Issue 210, Fall 2014
The white looked like a long-legged biker, as if, instead of being inside these razor wire–topped walls, he should be leaning back on a chopper going down the highway, with his long legs extended and his boots on the chrome footrests. When he walked, he rose up on his feet like the piston in a motor—up and down—chin always up, an eighth Cherokee, last name Turner. Jimmy Turner.
They told him you could get transferred anywhere in the gulag system, from state to state, and wind up in the shoe. They said you’ve declared war on the state of Indiana, we’ve declared war on the United States. This organization is bigger than the United States. We go to the outside, two thousand, three thousand miles away. This is a structure. We’re like al-Qaeda. They give us life, double life, life without. The state has our commanders in max segregation units, no human contact, twenty-four hours a day, and they’re still calling shots as far as politics, operations, whatever the case might be. The state takes everything they can and we’re still going on like magic.
We control the drugs, we control the individuals. People fear us, in here and on the street. We control the nicotine, they said.
Jimmy, smoking a cigarette under the blue sky, nodded.
He hadn’t always been here, he had started his bid in Rikers. I built up to it, he told his social worker. I passed through there, Rikers, doing skid bids. I had a life more or less. I didn’t see my opportunities.
What about your behaviors do you need to watch out for?
The drugs. Definitely the drugs.
The social worker was an obese blonde woman whose facial features were confined inside a small area in the center of her face.
I ain’t like these other guys, he told her and glanced to check if her features relaxed and spread apart slightly.
Positivity, he said.
Jimmy grew up wearing a plaid shirt, standing brooding silent with his mouth shut, the trace of a mustache over his lip, waiting for Patrick to say, Let me have the spanner. Then Jimmy would take the spanner out of the red toolbox and hand it to him, in the basement of someone’s house in the neighborhood, down with the boiler and the risers.
A woman teacher at Cardozo told him in front of the class, You’re not registered as Jimmy Murphy. I don’t know what to tell you.
Why am I registered as Turner? he asked his mother.
Their house was full of curios, bedding, scratch tickets, yard equipment, and vinyl records. Wearing a robe, his mother sat in the lace-curtain living room, her feet up.
She turned her carved-from-a-mountainside face toward him and said, Come here, I’ll tellya a story. She had a bag on and the story was about something else completely.
The rooms upstairs were a mess of clothes and junk. You could open a drawer in a broken dresser and find a stack of Polaroids of people and scenes you did not recognize, then look at yourself in the mirror and wonder who you looked like. A seventies barbeque, sunshine and green fields and￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼ motorbikes. You might recognize your mother as one of the faces cut off by the camera, eyes bright, lifting a beer, fifty pounds younger.
Patrick was bigger than his real father, who had spent his life in prison and was now dying of aids in Morristown.
I’ll give you carfare if you want to go to see him, if you should want to do that, his mother said. I wouldn’t stop you. Don’t ask me to go, though. That, I’m not up for.
She pressed her hand to her eyes and checked her palm for tears.