Immediately after you get off Interstate 81, you can see it past the shabby fast-food joints, railroad tracks, truck warehouses, homeless shacks.
One sure sign is the ads for bail bondsmen… then come the windowless, neutral-colored buildings. This is America, land of the free, but not anymore for you. You ask yourself as you sit in your car what it is like to be not-free, if you can stand to be not-free.
No welcome signs here; where to park?
You get out of your car with your black garbage bag; it is filled with your allowed-to-bring-in 5-pair-of-socks, 5-pair-of-underwear, and 3-shirts. You picture back on your old bed all the of "not-to-brings": no hard covered bible (you might throw it at someone), no rosary beads (you might choke someone), no pens (you might stab someone).
You walk about, looking for the right door. There in the distance you see someone….in uniform….with an eagle on each soldier: you smile, you will ask him where is the door; you will tell him that you, too, are a colonel. Then you tell yourself that now you are a colonel any more: you are just an unpaid, unassigned not-colonel in-a-fight-to-avoid-being-a-dishonorably-discharged colonel. Up closer, he has that fixed "I know I am safe" look over his face; you ask him anyway. He says nothing. He points.
You press a button. A voice says, "wait there." So you wait there, looking back at the colonel who does not look back at you. You press the button again; maybe they forgot about you. "Didn't I tell you to wait there?" says the voice. "We don't see you here, we see you there." You wait countless minutes, then countless more. … The game of "put down" has just begun.
The goal, it seems, is to make you feel like shit by treating you like shit. You tell yourself to look as if you accept your new status: as soon as they see you agree that you are a not-person, that you agree that you are just the shit they are trying to get you see you are, it might get better for you.
Hours later, your whole body cramped up, legs aching from the hard sidewalk, your head down, baked by sun, the garage door rolls up. You do not enter until you are told to.
Strange hands are all over your body; your bag of belongings dumped on a table; you are motioned down a straight dark corridor in silence; you enter a grey room; you are told where to sit; you are told to wait until your name is called; you are told to wait until they get round to the shit.
The place is filled with sounds, loud, gruff, harsh: TV blaring, guards barking; inmates shouting. The TV is covering the last Kennedy brother's funeral, decades ago. No one is watching.
You hear an inmate scream a curse; in the next several months, this curse will contain all other words; no other word will fit.
You hear an inmate invite a guard to "suck my dick," then repeat it. You see a guard rise from his desk and charge at the prisoner. The guard is quickly followed by several more, each fatter than the other. You see the prisoner dragged off to somewhere.
You see one of the guards give you a black look; you hear your name barked out. You step up to the desk where you are handed a chewed-on three-inch pencil and a stack of forms to fill out. You are directed to the line for the nurse's station; the nurse motions you to sit down. You see there is going to be a lot of that: pointing without words -- sometimes with a grunt or a sneer, sometimes not.
You find out later her jail-name is "Nurse Nazi;" you are told it is not a great idea to get sick on her watch.
You are escorted to another room and searched again, this time invasively: that chewed-on three-inch pencil, what if you kept it?
You are walked to your pod by a hundred staring eyes; your own do a one-second sweep of the room, then you stare ahead blankly until you reach your bunk. It is a top bunk. You smile. No one can sit on it, spill a drink on it; best, it faces the wall: you can hide your face, curse under your breath, pray, jack off. It is the little things that are now big, the tiny things: someone leaves a tube of toothpaste on the sink, toilet paper in the open stall, or a three-day-old sports section on top of the usually-broken washing machine or two-for-60-guys driers.
The mattress is a board: some guys sleep, some do not.