What I See, by Cass Wood
Time passes a lot faster when I write, means I don’t have to look at these walls anymore, cold, stark and concrete. I was never a writer outside of prison, or a reader for that matter, I never felt like I had the time or the need to pick it up. Most days now I wake up at 5am and just start writing, a few hours before any of the other cells are stirring, before anyone’s moving or talking. My sector’s security, Officer Gant, comes by on his routine every morning at 7am and we talk. The conversation has never been great, I never see anything outside of these walls after all, apart from my one window, my personal looking glass. He always asks what I spend all my spare time writing about, wants to hear some stories, maybe he needs some escape from here too.
There was a fight in the exercise yard this afternoon, guards broke it up pretty quickly, but not before any blood was drawn. I heard murmurings between the officers from my cell afterwards, only small pockets of words, just enough to know what had happened to Mark Stone, the guy who lost the fight. Mark had been keeping to himself in the yard, he was a newbie after all, and then this other guy had come up to him out of nowhere, started ragging on him. Mark doesn’t respond, just takes it, one punch at a time, even when he starts losing teeth. Officer Gant was one of the first there, pulled them both apart, but by this point, this psycho had already taken Mark’s eye out. Just grabbed it, tossed it away like a fucking marble. I don’t feel like writing anymore today.
Its been a week now, Mark’s still in the infirmary and I don’t think he’s coming back. Everyone is tense, and not just the rest of the inmates, I’ve seen something change in Officer Gant ever since the fight. He rarely stops to make small talk anymore, doesn’t ask for a story either and looks like he hasn’t slept for days. One thing I’ve picked up in here is how to read a man, to know what he’s feeling, whether he’s angry and about to launch himself at me, or if the tall walls and small rooms have gotten into his head. Gant wasn’t either of those, no, he had the look of a worrier. Restless eyes that are always looking for something out of sight, dark bags under his eyes that get heavier each day, scarred lips from chewing away dead skin. This morning, I got him to stop and talk with me for a little while longer. The entire time that he was leant up against the bars of my cell, he never had his eyes on me, he just looked out of my window. He told me he was taking leave from his position, and going home for while, “won’t be back for a while” he said.
Officers took away the radio and TV from the recreation room today and won’t tell any of us why, all we’ve got now is a pool table and a couple decks of cards. I wasn’t too bothered, only cared about the news really, but a group of high security inmates lost it as soon as they saw what had happened, damn near started a riot. Everyone knows the high security are crazies, but this was something else, the way they all threw themselves at the officers, some of them kept swinging even after the tasers came out. There was a look about them, absolute desperation like a man on fire running to water. I couldn’t help but think of Mark and what had happened, I wanted to be in their head’s, understand what had made them see red. Our recreation time has been suspended for 2 weeks, tensions are too high, or that’s what I imagine the officers are all thinking. So here I am again, cooped up in my cell, waiting for sunrise, waiting for release. I can’t get to sleep when everyone’s making so much noise, it’s a like a zoo in here, every man has his own distinct call. The whistles, the abrupt screams dragging me from the edges of sleep, its not just me that feels on edge now; they’re all going crazy too.
Sleep was a laughable thought tonight, so I took my one pillow and propped it up against the window. I looked outside for what felt like hours, but could’ve been minutes, never could tell anymore. I don’t know what I was looking at really, it was pitch black outside and not even the moon was making a difference, a muted light gave the prison walls a silhouette; reminding me where I was. I got lost in those shapes in the darkness, just the act of looking seemed to push everything else away, and I slept. I dreamt of a storm rushing through the prison, not just outside, but through the halls and walkways, blowing open cell doors and wetting the concrete. I reached for the bars of my cell door, but fell back. It had been as if someone had punched me in the stomach and left me winded, sparks crackled off the metal, threatening to the grab at my skin. As I lay there, I saw faces stream past me, other inmates and men I’ve grown to know, running from something. Soon I was alone and unmoving, I couldn’t even lift a finger despite the fear that was growing inside of me, I just waited.
Its been a while since I’ve written, the dreams kept on coming back every night, I’ve not been alert lately and I’m too tired to put words onto paper. If I try to, its not my thought that end up written down, not really. I’m only writing now because of what happened today in the yard. I was distracted by something that I can’t quite remember now, maybe a bird perched on one of the watch towers, singing in cheery irony at all of us locked away, pacing back and forth, unable to escape. I felt something graze my back pocket, but thought nothing of it until I got back to the bunk. There was a torn piece of newspaper in my pocket, creased from folding and un-folding. On one side was a picture of some celebrity, the top half of his head was torn off with the rest of the page, leaving only an artificial toothy smile behind. On the other was a small extract of an article, but the title was missing. I’ve read it over and over again, but I can’t make sense of it, the words just become more abstract with each look. I see the words “state of emergency” littered throughout it, their the only words that make any sense amongst the smudged ink. Someone wanted me to know about this, and that means others know something too, but nobody wants to say it out loud.
I thought I was having the dream again tonight. The sound of hurried footfall streamed past my ears and there was a rolling thunder above me. I knew I was awake, that this was all real when a face pressed itself in between the bars of my cell door, pallid and haunting, lit up by the emergency lighting. I couldn’t hear anything over the wave upon wave of screams and bellows, but I could read the man’s lips. “Its all over now”. I repeated the words in my mind over and over, saw the sickening grin spread across that face, before it tore away into a crowd of shadows. I broke from my paralysis and rushed to the door, slamming my hands onto the bars, putting my entire weight against it. It held fast, didn’t move an inch, and yet as the emergency light spun sluggishly, it illuminated the cell block, every cell was left emptied. I knew that the prison security was operated by a mainframe, it controlled all of the doors electronically. The storm must’ve shorted the entire system. The whole prison let loose. Except for me.
The sun rose slowly today, like it was reluctant to see the earth. When I saw the aftermath of last night, I wish I’d never looked out my window at all. The yard was churned up from a stampede, the mud had turned an odd colour from all the blood, a dark red with slithers of brown. Strewn across it were bodies, most of them were face down so I couldn’t recognize them, but even for those that had fallen on their backs, it didn’t matter. Everyone looked the same, all dressed in their washed out orange prison wear, all of them dead. From what I could tell, those who weren’t in the yard were long gone. It wasn’t just the bodies that I saw though, I saw smoke too. Smoke that shot up into the sky like enormous pillars, not just one or two, but all across the horizon. Too many to be accidents. I’ve stopped looking out there, don’t think I want to see anymore.
Its getting late and there’s no noise anymore, but I still can’t sleep. Sometimes I hear voices in here again, inside the walls of this place. They sound scared, the way they’re all talking to each other. They snap at each other in the darkness, harsh whispers that stab at my ears. Its been a few days since I saw the smoke blacken the sky, but now I look up and see something I hadn’t seen for a while. I see stars that spread out impossibly far, they’d been shrouded by the floodlights of the prison until now. I remember how I used to be scared of the dark when I was a kid, hated being left alone when the night came, and yet here I am now. The day still brings me comfort inside, but it reveals everything on the outside too, all those people laying still. Sometimes I dream that Officer Gant has come back, and that he sits and waits with me. We talk about nothing worth remembering and I tell him a story or two, he doesn’t look worried anymore. I always wake up, always hungry and thirsty. Everyone’s gone, and something in me knows that no-one is coming back for a man like me. I try not to think about the coming days, with no food to eat, no water to drink. I lie awake, my stomach in turning over and over on itself, and my lips cracked to hell. I hear them come again, they do every night, new voices and old. All I can think is why anyone would want to get in here. Why they’d not want to be out there.
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