jailhouse-door-2Bill was tired and sore when he got back from the work detail. He was also sweaty and smelly, but he wouldn’t get a shower for two more days. They only got showers every three days, clean clothes too. The only exceptions were the farm details. They got showers and clothes every day since they worked in manure.

Bill’s hands were raw where they’d blistered. The blisters had burst, oozed fluid, then bled, but they’d finally dried. His joints were sore from all the work. Sawing through the lead wasn’t that bad, but pulling out the wires, that was tough. Some came out really easy. Others were a bitch. His back ached as well. That was from all the hours of leaning over the cable.

At least he had cigarettes. Later in the day two cops had come over. They weren’t workers at the range. They’d come to practice and had decided to see who was sorting lead and copper. They brought over a carton of Marlboro cigarettes and said they’d leave another for them for the next day. The cigarettes were seized in a bootleg cigarette bust and had found their way there. Oh my, they’d said, laughing. So Bill had three packs of butts enough to last him until he could get a visit on Saturday, three days away, when Sue could bring him cigarettes and put money in his commissary account.

Dinner was no better that night: brown cardboard stuff posing as some unidentifiable meat, runny-liquid, fake mashed potatoes, grey-green green beans and two slices of stiff bread. He drank the chocolate milk he’d chosen, slowly this time, remembering that he’d almost choked last time when he’d gulped it down.

Bill thought he’d sleep better this night. He was totally tired, his body fatigued all over. He wasn’t even hungry. The actual hunger pains had left him soon after he’d concluded he might not eat for a while. His mind was relatively calm too. He hadn’t had time to think much during the day and he was simply too tired to do so now as he climbed up to his bunk and lay down.

Oddly, he thought, there was a normalcy to things. The same groups as last night had formed and they were doing the same things they’d done then in the same places. Some men were sitting around in pairs, talking and smoking. The groups played cards, each with their own lookout. The tough’s group was more rowdy. The tough leading them, they went about rousting single inmates for cigarettes. The inmates were minding their own business, some napping, some reading. No one turned the tough down. No one spoke back. One guy said he only had a few left. The tough said he didn’t give a f–k.

One of the crew must have spotted Bill and said something because from nowhere the group took to the aisle and headed straight for Bill’s bunk. Bill did not see them until they were upon him, grouped between his bunk and the one before it. They situated themselves so the tough was out front of them and they we’re blocking the sight line from the front.

“Hey, new guy,” the tough said, “what you in here for?”

Bill didn’t move, didn’t get up. He didn’t even look at them. He spoke to the ceiling where his eyes were fixed. “Assault and battery,” he said.

“Who’d you beat up, your wife?” the tough asked.

“No. A cop,” Bill said.

For a long moment the tough studied Bill, what he could see of him. Then he pretty much did an about face and led his crew away.

Bill said a big thank you to God. Many times in his life he would tell people he was sure God existed. He was certain God had put those words in his mouth. He was certain God had protected him.