It was as if the world had pushed me away into a dark hole. I stumbled against its force at first, but I was not strong enough to avoid it.
Into the shadow and cold I went, hands wrenched behind my bare, naked back, wrists held together by ice-like cuffs of steel. I could not hold the cuffs far enough away from my body, and the bit of loose chain that dangled between them kept brushing against me. The steel touched my skin and rose goosebumps along my flesh.
A rough hand, so calloused it felt like a glove, pressed into the back of my neck, directing me, guiding me.
"Move, this way," the owner of the hand told me, his voice a thick, disgusted growl.
I was taken to a cell and deposited therein. I had kept my head down on the way, so I was not certain of my surroundings or my fellow inmates. But now that the guard had removed my cuffs and shoved me into the cell, I had wished I had been paying attention. The barred door clanged metallically shut, and the guard strolled away out of my line of vision.
I turned to examine my cell. Bolted to the wall was a steel bed-frame with a thin, sagging, stained, twin-sized mattress on top. A small hole had been gouged into the mattress, about three quarters of the way down. I knew instantly what it must've been used for, but I didn't want to think about it. On top of the mattress was an orange jumpsuit. Bright, clean, deceptively appearing soft. I went to it and grabbed the sleeve, feeling the fabric, but it was stiff, like a pair of pants with too much starch. But the guard had stripped me of my clothes and left me in my boxers, and, since the cell was not at all pleasant temperature-wise, I gratefully donned the jumpsuit.
Against the far wall was a toilet of sorts. A rusting, stinking, cracked bowl in which hundreds of men had defecated in and around before me. I sat on the bed with my back to the toilet, not wanting to get a closer look. The mattress caved easily under my weight and the front half lifted slightly from the frame, but I ignored it.
From this position, I could only see the cell that was directly across from mine, possibly ten feet between us. There was an older man in the cell, probably around fourty years. He wasn't tall, but he was broad-shouldered and his face was speckled with gray and black hair. His head was shaved as bald as a baby's butt. He, too, wore an orange jumpsuit, but he had cut the sleeves off and also the legs off, making dirty, orange overall shorts.
He must've felt me looking at him, because he raised his head from where he sat in the floor and our eyes locked. My skin prickled with fear and I quickly looked away. Though I knew it was just because of the poor lighting, the man's eyes had appeared black. I heard a rustling sound and looked back, and I nearly flinched, for the man was now at the door of his cell resting his cheek against a cold bar, his hands dangling out casually, watching me intently.
I chewed the inside of my cheek, trying to find something else to look at, but there really wasn't much. Someone had carved tally marks on the wall by the bed. They ended at two-hundred and sixteen. Someone else had carved a swastika. On the opposite wall, someone had written "fuck the system."
My feet were flat against the floor. The slip-on shoes that had been issued to me were itchy and uncomfortable, especially since I hadn't been given any socks. My toes were cold, soaking in the chilling concrete through the thin rubber soles.
"Hey, boy," a gravelly voice called.
The sound of it made me want to clear my throat. I looked up and saw the man in the cell across from me, staring. I pretended I hadn't heard. I knew he was talking to me, but I didn't want him to. I picked at the frayed edge of my mattress.
"Boy," he said again, his tone sharp, commanding.
My attention snapped up and I couldn't help but meet his eyes. I swallowed a dryness that squeezed at my throat.
"What?" I said.
His hands hung out of his cell, arms resting on the bars, and he clasped them together. His face was slightly mushed from pressing into the bars, making him appear squinty. His eyes were dark but now I could see that they were brown.
"How old are you?" He asked.
I hesitated. He seemed like the type that would know whether or not I was lying, so I told him the truth.
"No shit," he said, and I wasn't sure if that was a question or just a response to my answer.
I said nothing.
"What's your name?" He asked.
"Cyprus," I muttered reluctantly.
I sighed and let myself fall backwards onto the bed. My legs still hung off the edge. I stared up at the ceiling but it wasn't interesting, so I closed my eyes.
"Cyprus," he snapped.
I immediately regretted telling him my name.
"I said I'm Ben."
"Okay, whatever!" I retorted. I don't give a shit, I thought but didn't say. I was already sick of him. Right then, I didn't care if I made him my enemy.
I could picture him grinding his teeth with anger. But then I heard him turn away from the bars and resume his position in the floor, the rough jumpsuit fabric catching against the wall as he slid down it, his back against the cold concrete.
I guess I fell asleep. If I did, I dreamed that I was laying on the bed with my eyes closed. I was jerked into awareness by the metalic scrape of hundreds of bolts unlocking at the same time. I sat up slowly and saw two guards walking passed my cell. They each carried night sticks, swinging them easily in their right hands. They didn't look at me.
I stood up, my heart thumping as I realized my cell was unlocked. I went to the door and peered out through the bars, not wanting to open it. Doors were sliding open all around me, and inmates in orange suits were shuffling out into the hallway. Most of them looked tired, their hair tangled and beards overgrown. But others looked fierce, alert, self-made tattoos spiking up and down their arms.
As I watched, a black man that looked to be seven feet tall and three feet wide was walking by a Hispanic man who was about half his size. The Hispanic man had three other Hispanics with him, all small and olive-skinned. So as the black man went by, two of them grabbed his legs and tripped him, and the other two jumped on his back, one pinning his arms, and the other punching him in the back of the head.
Moments before, the air had been relatively still and calm, just a monotone mix of feet-shuffling and door-opening. But now the air was ripped apart with tension and shouting and grunting. The black man shouted curses and flailed his arms and legs, and the Hispanics clung to him still. The one beating his head didn't stop, punching whatever his tight, balled fists could reach as he bounced up and down on the black man's back.
Men all around began shouting, some for help, some for encouragement. One man dove into the fray and tried to pull the Hispanic off of the black man's arms, but another man pulled him away.
Guards decended like vultures and men scurried out of the way. Clubbing whatever was in front of them, the guards eventually reached the fight and pulled everyone apart. Alot of unintelligible yelling went on, the Hispanics pointing at the black man, the black man pointing at the Hispanics, random inmates shouting out their opinions, until finally the guards just pushed them away from each other after threatening them with solitary confinement.
My heart was in my mouth. My body trembled with nerves. Slowly, I calmed down as everyone else did. The inmates began leaving the hall again. This time, the guards remained close.
I looked at the cell across from me, but I didn't see Ben. I felt a wash of relief. I dreaded facing him outside of the cell for some reason. My hands grasped the cold bars and I pulled. The door slid open with a creak. Taking a deep breath, I stepped out into the hall.
Suddenly I was struck with the feeling that I was back in high-school. Oblivious students pushing by me as if I were nothing, some of them sneering, some of them whispering. I looked down the hall to where they were headed and saw another barred door. Four guards were at the door, monitoring who went in and out.
Someone shoved me and I tumbled to the right, thudding into another man's cell door. My shoulder began to thud with pain, my fingers stiff from trying to catch myself. I didn't turn to see who had pushed me. Instead, I looked inside the cell I was up against. A man was sitting on the toilet, shitting, by the stench of it. He flipped me off, letting go of his dick to do so. I blushed and straightened back up. I hurried with the crowd, desperate to escape.