If You’d Only Pay Attention
by James R. Tomlinson
I’m at eye-level with your ass. Going up. Remembering how Petey Sykes lost his kiddy-fingers playing on an escalator. Three digits mangled, chewed off, drawn in from the sleeve. Reminds me of the bloody sheets I twirled and flushed. Not an easy task. You got to feed the linen, then flush, then feed some more, then flush again. Back then Jamaal Dixon pretend-slept facing the wall. Nobody’s gonna bring you fresh bedding, I said. Take mine. He turtled-up, wouldn’t speak. I spooned him, whispered how The Muffin Monster® would shred the evidence, would shred anything shoved down a prison toilet. Hid the shank too, spoke softly in his ear, I’ll protect you. I don’t miss much.
Your hand slides off the rail. You continue walking. We’re headed in the same direction, Sears or Radio Shack or the North End parking lot. If we make eye contact I’ll introduce myself, be real cordial, “Name’s Russell Slevkovitch.” I doubt you’ll recognize me, or remember my alias. Perhaps we’ll engage in conversation. You might say, “Hello.” You might tell me your name. I’d like that. I’ll show you my biceps, my tattoo; it’s shaped like a crucifix with God’s Son inked on it.
We pass Sears, then Radio Shack. We’re stride for stride, reaching for the same exit door.
“Oh, excuse me.”
“After you,” I say.
We step into the cool fresh air, into a world of opportunity. You turn away. I crack my knuckles. I grit my teeth. “My pleasure.”
(James R. Tomlinson teaches for the Michigan Department of Corrections. He writes about his prison experiences at his blog. The Muffin Monster® is an intrical part of prison maintenance.)