Episode 1: Freedom From Life Via Lockdown – Part I
“Was that a pivotal historical moment
We just went stumbling past?
Here we are
Dancing in the rumbling dark
So come a little closer
Give me something to grasp
Give me your beautiful, crumbling heart”
The words took me in their grasps, and from my own, my hold of the future began to slip away. I searched the room for answers, yet there were none. The man across from me only continued to babble on. The papers on the table in front of me were filled with sentences that began to blur as the words’ chilling grip tightened around my throat.
Life just, gone; my future, broken. My head filled with random worries: Who would walk the dog? How would I ever be able to recover from this? When would I get to talk to her again? I need a damn drink.
I’d rather die. Yet here I was, caught within some cyclone of dreams where neither fight nor flight were an option my subconscious could comprehend. The words were in my throat now, and I bent down, head to my knees, to accept their cold embrace.
“Ryan, did you hear me?” the man across from me said. I didn’t, but I nodded to oblige.
“Good,” he went on. “So, we have an option of fighting this or you can take the deal, it’s your choice. But I don’t think you would want to take this to trial. It seems pretty clear-cut what happened. If we lost, which is highly likely, you could be looking at over five years.”
Tears flowed from my eyes, and I shook with and intensity that matched some of my worst detoxes. “So, as my lawyer,” I started, “what do you think is the best option?”
“You should take the deal,” the public defender said. “From the looks of the police report, it seems things have gotten pretty bad for you. Maybe it’ll be a nice break? I can keep trying with the prosecutor, but it doesn’t seem like she is going to budge.” He began to restack the papers on the table as if the conversation were supposed to be over with.
A break? Prison, a fucking break? This man didn’t know my life! All I was to him was another case number, or some poor new victim to the system that I was destined to be entwined into. I had no correct response to his insoluble question.
In that moment, I felt alone, isolated, and confined from those who had abandoned me. Or was it I who had abandoned my faith within myself? Was it my actions—one heavy domino after another, the causes that always preceded the effects—that had led me to my own definitive quarantine of self? I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to. How did I ever allow myself to get where I was?
The days ran together, and my emotions ran amok along with them. I couldn’t keep much straight anymore as the detox from the alcohol dug me into a deep ditch of delirium. Real and false had become blurred parallel lines that didn’t seem to have an end. I knew my Tara was at work, so it had to be a weekday. She was still pissed from the night before and wouldn’t answer any of my texts. I don’t remember what happened anymore, but the last thing she told me was exactly what didn’t.
She had begun to leave in the morning as I laid in bed, sweating and shaking, as I asked if she really had to go to work that day. “Yes of course I have to work Ryan,” she had said. “Who the fuck else is going to pay the bills?” Definitely not you, I heard her say under her breath.
I tried to force a hand under myself to lift my body up, but the strength just wasn’t there yet and I collapsed back down. “What’re you so damn mad about now?” I managed to say in a quivering voice.
Tara turned and gave me that cold stare she had given me for years. Ever since we had gotten married, the stare grew in volume more and more and now weighed down the room with an unforgiving intensity. “Seriously?” she asked.
“Well, I thought we had a good conversation last night.”
“A good conversation?” She looked confused, which made me confused.
“Yeah,” I said. “I was watching TV and you came out and finally sat with me. It was—nice.” It was my truth; I could count on two hands how many times Tara wanted to be around me when I was drinking. She would either leave the apartment to a friend’s or stay in the bedroom and avoid me like I was the plague. And I admit, sometimes, I was. I could be as toxic as the next viral pandemic, but on this night in question, she had finally come out and sat with me. We talked about what we would do with the dog if I had to go back to jail for any reason, and I had told her that we would figure out a place for her to go if we had to while she was at work. We watched TV for a while longer as we talked of plans for the future before we went to bed together. It really was—nice.
“Ryan,” Tara said as she glared at me from the bedside, “I didn’t watch any damn TV with you last night. You were blasting it hella loud and I could barely get any sleep! What are you talking about?”
Now I was really confused, and it was in that moment I knew it was happening again. “I swear we talked,” I said.
“Yeah, I yelled at you to turn it down when you started playing piano over the music. Then you stumbled in here and elbowed me as you got in the bed.”
“Is—can you grab me some water?” My throat felt swollen as I tried to swallow.
“Are you getting confused again?” she said. I was, but I didn’t want to answer to make it real.
“Can you just—” I started, but she left the room and slammed the door.
I sat on the couch and took a sip of water, still really confused from that morning. Things in my head had gotten twisted to the point of delusion. The visions and dreams that I had were so real that I could no longer differentiate reality from drunken stupor, and neither from my own imaginative subconscious. I had visions where dogs spoke their Biblical truths to me, but then attacked me with vicious teeth when I got too close. I had recurring dreams where I travelled to an unknown world to solve some unknown mystery, and whenever I got too close to the prize, I would snap-to, thrashing around in bed as a sweaty mess. Each time I closed my eyes I would travel back and pick up right where I left off, and soon I was anxious to finish the adventure. I soon told my wife of my endeavors, and she gave me a look that spoke both scared and concerned. I had whole conversations with people: old friends, my wife, and with demons.
The demons came often; I could never escape them. Sometimes they came as shadows, but most times they arose from the edge of my bed and snatched me to their dimension. It was there that they changed. They would show themselves as familiar figures and take me to familiar places. One time, it was my friend Taylor to my old rehab. Another, my old sober living house manager Phil to the house I grew up in. They never spoke, which never granted me an explanation for why they came. As I tried to shake myself out of it, they morphed faces to their true form, then lashed out violently. Shaking myself harder, I finally snapped my eyes open to my world.
I didn’t know what the day was going to bring, but I knew what I needed first to figure it out. I knew Tara would be pissed when she got home, but I needed to stop shaking. I couldn’t risk another seizure; I needed alcohol.
I had money in my pocket still from the videogames I had pawned off on the day prior. It wasn’t much, but hopefully enough for at least a forty or two, and I still had food stamps to buy more cooking wine if I really needed. The wine was disgusting, salty, and made my sides hurt, but it was a quick fix for times in real need. I had become desperate since my most recent relapse, but I just couldn’t stop. There was no need anymore. My wife hated me, my family wouldn’t speak to me, and I hadn’t made a single friend in Washington since I moved back, except for in jail, if those even counted. I felt alone and isolated. Depression darkened my thoughts. Quarantined: I was the cause of it, and its effects led me down the spiraled staircase of insanity.
I stood to walk to the store.
“We’re working every dread day that is given us
Feeling like the person people meet
Really isn’t us
Like we’re going to buckle underneath the trouble
Like any minute now
The struggle’s going to finish us”
The guys around me in my pod never seemed to shut up, and it was distracting me from my book, The Shack. They were all like a ten-year-olds waiting on the school bus for their once a year field trip, but this trip promised no joy or pleasantries. I was so sick of jail; with only a week left until my next court date, the sentencing, I was anxious for the next phase, and to walk down the hallway to Hell, as dark as I knew it may be.
My failure of a lawyer hadn’t been able to get any other deal after weeks of his “trying.” Under much talk of what to do, it seemed I had no other choice but to fall from the unstable teeter-totter of Lady Justice’s blinded grasp and to take what had been presented to me. After crying under my blankets for many nights, I had become numb to my fate. There was no more fighting what I couldn’t control. I’d learned it in my addiction, and I was learning it once again. But this felt worse. This was just too much for a simple, quiet man like me to handle.
“Ryan, how long you been here man?” said Frank from across the pod. He was an interesting character, like most in the building were, with his bright blonde hair down to his thighs. It was an odd contrast to our bluish uniforms.
“Just over three weeks this time around” I said. “Why?” I hadn’t been paying attention to the day’s diatribe.
“Because Jason ‘bout ready to crack over here, and he only been here a month.”
“A month too long,” said Jason from the other corner. Our pod was underneath the main floor of the jail, so the walls were cold concrete. In our wing, D Wing, were four pods, with six guys each, all of which were the prisoners closest to sentencing. Mine had been drawn out a little longer due to the “trying.”
“You think a fucking month is long?” said Frank. “What you lookin’ at again?”
“Six,” said Jason.
Frank erupted in laughter from his bunk. “Six years?” he said. “Boy, you best man up quick.” Frank had been locked up in county for eleven months and was still looking forward to five more. The judge had slapped him hard with straight county time instead of the standard maximum of a year. Nobody envied him, but it was obvious it wasn’t his first time around the block.
“Shut the hell up,” said Jason. “I’m sick of hearing it from you.”
“What’d you jus’ say to me?” said Frank as he got down from his bunk and approached Jason’s.
Jason was quick on the draw-back and smiled at his approach. “I’m just fucking with you,” he said with a slight quiver. “I’m just fucking with you! You always taking shit so literally.”
“Well boy, I’ll literally knock your ass out next time you say somethin’ stupid.” Frank paced back to his bunk a grabbed a towel. “I’m gonna hit the damn shower. No one come near number eight. I’m puttin’ the curtain up.” Everybody knew what that meant. The COs didn’t allow for the curtain past the brick separation from the other showers, but there was a special picture posted in the last shower for just in case if someone needed some alone time.
“Thanks for the announcement,” I said as I sat up and rolled my eyes.
“Hey, at least I say somethin’, unlike some,” Frank said toward Yanni in the corner.
Yanni rolled over revealing his disheveled face. Then he rolled back, allowing Frank the last word. Smart man. I hopped off my bunk and followed Frank out. “Where you going?” said Jason.
“I need some new scrubs,” I said. “I think that guy Johnny started his shift in the laundry room. Hopefully he’ll actually talk to me this time and get me some clothes.”
“Can you grab me some XLs?” yelled Yanni toward the wall.
“Sure,” I said, “why not. Anyone else?” No one answered, either asleep or just ignoring me. “Perfect,” I said as I left our dungeon.
They gave us more freedom in our wing, mainly because we had been there longer or had been there before, like me, so they trusted us more. Most in the wing had the good jobs in the jail, like the kitchen and the laundry rooms, and most were facing time for their first felonies, including myself.
I walked past the wired phones and the TV area and approached the laundry closet. Johnny sat with his feet up on the bench with a book in his hands. He glanced toward me, then back to his book. “What do ya need?” he said.
The first time I had met Johnny, he didn’t say a word to me, so his words came as a shock. He had basically looked me up and down and handed me what he thought I wore, which was surprisingly accurate. I almost got the feeling that he didn’t like me for some reason, although I had done nothing to him, besides possibly being half black. I was on a mission to get on his good side, though. For some reason, I never was one to be able to walk away from something that I couldn’t understand, especially people not liking me. I loved to get along with everybody, even if it meant I had to blend my personality and become someone I’m not, so I was on a mission to solve this puzzle in any way that I could.
“A pair of 3Xs and XLs,” I said. “And 2X boxers if you got them.” It was a simple order, and I said it quickly, because there was something about Johnny’s eyes that were intimidating, yet still came at you with a hint of kindness this time around. His shaved head and glaring stare gave off vibes of contempt, but he had a smirk and jokes made everyone laugh and smile. When he spoke—which to me, was never—his words exposed his intelligence and emitted a power of cleverness that seemed to just pierce through anyone lucky enough to receive his message.
“I know who you are,” he said, still staring at his book, “you know that, right?”
I looked to him in an attempt to form recognition. Nothing came. “You know me?”
“I believe you know my sister, Lisa,” he said as he finally looked away from his book toward me.
Then it hit me. “Wait, you’re that Johnny?” The words had come out wrong, and out came his smirk. “Holy shit,” I said, “it’s nice to meet you. I had no idea you were her brother this whole time.” Lisa was Tara’s best friend. They worked together in the same hospital. Tara had even used Lisa’s address to bail me out when I had gotten arrested the last time and gotten my felony charges. Lisa had told me about her brother before, and how he was in jail, but I had no idea it was this jail.
“What’re you looking at?” he said.
“Fifty months.” The words came out with spite.
“That ain’t bad. First time?”
Ain’t bad? I almost didn’t know how to respond to that. “Yeah. Never really been in trouble until I moved here to Washington,” is what finally came out.
“Lisa told me what happened,” he said, and my heart skipped a beat. I didn’t like discussing the details with anyone, but suddenly it made sense, with him being Lisa’s brother, of why he never spoke to me before now. He knew what I had done, probably stuff even prior to the arrest, and I’m sure he had heard it from Lisa, which the details, of course, had come from Tara. The sad part is, everything he had heard was probably true, and I couldn’t even remember half of it. “How’s Tara? You’re not talking to her, are you? That could get you more time.”
“She’s good as of last time she answered the phone. Pretty upset, but good. I’ve been using other people’s pins to call, but she rarely answers.”
“Don’t get caught,” he said. “Washington doesn’t fuck around with their no contact orders.”
“Yeah, tell me about it,” I said. “It’s why I’m here.” He looked at me again with the smirk. I forgot, he knew. Something about this man made me want to impress him, like his aura demanded respect and emitted confidence. I envied it. I suddenly became nervous and laughed under my breath, as I do.
Johnny stood and stuck out his hand. “Nice to meet you Ryan.”
I returned his offer. “Nice to meet you too, Johnny.”
“You need anything besides these clothes, just let me know.”
“I will man, thank you.” And with that he handed me my order and returned to his book.
I turned suddenly as a CO walked up behind me, a little too close for my comfort. “Scott, I need you to come with me,” he boomed right into my face.
I started to shake with anxiety and looked to Johnny. Did they find out about the phone calls? my eyes read, but he just shook his head and raised his book in return. “What’s going on?” I asked the CO. “Do I have a visit?”
“Please, just come with me,” he said, so I complied and walked in front of him down the hallway.