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Giant Spider

Sunlight hurries across the floor, as if it does not want to illuminate the place – yet time
stands still. Naked men with little else in common are ordered to stand, shower and sit down –
dripping. They are searched, de-loused, and sized up for jumpsuits, then sent off in pairs to the
cell block. Cameras, out of place in the hundreds year old prison, beetle from the high corners
and shoot from stone pillars at odd angles – peering, never blinking – closely following the
predictable pattern of fear.

Classification Pod – that is what they call it; lower dungeon, that’s what it is. The off-
lime walls, peeling and brittle in paint, but 3 feet thick in Concord, New Hampshire granite
encourage a stark silence while amplifying the broiling temperatures outside. You can feel the
mid July heat radiating from them as you walk by. The men march downcast – most guilty,
cornered and alone – into the open jaws of their cells; two by two, with occasional singles, and
slip out of time as they know it.

“Rumble, rumble, rumble – CLANK!” No one ever watches the doors slam home. The
sound is just as you would imagine it to be – its echo barreling down the block and coming right
back; muted, like grinding teeth... Hard, like stone. Wincing every time you hear it, you wonder
what other animals are caged here. You walk stiffly, aloof; as if hiding numerous injuries hoping
that no one can really size you up – yet they do, they have seen you before, and you are on their
mind.

____________________________________________________________

He is a skinny, lanky kid, with a freshly shaven head. The smell of fear trails him as he
hurries into cell 4B. He looks up at his new cellmate who is reclining on the top steel bunk
drawing on a thin sheet of cardboard propped up on his knees. Hardly moving, The older man
shoots him a grin without looking and says:
“Welcome home, kid.”
The boy turns away, seconds after the door is shut and assumes the classic inmate
position: Two hands clenching the bars on the door, about chest high; neck drooping while head
remains erect; a stern, young jaw meets tight lips and his roving eyes seem to bounce from floor
to ceiling and back again- looking desperately for a way out.
“Home…” he replies nervously, “Yeah, I guess that’s it.”
“Relax,” says the man, “It aint all bad, look over there,” he gestures to the thin slice of
window across the aisle:
“We got a busy road, cars always cruising by, sometimes even hear the songs from the
stereos, and,” he paused, “we got each other…” the kid’s back stiffens as the words spill across
his ears like glass fibers – He turns expecting to see a sex starved maniac slithering towards him
with …
“Ha, ha, be easy – I’m not like that.” Pleased with his joke, he continues, “But, a lotta
guys in here are. If you’re not careful, a young kid like you is gonna be someones dream come
true.”
The kid forces a grim smile, “I bet…”

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Turning back towards the window, his grin fades to almost a pant, as the reality ages his
fresh twenty-something face. A tear rolls silently to the corner of his right eye, but does not fall.
The cellmate shifts onto his left elbow, and lays his sketch board on the ragged woolen
blanket. He considers the youth for a moment before asking:

“What’re ya in for?”

“Possession with intent to distribute”

“What?”

“Pot, I bought a pound from a cop – totally stupid.” And then the promise which all
convicts make at some point in their lives when the consequences have proven themselves far
stronger than the thrill of risk:

“I’m never doing that stuff again” he resolves – flatly.

The other man smiles; looks absently into the vacant corridor of the cellblock. The
sunlight has faded to a milky grey, and strikes the green mop-painted floor in an ugly smear. He
is older than the kid, but only 8 years or so – they actually look a lot alike. Six feet and wiry,
both with dark hair and eyes – they might have been cousins. The kid is scared, the older man a
little more settled in surroundings which are really quite foreign to both of them.
David Forstner, the kid, is a nineteen year-old form Berwick, ME. He beat a similar rap a
year before and thought he was untouchable – until the Police decided to make him their prime
target – an otherwise good kid, with a lot of friends. He was easily lured into their trap, he
peddled small time dope and was able to afford some of the nicer things – fast car, slick
clothes…girls. Thought he had the world on a plate…until the bust: Pictures, headlines, family
shock…Of course, they offered him a deal…they told him if he would drop the names of three
other dealers they would drop it to possession, but somewhere along the line a cohort had given
David the ‘Law of Silence – Honor among thieves’, and he declined their offer – Choosing
instead to try his luck at the Concord State Penitentiary.
Mark Ouellette was thirty and a husband and father of four children by two women. He
had an unquenchable thirst for drink and knowingly threw caution to the wind, driving home
well past last call – hoping to slip by unnoticed. He was bagged for DWI after Habitual Offender
Status; a mandatory one year and one day sentence. Conveniently, this law eliminates the one-
third time off for good behavior by one day, and he was bound to serve all 366. Sitting there on
the top bunk, he bore the concern of family and wife on a pinched brow. But in the fading light,
with the kid somewhat slumped against the iron door and Mark above, focused on his sketch –
they were any two inmates, doling out patience minute by minute in exchange for the passage of
time.

“What’d you get?” Mark asks, turning to face David, for the first time…

“Two to four”, David says, looking up, over his shoulder even as his head droops an inch.
Their eyes lock briefly – challenging, yet desperate – each wanting, hoping that the other is a

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good guy, a straight shooter; an ally. Finding what measure of trust can be had in a glance, they
break off, knowing at least they are cellmates and will have each others back.

As the reality of time settles over the young man’s shoulders, Mark lets out a long sigh
that seems to encapsulate his own sentence. Time stretches out before them both, but they cannot
contain or really comprehend it. The hulking, looming bulk is all but invisible as the seconds,
stay seconds, minutes remain always minutes and hours stretch as infinite blocks until it is over,
somewhere far from here. The man turns back to his ink sketch of a lone eye, behind bars, with a
tear welling in one corner…

__________________________________________________

By design, Classification time is numbingly dull: 23 ¾ hours in lock down for three days
- meals in cell and Fifteen minutes a day to shower. Although it is a highlight of the givenday,
the needle sharp drilling of randomly intemperate water and gallon jug of industrial human
cleanser is a combination which leaves you numb across the back and tightens the skin all
around. There is a smell to that soap which resurfaces within the walls of government institutions
for the rest of your life: the DMV, Federal buildings and each and every courthouse; a disturbing
‘remember when’ that does not fade.

From Classification Pod, word gets out about whom you are, what you did, and just how
long you will be staying. Into the place few words get, at all – be they muted conversations
which slowly develop into acquaintanceships or the smashed and crackling intercom which
announces the movement of new inmates – conversation is silently encouraged to die.

The introductory isolation does serve an institutional purpose one…

hour of outside time in a thirty by thirty foot square, chain linked and razor wired “yard”
of asphalt. “Whose fault?” the dry line is passed around mercilessly. The new prisoners, many
having been forced to quit smoking in absentia, wander with a distinct air of aimlessness,
stealing glance over the wider prison yard without and at the far side – Inmate housing – where
hey will all eventually be placed. In every group is a return prisoner – parole violator or
recidivist – who knows the ins and outs. These types are always alert in the yard, eyes discretely
tilted skyward as if gauging the likelihood of rain.
And then they come; a barrage of homemade bombs whistle past and smack the ground
with a skidding plop, rolling between feet and over shoes, only to be scooped up and whisked
away as if they were no more than a raindrop. These discrete packages are usually wads of
tobacco, paper and matches flung from passing lines of inmates in the general population. The
lightning flick of the throw is as hard to observe as the snatch and stuff of the lucky receiver…
but beware, these balls belong to someone, and were sent – via air mail – to someone;
interference carries a stiff penalty: A dark complected Latino inmate squirrels one away thinking
no one saw.

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When his flailing body was thrown down three sets of wrought iron staircases the
following day, breaking his elbow and splitting the bridge of his nose wide open, no one saw
that, too.

After the three days, inmates are marched to meals, their first penetration into the prison
proper. Calls of “Fresh Meat!” issue from darkened slot windows as they walk the inner
courtyard to the chow hall. Each call is personal. The shape of the words bring images of the
decayed and institutionalized mouths that hurled them – dripping with hate and filth and
blackness. It is easy to imagine the snarling faces of hardened criminals as they gather, hunt and
eat ‘fresh meat’. Fear resides immovably behind your one other constant companion: hunger.
And you wonder if you will develop a taste for “Fresh Meat,” over time.

Two to four weeks here and everyone is sent to one of 4 destinations: Max, Medium,
MSU, or P.C.. A new inmate doesn’t even know what to hope for. Rumors of each pod trickle in
from hushed neighboring cell-mate chatter, and frightened requests by quailing inmates to stone
faced guards. Each place description emerges worse than the one last mentioned as the images
flaw the basic understanding everyone has of prison life – after all, the place must be humane,
right?

Anyone sentenced over two years will start their odyssey in either Medium or Max and
be slowly moved throughout the system. ‘Gladiator school’, is the inside term for these two pods.
And well named, within is found an endless fight for dignity, self respect and status from day
one. It is within these pods that the notorious ‘hardening’ process unfolds. Sharp steel shanks are
slowly manufactured and passed about, drugs are exchanged, and sex is taken. Everything is
hard, and cold and tense. Teeth get knocked out of straight clean jaws, muscles get ripped and
abnormally inflated from abusive, repetitious weightlifting and minds wither on a mixed diet of
daytime TV and fear. When a judge hands down a 2 year plus sentence, he knows exactly what
that means: The man will become a product of the system. ‘Institutionalized’, and he will not be
‘corrected’, unless he himself so chooses the path of change.

That path inevitably leads through MSU – Minimum Security Unit. Bizarre selections of
men are grouped in this place at any given time: Long sentences about to be served out side by
side with relatively petty offenders (1 year to three). You see criminals who might be labeled
‘Model Prisoner’ for the pride they take in pressing their dark green jumpsuits and keeping their
appearance neat and trim, men who have served five to ten and more years hesitantly
approaching the door of freedom. Many lose their nerve. On a typical weekend, someone will
smuggle contraband drugs or liquor into the Pod and a handful of foolishly drunken rowdies will
be carted back to the Dungeon to run through the whole process again. It is said that the
institutionalized man must return, and recidivism rates spike sharply among long sentence
servers. Something intoxicating about the idea of freedom, which has eluded their grasp for so
long, completely overwhelms them in the end and they will do anything to get back inside.
Strange.

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P.C. is where the queers go, usually voluntarily. Followed by weak, straight men and any
others after they’ve been raped – not that that makes them queer, it just shows weakness, an
inability to protect themselves. Protective custody does for them what they cannot do for
themselves. Yet with all the separation and security, more murders occur here than anywhere
else. This is the home of the “skinners”: child rapists, pedophiles chronic sexual deviants of
every cut and color. A special unanimous hatred seethes from the general population toward
these social misfits – it is always open season. Because even a criminal knows a friend, or family
member who has been molested, and revenge need only be accurate to the species.

Any man who does not slip into one of these four homes is considered anti-social and
there is a secret, final destination which fills each man who will not conform: “The Hole,” is a
final test, a forced discipline that only the hardest of men can endure. Once remanded the inmate
becomes the proud owner of absolutely nothing. No clothes, no books, no contact with others.
His constant companion is a three-inch ring of iron embedded in the concrete floor to which he
may be handcuffed if all measure of decent human behavior is abandoned: throwing feces, sperm
flinging, tossing urine and/or spitting. The last vestige of sanity is weighed in this constantly
illuminated space; and it is here that a man is compelled to determine who he is – after all, the
deepest scars have ever been self inflicted.

______________________________________________

“You’ll end up in MSU North”. Mark resumes, “It’s a country club, not even on the
prison grounds here. It’s in Laconia, twenty miles away. That’s were all first time drug offenders
land.”

“You think?” the kid perks up a bit, and turns away from the ‘view’.

His cellmate stretches and sits awkwardly upright – pinned between the low ceiling and
the top bunk. He slips to the hard floor with a practiced soft landing and steps over to the
commode. “Hey Kid, check this out”

Methodically, the man unrolls four feet of toilet tissue, tears it off and lays it over the seat
so that one end touches the water and the other lies on the floor. He repeats this act seven more
times and stands back, eying his creation with approval. He glances at the kid, who is now sitting
upright on the lower bunk, transfixed by the strange sight, and firmly presses the wall-mounted
flush button.

In a flurry of motion, all eight strips are whipped to the vertical and simultaneously
sucked into the powerful industrial john; leaving no trace. The man cracks a satisfied smile and
looks at the kid.

“What’sa matter, you never seen a giant spider before?”

The kid smirks, chokes back a laugh and then snorts uncontrollably as the absurdity hits
him at once. Careful not to laugh out loud he covers his mouth and nods for a few invisible

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minutes. Satisfied, the older man climbs artfully back into his rack and chuckles detachedly as
sleep slowly descends, erasing a small fragment of time...

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