Packing the last few things became a moot point when the C/O stood in front of the dull green barred cell door. A quick scan of the narrow bare steel shelf that had previously supported a thin lumpy mattress found nothing personal that would be left behind and that everything important had fit into the little box hopefully soon to be on its way to the prison’s Personal Property Department.
C/O’s were, of course, Corrections Officers but the word “Guard” insisted on playing silently in one’s mind. This one, true to the trend at most Texas prisons, was short, cartoonishly rotund, African/American and oblivious to the keys jangling against the lock.
“Okay, Foster. You ready?” The lock clanked open and the C/O pulled the cell door rumbling across its slide with the customary bang against its stop.
“Yup. I can take these photos along with me?”
“Sure,” the C/O nodded her authorization. “You takin’ that box, too?”
Foster took a final look at the box as well as the glaring cell that had been his home. Gone were the 10 chess books, the chess board and pieces, the little television, the pile of dirty prison blues, the two illegal shivs, the stack of instant noodle soups and even the feeling of homeness. Now, it was adorned with just an abandoned pair of white cotton socks and six rolls of toilet paper neatly stacked near the wall and the barren cell looked like one.
“Yeah. Williams told me to leave it in the cell and someone from Personal Property would come up and inventory it.”
“Nah, honey. You gotta take that shit down to them. I’m leaving this door open.” The chubby little woman waddled to the stairwell, turned to regard her charge, placed a hand on her hip and sighed impatiently as Foster retrieved his box.
The two of them slowly coursed their way down four flights of shiny, brightly lit concrete stairs, into the double security foyer of the cell block building, and onto a white concrete sidewalk leading to several prison administrative buildings. The sun, blindingly hot in spite of the early hour, burned its way at the top of Foster’s balding head just as it did at the yellowish gray grass beside them. But the cool morning breeze contrasted both the blazing sun as well as the pre-fab building they had just exited. Foster inhaled deeply, briefly closing his eyes against the bright sky, but walked obediently ahead of the tottering C/O.
The C/O unholstered her radio, raised it to the side of her face and announced, “Charlie two, with one for ‘J’ building.”
Several minutes later they approached a featureless door and heard it cackle a broken buzz. The C/O stood to one side mechanically following regulations and waited for Foster to open it himself.
“Foster! Over here,” a voice barked. “I thought I told you to leave that stuff. I’m not going to inventory it today.”
Foster glanced back at the little C/O escort who gestured with a shrug. He turned and replied slowly, “Sergeant Williams, if I left it up there, you wouldn’t have to inventory it at all.”
“That’s not my problem. Well, just drop it over by the table there. But I told you, it will be inventoried when we get time.” The white shirted C/O grabbed a paper on his desk, set to one side, and pointed to it. “Make sure the address is correct. Once it leaves here, it’s out of my hands. Sign at the bottom.”
Foster studied the photocopied form carefully then signed it. It seemed to him that, in spite of the prison’s inmate industrial activities involving offset printing, all the official forms and paperwork were all photocopies of their slightly skewed originals forms. Corruption, he thought. Claim expenses for the offset printing, but just make photocopies.
Sgt. Williams muttered, “Got your street clothes in a bag over yonder. Sgt. Phillips is on his way. Oh, and I need your belt, shoes and…” he paused with a frown. “Where’s your television?”
Foster replied, “I gave it to Lieutenant Green. He’s going to get it to Jim Cranston in B3.”
Sgt. Williams began to fuss but Foster interrupted, “Lt. Green has the Personal Property transfer form already. I don’t care what happens to it really.”
The next half hour ticked by as Foster changed into his street clothes, struggling to get accustomed to shoes that undoubtedly felt peculiar. He walked about for several steps, glancing at the bottoms and sides then touching them lightly. “Sure is thin,” he mumbled.
Sgt. Phillips walked into the Personal Property area and jovially called out, “There you are, Foster. You got anything special planned for today?”
Foster smiled and replied, “Well I thought I’d try my hand at an escape but I figured it would make too much paperwork for you.”
Phillips chuckled as he pulled out his stainless steel handcuffs. "You know, we got to go through this. We’ll pull ‘em off once we’re at the airport, okay?”
Foster soberly nodded, turned his back and placed his hands together behind him in the routine manner.
It had been several years since Foster last had exited the prison’s chain link gray fences. Then, it was to have his appendix removed at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. His entire world had been the cell, the exercise yard, the chow hall, and the library and whatever institutional administration soap opera fusses he could take pleasure in. Foster had even stopped staring outside the prison fences: you can only stare at pine trees so many hours before even prison inmates get bored with the sight.
The drive to Dallas was in air conditioning because the vinyl smelling van was new. Sgt. Phillips laughed, “Yeah, new for the next week. Then the A/C will die and will never be repaired.” Still, the ride was much smoother than the raggedy old jalopy that had taken him swaying down the road to the hospital.
Foster watched the landscape blur by for several miles, commenting to himself on the vast fields of hay and corn waving at their passing. His thoughts idled to nothing, just watching mindlessly. The view began to mesmerize him until he had to swallow hard. Suddenly he called up to Phillips, “Sarge, can we pull over? I’m not quite used to riding.”
“Foster, you gonna be sick?”
Foster nodded weakly.
Phillips hastily motioned to the driver and the van immediately pulled to the side of the road, raising a cloud of haze. Phillips and the driver got out and walked briskly to the rear van doors. Phillips stood back as the driver yanked them open.
Once back on the road, Phillips called back, “You know, you’re the second inmate with that problem this week.” He snorted, “You want some pizza? We’ll stop by Pizza Ranch. I’ll pay.”
Foster declined the offer, “I’ve never been carsick in my life.”
“It’s not the motion,” Phillips lectured. “It’s the change in your world. You’re a civilian now. Your prison stomach is getting used to it.” He paused, and then asked, “You got family you’re going to?”
“No. I use to live in NYC but moved to Fort Worth just before the sudden stop. When I first got to prison receiving they asked me my home of record; I told them New York. I guess Texas is on the hook for sending me back there. But I asked to change my flight to Boise and they agreed. The Pre-release unit hooked me up with some PO there and I got a form letter from his office last month.”
“Well, you’re one of us now,” Phillips offered. “You think you’ll be okay enough up there? You gonna keep your dick in your pants?”
Foster’s face reddened, “You know my charges?”
Phillips patted the manila envelope cached between the seats, "Anytime we transport, we have your full file with us. State law. Or, maybe Federal law. Don't know which. Just know our policies are to have a file on everyone in transport. Yeah, I know your charges. But Foster, you ain't your charges. You're free now. You are finished with us. That is until you rape again." He roughly cleared his throat. “Then you’re Idaho’s nightmare.”
“Sergeant, I am innocent of my charges. I never raped anyone.”
“Yeah, they all say that.”
“Well, here I am now. I’m finished with my sentence. I have no motivation to lie to you right now. So I can tell you plainly and clearly with no reason to say otherwise. I never raped anyone.” It was spoken as a matter of fact, not a defense.
Phillips remained quiet. Was Foster lying? Was he practicing for a lawsuit he might be planning for? They all drove on in silence, each meandering through their own thoughts, the van slowing for the occasional railroad crossing, swerving to miss a wayward armadillo or simply following the lengthy straight Texas white-stone asphalt back road until they reached the riotous Dallas/Fort Worth airport filled with real people walking about going to real places. As Foster now was.