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"I hope you like my new story, Miss Carver," said Justin Taylor.
"I'm sure that I will, Justin." The instructor smiled. "You're my best writer."
The Creative Writing class had only been meeting for a few weeks, but Amy Carver already had hopes that it would be a meaningful experience for both her and her young inmate students. She was especially intrigued by Justin Taylor. He was obviously more educated that the other boys and he seemed so out of place in prison -- well-mannered and articulate in a place where most of the men were sullen and decidedly lacking in communication skills.
"Thanks, Miss Carver. Most of the other guys don't have much of a formal education," Justin admitted. "I've sort of been helping Wes. Just a little. Mainly correcting his spelling and some of his sentences, but that's all. The story is completely his."
"Oh, his stories definitely have the 'Wesley' stamp all over them. But I'm glad you told me. I did notice that Wesley's grammar had improved recently." Amy sighed. "I only wish the boys would write more about things they know. About their lives. Their feelings. Everything Wesley writes is about outer space!"
Justin smiled. "Wes reads a lot of science fiction and comic books, Miss Carver. That's what he likes to read, so that's what he wants to write."
"I realize that, Justin," she returned. "But I'd love it if the boys would write from their own experiences. How they grew up. Their lives here in Stanton. That sort of thing."
One reason Amy Carver had taken the instructor's job in a prison was because she hoped to find some writers with some real life experiences, instead of the usual middle class angst and relationship problems that her community college students detailed in their work. Amy wanted to read something 'real' -- or maybe even find a diamond in the rough she might nurture into a publishable writer with something socially relevant to express. Instead, most of her young inmates were giving her comic book plots!
Justin shook his head. "But those are things the guys would rather not think about, Miss Carver, let alone write about. The guys in class want to escape from prison. That's why Wes writes about outer space. That's the furthest thing from Stanton that he can imagine. That's his fantasy. And Stormy writes about cowboys and the Old West. He doesn't know anything about the West except what he's seen on TV and in the movies, but that's where he wishes he was. Not here, but somewhere else."
"But you write about your life, Justin," Amy maintained. "About your family and your childhood."
"That's MY escape, Miss Carver," said Justin. He picked up his legal pad and pens, along with the collection of short stories by Flannery O'Connor the instructor had recommended. "My childhood. My friends. My school. My parents and sister. The way things WERE. Not the way they are now."
Amy looked at Justin sadly. She knew that he was in on a drug possession conviction, but she didn't know anything about the circumstances of the case or even how long his sentence was. "Maybe you could try to write a little about life in Stanton. What your day is like. The people you know here. About your cellmate, for instance. You've mentioned him a few times in class and how he reads your stories and gives you feedback, but you've never written anything about him."
Justin winced. "I don't think that would be a very good idea, Miss Carver."
"Why not, Justin?" she asked.
"Because...." Justin hesitated. "Because I don't think you'd want to read what I would write. Or what any of the guys -- Wes, Stormy, Zack, Lee, and even Jackie -- would write about if they really wrote the truth."
Amy Carver frowned at her student. "I don't understand, Justin."
Justin looked away. "Wes and Stormy and the other guys would be too embarrassed to write that stuff. Especially to a woman!" Justin replied. "And as for me -- it's too personal. It's hard even to talk about, Miss Carver."
Amy raised her eyebrows. "I'd be very willing to read these personal stories, Justin. Really, it's difficult to shock me. I'm a writer, after all!"
"You say that...." Justin began. He knew he was blushing. "But... for instance, my cellmate, Brian -- he's more than just my cellmate. Much more. Do you know what I mean?"
Amy was taken aback. "You mean that... that you are having a... a relationship with your cellmate? A homosexual relationship?" Amy had read of such things happening in prison, but the inmates she taught had certainly never alluded to it. Until now, at least.
"Yes," Justin said. "Most of the younger guys, like the kids in your class, are hooked up with somebody, Miss Carver. It's a fact of life in the joint. But don't ask Wes or Zack or any of them to write that down. For them it's something they don't want to do, but they have to do. If they're lucky, like Wes and Stormy, then they hook up with someone nice. Someone who will let them do stuff. All the guys in this class are taking it only because their jocks say they can. There are probably 20 other guys whose old man won't allow them to do it. They'd say it was a waste of time. That's the reality when you're some jocker's punk."
Amy Carver had been wrong. Justin HAD shocked her, although she didn't want him to see that she was. She thought about the other boys in her class. Only one of them -- the fluttery Jackie, who wrote stories about movie stars and popular singers -- seemed effeminate to her. The others came across as little tough guys, especially Stormy, who was always flirting with her during class. She tried to imagine her boys -- her students -- being exploited sexually by older, stronger prisoners. That was a very upsetting thought.
"And your... your cellmate, Byron?" Amy said, hesitantly. "He allows you to take my Creative Writing class?"
"Brian. His name is Brian," Justin corrected. "It's different for us, Miss Carver. Our relationship isn't like those others. We're both gay and we knew it before we came to Stanton. But Brian is more than just my jock -- he's my lover. I doubt if Zack or Stormy would use that term about their old men. Brian and I are more than hooked up -- we're partners. There's no force or threat involved. But that doesn't mean I can write about it. Not to you. Not to anyone."
Amy took a deep breath. "Maybe that's why it's important that you should write about it, Justin. Important not to hide your feelings, but to tell the truth. That's what writers do."
"But I'm not a real writer, Miss Carver. I'm an artist," Justin said. "When I draw I feel like I'm telling the truth, but it's hard to write down things that feel too true. Besides, I don't think the other guys want to hear me read some story about my sex life! And I don't blame them!"
"Think about it, Justin. Maybe you could write just for me and not for the entire class. It might help you to work through your emotions," Amy said with concern. "I know that you're frustrated in prison. You're a very intelligent young man and it might make you feel more in control of your life if you can write about that frustration."
"I'll think about it, Miss Carver," Justin promised. "Thanks."
Justin turned and began to walk out of the classroom. Brian was going to meet him downstairs and walk him back to their cell. He didn't like Justin going through the passageway connecting the Administration Building with the Quad by himself, especially in the evening. But Justin stopped when he thought of something.
"You say that you want to read about what life is really like in prison. About our lives here. Do you mean that?" Justin asked.
Amy smiled at the boy. "Yes, of course I mean it, Justin."
"Then would you be interested in reading... something that Brian wrote?" Justin hesitated. No one else but Justin -- and Ron, of course -- had ever read any of Brian's manuscript. But Miss Carver was a real writer. She had published things and taught writing at a college. She would know if Brian's story was really as good as Justin thought it was. Justin had only read bits and pieces of Brian's memoir, but what he had read was compelling. Maybe if the truth about Brian's story came out and people could read it, then they'd understand who he was. Not a murderer or a horrible criminal, but someone who had made one very bad mistake -- and who was now paying for it with his entire life.
"Yes," Amy answered. "If your friend wouldn't mind, I'd love to read what he's written." Amy paused and laughed. "It isn't about outer space or cowboys, is it?"
But Justin didn't smile. "No, Miss Carver, it isn't. Not cowboys or outer space. It's more like a horror story. A horror story that is still going on, every day Brian is in this place. I'll try to bring some of the manuscript next week. Thanks." And Justin left the room and headed down to meet Brian.
A horror story. Amy Carver shuddered. She had wanted to read something truthful and meaningful about prison. Maybe she should never have asked for that. Maybe she had bitten off more than she could chew with this subject, with these inmates. But Amy also knew that she couldn't pass up the chance to read this man's story. In fact, she couldn't wait until next week.
She picked up her briefcase and walked out into the brisk late winter air, thinking about cowboys and outer space -- and young boys locked in iron cages only yards away.
"Jennifer!" said Ron, standing up and coming around to the front if his desk to meet his visitor. "I wasn't expecting you." He took her left hand. It was cold. She should be wearing her gloves in this bitter March weather.
"I can only stay a minute, Ron. I brought you Justin's transcripts. And a list of his teachers from St. James who are willing to vouch for his character," said Jennifer, handing Ron a manila folder. "I hope it will help."
Ron smiled. "Every bit of information that is positive about Justin is in your son's favor," Ron said forcefully. "We want the judge to see what Justin is really like and not the way the prosecutor characterized him at his trial. Everyone who loves him knows that Justin isn't a drug addict or a pusher. That he's an intelligent and talented young man with a promising future!"
"Bless you, Ron!" Jennifer said, flushing bright red. "You've given me so much hope!"
"It would mean everything to me to free your boy, Jen. Everything," Ron asserted. Her hand was warming up in his. "Have you gotten any more letters from him?"
"Yes," she said, taking out Justin's latest. "He's asking for more things for his cellmate, Brian. The man's birthday is coming up soon."
"Yes," Ron replied. "In April." Ron took the letter from Jennifer's hand. Brian's 30th birthday was on April 10th. "Let me look this over and then I can advise you what to send -- and what not to send."
"Thanks so much, Ron! I don't know what I'd do without you. I mean that." Jennifer stood and gazed at the man. While Craig was cold and uncaring, Ron was warm and open. And he was so anxious to help Justin, too! He did such good work for all the prisoners that Jennifer was certain he would find a way for Justin to get out of Stanton. Ron would be her savior -- she was sure of it!
"I do what I can," said Ron.
He still had hold of Jennifer's left hand. He always stared at her so intently. His blue eyes were piercing, like laser beams that went right through her. And he was so handsome, too. His dark hair was touched with gray and his dominating presence always overwhelmed her whenever she stood near him.
Jennifer only reluctantly pulled her hand out of Ron's grasp. "I'm visiting Justin on Thursday. I hate to run, but I really need to go now."
"Must you leave so soon?" asked Ron. He stepped slightly closer to her.
"I have to pick up Molly at school." Jennifer paused. "I'd ask you to ride with me to Stanton on Thursday, but I promised Mrs. Novotny that I would drive her and it might be awkward."
"Of course," said Ron. "I understand perfectly. That's so kind of you to do this woman a favor. So typical of your thoughtfulness, Jennifer."
Ron knew Mikey Novotny. Or Michelle, as he was known as in the joint. A whiny drag queen with the hots for Brian. Ron had warned the little bastard away from Baby more than once. Luckily, Baby never showed any kind of interest in Mikey Novotny.
Ron is so very understanding, thought Jennifer. Poor Mrs. Novotny doesn't have a car, so the only way she can see her son is to take a long bus trip. And I don't mind driving her. She knows what it's like to have a son in prison. I don't feel so alone that way.
"Jennifer," Ron whispered, his lips brushing her golden hair. "Don't forget. Tomorrow. At 1:00. The usual place."
Jennifer paused, licking her lips. "I can't stay more than a hour. What if Craig... or someone else... what if they...?"
"No one will see us, Jen. I promise," Ron returned. "No one we know will be in that part of town."
"I know, but...."
"No 'buts,' my dear. Tomorrow. I'll see you then." Ron opened the door and Jennifer slipped out quietly.
She WAS lovely, Ron thought. And her skin was so soft and pale. Her son, Justin, must have skin like that, too. Soft and pale and blond. But Jennifer was only a diversion, as her son was a mere diversion for Brian. Sex with people like that meant nothing in the long run. It was true emotion that mattered. And history. That connection with Fate. That meant everything. That's what Ron had with Brian. And also what Brian had with Ron -- and with no one else. And nothing was going to break that bond. Ron would see to that.
He sat back down at his desk and opened the folder that Jennifer had given him, glancing through the names of the kid's teachers. He would be out of Stanton quickly. And Brian would forget about him just as quickly.
Ron set the folder aside and focused on the letter he was drafting to Carl Horvath, the warden at Stanton. It was a forceful and well-reasoned request -- no, a DEMAND -- for a Family Visit with Brian. A Conjugal Visit, actually. It wasn't fair that inmates without family connections were denied this privilege. Especially a prisoner with such a spotless record as Brian.
Carl Horvath was very aware of the image of his prison. He liked to see himself as a progressive warden. He was, after all, the man who had cleaned up the corruption at Stanton when he took over the place and closed down the major scams the gangs were running. But recently Horvath had become more lax. And Ron knew a few things about good old Carl. Ron could definitely use that knowledge to swing the Family Visit. The Conjugal.
Yes, Ron had been thinking about that more and more. When he first got out of Stanton the novelty of fucking his wife Jane again had been exciting. Or of having a number of willing women at his disposal. He'd known Julie, his original lawyer at the Prisoners' Legal Defense, for over a decade and he was well aware that she'd had a crush on his for most of those years. So finally getting her into bed was great. And Ron still enjoyed an office quickie with her now and then. Even though her best years were behind her, Julie was still a hippie at heart and she would fuck anywhere, any time. And Jennifer -- yes, she WAS a lovely diversion. But he'd be finished with her once her kid was on parole and out of Ron's hair.
But Baby. That was something he'd never get tired of. That long, tight body. That perfect 9-inch cock. Those green eyes and red lips. Ron had wandered down to Liberty Avenue a few times and picked up guys who reminded him of Brian, but the resemblance had only been superficial. None of them was Baby. None of them had that delicious ass. That mouth like a tub of butter.
Ron worked on the draft of his letter to Warden Horvath. Maybe a personal visit would help things along. Yes, a little talk with Carl Horvath. With the photos of him and Mrs. Novotny together. The awful Mikey's garish mother. Ron shuddered at the thought of Horvath and Debbie Novotny naked. It grated on Ron's tender sensibilities.
But Walter, the detective that the PLD used to gather information for cases, was good. He could get compromising pictures of anyone. Carl would enjoy seeing those snapshots. Ron could picture Carl's face when he saw them. The warden fucking the mother of an inmate! And then Carl would hardly be in a position to deny Ron's request for the Conjugal.
Soon. It would be very soon! Ron reached down and touched his cock through his trousers.
He could hardly wait.
Brian was up on the iron pile with Al and Junior, his buddies from the third tier basketball team, when the new inmate came in.
"Hey," said Junior to the new guy. Junior considered himself to be the leader of the third tier jockers and he always sussed out all the new meat in town.
"Yeah, hey," he returned. He was a big guy, obviously heavily into lifting. His upper body was packed with muscle.
"This is Al and that's Brian over there," said Junior, carefully taking the measure of the new jock.
"Hi, guys," the big guy replied shortly. "I'm Ben." Then he went over into the corner by himself and started working his legs.
"He's a real chatterbox," Brian commented.
"I think he's a little strange," Al added. "Beemer says that he transferred in from the Psycho Center in Harrisburg." The Psychiatric Center was where they routed problem inmates for evaluation for mental problems and drug addiction before sending them on to their assigned prisons.
"The Psycho Center? That's real promising!" Brian snorted.
"Yeah," Al continued. "He's in for beating up some guy and almost killing him with his bare hands. It was 'roid rage.' The guy's a fucking juice pig! He was in the Psycho getting the steroids out of his system."
The three of them watched as Ben started his workout. The guy really was a fucking mass of muscle.
"Jesus, he's like the Incredible Hulk!" said Junior.
"No shit!" Brian laughed. "Remind me not to arm wrestle that guy."
"He's on the second tier," Junior frowned. "You think he's gonna join their b-ball team?"
"He might," Brian replied. "They're losing Dave soon when he gets out on parole, so they're going to need another power forward." Brian looked the new guy and down. "He might fit the bill. Don't know how fast he'd be, though."
"He doesn't need to be fast to scare the hell out of the other team. Jesus! Look at those arms!" Junior shook his head. "You think the juice did all that?"
"That's why they take it, man!" said Al. "But it makes 'em fucking crazy."
"Yeah, crazy enough to break somebody in half -- with his bare hands!" said Brian. "No thanks!"
Al and Junior finished up and headed back to the tier to shower before dinner. Brian took a little more time, waiting until he knew Justin was finished with his afternoon Civics class so Brian could go over and escort him back through the passageway from the Administration Building.
"Hey," said Ben, the new guy. "Brian, right?"
"Yeah," Brian answered, immediately wary. You never knew where you stood with new meat. Especially this guy, Juice Pig. Of course, Brian knew a little about being psycho himself. But that had been a long time ago.
"I've seen you around. In the Chow Hall and the Yard." Ben paused. "With the blond kid."
Brian stiffened defensively. "What about it?" It figures that this new bastard would have his eye on Justin.
"Oh, nothing," Ben shrugged. "Just wondering if you two were hooked up?"
"What do you think?" Brian bristled. "We're hooked up -- tight. So back off."
The two men were almost the same height, but Ben looked like a brick shithouse next to Brian's smooth, lean form. He could probably break me in half, too, if he wanted to, Brian thought. But he couldn't let Ben know that. It was all in the attitude. Brian stared back at the other man evenly.
"Sure, pal, sure," said Ben. "I was just finding out. I don't know that many people here yet and I'm just figuring out what's what."
Brian ran his hands through his messy hair. "All of the punks in here are hooked up already. Some of them will do another guy a favor now and then -- for a price. But find out if the kid's jock knows about it and then give him his cut. Otherwise, it could be trouble."
"Yeah, I understand," said Ben.
"Some of the queens are at loose ends, but you'd need to talk with Emmy about that. She's the head of all the girls in the East Wing," Brian advised. "She can introduce you around."
"Thanks for the scoop, pal. I mean that." Ben rubbed himself with his towel.
"I have to book," said Brian, backing away. "See ya."
"Sure," said Ben. "See you around. And the blond, too. What's his name, again?"
"His name," said Brian, pointedly. "Is 'None-of-Your-Fucking-Business.' Get it?"
"I get it." Ben shrugged. "No offense."
"Yeah, right." Brian picked up his stuff and stalked out of the gym on his way to pick up Justin.
Brian took a deep breath. It was long after lights-out and he and Justin had already fucked twice. But Justin was the kind of person who wanted to talk afterwards, while Brian liked to fuck hard and then fall into a deep, sound sleep.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Is it possible to stop you?"
"Shut up!" said Justin, giving Brian a little pinch.
"This isn't about my stupid birthday, is it?" Brian sighed. "Because I told you that I don't need anything more. I really mean that, Justin. I have more clothes now than I've ever had in here. So don't ask your mother to buy anything else. She's going to think that I'm taking advantage of you."
"She would never think that!" Justin insisted. "She likes getting us stuff. She told me that she does." Justin snuggled closer to Brian. He was nice and warm, better than an electric blanket. "It makes her happy to see me happy."
"I doubt your mom would be very happy if she could see you right now, in bed with a convicted murderer," Brian whispered.
Sometimes he worried about his relationship with Justin. Worried that they were both too emotionally involved much too soon. But neither of them was able to help it. They could barely keep their hands off each other even when they were out on the tier or in the Yard or walking to the Chow Hall. Sometimes Brian had to stop himself and step back, remembering that he needed at least to pretend to keep an emotional distance from the kid in front of the other inmates. But when they were alone, neither of them gave a shit. Everyone in the East Wing knew that they fucked about 5 times a day. It was a running joke on the tier.
"I said shut up!" Justin whispered back. "You know that's not you. You never murdered anyone!"
Brian closed his eyes. "The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would beg to disagree with you, kid. Now go to sleep."
"You know my Creative Writing teacher? Miss Carver?"
"Did she make a pass at you? Go for it, Justin. Maybe you'll be converted."
"She didn't make a pass at me!" Justin pinched Brian again, gently. "And I don't want to be converted. I like dick!"
"Smart boy! And it's a good thing, too, because you're going to get plenty of it living with me. Now go to sleep!"
"Aren't you sleepy at all?"
"Not really." Justin paused. "I want to show my teacher some of your writing. From your manuscript. Just a little bit. Some of the prison stuff."
Brian's stomach clenched. "I don't think so, Justin. What does she want to read that shit for? I'm not in her class."
"I know. But I want her to see it." Justin moved his face against Brian's neck. "I want to her see how good it is."
"It isn't good. It's just the rantings of a frustrated prisoner. Who the fuck wants to read THAT?"
"She does. I did." Justin rubbed his smooth cheek against Brian's rough one. His beard always seemed to start coming in almost as soon as Brian had finished shaving. Justin loved the scratchy sensation on his own sensitive skin. "I think a lot of people would want to read it. People who are interested in the truth."
Brian opened his eyes and stared up at the bottom of the upper bunk. The sagging springs and iron bed frame. The old mattress that Justin never slept on. "People weren't interested in the truth way back when, so why they should they be interested now? No one gives a shit about the Vietnam War or campus radicals or any of that stuff in 1978. It's ancient history. I'm ancient history. Something everyone would rather forget. Even my own fucking family."
"I don't believe that, Brian. And don't YOU believe it, either!" Justin urged. "Please don't give up! It isn't hopeless. It isn't! You'll get a new trial someday, Brian. I know you will!"
"I don't want to talk about it anymore," said Brian, turning over and pulling the blanket up around both of them. "Just go to sleep -- or I'll make you climb up on the top bunk so I can get a little rest."
"Sorry, Brian," Justin whispered. "I'll be quiet."
It was dark and silent on the tier, with only the light from the spotlights outside shining in through the window. Justin watched the light making weird shadows on the wall of the cell. He thought about ways to draw those shadows and make them into living shapes. Part of him wanted to get up and get his sketchbook. But the other part of him wanted to stay in this position. pressed up against his lover in the dark, forever.
Justin closed his eyes and joined Brian in sleep, their arms wrapped around one another, tightly and tenderly.
Posted November 25, 2004.