Solitary

Father Robinson stabbed a nun to death with a box cutter, burying his bloody sin beneath an altar cloth where she lay bearing thirty-some incisions shaped into an inverted cross.

I saw him once. Peeked through a Plexiglas window and watched him stand still in a solitary confinement cell no bigger than a bathroom stall. It was a concrete box with a urinal and cot, everything washed over in drab grey aside from his charcoal priest’s robes. I couldn’t see his face, only the arch of his back as he stood bent over a Bible – all ribs and bright pink skin where his hair had gone missing in thick clumps. A live man decaying in a concrete coffin.

I’d gone to the jail with my Teen Issues class for a tour – a twisted field trip of sorts to curb the school’s rising dropout rate, and the place was all clicking locks and closed doors. The stench of sweat and feces. Men blinking back at my classmates and I with dead eyes like rabid animals.

Before solitary we’d visited the drunk tank. The women’s quarters and gym. The grim sixth floor where we’d perused past high-profile inmates who’d raped or murdered and would soon move on to maximum security prison.

A few of the inmates flashed their genitals at the crowd or crouched over clogged toilets where they shit and preserved leftover commissary in plastic bags.

“Keeps the food cold,” the guard noted unflinchingly.

Some shred newspaper with clenched fists that they scattered across the cell floor like Orangutans at the Zoo. Others moaned or cowered in dark corners to shout obscenities at our starting point-guard, a handsome boy who’d return for crack trafficking.

Something about the way these adult men had reverted to mock-childhood – making nests with bits of paper or crying out – made me want to rattle the ominous bars until they crumbled to dust in my hands. Made me want to show up in that bedroom and cover the barrel with the palm of my hand. Cover their eyes. Line them up on kitchen counter tops and funnel soap into their mouths.

Back in solitary I couldn’t conjure up pity and understanding. I couldn’t be anything but cold and dead just like Father Robinson’s devout corpse. I don’t know if it was the piercing howls. The half-hidden faces. The room in the corner that housed a stained mattress crisscrossed with restraints. Or if it was the shock of Father Robinson draped in holy robes after he’d chopped a nun to bits atop an altar.

But when I finally tore away from the Plexiglas, I decided hell isn’t washed over in red or flames. It’s grey. It’s a man trapped inside a box with nothing more than his rotting mind and a Bible, praying for death.

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