Keeplock - Stephen Solomita - ebook

Keeplock ebook

Stephen Solomita

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A repeat offender freshly sprung from prison tries to do the impossible: Stay out trouble. Peter Frangello hasn't spent three straight years out of jail since he was sixteen. Now past thirty, he's nearing parole when his prison block neighbor is burned alive in his cell, a vicious attack that was intended for Frangello himself. He spends his last week in protective custody, and when he is released back into the world he makes a resolution to stay clean - not for morality's sake, but because if he goes back inside, the next hit won't miss. But for a man whose only skills are stealing and doing time, staying out of trouble is not easy. As old associates and an army of crooked cops put pressure on him, Frangello will find that, inside or out, he's doomed to remain a prisoner for life.

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Contents

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

THIRTEEN

FOURTEEN

FIFTEEN

SIXTEEN

SEVENTEEN

EIGHTEEN

NINETEEN

TWENTY

TWENTY-ONE

TWENTY-TWO

TWENTY-THREE

TWENTY-FOUR

TWENTY-FIVE

TWENTY-SIX

TWENTY-SEVEN

TWENTY-EIGHT

TWENTY-NINE

THIRTY

THIRTY-ONE

THIRTY-TWO

THIRTY-THREE

THIRTY-FOUR

THIRTY-FIVE

THIRTY-SIX

THIRTY-SEVEN

THIRTY-EIGHT

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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Cover

Begin Reading

About the Book

A repeat offender freshly sprung from prison tries to do the impossible: Stay out trouble.

Peter Frangello hasn’t spent three straight years out of jail since he was sixteen. Now past thirty, he’s nearing parole when his prison block neighbor is burned alive in his cell, a vicious attack that was intended for Frangello himself. He spends his last week in protective custody, and when he is released back into the world he makes a resolution to stay clean - not for morality’s sake, but because if he goes back inside, the next hit won’t miss.

But for a man whose only skills are stealing and doing time, staying out of trouble is not easy. As old associates and an army of crooked cops put pressure on him, Frangello will find that, inside or out, he’s doomed to remain a prisoner for life.

About the Author

Stephen Solomita (b. 1943) is a prolific author of thrillers. Born in Bayside, Queens, he worked as a cab driver before becoming a novelist in the late 1980s. His first novel, A Twist of the Knife (1988), won acclaim for its intimate depiction of New York’s rough patches, its gritty style, and its dark vision of urban terrorism. This debut introduced Stanley Moodrow, a disaffected New York Police Department detective.Solomita wrote six more novels starring Moodrow, moving the character into a PI practice, and concluded the series with Damaged Goods (1996).

Keeplock

A Novel of Crime

Stephen Solomita writing as David Cray

 

BASTEI ENTERTAINMENT

 

Bastei Entertainment is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe AG

 

Copyright © 2015 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Schanzenstraße 6-20, 51063 Cologne, Germany

 

For the original edition:

Copyright © 2013 by The Mysterious Press, LLC, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY. U.S.A.

 

Copyright © 1995 by Stephen Solomita

 

Project management: Lori Herber

Cover adaptation: Christin Wilhelm, www.grafic4u.de

Cover design by Erin Fitzsimmons

 

E-book production: Jouve Germany GmbH & Co. KG

 

ISBN 978-3-95859-473-9

 

www.bastei-entertainment.com

 

All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this e-book or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

ONE

EVEN THOUGH I’VE GOT the required tattoo—the one that says DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR—and I’ve been in and out of the required institutions since I was nine years old, the simple truth is that I’ve lost my nerve and I can’t go back. The tattoo was applied with India ink and the sharpened tine of a dining hall fork. I was in the baby jail on Rikers Island at the time, trying so hard to impress the few white boys in my housing area, that I believed my own advertising.

That’s the trick, of course. If you mean to survive in the Institution without giving up your soul, you have to believe that you’re ready to kill at any moment. The myth goes like this—if the other cons think I’m willing to kill (or die) for what’s mine, they’ll leave me alone. If they think I’m soft, they’ll suck out the last drop of my blood. All prisoners subscribe to this myth, even the ones who give up that last drop. Even the snitches.

It makes perfect sense, when you think about it. With no money, no friends on the outside, no one coming to visit, now or ever, what else have we got except the belief that there’s some value in never taking a backward step?

I was in my cell. Eight days before I was scheduled to go out on parole. The cell block was in a lockdown because a Rican he-she named Angel had shanked his husband, Pito, with a filed-down plastic toothbrush. It wasn’t much of a cut and rumor had it the two would make up as soon as the hacks let Angel out of the box. Meanwhile, it was every con in his cell while the Squad went through the usual bullshit shakedown. As if they didn’t know we’d dumped our weapons and our contraband as soon as Pito began to yell.

The Squad came onto the block about ten minutes after the stabbing. They wore black padded vests and black helmets with plastic face shields—a platoon of Darth Vaders accountable only to the warden. In the minds of the corrections officers, fear of the Squad was all that stood between them and the convicts.

But on this particular day the Squad seemed as bored as we were. Angel and Pito had been removed by the time they came pounding onto the block and the cons had gone back into their cells without being ordered. Still, the Squad went by the book. They called us out, one at a time, for questioning, while the corrections officer in charge of our block tossed the cells, scattering our possessions.

“I didn’t see nothin’, boss. I was in my cell when it happened.” No expression of concern on my face, though I could end up in the infirmary for a cocky smile imagined by a paranoid CO.

A deputy warden named Maason wrote down every word I said, nodding as he went along. Everybody knew that Pito loved to kick his sissy’s ass. The stabbing was Angel’s way of telling Pito where the line was—part of a prison ritual so boring it made time into God. Angel wasn’t trying to kill Pito. If Pito died, Angel would have to find someone just like him. That or become a prison whore, which in the age of AIDS means certain death.

The dep grunted and sent me back to my home—a one-man cell on the only block in the Cortlandt Correctional Facility that wasn’t given over to housing areas twice the size of basketball courts. It took me five years to get that cell. I put myself on a waiting list when I came through the gates and paid ten cartons of Kools to the posse who controlled the block when my turn came up. Of course, I could have bought a cell at any time, but the going price for new fish was a thousand dollars cash. Which is why my neighbors were wise guys or big-time Colombian dealers like Pito or embezzlers with enough brains not to show fear.

The Squad left after the dep finished his investigation, but the lock-down would continue through the night. Baloney sandwiches in the cell, no gym, no yard. In a Max A institution like Cortlandt, withdrawal of privileges was a routine punishment, even for those who hadn’t participated in the infraction.

In the army, when you take a break, the sergeant says, “Smoke ’em if you got ’em,” meaning cigarettes. In the joint, when you’re stuck in your cell, the rule goes like this: if you got it, then smoke it, shoot it, eat it, or stick it up your ass in the form of a suppository.

“Hey, Frangello?” It was Joe Terrentini, my neighbor. “Do yiz got anything?”

“Speed,” I said. “I got two reds.”

“Could I buy one from yiz?”

Half an hour later, time became bearable. Cells like mine had many advantages over the crowded dormitory blocks, the most obvious being safety. I was stoned past the point of boredom, crazily rapping with Joe Terrentini about Angel’s declaration of independence. Terrentini hated homosexuals. He’d been in the garbage business until the Organized Crime Task Force nailed him for hauling bodies off to the dump.

“The fuckin’ faggot got his fuckin’ just deserts. He got just what the fuck he deserved.” Terrentini had a strong tendency to repeat himself even when he was straight. Zipping along on speed, he would have talked to his toilet if I hadn’t been there.

I asked him who he meant—Angel, who was in the hole, or Pito, who was being sewn up in the hospital.

“Both them fags are fags, right?”

I couldn’t see his face, just his short, hairy forearms and folded hands extending through the bars of his cell. Terrentini was a slow man. He believed in every aspect of the American Dream except the one that says you can’t bury people in garbage dumps.

“Pito says that when he gets out of prison, he’ll never look at another man, but he’s gotta have sex and he doesn’t wanna hump his hand. He says what he does with Angel doesn’t make him a homosexual.”

Every butch con makes the same declaration, including wolves who call themselves gay in order to be placed on E3, the homosexual housing area.

“He fucks boys, Frangello,” Terrentini said flatly. “He’s a fuckin’ fag.”

Terrentini only spoke to me when he was speeding—the rest of the time he felt he was above me. I was a common criminal, he once told me, and he was a businessman. Whereas I hadn’t seen my wife or kids in years, he had a family, went to Mass every Sunday, and was connected to the mob by blood.

“Ya know what is ya problem, Frangello?” he asked. “Yiz don’t have values.” His finger flicked toward a porter moving down the catwalk. “Ya just like that fuckin’ yam with the bucket. Can youze see what I’m sayin’? That nigger’s been here thirty-five years. He’s gonna die here. Ya let that moulie out tomorra, he’d be poundin’ on the gate to get back in. That’s you in thirty years, cuz. Because yiz don’t have values.”

The trusty was even with Terrentini’s cell before I realized that something was wrong. Then the alarms went off hard enough to wake the dead. The porter wasn’t cleaning. He was pushing a bucket on wheels along the catwalk’s outer railing and he didn’t have a mop.

“Can youze see this fuckin’ nigger is so stoned, he can’t hardly stand up?” Terrentini said calmly. He’d been paying the hardest crew in Cortlandt to watch his back from day one and he probably thought he was untouchable. “That’s you. All ya fuckin’ life waitin’ for the next fix. This wouldn’t be the case if yiz had proper values.”

The porter bent down, picked up the bucket, then stumbled toward Terrentini’s cell. The biting odor of turpentine filled the air as he slammed the bucket against the bars.

“Whatta yiz doon?”

The porter flipped open the top of a Zippo lighter and spun the wheel against the flint.

“Whatta yiz doon?”

Terrentini’s cell exploded. The porter stumbled away, one trouser leg on fire. There weren’t any screams at first, but I could hear the fat beneath Terrentini’s skin as it bubbled and cracked. Then he began to run from wall to wall, crashing into the steel. I watched his reflection in the smoked glass window on the other side of the catwalk. I watched until the C.O.’s came, then I turned back to my own business.

In their haste, the C.O.’s had forgotten to throw the switch that opened Terrentini’s cell door and one of them ran back to the control room while the other tried to spray Terrentini with an extinguisher that wouldn’t work. When the cell door opened and Terrentini, still in flames, ran out, the C.O. jumped backwards. He had no intention of getting himself burned in order to save a convict. Then the second C.O. appeared with a charged foam extinguisher and put out the fire. Terrentini screamed when the foam hit him. A long, high sound that didn’t waver. It went on and on and on, then shut off forever.

The porter, a lifer named Bo Williams, was caught immediately. He’d fallen down trying to smother the flames on his trouser cuff and couldn’t get back up. Four hours later, when he came off the prison hooch and the pharmaceutical quaaludes, he turned snitch.

A friendly C.O. named Bugavic brought me the news after the ten o’clock count. He told me that I’d been the target. Bo Williams had been sent to kill me by a con named Franklyn Peshawar. Peshawar had threatened the old man, even as he pushed the hooch and the pills down Williams’s throat. Old men are legitimate prey in the joint and Peshawar had made Williams fear him more than he feared the administration.

It was a good plan. As an administrative porter, Williams had access to the block. He had what the lawyers like to call “opportunity.” But Williams had been drinking prison hooch for several decades and most of his circuits had popped long ago. Further numbed by Peshawar’s drugs, he’d made a simple mistake and burned the wrong man.

About an hour later, I asked Bugavic for protective custody. He got permission within minutes. The administration was only too happy to discover that I wasn’t planning revenge. Feuds are a headache to administrators under pressure to keep incidents of violence down. The politicians don’t care what happens to prisoners, but the reporters do.

The fear began to control me as soon as the C.O. locked me into a protective custody cell. I felt it stirring like a sudden return to a childhood when I was always frightened. In order to fight, I forced myself to consider Peshawar’s motives. Examining problems was one of the ways I overcame fear. After all, facing enemies instead of running away is what DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR is all about.

About two months before Terrentini was burned, Franklyn Peshawar had come up to me in the dining hall and pointed at my pork chop. To my knowledge, it was the only time I’d ever been near him.

“Yo, boy, I want that meat.”

“The only meat I see around here is you, asshole.”

A C.O. drifted toward us and Peshawar took off without the chop.

For cons like me, who couldn’t afford protection, challenges were part of everyday prison life. I wasn’t particularly aggressive, but I had my tattoo and I didn’t think much of the incident. Most likely, Peshawar was trying to impress one of the all-black posses that dealt in contraband, maybe the one that ruled his Housing Area. Since I’d gotten in the last word, I didn’t have to worry about losing face. In fact, my response had drawn laughter from the cons sitting at my table. I watched my back for a couple of weeks and then forgot about it altogether. Peshawar had remembered.

Protective custody is nothing more than voluntary keeplock. You stay in your cell for twenty-three hours on most days. A C.O. accompanies you whenever you leave the block, because now that you’ve informed the administration of your personal danger, the state can be sued if somebody fucks you up. Not that you’re ever completely safe. There is no safety in the Institution. Readiness for combat is the first test of the instinct for survival.

But protective custody is also the hardest way to do time outside of being someone’s punk. If I hadn’t been due for parole, I would never have requested it. I would have sought out Peshawar with the intention of eliminating him before he eliminated me. It’s also very likely that if I wasn’t scheduled to go out, I wouldn’t have lost my nerve. The need to survive would have controlled my actions, as it always had.

Unfortunately, once your courage goes, it’s hard to get it back and I lost my nerve forever during that week in P.C. I began to think about Terrentini, about what I was doing inside myself while he burned. I’d watched him calmly, but the expression on a convict’s face never reveals what he’s actually thinking. In truth, the only emotion I’m sure I felt was relief. Somehow, fate had skipped over me, stopping one cell down the line to snuff Joe Terrentini.

Knowing I was the target should have heightened that feeling of escape. Instead, it scared the shit out of me. In a week, the incident would be forgotten. Peshawar and Williams would be transferred to an Albany jail where a judge would eventually add twenty-five years to their life sentences. Instead of looking for revenge, I’d be in some halfway house in New York City. True, Peshawar’s murder method had been spectacular. But in the Institution, where disputes are commonly settled by tossing homemade lye in your enemy’s face, Terrentini’s memory would be obliterated by the next stabbing. Or the next mini-riot. Or as soon as one of the dealers got hold of some decent shit.

Little by little, no matter how tough you are, the Institution destroys you. The cons, trapped in their own bravado, try to live by the credo that “what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” The idea is total bullshit. Everything kills you—the violence of the other cons, the C.O.’s with their small humiliations, a parole board that decides your fate without knowing who you are, the endless division of time into small, contained segments.

Eventually, I came to understand that my life had been dishonorable from the beginning. I’d been dishonored by the world because of my birth and I’d bought the label. I felt courage dissolving. Despite all the fights. Despite the idiot belief that living by the rule of fang and claw made me superior to the judges and the C.O.’s and the society that provided my definitions.

I was dead and I was afraid to die. I surrendered all hope of protecting myself with psychological courage. Other prisoners gave me curious looks, sensing the change. I fought to maintain my regular expression, but I was convinced that I couldn’t survive in the Institution, that my life depended on getting out. I found conspiracy on the face of every convict passing my cell. I watched hands, expecting a knife. I refused to answer simple questions. I saw my death in every greeting.

I was so scared, I could easily have killed someone by mistake. A prisoner carrying a toothbrush or a pencil. With my record, any attack on another con would result in my finishing my time inside. At the least. The rest of my sentence, five years of a fifteen year bit, would nail my coffin shut forever. DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR was the only truth I had and it vanished the minute I realized that I had no honor to defend.

TWO

EIGHT DAYS AFTER THE death of Joe Terrentini, I pulled on a pair of gray trousers, a blue shirt and a blue jacket, white socks and black shoes. All courtesy of the state. Most prisoners have clothes sent up to them by relatives, but I had burnt my bridges to the world long before. Still, despite the poor fit and cheap quality, it was the first time I’d been out of a prison uniform in ten years. It should have felt good, but it didn’t. It frightened me.

After seven bits, I feared getting out of prison as much as I feared going in. Another chance at failure. Another chance to confirm the psychologist who’d labeled me a sociopath when I was eleven years old, a label that stayed with me for twenty-four years. I knew how to deal with prison, but the world was another matter. The skills that enable a prisoner to survive in a Max A prison don’t apply to the world.

I was the only prisoner to be released on that May 4th. That was because, technically, I wasn’t given parole. The board had turned me down three times. I think they would have liked to keep me inside for the entire fifteen years of my sentence, but in New York prisoners who behave themselves must be granted conditional release after serving two thirds of their time. (This, of course, does not apply to inmates serving life sentences. What, after all, is two thirds of a life?)

A short, fat screw named Pierre Braque came to get me about ten o’clock in the morning. Having nothing to pack, I’d been dressed and ready since five-thirty, listening to the radio for any news of New York City, which was where I was going. The Cortlandt Correctional Facility is located in the town of Danville, twenty miles from the Canadian border. It was forty-one degrees in Danville and fifty-five in Manhattan.

Braque and two other C.O.’s led me through the tunnels that connect H Block to Administration. Technically, I was entitled to protection until I left the Institution, and that’s what they were going to give me. We passed other prisoners in the tunnel and a few of them greeted me, offering good luck. I tried to smile back, but I kept my eyes on their hands.

I didn’t relax until I was in the office of Deputy Warden Jack Camille. His greeting, “Hello, scumbag,” twisted my fear into anger—that barely suppressed rage felt, justifiably or not, by every prisoner. There are only two industries in the town of Danville: lumber and prison. Jobs in Cortlandt are handed down from father to son, and most of the C.O.’s are related. Their own code of honor requires them to humiliate the prisoners at every turn. The prisoners’ code of honor requires them to hate the C.O.’s. It all works wonderfully until the day you come out.

Camille had a special reason for hating me. Five years before, when he was an ordinary C.O. with a special reputation for provoking prisoners into responses that justified violence, I’d made him look bad. Not that it was my fault.

Prisoners coming into the mess hall at Cortlandt divide into two serving lines. One line is entirely black and the other is white and Puerto Rican. It was like that when I got to Cortlandt and it hadn’t changed in ten years.

For some reason the white serving line on this particular evening was much longer than the black line. The evening meal is voluntary and many cons choose to stay out in the yard. Apparently, more blacks had taken this option than whites and Puerto Ricans. It could easily have been the other way, with the black line running out the door while the white line was empty, and I wasn’t paying much attention until Camille, who had mess hall duty, said, “Get over in the other line. Even it up.”

At first, I didn’t realize that he was talking to me. Then he called me by name and number, his voice dripping sarcasm. “Frangello, 83A4255, get your ass over to the other line.”

I’d never had a beef with Camille, though I was aware of his rep. Why did he choose me? I didn’t know and never would. But I had to react. To accept his disrespect, to step into that black line, would have meant an extreme loss of face. Blacks, whites, and Ricans, with rare exceptions, don’t mix in prison. If there had been a third serving line in the dining area, either the whites or the Puerto Ricans would have been on it.

“You mean me, boss?” I asked.

He walked up close to me. His square red face was twisted with rage. “I told you to get in the other fucking line. What’s the matter, you too good to eat with the niggers?”

There are no blacks living in the town of Danville. No Puerto Ricans, either. Eighty percent of the population is made up of French Canadians who wandered south a hundred years ago. The younger screws are afraid of the inmates, most of whom come from the big, bad city. They cover their fear with macho bullshit.

“Can’t go over there, sir.” I said, trying to sound subservient and firm at the same time, which is a good trick. “That’s not my line, sir.”

I accepted the fact that Camille would write a ticket and I’d be hit with a two-week keeplock, but I’d been confined to my cell before and the punishment didn’t particularly frighten me.

Then he shoved me. “Get in the other line, you piece of shit.”

Goodbye freedom, I thought, here comes the box. The box and the beating that goes with it.

I shoved him back. There was nothing else I could do. Not with a hundred cons watching me. But instead of clubs and fists, Sergeant Paul Cartier, one of the oldest guards in the Institution and Jack Camille’s uncle, stepped between us.

“You’re in trouble, Frangello,” he said to me as he led his nephew away.

Then I noticed that the cons on both lines were stirring. There aren’t many freedoms for prisoners, but those we have, including racism, are jealously guarded. Cartier hadn’t stepped in to protect me. He was trying to prevent what the administration likes to call a “disturbance.” As the ranking C.O., he was responsible for the dining area, and he wasn’t about to let an asshole like Jack Camille start a riot.

I got my two weeks’ keeplock. Two weeks in my cell doing a thousand push-ups a day, reading magazines, drinking prison hooch smuggled in by my crew. No big deal, like I said. After I came out, Camille and a few of his buddies tried to put the heat on me, cursing me and ordering me about. Only now I was allowed the privilege of not reacting. Once the heat was official, once I was a target, obedience was honorable. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but, then again, it’s not the world, either. After a few weeks, the C.O.’s grew bored and moved on to some other amusement.

Camille shuffled through my folder, shaking his head. He had deep blue, redneck eyes and blond hair cut to within an inch of his scalp. In the summer he rolled his shirtsleeves up far enough to show the black swastika tattooed on his shoulder. “Hey, Frangello,” Camille finally said, “you buying a round-trip bus ticket? Says here you ain’t been out of jail more than three straight years since you were sixteen.”

I didn’t answer. This was my day to return to the world.

He shook his head slowly. “I know I live in a fucked-up society when I have to release a piece of shit like you. Damn, I feel like a traitor to my country signing these papers.”

“I’m not coming back.”

I knew it was a mistake as soon as I said it. Camille laughed until snot ran out of his nose. Then he wiped his face on the back of his sleeve and lit a cigarette. “What I’d like to do is put out this butt in the middle of your face. Make a mark so the world can see you coming. Like a sign: SCUM WARNING. Whatta you think about that, 83A4255?”

We were alone in Camille’s office. No witnesses. And I knew that a prisoner would have to commit a major, major offense to be remanded on the day of his release. My answer was cold and calculated. At that moment, I hated Camille more than the life I’d led for thirty-eight years.

“Why don’t you cut the bullshit, Camille, and sign the fucking papers?”

“What did you say?”

“What I said is that you’re a chickenshit faggot and the only place you’ve got the balls to put that cigarette is in your cunt mouth.” His face reddened, matching the ordinary color of his neck. “You’ll be back, Frangello. You ain’t been straight for ten minutes in your whole miserable life. I already sent out a letter to your parole officer. You’re a piece of shit and you’re gonna get violated the first time you spit on the sidewalk.” He paused, managed a wet smirk. “Personally, I can’t wait to welcome you home.”

THREE

THERE’S NO WAY TO describe what it feels like to step out into the open air after a long incarceration. Unless, of course, you’ve done it seven or eight times.

The Cortlandt Correctional Facility sits in the center of the town of Danville (pop. 1433), New York. Forty-foot walls, complete with gun towers, line one side of Main Street. A mix of shops and homes and a single cheap hotel lines the other. I stood with my back to the walls and swept the street with my eyes. It was just like stepping onto the flats in Cortlandt where hundreds of prisoners milled about, many of them strapped and ready. All of them willing to kill.

I missed nothing, but even ten feet away, you wouldn’t have picked up the movement of my eyes. The trick, inside, is to see everything without revealing the intense fear that necessitates the search for enemies. It’s not a trick that’s easily unlearned.

The few citizens on the street seemed mild enough. They undoubtedly made me for a released convict, but that’s the way it goes. As my eyes swept the rooftops, I walked across the street and strolled into the 7-11, where I bought a pack of cigarettes, a Snickers, and a can of Coke. Then I went back outside to wait for the bus. I had no illusions about freedom. With $97.85 and no job, my life would be anything but free. What I did have was a list of the phone numbers of convicts from my crew who’d been released before me. If I wanted quick money instead of poverty, an apartment instead of a homeless shelter, all I had to do was dial a number and tap the old cons’ network. That’s what jail’s all about. That’s what the cons talk about on the courts. The crimes they’ve committed and the ones they intend to commit.

The good citizens of Danville walked on the outer edge of the sidewalk, as far from me as they could get. I was aware of their distaste, just as I was aware of everything happening on the street, but I couldn’t summon up any indignation. The myth of paying your debt and returning to the community was just that, a myth.

An experienced con, faced with a long bit, plans the time so it doesn’t stretch out into blank emptiness. I knew I was going away long before I heard my sentence and I decided to get myself an education. I’d graduated from grammar school and gotten my high school diploma in jail. Why not go all the way? The parole board didn’t figure to smile down on me, but a sincere effort at rehabilitation couldn’t hurt. I had to do at least a third of my fifteen-year sentence before I could be considered for parole, and I hoped to be cut loose after seven or eight years.

I spent the first three years working double shifts in the tailor shop, which was the main industry at Cortlandt. The tailor shop manufactured uniforms for state prisoners, American flags for municipal offices, and nightgowns for women in New York State hospitals. I already knew how to operate a sewing machine and I worked hard enough to please the C.O.’s, who rewarded me with extra work hours.

After I’d accumulated enough money in my prison account to keep me in cigarettes and coffee, I got myself transferred to the State University satellite school, which operated inside the walls, and graduated four years later. Not that I had any illusions about using my degree after I got out. I didn’t expect the business world to be any more impressed with my rehabilitation than the parole board. The largest part of any employment application (and I’ve filled out hundreds of them) is set aside for the applicant’s working history. What could I put down? Car theft? Burglary? Armed robbery? What would I write under “place of employment”? Spofford Youth House? Rikers Island? The Cortlandt Correctional Facility?

Work and school had gotten me through a ten-year bit. I never had a major beef (until Franklyn Peshawar) in Cortlandt, because I knew how to do time. I was an experienced con. It was the only experience I had to offer.

The bus rolled into Cortlandt, a shiny chrome Adirondack Trailways. It pulled up in front of the 7-11 and the driver, a short, fat man in a gray uniform and peaked cap, stepped out to welcome the only passenger.

“Luggage, sir?” he huffed.

Sir? Was he kidding? The man had to know what I was. I held out my empty hands and muttered, “No luggage,” warning myself not to overreact. This was the world, not prison. I handed him my ticket.

“One second.”

The asshole actually put his hand on my chest. I felt my own hand slowly drifting toward my belt buckle. I’d been carrying a weapon for ten years and, most of the time, kept it just below my belt. “This is the world,” I said.

“What?”

“Do we have a problem?”

“You can’t smoke on the bus.”

I looked at the burning Marlboro in my hand. “Why not?”

“It’s been the law for two years. Where you been?” He shook his head, then looked into my eyes for the first time. “Hey, the goddamn bus is empty. Sit in the back and smoke if you wanna. But if someone gets on and complains, I’ll have to ask you to put it out. Hell, I smoke, myself. I know how it is.”

“You ever been in the box?” I asked.

“What?”

“Can’t smoke in the box.” I ground out the cigarette and stepped onto the bus.

We took Route 7 west to the Interstate, then turned south. I stared out the window, feeling like an aborigine in a movie theater. Not that the view was all that strange. Whiteface Mountain, which is visible from high up on the courts, was still snowcapped. I’d spent the last ten years measuring the seasons by watching the snowcap grow and shrink.

I sat in the back of the bus and I didn’t smoke. It seems stupid, but I saw it as a test. The bus driver didn’t offer to let me smoke because he was nice guy. He offered because I scared the shit out of him. I know all about fear. Fear runs the Cortlandt Correctional Institution. Fear of the C.O.’s, fear of other prisoners, fear of the box, fear of the psych ward. Respect, itself, is gained by inspiring fear in other inmates.

The myth, among citizens, is that if you stand up for yourself in prison, the other convicts will leave you alone. But the price is much higher than that. I never saw a fistfight in Cortlandt. Men were stabbed every day. Or cornered and beaten with pipes. Or even burned in their cells. The simple fact is that dignity is preserved by a willingness to kill. Nothing less is acceptable, and the worst mistake a prisoner can make is to have another prisoner at his mercy and let him go. Mercy equals soft and soft equals prey.

Everybody carries a weapon. Or has one stashed where he can get to it in a hurry. I carried a shank with a thin wooden handle just underneath my belt buckle. It fit neatly through a loop sewn into my pants an inch below the top button. When the C.O.’s pat you down, they go over your legs thoroughly, grab your balls and your ass, but for some reason they don’t reach around in front. I was searched hundreds of times. If the C.O.’s had found the weapon, it would have meant the box and a beating. Weapons scare the shit out of C.O.’s, but the blacks have a saying. “Better the man should catch me with it, than the boys should catch me without it.”

“Say, mister.” It was the driver calling me from the front of the bus. We’d been traveling for about two hours. “C’mon up here. We got a problem.”

I walked up and sat across from him, trying to keep my voice friendly. Trying to be a citizen of the world. “How we doin’?”

“See this here?” He pointed to a glowing red light on the dashboard. “We’re overheatin’. I’m gonna pull into Bolton’s Landing and order up another bus. That’s the next stop, anyway.”

“Bolton’s Landing? Where is that? How long will it take?” I was expected in a parole office on West 40th Street in Manhattan. That afternoon. To miss the appointment for any reason would be a technical violation of the conditions of parole. I was also supposed to pick up a housing assignment when I reported and if the office was closed, I’d be spending the weekend on the street. The street is not the best place for me.

“Well, the company claims it can get a replacement bus anywhere within two hours, only it usually takes three or four. But don’t worry, mister, we’ll get you where you’re goin’. Bolton’s Landing is near Lake George. It’s mostly a tourist town and we’re still off-season.”

“There’s no way you can push it to Albany? I gotta make a connection in Albany.”

He looked over at me and shook his head. “Now, mister, if this was my bus, I’d give it a shot. But I can’t be burnin’ no engines up. The company’d fire me in a minute. See this here?” He pointed to a clipboard attached to the visor with a rubber band. “This here is a log. I already wrote down the exact time when the light went on. If I tried for Albany, I’d be in trouble, even if I made it.”

“All right, I get the picture.”

He was smiling, now that he was sure I wouldn’t become violent.

“Wanna get back to the big city, right? Hey, I understand. You’re probly goin’ home.”

I was going back where I came from, though I wouldn’t call it home.

FOUR

THERE WAS A TIME when a prisoner coming out after a long bit emerged to a totally unfamiliar world. That was before television came to the Institution. Not that there’s a TV in every cell. Or even in every block. That’s just media bullshit. But there were sets in the mess hall, the gym, and the yard. They were usually tuned either to the most violent movie or the most violent cartoon, except at six o’clock, when choices were limited to the news or the news.

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!