Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Writing

Behind Bars

I never allowed myself to dream about getting out of prison. It’s easier to get through this if you don’t. I’ve been here since I was nineteen years old, so it’s all I’ve ever known, and after everything that’s happened, I suppose it’s all I’ll never know.

I’ve got a life sentence, so I’m trying to make my life count, wherever I happen to be living it. I wake up early, eat as well as I can in the confines of this place, I try to be good to people and I just take every day as it comes. That’s how I’ve been coping, but now, there is a possibility of something different.

Do I take the chance? I don’t know. It isn’t as simple as making the choice and taking the reward of freedom, because this is a kind of freedom that has consequences. I won’t be looking over my shoulder forever, and I’ll never have to come back to this place again, but there are things worse than prison, and I’ve got a feeling that they’d be awaiting me if I made the deal.

Most people in this place haven’t thought about it as long as I have, so I suppose they say yes without accepting that freedom from cells and bars may not be worth the price. It can be so lonely here that the price almost seems appealing, and that’s exactly how they convince you.

It starts with a voice, soft and low as you’re sleeping. Scratching at your ear, letting itself into your mind and leaving behind enticing, exciting promises of a life beyond the bars of Buckley Hall. It’s so easy to fall under the spell. I can’t blame anyone who does, but I don’t think that I want to join them.

My cellmate heard it on his first night here. He’s a good guy, I guess, just fell in with the wrong crowd. He was so young, you know? Terrified of his own shadow and destined not to survive in a place like this. Before things changed, one of the other inmates would have been the cause of his troubles, or the hopelessness of it all, but now, he’s enthralled to it, losing his mind and he can’t stop himself from falling over the edge.

I don’t remember the outside. It’s been thirty seven years, so it’s all a distant memory, and one that I don’t like to dwell on, but Danny remembers, and I suppose that’s why it jumped on him so quickly. He’s such a young kid. Vulnerable. He could have turned his life around, but it’s too late for that now. He belongs to The Warden.

The Warden has only been here for three years, but things have really changed. On the outside, they call him a hero, because he fixed up this shithole, reduced recidivism in the inmates and has made a real difference, according to everyone on the outside, but in here, we know what he is, and we know what he’s done. Nobody will believe us, of course. Who’d take the word of a bunch of criminals over the sainted Warden?
He’s evil. That’s a word that gets overused. Half the people in here could be called the same, but, hey, at least we’re paying for our evil. He’s never going to pay.

The Warden whispers to all of us, all night, and during the day too. He just goes on and on, always getting at you, right in your ear, never ending. It never stops, so every now and again, someone will crack and say yes, and they go off to his office with a big smile, convinced that everything will be okay, and then they come back, smiling even wider, with a release date confirmed. They go off into the world again, apparently reformed and rehabilitated by The Warden, and they never come back, but, oh, the things they get up to in your world.

They’re all over the UK now, passing around his curse, his virus, and there will be more. We lost over fifty men to so called “early release” just last year, so other prisons on the estate will ship as many as they can down to us, convinced of the miracles of The Warden, and then, those men get trapped in the same whirlwind of whispers as the rest of us.

He’ll be taking Danny soon. I can feel it. The poor boy knows too. We all do.

Last week, I woke up in the middle of the night, and immediately, I could sense that something was wrong. The cell was dark, but in the slim bow of light that broke through the barred windows, I could see Danny, over by the cell door, the door captured in his glacial stare.

“I can’t do that Sir…” He whispered, lifting his hands over his ears as his voice cracked and crumbled into a childlike sob. “I’m trying to get better, Sir!” He fell against the door, his head knocking against the cold metal with a thump. “Please just let me go home, Sir!” The boy was hysterical, sobbing as he thrashed his body against the door. “I can’t do it, Sir!” I slipped out of bed, rushing to his side and pulling him from the door. “Don’t make me do it, Sir!” He cried out, shaking and fighting against my grasp to get back to the door.

“Danny, shut up.” I pulled him back towards the beds, avoiding his flailing limbs and covering his mouth with my hands to keep him quiet. “You’ll get yourself put in solitary.” He fell silent, falling still against his bunk, tears falling from his eyes. “He asked you again, didn’t he?” Danny nodded, pulling the thin blankets around himself, shaking as he spoke.

“I don’t want to Jack, but he’s going to make me.” The boy leapt into my arms, desperate for some comfort and I held him, feeling him shiver and shake as the night wore on.

He fell asleep eventually, but he was on edge for days afterwards. He had nightmares every night, waking up every few hours in tears, begging to see The Warden. Everyone knew he didn’t have long left, so they tried to make it as easy on him as they could. It hadn’t been long since we’d lost Sean. It had all gone the same way, the nightmares, the voices, the begging, and then, off to The Warden he went, and it was all smiles.

I tried to keep Danny strong, letting him know that we’d all protect him, but he was falling apart. He was so young, you know, so vulnerable, that they found him so easy to take him.

This morning, he came to breakfast late, a big smile on his face waving his release papers at anyone who would look. It was too late to try and talk him out of it, because the papers made it clear that Danny had the mark of The Warden hidden under his collar.

He’d given in, and I suppose I can’t blame him, just like I can’t blame anyone else who does. I blame the suits who keep us locked in here with that monster. They must know what he is, what he does, but they don’t care, because we’re just criminals.

Danny covered his eyes with his hands, pushing the porridge back across the table with a grin.

“I’m absolutely starving, mate.” He chuckled, standing from the table and giving me a little wave.

“Then eat.” I pushed the porridge back to him, glaring up as the dining room fell silent.

“I will, when I get out.” He smirked, a flash of his canines, sharpened to fangs visible as he raised his eyebrows and ran his fingers down the puncture marks across his neck.

Just like I’d feared, he was infected. It was too much for him, I suppose. Like I said, I can’t blame him, especially as Danny is gone, all that was good about him, anyway.

Danny is gone, just as all The Warden’s special projects disappear. Their bodies remain, but there’s nothing left on the inside, but the bloodthirsty infected, off to do The Warden’s bidding.

I’d never really thought about leaving prison, and my only way out doesn’t look too appealing, but… I don’t know. Maybe. It depends. Is anything tasty on the menu?

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