My friend works medium security and says
Of his mad charges, “You can’t be angry.
They’re sick—shouldn’t be here.” To the near-sane,
he doles punishments when “Fuck you, screw”
is prelude to a shank—some soup spoon snatched
and ground against the whetstone of the bars,
a razor blade bound into a pencil’s
eraser tip, or merely the handle
of a toothbrush made sharp as murder-one.
And stranger things: back in stir after
his biopsy a man threatened to force
a pen through the hole and crush his liver
unless given Tylenol Three. He settled for
Extra Strength and the promise of a doctor:
“I was just joking,” he added meekly,
knowing threats of self-harm bring sanctions too—
days apart in an observation cell,
diaper-clad and deprived of any thing
imagination could turn into a noose.
Others would cut themselves or even rip
open the skin and muscle with their hands;
one inmate slashed deeper than his scrotum,
poured blood and half his entrails on the floor;
luckless, he missed the artery and lived.
Some lifers, almost done, can no longer mount
the stairs to the range or have left their
wits at the scene—time’s muddled fugitives
who could not pick themselves from a line–up.
Beyond correction, a man with one leg
weighs 500 pounds and may no longer lift
himself. Torpid, he pisses and shits among
the blankets, cannot wash or move,
cuffed to a history of offences,
manslaughter (released) and then child rape.
His heart and kidneys wind down—my friend,
tall as a linebacker, joins a staggering
scrimmage of guards and paramedics,
as they hoist the stretcher down stairwells
and across a lighted courtyard to the gate
where an ambulance waits to parole him.
From The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2012, by Richard Greene.