Stubby is your typical white prison inmate. Tall with black knock-off designer glasses, middle aged, slightly out of shape. He’s a comic book lover, an artist, and about as memorable as someone you pass by on the street. Or the insect you stepped on when you walked out the door this morning. Nondescript. Overlooked.

I was headed for the dorm, almost reached the door, when my eyes glossed over the man hunched down against the wall. Something immediately registered as being wrong-not 9-1-1 on speed dial wrong, but wrong enough to make me not want to be a part of it. Prison is not the place to be the hero. He sighed as I approached. A cry for my attention. Just short of a moan. Not quite a sob, but close. His eyes met mine, I kept walking. My pace increased. There’s nothing you can do, I thought. I wasn’t quick enough. “They’re after me,” said Stubby. “They’re after me, and I don’t know what to do.”

What could I do? Did I even want to get involved?

“They” suddenly appeared and turned out to be two yaps. Young ass punks. The leader had himself a long, sharpened section of fence wire with a taped handle for grip. He meant business. No one walked around carrying something vicious like that unless they had every intention to use it.

The leader took one look at Stubby and saw what I saw: victim. He asked him what his name was? Anxiety rolled off of Stubby like heat from the pavement on a hot day. For a long moment, it appeared as if he wasn’t going to answer. Perhaps it was the tightness in his throat, the rapid thump-thump-thud pulsing in his mind. Or maybe the numb exhaustion he’d felt for so long had finally won him over, and his silence was to be his final act of defiance. He stood, then stared down both men. The leader, a dirty, dreadlock wearing piece of work stepped closer. The other man had the hollow face and hostile eyes of someone who enjoyed stepping on kittens and shoving down elderly women.

The kind of man who found a sense of self-worth watching house fires, car accidents, and small children drop their ice cream cones. He glared my way. Stubby told them his name.

The leader shook his dreadlocks, gripped his shank tighter, his eyes scoped out the scene. One witness. Me. The door might as well had been located outside the prison fence. I was a part of it now.

“You ratted out my cousin, bitch.”

“Stick him,” said the kitten stomper. “Poke his child molesting ass full of holes.”

Stubby was thrown back against the hard brick wall. Tears flooded his eyes. He began to shake uncontrollably. Dreadlocks jammed the point of the shank into the soft flesh right behind Stubby’s ear.

“You want some too?” asked the kitten stomper, glaring my way.

Dreadlock’s hair shook angrily as he pressed the point harder and whispered. Stubby quivered and gritted his teeth.

“Please tell me you want some too.”

The fist gripping the weapon struck. Stubby groaned as blood flew and rained down onto the sidewalk. He looked up at me, his mouth was smashed and glistened red from a crooked nose and split lips. I was momentarily relieved to note that Dreadlocks hadn’t stabbed him, but I had problems of my own. The kitten stomper wanted to flex.

“I asked you a question.”

“I don’t have any problems with you,” I said. “I was just heading in.”

“Not anymore.”

I balled my fists at my side. Ready if I had to be.

Stubby hissed and coughed as Dreadlocks pounded him in the head several more times, sharp, vicious strikes that swelled the man’s eyes and knotted his forehead.

“You fucking rat!”

“Kill that cho-mo!” said the kitten stomper. “Murder his child molesting ass.”

There was a sickening build up to the situation, like a sudden gust of wind that shakes the limbs of a tree just before a tornado bears down destroying everything. I had to act. I had to do something.

Dreadlocks caught Stubby by the throat with his free hand and drew back his shank.

“You can’t just stab him,” I said. “You’ll have to kill him to keep him quiet.”

“What did you say?” The kitten stomper poked his finger at me.

“He’s a rat. He’ll tell on both of you.”

Dreadlocks faltered, then looked at his accomplice.

“Man, just stick his punk ass and get it over with!”

“He’s obviously told before. You can’t let him tell. Can you?”

“This child molester got my cousin thirty years,” said Dreadlocks.

The kitten stomper pushed up on his friend, and said, “Do something.”

“It’s not worth it.” I turned away, just in case he decided it was.

Dreadlocks must have thought about what I’d said. “My cousin had a family. He didn’t deserve to have your sick fuck ass tell on him!” he growled.

“Neither do you,” I said. “This can only get you more time.”

Dreadlocks spat. I didn’t have to see it to know that it’d been in Stubby’s face.

“Listen here, cho-mo. You say one word. One. And God himself won’t be able to save you next time.”

I prayed that there wouldn’t be a next time.

“You’re lucky, bitch,” said the kitten stomper. “I would’ve smoked your diaper loving punk ass, snitch.”

Stubby hissed and coughed as Dreadlocks pounded him in the head several more times, sharp, vicious strikes that swelled the man’s eyes and knotted his forehead.

“You fucking rat!”

“Kill that cho-mo!” said the kitten stomper. “Murder his child molesting ass.”

There was a sickening build up to the situation, like a sudden gust of wind that shakes the limbs of a tree just before a tornado bears down destroying everything. I had to act. I had to do something.

Dreadlocks caught Stubby by the throat with his free hand and drew back his shank.

“You can’t just stab him,” I said. “You’ll have to kill him to keep him quiet.”

“What did you say?” The kitten stomper poked his finger at me.

“He’s a rat. He’ll tell on both of you.”

Dreadlocks faltered, then looked at his accomplice.

“Man, just stick his punk ass and get it over with!”

“He’s obviously told before. You can’t let him tell. Can you?”

“This child molester got my cousin thirty years,” said Dreadlocks.

The kitten stomper pushed up on his friend, and said, “Do something.”

“It’s not worth it.” I turned away, just in case he decided it was.

Dreadlocks must have thought about what I’d said. “My cousin had a family. He didn’t deserve to have your sick fuck ass tell on him!” he growled.

“Neither do you,” I said. “This can only get you more time.”

Dreadlocks spat. I didn’t have to see it to know that it’d been in Stubby’s face.

“Listen here, cho-mo. You say one word. One. And God himself won’t be able to save you next time.”

I prayed that there wouldn’t be a next time.

“You’re lucky, bitch,” said the kitten stomper. “I would’ve smoked your diaper loving punk ass, snitch.”

I watched the two yaps depart as suddenly as they’d appeared. Good riddance.

Stubby slid down the wall and shuddered. Blood trailed down his face and snot bubbled as he sobbed loudly. I breathed, exhaled. Breathed, exhaled. Was I relieved? Why did I feel such pity for the man’s situation? At some point I’d moved over to help him stand, and led him into the dorm, my eyes searched for officers. It was clear.

Inmates stood around gawking as we passed, some smirked and tittered; happy to see a cho-mo get exactly what they believed he deserved. Other people ignored us completely. Plausible deniability. Most though, wore blank faces. An utter lack of emotion, empathy, or even sympathy. Numb.

I led Stubby to his bed area. “Do you have a ball cap and sunglasses?” I asked as I helped him clean himself up. It wouldn’t do to catch any unwanted attention.

Stubby accepted my help wordlessly, and donned the disguise. For the most part, the worst of it was covered. Only Stubby could know what emotional scars there were.

I then led him away from prying eyes. I was a part of it now. In prison there are no innocent bystanders. We made our way outside, and headed for the ball field. It was a beautiful day outside. Sunny and warm. Perfect for shades and a ball cap. We took a seat on the bleachers. Inmates jogged by, played catch, passed soccer balls. An older black man sat beside the chapel with his young white boy, his hand was buried down the back of the young man’s pants as they kissed. We saw, but didn’t see anything.

Stubby leaned back and stared at the sky. I examined my hands, used our silence for the buffer he’d need in order to find the words to free himself.

“It was all true. All of it. But you weren’t there. You don’t know what I-”

I stopped him. This wasn’t about me. “I’m listening,” was all that I said.

“His cousin was with me in the county jail. He and a bunch of his buddies had the bright idea to play a game. Twenty questions. They wanted to know what everybody’s charges were. They found themselves a sex offender. They beat the guy. Humiliated him. Made him give head to some four hundred pound dude who called himself Smurfette,” said Stubby.

“That wasn’t even the worst part.”

“What was the worst part?”

“Listening…Having to hear what they did to him.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Once Smurfette finished up, everybody sort of fell back. You know, to see what the guy would do. Meal times came and went, count, and then night closed in. Lights out.

“There were so many… Smurfette must’ve felt bad about what he did or was scared or something. He didn’t do anything else. But the others…

They took turns. All night long. People kept saying things like, ‘Me too, me too, and time’s up.’ It was terrible. That poor guy cried and wailed,” he said. “They shoved old T-shirts in his mouth. Told him to bite the pillow. Warned him he’d better not think of biting them. That’s not including the rough stuff. Kicks and punches. Smacks and…I don’t know where the mop came from. They…They broke the handle off while they were beating the guy…Then they…”

“It’s okay. It’s okay,” I said. Only it wasn’t.

“It lasted all night. I stayed up, hidden under my cover, scared that they’d find out about me. About what I did. I pissed myself. Then morning came, and the gossip found its way around. They’d lodged the broken mop handle up inside the guy. Smurfette made sure that he had a breakfast tray, and fed the guy because he couldn’t do anything much but moan.

The pod boss let it be known that he wasn’t going down for what the others did. Lunch came. Dinner. The sun started to set… Time was up. I couldn’t let them get me too. I just couldn’t.”

He’d ratted them out when everyone was asleep.”  Stubby broke down. I let him cry on my shoulder.

“You understand, don’t you? You get why I had to do it?”

“It’s over now,” I said, my hand on the man’s shoulder a small reassurance.

People passed by, either staring disapprovingly or not giving a damn. It was easy to
see that something was off. Most folks don’t want to make another’s problems their own.

Derek R. Trumbo SR
#201410 Dorm-4
Northpoint Training Center
PO Box 479
Burgin, KY 40310