Go to all chapters of "Medium Security".
Ron and Jennifer Taylor drove out from Pittsburgh to Stanton together, but they separated before walking into the Visitors' Gallery. Jennifer sat down at a table near the front, while Ron took a table that was farther from the main door. He had private business to conduct with Brian and didn't want to be under the watchful eyes of the C.O.'s.
Ron sat nervously, waiting for the prisoners to be let into the Gallery. He was keyed up and anxious to see Brian. The weeks between visits seemed to be longer with every month that went by, although the amount of time was exactly the same. But ever since Brian had been stabbed, Ron felt that the two of them were running out of time. For days before Ron went to Stanton he was edgy, snapping at Jane and grumbling at his colleagues at the PLD.
The papers in Ron's folder were very important. There were contracts and agreements and proofsheets for Brian's manuscript. Brian needed to take them, read them, correct them, and sign off on them -- all without getting caught by the C.O.'s. It was a piece of cake -- except that nothing was ever really a piece of cake in prison.
The bell rang, the doors opened, and the inmates filed in. Justin was one of the first to walk into the Visitors' Gallery. Ron sat up in his chair because he knew that Brian would be close behind the kid.
But Ron didn't see Brian.
Instead, the kid -- Justin -- walked right past where his mother was waiting and headed directly for Ron's table. Ron stared in disbelief as Brian's punk pulled out the chair and sat down opposite him.
"Um... Justin," said Ron. He kept glancing at the door. "Where's Brian? I have papers to give him." Ron leaned over confidentially. "This is important stuff about 'The Project.'" That was their code word for Brian's manuscript -- 'The Project.'
"I know," said Justin. "That's why I came over. Brian tried to call you this morning, but there was the usual problem with the phones." The payphones that the men in Stanton depended on to communicate with the outside were infamously undependable, often out-of-order or destroyed by inmates who ripped them off the wall during unsatisfactory phone calls with their loved ones.
"He's not sick, is he?" Ron said with concern.
"No," said Justin, taking a deep breath. "Brian is... gone for the next 48 hours. So he couldn't come to Visiting Day."
"Gone?" Ron cried in alarm. "What the hell do you mean? Gone where?"
"He's at the trailers. He went over there just after lunch. He's having a Family Visit," said Justin, his voice chilly.
Ron sat back in the chair, dumbfounded. "A... a Family Visit? Are you shitting me?"
"No," said Justin. "I only wish that I was. But it's true. He's over there right now."
"Having a Family Visit with WHO?" Ron was trying not to shout.
"Who else?" Justin said in disgust. "His parents. Mr. and Mrs. Kinney. He's supposed to be staying with them in that fucking trailer for the next 48 hours!"
"His parents!" Now Ron really was shouting.
One of the C.O.'s came over and frowned at the pair. "Keep it down or this visit is over!"
"Sorry, officer," said Ron. "I'll keep it down."
Justin smiled tightly. "I see that your reaction to Brian's Family Visit is about the same as mine was. I couldn't fucking believe it!"
"His parents," Ron repeated. "But why? Brian's parents don't give a damn about him! They haven't written to him or contacted him in years. So why now? What is this all about?"
"I wish I knew," admitted Justin.
Justin gazed at Ron. This was the longest conversation that he'd ever had with the man. His rival. No, not his rival. Not anymore. Justin didn't believe for a moment that Brian was torn in any way between Justin and this graying man with lines around his penetrating blue eyes.
But Brian had lived with Ron for 8 years in the same cell where he now lived with Justin. Lived in it, cried in it, dreamed in it, and fucked in it -- all with this man. Who was now involved with Justin's mother. How bizarre was that? So Justin wanted to know as much about Ron Rosenblum as possible. What he was thinking. What he was planning for Brian. And what he thought he was doing with Justin's mother.
Both Brian and Justin depended on Ron as their main link to the outside world -- and also as their link to the Prisoners' Legal Defense and possible freedom. In that, Brian and Justin were no different from any other inmates. They were hoping for an appeal. Hoping for new evidence. Hoping for a break in their cases. Or just hoping. And the PLD was the organization that gave them that hope.
What would Ron say if he knew that I've been reading his letters to Brian, Justin wondered. He'd probably freak out. Some of the stuff was pretty personal. Intimate. Sexual. I bet your wife doesn't know what you're writing to your old cellmate, thought Justin. Seeing Ron sitting there in the Visitors' Gallery in his perfect business suit, looking like the straightest guy in the world, no one would ever guess the truth. But I know, Justin smiled to himself. I know! You're just another dick-hungry fag!
When Justin first heard about Brian's Family Visit -- eavesdropping on Brian's conversation with Father Bob -- he assumed that Ron had finally managed to swing the Conjugal he had been working on for almost a year. Thinking about that made Justin's heart ache. Thinking about Brian alone with his old lover for 48 hours. Reconnecting with him. Laughing with him. Making love with him.
But as the day approached and Brian plunged deeper and deeper into gloom, he finally confessed to Justin about his impeding Family Visit -- with his parents! That had thrown Justin for a loop, so he could imagine how it would hit Ron.
"I still have to get this material to Brian right away," said Ron, purposefully.
Ron was stunned by the idea that Brian was in the trailers with his mother and father, but he couldn't let that throw him off his main purpose. The papers. Brian's manuscript. Baby's ticket out of the Stanton Quad.
Ron didn't want to chance mailing the papers into Stanton. The C.O.'s always checked mail going into prison a lot more carefully than mail going out because of the chance that illegal contraband might be sent in. They probably wouldn't look too closely at printed material or legal documents, but you never knew. Ron wanted these papers to go directly into Brian's hands.
And the kid, Brian's blond cellmate, was the only way to do it.
"I'll give it to him," said Justin. "I understand how important it is."
"Do you, Justin? Really?" said Ron.
"I started this whole thing when I gave...." Justin glanced around, but no guards were nearby to hear his words. "When I gave Brian's manuscript to Miss Carver. I want to see this through to the end. I know that it will get Brian out of here." Justin paused and licked his dry lips. "It HAS to get him out of here!"
"Then we're both on the same page, kid," said Ron. He placed the manila folder on the table between them and slipped it across into Justin's hands.
"I have to call the C.O.," said Justin.
"I know." Ron swallowed.
Justin raised his hand and one of the C.O.'s came over to the table. "Mr. Rosenblum is giving me the forms for the inmates from the Prisoners' Legal Defense because Brian, my cellmate, is at the trailers with his parents today." Justin found it easier simply to tell the truth as much as possible. That way it was harder to get caught in a lie. Brian had taught him that lesson. And Brian had learned it from Ron.
The C.O. glanced at the papers as Justin opened the folder and flipped through them. The guard was chiefly interested in whether the men were smuggling in drugs or weapons. Or trying to sneak in a porno magazine. But this was just forms and stuff like that. He made a check on the folder with a red pen and initialed it. "That's okay to go inside."
"Thanks, officer," said Justin, standing up. Then he looked at Ron. "I have to go over and talk to my mother before she starts hyperventilating.
"Yes, of course. Jennifer is anxious to visit with you." Ron stood up, too. And he extended his hand to the boy. "Thanks for your help, Justin," said Ron.
Justin hesitated before he shook Ron's hand. But then he did shake it. They were all in this together. He and Brian and Ron. They all had the same goal. Getting justice for Brian.
Ron's hand was hard and dry and his handshake was firm. He squeezed Justin's soft hand tightly. Don't fuck this up, kid, he was saying. I'm counting on you.
Justin looked his lover's ex-lover in the eye. "I won't fuck up," he said out loud. "I promise."
"And neither will I," Ron replied.
And that sealed the deal between the two of them.
"Are you nervous, Brian?" asked Father Bob as the two men walked towards the trailers from the Administration Building.
Brian had been strip-searched and 'keestered' before he was allowed to leave the main Quad. Brian hated that kind of body search. Since he had never had a trailer visit before and never left Stanton -- except in an ambulance -- he hadn't been searched very often. It wasn't a process that he cared to repeat, but he knew that it was inevitable that he would be 'keestered' again when he finished his Family Visit. Frankly, Brian could think of better uses for his ass than for smuggling contraband, but apparently the C.O.'s didn't share his views.
"I guess so," said Brian. "More nervous about what to expect. And what my parents expect. I haven't seen them in almost a decade."
Father Bob shook his head. "That's a long time to be estranged from your family, Brian."
"It wasn't exactly my choice, Father," said Brian. "It was partly the choice of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Board of Prisons and partly the choice of Mr. and Mrs. John Kinney of Pittsburgh. Mom and Pop knew where I was. I haven't gone anywhere." Brian stopped and took a deep breath. "I don't know, Father. I think this is a huge mistake."
"Perhaps this is their way of trying to make things up to you, Brian?" said Father Bob, hopefully.
"I'll find out soon enough," Brian replied.
The three trailers set aside for Family Visits looked battered and forlorn, like the last remnants of an abandoned camp ground. They huddled on the edges of a desolate, littered field just inside the outer walls of Stanton Correctional Facility for Men. Layers of fencing, razorwire, and water-filled trenches surrounded the prison and beyond that there was nothing but an expanse of empty land and, in the distance, the highway that led to the rest of the world.
The door of one of the trailers opened and another priest, a sandy-haired man in his thirties, smiled. "I'm Tom Butterfield," he said. "You must be Brian. And Father McHale, of course. We've spoken on the telephone."
Father Bob shook hands with the younger priest. "I'm happy to meet you at last, Father Tom."
Brian watched as the two priests glad-handed each other. He was suddenly seized with a sense of panic. He wanted to turn and run back towards the main buildings of Stanton. Away from this wasteland. Away from the people inside the trailers. Back to where he would be safe. Back to his cell -- and Justin.
"Come in," said Father Tom, motioning for Brian to come up the steps into the trailer.
And Brian stepped inside.
The first thing he noticed was how cold it was. The trailer was air conditioned and a blast of freezing air hit him full in the face. A television was blaring in the corner. And his old man was sitting on a brown sofa, watching the television.
Just like home, thought Brian. Pop sitting in front of the tube, tuning everything else out.
Brian looked around. And there was his mother. Brian was shocked at how old she looked. Her hair was almost completely gray and her face was lined. She had been a beautiful woman in her day -- tall and chestnut-haired, with a strong, sharp face. But now she was no longer young. Her hair was pulled back and she wore a baggy pink sweater over a plain blue dress. I must really be a fag, thought Brian, because those colors don't go together at all.
"Brian," she said. And she stood there. They both stood there and looked at each other.
And that's when Brian knew what he wanted from his mother. What he wanted more than anything else in the world. He wanted his mother to hug him. To touch him, hold him, tell him that she loved him and that she had missed him for the last nine years.
Instead she stared at him. Looked her only son up and down.
"You're so tall, Brian," she said, finally, as if meeting a stranger for the first time. "I'd almost forgotten how tall you were."
"And I'd almost forgotten what you were like, Mom," Brian said sadly. And he knew that she would do anything that she could not to touch him or come too close to him for the entire time they were stuck in that trailer.
"Say hello to Brian, Jack," Joan Kinney urged her husband.
That's when Brian noticed that his father had a tube up his nose and a tank of oxygen sitting by his side. Jack Kinney turned around. He looked even older than Brian's mother. He had been a burly, brawling Irishman, but now he seemed wasted and thin, like a shadow of the man Brian remembered.
He's sick, thought Brian. That's why they came here to see me. He's worse than sick. It was so obvious. Jack Kinney was going to die. And probably very soon.
Brian looked at the earnest young priest who was grinning encouragingly at Brian and nodding at his mother. He's the one, thought Brian. This was all his idea. He's convinced my mother to make this final gesture before the old man kicks off. It isn't about me at all. They still don't give a damn about me. It's about them and their fucking guilt.
"Why don't you sit down and watch TV with your father, Brian?" Joan Kinney said. "I was just getting Father Tom some lemonade. Would you like some, Father...?"
"Father Bob," said the older priest. "I would love some lemonade, Mrs. Kinney. And I'm sure Brian would like some, too."
"Of course," Joan said stiffly. "I'll get three glasses."
Brian sat down in an easy chair that had been crammed into the small living room of the trailer next to the sofa. His father hardly even looked his way. He was watching some game show on the television. And making a wheezing sound with every gasp of breath.
Brian glanced around the trailer. If only he could have this place for 48 hours without his parents. Just him and Justin. A door was open at one end where he could see a small bedroom with a real bed. And there was probably a small bathroom, too, with a shower where you could wash yourself for as long as you wanted. And the little kitchen, with a stove and a refrigerator, where his mother was getting the lemonade. You could put all of your favorite food in that fridge and eat it whenever you wanted to. Make any kind of food you wanted on that stove. That was a miracle! This would be a piece of paradise -- if only he wasn't stuck here with all of these people. His parents and two priests. That was a fucking nightmare!
"Brian, Father Bob tells me that you run the prison legal service," said Father Tom, trying to make conversation.
"I'm the inside liaison for the Prisoners' Legal Defense," Brian answered. "I handle the Law Library, I advise inmates of their rights, help them fill out forms, that sort of thing."
"That's very important work, Brian," said Father Tom. He beamed at Brian and actually seemed impressed. "How did you get trained for that? Did you take courses?"
"I took a few courses at Stanton," said Brian. "But mainly my cellmate trained me. He was a lawyer before he went inside and he had the job, so he made me his assistant. He got out over a year ago and I took over from there."
"Working in the Law Library is one of the highest status jobs in any prison, Mrs. Kinney," Father Bob explained to Joan as she brought out the glasses of lemonade and handed them around. "It's a real credit to Brian that he's so young and has such a vital job. All of the men depend on his services."
"Crooks looking for some loophole to get out of jail, you mean?" Jack Kinney mumbled from his chair.
"Every man has the right to know what the Law is, Pop," said Brian, trying to keep his voice even. "Even inmates. Even men who are guilty. And even men who are innocent, too."
"Like you?" Jack huffed.
"I never said I was innocent," Brian replied. This is useless, Brian thought. How the fuck can I get out of here? "Not that it would matter to you, Pop. You made up your mind the minute I was arrested."
Jack Kinney snorted and kept his eyes on the television.
"Listen," said Brian, impatiently. "Why don't you tell me what this is all about so that we can get this show on the road, okay? Because there's no way in hell that I'm going to sit here for 48 hours and watch television and play 'Leave It To Beaver' with you people. I have work to do back in the Quad. And... and my cellmate is without my protection while I'm in here. That's more important to me than sitting in this metal box and making stupid chitchat."
"Brian, please try to behave yourself! Father Tom and Father Bob have gone to a lot of trouble to arrange this meeting," Joan Kinney scolded her son. "It's just like you to try to pick a fight the minute you get here!"
Brian stood up. "Listen, Mom, I don't really want to be here. I know that you brought me out here for some big announcement, so why don't you just get it over with? Then I can return to the Quad, my cell, and my cellmate, Justin -- who also happens to be my lover, in case anyone is interested -- and you and Pop can go back to ignoring my existence the way you've done for the past nine years. Okay?"
"Brian!" said Joan sharply. "Shame on you!"
"I told you this was a stupid idea, Joanie!" Jack rasped from the sofa. "But you had to drag this goddamn priest into things! 'Make peace with your son before you die, Jack!' What a load of bullshit, Father -- excuse my fucking French!"
"Jack!" Joan shouted. "Watch your mouth in front of Father Tom and Father Bob!!"
"I knew it," said Brian. He turned to Father Bob. "Why didn't you just tell me that he was dying and leave it at that? Did you really need to put me through this charade? So, what is it, Pop?" Brian asked Jack. "And how long do you have?"
"Lung cancer," the old man coughed out. "And they don't think I'll make it to Christmas."
"Well, Merry Christmas," said Brian. "I'm sorry you got dragged all the way out here for nothing." Brian went to the door of the trailer. "Oh, and thanks for the lemonade."
Posted June 22, 2005.