Arthur Fitzgerlad was awarded First Place in Fiction in the 2016 Prison Writing Contest.
Supernova proved it: a trip to lock-up had more significance than anyone ever suspected.
After Artist’s second stay (120 days Ad Seg for making veiled threats to a therapist) he was moved to 2-Wing, one of the typical dislocations that occur on return to population. Bed 14B, top bunk, over Supernova. At lights out, squatting on discarded plastic buckets brought in from the docks, they hunkered down over Nova’s headboard and constructed Artist’s astrological chart. Nova, sipping instant coffee between streams of chatter, had a floppy ephemeris, weighty tome, spread over his knees. DOB: 7 November 1992, 18:03 hrs. Sunset. San Juan, Puerto Rico. Concentric circles and triangles took form in the yellow light of the desk lamp. Surrounding them, in the dorm, late night parties, the night owls, pungency of weed and tobacco, blowjobs in the showers. After three nights of work, Nova put the pencil down and proclaimed with confidence:
– Your next visit to the Hole will be in three months.
Later that day, wrapped in blankets against the frigid air vents, Artist lay on his bunk, eyes closed, and beheld the revolving procession of the Zodiac in his mind’s eye.
Astrology was off the hook.
While in lock-up he watches the geese from his window, how they graze on the prison lawn like cattle, drink water from turbid puddles like chickens, tilting their long necks and shaking the stream down their throats. Occasionally, they erupt into riots of tribal honking, breakouts of mass panic. There were geese on his foster-father’s farm upstate. If there’s one thing Artist knows about, it’s geese. Here they’re full of attitude, they really think they’re something: they hiss at guards and inmates who happen to pass too close to them on the walkways between buildings, infringements on their territory. They shit everywhere. You can hear the cursing echo up from the pavilions when it’s stepped on. They fly over the razor wire fences at will, their easy escape the envy of every inmate. They take a running start, honking all the while, flapping furiously at take-off to get their weight airborne, like a plane on a runway, unlike small, light birds who practically shoot straight up and away at any time. Around sunup the whole madcap flock starts honking in chorus all over the compound, a daily goose ritual, a mindless and irritating nasal hemorrhage. They’re quiet at night, though one time for some reason a large blundering male decided to take flight in the dark. Big mistake. Unable to get a good start, flying too low, he collided with the transformer at the near perimeter. The explosion resounded through the east end of the prison yard, sharp as field artillery, knocked out the power and left Artist and his fellows in a black cage. Soon after, the acrid smell of ozone and fried goose drifted into their cells, so thick you could taste it.
First time in the Hole. Artist, 22, had arrived at Martinville just two months before. 15 days detention, 90 days Ad Seg for disobeying the direct order of a corrections officer. Lenience, according to the book: first time asterisk offense. There’s always a first time (after 20 years Artist’s name would be smothered by asterisks). Artist can’t remember what direct order he disobeyed or even say for certain that the officer spoke to him that morning and gave him a direct order. He remembers standing barefoot by his bunk, a Sergeant and three officers before him, the metallic unwinding and clicking of handcuffs being readied. It had snowed the night before. On the concrete ramp between buildings they escorted the shackled and barefoot Artist over strewn rock salt and patches of ice and snow. Some gang minimums out on a work detail leaned on their shovels and watched through the chicken wire, the brisk procession headed up by the earmuffed Sergeant, its crisp formality a welcome diversion.
Upstairs the duty officer flicked a switch and the long dark corridor lit up, the newly waxed and buffed floor a river of shining reflection. While the escort unlocked an empty cell, a tussle broke out, someone misunderstood a movement, Artist panicked and struggled.
I’m not fighting!
The pile of men lurched to the side, crashed along the cinderblock and knocked a fire extinguisher off its mount. It hit the floor and bounced down the hall, hose flapping, clattering like a hollow steel drum.
The prisoners were at their doors, peering through the iron mesh portholes, squinting to catch the action.
It’s not an actual hole as in a hole in the ground like a mouse hole or a snake hole, though it could be thought of as a shelter or a place to hide. Many consider convicts animals, burrowing nocturnals. A grave is a hole: it allows a body to decompose in darkness, out of sight, out of mind. A hole is also a trap, something you stumble into that you then can’t get out of. A body orifice having a sexual function is often referred to as a hole, like a mouth, a pussy, an asshole. Phonetically, we call to mind a refuge with holistic purposes, a sanctuary, a retreat, where a prisoner rehabilitates, becomes whole. Many think of “being in the hole” as being in debt, and for an inmate it does entail that, because you lose your good time and your work credits and your job and your status (a recurring catastrophe that kept Artist in the lowest paying jobs, having to make up the difference in the sex trade). Despite all these nuances, everyone understands what’s meant by “going to the hole” or “he went to the hole,” although it’s not a word widely used even by the older men, most guys just calling it “lock-up” or even its official name CCU (Closed Custody Unit). Perhaps the word “hole” originally came into use in the dark days, when it was a literal hole in the ground. Since then it’s been upgraded to a corridor of ordinary cells, each with a bunk, a toilet, a sink, a table, and a window. Nova, focused as always on the cosmic, thinks of it as a black hole, from which there is no escape, though he prefers to put more emphasis on the Event Horizon, that point of no return, and the moments leading up to its crossing. Artist, the contemplative sort, has at one time or another reflected on all the different shades of meaning, and returns most often to the whimsical notion of Alice’s portal to Wonderland.
Artist ran away from home at age 14, though he didn’t literally “run away” unless that’s what you want to call hiding in the barn for a couple of days. He crawled into a narrow dirt space between an empty horse stall and the north outer wall, next to the chicken yard. His foster parents no longer kept horses and there was nothing in the barn except rotting hay and stored implements: the tractor, a hay cart, and an old truck engine. It smelled like gasoline. His foster mother sometimes said he was too dreamy. He poked some old gray horse turds with a stick until they crumbled into a feathery dust like flakes of burnt charcoal. The crawlspace was a long incidental niche or grotto, next to a stall but not part of a stall, just a freak of construction that served no real purpose. Much smaller than a jail cell, more like the Hole than the Hole itself. Years later he would reflect on that. His foster father often withheld things he wanted to say to him. The barn had spiderwebs with real spiders he spent time feeding, and mice, maybe even rats, scampering sounds like little whispers, raising dust motes in the bars of morning sunlight. His teachers reported a kind of nonchalance towards everything. He tried to imagine his worried parents calling the Sheriff. They might have assumed an intention to run far; he’d packed a duffel bag and took a couple hundred dollars from his foster mother’s desk drawer to create that impression. Bats lived in the upper hayloft, startling him the first evening at sundown, the flutter and whoosh amid falling hay stems. He had to pull hard to drag the bulging duffel bag into the crawlspace. At night he snuck into the house after his foster parents went to sleep to get something to eat. Two whole days he spent in that cramped and dirty and moldy-smelling barn, filled with a kind of total joy he’d never known before. Some of his schoolmates avoided him, sensing malevolence. The chickens scratched for grub by the wall and he stuck his finger out through a crack and wiggled it. They went at it fiercely, drawing blood, thinking it a great prize. He imagined his foster parents sitting at the kitchen table, worried, discussing him. They would think about the scars on his chest from the cigarette burns his real parents had given him. They would call around to ask neighbors if he’d been seen, his foster father would get in the truck and drive all over the countryside, searching and trying to figure out where he might be, even looking under bridges and in trees. He’d come home tired and get on his knees with his wife in the living room and pray for a safe return.
He tried to imagine everything.
It was said he used the word “never mind” too much.
Nova was very clear concerning the why. The placement of Saturn, the peculiar nature of his 12th House and its relation to his 4th, indicated long periods of isolation. But explaining the why still left you with the dilemma of the how, once you’re there. Okay. So you’re in lock-up. Try to look at it as a cup half full. You’re out of shape? Let’s get in shape. Begin with a light workout, something to build on: warmup, 20 pushups, 30 minutes jogging in place, another 20 pushups, cool down, to bed one every day before breakfast. After breakfast, a writing exercise, an hour straight at the table without stopping. Write your journal. His dyslexia gave an odd flavor to the results, knocked his syntax slightly out of whack, so instead of “I woke up at 6 o’clock this morning” he wrote “At 6 o’clock I woke up this morning,” as if he were the one who woke up the sleeping morning. He looked out of the window for an hour before lunch, an exercise of variable interest depending on the weather and his state of mind. Sometimes something interesting would be happening out there, gang minimums cutting grass or tending to the flowers and hedge around the administrative building or shoveling snow. Of course the geese were always there. Expand the emptiness. At odd times he’d shift his focus and listen to CCU activity, sounds of other prisoners in other cells, the duty officer in the hallway, visits from social workers, therapists, medical. Be aware of your surroundings. Sergeants, lieutenants, captains, and wardens walked through periodically, seeming very interested in the fact that nothing ever happened. Getting up from an after-lunch nap, the counting the holes in the wall exercise, a short-lived venture, scrapped in the middle of his first trip and never resumed. Do what makes you happy. Every three days he was escorted out for an hour-long rec period in a tiny courtyard enclosed by buildings and, afterwards, allowed a shower and a shave. Embrace change. Nights presented a new set of challenges. Back in general pop, nights were a breeze; you could party til dawn. Lights out in the Hole brought silence. Silence is its own world. Shadows moved past the door window, moans came from the empty cell next door, knocks on the window. Don’t hallucinate. He tried talking to the spirits, like the investigators on TV. He lacked the special equipment needed to record inaudible answers. Don’t lose your mind.
The Courtline Judge was a short geek suffering from what used to be called neurotic inferiority, a syndrome nowadays typified by road rage. A civilian DOC official, a circuit Judge, making the rounds of the northern district. He hated Martinville. He hated sex offenders. He wore cheap suits and had a bald spot the size of a baseball on the crown of his head. The Judge didn’t believe in rehabilitation. Court was two rooms adjacent to the Duty Sergeant’s office, separated by a Plexiglas window. The Judge and his assistant sat in one room, Artist and his entourage of escorts and sergeants and paralegal defense in the other. In an upper corner on the Judge’s side a wall fan dangled red, white, and blue plastic streamers. The crowded other side was airless and stifling and Artist often felt faint, especially when a certain female escort who doused herself in fruity perfume attended. The Judge projected attitude, spoke in bitter tones. He didn’t believe in leniency. He handed out the max on every charge, there being a lesser charge in the wings to press in case the major charge (the asterisk charge) didn’t stick. He despised convicts. The Judge sported a pencil mustache, adorned with beads of sweat, and was constantly adjusting his cheap wire-rimmed glasses. His halitosis was legendary. The charges were listed by section in a pocket-sized handbook issued to every inmate upon arrival, receipted for, returned upon departure. The Judge became more progressively disgusted with Artist as the years went by. He unloaded a torrent of snide remarks each time he saw him. The paralegal, next to worthless, had resorted to asking the Judge for leniency based on Artist’s enrollment in the Mental Health Program, which the Judge found amusing. The Judge adored his four-year-old bitch Setter. He hated people.
Artist went to the library with Supernova and pored over coffee table books on the Cosmos, color photographs of Mars and Saturn, the planets Nova claimed were giving him all his trouble. Nova was inclined to look for influence flowing from the outward to the inward. Artist, vice versa. The librarian, a tall thin dude named Shaggy, strolled over to their table, long-legged gait, pushing hair out of his face, and looked over Nova’s shoulder, leaning against him. They said they weren’t fucking each other, but who knows? That didn’t stop them from playing footsies under the table, Shaggy observed. Nova, red-haired, freckled, had five planets in fiery Leo. Nova worked in the kitchen and smuggled food out for his boyfriend, stuffing sandwiches, pastries, and bags of coffee inside the waist band of his kitchen whites. He did a brisk business selling the coffee. He wasn’t able to get a lot of guys interested in buying astrological charts. He spread Artist’s chart out on the table and used a pencil to indicate the maleficent positions: Saturn on the Ascendant in opposition to the Sun in the 7th House, Mars precisely in-between, squared to both. Bad voodoo. Artist thought of himself as a spiritual warrior, a hero of the Imagination. He’d woven over the years various Taoist and Hindu ideas into a personal tapestry of belief concerning bodily energy, a kind of metaphysics. There were several other bodies alongside the physical, overlapping each other. Nova had red hair, green eyes, and toenails black with fungus. With five planets in the Fire sign of Leo your metabolism runs hot and you will sweat easily and profusely. Nova’s Sun was in Taurus. He was rooted in the Earth, very stubborn. A builder of houses, a foundation for people. He was a woman in a man’s body. The way he put it, each day was a circle/cycle—each week, each month, each year, each decade, each lifetime—and the natal chart simply took you through the cycle, the trick being to find your place in it.
The natal chart is a photograph of a moment in the total cycle, Nova said. We are each of us a moment of time and space in the total cycle.
You could say that all of Artist’s time spent out of lock-up was the matrix in which future trips there would germinate and, like fast-sprouting seed, find realization. You could watch the elements of an offense pop up in thought balloons just above his head the longer he was out. Besides disobeying officers and threatening civilians, he became notorious for illicit sexual acts, theft of state property, running a black market, fighting, attempted escape, and possession of a shank. Artist was incapable of refusing a dare. He got caught in the laundry room giving a blowjob to an inmate named Cousin, a person he despised, on the basis of a dare. Artist has had sex in the laundry room, the bathroom, the shower, the library, an education classroom, a therapy room, the gym, a supply closet, the kitchen storeroom, the porta-potty in the yard. Not once but several times. During twenty years at Martinville, Artist has been with only one person he cared about, a guy named Spin. All other partners were either paying customers or taken on as dares. His counselor Dan saw him as promiscuous. Dan was first assigned to Artist by the Mental Health Department to check on him in lock-up. Dan took the Cognitive-Behavioral outlook and said that Artist’s activity was about displaced needs. They tried to send others up to see him but Artist would only talk to Dan, because he felt like he irritated Dan, and to receive an irritated response gave him a sense of normalcy. Dan was a big guy who walked very slowly, almost shuffled, who took each step in deliberation of each next move, as if according to a script. He had a highbrowed forehead and wavy blond hair, carried with him a clipboard and a pen and a whistle hanging from an elastic neckband alongside his ID. Inmates called him Dan the Man. Each time Artist went to lock-up, Dan went through the drill of telling him that CCU was a step backward. Each trip pushed his release date back a little further, made him more vulnerable to involuntary commitment post release. Artist would sometimes request Dan visit him on hot muggy days just to watch Dan fidget and get short-winded in the closed stuffy cell. The damp areas slowly expanded until his shirt stuck to his back. Artist liked to tell Dan about the time he swiped a hardcover Robinson Crusoe off the shelf of the school library. It became a prized possession. He still had it, somewhere. It was like scripture.
Three eight-hour shifts made up the rotation for Correction Officers. Anderson, the day shift cop: Officer Andy, like a sheriff on an old TV show, with a slouch and a slow drawl and an easy way. Not to be fucked with, though—he’d call the goon squad. Good at defusing tense situations involving whacked-out guys wound-up and freaking out. Every time Artist came up Officer Andy was like, Miss us, huh? Can’t get enough of this resort? From the cell windows on the east side of the corridor, the Sunrise Cells, you had a fenced-in grassy area and a shed with an unknown function the maintenance workers dipped in and out of. From the west side, the Sunset Cells, the rec yard could be seen at the far end of the compound. Guys out there walking the track, shooting hoops, pumping iron. The CCU officer in the afternoons was a fat slob drunk, Badgett, called Badge. Dude had a piggish red face and red eyes and reeked of alcohol. He smoked at his desk but had no qualms about busting you for smoking—Hey, you’re the inmate and I’m the cop. Get that through your head. You never knew what he was going to do. He might stay at his desk and bullshit on the phone all day or he might prowl the corridor and harass the prisoners. Instead of defusing tense situations involving whacked-out guys he would instigate and escalate them, call in the goons, stand back, and enjoy the show. Beyond the outer fence of the yard on the west side was a marshy forest: Mosquito City. Some abandoned warehouses alongside a dirt road patrolled by the DOC mobile unit “Rover.” Deer could be seen sometimes in the woods from the yard. Unseen, on the east side beyond the administrative building, you could hear the traffic on the highway overpass during warm weather when you had the window open all the time. In the winter during ice storms you could lay on your bunk and listen to the sleet pound against the screen all night. The night shift officer, McIlroy, was Artist’s favorite. He’d bring in fast food and cigarettes and joints in exchange for blowjobs.
The seventh trip to lock-up was exactly like the sixth. Literally. It was on the same day of the week, the same hour of the afternoon. Artist wore exactly the same sweats, the same (he realized later) frayed boxer shorts, the same socks with the holes at the big toe and the heel. It was the same argument with the same inmate, a guy named Tone, and once again, when Artist called him a pussy, Tone threw the same right hook which delivered the same glancing blow to Artist’s left cheek. The same duty officer was in charge of the tier and when he called the code the same officers responded. Badge was once again on post in Correctional Custody, sporting the same leer, the same stench of booze. Artist was locked into the same cell, given the same sheets graced with the same rips and tears and inked-in “fuck u.” He sat at the table and watched the same pig-shaped cloud float along the eastern horizon. The same little gray-breasted bird perched on the window sill and hopped the same bird dance for the same minute and, as soon as it flew off, Tone, in the next cell over, exactly like before, started giving the same speech about how he was sorry he’d overreacted and threw a punch. Then, suddenly, he stopped—talking, that is—whereas the time before he had continued with what then had seemed strange utterances concerning a creepy feeling of déjà vu—at which point number seven abruptly parted in the river of time from number six and found its own course.
It all went down in a secluded shower room, an isolated area of cold beige tile, an array of showers and sinks and wooden benches. Four officers in breath masks and blue latex gloves stood waiting, flexing their fingers, while a plainclothes told Artist to strip. The children lived in a house trailer a mile away through the sparsely wooded hollow. A dirt area out front, along which Artist rode his bike, had a large oak with a rope swing strung from a lower branch. Their dog was tied to a chain, a water bowl by the tin-roofed doghouse. Artist parked the bike and pushed the two children, a boy and a girl, on the swing. Artist was to hand each garment to an officer as he removed it. The officer would then examine the garment and toss it to the floor. A dark cold place in late afternoon, their voices reverberating off the walls like hollow echoes, pale light above through a clouded window, showers dripping. The water had a lonely sound. The children told him they were cousins, not siblings. He took to leading them out into the hollow for adventures, farther each successive time, until they were able to see his barn across the field. Two officers holding clipboards examined Artist as he stood naked on the beige tile, a tile he found cold and clammy on bare feet, sticky, layered with a dark film of dirt. Artist kept his focus on a rust colored water stain in the corner stall, a Rorschach, beetle-shaped, fractal, stretching from the ceiling to a point above the mop bucket. He led them across the field into the barn and suggested they play a game. He had them stand up on the workbench and remove their clothes. He received each garment from them as they removed it. The plainclothes’ droopy face had a mouth slightly open all the time. He initially mistook the burn scars for tattoos. The officers made a catalogue of his tattoos. There was a body diagram indicating location and brief description. The officers circled around close and stuck blue-gloved index fingers at his body, sharp pointy jabs, as if to prick him. Their eyes were like needles. He placed the children side by side, naked, stepped back and extended his hands toward them to find the energy. The levels were very high. His arms, legs, chest, back, and neck were covered with tattoos. Fluid, curving abstract lines and circles composed of black ink and bare skin, they entwine and connect like a highway interchange, they break off or lay straight or twirl into spirals. Artist stepped forward and placed his hands flat against their genitals, his left hand on the boy and his right hand on the girl. The energy ran through his arms and shot up and down his spine. Batshit splattered on the workbench beside them. The children stared straight ahead the whole time and didn’t move. The tattoos are all of a piece; they connect everywhere at some point or other. They are replicas of a dream image. They are images of the very worms that will devour his corpse once he’s dead.
Artist and Spin often ended up in lock-up at the same time, either because they got caught fucking or because one of them had gone up and the other deliberately did something to go up and join him. It was like that between them. They got cells across the corridor from each other and stood at their portholes to chat.
Aren’t you glad I’m here? Spin asked.
Talk dirty to me, Artist replied.
These were the best of times. They attached cigarettes to a thin board and slid it under the doors across the waxed hallway. As time went on they passed tissue paper full of come and asswipe as well.
There was inconsistency in the workings of the Karmic Calendar. Artist and Spin went for a year at one point with no lock-up time, a year in which they fucked like rabbits: in the shower, the bathroom, in their bunks behind a draped sheet; jerked each other off in the dayroom, sucked each other off behind the backstop in the yard…and never got caught. The following year the whole thing flipped: Artist was locked up twice for things he didn’t do. He didn’t steal the pan of roast beef from the kitchen and those weren’t his pills found in his area during the shakedown. How odd the workings of karma, he thought. No wonder so many considered the human condition unjust and intolerable.
Their relationship was so notorious and their crimes so egregious the warden decided to split them up and shipped Spin out to a different joint. They exchanged angry, hurt letters, each blaming the other for the fiasco that led to their separation. Artist spent the next two years in the Hole. He would scream and bang things and sing at the top of his lungs “Jesus loves the little children” and “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” He yelled all day about DOC receiving kickbacks based on the number of inmates held in lock-up, therapists keeping them sick to ensure their jobs. He spent time in the rubber room. Every time he sat with the psych his scars started burning. They would ignite and glow as if the living coals of the cigarette were embedded there. The smell of burnt flesh filled the room.
His last years at Martinville were bleak. His foster parents were dead. He was 42-years-old and all his friends were gone. He spent a lot of time writing.
– Dear Nova. A year to go and you have been gone a year and in this hellhole for 20 years. Like a supernova in the real world out there exploding. You like being fire? Soon for myself I will know. No word from him since Spin left and three since then years but I will find I know him where he is. My Saturn Rising you told me would seem backward my step forward to others. In the darkness of elements evolves the Spirit of Mars and Saturn darkness. In the House of Incarceration the 12th House. You told me and fallen angels I told you then humans. The demon is the angel lacks the real entity. Less angel the adult has more demon. The angel is strong children are taboo. In a man’s body you are Taurus a woman. Subject of the Moon and a menstrual cycle. Write soon and these things your friend Artist.
In the backseat of his parents’ Buick on a warm summer night of dark rain clouds. On a dirt road on their way to camp meeting, winding through pines, dust drifting in the headlights. Through the open windows the slow moving car sounded like it was riding over dry corn husks. Open fields and fenced, locust trees spaced down the ditch, fleeting sparks of fireflies and lingering honeysuckle. A big yellow moon on the rise. They turned into a dirt lot lit with floodlights, spread over a layer of gravel, a frayed canvas circus tent in the open air. The first thing the pastor’s voice barking through speakers. The lot full of cars, a row of trailers and RVs at the far back, cows gathered at the fence. They got out of the car. A dryness crackled on skin, electric. Strings of bare bulbs and larger lights circled the tent, the packed columns of the congregation swaying and sounding. “Praise Him! Hallelujah!” Heat lightning scribbled across the clouds. His feet tingled as his boots crunched gravel. A generator hummed amidst the trailers and smoke trailed from a mess tent alongside a refrigerated truck. They treaded sawdust up to the back row, the empty seats on the last wooden pew, while the music started, the band kicked in. The old gospel song swelled into its chorus, the congregation on their feet clapping, following the pastor’s lead on stage, who paced around pumping his arms, whipping the microphone cord, singing lead and shouting “Hallelujah!” Suddenly a woman in a light brown print the color of the sawdust emerged out of an aisle up front shouting and sobbing and waving her arms like she’s trying to flag down a truck and speaking in tongues. “Praise Him! Glory!” The distant rainstorm sideswiped the district and let a cool breeze flap the tent. The pastor jumped from the stage and brought the microphone to the light brown woman and a message in an unknown tongue resounded through the tent and the lot and the night under the full moon. A throng poured from the aisles to the altar below the stage. The whole congregation erupted. Artist ran sandpaper hands over his face and through his hair. The light was hurting his eyes. The pastor headed down the aisle, laying hands on foreheads, pronouncing mighty benedictions, as the flock swayed and fell backward on the sawdust. The back rows were filled with those who stood or sat quietly apart from the swelling frenzy. Artist, sandwiched between his parents, transfixed, could sense an awesome force being unleashed. The pastor made his way toward the back, shouting into the trailing microphone, white shirt and tie drenched in sweat, laying his hands on those still sitting or standing among the pews. He reached over to an iron gray woman in a wheelchair lifting her trembling hands. As he got closer Artist felt he was being given to the man’s reaching grasp: his foster father blocked egress to the aisle and his foster mother leaned against him on the other side. Reddish blue energy sparkled along the ends of outstretched fingers, reaching, reaching…
Artist was never the same after that.
Artist was released from Martinville and the Municipal Office gave him a job in the park at the riverside, picking up trash. He was too old to hustle. The days were long but there was no rush. No one bothered him. He had time to bring the old head squatting under the plank boards by the burnt building a sandwich and a cup of coffee. He spent a lot of time walking along the river, pretending to work. His favorite thing was to hide in the storage shed where they kept the lawnmowers. He had a key. There was a separate room in the shed about the size of a jail cell. When the scars burned he would lock himself in and sit on the concrete floor. No one bothered him. There was something about four walls. Far above, in the darkness beyond the light, stars and constellations turned like a carousel, forever, and on each day that passed he could feel Saturn Rising. And he knew that he could wait.
PEN America celebrates the winners of the 2016 Prison Writing Contest with a live event, PEN Breakout: Voices from the Inside on Nov. 28 at The Green Space in New York City.