jailhouse-door-2The ride took about forty minutes. The other inmates chatted and laughed. Bill could see out the side windows and watched the cars as they passed or were passed. At traffic lights where they were stopped, Bill could see people in other cars looking in at them. He looked back out at them.

When they arrived, Bill saw it was a big facility. There were several buildings. One was an indoor pistol range. One was a bullet-making factory. One was a storage building. One was a warehouse, a big, barn-like structure. This was where Bill and the others were taken. It was here that one of the older inmates was given two packs of Marlboro cigarettes by one of the cops, so Bill was able to finally get a smoke.

“God is that good,” Bill said. “Haven’t had a cigarette since yesterday morning.”

“You can get them in the commissary,” one of the inmates said. “Or you can have someone bring them in on Saturday, at visiting, and they can leave them on account for you. If you don’t have any money now, they can leave money on account too.”

“Okay,” Bill said, starting to get a feel for how things were set up.

That same cop returned several moments later. He had a pot of coffee and six paper coffee cups. They all helped themselves. He introduced himself to Bill, shook Bill’s hand, told him he’d read his history and as long as Bill did as he was told, things would be smooth and easy. Bill said okay.

No one seemed inclined to start working and Bill had no idea what the work actually was. All he could see was a huge pile of dull grey cable, maybe six inches around.

They all sat on the pile of cable. Bill smoked two cigarettes and drank two cups of coffee. Then he asked where to go to take a leak. He was told he could go behind the building or walk up to the range. He decided to take the walk.

Twice on the way he was stopped by policemen. He told them where he was headed and they let him go. The walk, being alone, was one of the best parts of the day. Taking a whiz in private was nice too.

Then he was back with the others and they started work. The job was simple. They had three hacksaws. They worked in pairs, took up the cable and sawed through the lead in six foot lengths. Inside were copper wires, several  of them, each one paper wrapped. When they had cut several sections, they started pulling out the copper wires. Each wire was unwrapped from its paper. The lead was stacked in one pile, the copper in another. The paper was put in big metal cans to be burned.

They worked through until noon when lunch was delivered. Bill would discover it was the same every day, a sandwich, bologna or ham, and a milk. Bill would give his sandwich away every day and drink  the  milk and  coffee that was brought over by the policemen.

What Bill hadn’t counted on were the blisters. In the first hour of work that first day Bill ripped the skin off from just beneath each finger on both hands except his thumbs. The skin ripped from the thumbs was between the pointers and thumbs, one the side. At lunch, the spots, all ten of them, we’re raw and red and sore. By mid-afternoon they were oozing fluid and that would be mixed with blood by quitting time.

“Couple of days and they’ll turn to callouses,” one of the guys said. “They’ll hurt till then, but you’ll live. We all did.”

Bill lived.