In the summer before the final caged summer I received the news. Actually I did not receive I took it, the way a kid takes his first spanking—with disbelief and aching.

The news was delivered with me at a bank of phones, separated from other gentlemen by hairs. Silences between father’s fatigued declarations I hear fragments from calls.

“You look so big in your picture . . . Daddy will be home soon…”

“Bitch you better send my money . . . I love you baby…”

“Momma I’m innocent . . . Momma I’m sorry…”

I wish I were a stereotype. If I were, the news would vanish because my father would cease to exist. But I’m not and he’s here and it hurts.

The faucet in my room has a slow leak. It drips and the water drains away. Take an enclosed space and the drips are annoyingly amplified.

And drip, drip, drip.

I was untruthful when I told you this place, the people, the treatment, the constant ignorant noise drives one to insanity. It is not insanity. The closest I can come to describing it is to have you sit on your hands. After they fall asleep, play with yourself. Although you know it’s you, the numbness makes it feel like someone else.

There are no real highs, no real lows, since this place is unreal. Just indelible bodies moved along by rules and procedures until the day or feel of release.

You want to snap out of it. You want to feel happy. When it becomes unachievable you strive for anger. When it quickly subsides you’ll settle for melancholy but all you’re capable of is nothingness.

This is what a shot of Novocain to the heart must not feel like.

Unfortunately the callousness applies to others. I was present when three youngsters jumped a man approaching retirement for allegedly disrespecting their association. Respect is an important concept here. As with many things it is largely abstract and a matter of degree.

While they beat him I watched; a sympathetic desire to help him none. The attack was similar to, no exactly as, an overacted sitcom. It was part amusing, little entertainment and an absence of emotional connection.

What a thick line between tranquil and tranquilized.

Oh, and the older man held his own.

The perpetual numbness is the reason why the frequent tears seem peculiar. Watching a televised ball game recalls a ball game with dad and fluid forms in the crevices of the eyes. This juxtaposition of no feeling and extreme sentimentality makes work and studies and writing and life both clearly objectively defined and utterly difficult at the same time.

Before the news I could almost count these watershed moments on the guy’s hand who attempted to remove the sod caked on and under his lawnmower. The day I was sentenced. The day I realized the world and then people move on without me. The day my family visited and I did not immediately recognize them. And the day we first found out dad had cancer.

And drip, drip, drip.

Yesterday I asked for a forty minute phone call with my dad to say good bye. I told my counselor we had things to discuss. Obligations for me to do when he could no longer. I said what needs to be said takes longer than the normal fifteen minutes.

Avoiding ownership in such a decision the counselor questioned the counselor standing next to her if my request was exceptional—no acceptable. Without hesitation the counselor told my counselor “yes” and she then told me she didn’t have “a problem with it,” even though forty minutes was to her “excessive.”

I thought she was excessively stupid.

After agreeing to the phone call she then asked me “are you all right.”

“Yes I’m fine.” And I thought right.

And drip, drip, drip.

My thoughts are occupied with dad and then with mom and dad. The two of them, high school sweethearts married together forever at seventeen.

Who does that anymore?

The two of them, they don’t finish each other’s sentences. They just don’t fight. Ever. .

Who does that anymore?

My mother will be the last one to give up. Long after dad’s body begins to falter mom will stay and pray clutching a miracle. I admire her faith that can move mountains.

I recently wrote a request to change religious preferences from Protestant to Judaism in order to benefit from the Kosher food tray they serve. Koshers receive fresh fruits and vegetables instead of the canned and frozen shit.

I later withdrew the request. The whole thing seemed counter productive considering I’m calling on Jesus to save my dad.

Far from my mother’s, my faith has nevertheless increased vis-a-vis dad’s progressively poor predisposition. But I question it.

Do I truly believe or am I believing for dad’s sake?—hoping he’s on his way to a better place.

And drip, drip, drip.

These tough-ass guys here signed a “get well but good luck” card for my dad. Inside it were several surprisingly thoughtful, and less, phrases. My favorite said “keep fightin’ or start buyin’ on credit.”

I spite my name. Sometimes names are announced on the intercom. Sometimes they are then told to report to the chapel. That’s never a good sign. It’s a twisted form of voice mail. It’s a literal kiss of…nevermind.

Once there, the chaplain explains away a loved one. Then you receive a phone call— a free phone call.

It’s the only free thing in this place. And even then it feels far from free.

And drip, drip, drip.

There are so many things I want to tell you. Let’s start with sorries.

I am mostly sorry I have been here rather than there with you. The experience missed. The memories not created. The burdens placed on mom’s shoulders I’ve been unable to allay.

I am sorry I have been your classic underachiever. Well not yours, my failings are in no way a reflection of anything you have done.

I am sorry for the period when everything you said went in one ear and was lost before it could come out the other. Why is it that it began around five and did not end until twenty-five?

I am sorry for the days of disappointment. All of them.

This one you will remember. Sorry for planting your Ford pickup on its top before I was of age to drive. But you’ll have to admit I did show some responsibility in having it towed back to the house.

I called Jack and he arrived and I asked him to stay. He said “hell no” and scrammed away. It wasn’t that I thought his presence would mitigate your anger. I simply wanted a witness to my murder.

I will let you in on a secret —: your face was the worst form of punishment.

Sorry about mom finding condoms in my car. I never meant to crush her denial. And as with most things involving your children, you were the one to pay for my inequities through uncomfortable conversations with her and later with me.

Sorry for flunking out of college and then forging those checks. In retrospect my troubles with banks were a harbinger of events to come.

This list is getting long so I will proceed summarily. Sorry for the sleep you lost, the parties I threw in your house, the booze and drugs and rampant intoleration of authority including that minor arrest by federal agents.

Damn, I am a terrible son. For that I am sorry.

And drip, drip, drip.

I placed a work order for fixation of faucet during the Clinton Administration. Okay, that’s a bit of hyperbole. It’s been weeks. Apparently my mental health is not a priority whereas stringing a sixth row of razor wire is.

The day after taking the news I ate minimally at the dining hail. I left and an officer stated a comment as I passed. Mind on other matters I thought he said “you’re a crook.”

I was unappalled.

Then he repeated “how is your book.’’

Most in here are unaware I have begun to write something other than legal briefs. He only knows because he has the opportunity to peruse my mail. I know this and he knows this. He mentions the book in a subtle way to exhibit control over me.

This would bother me if I had an expectation of privacy. After years of stripping on command I no longer do.

He then says I should portray him as a big burly handsome guard. I believe he used the word “burly,” however, its more likely I added it myself.

After his suggestion a thousand nefarious remarks pass and I utter a sneer.

I tell him he won’t make my novel. Take that.

And drip, drip, drip.

You asked what we eat here. I prefer the word consume. Eat insinuates enjoyment and I can assure you there is no joy in this kitchen. Today anorexic chickens were served covered in a sauce of dark red.

Much like the kitchen staff, the menus are at best deceptive, at worst insincere. For the week the menu lists chicken: fried, sweet and sour, herbed and Mexican. The numerous descriptions describing the same meal.

Guys in my unit are rather ingenious when it comes to concocting a dish. I once ate octopus soup prepared in a microwave. It was chewy and unfishy.

I often think if they had used their creativity before, chances are their present would be different.

The same could be said for me.

And drip, drip, drip.

I phone father today after the treatment he took. The treatment is designed to gain him some time. He sounds frail. He sounds like his dad, so I guess the treatment gained him twenty years.

We talk. Him about work and my why he still does it. Even now he teaches a life lesson. For once I desire more.

There are a multitude of memories in which I wish to reminisce, but talking of memories implies no further ones so they get added to the list of items unsaid.

I end with a promise to call tomorrow and after the obligatory finish the phone rings . . . stop. Before it’s over I will offer other promises I worry I won’t keep.

These I will.

I promise to care for our family. But not nearly as well as you.

I promise to think what would dad do before I do some of the dumb things I do. And yes, I know this would have been helpful in the past.

I promise to marry a woman that will drive mother nuts. With you gone I’ll need some form of entertainment on the holidays.

And drip, drip, drip.

I write in my bed. Back against pillow against wall with feet flat on sheets. I clip legal pad to clip board, grab plain bic pen blue and hash out conceptions.

Without fail, interruptions inevitably occur. Someone will arrive at the door, look through the window, see I am occupied and enter anyway. Then comes the familiar greeting of “what’s up.”

The first hundred times I would either: a) remark “nothing” and continue with task; or b) discontinue and sit through a conversation regarding “nothing.”

Over the years I’ve lost my tact. Now I tell them they are number one in the universal language with my left all the while writing with my right. This usually conveys the message clearly enough to produce the desired affect: a quick turn around.

At this moment another one has entered the room. Breathe in, breathe out, a homicide I must live without. .

And drip, drip, drip.

The other day I was headed to laundry to pick up new socks and underwear. On the way I was pulled aside by a guy. He accused me of calling him “stupid” a while back. He then explained how he had recently produced a fight with someone else over the same comment.

Me not being stupid, I understood the implication. I had allegedly impugned his intelligence in front of his friends and he was willing to battle to keep it from happening again.

I told him, however, that it was not I who labeled him stupid. I said he was “soft.”

He said “oh, that’s okay.”

True story.

A lot of the guys ask me why I make fun of everyone and everything. Don’t I realize this place and these people are serious they will say.

Where to begin. I do it because I want to cause misery around me to match mine. I do it because nothing in this god forsaken place matters. I do it because what’s the worst that could happen. And then there is . . .

Shits and giggles. I tell them I do it for shits and giggles.

This they comprehend.

Nine years down one to go until completion. Maybe completion is not the correct word. It makes finishing a term of imprisonment sound like a real accomplishment . . .

And drip, drip, drip.

On the bulletin board is a list of educational courses offered. One must be mislabeled. Its entitled “Self-Help Class.”

If I go is that not defeating the purpose?

And drip, drip, drip.

I’ve never had the luxury of someone close to me . . . leaving. Can’t say it. Don’t want to.

And drip, drip, drip.

Dad don’t go.