“Ryder, you have a visitor,” the guard yelled.
Eli placed down his cards and smirked over to Roy and Pops. “Read ‘em and weep, boys. Full house.” Both Pops and Roy tossed down their cards and groaned. Eli took the cigarettes off the table and stood. “I’ll be back. Pops, don’t take too much of Roy’s cigs.”
Pops chuckled. “Says the guy that’s taking all of our cigs. Go see your visitor.”
Eli followed Officer Jordan to the visitors center. As he was patted down, he noticed his mother sitting in the back corner. Great. Eli’s mother had visited almost monthly, but this was the first time she’d visited him more than once a month.
He sat across from her on the table and tried to smile for his mother. “This is a surprise.”
“Your brother was arrested.”
“And that’s my problem, because?”
Eliza Ryder wasn’t a woman to question or to make snide remarks to. Eli knew that. Hell, he usually cowered when she gave him that look, the same one she was giving him now. Eli swallowed hard. Okay, maybe he shouldn’t have said anything.
“This is all your fault, Elijah. Anthony looked up to you for years, and now I have two of my boys incarcerated. If you hadn’t been so stupid, Elijah, your brother wouldn’t be where he is. And you’re lucky there’s guards standing around, because I would wipe that smirk right off your face, young man.”
Eli lowered his head. “Sorry, Momma.”
“I want you to write your brother a letter. I will mail you the address when I get home. You will encourage him to stop following your footsteps. You will encourage him to go back to school and graduate. Do I make myself clear?”
Eli cringed. “Do I have to?”
“Do you want your brother to join you in here when he turns eighteen?”
Eli didn’t have to think. He knew he did not want to see Anthony inside a prison cell. It was bad enough he had lived in one for the past year. His brother was fifteen, and if he was doing the same shit Eli was doing, Eli could see where his mother was coming from. “Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll write him a letter and try to scare him straight. But I ain’t got no control of what he does in his life. It ain’t my fault he got himself locked up. Only fault that’s mine, is me being here. Okay?”
Mom pursed her lips in a thin line and folded her arms over her chest. Shit. Elijah’s heart raced. He hadn’t ever spoken back to his mother like that. Maybe it was the fact that there were guards around that gave him the courage to lash out against her. Or maybe he had gone absolutely crazy.
“You better watch it, Elijah. Remember who you’re talking to.”
Eli slumped in his chair, hating that his mother could make him still feel like a five year old after being scolded. She always did have that affect on him and his brother and sister. “I know, Mom. Sorry. Look, can we talk about something else?”
“Sure, but I am warning you, one more outburst and the guards won’t be fast enough to stop me from slapping you.” Eli was pretty sure that was accurate too and took the warning to heart.
After the visit ended, Eli headed back to the yard where he found Pops and Roy still playing cards. He was about to rejoin them when a basketball came flying at him. He caught it and stared at Mario.
“Eli, join us man. I need another on my team, dog.”
Eli looked between his friends on the court and his older friends playing cards. He made the decision and took off the top of his prison uniform and passed the ball back to Mario. “Let’s do this, M.”
Eli played and enjoyed the time with his friends. In the last year he had met more than just Pops and Roy. He got to know others, and found a kinship between a few other inmates that were closer in age to him.
In all Eli was having a good day, something he had actually become acquainted with in prison over the last few months, if he was being honest with himself. He kept his head down, his nose clean, and he didn’t ask too many questions to too many people. He kept away from those he knew were bad news, like Kellogg. Nancy, though took a shinning to Eli, and they were even friends.
But nothing good lasts forever. Eli tossed the ball for a rebound and watch it miss its mark and hit the back of Nancy’s head. Oh shit. The entire yard fell silent as Kellogg stood from the bench the two had been sitting on.
Eli took a step back and his friends backed away from the encounter. Eli held his hands up. “Look, man, it was an accident. Nancy, tell him.”
Nancy rubbed the back of his head. “Daddy, come on. Don’t do this.”
Kellogg didn’t listen. It was a long shot. Eli understood no one touches Nancy or hurts him in any way. Eli had nowhere to run. No where. He was trapped in the yard with the rest of the inmates. He did notice the guards preparing for the worst, and watching the encounter.
Eli took another step back and eyed Roy. He tried to beg for help, but he knew Roy wouldn’t step in. Kellogg reached him and took him by the throat. “You dare hurt my boy?”
Eli couldn’t even shake his head, let alone answer with words. He struggled, trying with all his might to get Kellogg to release him. He was slammed down onto the concrete and watched as a fist came flying at him. Everything went black.
Eli woke to his hands being cuffed. He turned his head to see Officer Turner behind him. “What the hell? Hey! I didn’t do anything, man. Kellogg started it.” he argued.
“Sorry, kid. You know the rules.” Officer Turner helped him stand. “A week in solitary.”
“A week for getting my ass kicked? Are you fucking kidding me?” he shouted. It didn’t matter, Turner escorted him right out of the yard and toward Cell Block B, which housed death row inmates, inmates in protective custody, and solitary confinement.
Eli had yet to venture forth into Cell Block B, and he never wanted to. He only ever heard stories of the “hole” as solitary was called. The place reeked, and was cold. There were no open cells, rather closed off doors. Men shouted out from their windows when Eli and Kellogg were escorted passed their doors.
“Kellogg, you back?”
“Yo dog, nice touch on the eye.”
“Give me two minutes with him, and I’ll finish what Kell started.”
Eli shivered. He didn’t even have to ask which inmate said that. He knew by now that “Lucifer,” the most prolific serial killer in the state was behind these walls, and was always willing to finish off anyone and everyone.
Eli was led down the stairs and an automatic door swung open. After being released from the cuffs, Eli was pushed inside. There wasn’t much inside the cell. White walls, white plastic flooring, a bed, a small sink, and a toilet.
Eli turned just in time to see the door slam shut and lock into place. “Well, fuck.”
Eli curled up on the bed. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. There wasn’t much to do. He had heard the stories from Nancy and the others that the hole could make a man go crazy after a day. He hadn’t been in for ten minutes and Eli was already starting to go a little nuts.
The next day, the door opened and Eli was escorted to a small cage with a basketball hoop (but no basketball) and a weight station. “You got one hour of exercise time.”
“That’s it?” Eil asked the guard he didn’t know. He didn’t get a reply. Eli sat on the bench and slumped. This sucked. No, this more than sucked, but Eli didn’t quite know any other way to describe it.
Eli turned and contemplated on what he should do for his free hour. He rather be out in the yard with his friends talking the shit and playing poker. The hour came and went at a slow pace, just like the rest of the time he had already spent inside the hole. He was escorted back into his cell and once again locked up.
At least the guards brought him food three times a day. It wasn’t Nancy’s cooking, however, and it smelled too. Eli had gotten used to having Nancy make what look like mushy shit into something edible and actually pretty good. This food however was not good. In fact, Eli could barely stomach it and hardly touched his meals.
* * * *
The door opened and Eli stood. Was it time again for him to go exercise? Eli held out his hands and waited as the guard cuffed him again. “Congratulations, you’re going back to Gen Pop.”
Eli’s eyes widen. Had it really been seven days? It felt like years, even centuries inside. The guard escorted him out of Cell Block B and up to Gen Pop. It was still early in the day judging by the blinding light of the sun hitting Eli’s eyes.
He heard his name being called out, and Eli squinted in the yard to see Roy and Pops. That put a smile on his face. Finally there was a friendly face around. “Meet you in the cell,” Roy called out.
“Okay, man.” His voice was hoarse and he wasn’t sure if Roy could even hear him. Still, he found Roy standing just outside the cell.
“You reek,” Roy said as if Eli didn’t know. Oh, he knew all right.
Eli rolled his eyes to his cellmate and friend. “No shit. I’m going to grab a shower and clean the last week off of me.” Still, his voice was hoarse. “And grab a bottle of water from commissary.”
“I’ll be here when you get back.”
Eli headed for the showers, thankful no one else was inside. He scrubbed away the week and more until he was pretty sure that no amount of washing would get how he felt off of him. He shut off the shower and dried off before changing into some cleaner clothes.
Eli took a detour to the commissary and bought himself a bottle of water. It helped a little on his dry, scratchy throat, but it still didn’t ease the hoarseness he was feeling. When he returned to his cell, he climbed up to his bunk and covered his eyes.
“Well, the good news is, you survived a visit to the hole,” Roy said, and stood to talk to him. “How was it?”
Eli narrowed his eyes at his friend. “How’d you think it was? It was a fucking nightmare that never fucking ended, that’s how it was. I lost my fucking voice even. Listen to me. I sound like someone sanded down my tonsils.”
“How’s the eye?”
Eli shrugged. “Still fucking hurts. At least it’s open. It closed up within hours of being inside. I couldn’t see out of it for a couple of days.”
The cell door rattled and Nancy pushed his way in. “Is he back?”
“Right here, Nance.” He turned to his friend. “Your daddy is fucking insane. You get that, right?”
Nancy shrugged. “He’s who he is. You okay?”
“Does it look like I’m okay?” Eli tried to yell, but really couldn’t. His throat was too dry still, and it really hurt.
Roy chided him. “Be nice, Eli. Nancy is just concerned, okay?”
Eli glared hard at Roy. “Be nice? If it wasn’t for his fucking fuck-up boyfriend, I wouldn’t have spent the worst week in my life locked up inside the hole.” He focused his glare onto Nancy. “Why the fuck does he have such a fucking hold on you? What makes you so fucking special?”
“Look at me. I wouldn’t have survived this long in this hell hole if I didn’t have Daddy. I made a deal with him my first week here. I found the biggest toughest meanest son of a bitch, and made the deal. I’d do what he says, and he keeps me safe inside.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “It may be wrong, or whatever. I never regretted my decision. I also wouldn’t change it for the world, Elijah. And I definitely never expected either of us falling in love. Okay. You want to know why I am special? It’s because we actually love each other.”
Eli felt like shit for yelling at Nancy after hearing his rant. Nancy was right, he would have never survived this place without Kellogg. He also knew there were feelings that went deeper than most of the prison realized between the two. Thankfully Kellogg was still in the hole, because Eli was sure if he heard Eli yelling at Nancy, his face would never have a chance to heal.
“Sorry,” Eli mumbled. He couldn’t force himself to make contact with either of them. “I’m sorry I’m being an asshole.”
“Well, if you stop moping around and come out to the yard, maybe you’ll feel better.” Nancy pulled on Eli’s arm. “Come on sweetie. The sun will do wonders for you, and turn that attitude of yours upside down.”
Eli couldn’t help but laugh, and be dragged off the bed by his friend. “Okay, okay. I’ll go with you, Nance.” He let Nancy drag him down to the yard, and toward another friendly face.
“Hey, Pops,” Eli greeted and sat across from the old priest. “How about a round of cards?”
“Sounds great, if you have the cigs.”
Eli chuckled. “Don’t worry old man, I’m good for it.”
Pops looked to Roy and Nancy. “You boys want to join?”
“Sure, I think I got some cigs to spare,” Roy grumbled and sat down.
Nancy joined and kissed Eli on the cheek. “Now, whose ready to lose their nicotine?” Nancy rubbed his hands together. “Because I am in need of some spending money.”
Eli and the rest of the table laughed, and began to play a game of cards. Eli couldn’t help but smile among his friends. He survived a trip to the hole. He had some good friends. He was finding solace behind bars. Maybe the next nineteen years won’t be as bad after all.
Still, he needed to make sure his brother never saw the inside of these walls. Maybe discussing solitary would be the best scare tactic. Or maybe talk about Kellogg? Whatever he thought of, Eli needed to do it soon before his mother returned to yell at him some more.