Go to all chapters of "Medium Security".
Amy Carver walked into her classroom on Tuesday evening at 5 minutes to 8:00. It was empty.
She sat at her desk and opened her briefcase. Amy had the section of Brian Kinney's manuscript that she wanted to return to Justin. But she also had a letter for Justin to give to his cellmate. It was from her friend, Will Foxe, a writer who taught at Carnegie Mellon, discussing the possibility of publication of Brian's book. In the letter Will, who had been very enthusiastic about the manuscript pages that Amy had showed him, suggested what Brian Kinney might do about lawyers and agents. And Will also suggested that certain sections be forwarded to an editor at the 'New Yorker.' If the excerpts were accepted there, they were sure to cause a stir in the publishing world, Amy was certain of it! She had never been so excited about anything in all the time she had been teaching.
Amy waited in her classroom. But no one came.
Finally, at 8:30, Amy began to gather up her material to leave. It was obvious that none of the boys were coming. She couldn't understand it.
Then there was a movement outside the door. It was Jackie. He was standing in the hallway with a tall, extremely thin man. He had long brown hair and an effeminate manner and was wearing a woman's baby blue sweater over his prison shirt.
Amy stared at the pair, who seemed reluctant to enter the classroom. Their eyes were red, as if they had been crying.
"Jackie, please come in," Amy said softly.
"Miss Carver," Jackie sniffed. The boy was clutching some papers in his left hand. "I brought you my story... but I can't stay. I'm sorry." And then he began to cry. The older man put his arm around the boy and patted him. Perhaps this was Jackie's boyfriend? Amy considered this. But from what Justin had told her about the relationships between inmates, Amy had somehow pictured a much more masculine convict as Jackie's prison lover.
"Jackie, whatever is the matter? Where are all the other boys?"
"They couldn't come, ma'am," the effeminate man said with a pronounced Southern drawl. "It's a long story. There was an... an incident in the Yard yesterday."
Amy frowned. "An incident? What kind of incident?"
"Justin!" Jackie cried. Then she added, forlornly, "Brian." And she burst into copious tears.
Amy's mouth opened. She heard Justin's name and held her breath. She had often wondered about the safety of her students in this prison. "What's happened to Justin? Tell me! Has Justin been hurt?"
The thin man shook his head. "He's not hurt, but he's not all right, either, ma'am."
"Who are you?" asked Amy. "Are you Jackie's cellmate?"
"No, ma'am. I'm Emmett Honeycutt," Em answered. Emmy touched Jackie's long hair. Jackie had such pretty auburn hair, but she needed to style it better, Em thought. But she's young. She'll learn. She'd already learned a lot about things in her young life. Learned too much, maybe. "I'm Jackie's friend. Come on, babydoll. We best be getting back." Em took Jackie by the arm.
"Wait a moment, Mr. Honeycutt," said Amy. "Please?"
"We have to go back now," Em said, her lips tight.
But Amy persisted. "Won't you tell me what's going on? I want to know if Justin is in some kind of trouble. If he is, then maybe I can help him!"
"I don't think so," Emmy whispered. "He can't even help himself right now."
"Perhaps if I could talk to his cellmate, Brian?" Amy went on. "I actually have some news for him. About his manuscript. I wrote to Justin, giving him as many of the details as I could, but now I have a letter from my friend, Will Foxe, for Brian. Will is a writer with a lot of connections in the publishing world. It's extremely important that Brian get this information!"
Jackie's bottom lip began to quiver again. And then he wept even harder than before.
Emmy's face was stern. "You'll need to speak to the authorities, ma'am. We can't help you. Maybe no one in here can help you."
"But what about class for next week?" said Amy, following the pair into the hallway. At the end of the hall two more men were waiting for Jackie and Em -- a short, dark-haired man and another with long, frizzy blond hair. Their faces also were solemn and their eyes red.
But the tall, effeminate man shook his head. "Ask the warden, ma'am, if you really want to know. If you can stand to know. Good evening to you now."
"Wait!" called Amy. But the inmates disappeared down the stairwell, on their way back to the Quad, where Amy Carver could not follow.
Wesley was having another nightmare.
He was trying to run in two different directions at once.
Trying to save two people at the same time, but he couldn't save either one of them.
He thought that his lungs would burst, his heart would break, he was running that hard.
He tried. He really, really tried. But nothing he ever did was right.
There was blood everywhere. Wesley had never seen so much blood. Never heard so much yelling. The C.O.'s had their guns drawn. Jackie and Michelle were crying. Emmy was barking orders at everyone. The Juice Pig was kneeling on the ground. And Al's face was white and strained. Wesley had never seen his old man at a loss for what to do, or for what to say.
And finally, Justin was standing there, alone, as the ambulance pulled away. His pants and shirt were drenched with red. His hands and his hair, too. That's when the C.O.'s took Justin by the arms and dragged him away. He never made a sound then. Never said a word.
You weren't fast enough, Wesley, You weren't strong enough, Wesley. You're a coward. You didn't do anything but run. Fucking coward!
There was blood on Wesley's shoes, where he had stepped in the grass. And blood on his fingers where he tried to wipe it off. Blood all over.
You'll never get out of here. This is what you are. A punk. Nothing. You can't do anything. Worthless kid.
Wesley sat up in the upper bunk, crying. Gasping for breath.
"Be quiet up there!" snapped Al from the lower bunk. He was in a horrible mood. Everyone on the tier was in a horrible mood. Everyone in the whole East Wing.
Wesley and Al had gone down to dinner, but no one could eat anything. The men talked in whispered tones about what was going to happen next. About who was to blame.
When they talked about blame, Wesley felt sick to his stomach, thinking they were all staring at him. Worthless little punk!
The low-riders' table was empty. No one sat there, as if it were cursed. Hoss was in The Hole and Cisco was locked in the secure unit of the Hospital Wing. Wesley couldn't get Cisco's animal-like howls out of his head. Cisco had rolled on the ground, the shank sticking out of him, screaming about his dick, until the orderlies from the Hospital had strapped him to a stretcher and carried him away. The remaining low-riders were in lockdown. Word was that they all were going to be transferred out of Stanton, but it was too soon to know the truth about that.
After chow Wesley and Al trudged back up to the tier. The Rec Room was deserted and the TV Room closed. All the men went back to their cells and sat in them, brooding. No one went to the Gym or even out onto the Yard unless they needed a smoke real bad. The entire prison was holding its breath.
When Wesley passed Justin's cell it was dark in there. He didn't see a movement or hear so much as a sigh. Justin was in lockdown, too, just like the low-riders. Another tray of untouched food sat by the door, just inside of the cell. Every tray of food that was placed inside Justin's door was untouched.
None of the boys went to class on Tuesday night. Emmy, along with Michelle and Barbie, had walked Jackie over to Miss Carver's to give her Jackie's story, but none of them could tell the woman what had happened. Nobody wanted to discuss what had happened, but nobody could think about anything else.
Stanton Correctional wasn't used to violence. Unlike the State Pen or some of the hard-core joints, Stanton was noted for its relative calm. Warden Horvath had made certain of that during his tenure. That's why Al told Wesley that the low-riders were on their way out for sure. They were troublemakers and Horvath hated trouble. The warden should have kicked their asses out of Stanton ages ago! Now Hoss had lost his chance for easy time in medium security and Cisco was facing even more serious charges. Neither would be missed in the Quad.
But Justin.... Wesley didn't know what would happen to Justin. No one had seen him since he'd been taken back to his cell and locked down. Al and the Juice Pig and Emmy and even some of the Latino guys who had been playing softball on the diamond swore to the C.O.'s that the kid was acting in self-defense when he stuck Cisco with the biker's own shank, but sometimes that excuse didn't wash with the cops. They might take Justin away, maybe even to a max joint, where the guys were in for violent crimes and home-made weapons were a fact of life. It was dog eat dog in maximum security. That would be horrible. So Wesley was afraid for his pal. Very, very afraid.
Maybe that's why Wesley was having those nightmares. All that fear. He used to have them a lot when he first got put in the joint. He'd been in juvenile detention a couple of times, the first time with his older brother when he was 16 and Dennis was 18. But then Denny went into the Coast Guard and Wesley started hanging out with his cousin. That's where he learned to boost cars, from his cousin Buddy. But they got caught and Buddy had a stolen gun and some warrants out for him. So Buddy went to the maximum joint outside of Philly and Wesley ended up in Stanton.
He'd been lucky to hook up right away with a strong jocker like Al, especially when he thought about what had happened to Justin with the low-riders. Wesley had been raped a couple of times in juvie and once in the county lock-up right after he and his cousin were picked up, but it had only been one guy each of those times, and not a gang. After the first time he was fucked, Wesley came to expect it. He knew that he had 'punk' written all over him, so he gritted his teeth and took it. Even Stormy and the other punks did it to him.
But never Justin. Justin was his friend, the first one Wesley had ever had. They were real pals. Justin always looked out for him. But when Justin needed him, when Justin depended on him, Wesley had failed.
He closed his eyes, but he was afraid to go to sleep. Afraid to dream of all that blood streaming into the grass. Afraid that Brian's still body and Justin's frenzied sobs would haunt his sleep. Maybe forever.
Sergeant Tully unlocked the door of the cell and let Emmy go in.
"See what you can do with him, Honeycutt," said Tully.
Of all the C.O.'s in the East Wing, Sergeant Tully was the easiest to get along with. He was an older man and not a hard guy and he tried to treat the inmates on his watch like human beings and not like animals. Right now he was concerned about the kid. He hadn't eaten or even moved inside his cell in the three days he'd been in lockdown. But now Warden Horvath wanted to talk to Justin. The kid needed to get himself together, clean himself up, and be ready to answer the warden's questions. And he needed to do it soon, before the C.O.'s did it for him.
"Justin, honey?" said Em, tentatively. The cell was dark, even though it was the middle of the afternoon. "It's Em."
Nothing. Emmy could see the form huddled on the bottom bunk, motionless. For one awful moment Em was afraid that Justin was dead, he was so still, but then he heard a soft sniffling.
"Justin, it's time to get up now! The warden wants to see you, hon. Up, up up!"
Emmy turned on the light over the sink. He could see Justin lying on the bunk, his arm over his face. And he could see that the blood on the boy's workpants and shirt had dried to a dark, ugly brown. The smell of blood and sweat and anguish hung over the cell like a pall.
Emmy approached the bunk and touched Justin's arm gently. His skin was clammy.
Justin jerked his arm away and buried his face deeper into the pillow.
"Justin," said Em, more firmly. "You have to get up. You get undressed and I'll help you wash up." Emmy pulled a clean pair of pants, a tee shirt, and underwear from the shelf and laid them on the top bunk. "Here are your clothes, honey. Now if you'll just get up?"
Emmy stood back, giving the boy a little space.
But Justin didn't move. His leg twitched slightly and Em heard that sniffling sound again. But nothing more.
Em knelt down next to the bunk. "Justin, listen to me. If you don't get up yourself, then the C.O.'s are going to come in here and clear you out. Sergeant Tully asked me to help you get dressed. Come on, babydoll -- the sergeant is a nice guy. He's giving you one more chance. Don't blow it, Justin. I'm here to help you."
Em reached out to stroke Justin's hair comfortingly, but the boy lashed out at her. His hair was wild and his face looked feral in the dim light. Emmy pulled back, afraid that Justin was going to hit her.
"I'm trying to help you, you little idiot!" Em whispered fiercely. She paused. "Is this the way Brian would want you to behave? Like a petulant little child? Is it?"
"Fuck off," the boy said, his voice low and hoarse.
"Let me get you some water," said Em. "You have to be thirsty."
"Fuck OFF!" Justin said, louder and more violently. And he kicked out in Em's direction.
Emmy stood up and back to the door of the cell. "I'm sorry, honey," Em said sadly. "I'm sorry that things are fucked up. But there's nothing anyone can do about that. Except go on. Are you hearing me, Justin? Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Em knocked on the door of the cell and Sergeant Tully opened it. "Any luck?" he asked.
"None." Em walked out and the C.O. locked the door again. "What will happen now?"
"The warden wants the kid in his office," said Tully. "And that means that the kid will be in his office."
At 4:00 the men returned to their cells on the third tier for afternoon head count and lockdown. The C.O's hurried them into their cells. Then Lieutenant Clayton appeared, shouting at the C.O.'s and telling the men to step back away from their doors. Something was going on.
Clayton ordered the door of Justin's cell racked. "Get up, punk," the lieutenant snapped, rapping his baton against the bars. "Get up and get dressed. The warden is waiting for you."
But Justin didn't move. He didn't even acknowledge that he'd heard the C.O.'s words.
Lieutenant Clayton had three guards from the South Wing with him. They were more used to dealing with recalcitrant prisoners than the C.O.'s regularly assigned to the East Wing. Clayton nodded and the C.O.'s dragged Justin off the bunk and threw him on the floor of the cell.
But Justin fought like his life depended on it. He kicked and spit and hit out with his fists in a way that he had tried to do with the low-riders. Tried and failed. Justin was a slight, weakened, and tormented boy, but it took three large guards to haul him to his feet and cuff his hands behind his back.
As they pulled him through the door of the cell, Justin began to shriek. He was crying and yelling incoherently, as if he'd forgotten what language was. All the men on the third tier rushed to see what was going on, pressing their faces against the bars. But they knew where the sound was coming from. They knew who was making it and they knew why.
"I said to step back from your doors!" Lieutenant Clayton ordered. "I mean it! Everyone get back! Now!"
"Justin!" Wesley cried out wretchedly. "Where are you taking him? Justin!"
"Shut the hell up and get back away from that door, you little bastard!" the lieutenant barked at Wesley, raising his baton threateningly.
The terrified Wesley burst into tears, but his jocker, Al, began rattling their cell door as hard as he could. Then Junior and Stormy across the way began rattling their door. Then Beemer and Andy. And then all the men, all the way down the third tier, began rattling their doors and stamping their feet and banging anything that would make a noise against the bars in protest.
The men on the second tier heard the racket above them and they joined in the protest. And then so did the first tier, until the whole East Wing was in an uproar as the C.O.'s dragged Bri Baby's kid, his clothes dark and crusted with dried blood, still shrieking like a banshee and fighting like a desperate animal, along the tier, down the stairwell, and out of the Quad.
All he wanted to do was to go to that beautiful place.
He could see it in the distance. It looked exactly the way he'd described it. Green and sweet-smelling. A valley that was untouched by time, ringed by sheltering hills.
And the sky -- he'd seen that blue before. He'd looked deep into that blue. And that blue had looked back at him, trustingly. Lovingly. Unconditionally.
That's what made it such a foreign country. He was used to a lot of things. Lust. Obsession. Betrayal. Cruelty. Pragmatism. But not love. That was a place he had thought he'd visited before, only to realize that it was a different place altogether.
And the golden horse. He could see it, running, its white tail and mane flowing behind it like clean water. Running.
There were no walls and no fences. No towers and no guards. Nothing to stop you. Nothing but those protective hills, and even they weren't there to keep you in, but to keep evil out.
Sometimes he heard voices. But they didn't speak words. Or at least, they didn't speak words he could understand. They talked over him. Around him. Never TO him. Because he wasn't really there.
No, he was in that beautiful place. That's where he would stay. Stay forever.
It was easy. You just let yourself go. He had tried to go there before, but someone had stopped him. Someone evil. Someone who only wanted him to go on in captivity, like a bird chained to a stake. Or like that golden horse, tied and hobbled in a dirty yard, his head down, his sides heaving.
They wouldn't do that to him again. Never again. He was free.
Some parts of him were cold and others hot. Burning hot. There was a hot pain in his side, in his gut. He was floating over that pain, but he could still feel the burning. The sensation of falling. Of water being drained from a clear glass. Of blood being drained from a worthless entity.
Go away. Don't stop me. I'm almost free.
But then he heard the crying.
It was far away from here. It wasn't in this room or even in this building. It was in his head. It was in his heart.
He could hear it.
Hear it like it was right next to him.
It started as a moan and then built to something not human. Something primal. Pure animal anguish.
The sound of a creature that had lost all possible hope.
Wailing. Wailing in the darkness.
And forever shut out of that beautiful place.
He tried to reach out his hand and find that pain. But he was too weak. He was too far away. He could hear it, but it was denied to him. The beautiful hills were blocking it out. And he was getting further and further distant from that other world. Backing away from it.
He couldn't reach out anymore. It was too hard.
Then he heard the sound again. Louder and more desperate. Fighting. It was being hurt again. Tormented again.
Don't give up! Fight back! Fight on!
The beautiful place was covered in a fog. It was veiled until he couldn't see the golden horse or the blue hills. And the sky was graying with a cold spring rain.
He turned back.
Towards the sound. He could stop that crying. That was something he could do. Something that he had to do.
He could stop that pain.
The beautiful place could wait. It would still be there. It would always be there. When he was ready.
When they were both ready.
He tried to open his eyes, but they were too heavy.
He tried to call out, but he couldn't make a sound.
He reached out with his heart, with his soul. Cast it out as far as he was able, until he touched that pain. Until he touched the shoulder of that grief and squeezed it gently.
I'm still here.
And I'm coming back.
Wait for me.
Posted November 29, 2004.