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Shark Tank

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Artwork by HUAHUA363

The transport bus takes Will from jail to prison. He’s been given twenty-five years, parole in twenty, if he’s good. Will knows he won’t be good. It won’t be possible, not with so many murderers in his head, and violence all around him. He’s going to drown in it. Will is too exhausted to care about that one way or the other. He hasn’t slept properly in weeks and everything has started to blur at the edges again.

There are a handful of other guys on the bus. Will is one of two white men, and he can’t help but think about the racism inherent in the system. God knows he spent most of his professional career putting away middle-aged white men who did unspeakable things. It’s strange to consider that these criminals might have got three strikes on a drug count, or got into the wrong bar fight. Although, just as easily, they might have murdered someone. It’s impossible to know.

It’s not particularly nice out, but it’s not raining either. Scattered clouds, he thinks they call it. Will presses his cheek and fingers to the grill over the windows and watches the power lines go by, and watches the feathered stag racing alongside the bus. His brain might not be boiling in his skull any more, but the stag still follows him. He can’t sleep with his head rattling against the grate with every bump in the road jolting up through shocks badly in need of repair, but it lulls him into a sort of stupor until the bus is shuddering to a stop and they’re there.

Will is shuffled off the bus with the rest of his compatriots, leg irons hobbling him. He can’t understand how the others can walk. He feels like he’s in a perpetual fall. Will spent most of his trial in and out of the hospital, or in and out of solitary. He hasn’t acclimatized to movement, or chains, or being penned up with a hundred other men, most of them frustrated, angry, and bored. Will already knows this is going to get ugly.

He keeps his head down as they pass through the gates and into the first part of processing. All the rules and regulations float over his head. Will feels like he’s walking three feet behind his own body, watching himself stumble through a strip-search. He’s pale and the only one without tattoos. Except for the scars from his stabbing, Will is a blank canvas. The others are looking. Even the guards, with their blue gloves and rough hands, have pity in their eyes.

He climbs into new prison clothes – white underwear, white socks, white t-shirt, blue jumpsuit – and he’s handed the essentials: bedclothes, underwear, toilet paper. They’re moved through door after door, around corners, through corridors. He’s lost already.

They’re waiting in yet another holding area, uncuffed finally, when a scruffy guy with a perpetual look of ‘are you fucking serious,’ sits down next to him with a sigh. “Hey man,” he says. “Zee. You look kind of messed up, are you okay?”

Will stares at his own ugly flat shoes. They don’t have laces. He’s not sure if he’s special, on suicide watch, or if no one gets laces. He can’t muster up the energy to check. His voice is trapped in his throat and he works his mouth several times before he manages to say, “Not really.” It’s barely breath, the illusion of sound, but Zee seems to hear him anyway.

“First time, huh? Yeah, it can be a bit overkill. You gotta keep your head up though, these guys, you gotta be tough.” Zee chatters away and Will lets it wash over him, soaks up the noise and the easiness that Zee has. He’s been in and out of the system most of his life, minor infractions adding up to longer and longer sentences. Will knows it’s because Zee doesn’t know how to live outside of a prison. He basically grew up in juvie.

Will doesn’t know how much time has passed when a woman with a clipboard strides into the room. “Alright gentlemen,” she says. Her voice is strong, friendly enough, but still solid. She seems nice. “Some of you know this already, but I’m your in-flight safety announcement so you have to listen anyway. Your cell is your home, keep it clean, spotless. You are to exercise regularly, attend classes, go to drug and alcohol counseling. You are to work in one of the prison factories. You are to follow the routine. We tell you when to sleep, when to eat, when to piss. There is no yelling, no fighting, no fucking. Follow the rules, learn self-discipline, because if you had any self-discipline, any control over yourselves at all, you wouldn't be sitting here now.” She speaks like she’s reciting something she was taught. “Right Zee?”

“Right,” Zee says brightly, unoffended.

“I’m CO Katz, you can call me ma’am or boss. Either is fine. Anything else will get you put in lockdown, or the SHU so don’t try it.” She opens another locked door and holds it for them. “Welcome to BSP gentlemen, let me show you to your rooms.”

Zee nudges Will when Katz isn’t looking. “She’s nice, no bullshit, but not cruel. Some of the other screws, not so much. It’s hard being new in the aquarium, man,” he says. “But I’ll try and help you out.”

“Aquarium?” Will mutters as they form a line and ready to move out.

“In the tank,” Zee explains. He tips his head at the door they’re about to walk through. “Welcome to the shark tank, brother. There’s no fish out there. Fish don’t matter. It’s all sharks. All got teeth.”

They’re herded into the rec area of Unit 3, A-block, carrying their only possessions in the world. The door slams shut behind them, locks grating into place, and Will is trapped. The guys sitting around, playing cards, watching NatGeo on the shitty TV, talking amongst themselves, all look up when the new prisoners are brought through. Will can feel their eyes on him and he wishes to god he hadn’t had to shave for court.

Katz walks up and down the line, reading from her clipboard, pointing them to their cells. Will drifts, looking around instead of listening. The rec area is grey and a greyish blue, broken up only by the dark blue of the COs uniforms, and the lighter blue of the standard issue jumpsuits. If they were going for ‘depressing purgatory’ chic, they hit the nail on the head.

Zee grins at her when she reaches them and winks. “Take care of my boy here,” he says, nodding at Will.

Katz looks Will up and down and sighs. “Jesus fuck,” she says. “Someone’s got to stop putting guppies in with the piranhas. Zeller you’re in with Price, unless you wanna swap Graham out.”

“No way. You can’t put the fag in with baby face here. Price can’t protect him.”

Katz shrugs. “That, and you missed him,” she says.

Zee doesn’t bother to argue. Will doesn’t need an empathy disorder to see that there’s more than brotherly love between Zee and whoever Price is. He swallows down his fear and squares his shoulders. “I don’t care,” he says, firmly as he can.

“Yeah, you do,” Katz says. “That leaves Stammit, Lecter, and -“

“What happened to Multiple?” Zee interrupts adjusting his armful of blankets, underpants and TP.

“Miggs? Swallowed his tongue and choked to death.” Katz looks like she has something to add to the subject but is smart enough to keep it to herself. “Lecter’s got his cell to himself again.”

“Put Budge in with him and let Will bunk with Frankie. I mean, it’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.”

“Lecter and Budge?” Katz laughs, a humourless sound. “We’ve already fed four guys to Lecter’s crazy. If we put those two together there’ll be blood before break’s over.”

“Is there a problem here?” The head CO, Crawford appears out of nowhere. For a big guy he moves awful quietly.

“No sir,” Katz says and gives Zee a sharp look.

Zee doesn’t grin at Crawford but he shrugs when Crawford turns a disappointed look on him. “Sorry, boss,” he says. “I tried, but I just missed you too much to stay gone. I’ll get out of your hair.” He high-tails it off to a cell, familiar like the worn-in jumpsuit he wears.

Will is alone now.

“What’s the holdup?” Crawford asks. He takes Katz’s clipboard and scans it. “Graham.”

“He’s supposed to go in with Durnam,” Katz says. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Crawford’s face is like stone. “So put him with Lecter.”

Katz glances over her shoulder and then visibly washes her hands of it. “On it, sir,” she says, and Will is taken away to meet Lecter and whatever crazy he has that’s caused him to lose four cellmates.