By Zvi Baranoff
( I wrote this story while in the County Jail in 2007)
Morning comes early in jail. Not with sunshine and birds like a rural morning nor with commuter traffic and rushed coffee.
The lights snap on and the guard yells "Chow!" Prisoners echo the calls "Chow!" "Chow!"
120 men dress in orange uniforms and begin to line up. He rolls off his cot, steps into his orange pants and joins the line of hungry inmates.
The line moves slow. Some cut ahead. As each man approaches the front of the line, he gives the guard his last name. The guard crosses the name off a list and a trusty hands over a tray.
"Whadda you gonna give me off your tray?"
"Anything you man enuf to take!"
Breakfast. Grits. 3 slices of white bread. One hard boiled egg, some applesauce and a small carton of milk. Served on a plastic tray with a plastic spoon.
He takes his tray and finds a spot on the metal bench at the metal table.
He picks the shell from the egg. Methodically, with the plastic spoon he slices his egg into three equal parts, one for each piece of bread. Breakfast goes down quickly, each man still hungry, each tray emptied, cleared, returned.
120 prisoners back to their cots. The guards change shift. The inmates are counted. A new day has begun.
Eventually, the "yard" is opened for exercise. The yard is a concrete slab surrounded by high concrete walls. There's a pole with a backboard and basketball net.
Some go back to sleep. Some sit at the tables and play spades or dominoes. Some head to the yard. He heads to the yard.
Fifteen paces north. Twenty-two west. Fifteen paces south. Twenty-two paces east. Some lean against the wall striking poses and talking trash. Basketballs bounce and fly and swish the net or not. Jailhouse experts discuss legal fine points about why they will get off or why they should have gotten off.
Some men simply walk. Fifteen paces north. Twenty-two paces west. Fifteen south. Twenty-two paces east. Again fifteen north...
He walks and walks; arms moving and legs striving, passing the dawdlers, the pacers, those with nowhere to go.
"What's the hurry, man? There's nowhere to go."
"I'm walking home" he responds, keeping up the pace, rounding the yard.
Two men sit against a wall. They are a shade of gray you never see in the outside world. One sits with his shirt off, an eagle tattoo on his right arm, a dog eared paperback folded in his hands. The other gray man is reading a twenty year old National Geographic. They take no notice as he passes by.
Rounding the yard again he passes a group of young bloods in the corner. "What's up, Pops?" "I'm just walking home" he tells them. He moves on and the jitterbugs go back to trying to outdo each other with street corner bravado to mask their jailhouse apprehensions.
An airplane flies overhead. The sun rises above the eastern wall and begins to heat up the western end of the yard. He rounds the yard again passing the Preacher Man who walks slowly while reading the Scriptures.
The gray men are still sitting against the wall. The sun shinning on them permeates their gray not at all. They are now watching ants as the ants work at consuming a cockroach. He passes by once more at a fast pace.
Again he passes by the Preacher Man. "Amen! Thank you Jesus!" shouts Preacher Man. The Preacher is as passionate now pitching his brand of religion as he was passionate selling crack a few months ago.
A basketball bounces into his path. He catches the ball and tosses it at the basket. Not Bothering to see if the ball connects, he continues on his way.
On the next pass the gray ones are gone. Three men dark as night with rippling muscles and tattoos are doing push ups. They count their push ups by tens and by hundreds. It looks like they've done jailhouse push ups for years. It looks like they will be doing them for years. He walks past them, continuing on his way.
The jitterbugs have gotten over their bravado. They are now debating which snack cakes are best. Their bodies pose less as the day gets warmer. He nods at the young bloods as he walks on.
The basketball session takes on a more serious tone. Eight men play hard, sweat running down them. Charging, pushing, taunting, jumping. The sun bakes down and the bouncing ball thunders.
Two Mexicans have found a small bit of the remaining shade and are talking in Spanish. The muscle bound with the push ups have headed for the showers. The Preacher Man has a new apostle cornered for an impromptu lesson.
Sweat runs down his face and his legs ache, but he maintains a steady pace.
"You still walking, man?" he's asked.
"I'm on my way home," he answers.
"You gonna out walk your shoes," he's told.
"If they can't keep up, it's their problem," he responds as he slides on by.
Fifteen more paces north. Twenty-two paces west. Fifteen south. Twenty-two east. And onward he goes.
A cloud covers the sun and he walks on. The ache in his legs is now a throbbing and the sweat is now a steady stream. He's almost there, he thinks. He's almost there.
Birds fly overhead. Some perch on the telephones wires. One step after another, he walks on the side of the road. Cars blow by on the long stretch of highway. The sounds of the surf washing against the shore mingles with the wind blowing through the trees. And then he is in his neighborhood.
A rooster crows as he walks through the neighborhood. A dog laying in the shade of a large tree barks without much enthusiasm or conviction. Another rooster further away responds to the first.
He walks up the wooden steps of the yellow house, pauses at the top of the stairs on the wide wooden deck. A Guatemalan hammock is in it's place. Two palm trees are in planters on the deck, providing the hammock with some shade. Over sized wicker porch chairs sit by thedoor.
Flowers are growing in the boxes balanced on the white railing. "My wife has a green thumb," he thinks as he looks past the deck to the yard for just a minute. Then through the front door he goes.
The radio is playing, tuned to the oldies station. His wife is in the kitchen, tossing a salad. Something is baking in the oven. He breathes in the aroma, trying to guess at the seasonings.
"You look hot and tired sweetheart," says his wife. "Did you walk far today?"
"I've been walking a long time" he responds simply.
"Have some ice tea and sit awhile" she tells him. "Lunch is almost ready."
He pours himself some peppermint tea and plops himself into his favorite recliner. "It's good to be home," he thinks. "It's good to be home." He nods off into a pleasant nap.
A hand shakes his shoulder. "It's lunchtime Pops. You coming?"
"Chow! shouts the guard. He joins the others in line.