23 August, 2017

Pain Rains from the Sky, Come Summertime

I've seen the injuries, from bruises the size and color of plums, to lips cleaved bloodily open, so I know what a dangerous place the prison yard can he. Fortunately, it's only for a few months each year, then softball season's over.

A track, handball courts, a big paved walkway, basketball courts — everything on Crossroads' two yards encircles the softball field occupying each side of the facility. This means that pop flies, when the softball gets hit at an odd point and launches up instead of out, can hurt people in any direction. Everyone freezes when one's sent flying, their eyes frantically scanning the sky for that day-glo yellow orb of pain hurtling along in an errant arc. It's usually older prisoners who get beaned, unable to hear the players shouting "Heads up!" again and again. Someone seems to get hit every game, yet the administration hasn't banned the bats, balls, and gloves.

Softball for some, dodgeball for the rest of us. And because of players' work schedules, games mainly take place in the evening, during the otherwise enjoyable three-month "night yard" period when the powers that be deem daylight sufficiently long for Crossroads' population to spend one hour of our evening recreation outdoors. I look forward to night yard not because I delight in summer temperatures or want to OD on vitamin D, but because it's my only way to get any rec on worknights.

The way that movement is controlled (a hallmark of maximum security is its limitation of prisoners' ability to go from here to there), after being released from the staff dining room, I usually return to my wing and stay there. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, however, I can wait around in my cell for about twenty minutes before there's a loudspeaker announcement of "Rec!" and brief hysteria to get out the wing door. Then I'm out and free to my thing.

The air is Missouri-muggy, the beating sunlight is only slightly refracted through the atmosphere, and the yard is kicking up the heat that its concrete spent all day absorbing. None of these conditions speak to me, but rec is rec. I like walking laps, stopping to do two or three sets of bodyweight exercises every time I pass the south picnic tables. My friend Zach often tags along, for conversation. We circle until my muscles give out or the yard closes, whichever comes first. Either way, four eyes are better than two, and Zach's presence also protects me, in vulnerable positions such as handstands, from catching a rogue softball in the face.

So there's a good-with-the-bad component to my evening rec, just as there is with everything else. Pro: I get some physical exercise and stimulating verbal exchange. Con: my nerves become frayed, tuning one ear for so long to that frequency voices reach when potential bloodshed is imminent.

Nowhere on the yard is safe, but I'm only too happy to trade a modicum of freedom for a proportionate risk. Hot, jumpy evenings of fun, here I come!

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Lacking computer access of any kind, Byron cannot respond to your comments but is relayed them and appreciates your kind remarks.