No introductions are made upon entering the crowded cell block, just stares and jeers.
“Not enough beds, you sleeping on the floor – but not there, that’s where the toilet and shower at, people be walking all over your shit if you set there. Put it over there by the other floor sleepers.”
This person will become the closest thing to a friend I’d have for the next month. I don’t know his name.
Then a kid barks out, “No man, put that shit up on this bunk, I’ll move my mat.”
I find out from Terrell, whose name I also don’t know yet, that this is Little Romeo.
“Fuck that, that mat’s mine, that mat’s one of the new ones. This asshole seven-two got a damn new mat.” Terrell looks hard at me as he speaks. “Look here seven-two, that’s my mat now, you get my old mat. Don’t let Lil’ Romeo up there try and trick you like he gonna give up his bunk, specially a top bunk, that’s bullshit.”
Terrell moves closer. I don’t move. There’s nowhere to move to in the overcrowded room. I could move though. I could flinch or step backwards slightly. I don’t move.
“I ain’t bullshittin’ though. I’m comin’ straight at yo’ shit and jus’ tellin’ ya I’m havin’ that new mat. That’s my new mat. You sleepin’ on the floor with these other seven-twos.”
I just stare at him. I don’t move. I just stare. My friend offers advice.
“Lay the mat down, man – just lay it down over here. Else give it up to Terrell. He been in here like a year, so his mat is nasty, all cum-stained n’ shit,” my friend informs me.
Finally I move a hair closer to Terrell and I speak for myself.
“This is the mat they gave me. It’s the mat I’m keeping.”
I stand my ground. Even with just over a month to do in County, I can’t come off as a bitch. I know I might get pummeled but I don’t move. There are three of us newbies so I say, “Take someone else’s mat.”
Terrell stares back. Terrell doesn’t move.
“Why the fuck do you keep calling me seven-two?”
“You only a short-timer up in here, right?”
I stare at him defiantly, not willing to give Terrell a straight answer without knowing the reason.
“I been up in here eleven months, that’s some shit. Up in this motherfucker eleven months with the goddamn lights on 24-7. But it ain’t fuckin’ prison. I’ll be out soon too. Not like I’m dyin’ to fuck you up the ass or something, white boy. Like I said, it ain’t prison. But I can tell, you ain’t in here too long are ya – you a weekender. You doin’ your seventy-two hours.”
“No, I got 35 days. Still, not eleven months.”
The simple statement lifts the tension directed at me. However, the guy next to me nods in agreement about being a weekender. Terrell notices.
“Give me your mat, pussy.”
Terrell stares hard at the lanky white man, maybe 20-years-old; tattoos on his neck but clearly not so tough as his façade suggests.
“Are you fuckin’ deaf? Give me your fuckin’ mat, pussy.”
Terrell snatches the dark green vinyl mattress from the seven-two and then looks at me and said, “You alright. Soon as a bunk free, you get it.”
Whatever level of dementia I end up with, I will probably always remember this. Probably.
Andrew Miller’s book, If Only The Names Were Changed, is out now from Civil Coping Mechanisms.