I was in the library reviewing job applications for the upcoming mock job fair when Old Man Landry got smashed. Every year, volunteer business professionals are invited into the prison to help prepare soon-to-be-released inmates to enter the workforce. At the center of the fair is the practice job interview in which inmates–many of whom have never held legitimate employment let alone applied for a job–are paired with volunteers to answer the question every ex-felon dreads: have you ever been convicted of a crime?
My responsibility for this year’s fair has been to teach the inmates how to fill out job applications. One man, when asked the reason for leaving his last job, wrote on his application, “Not pay me the good money.”
It was while marking corrections that I heard the clamor of keys, a sound I’ve become attuned to much in the same way dogs are attuned to the sound of their kibble being doled out. I looked up to see two officers bolt from the building, keys and radios bouncing at their hips. A fight. Echo unit. Inmates pressed against the library windows two and three bodies thick, anxious to see whose race and affiliation was involved. I did not join them. I have no stomach for the violence and commentary and politicking. And besides, I already knew who was involved.
Rumors of Old Man Landry’s charge had been circulating since I arrived here. One account alleged that Landry attempted to pay and undercover FBI agent to watch her eleven-year-old daughter have sex with his twelve-year-old son. Another story claimed that the deal had been to swap children–for Landry to get the girl and the agent to get the boy. But in prison where the rumor mill is dubbed inmate-dot-com, there is no shortage of misinformation. A man once asked if it was true that I’d stolen millions of dollars in a sophisticated computer fraud scheme. I laughed and told him not to believe everything he hears online.
Laundry was a jailhouse lawyer and spent most weekdays in the library filing inmate appeals. From the table where I often sit, I had a direct view of his profile: the sloping shoulders, the lax jaw, the thin coiffed white hair. He wore a pair of Buddy Holly glasses, standard-issue in the BOP. The inmates call them sex offender specs because they make everyone who wears them appear to be a sex offender. Landry looked particularly sinister in them, like a retired school bus driver with a shady past.
I was careful to keep my distance from him, what with the rumors of his charge. I didn’t want to become associated with him, but we did talk once, briefly. He said he enjoyed reading science fiction. He also mentioned having a son who had recently graduated high school and moved to the Netherlands to attend college. The conversation was low-key, polite, and utterly disappointing. Whatever insights I had hoped to gleam from my first interaction with another sex offender were dashed when Landry revealed himself to be like any other slightly crotchety old man.
The attack, I later learned, had been brutal. Landry was knocked unconscious and had to be carried to Medical on a stretcher, his face bloodied, his sex offender specs gone missing in the scuffle. Only after the attack did I consider that I might have warned him, perhaps slipped him a note in passing tucked inside an Isaac Asimov book.
Had I done so, would it have been out of concern for a fellow human being or concern for a fellow sex offender?