The Confines

The prison cell doors were slammed shut. My cellmate, the one eyed man, grunted in response, which was his usual reaction to everything. And I mean everything. Maybe that is why the wardens were so comfortable around him. As the housekeeping head of their quarters, he had the opportunity to listen to all kinds of news and gossip. But they felt safe discussing their dirtiest deeds while he was around, as he was famous for not uttering a word, whatever be the case.


How is the warden’s mood today “Grunt”? Did Trevor get the supplies? “Grunt” How did you lose your eye? “Grunt”. You get the picture.


Now, since I have been his roommate for more than 5 years, I have come to interpret his silence. Communication between us was similar to one observed between a couple who has been married for a long time. This was not easy. The silent one, as he was known, has a history of violence that could be traced back to the time when he had been a teenager. By the time he was in his early twenties, he had become the part of a mafia gang.


But the reason why he was my roommate was entirely different. He had hacked his unfaithful wife to death as a punishment. I can imagine him patiently waiting for concrete evidence of adultery, before confronting his wife with a sharp axe. That he must have done it painstakingly could not be argued, because he was a reasonable man. And a very methodical one. When the case came to trial, the facts were all too clear and against him. The Mafioso had shaken his head in regret and somehow arranged to get his death penalty reduced to a lifetime imprisonment, which meant parole in 20-25 years, based on the good conduct. He had already done 12 years and would be eligible in a few years.


You must be wondering how I know all these tid-bits, given the taciturn nature of my roommate. I had come across it accidentally, as I was one of the few men who completed college and was hence assigned the task of helping in shifting and classifying the files annually. Ricky had been alive at that time. Ricky, who had been hanged to death on a Thursday morning. However, I am yet to see a man who is more calm, polite and sensitive to the world around him. You would be surprised to find that in most cases, the mildest of men have been accused of heinous crimes. And have been found guilty.


Maybe, it has something to do with the criminal psychology. But I wonder, what is so criminal about our psychology? We live in a maximum-security prison, far from the city, and guarded by the most reputed and experienced jailers. The sign outside says “Special State penitentiary”, which translates into “All incurable cases inside”.


But all this is merely preventive. Keeping us away from the society is not stopping others from going against the law. Can anyone predict the little push that is often the only thing needed to turn a common law abiding citizen into a prospect for the “Special state Penitentiary”? Not really. So technically speaking, there should be someone guarding over every single one. But who will guard this “someone”?


Oh but first, allow me to introduce myself. I am Frank Bellows, popularly known as Frankie. I am part of this state institution, courtesy a deal that went bad. It happened in a gambling den when we found out the truth about the traitor. The turncoat and I whipped out our weapons at the same moment. I was quicker to find my mark and there it was; a dead body with a frozen expression of shock and anger on its pale face. Had he not been the son of a prestigious and vengeful father, I could have gotten away with a plea of self-defense. I was on a life sentence, watching my cellmate unfold his blanket and prepare for the night for the fifth year in a row.


Tomorrow is the visiting day. This should imply a night spent in anticipation, but the situation was far from a single emotion. A medley of thoughts and feelings ranging from the fear of rejection and defensiveness, to happiness and eagerness to see loved ones. These mixed feelings fight for dominance while a man is awake and then tangle like colored threads in his dreams. My colleagues and I can somehow hope to escape from the punishment given by the law. We are in confinement, but it is physical and ephemeral. Like our bodies. What about the look in the children’s eyes once they start understanding why they can see their fathers and favorite uncles only once in a month? And the wives who have to hide their identities or bow their heads to avoid eye contact with old acquaintances? You wish you could be there for your family when they face any financial or emotional handicap. But then, you have to live with the fact that you are responsible for their stigma. That stays with you, surrounds you, throughout. And that is the real confinement.


Nidhi Kulkarni