aren't the hardcore members of the gang. But I wouldn't mess with them. No fucking way."
"I... I won't," the boy gulped.
"And see over there?" Brian pointed to one corner of the Chow Hall where a group of black inmates sat. "That's the Bros' section. They don't like punk-ass white boys wandering into their territory, so don't. Baraka and his Brothers might decide to kick your ass -- or worse. Otherwise they'll pretty much leave you alone. Same with the Spanish guys." Brian indicated another section of the Hall where a group of muscular Hispanics were laughing at a large table. "They don't like to mix, so don't go over and try to make friends."
"I wasn't planning to," Justin answered.
"In other words -- stay away from just about everyone."
Justin stared at Brian and saw that he was serious. Deadly serious.
They sat down at a table with Beemer and the other older man, Andy. The two old guys ignored Justin and talked only to each other. A few men passed the table and made kissing noises at the back of Justin's head. This made Justin's stomach turn over. He looked down at the food on his tray and knew that he was going to be sick.
"Don't puke, kid. Really," said Brian, as if he could read Justin's mind. "It's not cool."
Justin swallowed. "I'll try not to."
"Just drink a little water. You don't have to clean your plate in here. I don't," Brian said. And he smiled slightly at the boy.
"Hi hi!" said a voice.
Justin looked up to see a tall man who was even skinnier than Brian. But the man had long hair down to his shoulders. Not like a hippie's hair, but like a lady's. And he was wearing a pink sweater. And make-up. Justin could see that he was wearing lipstick and liner around his blue eyes. Another shorter man, with longish dark hair and large brown eyes, was standing behind the first man. The shorter guy was wearing a long blue scarf over his prison shirt. He was wearing make-up, too.
"Is this the new talent?" asked the man in the pink sweater. "He's sooo pretty!"
"This is Justin," said Brian. "I was telling you to stay away from almost everybody in this joint, kid, but Emmy and her friends are okay. If you get into trouble, they'll take care of you."
Justin drew back a little. They didn't look like the kind of people who Justin thought of as safe. They were strange. They were like... drag queens. That made Justin start to sweat. His big fear had always been that someone at his high school would realize that he was gay. Or that his parents would find out. Or that someone would find out now that he was in jail. What those people might do to him if they knew. And now he was confronted by these two full-blown drag queens and told that they were safe to be his friends! It was like Justin's entire world was turned upside down in every possible way.
Emmy sat down at a nearby table and was joined by a couple of other queens, all wearing make-up and dressed in feminized versions of their prison uniforms. But the dark-haired queen lingered next to Brian, trying to get his attention.
"Bri Baby?" he said in a low voice.
"What Michelle?" Brian's voice was impatient.
"Emmy told me that... this afternoon... that you and she.... You know!" The dark-haired queen was pouting.
Brian sighed. "She blew me in the meeting room. And your point is what, Michelle?"
"Well, I was thinking that... why are you always giving ME the brush-off? I'm as good as Emmy! I'm cuter than Emmy! I know you like me, Bri. I know you do." Now the guy was whining.
"Yes, Michelle, I like you. But not in that way. We're just friends. That's all. So give me a break, huh?" Brian turned away, dismissing Michelle.
Justin stared at the dark-haired man. The queen frowned back, his brown eyes snapping. "What are you looking at, punk?" he said in a much gruffer, butcher voice.
"Nothing. Nothing at all," said Justin, shrinking away.
"Then mind your own fucking business!" said Michelle. And he turned and stomped off.
The queens at the nearby table all began laughing. Michelle's hopeless crush on Bri Baby was old news. Even though Michelle was hooked up with a guy over on the other side of the Quad, he was still bugging Bri for sex. But Brian was friendly with Michelle's jocker, Dave, who was one of Ron's PLD clients, and Brian wasn't about to offend the guy by screwing around with his piece of ass.
"Just ignore the melodrama, kid," Brian advised. "There's already enough of it in this joint as it is without making more."
Justin nodded. He had a lot to learn here. An awful lot to learn.
Posted November 21, 2004.