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Flashback to February 1970
"I'm going to have a Conjugal with my wife next week, Baby," said Ron, placing an official-looking piece of paper in a manila folder. "I just got the word from the Warden."
Brian was sitting at his table in the corner of the Law Library. As usual, he was filling out forms for inmates. Filing and filling out forms -- that made up most of his work as Ron's associate with the Prisoners' Legal Defense.
"Yeah?" Brian sniffed. He didn't look up, but kept his eyes riveted to the forms in front of him. "So what?"
"I'm only telling you now so that you don't get pissy about it when it's time for me to go over to the trailers," said Ron. "I don't want to see anything like that little tantrum you threw the last time I visited Jane."
"I did NOT throw a tantrum!" Brian insisted. "I don't throw tantrums! What do you think I am? A little drama queen?"
"Oh, not you, Baby!" Ron laughed. "Never a drama queen."
"Fuck you," Brian whispered. "Go and fuck your ugly old wife. See if I give a shit!"
"Jane is not ugly and she's not old," Ron corrected. "She's quite attractive. So don't begrudge me these visits, Brian. It's a change to get out of the Quad for 48 hours and it keeps me from going crazy in this place."
"Sure," said Brian. "Like I get out of the Quad. Like I don't go crazy in this fucking place."
Ron stood up and walked over to the figure hunched over at the little table. "I'm sorry, Baby. Your family does you a disservice that I wish I could rectify. But there's nothing anyone can do about that. It isn't fair, but then life isn't fair." He began rubbing the back of Brian's neck.
"Tell me something I don't already know!" Brian pushed Ron's hand away peevishly. "Enjoy your Conjugal. I hope your wife gives you crabs!"
Brian jumped up and ran out of the Law Library. He wanted to get as far away from his jock as possible. Ron made him nuts sometimes. So what if he had a wife? A lot of the men had wives. So what? He didn't have to make a federal case out of having a crummy Conjugal Visit. Who wanted to fuck some female anyway?
It was snowing and Brian couldn't run around the track so he walked a short way into the Yard and then turned back. It was too cold and he didn't have a coat or boots or gloves to keep him warm.
Brian went back up to his cell on the third tier and climbed up into the top bunk.
It wasn't fair! Nothing was fair!
Other inmates had families who cared and they had Family Visits with their parents or Conjugals with their wives. Even Ron. He was no different from anyone else. A Conjugal was a chance to get out of the Quad for a two days and act like a normal person. It was something that every man in Stanton was entitled to.
Except Brian. Because his parents didn't give a damn. The last thing they would want to do was to spend 48 hours locked in a room with the son they hated.
The first time Ron had asked for a Conjugal Visit with his wife, Brian hadn't thought much about it. They hadn't been hooked up then, but were only celling together. But when Brian saw Ron getting ready to go he started to feel strange about it. Jealous. But not of the visit. No, of the fact that Ron was going to be with his wife. That they were going to have sex.
Brian brooded the entire time Ron was gone and when he returned, looking smug and well-fed -- the wives brought food and cooked for their husbands in the trailer -- Brian was petulant and irritable. But Ron figured it was only the kid's Irish nature. He was always moody and secretive. Ron tried to be extra nice to Brian and before long things were back to normal between them.
Then they hooked up and Brian had a shit fit over Ron's next Conjugal Visit. But it didn't do any good. Ron ignored his punk's tantrums and went anyway. And now it was time for another one.
Brian turned over in his bunk and buried his face in the pillow. Ron was allowed to have it both ways. That wasn't right! He could have Baby AND still visit with Jane, too. If only Ron's wife knew the truth! Then she wouldn't be so anxious to welcome a husband who clearly preferred fucking a boy. And not just any boy, either, but Baby -- the most desirable punk in the Stanton Quad!
Yes, if she only knew that....
If only someone would tell her....
He climbed down from his bunk and went over to the cardboard box where Ron kept his letters and personal papers. Brian took a few sheets of writing paper and an envelope and carefully copied Ron's home address from one of Jane's letters onto it.
Brian knew exactly what to write. The truth. That was simple enough. Once the woman read the letter and knew what was really going on between Ron and his young cellmate, she'd divorce Ron so fast his head would spin!
He filled an entire sheet, sealed it in the envelope, and then carried it down to the mailroom.
But the next week came and Ron's Conjugal Visit wasn't canceled. Brian couldn't figure it out. Surely Jane must have gotten the letter before it was time to come to Stanton. But Ron went off with a sly grin on his face and Brian sat alone in the cell, brooding.
After the 48 hours were over, Ron was back. But he wasn't smiling the way he usually did after he returned from the trailer.
"Brian," he said, his voice hard and cold. "Come down here."
Suddenly, Brian was afraid. He'd never been afraid of Ron before. He'd never had a reason to be afraid of Ron before. He huddled under the blanket on the top bunk and hid his face.
"I said to come down here!" Ron wasn't shouting, but his voice was sharp and angry. "Now!"
"No!" said Brian.
"Come down or I'll drag you down!" Ron snapped.
"I don't want to," Brian whined.
"I bet you don't," said Ron. He took out a piece of paper. It was his letter. "Did you send this to Jane? Did you send a letter to my wife?"
"No!" Brian pleaded. But he knew it was useless to lie to Ron. "Don't!"
"Funny how much it looks like your handwriting, you lying little bitch!" Ron cried. And he grabbed Brian's arm and pulled him off the bunk and onto the floor of the cell.
Brian had been beaten much worse in his life. His father had given him worse when he was much younger and the low-riders had certainly hurt him more thoroughly when they'd had him in their tip.
But this beating Brian felt right to the center of his being. Because he loved Ron with all his heart and soul. He did! And he knew that he deserved to be beaten for what he'd done. Baby was a punk and he'd stepped over the line. He had messed with his jock's personal business. He'd written to Ron's wife. He'd tried to break them up. That was a mistake that couldn't be remedied with a mere apology. Or even by begging for forgiveness.
That mistake could only be dealt with the way a jocker had to deal with a treacherous and disobedient punk. By teaching him a lesson that he would never forget. Ever.
And Brian never did forget it.
He only wished now that he could.
Brian left the gym and went down to the Law Library, closing the door behind him.
How many hours had he sat in this room, first at the little table in the corner and then at Ron's desk? It was a place of refuge from the realities of prison. A quiet spot filled with books and papers. And filled with the Law.
The Law was the thing that had convicted him. But the Law might also be the thing that would free Justin. Brian had worked for hours on his lover's case, trying to find any precedent, any loophole, any rationale that might free the boy. But Brian was well aware that the Law alone hadn't convicted Justin. He'd been condemned by a System that was often beyond the Law. And well beyond Brian's control.
Ordinarily, Brian might have sat for a quiet hour and written in his manuscript. But the manuscript was gone. It was out in the world. In the hands of people he would probably never meet. Editors and literary agents. Proofreaders. Fact checkers. And soon -- if what he had been told actually came to pass -- everyone would read it. Or at least everyone who read 'The New Yorker' magazine.
Brian had read his first copy of that magazine in this very room. Ron had given it to him after Ron had finished with it. He always gave Brian the things he was finished with -- clothes, books, magazines, jobs. What was that song Barbra Streisand sang? Emmett would know. Something about a woman who never had anything that was new, but only what was second-hand. That was Brian's reality.
The only thing that Brian had that was his own was his life. What he had written about. His story. His trial. His imprisonment. That had been his and no one else's. And now it would be available to anyone who might pick up a magazine. His life would once again belong to the public, just as it had during his hellish trial.
And Brian didn't want to think about what would happen to his life in the Stanton Quad when the first installment of his manuscript was actually published. The names of all the men in prison had been changed, of course. Even the location of the prison was veiled and certain descriptions disguised. But Warden Horvath would know. And the Board of Prisons would know. And word would get around the Quad faster than a bird could fly over the place. And they would all be very, very angry.
Writing about your experiences in prison, especially the kinds of experiences that Brian had endured, was not exactly encouraged by the administration. No one wanted the abuses or the realities of prison life to be revealed to outsiders. Not even a decent man like Carl Horvath wanted the public to know that there were rapes in his prison. Or drugs. Or sex between the men. Prostitution. Drag queens. Gang wars. Racial incidents. Beatings. Even love affairs. Or that these things happened every day behind bars. That's why Brian had carefully hidden his manuscript during the years he'd been writing it. He knew that if anyone discovered it that it would be destroyed immediately. And that Brian would suffer the consequences for having written it.
That was the thing that Brian feared the most.
When the excerpts began to appear in 'The New Yorker' -- whenever that would be, maybe weeks, maybe months from now, but sooner than Brian might wish -- Brian's life would change, one way or another.
He hadn't told Justin that it was inevitable. And he hadn't told Amy Carver, who was the go-between in this whole process. Justin and Miss Carver and her friends at 'The New Yorker' were fixated on getting Brian's story published, certain that when people read it their minds would be changed about Brian's case. Certain that he would get a new trial. That he would be freed. But Brian had no illusions about that. No illusions at all.
Brian knew what was really likely to happen after his story was published. And Ron knew, too. Brian wouldn't be punished -- at least not outwardly. That would look bad for the prison authorities. But as a 'well-known' or 'infamous' inmate, Brian would certainly be transferred from Stanton. He might go to another medium security joint near Philly, but more probably they'd send him to the minimum security facility near Pittsburgh.
In fact, Ron was hoping for that outcome. Brian -- Baby -- would be closer to Ron that way. And Brian would serve much softer time because his treatment would be under scrutiny from the public and the press. Ron saw all of that as a plus, which was why he'd encouraged Brian to go along with the publishing scheme. That, and the money that Brian might get from the magazine and any possible book deal. Ron had generously offered to handle that aspect of the arrangement.
But Brian didn't give a shit about softer time or minimum security joints or even about the money.
Brian only cared that he had to think of a way to get Justin out of Stanton before Brian himself was taken somewhere else. And there was no way -- so far. No way in hell.
And now this new horror. Justin and his tattoo.
Brian sat with his head in his hands, waiting. Ticking off the minutes until he had to climb up to the third tier for 10:00 lockdown.
Finally, he stood up. He could hear Murray closing things up in the main Library.
"Goodnight, Bri!" called Murray. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah," said Brian. "See you tomorrow."
Brian walked back up to the tier.
Emmett was waiting for him at the top of the stairwell.
"Bri!" Em cried. "It's my fault! I let Justin do it. I went with him over to the South Wing. I'm the one to blame!"
"No, Em," said Brian, brushing the queen aside. He could see many of the men standing around the doors of their cells, waiting for Brian's return. He saw Junior and Al and Big John smoking in front of the Rec Room. Waiting to see what was going to happen.
Waiting to see if Brian measured up as a real jock. Or waiting to see if he proved to be nothing more than a dickless punk.
Em grabbed Brian's arm. "Take a shot at me, Bri! Please, honey! I don't mind at all. A pretty man giving me a good punch in the face is almost like a kiss. How else do you know that a man really cares? Right, Baby? You know how that is!"
"Yes, I know how that is," said Brian, grimly. But he shook off Emmett's touch. "Forget it, Em. Justin knew what he was doing. And he knew how I felt about him getting a tattoo."
"Why don't you both sleep on it?" suggested Em. "Tomorrow it'll all seem a big blow up over nothing!"
Brian looked down the tier. The C.O's were moving the men into their cells.
"It's too late, Em," Brian said softly. "And now it's time to face the music. For both of us."
Brian entered the cell at the last possible minute before lockdown. Then he stood at the door, staring out at the tier while the C.O.'s walked up and down, checking off each cell.
Brian could hear Justin in the top bunk. Hear his ragged breathing. And Brian could smell Justin, too. Smell his fear. His anxiety.
The lights had been dimmed on the tier, but lights out still hadn't been called. Brian sighed and went over to the toilet and pissed. Then he washed his hands and face. He looked at himself in the mirror over the sink.
When he'd entered the Quad he'd been a boy. Naive. Trusting. Idealistic. Full of dreams. Now he was a man and most of his dreams had been shattered long ago. He'd be in his forties when he got out. If he got out. If he lived long enough to get out.
Yes, he was a man, but his life still wasn't his own. Might never be his own. He'd always be someone's pawn. Someone's bitch. Maybe that's what he was born to be. For Brian there was no escape from the inevitable.
But Justin still had a chance. It wasn't too late for his life and for his dreams, even after all he'd been through.
Brian filled a cup with water and took out one of the white pills Ben had given him. He swallowed it and washed it down with the tepid water.
Brian undressed. He unbuttoned his workshirt and folded it, placing it on the shelf next to Justin's. Then he took off his shoes and socks. He pulled his belt from the loops of his workpants and set it on the sink.
The inmates weren't allowed to have leather belts, but the web belts worked just as well. They were durable and they made just as lasting an impression on your ass as leather ones. Brian knew that from personal experience. It had been a long time, but he still hadn't forgotten.
He took off his workpants and put them on the shelf. The lights were going off in the cells around them and across the way. Al and Wesley. Andy and Beemer. Junior and Stormy. Brian snapped off the light over the sink.
"Justin," he called softly. "Come down here."
He heard Justin take a deep, jagged breath. "Don't make me. Please."
"Come down," he repeated. "You have to."
Justin climbed down slowly. He was wearing a pair of baggy boxer shorts and one of Brian's gray tee shirts. His eyes were red and so was the fresh tattoo on his right shoulder.
"You know you shouldn't have done it," said Brian. "Why would you want to scar yourself that way? Brand yourself for life?"
"It's not a scar," said Justin. "I wanted it. I still want it." He gulped down a sob. "I'm sorry I didn't ask you first. But I'm not sorry that I did it. And I'd do it again."
"When you get out, you can see about getting it removed," said Brian. "I read that they can do that if you have the money."
"No," Justin replied. "I don't want it removed. It's here as long as I'm here." He touched his finger to the raw, red heart.
Brian was holding the web belt in his right hand. Justin stared at it like it was a snake.
"Do you see this?"
"Yes," said Justin in a weak voice.
"Are you going to do exactly what I tell you to do?" Brian asked.
"Yes." Justin trembled, but he stood firm. He'd heard the jockers talking outside the cell. Talking about what they expected Brian to do to him. The men had wanted Justin to hear them. Wanted him to know what was going to happen. Wanted Justin's punishment to be a warning to their own punks.
"Hold out your hand," said Brian, very softly.
Justin held out his right hand, trying to keep it from shaking.
Brian took Justin's hand and held it for a moment, caressing his fingers. Then he laid the belt in it.
"I'm going to lie down on the floor. I want you to help me put this towel over my legs." Brian pointed to the towel he used for the shower. Brian took a pillow off the bunk and got on the floor. He slipped the pillow under his stomach to protect his wound from the hard concrete. "Tuck the towel around my legs so you won't leave a mark. The towel should stop it from cutting."
"What are you doing?" asked Justin, mystified.
"Keep your voice down," Brian urged. "Everyone on the tier is listening."
"What do you want me to do?" said Justin, his eyes wide.
"Hit the back of my legs with the belt. You have to hit hard enough to make a noise. My ass would hurt less, but I'm afraid you'll miss and hit me in the side, so it's safer on the legs."
"No!" Justin breathed. "No fucking way! I won't!"
"Yes," Brian said. "You will. As soon as the lights go out. Ten strokes should be enough. They won't expect any more than that. And keep your voice down. I mean it, Justin."
"But... but this is supposed to be my punishment," Justin whispered.
"It is," said Brian. "Believe me. I can't hit you. So you'll have to hit me. That's your punishment."
"I can't!" Justin cried.
"Yes, you can," Brian said matter of factly. "And you must. I can take it, Justin. I'm used to pain. You aren't. Just don't slip and hit me near my wound or I'll end up in the Hospital Wing and it'll all be for nothing, okay?"
"Can't I just hit the floor?" said Justin. "Or the pillow?"
"No," said Brian. "Because they'll be listening to hear you cry out. And you can't fake it, Justin. You can't. They'll know. But if you hit me...." Brian shrugged. "I think one of us will make a noise."
Brian and Justin heard the C.O.'s calling for lights out and the tier went dark. It was so quiet it was as if the entire East Wing was holding its breath.
"Kneel down next to me and hit me straight across," Brian whispered. "And make it loud. As loud as you can. Do it quickly and get it over with." He put his head down on his folded arms and closed his eyes.
Justin stared at the belt in his hand. "I can't do it."
"Now, Justin," Brian ordered.
Justin hit the back of his lover's legs with the belt.
"Harder and louder," said Brian.
Justin hit him harder. Even against the towel it made a nasty smack. Justin cried out when he heard that sound.
"Again," said Brian. "Harder."
Brian's body felt numb. The painkiller Ben had slipped him in the gym was working like a charm. In the morning he'd be sore, but it wouldn't be too bad. He'd take another in the morning and use the rest he had stashed in the pocket of his workpants as he needed them.
But every time Justin hit him, the boy cried out as if the pain was his own. As if he felt every stroke. But he was still untouched. That was the important thing. And Brian meant to make certain that Justin would never be touched.
Up and down the tier the men and the punks and the queens and even the C.O.'s on duty could hear Justin's cries. And they knew that another punk was learning his lesson the hard way.
Posted June 22, 2005.