CENTRAL STATE PENITENTIARY AT EMBLEM
Remember when I started calling you that?
I didn’t mean for it to catch on but it did. You didn’t mind until the Reynoso brothers started chanting ‘Convict-man’ instead. Then you got all kinds of pissed off because in Emblem-speak there’s no worse insult than saying a guy is going to wind up in an orange jumpsuit on the wrong side of the barbed wire.
Anyway, I set those kids straight and let them know they could expect some heavy bruising if they didn’t shut up. That’s what brothers do.
You know, sometimes when I’m out in the yard I see the high school kids filing past with one eye on what’s going on behind the fence and the other on the wide world that lives on their side. You know the type I’m talking about. The ones who are testing out their cool factor, flipping the bird, kicking up the dust, trying to hedge a dare that’s not worth a fucking thing because they are on the right side of the fence and they aren’t really risking anything.
They are what we were once. You remember. I know you do.
Back then, as soon as the last school bell rang we’d shoot the shit for a while behind Carson’s Garage in the hopes one of those guys had left a pack of cigarettes lying around for us to swipe. Then we’d roam through our kingdom of a shit town before drifting too close to the prison perimeter, teasing and taunting until the guards chased us into the canal.
Chase tells me you’re in school and I’m glad. School was always where you belonged. You only pretended otherwise because of me. Chase and his brothers did a good thing getting you out of town. Weird how we didn’t see our cousins for so many years and yet they didn’t hesitate to jump right in when life turned to crap. Deck too. I remember when we were kids we used to see him riding around town like a leather-clad hell raiser and we were proud that we shared a last name. He’s been here to visit a few times and I’m grateful. I know it’s only because of who he knows on the inside that I’m not getting my ass kicked all over the place. I guess there’s something to the bonds of blood after all. And hell, maybe someday we’ll find out if the rumors are true, that any or all of them might be more than first cousins. It wouldn’t surprise me. You know how Mom’s face always went blank and bloodless whenever someone dropped a hint that we weren’t Elijah’s sons? She would never deny it. She would never confirm it. She would never say a fucking thing.
Why the hell do I keep writing things like that as if you don’t know all the good, bad and ugly Gentry family history? You had a front row seat. You know everything I know, no more, no less. Maybe I keep writing it down more for me than for you. Maybe it’s too easy in here to forget that life happened, that it’s still happening.
Conway, all those times we strutted past this place, spitting into the wind, daring it to spit back, I don’t think we ever considered what it was like for the guys watching us from the yard. At least I know I never did. You might have. You were always the one who thought about people.
There are things we never could have known about being inside the cage though. In here you keep track of everything. And dude, I mean fucking everything from the number of tiles lining the floor of your cell to the number of steps from the mess hall to the rec yard to the number of minutes that have passed since your last meal. Time has a different meaning as it passes. It doesn’t take much to carve a landmark out of this wasteland of hours.
I know this morning when I woke up it was exactly the one hundred and twenty second time I opened my eyes inside these prison walls.
I know this the twenty eighth letter I’ve written to you.
I know that it’s been four months to the day since she died. The same amount of time has passed since you and I saw each other, since we even spoke.
I’m not sure which one of those things hurts the most. Don’t think I’m blaming you. Not at all. Or comparing my pain to yours. I’m not.
I only send these letters to Chase first because I wanted to make sure you were getting them. He says he always hand delivers every one and that you stopped tearing them up right away but he’s not sure you read them either. I hope you do, if it would help at all. It hurts thinking of you out there alone in the world. But I’m glad you’re living at Deck’s house up in the valley rather than in this wasteland. I guess by kicking you to the curb Mom did you a favor, although I’m sure that wasn’t her intention. She hasn’t been here to visit. At this point I don’t really want her to come anyway.
I miss you, Con. I miss life. I can’t even imagine what this has done to you. If you’ve read even a handful of the other twenty seven letters then you’ve already heard the truth and you know that nothing was as it seemed.