A few years ago, I escaped from prison. I’d been fantasizing about it for years, but the precipitating factor was a fight between two fellow inmates that left one in the hospital and the other in solitary confinement.
It was 8 p.m. Slim, a tall, skinny dude, had been gossiping with a friend. “Yeah, son, I’ma holla at you later, boy,” he yelled down the tier as the conversation wrapped up. “That shit was crazy!”
I was standing in my doorway, just keeping a quiet watch on my surroundings, when another inmate, Shaolin, rose from his bed and made his way to the bathroom, carrying his washcloth, soap, toothbrush, and toothpaste. A few minutes later, he returned and calmly approached Slim. “Excuse me,” Shaolin said. “Was that you speaking earlier?” Then he repeated his words. “You were the one who who said, ‘That shit was crazy’?”
Glowering, Slim turned to answer the question, but before he could get the words out, Shaolin cocked his hand back like the hammer on a gun and fired off a slap so hard that it echoed through the tier.
“This place’ll bring out the devil in a motherfucker.”
“Damn!” I muttered aloud, as Slim hit the floor and curled up like a newborn. Shaolin stood over his quivering body. Then he turned to face each of us onlookers in turn and explained himself. It wasn’t the content of the conversation that had enraged him but the volume.
“Gentlemen, please hear me out,” began Shaolin, his voice eerily calm. “We are in prison. And that means we spend our waking hours wishing we were anywhere else. One of our only escapes is sleep. So, gentlemen, please let’s respect each other’s sleeping time. If one of us has successfully escaped, don’t bring him back. People can get stabbed for shit like this.”
It was early evening, but we were on staggered work schedules and grabbed sleep when we could.
Turning back to Slim, still prone, Shaolin administered a kick to the face. Not long after, I heard him on the phone. “Hello, Ma?” he was saying. “If I don’t call you tomorrow, I’m in the box,” he said. Then he hung up the phone and went to his cell.
I’d seen violence before, but that sudden explosion, the considered ferocity of the beatdown, shook me. The environment was warping us all. I had to escape — and Shaolin’s method of dozing off each night wasn’t going to cut it.