Eli climbed up the top of the stairs. His entire body ached from his work-study program as a mechanic. The hot shower did nothing for him. He wanted to craw into his bunk and not wake up for days.
Too bad other people had other ideas. “Not so fast, Ryder,” CO Pierson called out from the bottom of the stairs.
Eli groaned and turned, waiting unexpected. If the guard thought he’d get some respectful reply, he had another thing coming. Eli wasn’t in the mood for pleasantries.
“Warden wants to see you,” Pierson tossed his thumb behind his shoulder.
“Yes, now, inmate. Come on.”
Eli groaned and made his way back down the stairs and followed Pierson out to the main office building. He was directed right to the Warden’s office. Eli had been in the office a handful of times. He still hated it. It was worse than being in a principle’s office, and that had always sucked.
“CO you can leave us. I doubt Ryder’s going to do anything. Are you?”
Eli rolled his eyes. “Like I have the strength to.”
The Warden smiled slightly. “Well, maybe this will cheer you up.” Warden London slid over a file and Eli glanced at it, but didn’t lift it up.
“What is it?”
“Your parole board review.”
Eli did take the file. It had been over two months since Eli went up north to the court room with his lawyer to meet with the parole board. He had pretty much given up hope that his parole had been granted. Roy had tried to tell him it could take months, but Eli was sure he just wasn’t going to get it this time.
“Congratulations, Mr. Ryder,” Warden London said.
“I-I don’t understand.” Eli shook his head. There was no way he actually got paroled! “How?”
Warden London chuckled, and took out a file from his desk drawer. “See this,” he held it up. “This is your file. Most guys in here have a file folder a lot thicker and a lot heavier. Some even have multiple. Mr. Ryder, you are an exemplary prisoner here. You don’t get into too much trouble, you’ve done great work in your work-study program, and you got your GED in here.”
The Warden leaned over his desk and clasped his fingers. “It is my belief, and exactly what I told the board, that you have been rehabilitated. I have faith in you, Ryder.”
Eli couldn’t believe it. He kept shaking his head. His hands shook the paper. “So…when do I get out?”
“In about a week. Your PO, that’s parole officer, has set you up in a half-way house to help you transition back into society.”
“I…I can’t stay with my mom?”
“Afraid not. Not right now. As a condition of your parole, you need to transition in a more secure environment. Your PO will tell you everything you’ll need to know when you arrive there.”
Eli rubbed the back of his neck. So, he really wasn’t free and clear. At least he would be out of prison. He’d take what he could get, for now. “Um, thanks. Er, how am I getting there?”
“You can either take public transport, or find a ride. If I were you, I’d call up someone you trust and see if they could pick you up. The bus is expensive out here, and the only money you’ll have is what you have in commissary and what was in your wallet when you handed over your belongings before coming here.”
Fuck. Eli had probably ten bucks in commissary, and who the hell knows if he had any cash ten years ago. Shit. “Thanks, Warden.”
Two days passed and Roy and him were packing away his personal belongings inside the cell. “Did you make the call to yo momma?” Roy asked.
Eli shook his head.
“Well, you better go before the phones get shut off again.”
Eli headed to the phones and called his mother. She answered on the third ring, and once the Collect Service went through, she answered. “Elijah, I’m kind of busy.”
“Sorry. I need a ride on Thursday. I made parole.”
“Yeah? I’m getting out and I’d really appreciate if you could pick me up, Mom. I get out around nine, maybe ten.”
She sighed, “Sorry, Elijah. I really would like to, but I have work and Ryha needs to get to school. There’s no way I can drive up there. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry. I gotta go. Come by when you get home.” Click.
Elijah stared at the phone. Was she freaking serious? Eli slammed the phone down on the receiver. He took a deep breath. There had to be somebody that could pick him up? His sister, Bethany couldn’t, she lived across the world in Windenburg. Maybe Aaron?
Eli dialed Aaron’s number, and when it didn’t go through, Eli slammed the phone again. Okay, okay, calm down. Eli shook his head and dialed another number. Anthony.
After the Collect Service went through, this time Anthony answered. “Eli! Bro, what is up?”
“I made parole.”
Eli chuckled. “Yup, can’t believe it myself. Hey, I know it’s like three hours and all, but is there any way you could pick me up on Thursday and get me to this place in West Myshuno? I wouldn’t be asking, but you’re like my last hope, brother.”
“You’re in luck. Shit, you are really in luck. I’m in San Myshuno all week.”
“Yeah. I got some training I have to do here in Uptown. I can pick you up. Just tell me when and where you need to go, bro.”
“Reed Project House,” Eli answered, remembering what he read on the forms he’d been slowly filling out for the Warden. “It’s the half-way house or something? I dunno. I’m just supposed to check in there by six.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know the place. I’ll pick you up and get you there. What time?”
Eli shrugged, though he knew his brother couldn’t see. “Nine or ten, I think? I don’t know. It’s prison. It ain’t exact science on when I’ll get out.”
“You’d be surprised,” Anthony laughed. “But I get it. I’ll be there.”
Saying goodbye was hard. Roy kept slapping him on the back, and trying to give him encouraging words of wisdom. It was hard. Roy was one of those guys that Eli really looked up to—just like Pops. Though, he wasn’t going to think about that loss.
Nancy couldn’t stop crying and hugging him. He kept telling Eli how much he was going to miss his friend. Nancy didn’t want Eli to leave. Roy kept reminding Nance that this “was a good thing, and that Eli needs to get out there and live his life.”
Kellogg gave him an awkward handshake. Out of the six times Eli had been in the Hole, four of those times were because of Kellogg. “You take care of Nancy,” Eli told Kellogg. “And stay out of trouble, will ya?”
“You do the same. If you come back, I’ll rearrange yo face.”
Kellogg’s threat made Eli shiver. He was pretty sure Kellogg would, in fact, rearrange his face if he broke parole.
It was time. The door opened and CO Turner stood there. With one last hug to Nancy and a more of a manly bro hug to Roy, he was out of the cell block carrying a bag of his stuff.
Eli checked out of the prison and was given his personal belongings. With a box and a bag of stuff, and with a quick change into an old shirt and a pair of old shorts from his belongings, he walked out of prison.
Anthony stood against a nice truck with a wide grin and his arms crossed. “You ready to get out of this joint?”
“Fuck yes,” Eli put his stuff in the back of the truck and got in. His brother pulled out and kept glancing over to Eli. “What?”
Eli rolled down the window and put his hand out. He was out. He was free—well, mostly free.
“Want some breakfast? We still have an hour drive. I figured we can stop at some little dinner and then head over to the Reed Project House.”
Eli nodded. “Food sounds great right now.”
Once at the small little restaurant that Anthony pulled into, and were seated, Eli ordered an All-SimNational breakfast and a large coffee. He couldn’t be happier sitting across his little brother.
Eli and Anthony talked over breakfast. “So, what kind of training you doing?”
“Just some annual training I have to take care of. You know, it’s a pretty hard job taking care of convicts.”
Eli snorted. “Yeah, just bash us in the head and pull out your service pistol. Real hard.”
Anthony flipped him off. “Asshole. That’s not what we do.”
“Uh-huh,” Eli teased. He would always tease his brother. He was proud of him, but he would tease him nonetheless. “How is it in Oasis Fed anyway? I hear those guys there are ten-times worse than SM State.”
Anthony shrugged. “It’s about the same actually. From what Danny says, and what I know, it’s pretty much the same.”
Eli snickered. “His name is Danny? Priceless.”
Eli couldn’t be happier in this moment. He was free. He had a pretty amazing meal down his belly for once, and his brother and him were cracking jokes like old times. Yeah, Eli figured he was going to enjoy being a free man.
It was another hour before they pulled up in front of a row of apartment buildings. Anthony pointed to the most disheveled of the bunch. “It’s that one there, I believe. Good luck. Keep in touch. And for the love of God, don’t fuck this up, Eli.”
“I plan not to fuck anything else up with my life. Thanks Tony.”
Eli went to get out, and Anthony stopped him. “Wait. Um, do you have any cash?”
Eli shrugged. “Ten bucks.”
Anthony pulled out his wallet and took a handful of bills out. “My girl would freak if she knew I was giving you this. Here. Buy yourself some clothes and get some food. This should keep you covered for a couple of weeks or more, depending on how you spend it.”
“Tony,” he held up his hand. “No man. You earned that.”
“And you need it. Trust me. You can pay me back by staying out of prison. Okay?”
Eli took the money, hating himself. “Thanks.”
“Enjoy life, inmate.”
Eli flipped him off and headed out of the truck. With a chuckle, he added, “Bite me, jerk.”