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Morally Indefensible

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As the bus bounced through the high stone walls on its neglected suspension, he didn’t mourn the loss of his freedom so much as the fact that he would never again see a tree in his lifetime. The perimeter fence was chain link and electrified, but he’d never be allowed to take in the view of the world beyond it. Inmates only passed by that fence on intake or release; the latter was something for which he would never qualify. Within that perimeter was the main security gate surrounded by a four storey high wall with guard towers at the corners. Within that was the main prison area fenced in by a smaller stone wall. The set-up reminded him of a perverse take on a medieval town: the outer fence being the limits of the fiefdom’s reach, the main gate being the keep, and the inner wall being the ‘castle’ housing all of the criminal kings and psychopathic freaks in the clan of which he’d just become the newest member.

The bus lurched to an unceremonious halt and the driver shoved the folding doors open.

“Everybody out! No pushing - no talking - follow the guard’s instructions. Move it, fish!

He rose from his seat and reminded himself to stand up straight. He was going to stand out here and he knew it. It would be best not to project the absolute terror that he felt to his new neighbors. He raised his head without looking anywhere in particular, straightened his shoulders and made his expression as bland as possible. He shuffled down the bus corridor and out into the grey yard beyond it.

It wasn’t like it seemed in the movies - inmates weren’t shackled together - but his wrists were cuffed and loosely linked to a shackle around his ankles. It would prevent running with efficiency, but not much else. He decided that the chains were part tradition and part psychological re-enforcement of his newly diminished social designation: he was a pariah in the truest sense of the word. He had been cast out of society and was now untouchable, without rights or freedoms. He was one step away from being a slave. His intellect understood it and yet it was something that he knew that he would never be able to accept. Something whispered inside him that this unwillingness to adapt would be the death of him.

Two armed guards flanked the row of inmates while another with a clipboard walked the line. Three guards to manage twenty-four criminals. Even with the shackles, the inmates could easily overcome the guards - the tower sentries wouldn’t get all of them… But they all stood quietly in a row, new to the system but already cowed by it. He wondered how many of them were thinking the same thought. How many new inmates thought of a mad break for escape in these first moments? He stood silently: he had no weapon, no confederates - he couldn’t even fight very well. And if he made it beyond the multiple walls and away from the inevitable manhunt that followed, where would he go? He had nothing and no one. Outside or in, he was imprisoned: only the scenery would change.

The guard with the clipboard stopped in front of him.

Doctor Spencer Reid.” The guard seemed vaguely amused. Reid wasn’t sure if he was supposed to say anything. “Well? Are you Doctor Reid or aren’t you?”

“Yes sir, I am.”

The guard raised an eyebrow. “Polite, hmm. We’ll see how far that gets you… Says here that you’re a murderer.”

Reid’s spine stiffened and he forcibly swallowed the denial fighting its way up his throat. He knew that prisons were full of ‘innocent’ men. No one was going to be interested in his sob story. “Yes, sir.”

“Says here,” the guard leaned in close to his face “You killed a cop.”

He kept his face neutral. Her name was Elle. “Yes, sir.”

The guard stepped into Reid safe in the knowledge that Reid wouldn’t raise a hand against him. “That might gain you a little respect amongst some in here, but basically you’re just ice cream for freaks. The only thing standing between you and a brief, painful lifetime of whoring out every orifice for survival are COs like me. And I hate cop killers.”

The last sentence was so quiet that it was almost inaudible. Reid broke his focus on the middle distance and looked directly at the guard. What he read there was power and, in this case, the promise of its denial. Reid had expected a certain amount of abuse to come from the guards but what he realized now was that they would achieve the same result by standing aside as the prison population did their work for them. Reid couldn’t stop the look of horror that passed across his face as he thought about his immediate future and how the guards would look on in benign amusement.

“You are truly alone here, Doctor.” The guard smiled gently and backed up, checking down his clipboard before moving on to the next in line.

During the intake process - after he had been relieved of his possessions and physically assaulted with cold water and delousing agent - a formidable-looking CO had joined the others and looked over his file. The CO looked directly at him, his dark eyebrows pointed downward in a permanent scowl, and then beckoned him forward.

“Reid.” His hand gestured impatiently.

Reid came to stand before him but said nothing.

“Did you kill a cop?”

Reid’s lips thinned but he nodded anyway. The CO turned away from him as if he had suddenly disappeared, and called over the guard with the clipboard.

“Gerard, why isn’t this one going to the PC wing?”

CO Gerard gave the other guard a look that said he didn’t appreciate the question. “How should I know, Morgan? The form says Gen Pop, so that’s where I’m taking him.”

“Look at this.” CO Morgan pointed to something on Reid’s intake form that caused Gerard’s face to twitch before it assumed its mask of indifference again. “He won’t survive in Gen Pop - you know that.”

“Not my problem. The warden must have plans for him. Fucked if I’m gonna question the will of the Almighty Paper-Pusher. Are you?” Gerard smiled at Reid. “Besides, the little shit is getting what he deserves. Who knows? Maybe he’s tougher than he looks - he might make it. Are you tougher than you look, pencil-neck?”

Reid’s bowels turned watery at Gerard’s question but he stood still as he tried to figure out what the best course of action was. Gerard took a step towards him, but Morgan held him back with one hand.

“Get back in line, Reid.” Morgan mumbled.

It hadn’t occurred to Reid that there were distinctions of hell inside the prison walls, and that someone, somewhere, had made a conscious decision to shorten his life.