Prompting the Prompt

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------------------------------------------Doug's Story--------------------------------------

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Here I am, sitting at the computer console. We call it the 'horseshoe' here in prison because it's shaped like a horseshoe. Inventors got nothing on us convicts. There are only three screens to accommodate 150 plus men. It can get difficult pretty quick in here when it comes to your garden variety convict wanting to cut in line. Picture any Department of Motor Vehicles and see what line jumping gets you there. Then go ahead and multiply that by anger, loneliness, and idiocy and you can get this place rocking and rolling.

After removing the screen saver, which is a pair of floating handcuffs—the Feds got themselves a sense of humor—I see that I got some 'blue' in my life. Another piece of prison vernacular which needs explaining—the morass that is our daily banter would confuse and shock most English Lit. profs. But this ain't high school. Oh it's a school alright—the kind our parents said we would end up in if we didn't heed their advice—the school of hard knocks. But I digress…

Since they installed these modern day marvels called computers, we have been agog with e-mailing half the world. We'd do the other half if they'd let us into their living rooms, offices—and heaven forbid—their blackberries, but we have to get acceptance by the receiver of our emissions before communication can jump off. We can't just e-mail anyone. If someone sends us an e-mail then, once we log on instead of some cutesy chimey voice telling us 'you've got mail,' (which if we were able to design our own, it'd be a truly manly man sound rife with gangstaland tattoos and all that rut) our screen just shows a bright blue heading (hence, the term 'blue') that reads, 'you have an unread public message'. This is a riot because we are the last ones to read our little 'unread public message'—the irony firmly in place by the 'public' mentioning.

We only get 30 minutes at a time at the coveted console at large. This can really bite it when you are getting the keyboard clacking, the mental wheels in motion and then Bam! You're outta time! We are charged $0.05 per minute, so 30 is a buck fifty—'fiddy' around in these parts. Since most are making $0.23 an hour, more if you got time on the job—boy do some of us have that—you can get all the way to $0.40! Then the big bucks start rolling in.

Okay finally to today's blue. The message is from Tara. She's told me before about this monthly writing contest, and it is what has her blue-lighting me now. It's March 1st, and I'm supposed to have her some kind of literary litany delivered via e-mail by the 7th. Initially I think what's the point in all that? I can't write anything in a week—it takes me a month to fill out a return address in here. I have so much to do! But I want to prove my writer's prowess to you all so you will buy my stuff, and I can hire Al Sharpton to get me out of here!

It's a picture prompt as you all have already seen. But, we can't get attachments, so she describes it a bit for me. A little vague at first so I fire her off a communiqué to tighten up on the pictorial. Tara responds with alacrity, and a dissertation on that photo that could launch 1000 Nikons. From her discourse I almost figured out the family trees of the underwater walkers. I am not, at this time, figuring I have enough time to do something anyway—at the brink of talking myself out of it all. Ever done that? See an opportunity just staring at you, visualizing its merit, the gears start to shift, and then you go neutral, shutting it down. 'Nah, I can't do that. It's darn near impossible. Who am I kidding here? They'll laugh, or scoff, or worse…be indifferent. I got my share of that—thank you, but no thank you.' It's like approaching that daunting area of risk where aversion reigns in its terror of failure by telling you, 'you ain't gonna make it.'

Well, I said...damn the torpedoes! Forge on in the very face of adversity! Staring it down as if my visage was indeed a flint set to brave any storm. Sparks begin to fly from the biting, howling wind, but I'm of the determined sort now, so its affects are only external, superficial even. I start to realize with stark clarity that I've internalized fears for such a long time that I had no idea how crippling and irrational they were. Suddenly my cowardice is transformed into courage; selfishness is midnight to the day's dawning of caring truly, madly, deeply...to do unto others.

On another note, I had told a fellow prisoner about the whole prompting thingie. Although a former drug kingpin (are there other kinds of kingpins?) he has been trying in desperate measure to alter the entrenched lifestyle of madness that has consumed a good deal of his existence. I have been trying to inspire him to write about things other than the urban trashy novels we get in here. He has a spirit for the craft. I implore him to think on Tara's prompt analogy, and then we decided to write some fantastical work to win next month's prompt award. We don't have much to aspire to in here, so we decided to wing it. Thing is both our egos and offending behaviors are off the charts. We've been dancing around about whose ideas are best, who should write the first part…you name it, we argued over it.

Tara's e-mail is fast becoming an icon to us. Since all I've seen of his work has been those repugnant urban novels about whose got the biggest and can do the most, I believe I should claim first part so it doesn't turn into some phallic tale from the hood. But to his credit, as I have done my best to 'whiten' up his writing goals, by instructing to reach for deeper, not go deeper, I gotta confess that I pass his cell at least 30-40 times any given day, and he's hard at it—the writing I mean. Sitting at his little steel table afforded all of us fine citizens who have become denizens to this prison; dictionary and thesaurus at the ready with pen and paper out. His devotion to write himself well in here outdoes mine by leaps and bounds. And frankly it pisses me off! Every time I see him writing I get convicted—well, I've already been that, now haven't I?

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--------------------------------Terry's Story---------------------------------

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I don't remember the time, but it was on a Wednesday when I was standing in front of one of the six televisions that hang on eleven foot poles, when Doug called out to me over by the horseshoe. "Hey Terry, Tara sent me an e-mail about that contest I told you about last month. You wanna see it? Maybe you could write up a piece—or we could put something together on it. Whaddya think?"

I was getting ready to answer when in comes Mrs. Tople wearing those hip huggers she enjoys flaunting around us incarcerated men. She's the case manager for over 150 of us. Really likes it too. She's coming our way so I stand up more erect, puffing out my broad chest in hopes to catch her attention...but nope she walks right past me and over to some he/she dude/dudette that's been bugging her about a halfway house—seems everything is about a halfway house with this guy/girl.

"C'mon Terry!" yells Doug. He knows I'm lusting (as well as every other man in here still into women). It's been six years, two months, four days, eight hours, and about ten minutes since I've touched, tasted, or smelled a woman. Mrs. Tople is as close as I've gotten to a date. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife," Doug tells me—he likes preaching at me, but he ain't that bad for a white guy. Plus I don't even know where she lives. How can she be my neighbor?

"She wants us to look," I defend. Doug gives me that look that says 'don't you think I know that?'

However Doug and I are trying to become men of higher morals. So I drop my head to the floor and contemplate my actions, thinking how I shouldn't be such a hound dog; gawking at every female, from the live ones in here, to the porno on paper, to the TV harlots. Staring at the light gray floor that has been waxed and buffed more times than a hospital's, I see my own reflection and quote another passage Doug has given me: 'the eyes of man are never satisfied'—then look back in her direction one more time proving the truth behind the truth. Giving into my flesh is so easy. She is just another part of torture; to remind us that if we are good boys and follow the Federal Bureau of Prison rules, then we can become free and find our own trophy wife.

"You're right, Doug, about that lusting stuff. Now what were you saying?" Doug gives me the 'man you never listen to me' look.

"I said this could be a great opportunity for you to get your writing out into the world and see if you can stomp with the big dogs."

I told him, "I'm black; everything about me says I stomp with the big dogs!" The smirk on my face gets Doug riled as I bob my head up and down. He catches all my ill-fated attempts at male humor and says it is all an urban myth. Then he cracks me up with one of his jokes about this place because he can be funnier than Jim Carry when he wants to be.

"All jokes aside, you should take what you're doing in here seriously enough to give it a try."

Doug wants to see me succeed—not only with my writing ability, but in my walk with the Lord, and the journey through fatherhood. He sees something in me other than the ex-drug dealer or womanizer I've been. No homo talk here, but I like the guy because he motivates me to do something positive. You can't find that in here too often if at all...especially coming from a white dude to a brother. "So you want me to write some 'Tales from the Hood' type of crap?" I asked.

"Nah, save the pistol popping stuff for later. Just write what the prompt inspires you to."

Finally he gives me Tara's depiction of the prompt...as soon as I read it it's like déjà vu and I'm ready to write.

Then a loud explosion scares the hell out of everyone! Thick gray smoke emerges from the back of the housing unit where the ice machine is. That means only one thing...some idiot blew up one of the microwaves. The fire alarms start sounding, and the sprinkler system engages. Doug throws his coat over the console he's at...save the computer! We have to evacuate the building in a single file, which is part of the prison protocol.

Some of the men that do their time sleeping throughout the day, jump straight out of the bed and exit like the institutionalized men they are. Others come out with their rain ponchos, as a reminder of what we'll be dealing with when we come back in…and what I could be dealing with if I come back. And I notice there are others feeling my pain as they exit nonchalantly. They're fed up with it all too...

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A/N - This was written for the Review Game's March Writing Challenge Contest. The prompt was: /post/512

FYI...Word gave this a word count of 1,980...