The lights for the hallway and all of the cells all snap on together, accompanied by the march of booted footsteps and the rattle of key chains, they all herald my first wake up. Despite the uncomfortable bed and thin blankets that did little to stave off the cold I’ve had a pretty good sleep. After all, it’s still a step up from the even harder and colder streets where I was sleeping just yesterday.
After the satisfaction of relieving myself I stand before the sink and splash cold water on my face, allowing the chill to clear away the last of sleep’s fugue. I look at myself in the polished metal tile we’re provided for use as a mirror. One side of my face is discoloured by a large bruise, and a day’s growth is shadowing my face. This will be my first public appearance, so I should at least make some effort. So with cheap soap I wash myself and then with an even cheaper razor scrape the stubble from my face, wincing as I shave over the bruise.
In just a few minutes I am done, clean and refreshed. The guards are marching up and down the corridor, making sure everyone is out of bed. Breakfast will be served in ten minutes, we must all be ready to leave our cells by then. I dress in the prison issue uniform, blue and white striped shirt, loose jeans and stiff black boots then make my bed in the regulation manner. It’s the first thing they taught me, the cell must be kept clean and the bed always made properly unless it was night and I was sleeping in it. It’s these little rules that reinforce the big one, loss of freedom isn’t just being locked in a cell, and it’s having choice over the little things taken away from you as well. But I don’t mind, let them have their little victories while they can.
There’s some commotion down the hall, someone isn’t obeying orders as quickly as they should. Imagine that, hardened criminals not doing as they are told. It brings a smile to my face. As much as the screws, the convicts hate a change in routine and I can hear grumbling and the odd shout for him to get his fucking arse in gear.
I take a moment to ponder my situation, I could so easily be still be outside these walls. For years I have acted unnoticed from the shadows, bringing my own personal flavours of doom into other people’s lives. For thirty odd years I have operated without detection or anybody suspecting. Or at least anyone suspecting for very long I thought wryly. And now I was going to go public, not just here in the prison, but in the coming court case as well. I don’t think any of these poor fools realised what was coming.
But the heart of the matter is that I have come here to die, that’s what it has boiled down to. It seems an odd thing, but I am tired, I don’t get the same satisfaction that I used. So I have come here for a final stand. They might not be ready for me, but human beings are adaptable creatures and once I have unleashed hell upon them, they will find a way to stop me. Or at I least I hope they do. I would like to end on a high note.
But not yet, there’ll be no endings today. First I have to take the little steps. I need to sow the seeds that will eventually grow into my ownership of this prison. Not just hearts and minds, but body and soul of every living person in here. To move too quickly would spoil the entertainments I already have planned for the coming court case. Once I have been judged I can move onto the next stage.
For today I must only accomplish a little thing, I must earn that first kernel of respect. With the other prisoners I already have some of that. A murderer, especially one who has just killed five people, including two police officers ,with his bare hands in a busy morning street will automatically be treated with a little bit of caution. Word will have spread by now, I’m sure I’ve been featured heavily in the morning news, but as with everything, people need to see things with their own eyes. So I will need to use someone to set an example, I’m sure somebody here won’t disappoint me.
There are two tribes in here, both as violent, and in their own way as dangerous as each other. The convicts are relatively easy to deal with, the officers less so. They are a law unto themselves and are well used to bending it in their daily battle to maintain order. They won’t be so impressed by a show of strength and they certainly won’t feel any respect for a cop-killer. For them I will need to take a less obvious approach.
The cell doors start to open, disturbing my musing. We’re let out, one group at a time to collect our breakfast before returning to our cells. It’s good to stretch the legs a little, everything feels a little stiff. I’m lucky I heal quickly, and the beating wasn’t so bad. I head out into the corridor where everything is bright. Pale walls and shiny floor, kept meticulously clean by the prisoners now leaving their cells.
I take the opportunity to look around my fellow travellers, to see them in the flesh. Apart from one or two exceptions they all could be cast from the same mould. Sure, they all look different, some big and bulky, others small and wiry, and all variations, colours and ages in between. But they all have the same eyes. In war films they call it the ‘Thousand yard stare’, they are the eyes of people who seen things that others have not. These are the eyes of people that live in a constant world of danger and while most of them wouldn’t admit it, fear.
A few of the more bold ones look at me, checking me out. Some nod, they know who I am. Or at least they think they do. Our sobbing friend from the night before makes his grand entrance, a rabbit surrounded by wolves. Everyone can read the panic in his furtive movements, he knows that a dozen predators are now watching him hungrily. He tries to keep close to the guards, but everyone knows, that for his crimes, the only protection he can hope for, is solitary confinement. And once there, confinement is a slow demise into misery and lonely death.
Two guards stride boldly between the prisoners, they are lions amongst the wolves. Despite being outnumbered they must show only strength. The uniforms and what they represent help them stand taller than they really do. They might be outnumbered, but they are a force that works together, even the few gangs that exist here cannot match their organisation.
The guards corral us towards the stairs, through the first set of steel gates, there another officer waits, watching us all closely.
We walk down the stairs, heading towards the mess hall. In other wings we would all eat together, but in this wing it would be dangerous to allow this. As we head near the counter where the breakfast is laid out, the smell surprisingly enticing, and I am annoyed at the itch that starts on the back of my neck. It seems my little demonstration is going to happen a bit quicker than I thought. No matter, now, tomorrow, the next day, it doesn’t matter at all. It has to happen sometime. Although as my salivating mouth points out, it would have been nice to eat first.
The breakfast is laid out in large metal trays, bacon in one, small sausages in another, and a choice of fried or scrambled eggs. Some toast, some porridge. All in all not a bad meal, it really is a shame I’m going to miss it.
The waiting line shuffles closer, I am almost at the food. I have picked up the metal tray our food will be served on, a large plastic mug for which to add tea or coffee. Another step, a movement from behind, the moment is coming.
I cast my mind out and can see Peterson, a giant of a man pushing his way through the line towards me. He’s serving life for an armed robbery that went wrong and ended with a dead cashier. He is a violent man who is used to easy victories, even in here. He doesn’t realise the mistake he’s about to make.
In one hand he has a sock with a large battery inside it, a common and surprisingly effective weapon in here. I delve a little deeper and see that he has been paid to do this, 200 real cigarettes, rather than the more common rollups wait for him back in his cell. Sure enough the guards dotted around the hall are studiously ignoring the movements, only the guard positioned behind the food counter doesn’t appear to be in on it, but he hasn’t noticed anything yet.
The other prisoners move out of his way, he has an evil reputation, a loner that no-one else will mess with, even those with connections. A man after my own heart I muse as I let him approach closer.
He swings, I spin towards him as I duck allowing the weighted sock to sweep over my head, I rise from the crouch jabbing the metal tray forwards straight into his throat. He collapses to the ground, gasping for air.
The guards react quickly blowing whistles and calling for back-up. Some move the waiting prisoners against the wall, where they are made to wait on their knees for the excitement to finish. There are a few shouts of encouragement, everyone likes to see a big man fall.
Before the nearest of the two guards reach me I drop the tray and fall to the ground face first, offering no resistance. One of them manages a sly kick to the ribs before they secure my wrists with plastic rip ties and lift me from the floor.
I am taken to the block, it’s only a short walk but I enjoy the open air while it lasts. It’s a lovely winter’s day, the air is brisk, but the sun feels warm on my face. My ribs hurt a little, but already the pain is starting to fade. Within minutes I’m inside a new cell, much sparser than my own. The block is where they take prisoners for special punishment and in here even defending yourself is a crime.
What does annoy me though is that I’m feeling hungry and I won’t get fed now until lunchtime. It hardly seems fair to me.