I dreamt I was being escorted to prison not by my brother and father but by my probation officer who, in my dream, resembled the leasing agent who showed me my first apartment. For some reason, inclement weather perhaps, we were forced to pull off the highway and spend the night in a motel room where we made love beneath cheap bed-in-a-box sheets. Afterwards, I asked if he thought I was an awful person, and he kissed my shoulder and said no.
I wake up aroused, my lower back and neck stiff. The mattresses we sleep on are manufactured here in prison by UNICOR and made of stiff foam, four inches thick, and encased in heavy plastic. They’re designed to be translucent when light is shined through them making contraband–knives, needles, drugs–easier to detect.
Beside my bed, tied around the bar that runs down the center of the cell’s window, is a shoelace from which I hang my radio, earphones, glasses, and wristwatch. The time reads four minutes past three. Outside, the compound glows amber; tiny bats circle and feed on unseen bugs. I lay back down, careful not to further agitate my back, and pull the thin blanket (also made by UNICOR) over my head. The cell’s been cold the past few nights, even with the air vent plugged with cardboard. The cold slows the fermentation of wine, but it doesn’t discourage the inmates who, afterall, have nothing but time. And though there’s been talk of pulling all sugary foods from the commissary–honey, jelly, oatmeal cream pies–to end the booze making, the threat hasn’t yet materialized, possibly for fear of retaliation, a strike. They did, however, limit the number of honeys and jellies we may purchase to one per day.
I tried the wine once. It was awful and tasted of grapefruit juice and warm saltwater. It’s the ketchup that makes it salty and helps the wine cook faster.
Beneath the blanket, I try to reign the dream back in, but the threads overhead have drifted out of reach. There was a dog, I remember, and a joke shared and many hours spent on the road. When we made the trip here from Dallas a year and a half ago, it took seven hours. I slept in the back seat for most of the drive, which made me feel guilty. I supposed I should have used that time to say a proper goodbye–exchange funny stories, relive family lore, share anecdotes, reveal intimate secrets. But we seemed comfortable in our silence. In Rustin, Louisiana, we stopped at a Starbucks and my father bought me my last iced Chai latte; whole milk, please. The barista took my order with efficient politeness, and I fought the urge to lean over the counter and tell her I was on my way to prison. Back in the car, my brother sent me a text message from the front seat: This isn’t the end. It’s only a chapter.
Below me, Rod shifts in his sleep and farts. Next door, a toilet flushes. I have to piss. I climb down to the floor in my underwear, still aroused, and shuffle three paces to the toilet where I stand and aim my boner into the steel bowl.
Since I was a small boy, I’ve been finicky about hygiene. I changed underwear several times a day on account of the small “drips” I’d leave behind after urinating. My mother hated doing wash. “I’ve never seen anyone go through so many pairs of underwear!” she’d yell from the laundry room. “Unbelievable! Two, four, six, eight, ten– I’m not buying you anymore underwear!” By the time I was twelve, I had solved the problem by dabbing at the end of my penis with toilet paper, a habit I’ve only now become self-conscious of since coming to prison.
I had just finished drying myself when I heard the keys. Every night on the hour, a pair of guards walks by with flashlights and peeks into each cell. Half asleep and caught off guard, I make no effort to conceal myself. The first flashlight skims by, then the next. Neither illuminate the room for more than a second; often the officers merely go through the motions and don’t bother looking in. But tonight, I catch the attention of the last officer, and no sooner has she walked by does she come back for a second peek. With the flashlight in my eyes, I can only make out her hair and dark skin. I stand front and center in her spotlight, dick in hand, for four solid seconds before she finally moves on.
I flush the toilet and go back to bed feeling embarrassed and strangely flattered.