David's first day on the job may just be his last.
By Andre Parker
Marion enjoyed the calm of the repetitive motion of pulling and releasing the smoke of a fine cigarette into his lungs. Since he was a kid, and way before his incarcerated days, he was mesmerized by the simplicity of the act. The slow and constant glow of the ember from the tip was a doorway to a Zen like state. Its effects immediate and holding within the continuity of that very moment. Marion often thought that it was much like a hypnotists pocket watch "Keep your eyes on the watch and you will slowly feel calm and at ease with your surrounding." This thought brought a smile to Marion's weathered face. An old catchers mitt of lines and cracks that owned more stories than any one man could possibly have time to hear. Marion was dark, even for a black man his skin was the color of mahogany and the lines in his hands matched the ones on his face, black as night. Marion's smile faded as he caught a glimpse of himself in the small mirror in front of him, the mirror being so small he could only see his own eyes in it. This mirrors purpose was not to be able to see ones own face, it was merely a tool to peer around the corner so that you could look into the eyes of the man in the cell next to you that you may or may not be having a conversation with, this is all that condemned men like Marion had in the way of conversing with another human being. His black charcoal eyes looked away quickly as he thought of the man he last had spoken with while peering into that tool of human connection. "Ray", he mumbled to himself, was a good man, and Marion had been happy with his release. He nonetheless felt that he had lost a good friend. He would make an attempt to find Ray once he himself was released but he new the relationship you have "in" is quite different when you are "out". Marion's final moments of solitude where broken when he heard the metal clang of the outer door leading to the last-days wing of the Laudon State Penitentiary wing.
David's nervousness must have been showing on his face.
"Little sweaty there rook?" stated the guard sergeant on duty. He had the face, body and demeanor of a fat little pig. His slow drawled southern accent did not help with this unfortunate association. David thought it rather amusing that this sergeant of the guard should point out that David was the one sweating when it was the seargent himself that looked as if he had been jogging out in the hot July sun. His uniform was soaked through with sweat at the armpits, collar and bellybutton. When he spoke his chubby cheeks pushed high into his eyes making them virtually disappear into his round head. All of these features where just peaces of the puzzled locked in by a gin blossomed upturned bulbous little nose. David thought to himself that all Sergeant Jones needed was a red little apple in his mouth instead of the tumor like wad of chew he was sporting.
"Yeah" David replied uninterested in small talk.
"Well don't worry about it too much, most of these guys made their peace with whatever they were convicted of a long time ago and the last thing on their mind before they leave this place is of getting back at us for anything."
"Yeah, I guess your right about that."
"Damn right! I've been on the end of the line wing for quite a while. Now, what ever you do don't get into a meaning conversation with any of them, un'erstand? Don't be an asshole but at the same time keep it simple stupid. Got it? Talk about the weather, our shithole football team or anything of that nature, un'erstand? No talking about their family, what they wanted to be when they grew up instead of just another illiterate fuck up at our illustrious facility. Or any thin that'll make em want to cut your guts out before they meet the end." With that the seargeant closed the metal divider door in between them and David turned toward the guards chair at the end of the hall.
"Just incase one of them says fuck it, stay behind the red line, un'erstand?"
David nodded in recognition of the red line painted on the floor two feet in front of the cell side of the hall and running lengthwise to the end.
"Thanks for the insight pork chop", David thought to himself.
David took his seat and peered back to the entrance of the hall noticing the sergeant had also taken a seat with his back turned to David. A newspaper opened in front of him "Must be hard to turn the pages with those hooves." he mumbled to himself.
A chuckle came from within the cell directly in front of him. The figure was cast in a shadow but the contrast of the dark skin and white teeth almost made his smile look like it was etched out of pearls.
"Sergeant swine don't like educated Negroes, un'erstand." he mocked, mimicking the southern drawl at Negro. "Specially some college nigger that got a position on the "end of the line hall" his first duty out." Marion got up slowly as he spoke walking out of the shadows into the fluorescent lighting of the hallway.
"How do you know I'm educated, much less in college?" David found himself asking.
"Oh, I don't know." Shrugging his shoulders in an exaggerated way. "You guards, well you have this tendency to forget about us after a while and talk as if were unable to hear what you have to say. It's kind of like having a dog. Man says a lot to his dog or at lease when only the dog is around. It would be some shit if one day the dog speaks up and just to lets the world know that he can talk. That's a scared man, and one power full dog, well as far as information goes. You get me boss?"
"Yeah, I get you" David replied shifting in his seat.
"David Leon, a senior at state college right? Hear you getting you degree in political science and going on to law school. Also heard you got the job to better understand what you gonna have to deal with in the courtroom."
David said nothing; a cold shiver ran up his spine in realization that the inmate grapevine is not something to be taken lightly.
"Maybe when I get out of here ill drop in on you in the court room. Look in on you, if you will." Marion's smile returns this time more in the shape of a sinister smirk.
"Yeah, you do that" David replies. "When you get released."
"RELEASED" I like that, "RE-LEASED" he repeats taking a pause after the prefix. "Like a new lease on life, right?" the smile returning. "Yeah, I like that."
"I guess so" David looks back down the hall regretting the path of this conversation.
"What's your religious belief David, I can call you David right, or would you prefer Mr. Leon?"
"Boss, will do." David replies making sure the prisoner does not overstep his bounds.
"Its cool baby I can dig it, Boss it is then. Marion clasps his hands to the bars and stand facing David. "So, Boss, what is your religious belief?"
"Religious belief?" The question had caught David off guard.
Yeah, you know Jesus, Vishnu, Aliens in UFO's wearing black sneakers waiting for the Hail-Bop comet, you know your religious beliefs." Marion fires at David.
"Hey shut the fuck up in there, Is he giving you shit boy?" states the duty sergeant.
"I'm cool, its cool" Marion states to David with a sincere look of concern.
"He's ok, if I need your help ill ask!" David shouts back down at pig man.
The sergeant sits back down mumbling into his newspaper.
David looks back into the cell, Marion is now sitting down lighting another cigarette as he continues. "I'm just trying to make small talk, it's all I got in here."
David finally sitting states "Christian man. Why you trying to save me, in your final hours here?"
"No, not unless you need saving. And even if you did I don't feel I'm the appropriate agent for that mission. Being that I'm in here and you are out there, but in a few hours ill be RE-LEASED and maybe, if I have the time of course, ill come back and visit you and we'll talk about all this saving business."
"That will be a laugh." stating with contempt in his voice "The convict saving the guard. Did you forget what side of the bars your on?"
Marion takes a pull on his cigarette and then puts it out on the concrete floor, exhaling slowly as he gets up and walks to the bars, his gaze meeting David's.
"It's a funny thing imprisonment, it gives you a lot of time to contemplate things. Take for instance what you just said. You spoke of convict and guard but the Funny thing is you never mentioned freedom, why is that?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you say I'm on one side of the bars and you are on the other. But freedom doesn't have anything to do with that."
"No? How is that Allah?"
"Mohamed, you called me Allah, I assume you meant Mohamed as in the profit, as if I were about to give you a revelation or prophecy. That would be Mohamed not Allah; Allah is god to the Muslims.
Anger and frustration was now showing on David's face, "What ever man, this is fucking ridiculous! David turns facing away from him while quickly giving pig man a glance.
"You think a lot about your freedom when y're incarcerated. You think of it so much, that you start to notice when other people aren't aware of when they don't have any freedom.
Trying to keep his temper under control, David slowly through gritting teeth "what the fuck are you rambling on about?"
Its simple, take anyone that feels they are completely in control of their surroundings, shit take the president for example. That man cant get a blowjob without someone knowing about it. He's the leader of the supposedly freest country in the world and he can't get a BJ without it being on the front Paige of every fucking newspaper."
"I'm sure you have some kind of point underneath all that talk." David states mater of fact lie.
"I don't know what it is about you long term guys, you think because you've been in for so long with nothing but your thoughts that you have found the key to life in that cell."
Marion begins to let a smile creep onto his face, his eyes narrow and become completely focused on the face of his companion. The trap being laid Marion now sets the bait that will pull David closer to the fire. "I'm not getting your point boss?"
"Don't make me hurt your feeling just before you leave us."
Marion, raising his arms palms up, "Please, tells me what's on your mind"
The excitement, stress and inability to control his emotions get to David, he unleashes a tirade of words, "Well lets not beat around the bush, I'm free and you are not, you are incarcerated, I'm not. There is nothing that will change that I'm on this side of the bars and you are not. So don't try to mind fuck me with bullshit spiritualism and all that other shit. It is what it is, no amount of theoretical philosophy is going to change that you are convicted of a crime and you are doing the time!"
"BRAVO, BRAVO." Clapping his hands, Marion's smile now ear to ear, "Your passion for words inspire me."
A touch of egoism gives way to a small smirk from David, feeling for the first time that he has gained the upper hand in the conversation.
Marion's smiling face almost instantly turns blank and emotionless, his eyes fixated on David's.
"Now, lets go at this by the numbers, the first thing I want to say is I'm sorry. I'm sorry that you don't see with the clarity of mind that I have. I'm sorry that even after everything is said and done you probably still wont be able to comprehend what it is I'm saying to you. But, (Marion holds up one finger in show of David not to interrupt him) since you went ahead and threw out the first argument, here is my rebuttal. Holding one hand out in front of himself in a dramatic fashion as in that of an actor about to recite a line from Romeo and Juliet, Marion had now laid his trap, baited it and found a hungry tiger ensnared in it. "You are free. You are free to leave this place. You are free to drive home and forget this place exists. You are free to wonder why it is you even come here to work on a daily basis. And you are free to remember that stack of bills in your mailbox, the car payment, the mortgage, the credit cards, and the alimony. You are free to remember and contemplate all of that. You are free to have a drink and escape those burdoneous thoughts. You have a glimmer of how things should be or better yet how they should have been. Without bills and jobs that you hate. But glimmers are impermanent things and when you wake up from your drunken stupor the next day you are free to drive back to this symbol of freedom."
Marion backed away and sat down never unlocking his gaze form David's. Lighting another cigarette and dramatically inhaling deeply then again dramatically exhaling once more, he raised his hands once again palms up.
The two had now exchanged expressions the smirk had now left David's face and found its way to Marion's. The words left David's mouth in an almost inaudible whisper. "That's bullshit."
"Is it? The bars you look at each day are the same as mine! You happen to be standing on one side and I on the other. My bars are tangible and constant, yours are not. Freedom is an illusion, one mans freedom is another's prison. If you stare at me long enough the bars fade and it's hard to tell whom is on what side.
David's anger had subsided and was now transformed into a dull ringing sensation in his ears, his focus so acute he could once again smell the odor of freshly painted concrete mixed with the acrid sent of urine and sweat. His words came out in a trance like statement monotone and constant. "You expect me to believe that I'm the convict and you are the free man?" David knew he should have walked away now, not going any closer to Marion's flickering candle flame, but he was just a moth now unable to do anything but listen and move ever closer to the light.
Marion started again, calmly and intensely "I told you earlier, your belief or lack of faith is of no importance to me. I only wanted to know how enlightened you are."
David stood and walked over to the bars, placing his hands on the cold Steele that separated them, "Answer the question. Do you expect me to believe that?"
Again inhaling and exhaling in a dramatic fashion before continuing, "You are right and wrong. I am the convict. I have been convicted of a crime. Sentenced by a jury of my peers. And will have shortly served out said sentence and punishment. But, I will then start a new life as a truly free man." Marion's movement from his sitting position to the bars was a blur to David; before he even could react he was firmly in Marion's grasp. He had grabbed him by both tie and belt. His grip was surprisingly strong and firm and as tight as a noose allowing David only the shallowest of breaths.
A shout came from the other end of the hall accompanied by the rattle and clanking of keys in a lock.
"I want you to calm down, listen to my voice David. You are completely under my physical control. If you keep struggling I will choke you out, but, I promise I will not harm you if you are still."
David stopped struggling; he wanted to get away but knew all he could do was listen.
"How free do you feel right now David? You DON'T, and that's the point in this little exercise called life. Just when you believe things are ok things are not! You asked, No, you stated earlier that you are free and I am not, I beg to differ. You look at freedom with a child's eyes. Physical freedom is way to fragile and easily transcended to qualify as a true measure of freedom. Take our situation for example, in the blink of an eye you have lost all freedom, my physical freedom is nonexistent. I sleep, breathe, walk, eat, and shit when someone tells me to. So, I have a different type of freedom. The freedom I'm talking about is a freedom of thought. The ability to transcend the physical spectrum of this world and truly believe you can be somewhere else. At this point you must be asking yourself 'what does this all have to do with me'. Well David, in a couple of hours ill no longer be a convict and who knows what ill lose in the "transition to my new life". But you my fried, you will be the last person I've had a meaningful conversation with as the person I am right now. And whether you want it to or not, I have changed your view of freedom.
Pig man was screaming some thing at them, David didn't hear exactly what, his vision blurred and it all turned dark.
David awoke to see the 2 guards dragging Marion away down the long corridor to the entrance. "Dead man walking" pig man stated to the guard behind the entrance gate, "open her up"
Marion looked back past the 2 guards and pig man to David, "Don't let these bars get to you David, remember what side you are on."
David saw the 2 figures taking Leon around the corner of the hallway just before he again slipped into unconsciousness.
"Dead Man Walking" could be heard echoing down the hallway.