28 September, 2014

The Accident Report: A Playlet in One Act


BYRON, a prisoner
MS. R, a prison kitchen supervisor
MS. D, a prison kitchen’s office secretary
The scene is an office in a state of barely controlled chaos, cramped with faux-woodgrain fiberboard desks and cheap green swiveling chairs. A small plastic clock hangs on the cinder block wall, reading 3:42. BYRON, dressed in prison grays, sits facing it. He is flanked by the seated MS. R and MS. D, obese middle-aged state employees whose shared attitude is one of total apathy. MS. R, in a white shirt and blue uniform pants, is filling out a form.

MS. R. Okay, what’s your name?

BYRON (stares blankly). Um….

MS. R. I mean, I know your last name, obviously. What’s your first name?

BYRON. It’s Byron — B-Y-R-O-N.

MS. R. Okay, and (She searches over the form, then makes a mark.) you’re a male.

BYRON. Last time I checked.

MS. R (distractedly searches the form again). Oh, here we go: how long ago was this?

BYRON. What, since I checked?

MS. R. No! Since — I mean — ugh! When did you cut yourself?

BYRON. Oh, just a minute or two ago. (He looks at the clock.) Let’s say three forty.

MS. R. And where did the accident occur?

BYRON. In the CRD room.

MS. R (stops writing for a moment). How long has it been since you checked?

BYRON. That’s personal. I don’t think I should share that with you.

MS. R. Hmm. Okay, tell me what happened. For your statement. It needs to be in your own words.

BYRON. Let’s say, “I cut my right index finger on a staple —”

MS. D (swivels her chair in BYRONs direction). On a staple?

BYRON. “— while tearing open a bag.”

MS. D (incredulously). A staple.

BYRON. That’s enough for the form, right?

MS. R. Yeah.

BYRON. Because I’d be happy to embellish and make it sound less ridiculous.

MS. R (slides the form toward BYRON). Which hand do you write with?

BYRON. My right.

MS. R. Please don’t bleed on my pen. Sign right there.

BYRON (signs, then scrutinizes his signature with a scowl). That looks terrible. No one would ever believe that’s actually my signature. And now I have to go to medical — for this? (He brandishes the pinprick on his finger.)

MS. R. Mmm-hmm. Go find an officer to escort you up there.

BYRON stands and goes for the door.

MS. D (shakes her head). A staple.


04 September, 2014

The Unsolved Mystery of Room 309

The first came five years ago. With the early-morning circulation of everyone’s passes to see the nurse, doctor, lab technician, dentist, or caseworker there arrived in my door one pass indicating I was scheduled to report to room 309, in the programs hallway. I hadn’t signed up for any programs, nor did I have any inkling of what room 309 was. Passes, though, are nonnegotiable. At the appointed time, I went to the housing unit’s control module where a guard signed me out.

At the far end of the hallway where prisoners report for religious services, canteen pickup, haircuts, and the filing of grievances, room 309 turned out to be a dinky office, a small window in the door of which afforded a view of just a desk, two chairs, a filing cabinet, and a withering potted plant. A paper sign on the door read PSYCHIATRIST. I have never needed the psychiatric services of a prison shrink, it should be pointed out.

“I have this pass for room 309,” I told the guard working the hallway that day, but no one’s there.”

He evaluated my pass as though it was a foreign object. “Wait around a little while. I’m sure he’ll be back in a few minutes,” the guard said, manifestly disinterested in my confusion.

I waited, then waited some more. Eventually the guard, probably just wanting me out of his hallway, placed a call to the main psychiatrists’ offices, adjacent to the infirmary in another part of the building. As it happens, the psyciatrist who occupied room 309 had relocated his practice for the day, so the guard sent me in search of a different office, in a separate hallway. It was a sweltering summer afternoon and I was already irritable from the runaround I was being given. The brief walk outside, from one entrance to another, stoked my fire.

Following another period of waiting, this time in the much cooler lobby of the mental health department, I was seen by one of the prison psychiatrists, a big man at a big desk. My name, though, was not on his list of appointments, and neither of us knew why I was there. He apologized for the inconvenience, as if he had anything to do with it, and I thanked him for his time, as if I’d taken more than a few moments of it.

I returned to my cell and promptly put out of my thoughts the wild goose chase I’d just participated in.

Months and months passed. Then one morning I awoke to find another pass for room 309 in my door — for the same time as the last had been. Again I journeyed across the yard to the programs hallway. Again I walked to the last door on the right and found the office empty. Again I told the guard, “Hey, I have this pass....” Again I was told to wait. Again no one showed. I decided to take a calculated risk and skip the trek to other offices. No one reprimanded me for missing an appointment, so I made the right decision.

My next pass to room 309 came the following summer; my attitude was by then one of mild amusement — more Here we go again than Oh no, not again. I toyed with the idea of not even leaving for the appointment but figured that, with my luck, this would be the one time the mystery pass was legitimate, resulting in me getting a conduct violation for not reporting to my assigned location. It could happen. So I went.

The office had changed hands since the last time. It now belonged to the institution’s investigator — the house detective, so to speak. The switchover threw me, momentarily. A sense of foreboding grew as my mind raced to think of how I could have become embroiled in whatever matter she might have been looking into. But no, the investigator was as surprised at my appearance there as I was apprehensive about it.

With admirable professional thoroughness, she attempted then and there to track down why I kept receiving passes there, going so far as to photocopy my current one, call the prison’s control center, and promise me that a memo would be sent to the admin building regarding the ghost passes. I have no doubt that there’s now a copy of her memo in my institutional file.

None of her efforts had the slightest effect.

One year after the investigator’s valiant attempt to stop them, another pass showed up. I ignored it, filing it away beside the previous year’s pass, in a folder reserved for my institutional paperwork. I decided to start collecting them — always to room 309, always for the same date and time — as curios of a sort. This year’s phantom pass brought my collection up to three. I have a little fantasy of accumulating a bunch of them and taking them with me to the admin building on the day I’m released from this place (which, despite my sentence of life without parole, I believe will come). I’d like to present the paper bouquet to someone there — a sort of parting gift, a symbolic giving back of the time lost to this purgatory, a token bespeaking no hard feelings, a kiss-off, a sign that I haven’t lost my sense of humor. I doubt it would be appreciated.