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"Brian...." Justin began softly after sitting awhile and trying to understand the man's words. What did he mean that he killed himself? Was that some kind of prison slang? Or... did Brian mean it literally? The boy shivered.
"Forget it, kid. I've already said too much." Brian stood and walked to the cell door, looking out at the tier.
Justin saw how he was shutting himself off again. The boy had seen it happen a few times already when they were talking in the Hospital. Once had been when Justin asked about Brian's older cellmate, Ron. Brian's face had closed right up, like an iron door clanging down. And then Justin had innocently asked something about Brian's family and the same thing had happened again. And now this. But Brian's face was completely turned away, as if it was much more difficult for him to hide this pain away.
"It's almost time for 4:00 head count and then down to the Chow Hall," said Brian, finally turning around. "Are you ready for that, Justin?"
Justin hesitated. "I think so. I guess I have to be ready. I have to eat, after all."
Brian laughed. "Yes, I've seen you eat -- once your appetite came back!" But then he got serious again. "There will be a lot of people down in the Chow Hall and I don't want them to shake you. Some of them might be asking a lot of questions. Nosy fucking questions that are none of their business, but they'll ask anyway. Do you know what to say?"
Justin gulped. "That I don't remember anything that happened to me that... that night." Justin rubbed his eyes. "It's true. I... I don't really remember anything."
Brian knew the kid was lying. He'd been having nightmares in the Hospital. Nightmares that left him shaking and crying for hours afterwards about the 'men from Hell.' Those nightmares were something Brian understood all too well. He'd had them for years. Sometimes they came back, unexpectedly, and for days he was a nervous wreck. Even after all these years.
"If you see anything or anyone who freaks you out, just hold on to me. That's what I'm here for. To protect you. That's why we're hooked up, right?"
Justin nodded. "Right. That's why we're hooked up."
Neither of them said what they both were thinking. That the low-riders would be in the Chow Hall. And they would be there every day and at every meal. The men who raped Justin were a fact of life. And obstacle to be faced, again and again. A trial to be endured daily.
Brian prayed that the kid really couldn't recall any of them individually. That, thought Brian, was too much to take. Having to look at the faces of the men who had violated you, humiliated you, beaten you down into something less than human. And to see them so unconcerned. And completely unpunished.
Brian had lived through that and it was soul-killing. But he HAD lived through it. And so would Justin.
After head count they got ready to go down to dinner. Justin washed his face and hands and then washed them again, compulsively. He'd been doing that a lot lately. Like he had an obsession with being clean. Maybe he was just trying to wash off the stink of prison. Or maybe he was trying to rid his otherwise untouched body of the feel of the low-riders.
Brian went to the sink and washed up next to him. Then he took the rough towel and gently dried the boy's face and hand. "That's enough," Brian said. "Let's go."
The third tier was the last to go down. The men lined up outside their cells while they waited. Justin was wringing his hands, nervously, while Brian kept a close eye on who was observing them. Which seemed to be just about everyone. They were all curious about what had happened to the kid that night. And about where Brian had been in the interim. Well, let them guess, thought Brian. Don't show all your cards at once, Ron had taught him.
The line began to move and Brian put his hand on Justin's shoulder, steadying him.
"Hey, looks like chicken tonight!" exclaimed Wes as they entered the Chow Hall. Wes and his jocker, Al, were right behind Brian and Justin. "And chocolate pudding!" Most of Wesley's conversations centered on his stomach.
Justin turned around. Wes was another punk, so it was safe to talk to him. "I love chocolate pudding, too."
Al snorted. "Fucking kids and their food, right Kinney?" he said to Brian. "This fucking punk will break me at the canteen. Bags of chips and candy bars and gum and soda pop! No wonder you're so fat, you little bastard!" Al gave Wes a shove.
But Wesley just grinned. Unlike some daddies, who were stingy with the treats, Al was generous with his canteen allowance and let Wes charge up as much as he wanted. Wes wasn't all that crazy about the sexual aspect of their relationship, but he understood that it could be a lot worse. He and Al usually had sex about twice a week and Al never lent Wes out to his pals. In fact, Al was pretty possessive about his kid, which was to Wesley's advantage. Sometimes Wes actually thought that Al kind of loved him. Of course, he'd never say anything as faggy as that, but usually Al stroked his hair or petted him while he was fucking him. Once he even kissed Wes afterwards, although they were both sort of embarrassed by it afterwards.
But Wes could see that Brian was a lot more touchy than most jockers. He always had his hands on this new kid, Justin. Wes liked that. Of course, Brian was like a punk himself. Or at least he used to be, so maybe that was different.
Brian handed Justin a tray and took one for himself. Then he put the plates of food on their trays as the service guys dished them up.
"Hey, Roy," said Brian to one of the food men.
"Here, Kinney." Roy shoved a container of chocolate pudding onto Brian's tray. "And one for the kid."
Justin smiled and put the pudding on his tray.
Brian looked at Justin's face. "Give him another one, too, Roy."
The food service guy frowned. "One dessert, Kinney. That's the rule."
Brian narrowed his eyes at Roy. "Oh, is that so? It seems that I'm doing some paperwork for an appeal on your conviction, Roy. It would be a fucking shame if I lost those papers and had to start all over again, wouldn't it?"
Roy stared at Brian. The guy was serious! "Yeah, that would be fucked."
"So from now on the kid gets TWO desserts. Every night. TWO. You understand?" said Brian.
Roy nodded. "Okay, Kinney. Sure. Whatever you say. Just don't lose those papers or I'm back to square one!" And he pushed a second container of pudding at the blond punk. Christ, what these guys wouldn't do to keep their bitches satisfied!
"Just don't forget," Brian added. "Come on, kid. Let's sit with Emmy." And they took their trays and moved on.
"Hey, Roy! I want two desserts for my kid, too!" said Al.
"Fuck you!" Roy returned. Now he had a headache. "Move along, Al. You're holding up the fucking line!"
While the men were finishing their dinner in the Chow Hall, the lieutenant came in and called for their attention.
"Because everyone was in lockdown on Friday night...." There were some scattered boos, but the lieutenant held up his hands. "If I may finish, gentlemen? In other words -- shut the hell up while I'm talking!"
"I love Lt. Clayton to pieces," said Emmy. "He has such a way with words!"
"Yeah, and your mouth has a way with his dick," sniped Michelle.
"I have many gentleman callers and some of them happen to be C.O.'s," Em answered. "So hush YOUR little mouth, Michelle, before I shove something nasty into it!"
"Because you guys missed Movie Night on Friday, we will be showing the film tonight instead," the lieutenant continued. "It will be here, in the Chow Hall, as usual, at 8:00 sharp. And because of the movie, evening head count and lockdown will be at 11:00. No horseplay or other crap during the movie, either. The warden is giving you this privilege, so don't abuse it. And I mean it!"
"Movie night? What's that?" asked Justin. He was finishing his second container of chocolate pudding.
"They show some ancient flick and pass out popcorn," Brian explained. "It's the social highlight of the week around here."
Emmy stood up. "Come on, ladies. We need to get ourselves dolled up before the feature!"
"Shit!" cried Michelle, pushing back her chair. "I didn't do my hair! They should have told us about this earlier."
The queens exited the Chow Hall, all chattering about the night's big event.
"What was that all about, Brian?" said Justin.
"Like I said, Movie Night is about the only social event going on in here. Every Friday night the queens get themselves all spiffed up and spend more time parading up and down so everyone can see them in their outfits than they do watching the film. It's like a ritual." Brian shrugged. "They won't have a lot of time to get themselves primped for tonight. That's why Michelle was upset. Her old man, Dave, is due to get out soon and I think she's on the prowl for a new jocker to take his place, so she wants to look her best."
Justin looked down at his tray. "That seems so... cold. The guy isn't even gone yet. Doesn't she care about him?"
"I don't know," said Brian. "Not much, I guess. People get hooked up for different reasons. Most of them don't have a lot to do with caring about someone. Mostly it's for survival. Or to make life easier. Or because guys get lonely. It takes all kinds, kid."
Brian picked up his tray and took it back to the rack, with Justin following along behind. A number of men greeted Brian, asking him about their cases or inquiring when the Law Library would open up again.
"Things should be back to normal tomorrow, so I'll be there. Stop by in the afternoon and we'll talk," Brian told one of the men.
"This the new kid?" the guy asked. He looked Justin up and down. The way he looked at him gave Justin a panicky sensation and he shrank back against Brian.
"Yeah," said Brian shortly. "Hands off."
The man stepped back. "Hey, Kinney, I was only askin'! No harm done, right?"
"Sure," answered Brian. "No fucking harm done. Not much."
He took Justin by the elbow and piloted him through the crowd and out the door of the Chow Hall.
A small knot of low-riders were hanging out near the door, trying to decide what to do. They usually skipped Movie Night. It wasn't exactly their thing. But they took note of the new fish, who was now solidly in Kinney's possession. They weren't certain how to react to this new turn of events.
"He's the best fish to come into the Quad in a long time," griped Rowdy. "Are we gonna let some punk take him over? After we busted the kid and everything?"
"Yeah! It don't seem right," chimed in Elvis.
Hoss shook his head. "But all the jockers like Bri Baby. They all owe him big time for his legal aid shit, so they're cutting him a lot of fucking slack. And the way he's struttin' around, like he thinks he's a real man or something."
"We could take over the kid and he couldn't do nothin' about it, I bet!" urged Elvis.
"We could," Hoss agreed. "But you want that punk in YOUR cell? You want him with access to your dick while you're asleep? We don't got the resources to keep him doped up all day AND all night, especially with Horvath breathing down our necks."
Hoss glared at Brian, but the other man simply stared right through him and led the kid back towards the tier. Hoss knew that Bri Baby had been a low-rider punk a long, long time ago. That was ancient history that everyone knew. But for as long as Hoss had been in Stanton -- two years -- Kinney had pretty much ignored the bikers and they had ignored him. When they came to him for legal services he was cool and business-like, doing the minimum work necessary, but never any more than that. But there had never been a conflict between them -- until this kid arrived. And it wasn't over, thought Hoss. Not by a longshot.
A little before 8:00 Brian and Justin walked back into the Chow Hall. The tables had been pushed back and the chairs set up rows. The queens were already promenading around the room, displaying their showiest garments. The black queens, led by a tall, striking inmate named Loretta (aka Antoine), were even more flamboyant than Emmy and his crew, thought Justin, as he watched the two groups circle each other. Loretta was wearing a pair of red platform shoes that made her look about 7 feet tall.
"I told you, kid," Brian whispered as they found seat near the front. "The movie is secondary to all the posturing."
"Where do they get the clothes?" Justin asked.
"They buy them. Emmy and Michelle get tons of catalogues and Michelle's mother sends away for the stuff and then forwards it to them. The poor woman is a waitress and she must spend every cent she makes buying that shit for her son. And the others all have someone on the outside who gets them what they need. You've been in Emmy's cell -- it's like a fucking sorority house in there!"
Justin thought about Brian's worn underwear and socks. And his only sweater had been ruined, too. He heard Emmy apologize to Brian for not being able to save it. "Brian, you need some new clothes. If they can get that stuff, why can't you?"
"Sure," Brian snorted. "I'll call my mom tomorrow and tell her to run down to the mall and get me a new wardrobe! When fucking hell freezes over!"
One of the C.O.'s ordered everybody to take their seats. The queens abandoned their parade reluctantly and found chairs in the back, where they could chat without getting anyone too pissed off at them. Then the lights went down and the film began.
As Brian had predicted, it was an old movie, in black and white. "This is a pretty good one," said Brian, leaning into Justin's ear. "It's funny. 'To Be or Not To Be' with Jack Benny." The man who provided the films to Stanton had a large collection, but over the years Brian had seen all of his films a couple times over.
"You weren't kidding when you said these movies were old, Brian! This is, what? World War II?" Justin said in amazement.
A guy in the row in front of them turned and snarled, "Shut up, punk!"
"Sorry, kid," Brian whispered. "No 'Star Wars' in here. I think the old man who shows the flicks stopped going to the movies around 1960, so that's what we get. This was actually one of Ron's favorites. He liked the Marx Brothers, too. We'll probably get them next week."
They watched the film and Justin found himself laughing and enjoying it more than he had expected to. He started to forget, at least a little, where he was and what had happened to him. Justin had almost forgotten what it was like to do something as normal as sit in the dark and watch a movie. All of the things that Justin used to take for granted seemed far away at Stanton.
And he heard Brian laughing at the movie, too. He had not heard Brian laugh like that before. Not a cynical, hardened laugh, but something almost innocent.
Justin reached over in the dark and touched Brian's hand, tentatively. And Brian's hand closed around Justin's, their fingers interlacing. Maybe Brian only wants to protect me, thought Justin. Maybe he only feels sorry for me. Because I'm... spoiled. Maybe that's all it is. The boy held tighter to Brian's hand. But that isn't all it is for me. The face of God. That's what I saw and that's what I still see when I look at him.
And that was enough. At least for that short, sweet moment.
After the movie ended the men milled around for a while, finishing up the popcorn and blowing off some steam. Many of them were still a little stir crazy from being in lockdown for four days. There had been one mild confrontation between Barbie and one of the black queens over a scarf that Barbie dropped and the other queen stepped on, but Emmy and Loretta stopped it before it came to blows.
Brian and Justin sat for a while in their seats. The kid was still hanging on to Brian's hand and Brian didn't want to let go just yet. But they would have to let go. It wouldn't do to walk up to the tier holding hands. That's something a jocker would never do.
Brian tried to imagine Ron ever holding his hand. That was laughable! No, it was like he had explained to the kid -- sex in prison wasn't about love or even affection. It was about getting your rocks off. Period. There was nothing more to it.
Except... it was obviously something more to the kid. Since sex wasn't an option here. Especially not with what had happened to him in that room. Brian shuddered and found himself gripping the kid's hand even tighter. And the kid looked up at him and smiled.
That was the thing, thought Brian. I'm already in over my head here and I'm not even certain how it happened. The kid is depending on me, not just for protection, but emotionally, too. Yes, emotionally. Too much emotion made Brian very nervous. It was so easy to let your feelings get out of control.
Suck it up, kid, and don't ever let them see you cry. You're a man, no matter what anyone else says, so act like one. Those were Ron's words. That was Ron's training. And his admonitions had helped Brian survive all these years. No, they had not healed him or fixed him, that was impossible. But they had taught Brian how to build a wall around himself that could never be breached. Except....
Except this kid had no walls. No defenses. He was like a fucking open book. And anyone could read what he was thinking, what he was feeling on his beautiful face. And that scared the hell out of Brian.
"Let's go back up. I'm getting tired," said Brian, standing up. The kid still had hold of his hand. "In the morning I'm going to take you over to Administration and find out about those classes."
"Are they like real college classes? With a professor and everything?"
"Sort of," answered Brian. "There are classrooms in the Administration Building and profs come in from Pittsburgh or the local community college and teach things like Basic Writing. Most of the guys in here don't have a lot of formal education."
Justin made a slight face. "I was in an Honors Stream in my high school. And I'd been accepted at the Pittsburgh Institute of Fine Art. I guess there isn't anything I could take that would help me keep up with my studies."
"Not so fast, kid," Brian said. "There are also correspondence classes. After I'd taken just about everything in here that I could take, I took those. Ron was big on me getting in as many classes as possible. I took some Lit classes and History and Political Science and Philosophy with profs from Penn and Carnegie Mellon. I never met the guys, but they wrote to me and gave me assignments and graded my essays. And I got college credit for it. You could do that, too. That's why we need to talk to the woman who's in charge of the educational programs. This would be the beginning of the new semester, just like in a real school, so you want to get started right away."
"Thanks, Brian," Justin said, grinning. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
Brian squirmed a bit. "Oh, you'd get along fine."
Justin's face grew serious again. "I don't think so, Brian."
And they both knew that was the truth. Without Brian's intervention, Justin's Fate would already be settled. Brian pictured the low-riders gathering around him like vultures. Pictured them with Justin in their tip. What they would do with him. What they would turn him into if they could. It was not a pleasant image. And for Brian it wasn't just an image, but a memory that could never be erased.
The kid still wouldn't let go of his hand, so Brian thought, fuck it! If I'm going to rewrite the rules of what it means to be a jocker, then I might as well go all the way. Let's see if anyone challenges me.
Brian knew that there wasn't a man in Stanton who didn't think that he could somehow beat the system -- if only he had a smart lawyer on his side. And the key to beating that system was the Prisoners' Legal Defense. And without Brian there was no PLD.
That was a point that Ron had made clear before he left Stanton. Since he'd no longer be around to protect Brian personally, he made certain that the threat of withholding the legal aid the men depended on would do the protecting for him. If anything happened to Brian, then the prisoners were fucked! Ron would cut them off completely. And it had worked -- so far.
Brian had been surprised at how well even a small threat had worked on Roy in the Chow Hall. Roy didn't want his paperwork held up, so the kid got an extra dessert. Quid pro quo.
Brian and Justin walked through the Chow Hall and back up to the tier. Most of the men were also meandering back to their cells. It would be back to work tomorrow. Back to the grind. Emmy and Barbie were giggling and waving to their friends. Michelle and her old man, Dave, ducked into Michelle's cell for a quickie before lockdown. Ron used to call Movie Night 'Date Night' because all the hooked up pairs usually fucked after the film. Just like on the outside, thought Brian. Fucking Date Night.
Back in the cell, Brian locked the door behind them. He always kept the door locked tight, but it was especially important now. You never knew who might wander in to make a grab for the kid, or even just to take a look at him. Locks were what kept them all inside Stanton, but locks also kept people out. People you didn't want to corner you, alone, in your cell.
"Will the top bunk be a problem for you, kid?" Brian asked.
"No, not at all," Justin replied. "I'm a little stiff, but I can get up and down fine."
"Just don't step on me in the middle of the night if you have to use the can, okay?"
"I'll try not to." Justin grinned at him. It was hard not to smile back at that open face.
Justin undressed and dropped his shirt and pants in one of the piles he'd sorted out on the floor. "Laundry tomorrow. Definitely."
"Whatever you say, Mom," Brian sighed. He'd been out of clean clothes for days.
"It's a good thing I came along, Brian. You really do need someone to take care of you," Justin asserted. He climbed up into the top bunk and pulled back the blanket.
"I take good care of myself," Brian insisted. He stripped off his clothes and tossed them on top of the laundry pile. It would be nice not to have to do that kind of shit anymore. He thought about folding Ron's clean shirts and workpants. He'd always been such a fussy bastard about the way his clothes were folded.
"But I can take better care of you," the kid returned from the top bunk.
"Go to sleep."
Brian settled himself on the lower bunk. It seemed strange to be sleeping there. For nine years he'd been in the top bunk. That's where the junior partner always slept.
Of course, Brian had spent quite a bit of time in this lower bunk, but not much of it sleeping. No, once Ron figured out that his dick didn't really care whether Brian was male or female, then Brian was there whenever Ron wanted him to be. And Brian didn't mind. In fact, he was fucking grateful and not ashamed to prove just how grateful he really was to be out of the low-riders' tip and in the hands of someone who didn't knock him around or keep him doped up constantly.
But after a while it had been more than just gratitude on Brian's part. Brian admired Ron. He more than admired him, he even loved him. Maybe not a romantic kind of love, the way he had felt about Glenn. But that had backfired on Brian in every way possible. That was the reason he was in this place to begin with. That goddamn Glenn. Fucking love. Hero worship. Not being able to see what the truth is because you're so blinded by one person. Brian had promised himself that would never happen to him again. Always hold something back, Kinney. Never give yourself away. Never.
Brian drifted off to the sound of the C.O.'s walking up the tier, locking down for the night. The echo of the doors. Of the locks engaging. The lullaby of Stanton Correctional.
Posted November 23, 2004.