|Roughly scratched tally marks on the wall showed that Joel had been there for 2 years. Long enough to grow a scraggly beard. Long enough for the other inmates to identify him as an easy target.
Slowly, he began his morning routine, walking along the perimeter of the small cell. Brushing the edges with three fingers. Then the same again with his other hand. Next he ensured that everything was in place because order was important, even in this confined world. Bed made and pillows four inches from each of the bordering sides of the mattress. If anything wasn’t quite right, then the routine had to be restarted. They were his rules.
After that came the thinking game, which used to be about dragons and knights, but was now always about the night that this nightmare had begun. They had found him shaking in the corner with broken tears in his eyes. They took him in for questioning. A danger to society, they said. We know you’re lying, they said. Guilty, they said.
It hadn’t been his fault. But unfortunately, he couldn’t communicate that. He had always found it difficult to interact with people, especially strangers. What he wanted to say was that he had been tricked into being there and hadn’t been involved in the assault. But instead he had screamed and thrashed as soon as they touched him.
Footsteps announcing someone’s arrival snapped him out of the dream. Joel looked at the floor. People’s eyes made him uncomfortable.
“Son…someone has come forward,” the prison officer began. “They’ve admitted they set you up. You aren’t supposed to be here. You’re free.”
Joel wanted to say, “thank goodness this nightmare is over, it’s been unbearable,” but the words just weren’t there. Instead, he thrashed against the bars and screamed.