04 December, 2015

Doing Time

I once bought a cheap Casio for a pouch of roll-your-own tobacco, from a guy transferring to another facility. I thought the watch would be handy for keeping track of my used phone minutes. Eventually, though, I sold it to another prisoner. I didn’t care for how conspicuous the black band looked against my arm, plus there was more utility in the eight postage stamps I made off the deal.

Steve wears a blue-faced Seiko, all shiny and silver and missing its hands. It’s a digital-analog with little LCD windows that accurately show the hour, minute, second, day and date, but Steve’s eyes aren’t what they used to be, and he refuses to carry his reading glasses with him outside of the cell. For him, then, it’s as though time only exists, officially, when he’s locked down — the very worst time to think about time.

Missouri prisoners used to be allowed to mail order wristwatches. What the canteens at every facility in the state now sell — overpriced, easily broken, transparent pieces of junk that gain and lose minutes willy-nilly, and the bands of which quickly yellow and crack — are the only timepieces available to us, outside of the anemic black market. Timekeeping falls to clock radios and guesstimation. Few things here happen on schedule anyway. The only consistent aspect of this place is its inconsistency.

“What is today?” asks Jerry. Just like he asked yesterday. Just like he asked the day before that. Just like he asked every one of the days I’ve known him. He’ll ask again tomorrow, in all probability.

In the hours between when he eats dinner and when his head crash-lands on the pillow, Billy at some point marks a blue X on his calendar, as crooked as he himself is, using a pen he stole from a caseworker’s office. His markings are so emphatic that every page turn reveals a crosshatching of them, pressed through to the blank grid of a new month. It’s like he thinks that the harder he presses the pen, the more days he’ll get through at once. But every time he pulls out a new piece of scratch paper to recalculate the remaining years of his sentence the answer’s always the same.

Crossroads’ only housing unit with clocks in the wings is the Hole. Where the clocks hang, above the wings’ doors, is visible only from about half of the cells. Periodic shouts go out for time checks, from prisoners confined to blind spots. The times shouted back are often wrong, but you can’t blame the guys reading the clocks. Maintenance never resets the clocks after Daylight Savings Time. Why should they, when they’d just have to set them again next year?

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