The brightness and humming buzz of the fluorescent lights wake Pedro from a pleasant dream. In it, he was on the outside, free. Coming and going as he pleased, every day filled with so many options and possibilities.
He has one more moment to savor that feeling and then reality kicks in. Still incarcerated.
Like yesterday and the day before. He’s been locked up for going on nine months now and the boredom is the worst part of it. Occasionally he gets ahold of a newspaper or magazine from one of the guards. He’s one of the lucky ones. Bubba, the big guy in the cell to his left, can’t read and only looks at the photos. Poor son of a bitch.
There’s a TV on the cell block but it usually doesn’t work. When it does, they limit the hours it’s on anyway and the stupidity of most daytime television makes Pedro’s head hurt if he watches too long. Growing up, his mother used to curl up on the sofa and watch TV constantly. Turned her brain to mush. Pedro doesn’t plan to let that happen to him.
After taking a piss, Pedro starts his morning exercise routine. Not much room in his cell to move around but he makes it work. Time outside in the yard is heavily restricted.
Before long, it’s chow time. Most meals are served in the prisoners’ cells. They pretty much get the same thing everyday but it’s edible. Pedro once heard a guard say that there’s a lot less fighting when the cons eat in their own cells. He’s OK with this, actually. Pedro’s kinda small and occasionally gets roughed up by the bigger inmates in the yard. In his own cell, he can eat as slowly or as quickly as he wants without worry that someone is going to jack his food or pick a fight.
Tyler, in the cell to Pedro’s right, has visitors today. Pedro can’t recall if Tyler’s family has ever visited before. Their conversation starts slow and muted. They feign happiness at seeing Tyler. In return, Tyler’s voice notches up an octave as he puts on a happy face to mask his depression. Pedro hears him crying in his cell most nights after light’s out. Pedro already told Tyler that he’s marking himself as a victim when he does that, and boy do those bigger cons love when they can identify a new victim.
To his surprise, Pedro gets some visitors today too. He doesn’t know them but he recognizes the kid with the family. They’ve been here before visiting another inmate. The parents call the kid Marcus. They chat for a while, mostly small talk. He’s seen people like Marcus and his family before. They come by the jail house from time to time to visit the inmates and try to cheer them up. This kid Marcus seems OK. Bright eyes, big smile, and not afraid to make eye contact. Some people come here and avoid eye contact. Are Pedro and his fellow inmates so pitiful that visitors can’t acknowledge their existence? Fuck them.
Marcus’ parents walk out of the cell block to talk to the guard and leave him there with Pedro. What kind of parents do that? True, the inmates are all behind bars. But who leaves their kid in a cell block? Now Pedro feels a sense of responsibility for the kid. Now he’s got to keep an eye out for Marcus until the parents return. Pedro doesn’t really mind. Marcus is good company. Unlike most kids, Marcus is pretty easy to hang out with.
After a few more minutes, Marcus’ parents return and they ask Pedro if he’d like to come home with them. What??? Is this some sort of half-way house program? Early release for good behavior? Pedro doesn’t get it but isn’t going to look this gift horse in the mouth. He tells them he’s in and Marcus’ parents do some paperwork with the guard.
Before he knows it, the guard unlocks his cell. Despite the fact that he’s getting sprung, the guard slips a leather restraint around Pedro’s neck. It’s not too tight and Pedro doesn’t mind it – small price to pay for early parole.
They walk out of the jail together. Good riddance!
They find Marcus’ car in the parking lot. His parents open the back hatch on their car and pat the inside cargo space, indicating that Pedro should jump up. It’s a little high for him so they offer a boost.
As they pull out of the parking lot, Pedro takes one last look at his jail and silently prays never to see that place again. He turns and sees Marcus smiling and looking back at him. Without even knowing he’s doing it, Pedro wags his tail, happy to be heading home with this kid.
Thanks for reading.