Without mercy.

The Native down in the corner cell with the shower, I don’t like the motherfucker, and he doesn’t like me. He was getting released in the morning a month back, when a female C.O. walked by and caught him jacking off with his back to the door. She popped the little bastard with an indecent privacy charge, and he received one year in county, in the same cell. He shaves his head bald due to his receding hairline, which I find odd in a Native so young, his early 30s, and he works out constantly. During the time when we have to stand in front of the cells, spoons in pockets, waiting to be waved down for chow, he shoots me steady, hostile looks, but I can’t take him seriously. In light of what happened to him, I can’t take him seriously.

I got a letter from Jack, or rather legal mail, the interview with Mia that he did, his letter of summary to Zane and therefore the DA. I read it. It was good. She was honest with him about me, about the two of us having sex, the whole nine yards. I tossed the envelope in the shelf space cut into the side of the bed. It reads #4 on the envelope over my name and SID number. Pod 4. I started to think about it, and my brain snapped open, a part of it that has been shut off, the thinking part, really, and I started jotting down things that ran across my mind with 4:

4 legs to a dog.

4 quarts to a gallon.

4 body systems.

4 primary body tissues.

4 gospels.

4 rivers from Eden.

4 pecks to a bushel.

4 oceans.

4 elements.

4 seasons.

4 business quarters.

4 quadrants to a circle.

4 suits in a deck of cards.

4 limbs.

4 horsemen.

4H clubs.

4th dimension, the coordinate dimension to the existing three dimensions, related as time, to describe any event. Einstein derived that there is an extra 43 seconds of arc per century relative to Mercury’s orbit.

4 Rushmore heads.

4 food groups.

4 directions.

4 faces of God, or rather Ezekiel’s vision of God:  4 living creatures.

4 is the last description of basic grouping: 2 is a couple, 3 is a few, 4 is several or more.

4 to an ideal family.

4 outer spheres.

4 layers of earth.

4 colors of race.

4 phases of life: youth, adult, middle-age, elderly.

4 main principles of evolution: embryology, morphology, biogeography, paleontology.

4 sub-sections of evolution: population genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, and genomics, which is basically machine-driven genetic sequencing.

4 rows of checkers/back row of chess.


Impatient today, languid, angry, a man unkind. I would seriously not wish this upon my worst enemy. I want to be whole again, to feel the air pulsing around me, the beat of the city, the warmth of life. All this dead time, though it occurs to me that I’ve spent a great deal of my life in a small room writing, and it also occurs to me that being able to leave that room was part of the glue that held me to the writing, because what was on the other side of the door was the enemy. The jobs, the faces, the human race going on mechanically, all of it was the enemy in my youth. It’s reversed in here, like how obesity once meant wealth. And nothing is more mechanical than jail. Shit, all those hours I thought I was beating the rap, all the time I saw the general public as something to avoid. I was a young fool in love with the word, and that’s all there was to it. Knowing that now hardly lessens the grip I have on that time. It calls me back to it, actually, but there is nothing further from the romance of life than jail. Nothing. Even death is a release, a peace, or it must be. It’s hard to imagine seeing any of these guys on the outside. Like I can’t imagine Bates in street clothes.

What I wouldn’t give to be in a bookstore again, to have a selection of true literature from which to pull, to see a novel of mine perched upon their shelves like a trophy. I have to beat this case, Helena, I have to see the impossible through. Let their evidence tower over me, but let three jurors see the burning truth, see through the contrivance of the state, the bullshit of the state and the corrupt police work, the lies from the midget whore, with her freakish, little hands holding a tissue to her nose. Let the state throw me at the wall. I have to be heard.

Small disgusts are luxuries now. Boredom, a day trapped in the house due to weather, a shitty job, bills, one beer until payday, a flat tire, a bad driver in front of me, a parking ticket. Luxuries.

Hardwood floors, and the carpet of a staircase. Closing the door behind me in the bathroom, a toilet seat, hot water. A living room past a kitchen, a cup of coffee on the table by the couch, the sweet taste of music, the idea of drinking whiskey after the sun falls. All of it, and so mad am I with love for the world in this cell that it breaks me into tears.


Over breakfast, I heard about an inmate who last year smashed a deputy’s face in with his fist, grabbed his keys and got out of the pod and down the hall to the final door before the outside, when he was tasered. On top of the 15 dollar charge for the taser cartridge, he was thrown in the hole, given a muumuu to wear and has existed on bread loaf and water since. He just sits there and rots in the dark. I watched the deputy and the jumpsuits. My whole life has been spent getting away from shit like this, on a larger scale. The uniform of life, the blindness of ignorance and the lack of question. I chose the metal to live, to burn upon the dense air, the road and the sunlight, the words and wander, the feeling of the words leaving my fingertips and entering the keys in long rips of light and grace, the burning of fog and swamp, long lines of blood without the mercy of fading.


A barber’s chair, a clean haircut, clean neck and ears. A black t-shirt, jeans, sneakers. A fucking belt. Change in my pockets. Contact lenses, and not these old and scratched glasses, mismatched nose pads, cracked and dated. Being able to again own fingernail and toenail clippers without having to check them out from the pod desk. The mania of being in here has created a pair of palms compressing my chest and back together at all times. I know I have to stay strong, I know that I have to fight this. I miss you and our time behind the machine together so goddamn much it’s crazy. The resentment of this place has easily and effortlessly crossed over to hatred. The faces, the fucking faces, Helena. Seeing the young faces is especially sickening. Eyes filled and frozen in the rictus of paranoia and morbid fascination, but mixed with an evil numbness. I don’t hear any older inmates scorning the younger ones, no warnings imparted, zero edification. Misery does not love company in here so much as misery eats itself. The cards shuffle, paranoid and desperate questions spark self-doubt, the long and dark miles of not knowing your fate, but thinking you do, and what you think is based on what you see, the worst possible outcome.

Basketball games. I should be thankful for them. They get the cell doors popped open, depending on the deputy, who is usually a fan of sports, and it keeps the population in here seated and mesmerized, freeing up the phones and tables. It’s the dawning of a raw time, Helena. I can’t tell you how important you are to me. It’s not comprehensible. I know things have to work out if I am ever going to be seated in a soft chair with my music, your solar eyes resting beneath the keys, waiting for the right feeling to trigger the right sentence, so you will awake and pull me down home.

-from Bad Jacket.

About Jeff Stewart

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