Caffeine, jail, and broken teeth.

 

She’s trying to be casual, and she speaks low to the deputy and he pulls me up on the computer. She shakes her head at the screen then at him. She walks over and holds her paper work to her side,

“Mr. Stanton?”

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry. But what the hell?”

“I know. It’s all bullshit.”

“In this case I’d have to agree. A fan?”

“Apparently not.”

She flashes a helpless smile,

“You’re going to trial?”

“Looks like it.”

“You need to fight this. I worry that it’s in this county. You know about it, right?”

“I’m learning fast.”

She touches my forearm, the first time I’ve been touched by a human for no reason in almost a week.  The feeling is unfamiliar and warm, and it brings on a sadness without any traces of beauty.

“I’ll pray for you,” she says.

“I’ll take it.”

Her inmate appears in front of her, a black guy with short dreads that look blown backward by gunfire, an uneven goatee and teeth I smell from where I sit. She looks at me and walks him to another table, sits and records what she needs to. She’s glancing at me, then she’s gone. One of the Mexicans appears in front of me. He has thick glasses and greased back hair, tattoos neck to knuckles. He’s wearing golds, a pod worker, a trustee with short time in jail. But anyone can see he’s done real time. The bad rendition of his own face on his arm holding a pistol with his street number above him gives it away dead. That, or a seriously free tattoo on the street. But a few other tics give him away. I’d seen it with my father’s new friends after my mother passed. There’s a look to them, to ex-cons. This one has it in spades. He leans his elbows on the table,

“So what’s up, man? What’s going on with the nurse?”

“She recognized me from downtown.”

“We figured that out. So you’re like a writer, a real writer?”

“It’s my job, yes.”

“Holy shit,” he laughs charmingly but exactly, “why the fuck are you in here?”

I have tried before Helena, tried telling them that I can’t talk about it, but all that points to is child molestation. Even a capital murder charge is something to be proud of in here, depending on the victim. I think about saying assault, but all one of them has to do is have someone on the phone go on-line with my name. For that matter, a bad pod deputy can tell them if they know them well enough, and some of them do. Some of them went to high school together. I look at him squarely,

“Four counts of rape.”

The words check him, and I don’t blink once. He leans back and looks at me,

“There’s no fucking way.”

“That’s what I tried getting across.”

“You going to the box?”

“Yes.”

“All Measures.”

“That’s right.”

He shakes his head at me,

“You know you’re going to get bopped, right? Nobody wins that trial here. We had a guy on your tier up until last month,” he nods to their table, “what was that joto’s name, the dude in on the skin beef?”

“Everett,” one of them says. He looks back at me, “He was in here for over six months waiting for trial, hired a private attorney, and he lost, lost his fucking ass. Two Measures, 16 years, 8 months, and the girl was is ex-wife.”

“Great.”

He smiles, “You know the bitch good?”

“I guess not.”

His eyes narrow, “How old is she?”

I stare at him, “35, man. Come on.”

“You have a private attorney, or a public pretender?”

“I had to have one assigned by the state.”

“What’s their evidence? Not that they need any here. Have you got your discovery yet?”

“No.”

He looks at me and starts to say something, but he’s muted by the deputy’s scream:

“STANTON! ATTORNEY VISIT!”

The Mexican points up the staircase to the chairs and glass,

“They’ll probably have you in the private room. You can hear shit in there, just so you know.”

I stand and he nods to me, “If you can get money for bail, you’re better off hiring a real attorney instead, in case you’re thinking about any of that. Also, keep your mouth shut about your case from here on in.”

The deputy yells at me,

“STANTON! MOVE!”

The Mexican nods at me, and in his nod I see something there, something that tells me he understands that I am here without cause. A seasoned inmate can spot the offense without asking, anyway, and after being locked up with fellow criminals, a false criminal like me isn’t hard to notice. I’m not worried about him running his mouth, even if he does. I wait for the door to pop open and I sit. It’s like a roofed cubicle. I stare at the door behind the glass, off to the right of the view, and I wonder what it looks like, the hallway leading to it, and before that the outside of the hallway, then the check-in area, then the door before it, then the door that leads outside, down the fucking road and back to the world, which grows more magical by the second. I think of the gorge again, of Mia on all fours, seeing a woman’s pussy and thighs, the curves of her back and her hair flopping around her shoulders and face while I fuck her. It’s all based on fear, Helena, every thought, every breath.

He’s a decent looking man, fair looking. He’s in his later fifties with a trimmed goatee and what may or may not be a hairpiece. He’s on the heavy side. He has a smart face, maybe beaten by numbers, though. In the first few glances I see an overworked lawyer, and it worries me. I wonder how many times he faces the accused, if he has his words rehearsed for each charge. He sits and looks at me, and I feel no suffering by comparison, but rather the need to find a paid attorney. He’s too friendly looking for me to see defending me at trial, but I’ve never been to a trial. He gives me a concerned breath and talks,

“I’m Zane Hazel. I’ve been appointed to your case by the state. First off, take everything you’ve heard about innocent until proven guilty and the rest of that bullshit and throw it out the window. Right now, you’re guilty of rape in the eyes of the state. That’s why you’re here.”

“Alright. Great.”

He leans to his elbows,

“Do you have anything you want to say to me, any questions?”

“I didn’t do this. I’m a fucking writer, man. I’ve never been locked up. I’m 39 for Christ’s sake. I miss my life, my dogs. I miss my dogs.”

There is no composure left. I place my head into my forearms and sob. It’s the first time in years.

I straighten up, “I’m sorry.”

“That’s alright, John. I understand, believe me. This is some serious shit you’ve gotten into.”

He shakes his head at me and looks out down to the pod, which is ending walk-time, and the jumpsuits move toward the cells.

“How are you holding up?”

“You mean in the belly of the slave ship? It’s a living nightmare.”

He looks at me intensely. There’s something to him, I don’t know if it’s my delusion of hope, but I sense he sees something in me, beyond the truth, which is obviously a rarity for him, going by what I’ve seen in jail, but maybe a truth worth defending. I can’t shake the phrase public pretender. He returns my stare and doesn’t blink once,

“I want you to know that I’m going to bust my ass for you.”

“Thank you, Zane.”

“I’ll send you the police reports, the discovery. It will be marked legal mail. I’ll see you in about a week. Stay strong.”

He leaves. I press the button and the door opens. The pod deputy is younger than me with a bald head. I grab my tablet from the table and walk past his desk, up the stairs and stand with my back toward him while I wait for the door to pop. It isn’t opening. I count to 60, then turn around. He has a smug smile, the fat prick. Once our eyes meet he pops the door, and I feel a genuine desire to punch him in the mouth. But I smile and tell him he’s done a good job. It confuses his fat rat’s face, and he starts to think of something, but I’m in the cell and the door is closed and he has no choice but to throw the lock.

At lunch, which is actually breakfast time for people not familiar with rapists, speed freaks, murderers, thieves, recklessly drunk drivers and vagrants, Butts nods at me,

“Anything exciting happen while I slept through morning walk-time?”

“No. Talked to Elliot.”

“The snitch?”

“Never mind. Fuck it.”

“Come on, tell me.”

“I don’t have the energy.”

Butts bites into his sandwich. It looks like cat food on Wonder Bread. He shakes his head at it,

“He talks out of his ass a lot.”

The Gay Blade lisps into his tray,

“Good news from your attorney?”

“No.”

The old druggie with the glasses, who Butts calls Trump, watches my sandwich. The pod deputy is walking the top tier. I flop it onto his tray. He picks it up,

“God bless you.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

The table behind Butts’ chair laughs. He looks at me and shakes his head,

“Dude, you’ve got to lighten up. Otherwise when you get out of here, you’re going to be different.”

I look at him.  We’re in on felony sex Measures, though mine is at least worthy of trial, but the way things are looking I don’t stand much of a chance. My gut won’t let me back down from the truth, even with all the fear that is living inside of me and through me. A table darkened off in the corner by the vestibule door catches my eye. The guy with the blown dreads is there, as well as a scraggly looking guy with a goatee, a young man maybe in his later twenties who looks like an islander and a thin guy with a shaved head. They eat and stay quiet, but I notice the black guy is grabbing food off their trays, but they don’t seem to mind. Butts shoots me a smile over his food,

“Now, that’s the table you don’t want to sit at, dude. Black one is Peyton, but we call him Fastback. In on 14 counts of rape. He goes to trial in two days. He’s going to fucking lose, that I promise you. He’s tough, though, probably the meanest one in here. He’ll be alright.”

I look over casually. Butts doesn’t need to stare at them, he has the whole place figured out, memorized, even who sits in which seat. Each element of jail is programmed, even flesh. Color by numbers. Almost all are system babies, Helena. They’ve been in and out so many times, they get used to the program, they get comfortable. What is sex and sun, ocean and sweat to a system baby? Mere extras, nothing essential. Butts sips his juice and picks up his sandwich,

“The one across from Fastback is Norman. He’s from Hawaii or some shit. He’s in for molesting his wife’s 8 year old daughter after they’d been married two years. He’s actually one of the smarter ones in here, always reading, always into a crossword. He’s quiet, but he has to be. The one who looks like he just stepped out of the Scooby-mobile is some white trash dude in for yet another parole violation, failure to register as a sex-offender, and the guy with the shaved head is Lovejoy, who’s in on 2 counts of rape. Norman and Lovejoy have both been here for half a year, easily. They keep getting moved back. The longer they sit here, the less time they sit in prison.”

“Is that true?”

“It can be. Not in Fastback’s case, unless you see time served here as time off in prison, but with a Measure, it’s day for day. Even with the time served here, it’s nothing. In cases like mine, it’s definitely a truism. The DA will eventually knock me out of a Measure for a plea, or I’m hoping he will. The girl isn’t crying rape. Her parents are. She’s even admitted that she lied to the Grand Jury.”

A Mexican yells bullshit from the table behind us, and his table laughs. Butts looks at him,

“Go fuck yourself, Torres. Unintelligent piece of shit.”

They laugh again. Butts looks at me,

“I don’t give a fuck. I have nothing to hide.”

Trump picks up his piece of pink cake. It’s shriveled and dry. He mumbles,

“Why do I always get the fuckin’ rape-o cake?”

He looks at me immediately, “No offense, John.”

“None taken, Trump. Believe me.”

He shakes his head, “Child molester over there has piece of cake the size of Gibraltar. I get this fuckin’ thing.”

The Gay Blade laughs into his tray. Butts looks at me, and I break it by staring out onto the cement, which I am doing again, only the sky is still full with rain and brighter because it’s after dinner, which was the same as lunch. And pm walk-time is the same, only we were out for half an hour, then celled in when the med cart arrived. But this deputy, a butch lesbian, decides to leave us in. She rules with an iron twat, short hair, fat around the middle, and extra pissed because she’s surrounded by cock. She yells, she barks, and she blasts the Trailblazers game at full volume after lights-out. Most of the pod is into it, they stand at their windows and watch the televisions, and those who can’t see the screens watch the others watching.

I’ve never been into sports, in fact, I’ve avoided them. Boxing was different, Helena. That was one on one, truly being responsible for your own result. I lay on the bed and stare at the ceiling, try to use the game as white noise but it’s no good. As an extra gift from Hell, the air conditioning, which might shut off for five minutes once every five days, has gone silent, and I hear it all, commercials included, some of them local, some of them talking about businesses right by where I used to live. I can say to a certainty that everything feels futile. Why take a shower, I’m in jail. Why worry about my teeth or the shape of my body, I’m in jail. Even pissing feels like a waste of time, a bothersome distraction that takes me off of this bed. It takes four days for me to take a shit. Bates says, through his rotting teeth fronting a pony-tail, that it’s normal for newboots to not shit for days on end. You don’t even own a plastic cup, until you get commissary, which was begrudged to me on Tuesday by the dyke bitch. Unclassifieds were supposed to be able to order, but she never got to us, and when she sees my tumbler in hand, she calls me to the desk and asks me where I’d gotten it. I tell her I don’t remember. She tells me to set it on the counter, so I do. No more tumbler. Back out onto the concrete, it’s like an afterlife, a nightmare, the jumpsuits, the near night sky that I know looks beautiful from the riverfront.

Two more days and nights are the same as the others, nothing changes. At the table, I find out that The Gay Blade has signed off on 16 years, day for day. He smiles at Trump,

“Life as I know it is over.”

Trump keeps his eyes on his food, and the food on the trays around him. I notice that my fingernails are turning an ugly shade of milk, and they’re flimsy. Out on the concrete, Bates walks next to me. I haven’t been putting off a formal introduction, Helena. It’s just that he’s one of those guys who you describe and shrug, and say, “He’s just Bates.” But he’s also alright, to be fair. I actually like Bates. He’s shorter than me, skinny, and on meds. He looks like a young, watered down Manson with his frailty and half beard. Bates is creepy and lost, but has tons of heart. Turns out that the screams I hear at two in the morning are from his cell, which is almost directly below mine. He screams in his sleep, says he’s been doing it since childhood. Like several of the others, he’s from Forest Grove, apparently a crime center. He talks about his latest arrest, stealing a watch from Fred Meyer while he shopped with his girlfriend. Outside, the security guard goes to grab him but Bates takes off. They detained his girl, who called him from the back of the car, and told him that she was pregnant. She was going to tell him that night before bed. He told me that they arrested him and held him because the guard claimed that he pulled a knife to stop him.

“Did you?”

“Man, fuck no.”

I don’t believe him, but I smell his dark, shitty coffee. I now have no cup, and I’m envious of inmates holding theirs, and Elliot hasn’t come through with any coffee, anyway, though he’s had the letter I wrote his girl for two days. I smell the caffeine from his cup, and it’s almost like sensing an old friend. He hasn’t sipped it yet, and the top of the black is thick. He hands me his cup,

“Go ahead.”

“Seriously?”

“Sure. It’s leaded, man. I cook it strong.”

I raise the hot plastic cup to my mouth, and my palms burn greatly. The foam is thick under my nose, generic and instant, but hot and powerful caffeine all the same. I drink, and it’s like a feeding or a transfusion, a shot of what meth must be like. Even in Hell, in all of this fucking deadness, my blood moves faster. I’m going to write to you about what happened regarding me being here, loyal Helena, because you of all people will get sick to your stomach, like the ones who really know me have.

–Excerpt from Bad Jacket

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About Jeff Stewart

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