Go to all chapters of "Medium Security".
"I'd like a cheeseburger with bacon. And fries. And a root beer." The guy closed the menu and handed it back to Justin. Then he licked his lips and leered. "So tell me, cutie, are you available, too?"
Justin took a deep breath and counted to 10. That's what Deb -- Mrs. Novotny -- had told him to do when a guy came on to him. Which happened about 20 times a day at the Liberty Diner. Justin smiled sweetly and pointed to the menu. "Only what's printed here or what's on the Specials Board."
"I think YOU are pretty special," the guy countered while Justin rolled his eyes. "Hey, you have a tattoo." The customer was looking at Justin's shoulder. Justin was wearing a revealing white tank top and hip-hugging jeans. Just because Justin wasn't planning to date these guys didn't mean that he didn't want a nice tip from them. "Let me see what it says."
Justin turned to show the man his heart-shaped tattoo.
"'Brian,'" the customer read aloud. "Who the hell is Brian?"
"My boyfriend," said Justin, smugly. "So you better keep your hands to yourself or he might kick your ass."
"Is that so?" the man huffed. Then he reached over and put his hand on Justin's round ass. "What makes this Brian so tough?"
Justin stopped smiling. "He's in prison for murder, that's what!"
The customer pulled his hand away as if he'd been burned. "In prison! For murder? How interesting." The guy paused. "You're joking, right?"
"No, I'm not," said Justin, grinning broadly. "Your burger will be right up, sir!"
Justin went over to the window and put the order in.
"Is that guy bugging you, Sunshine?" asked Debbie, setting down her tray.
"Not really," said Justin. "Nothing could put me in a bad mood today, Deb."
"What's up? Did you win the lottery or something?" Debbie cracked.
"No," Justin replied. "Something better than the lottery. I got a letter from Brian yesterday."
Now Debbie was surprised. She knew that Brian hadn't been communicating much recently. Michael was always complaining about how Brian, who he considered one of his best pals in prison, hardly spoke to him or anyone else anymore. Instead, Brian moped around his cell and acted weird. Debbie also knew that Justin had been writing to his former cellmate regularly and hadn't been getting any response. Until now.
"Really? So what did our Bri Baby say after all this time?" Debbie snorted.
"He's been sick, Deb," said Justin, slowly. "I'm sure that Michelle... I mean, Michael told you that everybody in Stanton has been down with the flu."
"Yeah, Mikey said he was puking his guts out for three days straight!" Deb confirmed.
"Brian was sick, too," Justin continued. "But while he was sick, he was still looking at the drawings I've been sending him. And then he started to open my old letters -- the ones I've been sending him since I got out, but that he had never read. I was afraid for a while that Brian only wanted to forget about me. The truth is that Brian wanted ME to forget about HIM! But that's something I'll never do, Deb. Never! I think he's finally beginning to believe that now."
"Poor Bri Baby has a hard time trusting people, honey," Debbie reminded Justin. "You have to give him a chance to understand that you're not going to abandon him just because you got sprung and he's still inside!"
"I'm not about to abandon Brian," Justin insisted. "Especially not now. Those articles in 'The New Yorker' were only the beginning, Deb. Brian is going to have a book out, too. Ron hired a literary agent to work out the deal." Justin stopped before he said too much. Ron had warned him not to talk about the details of business with anyone, and especially not with a loudmouth like Debbie Novotny.
"A real book?" Deb crowed. "Maybe Bri'll dedicate it to you, Sunshine!"
Justin smiled. "I don't care who Brian dedicates his book to, Deb, I only want it to be a success. And now that he's finally written to me, the next step will be for us to see each other. I'm hoping that on the next Visiting Day, in March, he'll finally come down to the Gallery. I was going to go this month, but they canceled it because so many of the guys had the flu."
"Justin! Your burger and fries are up!" called Carlos, who was working short-order.
"Thanks!" said Justin, picking up the order. "If this guy grabs my ass again, I think I'm going to drop the tray on his head, Deb!"
"Sweetheart, that's the curse of being so damn cute!" Debbie guffawed. "You keep telling those horny assholes about your boyfriend and eventually they'll get the message."
"I hope so!" Justin laughed.
Justin took the order over to the booth where the groper was sitting. But Justin grinned at him winningly and, sure enough, when the man finished his lunch he left a nice tip behind.
"How's the apartment, honey?" asked Debbie when she saw Justin taking his break.
"Great, Deb," he replied. "Thanks for telling me about it. I'm fixing it up exactly the way I want it to be. I can't afford a lot of fancy stuff, so I'm trying to be creative. I painted the walls myself and my mom gave me some furniture from our old house. I even put a couple of my own drawings up. They look pretty good framed."
"That's the spirit, Sunshine!" said Debbie. "How are your classes going?"
"All right," said Justin. "I wish I were going to PIFA and studying art, but Carnegie Mellon is really nice. My writing teacher from Stanton, Amy Carver, teaches there part-time and I see her on campus sometimes."
"Are you meeting any nice kids at school?" asked Debbie. "Making some friends your own age? That's what college is all about. Having some good times!"
Justin shrugged. His mother was always on his case about that subject, too. "I don't know, Deb. I mainly go to my classes and then either go back to the apartment or come here to work. I don't seem to have a lot in common with kids my own age. I feel like I've lived a life that they can't imagine. And it's hard for me to relate to stuff they think is important. Sports and going to parties and dating -- that seems so high school to me after being in prison."
"But you're still so young, honey," Debbie reminded him. "It's time to have a little fun!"
"It's hard to have fun when I think about Brian sitting in a cell," said Justin, suddenly feeling a dull ache in his heart. "Thinking of him by himself. How can I go to a party or pretend that the Big Game matters to me when... when Brian is all alone?"
"It won't be forever," said Debbie, giving Justin a hug. "But until he gets out you can't put your life on hold, honey. Brian wouldn't want you to do that."
"I know he wouldn't," Justin conceded. "I sit every night and think as hard as I can, trying to feel what he's feeling. Trying to let him know that it won't be long until we're together. And it won't be very long now. I know it won't!" Justin stood and picked up his tray. "I have to get back to work, Deb."
Debbie watched Justin head to the front booth to take an order.
Poor Sunshine, she thought. He's got such hope. Such dreams. He really believes that Bri Baby is going to get out of the joint sometime sooner than the end of the next decade. Deb sighed. I wonder what it's like to have that kind of faith? And how long will it last until he and all of those dreams come crashing down to earth?
"This is Baraka's file," Brian said to Josh. "Don't be intimidated when he comes in to talk about his parole. Baraka's thing is to project an aura of intense anger and power. But you're here to help him, so don't let him steamroll you."
"I'll try not to, Mr. Kinney," said Josh, looking at the thick file. "Some of these guys are... are rather overwhelming."
Josh was the paralegal assigned by the Prisoners' Legal Defense to help Brian in the Law Library. He was a part-time law student who came to Stanton two or three days a week to file and fill out forms. But while Brian was ill with the flu Josh had also been working some of the cases and conferring with inmates.
"That's how these men survive in prison," said Brian. "By being overwhelming. It's all about control. It's all about letting you know that they are mean and tough and that they could break in half you any time they wanted. And they could, too. Always remember that."
"Believe me, I'm not about to forget it!" Josh was a short, pudgy guy who was no match for the big, pumped up inmates who came into the Law Library looking for help with their cases.
"But also never forget that you have something that they don't have," Brian advised. "And that's knowledge. Information. The men need that. They need your expertise and that gives you a kind of power they'll never have. That's what kept Ron, who is hardly a muscular or physically intimidating guy, a top dog in the Quad for so many years. And it saved me from getting my ass handed to me many, many times over the years."
"That must have been really... difficult for you, Mr. Kinney," said Josh. The law student had read the excerpts from Brian's memoir published in 'The New Yorker' with great admiration. And now he was working directly with Brian Kinney! This was an opportunity that he wasn't going to let go to waste! For a student working with the PLD and interested in going into criminal law, getting to know the famous Brian Kinney was like hearing the Word straight from God!
Josh has started out as Ron Rosenblum's assistant at the PLD the previous summer and that's where he first heard about Brian, the PLD's inside liaison at Stanton Correctional. Josh was the paralegal who went over Brian's paperwork from the prison, read his briefs, and filed his cases. And Josh had been very impressed with the work that the inmate did. He wondered how someone with no college education and no legal experience knew so much about the Law and prisoners' rights. Then he read 'The New Yorker' and talked to Mr. Rosenblum. And he began to understand.
"Most of these men have a lot of street smarts, but very little formal education," Brian reminded Josh. "They are used to scamming people and lying, so it's often hard for them to level with a stranger. That's why I get more truthful information out of them than you do. I'm one of them and they know that I understand the 'code' of inmate behavior. But you're an outsider. They have to believe that they can trust you. And that takes time."
Brian picked up his cup of coffee and sipped at it. He was still so tired much of the time. After he'd gotten over the flu he felt almost as weak as he had after his stabbing. Brian hated feeling weak. Weakness left you vulnerable. If he was only going to stay in his cell it didn't matter, but if he were going to take part in life in the Quad, then he couldn't be weak. He have to start going to the gym again. And once the weather cleared, he'd have to start running again.
Running. Brian looked forward to that. Going around and around the track that circled the Yard had always been one of his greatest pleasures. One of the few times when he felt free. And now it would be one of the few pleasures left to him, since....
He pushed thoughts of Justin out of his mind. That didn't do any good. He had tried to force Justin to go away and stay away, but the kid wouldn't do it. He was a bad punk -- he refused to obey orders. Well, on the outside Justin was no longer a punk. And he'd never let himself be put under anyone's thumb -- not even Brian's.
"Hey, Kinney," said one of the C.O.'s. He was standing at the door of the Law Library. Brian recognized him as one of the C.O.'s assigned to escort duty in the Administration Building. "You got a lawyer visit."
"Whose lawyer?" Brian asked. He glanced at his calendar, but there was nothing scheduled. Still, some of these attorneys had erratic schedules and just showed up when it suited them.
"Don't know," said the C.O. "I ain't got all day, so let's move."
"Just keep working on these files," Brian instructed Josh. "The best thing is to familiarize yourself with as many of the pending cases as possible."
"Thanks, Mr. Kinney," said Josh, brightly. "I'll do the best I can."
"Good," said Brian. And then to the C.O., "Okay. Let's go."
The C.O. led Brian to one of the small meeting rooms where inmates met with their lawyers or where Brian often consulted with the attorneys of men going up for parole or back to trial. He was surprised to see Julie Finch sitting there. She was wearing a brown pantsuit and had a new, shorter haircut.
"Hey, Julie," said Brian. "You got your hair cut."
Julie smiled. "It's that Dorothy Hamel look. Do you like it?"
Brian had no idea who Dorothy Hamel was, but he thought her hair looked good. "Yeah, it's nice. What's Ron think of it?"
Julie snorted. "He's pretty busy with his new divorcee, so he doesn't have much time to 'admire' me these days!"
"It's just as well," said Brian. "You can do better than that, Julie. Better than being one of Ron's quickies."
"I know," Julie replied. "But that's not why I'm here, Brian. Not to talk about my personal life."
"Okay, then," said Brian. "So, what's the word? I wasn't expecting to see you today."
"And I wasn't expecting to come out here today -- but I couldn't wait!" Julie took a file out of her briefcase. "This is why I came."
Brian frowned. "What is it?"
"It's your file, honey," said Julie. "I don't want you to freak out -- but it looks like you're going to get a new trial."
Brian blinked. Then he blinked again. Suddenly all of the air in the room was sucked out. "What? Are... are you fucking with me?"
"No, Brian, I'm not fucking with you," Julie insisted.
"But why? Why now?" Brian was still trying to process Julie's words.
"Because... Kirk Bradley is turning himself in, Brian," said Julie.
Brian frowned. "Kirk Bradley?" Then he understood. "You mean... Glenn? Glenn is turning himself in? To the cops?" Brian couldn't believe it.
"Yes," Julie confirmed. "He'll be cooperating with the prosecutors and the Feds, too. He's also already given them new information about you -- including the fact that you were telling the truth at your trial. That you didn't plan any part of the bombing and that you didn't know what was going to happen. He's willing to testify to that fact. We've already filed a motion to have your conviction set aside, or, if that doesn't wash, for you to have a re-trial as soon as possible. And with these new developments, that looks very likely."
"But... but the prosecutors won't... they won't want their big conviction to be overturned!" said Brian. "I was their showcase trial! They'll fight it tooth and nail!"
"No," said Julie. "It's all new people in there now, Brian. When they changed the venue of your trial to Pittsburgh back in 1968 they did it so that the jury wouldn't be prejudiced against you. But they could never have foreseen the whole Stockwell mess. Now the Prosecutor's Office mainly wants to avoid looking bad. They're not going to fight a new trial, Brian. I already have their word on that."
Brian's hands were gripping the edge of the table. He felt as if he were about to fall. A new trial. It couldn't be possible. But Julie was saying that it would happen, so it must be true. Julie had never lied to him -- never.
"No one told me anything!" said Brian, at a loss. "Does Ron know about all this?"
"Of course," said Julie. "He's involved in it up to his neck. What do you think?"
"And... and Justin?" Brian asked. "Does he know what's going on?"
"That I don't know, honey," Julie replied. "But if Justin doesn't know now, he'll know very shortly. The newspapers are going to be all over this story. Kirk Bradley is turning himself in at 6:00 this evening -- and the press will be there. I alerted them myself!" Julie smiled smugly.
"I don't know what to say, Julie," Brian said slowly. "I... I...." But he couldn't continue.
"Then don't say anything," said Julie. "Just try to breathe."
"Brian?" Ben called into the cell. "Michelle and Em sent me down to bring you to the Television Room. Channel 5 is going to show an interview with the guy who did the Penn State Bombings. They taped it the other day before he turned himself in. Come and watch it with us."
Brian was lying on his bunk reading a letter from Justin.
"I think I'll pass, Ben," he said.
Ben was surprised. "But Brian -- this has to do with your case! Don't you want to hear what the guy has to say?"
Brian folded Justin's letter and held it in his hands. He used to watch his old cellmate, Andy, sniff the letters that his female penpals sent him. Brian would laugh at Andy for that. For trying to picture what the woman really looked like, felt like, sounded like, all by smelling the letter. And now Brian was doing the same thing. Inhaling Justin's essence through the paper that he had touched, written on, and sealed into the plain white envelope. Brian even held the flap of the envelope to his lips, imagining Justin's warm tongue licking it.
"Brian?" repeated Ben. "I said, don't you want to hear what the man has to say?"
But Brian shook his head. "No, Ben, I don't."
"But this is going to impact whether you get a new trial!" Ben exclaimed. "Brian, this is important!"
"If Glenn has anything vital to say, then I'm sure that Julie and Ron will let me know."
Ben shook his head. "No, Brian. This guy's name is Kirk... something or other. Not Glenn."
"Glenn," said Brian, quietly. "When I knew him he was Glenn. I didn't know he had another name. Or a lot of other names. I had no fucking idea. That's how naive I was. That's how much I believed in him."
"That's when you were a kid, Brian," said Ben. He sat down on the edge of the bottom bunk, next to Brian. "We all make mistakes. I've made a shitload of them in my time. If I didn't I wouldn't be in here! None of us would be."
"But Glenn played me, Ben," Brian declared. "How can I ever trust anyone again in my life after that? How can I ever really open myself up to someone knowing what could happen? Knowing what has already happened? That's why I never fully trusted Ron. I tried to, but I couldn't."
"That's Glenn?" asked Ben. "The one in the group who you were involved with?"
"Yes," said Brian. "The same one. I thought for years that he had left the country. Gone to South America or Africa or who the hell knows where. I never in a million fucking years thought I'd ever see him again."
"He's on the television right now, Brian," Ben reminded him. "Aren't you curious? Don't you want to see what he looks like? Don't you want to hear what he has to say?"
Brian looked directly at Ben. His hands were trembling slightly. "I've already heard what Glenn had to say. Things like 'I love you.' And 'I want you.' And 'You're so beautiful.' Those are the things that Glenn had to say. The same kind of lies that a guy tells some stupid girl in order to get her into bed. The same kind of lies that anyone with an ounce of sense would realize are total bullshit! But not me. Not the stupid little faggot." Brian swallowed and clutched Justin's letter tightly. "He was so good-looking. So sexy and masculine. His voice was low and lulling, telling me just what I wanted to hear. And I was so easy to lie to. So easy to convince. So easy to play."
"But that was a long time ago, Brian," Ben said gently. "Anyone can be trusting, especially when they think they're in love. Anyone can be suckered. No one would blame you for that."
"Blame me?" whispered Brian. "Convict me, you mean. Give me 20-years-to-life. That's how I paid for my trust. That's how I paid for my sins."
"You aren't a sinner, Brian," said Ben. "Don't be ridiculous!"
"Ask my mother about that," Brian replied. "Ask the people in the jury. Or the prosecutors who put me away. Or even my own lawyers who were disgusted with me because I was a faggot. Who wouldn't use my love for Glenn as part of my defense because they knew I would be even more despised if the whole world knew exactly what I was -- a fucking queer."
"A lot of things have changed in the world since then," said Ben. "People's attitudes have changed. They're much more open. More accepting. When you go to trial again it'll be different. Very different."
"You think so, Ben?" Brian stared at Justin's letter. "I still think the world is fucked up. And so are the people. They'll never let anyone different live the way they want to live or be the way they have to be. That's what terrifies me about Justin. He's so open. So honest. I fear for him. That's why I tried to protect him when he was in the Quad. But I failed. And out in the world...." Brian paused. "There's no place anywhere for the innocent, Ben. No place at all."
Ben sighed. He knew that Brian had been depressed, but Ben had been certain that these new developments in his case would lift Brian's spirits. But there was a more profound sadness in the man. A sadness not so easily dispelled.
"You're going to get out soon, Brian," said Ben. "That's all everybody on the tier is talking about. As far as I know that's all everybody in the whole Quad is talking about! It's going to happen. It really will."
"And how am I going to live on the outside, Ben?" Brian asked sincerely. "I've lived most of my adult life in this cell. All of the things that other people take for granted -- driving a car, cooking a meal, going to the store, crossing the fucking street! All of those things belong to a different world than the one I know. A huge, wide, scary world that's full of danger."
And suddenly Ben understood. "You're afraid, aren't you? You're afraid to leave the Quad! That's it, isn't it?"
But Brian was silent.
"You can't be afraid, Brian," Ben said. "You can't hide in here and retreat deeper and deeper into that dream world I know you have. You can't live in those dreams. Not anymore. Remember what the Tao says, 'The Ending is the Beginning.' When you finally leave Stanton, it isn't the end of your life, it's the start of your life." Ben leaned over and touched Brian's shoulder. "And Justin will be waiting for you. If you're really afraid, then you can let him lead you. Just because Glenn lied and just because Ron wasn't always able to meet your expectations, don't assume that Justin will do the same thing."
"He wouldn't," said Brian. "But... but that doesn't mean I'm not still afraid."
"Then meet that fear head on." Ben flexed his right arm, showing his pumped-up muscle. "You know how you can't retreat from the pain? How you have to meet it directly? That's the way you have to do everything, Brian."
"I know," Brian replied. "But it's fucking hard.."
Ben stood up. "I better get going. I told Michelle and Emmy that I'd bring you down. I'll explain to them that you didn't feel up to it."
"Ben, one more thing," said Brian. "I know that you... that you wanted certain things from me. But I couldn't. Do you understand? It's nothing against you. It's that I... I couldn't do it. Not when I was thinking about someone else. It would have destroyed me. I'm sorry, Ben."
"Don't be," said Ben, dismissing it. "Never apologize for following your heart. Then you can't ever go wrong."
"We'll see," breathed Brian. "If I can only learn to trust myself. Then we'll really see."
Posted June 30, 2005.