Go to all chapters of "Medium Security".
"Try to raise it a little slower," said Ben. "You aren't trying to prove a point, you're only trying to build up your strength a little."
"This is ridiculous," huffed Brian in frustration. "This fucking little weight! I should be able to toss it around like a pencil and I can hardly lift it over my head!"
Ben had brought a couple of small hand weights down from his cell and he had Brian sitting on a blanket in the small garden area of the Hospital wing, trying to work his weak and aching muscles.
Brian had only been working with the weights for about 10 minutes, but he was already drenched in sweat. He hated for Ben -- or anyone -- to see just how weakened he actually was. In prison physical weakness could be deadly. Brian had labored in the gym long and hard over the years to build himself up from a scrawny and helpless punk to a lean, but toned and strong man. And now he was reduced to leaning on Justin to walk more than a few yards.
"You have to take it a little bit at a time. Remember what the Tao says -- 'The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,'" said Ben.
Brian stared at the Juice Pig. "The Tao?"
"Yeah," replied Ben. "'The Tao Te Ching.' Ancient Chinese book of wisdom."
"Yes, I know what it is," said Brian. "You're really getting into this Eastern religion stuff, aren't you, Ben?"
Ben shrugged. "I'm learning."
"You sound like a bad Charlie Chan movie when you quote that shit. You know that, don't you?" Brian commented.
"I don't care," Ben answered. "Everybody needs something to believe in. A way to live your life. It's another philosophy. And it's interesting. Helps me to focus."
Brian snorted. "You writing to that guy at Carnegie Mellon? That professor? Is he sending you that stuff?"
"Yeah," said Ben. "He's sending me a lot interesting books. And he writes me some letters that really make me think, Bri. It's good to think about something other than what's for dinner tonight."
Brian laughed. "Your professor is no better than Andy's pen pal women! He just wants to write to a hot inmate and fantasize about prison sex! I've seen it before."
"I don't care why he writes me," Ben stated. "As long as he writes. And as long as he sends me more books. If he gets off on it, I don't care."
"What does Michelle think about your little correspondence course?" Brian asked.
"Nothing," said Ben. "Why should she? It has nothing to do with her. I don't tell her not to read her comic books." Ben grinned. "And I don't see you throwing out those letters that your old cellmate sends you. What does Justin think about THAT?"
Brian looked away. "It has nothing to do with Justin. What Ron writes me is about business. It's about cases and other legal matters that need to be discussed."
"I'm sure," said Ben.
"Just drop it, okay?" Brian bristled. He thought of the letter that was sitting by his bedside back in the annex room. A letter from Ron that had come that very day, just before Ben arrived to help him with his physical therapy. "Give me that other fucking weight. Let me try that one."
"Try lifting one in each hand," suggested Ben. He supported Brian's back while the other man slowly raised the hand weights over his head.
Brian's arms and wrists were shaking and a pain shot through his side. "Shit," Brian whispered, letting his arms fall. His side was aching, the area of his wound throbbing like a heartbeat.
"I think that's enough for now," said Ben. "You did better than yesterday, when you couldn't even lift one of those weights."
"Yeah," said Brian, bleakly. "I'm making great progress."
"'The journey of a thousand miles....'"
"I know. You have to begin with one step," Brian sighed. "But why does that step have to be so fucking painful?"
Ben helped Brian to his feet. Brian had always been thin, but he'd also been solid, his arms and body hard and tough. But now he felt wasted, like a robust wind could knock him over. But Ben knew that it wasn't the body that would make the difference in the end, but Brian's will. And Ben knew that Brian's will was still strong. It had to be, or he never would have lasted in prison this long.
Brian stretched very slowly. He felt so tight and feeble. He wondered when he'd ever feel right. When he'd feel like himself again. The summer was slipping away and he couldn't even walk out to the Yard, let alone take a run. He shook himself. Self-pity was fucking useless.
A lot of things were fucking useless.
The problem was figuring about what exactly wasn't useless. And wondering if anything ever made any difference, in the long run.
Ben helped Brian towel off. Ben lingered over Brian's chest and legs. Lingered a little too long for Brian's comfort.
Ben was hot. Under different circumstances they would probably have gotten together, at least furtively. He knew that Ben wasn't simply a jocker. Ben was gay, too, and had been before he was convicted. But no one else knew that, not even Michelle. It was dangerous for the other jocks to know that. Brian and Ben had discussed it and Brian suggested that Ben keep his mouth shut about it for his own protection. Ben was a big, strong guy with a lot of power in the East Wing, but you never knew how the men might turn on him if they knew he was a real faggot.
It was different for Brian. He'd never been anything but a fag and a punk. The men accepted that because they respected Brian's survival skills and courage and because they needed his legal expertise. But for Ben, whose main strength in the Quad was his overt masculinity, it could be a disaster if everyone knew that he sucked cock.
Ben picked up his weights and then helped Brian make his way back to the annex room.
"You want to get back into bed?"
Brian shook his head. "No, I think I'll wash up and then sit in the chair for a while. I'm sick of that goddamn bed."
Ben glanced at the wall clock. "Justin should be back from his class soon. This is a new class he's taking, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Sociology. It's supposed to help inmates understand the social forces that created a culture of criminality in the United States." Brian smiled. "That's from the syllabus the professor gave Justin. He sounds like a pretentious prick."
"Justin should eat that stuff up," said Ben. "He's a smart kid."
"He is," Brian agreed. "Sometimes he's too smart for his own good."
"I'll see you tomorrow, Bri," said Ben before he left. "Don't over-do things. Remember -- 'Hard and rigid will be broken, but soft and yielding will prevail.'"
"Thanks for the advice, Charlie Chan," Brian replied.
When Ben was gone, Brian picked up the letter from Ron and read it again. His manuscript. Justin had taken it -- stolen it -- and given it to that woman, even after Brian told him not to do it. All his private feelings. His words. His life. All the humiliations he'd lived through. All the pain and fear. Strangers were reading those words. Strangers were looking into his guts, into his soul. Or what was left of his soul. And there was nothing that he could do about it.
How could Justin do it to him? How could he betray him like that? All Brian had ever wanted to do was hide himself away and now he was open and raw. He didn't know which wound was more severe, the one from Cisco's shank, which was given in hate, or the one from Justin's actions, which was given in love. Or what Justin thought was love.
Brian swallowed and smoothed the letter under his fingers.
He waited for Justin to return from his class.
When Justin came into the ward he was whistling.
He enjoyed the Sociology class. Some of the men in the class were older, not just punks trying to get credits for their High School Equivalency, but men working on college degrees. A few of them were extremely well-read and they challenged the professor on some of his pronouncements and on things stated in the texts assigned, especially on issues of crime and justice.
Justin wished that Brian was taking the course with him, wished he was well enough to take it. With his legal background, Justin was certain that Brian would have a lot to add to the discussion.
It was a beautiful June day. Ben was supposed to come over and help Brian with his physical therapy again. They'd just begun that process. Dr. Caputo had okayed it, telling Brian that his wound was healed enough so that it was unlikely to break open or drain from a little physical activity.
Maybe later Brian would even try to walk out into the Yard. Justin could hold him up on one side and either Em or Ben could stand on his other side. Justin knew that Brian didn't want anyone to see how vulnerable he was, but all the men knew he'd been wounded. They understood what had happened to him. It wasn't weak to show them the consequences of that skirmish on the Yard. Brian wasn't soft -- he was brave! He'd stood up for his cellmate, for his punk! He'd stood up for what belonged to him and all the men could respect that.
"I'm not leaving here until I can walk out on my own," Brian had stated firmly. "Not until I can walk out on the Yard or climb up to the tier without having to lean on a punk or a queen to do it!"
Justin understood Brian's pride on that point, but he thought it was misguided. No one was more admired in the East Wing for what he'd done than Brian. And even in the tougher South Wing, the men were glad to see the low-riders broken up and dispersed.
Even Baraka had stopped by the Hospital to give Brian a book on Malcolm X, so, he said, "You can understand the struggle."
Brian had smiled and taken the book. "I've read this already -- a couple of times," he said.
"Then we'll talk about it -- when you feel better," the leader of the Bros had answered.
It was quiet in the ward. Em was off duty and a lot of the patients were dozing in the afternoon heat.
Justin walked into the annex room and Brian was sitting in the wooden chair next to the bed.
"How was your session with Ben? Did you use the weights?"
"Yes," said Brian, shortly.
"What's the matter?" said Justin, with concern. "Are you okay? Did you hurt yourself?"
Brian didn't reply. He held out a piece of paper. A letter.
"What's that?" Justin frowned.
"It's from Ron," said Brian. "Read it."
Justin didn't want to read anything from Ron. Anything Ron had to say to Brian was bound to be trouble. No wonder he was in a bad mood!
"No," said Justin, taking a step backwards.
"Read it!" Brian demanded. There was anger in his voice. Anger and hurt.
Justin took the letter. He began reading and, as he read, Justin could feel the excitement rising in him.
"Brian!" he cried. "This is wonderful! This is exactly what I hoped would happen! They want to publish your stuff in the 'New Yorker'! And Ron's contacted an agent! It's going to be a book!" He looked at Brian with pride. "I KNEW it was good! I told Miss Carver that it was good! That your story was true! This means that you're going to get out! I know you will! I KNOW it!"
Then Justin saw the look on Brian's face. A grim, haunted look.
"Brian -- what's wrong?"
"You gave that woman my pages. My private, personal thoughts," he said quietly. "Things I've never even said aloud to another person. Things I couldn't say to anyone. That's why I wrote them down. To get them out of my head. To get them out of my gut, where they were killing me." Brian took a deep breath. "I started writing that journal a few years ago when I thought that I couldn't take it anymore. I thought about killing myself. That's all I thought about. I didn't see any hope for myself. All I saw was year after year of being in the Quad. I tried taking classes. Working at the Law Library. Pretending that I wasn't all fucked up inside. But I WAS fucked up inside. And I didn't see an end to it."
"No, I'm talking right now," said Brian. "I want you to hear the reason I wrote those pages. Why I did it. And why I let you read them. I couldn't tell anyone what I was feeling. Not even Ron. I tried to talk to the psychologist, but he only wanted to hear the gory details. He was a fucking voyeur and I could tell he was getting off on what I was telling him, so I couldn't go back there. I even tried the priest. Not Father Bob, but the guy before him. And all he wanted me to do was 'repent of my sins.' He looked at me and saw a prison whore. He knew that I was Ron's punk and that I'd been worse than that. All he could offer was his fucking religion! Just like my goddamn mother! I was a sinner and that was that. I was going to Hell. And I thought, 'Well, haven't I already BEEN in Hell? How much worse could the real place be?' So I bought some pills from some guy in the South Wing and every night I sat and looked at them, trying to work up enough courage to take them."
Brian stopped for a minute and looked down at his hands in his lap. He couldn't look up into Justin's eyes.
"But Ron knew that something wasn't right. He was watching me. And he found the fucking pills and flushed them down the toilet. Then he gave me a good, hard slap to wake me the fuck up. He told me that if I didn't trust anyone enough to tell what was bothering me, then I should tell myself. And he sat me down in the Law Library for an hour every day and I wrote. I wrote and then I put the pages into the file cabinet. I knew that he was reading what I wrote, but we never talked about it."
"But Brian! What was the point of writing everything down if not to HELP yourself?" Justin asserted. "This might get you out of here! Having people know what happened to you! Having them know the truth! That's what will happen when your manuscript is published! It could get you a new trial! People will SEE that you're innocent!"
"No, Justin!" said Brian, standing up slowly and painfully. "They'll see some kind of fucking freak! Something that isn't really a man! Do you think people will stop to think about what it's really like in prison? What you have to do to survive? No! They'll see that someone they already despised -- me! -- was a fucking degenerate all along and only proved it once he got into the joint! THAT is what they'll see! You think they'll want to free such a creature? Turn him loose on decent society? Are you out of your fucking mind?"
"Brian! That isn't so!" said Justin, desperately. "They'll see someone who had an injustice done to him. Someone who was hurt and bloodied, but who wasn't broken. Someone who's respected. Someone who is... brave. That's what they'll see!"
Brian limped to the window and stared out. There were a lot of men on the Yard, in the sun.
"They'll see something repellant. They won't see ME -- they'll see IT. You don't understand, Justin. You think that people will read what happened to me and have their eyes opened to the truth. But what they'll really see is what they want to see and always have seen. A criminal. Even my own fucking parents don't believe in me, so why should a bunch of strangers?" Brian turned and looked at Justin. "I only showed it to you in the first place so you'd know that bad things had happened to me, too, and that I understood what you were going through. So you wouldn't feel alone. I told you not to give that woman my manuscript, but you lied to me and did it anyway! I know you think you were doing the right thing, but... but I can't trust you anymore, Justin. I can't trust you ever again."
"NO! Don't say that!" Justin crossed the room and put his arms around Brian.
The man flinched and his body tightened. "Go away. Go back up to your tier."
"I won't!" Justin replied. "I'm NOT leaving!"
Brian shook off Justin's touch. "I should have followed my fucking instincts way back when and taken those pills before I wrote a single word! Fuck Ron and his suggestions! It figures that both he AND you think that exposing me to the entire world is a great idea!"
"But... if you hadn't been here, Brian, if you hadn't taken me and protected me, then think about what would have happened to me," Justin said, standing alone. "It would have been me, too, in the bikers' tip. What they did to me was bad enough, but if you hadn't been here it would have been so much worse. So even if you never speak to me again, never want to look at my face again for as long as you live -- thank you, Brian. And I love you."
Justin turned and stumbled away, his eyes blinded by his tears. He had only wanted to save Brian. To return the favor somehow. To free him. To give him that gift. And now it had all gone wrong. He had misunderstood the meaning of the manuscript. It wasn't just a story that could be shown to anyone. It was a piece of Brian's soul, only meant to be shared with the person closest to him. And now Justin had betrayed him. And so had Ron. And that left Brian with no one.
Justin pulled at the annex room door. It suddenly seemed too heavy. Justin stopped and leaned his head against it, weeping.
Then he felt a hand on his shoulder. Holding him. Pulling him closer. Pressing his face against Brian's tee shirt.
"Don't go," whispered Brain. "Please."
"I won't," Justin said. "I'll never go. I promise."
"Brian, I think you should lie down now," said Justin. He could feel how shaky Brian was. How he still winced whenever someone even came close to touching the area around his healing wound.
"I guess I'm a little tired," Brian admitted.
Justin guided him to the bed and Brian climbed onto it, gingerly.
"How did your session with the Juice Pig go?" Justin asked.
"It was hard," said Brian, bitterly. "I hate being weak. I hate being dependent on anyone. It makes me feel like a fucking sitting duck. Like I can't protect myself -- or you."
"You don't need to protect me, Brian," Justin replied. "Everything is fine right now." He pulled himself onto the bed next to Brian and curled gently against his long body.
Brian shook his head. "No, Justin, never lull yourself into believing that you don't need protection. Or that we both have to watch our backs every minute of the day. This place may be calm right now, but it's still a prison. A zoo full of unstable animals. Never believe anything else, Justin. Don't fool yourself. You can't trust anyone."
"Except you, Brian."
Brian gazed at the boy and Justin shuddered. "Always put yourself first, Justin. Always. If you have the chance to save yourself, then do it. Don't worry about me. Don't worry about anyone else. The day may come when you'll have to leave me behind. No, not MAY -- it WILL come. And it'll come sooner than you think."
"No, Justin," Brian said. "You're a short-termer. I know it seems to you that you've been in the Quad forever and that you'll never get out, but that's because you're so young. Time always crawls too slowly when you're young. But the day will come when you pack up your shit, shove your government issue into the trash, put on your civilian clothes, and walk out the door. When that happens, don't look back. NEVER look back! I mean it."
"I couldn't," Justin said. "I could never just... just walk out and leave you behind."
"You can," Brian replied. "And you will. It's what you should do. And what you have to do."
"I don't think that I can," Justin whispered. "That's why you HAVE to get out, too! That's why I gave Miss Carver your manuscript. It seemed the only way to let everyone know what had happened to you. To make them see that you were innocent." Justin sniffed and wiped his nose gently. "That way we would both get out together. I didn't want to think about... about...." Justin couldn't continue. The picture of Brian, alone in their cell, maybe for years to come, was something that was constantly in his mind. Which was why is could NOT come true! Justin wouldn't let it come true!
"You CAN," Brian repeated. "That's why it's important to take your classes. It gets your head ready for when you leave here. The last thing I want is for you to get 'institutionalized.' To end up like Stormy or Lee. They're barely older than you are, but prison is already the center of their lives. They've been in and out of different joints for years. Juvie, country jail, now medium security. The next step for them is maximum security. The State Pen. That's THEIR Fate. But it isn't yours, Justin. You can leave here and go forward with your life. You have to go forward, even if that means leaving behind people who were important to you in the joint. That's why Ron will always be chained to the past. He can't let go of his years in Stanton. And he can't let go of me. If he'd really been smart, he would have packed up his wife and kids and his life and gone to another city, another state. Gotten as far away from the Quad as possible. Started a new life. But he didn't. And that was Ron's big mistake. Don't let it be your mistake, Justin."
Justin lay his head against Brian's chest and closed his eyes. "I said that I wouldn't leave you."
"I know. But you have to do what you have to do. A man has to know when to let go. And when that time comes -- don't turn around. Don't have any regrets." Brian touched Justin's golden hair. "Okay?"
"Okay," Justin murmured.
But it wasn't okay, thought Justin. How could it be okay? How could Justin walk out of the Quad, knowing that Brian would be there for another 10 years? Or maybe even longer? How could he not look back? Not think about Brian every minute of the day? He couldn't imagine that life. A life where his body was free, but his heart was still locked in Cell E-320, Stanton Quad?
Justin rolled off the bed and dragged the wooden chair over to the door, leaning it against the knob. There was no way to lock the annex room, but the chair served to give a few seconds of warning that someone was trying to come in. But at this time of the afternoon Justin doubted that anyone would enter the room. The patients were sleeping and Dr. Gomez, who was on duty, would be doing paperwork. And Em wouldn't come into the ward until that evening, so he wouldn't look in on them.
Then Justin pulled off his tee shirt and dropped his workpants and shorts on the cracked linoleum floor. He opened the drawer of the bedside table and pulled out a plastic container of Vaseline.
Vaseline was greasy and it had a medicinal smell and taste, but it was better than what most of the inmates used. Hair pomade. Cream rinse. Hand lotion. Some of the cooks did a brisk business trading a cup of Crisco for a pack of cigarettes. Some of the less fussy jocks even used grease from the machine shop, although that made Brian cringe. But access to the Hospital meant that Justin could get small jars of the preferred Vaseline without too much trouble. Once Emmett had obtained a tube of KY jelly from a shipment that one of the doctors had ordered to use in examinations, but Em had taken that back up to his own cell to save for a very special occasion.
"Be careful," Brian breathed as Justin climbed on top of him.
Justin knew from previous attempts that he had to move slowly and keep his own weight from pressing against Brian's sore side. The hospital bed was narrow and didn't have a lot of bounce, but they were used to the confined space of the cell bunk, so that wasn't a problem. The main difficulty was control.
Justin slicked up Brian's cock with the Vaseline and then applied some to himself. He knew that Brian was in too much pain to thrust too hard or too long, so Justin jacked Brian's dick vigorously with his greasy fingers until it was fully stiff, curving up towards his stomach. Then Justin lowered himself very slowly, while Brian held his dick in place. Brian gasped a little, both at the tightness around his cock and from the strain on his muscles, but he focused on holding himself steady while Justin moved up and down. Justin braced himself with his left hand, while his right stroked his own cock. He moved faster and harder until he could feel Brian's hips buck upward. Brian reached up to hold Justin into place as he came inside his ass, while Justin jerked himself off until he also came.
Justin rolled off and stretched out next to Brian. "Are you okay?"
"Equal amounts of pain and pleasure," Brian sighed. "Just the way it should be."
"Someday we'll have a big double bed with satin sheets and big fur-covered pillows!" said Justin. "I know! A waterbed! It'll be like fucking on top of the ocean."
"I hope you don't get seasick," Brian said, smiling. "I think a plain old bed in a plain old room where we can just have a little privacy would be all right with me." He closed his eyes. "Nothing fancy. Just a room that's all ours. Without anyone looking in at you through bars. No one else deciding when you can sleep and when you can eat and when you can take a piss. And not having to fuck like you're afraid, with a chair pushed against the door or a blanket in front of the bunk to hide what you're doing. If there's a place like that anywhere in the world."
"There must be, Brian," Justin said, holding onto him tightly. "A place where we can be free and not afraid. And we'll find it. We'll find it together."
"Then close your eyes," Brian replied. "And we'll look for it in a dream. That's all we can do for now."
Posted December 3, 2004.