Tag Archives: prison

Prisoner Cruise

copyright C.E. Ayr

Mom called it a cruise, but I knew that prisoners didn’t go on cruises. I rode to the dock the day the ship left. I couldn’t see Dad, but I waved as the ship steamed away, just in case.

He returned five years later, tanned, muscular, almost unrecognizable. He didn’t drink anymore, didn’t yell or get violent. I didn’t mind the polite stranger he’d become.

At first.

But he doesn’t laugh anymore, doesn’t go outside. He just sleeps or watches TV.

Now when the ship comes, I ride to the dock to curse the beast that, somehow, ate my father.

A strange story, but that is probably what you’ve come to expect from me. What do you think happened to the father while he was away?

The Bucket List of Crime


Joel had a bucket list of minor infractions, so when he saw a hitchhiker outside a prison, he picked him up.

“Thanks,” the man said. “You know you weren’t supposed to pick me up, right?”

“What, you gonna tell on me?”

“So why’d you do it?”

Joel pulled out his bucket list binder. The man flipped through it.

“Bicycling without helmet, illegal fishing, petty theft,” he read. “That’s a misdemeanor, actually.”

“Law expert, eh?” Joel said. “Makes sense, I suppose. What were you in for?”

“Oh, I wasn’t a prisoner,” the man said. “My car broke down. I’m the warden.”


The Amber Man – Friday Fictioneers

Isn’t it interesting how a story can change when seen through the window of a hundred words? Last week’s story, Holding the Bridge generated a lot of interesting ideas about what had happened to the guard on the bridge, which fit with the hundred-word version. Click here to read the longer story about what really happened on the bridge.

copyright Douglas M. MacIlroy

copyright Douglas M. MacIlroy

The Amber Man

The lights came on, treacling back to my retinas.

“Here’s where we keep him, gentlemen.”

Humans. Real people, at last.

                                                                Squeeze their throats. Burst their brains.

“How is he not dead?

“Someone this powerful? If he could die from starvation, this setup wouldn’t have been necessary.”

Help me! For God’s sake, don’t leave me again!

                                                                Kill them. Kill them all!

“It’s a shame. His advances saved billions of lives.”

“He also slaughtered fifty million with his bare hands.”

“He looks so peaceful.”

“Thanks to the drugs. Inside though it’s a war: like an angel and demon caught together in amber.”

“I’m Sorry”

“I’m Sorry”

“I’m sorry.”

I wanted to punch him, to smash that smarmy, false-penitent expression off his face. I spit at him through the bars. “What gives you the right to be sorry?”

“You don’t want me to be sorry? To regret what I did?”

“So that what? I can forgive you and you can die in peace? My wife didn’t die in peace or her parents or my parents or any of the thousands of people under your charge.” If it wasn’t for the bars protecting him, I would have choked him. “You herded us like animals! You fed us slops and garbage and sent droves off to the gas chambers, for years! And now, now you’re sorry?”

“Yes,” he said, head bowed.

I stormed off and spent a sleepless night wrestling with thoughts and images that would not die. I returned to his cell at daybreak and sat watching him until he awoke.

“I cannot forgive you,” I said. “Not today, at least. But tell me, why did you do it?”

“I was young and needed a job,” he began. “I started at a desk, but I was diligent and got promoted. After that . . .”

We talked all day. There were millions of bricks in that edifice of hate between us but with those two words, “I’m sorry”, a few bricks had fallen. As the day went on, they continued to fall.

Baker Hill

Inspired by a true story.

May’s legs burned as she pumped the pedals of the Schwinn, laboring up Baker Hill. Her brown braids bounced on her shoulders like lengths of sweaty rope. She looked back. Nell had given up already and was pushing her bike.

“I won!” May yelled. She reached the huge oak at the top of the hill and threw her bike down. The shade was cool after the burning summer sun and a small breeze played among the leaves above her. From where she sat, the world opened up in a panorama of fields bordered with dark clumps of trees. Right below the hill was a bricked-walled yard surrounded by low buildings and impressive guard towers: Huntersville State Penitentiary.


Nell reached the top of the hill and dropped her bike next to May’s. “What are they doing today?” she asked.

May looked down. “Nothing much. It’s too hot, I suppose.” The prisoners in the yard were clumped together in the shade of one of the southern guard towers.

“What do you suppose he’s doing?” Nell asked.


“That one man. He’s sitting by himself, out in the sun.” Nell pointed and through the shimmering waves of heat, May could just make out a splotch of tan and denim by the western wall.

“Maybe he’s got no friends,” May said. “Maybe he’s new there.”

Nell nodded, but then frowned. “But why’s he sitting in the sun? There’s surely some shade if he wanted it.”

“Perhaps he’s Mexican,” May said. “Down there it’s hotter than blazes this time of year. I’ll bet this is nothing to him. The shade is probably too cold.”

“And that’s why he doesn’t have any friends. He only speaks Spanish and so he can’t say hello to the others.”

“If he’s Mexican, what’s he doing up here?” May asked. “Maybe he’s a migrant worker.”

They sat for a while, watching the prisoners and enjoying the breeze that drew the sweat from their necks, leaving only a delicious coolness.

“What do you think his name is?” Nell asked.

“Pablo,” May said. It was the only Mexican name she knew, the name of a boy in her first grade class.

“What do you think he did?”

“He stole a diamond ring,” May said. She waved away Nell’s shocked expression. “No, it was really supposed to be his anyway. He loves a woman in Mexico and was up here working to save money to marry her. He saved up for a diamond ring, paying the jeweler a bit every month for it. But the jeweler was crooked and when he went to get the ring, the jeweler pretended he didn’t know anything about it. Pablo went to the police but he was Mexican and they didn’t believe him. So, he broke in and stole the ring that was really his. For love, you know. But the police caught him and now he’s in there.”

Nell stared at her. “How do you know all that?”

May shrugged. “It might be true.”

When she got home, May asked her mother for a Mexican woman’s name and soon the ill-fated love story of Pablo and Maria was firmly implanted in her mind.

After school started, May stopped going up Baker Hill as frequently, but still she never forgot about Pablo. Finally, when the weather turned colder, she took half the money out of her piggy bank and bought a pair of mittens and a wool hat at the general store. She did not want to tell her parents, but one day after school, when Nell had to stay late, May walked with slow steps and a pounding heart to the prison.

“And what can I do for you?” the guard at the door asked, not unkindly.

“I want to give these to one of the prisoners,” May said. She held up the hat and mittens. Her hands trembled.

“Well, okay then. What’s his name?”


“Pablo?” The guard wrinkled his brow and May realized suddenly that she had made up that name; she didn’t know his real name at all.

“I—I don’t know his name. He sits by himself in the yard all the time, away from the others.”

The guard frowned. “You mean Oscar? How do you know him?”

May wanted to run away from the guard and his uncomfortable questions. “Please just give him this,” she said and thrusting the package into the guard’s hands, she turned and ran.

The next day, May rode alone to Baker Hill. The weather was chilly and the fall wind charged up the hill, rustling the oak tree’s yellowing leaves fiercely. The prisoners below were crowded against the western wall of the exercise yard to stay out of the wind. She saw Pablo—Oscar—standing by himself and with a burst of happiness, she saw he was wearing the dark green hat and mittens she had bought.

As she stood there, looking down, Oscar raised his arm and waved. It had to be at her, there was no one else around. Thank you, he seemed to say. She waved back. You’re welcome.

As she rode home, her mind was a bubbling pot of thoughts and emotions. The story of Pablo and Maria was gone, but then again, it had never been true. But Oscar was real and he had accepted her gift. She was happy.

I Woke up on Monday as a Dog

I woke up on Monday as a dog—a sloppy, tangle-furred St. Bernard who had grown up on the streets. Everyone in the neighborhood knew me and as the sun peeked between the brownstone houses that lined the east side of the street, I set out to discover breakfast. A few people called out to me, but I just barked and kept going. People around here might know me, but no one ever fed me.

No one except Mae, my adopted mother. She was blind—poor thing—but loved me no matter what. She fed me the same fare regardless of my form, sometimes with terrible results. There was a freezing day in February where I came to her as a goat only to find she had saved a steak just for me, cooked to medium-rare perfection. It repulsed me and as much as it hurt me to reject it, I could not touch it.

Mae was sitting on the porch steps when I bounded up. She could always tell when it was me. “Good morning, Harry. Come sit and talk to me for a while.” I barked at her and she nodded. “Maybe another day then.”

I wolfed down the bacon and eggs she had set out on the steps and lapped at the water next to it. The rest of the day was spent running around the streets and tearing into the garbage bags behind the McDonalds, searching for abandoned scraps and running away from the shouts and threats of the workers. It was a glorious existence.

On Tuesday, I woke up as a man and the grimmer reality that came with it. I ran a hand through my greasy hair, tried to straighten my clothes, and shuffled over to Mae’s where I ate with fork and knife and we talked about the weather and the arthritis she was getting in her knees. I brought my dishes in, washed them and the rest of the pile there, then took out her garbage. I was walking over to the park to sleep when I heard a shout.

“Harry, come here for a second.” It was a cop. I don’t know which one: I’m not good with faces, or names. He waited until I had approached the car, then kept looking at me until I was thoroughly unnerved.

“Some people complained about you urinating on the street yesterday.”

“Aw, Officer, I wasn’t myself yesterday,” I said. “You don’t arrest other dogs for marking their territory.”

The officer sighed and looked down. “I gotta take you in again, Harry. You know I hate to do it.”

“For what? What did I do?”

“You want the list?”

I went quietly. Violence is not what I’m about. I sat in the corner of the public cell but the other prisoners seemed to know me and left me alone. Luckily, the next day I woke up briefly to find that I was a sloth and then slept most of the day. When I did wake, it took half an hour to get over to the can and back to the bunk. At the end of the day, an official came in and talked to me privately but I was too sleepy to hear much. I caught the words “psychiatric” and “trial” but it didn’t concern me.

The next day, I woke up as a dragon.

The shock of sudden strength after a day as a sloth was electrifying. I had only been a dragon once before and that was when I had a horde to protect and I had spent the whole day sleeping on it. But not this time. I sat hunched on my bunk, eyes closed but flexing the muscles in my limbs and wings, feeling the deadly power in my claws.

“Harry, it’s time to go,” I heard someone call. I didn’t move. “Just go get him,” someone else said. “Cuffs but no shackles. He’s not a high risk.” The tip of my tail flicked back and forth in anticipation.

The cell door open and I sprang with a roar. I caught one look at the shocked expression on the guard’s face before I was on him, raking my talons across his face. My tail slammed him against the bars and I was free, my huge bulk crashing through the next room. It was pure exhilaration and I reveled in the power that I suddenly possessed.

I smashed through one room after another until suddenly, I was outside and then I was airborne and flying over the city. But where to go now? I couldn’t visit Mae—the weight of this new form would crush her house. I could not retreat to the subway system like I often did, not with my huge frame.

In the end, the form that gave me freedom caused my downfall. A dragon cannot hide well and they found me and netted me and brought me to another facility. A man came and talked to me, but all I could do was roar at him. It was his own fault for trying to talk to a dragon.

Today I woke up as a cat but they still guarded me as if I were a dragon. It’s a shame and I suppose I’ll never get out of here unless I turn into something stronger than a dragon, something strong enough to bend steel and smash concrete. I look out my window and see the beautiful blue sky. A perfect day for a cat to go exploring—a beautiful tabby cat with golden eyes who’s never hurt a person in his life.

Spheres in a Pool

glowing water

Spheres in a Pool

I sat on the edge of the luminescent pool, trying to will myself to dive again into that horrible liquid. Far below the surface lay the spheres piled and jumbled together. Those tiresome, vital, detestable spheres.

“Damn them,” I said. I never wanted to see another one as long as I lived. But in them, in one of them at least, lay the key to my escape from this concrete hellhole.

My cell was smaller than a college dorm room: a concrete cube with lichen growing on the walls. At one end was a locked gate and the way of eventual freedom. It led out to a hallway lined with similar cells.

I went to the gate. “Hey Jerry, you okay?” Jerry, the man in the cell across from mine, was lying on the floor. He raised his head and nodded.

“Just tired,” he said. “I might not pull up any spheres today. You want some bread?” He sat up and threw me part of a loaf of brown bread. Jerry had a friend somewhere that sent him bread down the chute in the corner of his cell. It was the only way things came into the cells; I received nothing beyond my basic rations from mine.

“I need to get at least two spheres today,” I said. I took a deep breath, again willing myself to go in.

The problem was that the liquid in the pool was not water. It was slimy and burned after long exposure. My first day in the cell, I had pulled out eight spheres. I did not pull another one for a whole week, as I lay with screaming, inflamed skin, red and raw from whatever the liquid had done to it.

Finally, I took a deep breath and dived. I did not dare open my eyes but felt around to where I had seen a red sphere. Someone, long ago, had scrawled on the wall, “Reds are the best bet” and I followed that advice.

I felt the sphere and heaved it upwards. It was light enough in the liquid, but slippery and hard to handle. I couldn’t get it the first time and had to surface for more air, but I got it on the second dive. I hauled it out onto the floor of the cell and began the process of cracking it open.

The reds had a tougher shell than some of the others and I used to spend hours prying one open with my hands. But then Jerry (who really had the best of friends somewhere above) slid me over an extra knife he had gotten and that helped a lot. I cut open the sphere, but of course it was empty.

Jerry tried for yellows. He had gotten a tip somewhere that they were the best bet. But I stuck with reds, because even if there was no reason for it, it was nice to think I had my own system.

I pulled another one out before I stopped for a rest. I sat with my back against the wall, fighting despair and panic. The worst thing about the whole situation was that I had put myself there voluntarily. I had been happy enough where I was—that life of low risks, low responsibility, and low pay. But then I heard word of an Opportunity. Some people called it a lottery, or a contest, or a competition. It seemed easy enough and the rewards on the other side were amazing. Just pick the right ball and you’re out, they said. You have all the time in the world to do it.

The reality in their words mocked me now. All the time in the world. All the time in the world. Fifty-nine scratches on the wall marked the number of spheres I had pulled out. I finished eating the bread from Jerry. I was tempted to give up for the day; two spheres was pretty good, but I decided to get one more, any color. I dived and grabbed the first one I felt, wrestling it to the surface.

It was a green one, slightly smaller than the reds. I cut it open and my heart almost stopped when I heard a clink as my knife hit metal.

It was a key. A real key after all this time. My hand was trembling as I fitted it into the lock. But a moment later, my elation changed to confusion and then fury. The key wouldn’t turn. I reached out and put it in from the outside but still nothing. It was the wrong key. I yelled and swore and kicked the walls until Jerry finally shouted at me, asking if I was okay.

“It’s the wrong key!” I shouted. “I got a key but it doesn’t work.”

I worked at it for another twenty minutes until I finally gave up. It wasn’t going to work. “Throw it over here,” Jerry said. “Let me play around with it for a while.” I threw him the key; what did it matter? He put the key in his lock and a second later, Jerry was standing in the hallway, a free man with a look of shock on his face.

“How did you do it?” I asked.

“Just how you did it,” he said. “Here, let me try again.” He put the key in my lock and wiggled it back and forth, but it wouldn’t budge.

“It’s not fair,” I said, beating my forehead against the concrete wall. “It’s not fair.”

“I’m sorry,” Jerry said. “I’ll go see if there’s a mistake. Maybe I can get them to get you out too, since it was you who found the key.”

“Do what you can, I guess,” I said. “And don’t be sorry, Jerry. I’m happy for you.” He smiled and we shook hands through the gate and then he left, glowing with happiness.

The next day, a loaf of bread and a new blanket came down my chute, wrapped in a plastic bag. On it was scribbled a note: Don’t give up. You can do it! – Jerry

So he was up there now too. “Good for you, Jerry,” I said. “And thank you.” Then I turned back to that hideous pool and prepared to dive again.


The Rage Within

The Rage Within

ADX-Florence Supermax Prison, Fremont County, CNN

The guards say that no inmates ever went near Karl Zakharin’s zen garden, scratched out of a sandy corner of the exercise ground. Not unless they wanted one of their fingers to become a grisly addition, the center of a newly-pinked swirl of sand. Every day at 10:00 sharp, the crime boss would smooth out the sand and spend an hour drawing circles and whorls with a stick or arranging cigarette butts in an aesthetic fashion.

“Just letting out the rage that’s trapped inside,” he would say to anyone who asked. The guards were not so trusting and routinely dug up the sand patch, looking for contraband. They found nothing.

Three years later, the mystery was solved. A codebook, found 2000 miles away in a gang hideout, detailed the complex language through which Zakharin communicated with his vast syndicate. Authorities also found a commercially-built drone, which had flown high overheard every day, capturing the day’s messages.

Confronted by this evidence, Zakharin only smiled his customary leer of filed points. “It was therapy,” he told guards. “The rage was confined here behind these walls. I was only letting it out into the real world where it belongs.”

Zakharin is believed to have ordered the murders of 136 people while incarcerated.

Rapacious – Friday Fictioneers

This is a hard week for me and I found this picture rather hard to turn into a good story. While pondering various story lines, I was musing over the idea of flash fiction. Rochelle, in her rules for the Fictioneers, always says that the challenge is to “Write a one hundred word story that has a beginning, middle and end.” I’ve been religious with the 100-word rule but I’m sure I’ve broken the beginning-middle-end rule quite a few times, although I try. What I also try to do is: 1) make sure there is some conflict and 2) make sure the characters want something. Without these, especially conflict, it’s not a story, it’s only a scene. Of course, Rochelle makes sure to point out that no one is ostracized for breaking the 100-word and she is very forgiving with other rule bends too. And now, on with the story…

copyright Danny Bowman

copyright Danny Bowman


The Mountain is killing me. I feel the life leaching from me into the pitiless walls. The Mountain claims all: innocence, youth, health, time. The walls are fat with my wasted years.

I knew it would take my life, but I vowed it would never take ME. I feel it, though, clawing at my soul. The ME is slipping away, no matter how much I clutch it.

When they bury me, write no name on the headstone, for what they bury is not me, but merely the husk of what the Mountain has devoured.

(found scratched into a prison wall)

The Golden Circle – Sunday Photo Fiction

A piece for Al Forbes’ Sunday Photo Fiction.

copyright Alastair Forbes

copyright Alastair Forbes

The Golden Circle

“He’s the king.”

“We can’t trust him.”

“But he’s the king.”

“He killed eight people.”

“He’s the king.”

In the nation of Vallakha, there was no way to remove a monarch. He was installed by God and was above the law. So when King Jerome III began roaming the palace halls, killing servants and courtiers, there was intense discussion about to what to do.

“Execute him?”



“He controls the prisons. Nothing is higher than the king, except God himself.”

“Nothing but God . . .”

On the first day of summer, the king was imprisoned in his bedroom, surrounded by golden bars, which were blessed and made part of the Church. His guards were priests. His rule remained absolute through the whole nation, except for a circle, four inches wide, that surrounded him.

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