My career in law enforcement started in the prison system working as a corrections officer in a maximum security facility. The aged institution was a series of old, weathered and worn brick buildings that were probably ten years past the demolition stage. Ironically, that description fit many of the prison’s residents—old, weathered, and long past their prime.
As a new employee, and someone who didn’t know what to expect, once I was permitted inside the endless fencing and razor wire, well, I was a bit apprehensive to say the least. During our orientation period (the prison system is a revolving door of both inmates and employees—neither seem to want to stay for very long), we were told the prison housed many hard-core inmates, even brutal murderers who’d never again set foot in society.
It didn’t take long to discover how many of the prison inmates survive in such a harsh environment. Some, like feral animals, hunt and stalk their prey, zeroing in on the weak, culling them from the herd before moving in for the kill. The difference between this type prisoner and a lion is that the lion hunts for food, while the prisoner hunts the meek, hoping for favors, liquor, drugs, cellphones, women, and possibly freedom. His prey—new, weak, unsuspecting prison guards who can be manipulated and conned into granting those wishes.
Thankfully, I’m not weak or meek, so I never once fell for any of their clever con games. However, there’s another type of prisoner that did seem to get to me at times—the old-timers with the sad stories who seemed to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. They could have been anybody’s grandfather, even mine. And such was the case of…
The Wheel: Page Two of My Spiral Notebooks
Skin, wrinkled like grooves etched in wet sand.
Working man’s hands.
Nails bitten to the quick.
“They tore down the mill,” I said.
“The one near my place?” he said.
“I once caught a citation catfish at the base of that old wheel.”
“Over twenty pounds, it was.”
I offered another nod.
“What’re they gonna do there?”
“Convenience store’s what I heard.”
A gaze into the distance.
Staring into the past.
A deep breath. A sigh.
A tired voice, nearly a whisper.
“The wheel was turning that night, you know.”
I’d heard the story a hundred times before.
“I heard the water running over it when I crossed the road.”
Trembling hand through white hair.
“She screamed, but I still heard the water pouring off the wheel.
And the metal squeaking and creaking.
It was loud. So loud.”
His eyes meet mine.
“Still hear it, you know. Every night, in my head.”
“I know you do.”
I know because I hear his screams.
The ones that wake him late at night.
“I went over to her trailer to see about all the racket.”
Hand gripping hand.
Wringing and twisting.
“She was my little girl, you know.”
“I opened the door.”
Eyes growing wide.
He was there, again.
In his mind.
“He…He was sittin’ on top of her…”
“She was naked. Lips bleeding. Down there, too …”
Old eyes fill with water.
“I tried to pull him off.”
“Too big. Too strong.”
Anger creeps in.
Teeth clenched tightly.
“I went back across the road to my house.”
Almost a growl.
“To get my shotgun.”
I didn’t want her to marry him. Never did like the guy.
A drunk and a bum.
Never worked a day in his life.
Beat her all the time.
Bruises and black eyes.
I seen ‘em.”
“Loaded three rounds of buckshot. I did.
Get off my little girl!
Mind your own business, old man, he says to me.”
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
“He’ll never touch my precious angel again.
Went home to get gun.
A beat of silence passed.
“So they tore it down, huh?”
“A convenience store, huh?”
“I’ll always hear that water running.
And the metal screeching and squealing.”
A tear on his cheek.
“I know you will.”
“I’d do it again tomorrow, you know.”
Announcement from speaker.
“Count time in five minutes.”
“All inmates report to their cells.”
Chatter of dozens.
Feet shuffling on concrete.
“I wish she’d found somebody like you.
Maybe we could have gone fishing together.
Before they tore it down.”
A pat on my arm.
Liver spotted hand.
“I’da liked that. I really would have.”
* The Wheel is a true story that crosses my mind from time to time. Today is one of those times…