Authors: Pepper Pace
The guards were standing by the door watching with amusement, as some of the prisoners got a bit aggressive with the kids. Little man was yelling that they were breaking his arm and the prisoner patting him down immediately pressed the boy’s face roughly against the cement wall. The man wasn’t very big; in fact he was fairly short in stature. His brown dome was shaved and he wore a slight goatee. His expression is what made a relatively small man look dangerous. He pressed his lips against the struggling boy’s ear and began to speak in low tones. When Little Man cried out in pain the man didn’t let up on the pressure but pressed his face even harder against the wall. The man barked out a short order and Little Man cried out tearfully, ‘Yes, sir!’
When the pat down was complete more than one boy had tears in their eyes. They were all made to line up shoulder to shoulder while the prisoners stood back glaring at them, pacing like caged animals and anxious to do something bad…
Scotty’s eyes fell on to his father. He hadn’t seen the man in years. He’d been a little kid the last time Juan Carlos had been a free man. Scotty didn’t think he looked much different although his prison issued jeans and t-shirt was far from the fashionable pimp that he’d been ten years ago.
His father was of average height and weight and yet his presence seemed big. Perhaps it was his eyes that seemed to pierce straight through you. His eyes were brown—nearly black, fathomless orbs beneath a straight brow that lead down to a straight nose. He wore a heavy mustache, which was streaked in grey. His brown skin and thick curly hair proclaimed his Hispanic origins. Even in his early forties and incarcerated for more years than not, it was plain to see why he had no trouble finding women to pimp out. Juan Carlos was handsome.
Kunly stepped forward, still smirking. “Okay ladies, lets begin with a little introduction into Prison Life 101.”
Kunly’s eyes met that of Little Man who stood quietly sniffling back angry tears.
“You don’t run this house. You will
run this house because this is
house.” Kunly gestured to the stalking men. “You’re going to have to go up against all of them just to get a chance—and these aren’t even the worse of them. These are the
of them. We aren’t allowed to have you around the worst of them because they fuck little boys like you. Or they take you for everything you got and pimp you out. That’s if you’re lucky. Because worse case scenario you just end up another dead nigger, another dead honky, another dead spic.”
One boy bristled at being referred to as a nigger and a white inmate got in his face.
“You’ll be my nigger. I can already see that. I got about fifteen more years in here and when I get through with you I’ll pass you along to the rest of the brotherhood. That’s right boy. I’m a white supremacist and there are plenty more where I come from.”
The young boy stood bravely but fear and frustration had caused tears to course down his cheeks. As soon as the tears appeared five inmates jumped into his face yelling at him to shut-up and to stop acting like a little bitch. One of the guards finally broke it up but the kid was visibly shaking and crying by that point. It was very easy to forget that the State of Ohio wouldn’t allow the children to be raped and beaten up on their watch.
The inmates took turns questioning the kids about their crimes, getting into their faces and pushing them around. But no one said one word to Scotty who just watched his father stand-by quietly without getting involved in the show of scaring the kids.
After that they went on a tour of the lunchroom, which was crowded with men who cat-called them when they walked into the room. They were given food to eat while the inmates from the previous room made sure they knew how to sit and eat.
Scotty got his tray of food while his father escorted him silently. After they were seated Scotty stared down at the food. There was a grey piece of meat with grey sauce on it, meatloaf? There were also soggy mixed vegetables, translucent mashed potatoes and two slices of white bread.
His stomach turned.
“Don’t eat that,” Juan Carlos spoke while the other kids complained at how bad it smelled and tasted.
“You don’t eat?” Scotty spoke for the first time.
“Only the derelicts eat this. The rest of us get commissary. Besides they made up a special batch of food for the chumps,” Juan Carlos gestured at the other kids with his thumb. “This is garbage.”
Scotty didn’t respond.
“We’ll have time to talk after lunch.” Scotty met his father’s eyes. Juan Carlos was not his biological father but he was married to his mother and he was also the only man to ever step into that role.
“Talk about what?” Scotty stated plainly. He hadn’t been around in years and Scotty figured that if they wanted to play catch up they could have done it before now.
Juan Carlos didn’t seem bothered by the coldness in Scotty’s voice. “We need to talk.”
Thankfully for the other kids, the meal only lasted fifteen minutes and they were escorted to the showers where they were told that if they needed to relieve themselves they could do so now even though everything was open for everyone to see you do your business.
Next came time for them to be locked into the cells with the individual prisoners.
Little Man protested feebly when he saw that they would be locked in a small cell without a guard present. Two prisoners who were evidently bunk mates waited for Little Man. Once the cell door closed behind him they made him give them his gym shoes.
Scotty followed his father up one tier to where more cells lined the circumference of the room. The prison wasn’t like what he was used to seeing on television. They were in a large room with two levels and a common area on the main floor.
The majority of the inmates were congregating here although as he passed cells he could see that some were in their cells lying in bunks and reading.
It seemed relaxed for prison. The common area had tables that were bolted to the floor and small stools that served as the seats. There were two telephones that he could see, a television set, which had such bad reception that he could barely tell what was playing. And last there was a room that looked over it all, and that is where the two guards watched everything.
Scotty followed his father into a cell. He looked around, surprised at how small it was. But it was clean. There were two bunks, a sink a toilet and a ledge that served as a desk. Lining one wall were two sets of shelves and they were crammed with the men’s belonging; everything from books, papers, magazines, toilet paper and cooking spices.
“Have a seat.” Juan Carlos gestured to a bunk. “That’s where I sleep, so it’s okay.”
Scotty was close to telling him no but decided to just go with it. He plopped down on the hard bunk realizing that there was no box springs beneath the mattress, just a metal slab which didn’t yield beneath his weight.
His father squatted and pulled a large plastic bin from beneath the bed.
“You’re looking good Scotty.” Juan Carlos stated while lifting the lid. Scotty saw that the trunk was filled with food. His father retrieved a packet of ramen noodles and a can of generic spaghetti sauce.
Juan Carlos looked at him when Scotty didn’t reply. “I guess you’re thinking that there isn’t much for us to say, right?”
Scotty’s stomach grumbled. “No. I’m wondering how you’re going to cook that.”
Juan Carlos smiled and rose to his feet. He placed the items on the desk and Scotty saw that there was a little hot plate nestled in the corner.
“I have discovered twenty-seven uses for noodle soup.”
Juan retrieved a dented tin pot from one of the shelves and dumped the contents of the noodle packet and sauce in all at once. “You should see what I can do with some hamburger meat. When you think about it, there are all kinds of canned foods that can be repurposed.” He chuckled. “There’s canned meat, fish, sauces and soup. I can even make tacos as good as the ones we had at home.” He met Scotty’s eyes. “Remember those tacos I use to make? You kids could never get enough of them.”
Scotty didn’t respond. He remembered the tacos. He also remembered when the man would get locked up again and there was nothing to eat.
Juan Carlos stood over the hotplate stirring the hard noodles and congealed sauce with a metal tablespoon.
“Are you coming here to stay a while?” He finally asked.
Scotty, whose eyes had been drawn to the pot of food, met his father’s eyes in confusion.
“I’m just doing this program so that I can hit the streets as soon as possible.”
“Ah, so you are planning on coming here permanently.”
Scotty’s brow gathered in annoyance that this man who knew so little about him and who obviously couldn’t pimp without getting locked up would think that he couldn’t hustle. Yes, they were both in prison but the difference was that Scotty was only a visitor and didn’t intend to stay in this life long enough to become a permanent resident.
“Nah. It’s not going to be like that for me-“
“How are your brothers and sisters, your mom?” Juan Carlos interrupted.
Scotty drew in a deep breath. His eyes took in the room. There were pictures but none were of him, his brothers and sisters or his Mom. They all must have belonged to the other bunkmate—who evidently gave a shit about his family.
“The same,” he said feeling no desire to give the man more than that. He didn’t deserve more than that.
“How did you know that I was coming?”
Juan Carlos watched Scotty. “We have the same last name. They asked me and I told them you were my kid. I got some clout so here we are. For the record when you do come here, you’ll have clout too.”
Scotty was too confused to be angry that Juan Carlos refused to believe that he wouldn’t end up in the penitentiary.
“Well son, I’ve been here and I’ve made a reputation for myself. A better rep here than I have out on the streets.” Juan Carlos paused to break open the packet of noodle mix season. He sprinkled it on the sauce, which was now beginning to bubble.
“There are a lot of good hustles here. Believe it or not cigarettes is about as big as drugs. I don’t mess with the dope. The gangs lock that up. Selling commissary is good money; food and smokes is about all the State of Ohio will allow us.”
Juan Carlos withdrew another bin from beneath the bed and Scotty stood to give him room. When the lid was lifted he saw that it was filled with cases of cigarettes. The older man broke open a box and then one of the packets. He shook out two cigarettes and offered one to Scotty.
Scotty accepted it and a moment after his father passed him a portable lighter he gratefully inhaled a lungful of smoke. He hadn’t had a cigarette in days. The small cell began to fill with the smell of tobacco and spaghetti, which was surprisingly pleasant.
“So I’m saying that when you get here-“
“Dad, I’m not going to end up here,” Scotty bit out. “I have a plan. This is not going to be my life, not hustling, not prison. I’m out of it as soon as I can. I’m not greedy. I don’t need to be rich. I just need to make sure that my family is taken care of.”
“Most men feel the same way. A good amount of them end up in a prison cell just like mine.”
Juan had turned back to the hot plate and began serving up big forkfuls of steaming sauce-covered noodles onto two paper plates.
He picked up the plates and handed one to Scotty. “Sit and eat.” The two men sat on the edge of the bed and Scotty forked the food into his mouth. He gave Juan a look of surprise that the concoction was actually pretty good.
“Do you like it?” The man asked.
Scotty nodded and ate quickly, not knowing if a guard would show up and make him leave before he had a chance to fill his belly.
“Slow down son. We got time. Do you want a Coca Cola?”
Scotty nodded, though he didn’t slow down. He didn’t trust his father’s assertions. Scotty rarely trusted what anyone said. Words were just the lip service people gave in order to have something to say. People talked too much even when they knew they couldn’t back up their words. It was a game to some, but not to Scotty. His word was his bond.
Juan Carlos hadn’t ever made any promises, though. He just stayed long enough to make everyone think that things would get better.
Within a minute Scotty had the food finished, his cigarette butt squashed in the last bit of red sauce on the plate and he was nursing the Coca Cola.
It had been the best meal that he’d had in weeks.
Juan Carlos passed his half finished plate of food to Scotty who declined. Juan Carlos placed the plate on the desk and studied the boy proudly.
“You look good Scotty. You took care of yourself. I wasn’t always sure how it would turn out for you; being white and living in the projects. We could have moved to Covington Kentucky where there were more whites but once Tracy started having black kids it didn’t really matter.”
Scotty studied his father not sensing any animosity in his words. He knew that Juan Carlos accepted all of Tracy Tremont’s children as his own regardless of whether or not he was the biological father. He’d explained to them that family had nothing to do with blood. He was a Hispanic man married to a white woman with three black kids, four white kids and one Hispanic kid. And he didn’t even treat the one kid that was biologically his own any different than any of the others.