The front tower came into view first as he drove up the hill. He could not see the machine gun yet, but it was there and it reassured him. Next he saw the sprawling wall. He knew it was thirteen feet high and six feet thick. To him it was not a depressing sight. It welcomed him.
He was a man who appreciated large proportions in buildings as well as in people. He himself stood six foot three and weighed two hundred seventy pounds. His size pleased him, although he was always looking for uniform shirts and pants that felt comfortable. True, his weight was not carried in the compact muscle flaunted by many inmates. Nevertheless his girth reassured him, making him feel that inmates would think twice before tangling with him.
As he walked through the front gate, he was greeted with, “Hi, Bubba.” His size and bearing suggested a caricature of a Southern lawman, hence the nickname. This of course was not his name, and it made him steam inside to be hailed by any nickname. His mother had named him George and this is what he liked to be called. Despite his feelings, he knew he could not afford to have the other guards on his bad side, so he managed a smile and returned the greeting.
Having picked up his ID badge, the next stop was the metal detector, thoughtfully turned down so that his metal belt buckle would pass. The guards had a standing joke among themselves about how little metal was tolerated for the do-gooders including clergy, teachers and social workers. By the time they passed, they were usually down to stocking feet, and holding up their pants with their hands. There was an ongoing debate about whether the metal detector could be fine tuned to trip with silver dental fillings. Some day they would have to try it, maybe on a teacher.
Past the metal detector were two rows of seats for prescreened visitors. They would be admitted further when a group formed at the doors. He approached the first of the electronic doors. Zeke sat in an enclosed glass cubicle where he could see who approached the gates from inside or outside. He controlled two electrified doors which allowed people to move into a chamber before one door was closed and the other opened, much like a canal lock. There were warnings on both sides of the door not to touch them. Zeke was not particularly cheerful but did at least allow other guards to pass with a minimum of delay.
George crossed a kind of courtyard which straight ahead led on to the main cell blocks and left to E Block, where sick or risky prisoners were housed. If he looked back over his shoulder, George could have seen the main tower machine gun. Of course he did not look and considered bad luck to look up. So far it had not been used, but who could tell what might happen here?
Gates to the main complex were opened by hand so that anyone approaching had to be met face to face, including guards. There were gates to the left and right as well as straight ahead, all operated electrically. The right and left gates led directly to cell blocks while the gate facing him led to Times Square by way of several other manual and electronic gates. To reach his destination, he had to pass directly through the heart of the prison, Times Square, from which corridors led to the four main cell blocks. It was here that George felt most closely identified with the prison as the lone guard opened only one corridor gate at a time.
From the barred windows in each of the two corridors he traveled, he could see inmates at evening recreation. A group was gathered around the television in one corner of the yard. Basketball was always in progress with about as many white players as there were on television. The rest of the yard consisted of small groups of men gathered for some purpose George thought could not be constructive. He did not think they should be allowed to talk to each other but only allowed to walk around the yard in silence.
The teachers began arriving. Most of them made a point of saying hello to him probably to be sure he would be there if they needed him. They probably didn’t care about him and most likely took him for granted. He answered their greetings with a grunt. He watched them go directly to their classrooms, shuffle papers and write on the board. They could not seriously think they would be able to teach anything to these animals.
These thoughts preoccupied him while he approached the South Block through which he would pass to reach his post for the evening. Bill and Frank greeted him as he approached the South Block guard area. George ground his teeth as he managed a greeting. Frank kidded him about drawing pussy duty in the school. None of the three guards thought inmates should be entitled to school after they had managed to screw up their lives enough to get them locked in prison. George grumbled something unintelligible but really had nothing significant to say to either of them.
The gate on the south side of the guard area finally led to the school building. It also held the chapel and library, but everyone called it the school. Once inside, George could concentrate on what he had to do that night. It would still be fifteen minutes until the teacher do-gooders arrived and half an hour before the inmates appeared.
The inmates began arriving in groups. They were a motley crew, muscled gorillas, eggheads and everything in between. They shuffled toward the classrooms in double file and in silence as required if they expected to make it to the classrooms. They broke off into groups and began talking as they entered the classrooms. Now they were the teachers' responsibility.
School duty was easy because all of the inmates wanted to be in class. George guessed it must be better for them than sitting in a cell after recreation. Nobody ever offered him free tuition and he could not afford to go beyond high school. Why should these slimes who thought of him as a pig be given a free ride? It wasn't fair, he thought to himself as he found his baton beating his palm with some force. At least the other guards made it as hard as possible for inmates to attend class by looking closer on class days for reasons to “keep lock” them.
Eventually the doors closed and the teachers started lecturing about some drivel. This was supposed to be serious but George heard laughter from time to time. They probably were laughing because they beat the system and got out of their cells for a while. School was just an excuse. He went to one classroom where he heard laughing and looked through the glass window in the door. One student kept laughing as he looked at George.
Time to think was not good for George. The old familiar thoughts began to return. Was he in the school as a favor, or was he just not trusted with more important assignments? He had not distinguished himself in the riot although he had not contributed to the problem either. Since then he had not had any major incidents. He made a point of not talking to inmates other than telling them what to do. Now that he thought of it, he did not talk to other guards much either. He had asked for maximum security duty more than once but he had never been accepted even though many other guards avoided such duty. Some day he would have to take this up with the brass.
Finally it was time for break. Inmates began to amble out and to congregate in the corridors. This was the time George liked the least. It was not like prison to allow men to gather inside in groups. Something bad could happen, even if there had not been any incidents yet.
George waited until the teacher from the classroom he had checked came out. He called the teacher over. He came tentatively. When the teacher was close enough, George leaned over and almost whispered, “Why are your students staring me?” His baton was beating his palm again. The teacher did not answer immediately but seemed taken aback by the question. He finally mumbled something about not realizing they were staring at him. Teachers were supposed to be intelligent. He could have come up with something better than that lame answer. The next hour and a half passed very slowly.
He felt better when they were all back in class‚ He had an hour to think by himself. Finally they all filed back into class while George made a point not to turn his back on them. He should probably have a look. He ambled over to the classroom and looked in. Some of the inmates stared back at him although they were supposed to be looking at the teacher. Why were they looking at him? He wanted to open the door and break some heads. But that would just draw attention to him. It would ruin everything. He would wait until later.
George wondered what he could do about those inmates who laughed at him. He was sure they were laughing at him when he was not looking. They probably thought he was too fat compared with all their bulging muscles from having nothing constructive to do all day except lift weights. There must be a way to get back at them. They were strong, but he was big and had his baton as well. With no trouble at all‚ he could knock open some heads.
However there were only three guards in the school. The other inmates might not understand why he had to open some heads. There might be a riot and he would be blamed. No, that would not do. He would find out what block they were in and pass along the word that certain inmates should be found to have unacceptable cells or that they were talking out of turn to a guard. Yes‚ that would do it. They would be locked in and would miss class. The only drawback was they would not know he was responsible for their punishments. Maybe that would be okay. Yes, it would be only fitting for them to have to guess why they were singled out. He knew several guards who would enjoy it. The inmates would never know what happened. Maybe next time they would be more careful about staring.
As the inmates left class and reformed lines to return to the cell blocks, he made a point of checking name tags and remembering the one who laughed at him. On the way out he thought about how he would track his chosen few and which guards could be trusted to carry out his plans. It would not be difficult.
As he passed through the final gate, he waved to the glass door guard and returned his pass to the entrance guard. He went out through the front door with his plan in place. As he left, George heard over his shoulder, “Night, Bubba.” He wondered why the other guards pretended to like him.