A while back, a long while back, I had finished up fifteen months in CB 8, an isolation unit at Florence. Two guards came out to the exercise-slash-dog kennel, cuffed me up & took me down to a guard in a tie at a desk. He checked off a few boxes, told me that I was done here & that I’d finish up my bit in Mojave Unit, a high medium near Agua Prieta. I would see the parole board in five or six months, contingent upon the absence of any further infractions. Well, that’ll do her, he said.
I went up to the parole board some seven months later. My mom, dad & my wife all made the drive, to show unlike most that I had a support system and maybe reach inside me to encourage any last hope still hanging ‘round.
The board was a group of sullen pedestrians chained to statutes, numbers & the shelf life of felons. They were short on listening, long on a hundred ways to say denied.
I went up for parole one, two, then three times. Each time they moved papers around, looked up to my visitors at the appropriate moments. But it was a done deal as they drug out nine years of my write-ups, verdicts from their court proceedings, internal investigations, gang involvement, descriptive notes of my wife’s interrogation while trying to visit me, necessary strip search of wife & a female friend, violence, drug abuse, and a Class 3 felony of promoting prison contraband.
Needless to say, it was overkill but it did prevent any further outside intrusions with my diminished support system.
Six months later I went before them again, the faces changed but they was all too familiar and my wife seemed almost relieved when they apologetically concurred. No. It was in those late afternoons when walking back to my bunk that I noticed the world outside had become abstract, a satellite speeding round a planet I had compartmentalized, at least the friends, family, relationships, and only now did I accept the miscue that I held no key back in.
It takes what it takes. For some, I could guess a year might do it. For others, well maybe they never fall off the edge of the world. It didn’t matter which world, just that most flipped a switch.
For me it was just a sign of things to come.
Another Christmas, a riot, more heroin, my body was tight. If I took the edge off, it wasn’t enough. I felt as if my ligaments, calf muscles had been stuffed inside a smaller frame. A friend had run up his tab with the border brothers’ gang, maybe he had lost his alarm for danger. He stood six foot something but wasn’t a bully. Anyhow, they moved him back up to the walls, people droppin’ kites, informants, rats. It never stopped.
I’d had my share. It was just one more step backwards into a vacuum that had no end, but entrances appeared like it was fucking Houdini.
The loudspeakers draped on poles crackled on a Friday morning just after count. Sedlmayr 63888. Report to parole board in re-class building on North Yard. Shit. I had just fixed & was cleaning the outfit when the ese keeping watch whistled. Cell block cop was coming my way to give me a pass to get across the yard. I was good n’ loaded. He wished me good luck. I washed my face, threw on a work shirt and lit up a cigarette as I walked slow, keeping to the right of a crowd. Jesus, the chow hall smelled like rotten vegetables. I made eye contact with men I knew, went through a quick pat down, wand, knocked on the door, another wand. Open your mouth, stick out your tongue. You just wake up? Yup I just woke up.
It was a good hour and some before they called my number. I slowly took a chair. I was dead calm. I didn’t give a shit. No one there to disappoint. I laughed quietly. It was all a charade. Fixed.
I answered the same questions. Can you speak up? Oh, yeah, sure, sure. I just couldn’t find one authentic word in them or in me. It was static, like on a little A.M. radio from when I was a kid.
I didn’t tell them how sorry I was for this, that, and the other thing. I wasn’t. Not this day. When I stepped out for their final reproach, all I thought about was that I had a ball of that shit in the broken light fixture on my run.
It took less than ten minutes this time. Shit, the guard laughed. What cha do to tick them off? No thin’, Boss. Whole bunch of nothing. He stopped laughing and stood near me as they read their decision. It took a second to get inside my head. You have served over 85% of both your sentences and we grant you parole. Of course, it’s intensive. Of course, I mumbled back.
But I felt nothing, no different, and that was why I was ready to go. An empty vessel that had carried a child’s body and now gave it up for good to the darkening of the light.