“First time? There’s a way you go to do it.”
Unknown OPP inmate
Monday evening, 21 September 2015, PM
GM: Mouse comes to.
His face stings, but doesn’t burn anymore. He’s having what feels like the worst sore throat of his life, but his airways don’t feel like they’re clamping up. His too-empty stomach is a gnawing cancer inside his belly. His surroundings are ripe with the smell of stale sweat, blood, offal, disinfectant, and other less identifiable odors.
Mouse: The skinny kid tries to lift his head and look around to orient himself.
GM: He finds himself handcuffed to a hospital bed with a stained and too-thin mattress. He doesn’t have a room to himself like Em did in the hospital. Rows and rows of beds with their own patients are also visible. Most wear orange jumpsuits or plain white underclothes. Some patients are silent, while others moan, scream, or swear. Some curse their nurses, others their fellows, and some seemingly no one and nothing at all.
Some patients are swaddled in bandages, hooked up to beeping machines, and look barely alive. Almost all of them are handcuffed like Mouse also is. Too few and too-harried-looking nurses weave among the beds.
There’s a zipping sound from the one next to Mouse’s as two uniformed sheriff’s deputies load up a motionless figure into a body bag. His face in invisible. Two light clicks sound as the men undo handcuffs that the jail’s former inmate no longer requires.
Mouse: A small, tired frown appears on Mouse’s face as he watches the body bag get zipped up. “What happened to him?” he asks, testing his voice more than anything.
GM: No one so much as looks at Mouse. The odor in his immediate vicinity seems to marginally improve as the bag gets fully zipped up.
Several beds away, a man raggedly screams and begs for morphine.
Mouse: Mouse’s first instinct is to look around at everyone, and specifically the color of their skin.
He ignores the screaming. He ignores the smell.
GM: Some patients are black, some are white, and others are Latino. There are no Asians or Native Americans he can make out. A fly drones and buzzes over his head.
Mouse: Mouse blows toward the buzzing sound, trying to scare away the fly. He figures the smell of death is attracting it.
“Can I get a nurse, please?” he asks, looking for someone to remove his cuffs.
GM: The buzzing ceases as the fly lands on his forehead. Its legs tickle his skin.
The uniformed deputies load the body bag onto a steel cart and wheel it away without responding.
“We’re not gonna keep with this paranoia old shit… ’scuse my language…” mumbles a voice from one of the nearby beds.
Mouse: It’s just Mouse’s luck. As the fly makes its home on the skinny ne’er-do-well’s head, all the emotion of the past few days finally hits him like a steel weight clonking against his temple. All he can do is sob in his cot, left alone to his thoughts in the midst of this unintelligible noise.
GM: There’s a tickling sensation over Mouse’s forehead, then around his eye. And a damp feeling. Very light. The fly’s legs are trekking his tears over his face. The young man’s sobs go unheard and unanswered as a voice near his bed drones, “I’m smart. S’what I am. A smartass.”
“So we’re paranoid ’cause you took our angel…”
“So how is tha’ paranoid ‘gain? _I’m_ the one who’s paranoid?”
“Alla this… I tol’ him… the street I had, November 3rd, the night before Thanksgivin’…”
Monday evening, 21 September 2015, PM
GM: Minutes pass.
The fly on Mouse’s face eventually flits off. Minutes pass to hours.
A chorus of voices in the background screams, curses, sobs, moans, or simply babbles nonsensibly. Any nurses Mouse (and the other nearby inmates) call out to offer no response, either content to ignore them or too occupied by their own duties.
It’s impossible to tell when day actually passes to night. There are no windows to look out from.
Eventually, though, someone dims the lights.
Trying to sleep is an exercise in futility. None of the noise dies down. Footsteps sporadically thump throughout the room. Mouse is hungry and thirsty. He needs to piss and take a dump. The room is cold enough to make his teeth chatter, and it’s impossible to adjust his too-thin blanket with his hands uncomfortably cuffed. His neighbor never stops talking.
“He was gettin’ put out. This is not right. This is not right. This is not right. You ain’ heard a dime, you ain’ heard a cent, from Ortega… Sebastian Ortega… he was onea the clowns who started it…”
“Cause when it rains, it pours… an’ the old man, he snores… I don’ know what to do, I’m so excited…”
“Praise God, I’m excited! I’m excited! I’m excited!”
“All those dreams. That he gave you. All comin’ to pass. This dream is so important. All the ones ’fore that.”
“He showed it to me. Showed it to me clear as day. He was white. He is not playing games…”
“The stuff he did was so twisted. There ain’ no excuse for what they doin’…”
“No excuse. No excuse.”
“Praise God, I’m excited!”
“Praise Jesus, I’m excited!”
“Took my angel. I saw him, in my dream last night. He had a sword, a burning sword, an’ he says to me… Ortega, he is not playing games… the path of the righteous is open to you. You got to understand…”
Lights eventually glare back on.
Some time later, two deputies wordlessly undo Mouse’s handcuffs and march him back to the big round desk under its “Intake” label.
He’s colder. Hungrier. Thirstier. Wearier. His face still stings. And he still really needs to use the bathroom.
“Remove your shoes and put them and any personal items in the tray,” the deputy behind the desk boredly states.
Mouse: Mouse sluggishly removes the pair of shoes from his feet. He places them on the tray as he clicks his dry tongue.
GM: “Step over there.” The deputy points to two yellow footprints painted on the floor. Mouse is then instructed to step backwards and spread his legs until his feet are above them. The deputy orders him to bend forward and put his hands on the counter. It is a very embarrassing and uncomfortable position because he is far from the counter edge and has to lean forward, standing on tiptoes with all his body weight on his arms to reach the counter while keeping his feet on the footprints.
“I’m going to pat you down. Do you have anything on you that is sharp or will prick me?” the deputy asks.
Mouse: “No.” His voice is still raspy.
GM: The deputy sticks his hands up Mouse’s shirt, then feels around his chest, stomach, back, buttocks, and groin. He also inspects the new inmate’s hair and the bottoms of his feet. Mouse is then ordered to turn around and open his mouth wide and lift up his tongue. The deputy inspects this with a penlight, and even pulls his ears forward and feels behind those.
Mouse: Mouse simply stays quiet. He’s more focused on holding his bladder than anything else at this point.
GM: The deputy finally instructs Mouse to pass through a metal detector. On the other side, another identically-uniformed lawman asks him to turn his back to as he wraps and locks a chain around Mouse’s waist. Now-familiar handcuffs are fastened to each side of the chain and re-cuff the young man’s wrists. He is then told to sit on a row of plastic seats near several other handcuffed men and to wait to be called.
Time ticks and passes. One man is called away.
More time passes. Another man is called away.
More time passes. Another man shows up and plops tiredly down on one of the hard seats.
More time passes. More men come. More men go.
No one talks.
Mouse: What’s there to talk about?
GM: After what feels like hours, it’s Mouse’s turn. He’s led led behind a cubicle to the medical assistant. The cyan-uniformed woman looks over a clipboard, has Mouse step onto a scale (removing shoes is again not necessary) and asks him a gauntlet of medical history questions.
“Are you allergic to anything?”
“Do you suffer from any ailment?”
“Do you have any medical problems?”
“Are you on any drugs?”
The examiner takes Mouse’s blood sample and labels it with his name for drug/alchool testing and finally takes his temperature.
The next stop is mug shots. Mouse has done this before. He is marched to another room by a deputy and stands on a yellow line facing forward and sideways while the flash goes off. He is asked another series of questions:
“What is your full name?”
“What is your home address?”
“What is your phone number?”
“Who is your employer?”
“Are you homosexual?”
“Are you involved in any gangs?”
“Do you feel like harming yourself?”
Mouse: Mouse answers each question in a monotone. It almost feels like a waking dream.
“None.” He wonders if he’s even still enrolled in Tulane anymore.
He recites his phone number.
“Not gay, but an ally.”
“RidaHoodz for life.”
GM: The medical examiner and deputy record all of Mouse’s answers with the bored detachment of people who’ve done this countlessly many times before—though his last two responses draw some notably dryer looks.
Then comes fingerwiping. The deputy rubs Mouse’s fingers with a sequence of baby wipes and then splays them onto the glass plate of a scanner: images of his fingertips floating in the computer monitor. A series of electronic chirps seems to mean the pictures are keepers.
Mouse is then taken to a holding cell. A deputy opens the door and tells him to get in.
Several tired-, surly-, and disheveled-looking men are already inside. The small cell is approximately 15 feet wide and 10 feet long; three walls are of concrete and the fourth is all glass. There’s a built-in concrete bench along two walls and a steel combo toilet sink in the corner behind a short barrier. Everything looks filthy. The cell smells of urine, sweat, vomit and unwashed bodies.
Mouse: Mouse gives his new bunkmates a disaffected smile. He has bigger priorities, though. He quickly searches for a toilet as his stomach begins to cramp from holding in a shit for so long.
GM: No one smiles back at Mouse. One of the cell’s greener-looking occupants abruptly turns and retches over the floor, prompting to his fellows to shout exclamations of disgust before a deputy loudly clangs his baton along the cell bars and yells it at them to “hold it the fuck in!”
Mouse: Mouse’s own face twists in muted disgust at the wretched smell.
“I need a fuckin’ shit,” he half-breathes, getting impatient.
GM: One or two people glance at Mouse. Most of his neighbors stew in their own misery. Several look on the verge of voiding their stomachs.
Mouse: The smell is nauseating and Mouse’s own gut lurches threateningly. He eyes any nearby guards with a dark-eyed scowl. “I’ll give this five minutes or I’m shitting in the sink.”
GM: Mouse’s statement draws glares, exclamations of disgust, and threatening snarls from his pissed- and queasy-looking neighbors.
“Use the fuckin’ toilet!”
“Shit there and it’ll be your face in it.”
“Shit there and you’ll eat it.”
Mouse: Mouse nervously laughs, happy to get a rise out of them, but wary in case these guys are dangerous.
GM: His laughter awkwardly fills silent air. Some of his cellmates look at him with annoyance. Others with disgust. A few have black expressions that look borderline murderous.
Mouse: The laughter dies in Mouse’s throat like a murder victim meeting an abrupt, untimely end. He looks at his feet awkwardly. The last thing he wants is to antagonize the people who are in prison, too. They are probably victims of circumstance just like him, in all likelihood, or at least that’s what he supposes.
GM: Time crawls.
People come in. They get taken away. They come in. They get taken away. Mouse feels increasingly hungry. And thirsty. Food is not served at any point. That doesn’t stop a queasy-looking man from retching, spraying the cell wall and several unfortunate fellows with runny orange bile. People scream in disgust. The man screams too, after his neighbors start hitting and kicking him. One of them bellows, his bloodshot eyes mad and furious,
“YOU—YOU! YOU GOT THE DEVIL! NOT HERE! NOT HERE! DEVIL! DEVIL! DEEEEV-!”
The sick man’s screams discordantly ring through the cramped space until sheriff’s deputies barge in, start smashing everyone indiscriminately with their nightsticks, and roughly haul the sick man out. Several people hack out bloody tooths. One burps a thin stream of vomit into his hand. Others stare sullenly ahead with black and swollen eyes. Blood, sweat, and still-fresh bile joins the offal-like stench permeating the cramped cell.
It feels like an eternity before Mouse’s name is finally called and deputies escort him out of the cell. His chains jingle as they lead him to another room. The strip search there is more intrusive: in addition to removing all his clothes, Mouse is told to bend over, cough, and spread his “cheeks” while a deputy closely inspects his anal cavity. After this, his is permitted to shower under lukewarm water for ten minutes. A turd lies in the center of the shower, ripe and fragrant. Mouse has an opportunity to relieve himself in a similar manner, though his surroundings lack toilet paper, or he may continue to hold it in. Deputies issue him his new clothing:
He receives two sets of orange jumpsuits with “OPP Inmate” printed on them in thick black letters, along with tightey-whiteys, white socks, and “Jackie Chan” slide-on shoes. The jumpsuit feels like a clown suit, or at least reminds him of the dunce cap that children used to wear in school. Everyone that is not an inmate looks at him like an animal, and he can feel it. The jumpsuit itself is faded, ripped, rough, stained, sagging (it feels at least several sizes too big) and missing one of its buttons. Mouse can only speculate how many people have worn it before him. The slide-on shoes pinch and hurt his feet.
Laundry is done once a week, Mouse is told. That effectively gives each of his outfits a weekly cleaning cycle, or 3.5 days if he’s willing to strip naked on laundry days. Mouse is given one sheet (relatively clean, but with a large tear), a threadbare towel, and a dirty pillow. All of them smell unpleasant. His clothes are taken away. He is also given a mattress to carry on top of these other items. It’s torn, dirty, and stained.
The items are very heavy for the small and always scrawny young man, and it seems inevitable that several will slip from his overburdened and so-tired grasp. Guards impersonally ferry him along with or without them. Another door swings open. A yellowed and tattered sign reads: “Caution: you are now entering a real jail.”
Mouse: Mouse’s only reprieve is that he took that shit (and piss) in the shower when given the chance. His bottom feels dirty, but that’s better than holding it in.
GM: The jail’s main floor consists of monotonous row after row of featureless metal doors. They actually don’t have any bars like jails are pictured as having. The closest is the hole-filled railing on the metal staircases. Round tables that look bolted to the floor, each with four chairs, fill most of the open space. Equidistant fluorescent lights glare down on the dull linoleum floor.
It’d be an orderly scene, if not for the inmates.
A cursory glance across the cell block’s common area shows clusters of orange-uniformed men sitting around tables or standing together in small groups. Loners mill about between them, or simply remain seated or lying in bed in their cells. Mouse can make out a few dicks from guys using their toilets.
Some of the men seated in groups around the tables are playing cards, checkers, or munching on the odd bit of food. Most simply talk. Some bump fists. Everyone looks as if they’re trying to find ways to kill time. Expressions and body language run the gamut: bored, calm, suspicious, morose, angry, aggressive, dazed, inebriated, noncomprehending. Most faces are black. Many others are brown. A sizable minority are white. Everything smells of stale sweat, cigarette smoke, dried blood, and other, less identifiable odors.
The floor, or at least Mouse can make out of it, is filthy. It’s strewn with cigarette butts, unidentifiable black marks, shoe impressions, a crudely scratched tic tac toe board, and even a wide, foul-smelling splotch of white, half-dried puke in one corner. Most of the chairs and benches look equally dirty. Phones dangle uselessly from scratched and vandalized receivers. One has been torn off and lies uselessly on the floor. The only truly functioning piece of technology looks like the TV, which the largest group of men is clustered around. They variously yell, boo, or simply stare ahead at the sports game that looks like it’s currently on.
Mouse: Mouse’s first instinct is to keep his head down and try his best to stay out of trouble (for now). He keeps his mouth shut except to answer questions and tries his best to keep hold of the dirty bedding items the guards gave him. He dropped his blanket. It’s all he can do to haul along his mattress and pillow.
He doesn’t like this place. It stinks. It’s crowded.
GM: Mouse’s present company speaks little. Deputies escort him and several other men to their cells, or at least some of them do. Mouse’s simply jerks his thumb towards one of the open cell doors that’s maybe half a block away.
Mouse: Mouse follows the guard’s thumb with his eyes and quickly shuffles forward until he reaches the indicated cell door. His teeth clench together in nervousness.
GM: Mouse’s cell is little different from any other jail cell that he has seen on TV. Jails, and their occupants, are not known for their creativity. The rusty-looking toilet would probably stink even if it wasn’t full of dark piss. The air smells of stale sweat, like outside, but the odor of cigarette smoke is particularly pungent. The upper bunk’s mattress is black with body grease. The walls are scratched with the names of prior residents, racial slurs, swastikas, crude scribblings of male and female genitalia, and other facile scatologies. Some enterprising past occupant appears to have climbed atop the cell bunk and burned the rendering of an ejaculating penis across the ceiling with a cigarette lighter.
Mouse: Mouse tiredly moves to set down his mattress and pillow on the lower bunk.
GM: The torn, fluid-stained mattress and lumpy pillow looks like they belong already. Home sweet home.
Mouse: Mouse sits down on the edge of the “bed”, lifts his knees to his chin, and curls into a small, jumpsuit-fitted ball. This is his life now, he thinks sadly.
The scrawny young man chokes back tears and lies still.
GM: His empty stomach pleadingly rumbles. His mouth is dry and parched. His ass feels grainy. In the background, he can make out the indistinct noises of conversation, punctuated by the occasional scream, shout, and unmistakable impact of fists—and harder implements—against too-frail human flesh.
It is against that backdrop that a tall shadow falls over Mouse’s fetal-positioned form.
Mouse: Mouse looks up with rodent-like eyes. He nervously rubs the end of his nose like it’s a reflex.
GM: The shadow’s owner is a large Hispanic man in perhaps his middle years. His bare chest is an intricate mosaic of tattoos depicting Jesus Christ wearing a crown of thorns, a tan-skinned woman who could maybe be the Virgin of Guadalupe, Pancho Villa, and assorted angels, demons, skulls, racing columns of fire, and several figures who Mouse cannot identify.
The rest of the man is positively mundane in comparison. He’s bald, wide-nosed, and bears a thick mustache and soul patch. His dark eyes roam over the fetal-curled young man with a look of cold indifference that is somehow no less unsettling than the savage mania worn by several of the prior inmates Mouse encountered.
Mouse: “Sorry,” Mouse quietly says to the man as he remains hunched on the bed, pretending he wasn’t caught crying. “I’m Mouse.”
GM: The tattooed man silently stares at him.
Mouse: “I’m sorry!” Mouse squeaks out as he looks down, breaking whatever tentative eye contact the two had before staring at the floor.
He frowns, then looks back up at the man with a scared look in his eye. He forces himself to maintain eye contact as he uncurls into a normal sitting position at the edge of the bed, but can’t help the tears running down his cheeks as his voice cracks. He tries his best to be strong, but it’s impossible to keep a lid on his emotions. “What’s your name?” he asks, meekly.
He sniffs and wipes his eyes. “I’m new. Sorry. I guess it’s normal to cry when you’re in prison, right?” he asks that last bit with a bit of uncertainty.
GM: Mouse’s cellmate wordlessly advances towards the bed, then suddenly grabs at his shoulders.
Mouse: Mouse quickly recoils. His wide, disbelieving eyes turn hot in an instant. “What the fuck!?” he yells, losing his shit as his eyes all but spin in rage.
GM: The man’s head whips around like a wolf tracking a bolting rabbit as Mouse scrambles from the bed, but there’s little space to run in the cramped cell. The man lunges after Mouse, seizes him by his shoulders, and throws him back onto the filthy mattress chest-first. Thickly calloused hands rip at the buttons to his jumpsuit, then speedily work to tug off the overlarge orange garment.
Mouse: Mouse continues to yell at the top of his lungs, straining his already hoarse voice. He furiously struggles to escape the man’s grasp. He tries to knee him in the groin and scratch at his eyes. Anything to free himself.
GM: His assailant’s grip feels implacable. Mouse screams and struggles, but it’s impossible to get in a solid kick or claw at his cellmate’s eyes with the weight of the larger man’s body against him. The man tugs off Mouse’s jumpsuit, then rips down his underwear. He enters Mouse’s anus with one sudden, violent thrust that’s almost impossible to believe is happening. Then there’s another. And another. The pain is excruciating. His rapist’s member feels like a knife, an iron shaft, splitting him open from the inside and ripping through his guts with every thrust. He sees flecks of red from the corner of his eye. He hears the larger man’s grunts and exertions in his ear. He dimly feels hairy balls smacking against his buttocks in sequence with every thrust and spear of agony. He feels something wet and coppery-smelling down tricking his legs. He feels his own disgustingly hardened member pressing against the dirty mattress. His heart thuds and thuds in his chest at a million miles a minute.
Then it just happens. He ejaculates into the mattress. He feels wet, warm cum seep over his stomach hairs.
Mouse: The young man’s muffled and pathetic cries are buried in the bed’s disgusting mattress as his face contorts in anguish.
GM: It’s too much. He vomits. There’s nothing in his stomach, and he spews rancid, orange-yellow liquid over the mattress. It makes his stomach cramp with pain. The next lance of pain makes him retch again. Even less come out. Mostly spit and blood that burns his throat.
Mouse doesn’t know how long it goes on for. It feels like hours. It feels like eternity. It feels like he’s dying. Maybe he is dying. When the man’s member pulls out, it feels like it wrenches out half his stomach along with it, leaving him hollow and empty inside. All of the flesh around his buttocks is numb. His legs are stiff. The mattress is coated in blood, bile, cum, and piss. So is his jumpsuit. And his legs. All is befouled. All has been made filthy.
There’s the flick of a lighter, and the smell of smoke filling the small cell. The man pulls out another joint from the carton and extends it towards Mouse.
Mouse: Mouse accepts the cigarette.
It’s his first.
GM: The man flicks the lighter and holds it underneath the cigarette. His mother always cautioned not to. Even Fizzy, who smoked, told him it was a bad habit.
The smoke feels invasive as it seeps it into his lungs. And irritating. It makes him cough and hack. It hurts even more with his torn throat.
The man laughs. “First time?”
He goes on, “There’s a way you got to do it. Don’t suck. Pull it into your mouth, like it’s a straw. Then open your mouth. Breathe it in.”
Mouse: It doesn’t come naturally. It hurts. Mouse barely has the strength to keep his eyes open as he brings the smoke to his mouth with a shaking hand. The taste of tobacco barely covers up the taste of the bile still on his tongue. He continues to stare at the gloomy floor of his cell, incapable of looking at his rapist.
“Thanks.” His words are hollow, like the feeling of his stomach and the bottom of his heart.
GM: Mouse coughs less doing it the way his still-nameless cellmate describes. The smoke is still irritating and makes him feel more than a bit queasy. But he also feels light-headed and dizzy, a little like motion sickness, but also hot and flushed. It’s even a little relaxing. He doesn’t feel like he’s all here, anymore.
That feels good.
That feels very, very good.
Or at least less awful.
The man grins. “Now you doing it the first time, niño. Make you little dizzy, sí?”
Mouse: Mouse can barely register if he brings himself to answer. He takes another draw from his lit smoke, allowing his ailing and battered conscience to fly away. Out of his body. Out of his cell.
Out of his hell.
GM: The third pull feels better than the second. He feels almost relaxed. He takes a fourth pull, and a fifth, and soon loses count. The head rush that hits him isn’t like others, it has weight and it pulls him down. His heart races but he feels almost calm, detached. Everything is heavy. The man laughs and says he’s, “Seeing Felicity. That her name, niño!” Mouse looks out of the cell’s door, and everything seems to blur together. He feels himself panting like a sunbathing dog and feels as though he’s just run a nice jog.
Then the moment dies. He is back in the filthy cell with the tattooed and grinning man.
His cellmate laughs again. “Felicity don’t stay long, do she? Never as sweet as the first time.”
He shakes his head. “This place is a fucking pigstye. Puto cerdo orzuelo!” He tells Mouse to sleep in his bed on the top bunk, until his mattress dries. He unbuttons his jumpsuit again, and Mouse hears a steady stream of piss falling into a toilet. The man flushes it and leaves the cell. Mouse is left inside and alone.
Mouse: A blank, glazed look remains on Mouse’s face as he remains sitting on his bed, too shocked and pained to even move. All he can think to wonder is one question:
Am I going to die in here?