Frank takes interest in an inmate that he's seen before, but never completely caught his attention.
I remember seeing him around the cellblock. His cell was 14 to the left of mine, though I had not noticed before meeting him. I had never known who he was, really; rumors had floated around the building, as always, and I identified him by the description given. He had black hair, hazel eyes, and a dark look was frequently plastered on his face. He wasn’t very tall, but, well, I can’t say much, being that I’m only about 5 ‘ 4”, but he always seemed to be bent over, tired, and burdened. He appeared far from the menacing killer he had been suspected to be; maliciously slitting his brother’s throat and shooting him in the head, but hey, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Though he was unimportant to me then, I remembered seeing him being led to his cellblock for the first time, dressed in the orange jumpsuit and black shoes every prisoner was required to wear. He was on the plump side then, but that was years ago. Watching him now, he’s slimmed down drastically, his appetite apparently decreasing from looking at the disgusting prison food.
I met him in the prison yard. It was cloudy that day, the clouds heavy with rain, but we had been forced outside nonetheless. Usually, I had my typical cellmates around me, but for some strange reason, they were nowhere to be seen that day. He was sitting in a corner of one of the weathered brick buildings, legs crossed, his right elbow placed on his right knee, his face resting on his palm. His eyes were closed and I was unsure whether he was sleeping or not, but I approached him anyway. Here in prison, standards were set. I was relatively short, but after serving years in here, I had my seniority and was respected. I’ve been here since I was 18. Second-degree murder. I’m thirty-one now, my life practically half over. Anyway, all “newbies” were looked down upon and mocked. They received no respect from other inmates, but earned it over time, with years to come, and with actions made. He had only been in for a couple years at this point, but had gone completely unnoticed by any inmates, which surprised me. Though jokes outside of prison were always seemed funny and ridiculous, like, “don’t pick up the soap,” it was a serious matter that was ignored by many guards and supervisors. Rape was not uncommon here, though I have never been a victim, and bribery was always an option in any case. Inmates slipped money to the guards to ignore the cries of the helpless. I had smartly evaded the few groups that had been rumored to gang up on “fresh meat”, and after a decade or so, I had swam my way out of rough waters.
I allowed myself to sit next to him against the wall. Noticing my presence, his eyes shot open and he glanced at me, to quickly to look back down at his feet. He didn’t seem very old, maybe my age, but acted timid and scared. I couldn’t blame him. No matter how tough you thought you were on the outside, prison could make you rethink anything you’ve ever thought about yourself. I laughed. Was I really that intimidating? Yeah, sure, I was covered in tattoos, but most people here did, and besides, I wasn’t that tall.
“Hey, I’m not gonna hurt you, guy,” I reassured him. He glanced at me again, and said truthfully, confidence in his voice, almost cocky,
“I know.” For a split second, this angered me. I guess, subliminally, I wanted to be thought as the “tough guy” whom no one wanted to get involved with, but in reality, I really shouldn’t have cared. I didn’t want to be labeled as the typical tough douchebag in the prison yard anyway. So, I asked,
“Why?” He didn’t answer me, so I just sat there, unsure whether he would ever answer my question, or he just decided that he didn’t want to. I guessed the latter. I didn’t want to seem childish or eager to make friends, and I was only using him so that I wouldn’t be noticed sitting alone, so I didn’t talk.
Soon enough, it started to rain, so the guards blew their high-pitched, frantically shrieking whistles, telling everyone to file inside. Our free time had been cut short, and we would have to spend the rest of it in our cells. The downpour of rain grew to be torrential, and I stood up from the not-so-dusty ground. I offered my hand to the black-haired inmate, but he disregarded me and heaved himself up to his feet. I mentally shrugged, making up an excuse for him in my head. I’ve seen people arrive here and mope around for a while, but they eventually accepted their fate and moved on. This man either just took longer to realize that this was his life, or his personality was just sad and cheerless. Oh well, I could say that I had better things to do, but I really couldn’t. Here, we had pretty much three things on our schedule: eat, sleep, and under minimum wage labor. The free time we had in between, I usually read, made small talk, or joked around with the friends I had come to make over the years. Or just sat mindlessly. The people who I’ve been acquainted with are mostly like me. Yes, we have committed heinous crimes before in our lives: by mistake, on purpose, or because we’re crazed maniacs, who knows? All I knew was that it was in the past. Everyone in the prison did or was accused of committing a crime, so who was to judge? So, I decided to take interest in him. I didn’t know his story all that well, so, being that I needed some purpose in my life, I made it my personal goal to get to know him. I followed him towards the prison doors, looking at the messy, longish black hair that was beginning to plaster against his scalp, and remembered that I didn’t even know his name.
“Hey!” I shouted through the heavy rain. He turned around, squinting, his right hand covering his eyes from the fat droplets of water. “I didn’t catch your name!”
“Gerard,” he said. He didn’t try very hard to make his voice audible, but I heard it.
“I’m Frank,” I said, unlike him, making sure he heard me. Gerard nodded and turned to walk past the hawk-eyed guards standing in the doorway.
I occasionally saw him around the prison yard or in the mess hall after that, only then noticing his presence, and kept an eye on him. He didn’t seem to be one to socialize or talk, which made me surprised. Usually, those who took advantage of other inmate’s bodies targeted loners like that, but he seemed to blend in well. I still kept my goal in mind, wanting to get more acquainted with him and find his story. Finally, after weeks of just watching, I confronted him in the mess hall during lunch. The tray in front of him was seemingly untouched; the watery soup, limp salad and stale bread still sitting in their given positions.
“May I?” I asked, a little jokingly. I could have just sat there if I wanted to, I just didn’t want to seem like one to invade others’ privacy. He nodded, and picked up the bread roll off of the tray. Predictably, I was the first to start the conversation.
“I know the food sucks. Took me a while to get used to it, too,” I said. He nodded again in agreement and started to pick at the outside of the bread, making a hole in the crust. Tearing a piece off, he popped it into his mouth and chewed. We sat in silence until were notified to clean up after ourselves and return to our cells. It hadn’t been a very successful day, but I guess it was a start. Every passing day would spark more and more of my curiosity in him. We barely spoke, but I took my time to be around him as much as I could. I didn’t care if he thought I was annoying, I just wanted to make friends. So what if that seems like a childish act? Everything in life is too mature anyway after you reach the age of at least 10, so why not try and make the most of your prematurely lost youth? I wouldn’t give up. This was the most interesting thing I had done in years, and his response, or lack of response, for now, wouldn’t faze me at all.