To read part one, click here
The hospital gate buzzed opened and Thade walked through. The day was colder than ever and this nervousness was taking its toll on his mind. What was he to expect? He had never been in this position before. He walked up to the big blue door for the Hospital’s entrance and it too buzzed. He pulled that door open and walked to the officer’s booth surrounded by glass. It was in the middle of the room and two officers stood on the opposite side facing west, another corridor and towards the specialty clinics. Thade pressed his I.D. card and pass against the glass. “Parole,” he said.
“Go to the bull pen and tell the officer,” the guard explained and Thade walked off.
The bull pen was massive with a television on the wall, three rows of seats from wall to wall, enough for at least fifty persons. Thade scanned the room as he walked by towards the officer standing at the other side of the bullpen. He noticed that John and Jeff were sitting on one of the benches. He gave his pass to the female officer sitting outside the gate which closed the bull pen. “Parole,” he said. The room was a bit warmer than outside.
It was now 11:00 A.M. and he saw the sea of possibilities and thought he was in for a wait. “Have a seat,” she told him. Thade turnned towards familiar faces. There were about thirty men sitting inside the bullpen. Some looked reflective, some bewildered and others looked angry. It seemed that the wait was taking its toll on the spirit of some of these men. Jeff walked up to him and started complaining about the wait. “Wow, you guys have not gone yet. You left so early,” Thade said.
“Well that was what I was about to tell you. This shit is crazy. We have been sitting here since we left the block and only two people were called so far. Remember they have the Box and those inside the infirmary upstairs to do. I’m wondering what time they will get to us,” he finished. Thade realized Jeff was quite rattled and he sat on one of the benches talking to John. He was mulling over some of the words Jeff had said and wondered why there was no one there to explain the process. For a first time appearance, should there not be some sort of protocol explaining the process?
He noticed as another female officer joined the existing officer at the door. She scanned the room quickly and uttered something to her colleague. Thade patted Jeff on the back and assured him that things would go well. He wondered for a minute how Jeff could become unraveled at this point his seventh board. He thought this might be the nerve test to see if this bullpen therapy would break him. He greeted the other men inside the room and realized that amongst them was one of his friends, Shakim.
Shakim worked in the same department as Thade, but in the print shop. They had had many discussions on the parole preparation package and Thade was accustomed to seeing him typing away on the computer preparing for this day. He sat quietly, closest to the television wearing a yellow shirt and matching tie, looking as militant as his lessons had taught him. Shakim stood up and greeted Thade with a hug, and the two men sat down to discuss the possibilities of the day. “What’s up man,” he asked Thade with a smile. “Are you ready for the main event?”
“For fourteen and a half years,” Thade answered.
“That’s the spirit,” Shakim assured him. The two sat down and began talking about the usual politics and events of the day. They wanted to be the parachute for each other, because staying focused on the purpose of sitting inside the bullpen was all that mattered now. They discussed the impending impeachment of the President of the United States, Donald Trump. They needed to use this as a necessary distraction while keeping in the back of their minds how this consciousness might shape the day’s events.
Thade and Shakim noticed as men filed in and out of the bathroom smoking and continued to show their agitation. Even though the sign read, “No Smoking. 106.10” these men were facing the weight of the day with whatever made them comfortable. Thade wondered if these types of undisciplined habits would surface during the hearings for these men. How was it they had come so far, yet could not just refrain from these destructive habits for a few hours? He slowly injected that habit inside the conversation with him and Shakim. Shakim told him to focus on what he needed to do. He reminded Thade of his happy place and the benefits of staying there. “As the universe allows all things/ this must be your foundation on which to stand. Obviously, these brothers cannot stand on your square, so recognizing all this, ask yourself the questions which will get you home and the answers will come. That is all that matters at this point.” The words of wisdom resonated positively with Thade. He was happy he had chosen to come and sit beside his friend. Thade noticed many of the men walked back and forth in the bullpen muttering to themselves. “Is everyone here for parole?” one of the female guards shouted. Everyone nodded their heads while some answered. “Well, we are on the count then, so please sit still and this will take only two minutes. Do I have everyone’s I.D. cards?”
“Yes!” the chorus went up. The men sat quietly for the first time while watching the guards’ fingers point at everyone sitting inside the bullpen. This ritual had become the time out so many of the participants needed to hear themselves. “Okay, we clear!” she said, and everyone went back doing what made them comfortable. Thade looked at his watch and noticed it was 11:35 A.M. and only two people had been called. This could not worry the occupants of the infirmary’s bullpen more to watch their fate in the hands of three strangers.
“Does anyone know who the commissioners are?”, one novice asked aloud.
“I heard it was Burze, Maguels and Ms. Bree,” one overzealous occupant shouted.
“Damn, them muthafucka, Burze had my hearing the last time,” one disgruntled prisoner said.
Thade had heard through his research that Burze was the Commissioner that nobody wanted to go before. He had been on the panel since the time of former Governor Pataki, hated lifers and was hard on prisoners who had disciplinary issues. This man drove fear into many prisoners’ hearts because he made them nervous and that usually spelt doom for the convict. Thade thought he would look to Shakim since he too had Burze before and was now facing his second board. “Wow, this guy seemed like a nightmare, how is he?”
“Well he is very strict. He asks questions to trip you up and you need to listen carefully to what he is saying to you. He is very intelligent and tries his best to get the truth. Really, Thade most of the guys have shit with them and he will see through that. He goes for the jugular and holds on. Try not to minimize your crime because he is on you for that. If he feels like you are minimizing your crime, he will destroy you. But you will be fine…”
“Shit, this guy sounds like a tornado…” Thade interrupted.
“Listen, what these guys fail to understand is that these people represent the victims and their families. That’s why you can’t take this thing personal,” Shakim finished.
“Yeah, well it is my first time and I hope he will not bite my head off for the first minute,” said Thade.
“Well he might not be your lead…”
“What...What do you mean,” asked Thade
“Well they rotate…” Shakim finished.
“From your lips to the ears of God,” said Thade.
“The math might be in your favor today.” The two men sat and watched as the other men continued to pace back and forth. Suddenly, the bullpen gate began closing and everyone continued to pace back and forth. Suddenly, the bullpen gate began closing and everyone diverted their gaze to the guard’s glass tower. The big blue doors opened and the sound of chains preceded a prisoner. The men looked as a stout black male walked through the door followed by two guards at his side. He was coming from the box and closing the gates to the bullpen was a matter of security protocol. The occupants of the bullpen watched as the young man was escorted on the opposite side of the gates towards the hallway where the hearing was being held. The young man looked in the bullpen for familiar faces and the occupants of the bullpen returned the favor. No one shouted and this ritual was almost over as he quickly disappeared from sight. Then the flood of opinions came. “They called for him, which means they are doing the box now.”
“Yeah, but he done messed up because he might be facing Burze from the Box. That’s an automatic hit for him.”
“Word, that might be lights out. Shiiitttt, Burze might just deuce him,” came another. Thade just listened carefully as the plethora of expert testimonies broke up the monotony of morbid conversations that preceded that prisoner. He also was reminiscent of the fact that this man was brought through the door in chains and shackles on his feet and hand cuffs on his hands. He turned around and started talking to his friend Shakim once more. The time was flying by and the wait was beginning to become unbearable for some.
It was now 1:30 P.M. and still no one went in since the last prisoner from the box had passed in shackles. The gate had opened up and the occupants of the bullpen were breaking up the tediousness by whatever means they felt fit. “On the chow '' one of the female guards shouted, while she pushed the food wagon inside the bullpen. “Can just one person just take up the duties and pass out the trays. There are oranges inside at the bottom and juices, so please be careful.” Thade watched as the men filed over towards the food, one at a time. It was ‘Chili con carne’ as was a fixture on the Tuesday menu. Thade watched from a distance as he did not have any appetite. For most of the occupants, he watched as they asked for exams. He waited until the crowd subsided and asked the volunteer porter for two oranges. His stomach was feeling queasy but at the risk of gas, he knew he had to eat something.
It was now 2:00 P.M. and the walkway was now closed. Thade realized how aggravated some of the men were now looking and pacing back and forth as the time was taking ahold of everyone. For all those who sat down, they had to stand up to prevent cramps. Everyone now was walking back and forth. The trays were packed up, pushed out the bullpen and disappeared along with many of the security details. The walkway was now closing but not before the lunchtime medication run of about forty men was rushed out the door. They had come in and saw these men sitting, gave them best wishes, took their medication and left. Now another part of the wait began. The men knew it was now shift change and whatever was to come it would involve more wait. For some reason even though the bullpen was warm it seemed cold to Thade and he began to wonder if his anxiety was getting the better of him. The television was on, so he excused himself from the conversation and began watching some of its content. It was the usual saturation of Trump, as if nothing else was going on in America. Thade wondered why, with cities such as Flint, Michigan and Newark having their water supplies poisoned, no one was speaking about this; not the press, not the Presidential hopefuls and certainly not Donald Trump.
“You know this whole impeachment and coverage of Donald Trump was the biggest distraction from what was going on in America today. Plus, never had there been such co-opting of the press by special interest groups; and private movies, since the Supreme Court decided corporations were people too, even though they don’t go to jail. This shit is a joke on the American people and a complete destruction of the vision of the Masons who built America, to take for this country away from monarchy,” Thade said to his friend.
“Man, tell me about it…”
“Could you imagine, if it were President Obama, they would have dragged him out of the office in chains? John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, were thorns in that man’s side, and now it's as if every one has amnesia. Barack Obama had to apologize for something his pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright said at church and Obama was not even present. And they still called him a Muslim. These jackals are not playing.”
“Calm down man, it’s a different type of science…” said Shakim trying to calm Thade down.
“Just keep your focus on this. They’ll never do anything on their own,” he assured his friend.
“Listen up, let me get Smalls, Smit, Clark and Johnson.” Everyone looked around to see if it was their name the guard called. The shift had changed and a fat dark skinned officer assumed the announcement. Finally, Jeff and John were called and another person who had come in after the count. All the men filed out to the next leg of their promise.
The chatter and the noise level began to rise again. All the other men in the room were nervous and agitated at the same time. They too wanted their moment before these strangers. They too wanted the opportunity to be home with their family. They too believed in some redemption or conversion of the human soul. Yet they were all sitting in the Infirmary bullpen awaiting the most defining moment of their lives. Luckily, Thade had Shakim there to keep that positive vibe going. The bathroom door was swinging open and closing to facilitate the smokers who were trying to remain calm. The time was flying and so was the words. The perfunctory sitting and waiting in the bullpen was now Thade's reality. As all the occupants of the bullpen noticed, it was closely approaching the 4’ o clock hour. The dinner chow was late and so were the commissioner’s call; at least for some. While Thade and Shakim talked, they noticed how agitated one of the Spanish brothers had become. Deep down who could blame him. Most of the men inside the bullpen had been there for more than six hours. That was the reality most of them were facing; six hours at least to know if a yes or no would be in their New Year plans. “On the count!”
Another count had subsided and the occupants were still sitting there. The wait was dreadful. Some of the men had run out of things to talk about; others had run out of cigarettes. What would some of them do when they had to listen to that voice inside their heads? This was just the beginning. The hours were passing and all day only four people out of the original thirty had been called. It was now 5:30 P.M. and the tediousness of the reminiscent bullpen therapy was eating away at the mental fabric of these once-prepared men. For the most part, all prisoners who took themselves seriously went to a little bit of parole preparation workshop. The dinner chow was now digested by some but Thade could not eat anything. The nervousness caused by the event was too much to keep down food. He asked Shakim all sorts of questions about how the process works. Shakim told him that after he gets called out the bullpen, he would have to go and sit on the bench outside the board and perhaps wait for another hour until actually being called in the room. “And that’s not the kicker, sometimes you would still end up not seeing anyone, and being told to come back tomorrow,” he finished.
“What?” said one eavasdopper. The reality of the wait seemed to overflow from his patience cup.
“This shit is crazy,” he lamented. “Yeah, these people have too much power.”
“Yeah, you could say that again,” came another disgruntled occupant. The cacophony of complaints began to rise and Thade imagined that there could be a small riot against the parole board. Suddenly the doors to the bullpen began to open and everyone was spellbound for two minutes. The fat dark skinned guard walked inside the bullpen and snatched everyone’s attention, especially the complaints. “Listen up, Listen up,” he bellowed. “Let me get Francis, Jackson, Hall, McFife, Diarra and Johnson.” Yes, Diarra, they finally called Shakim. He was about to meet with these people for the third times in six months. Amidst playing judiciary games with his ‘de novo.’ They were about to entertain his latest grasp for freedom as a first time felony offender and his second overall board. Thade got up and hugged him, while wishing him good luck. The two smiled and the other occupants held their breaths as these men walked out the Bull Pend to the next phase of potential freedom. “CO, when are they going to call everyone else?” came one question to the unsuspecting guard.
“Whenever, why you got a date?” said the guard. Who could blame him for such a shameful display of professionalism and empathy? After all, he did not know these men, their stories, their families, their struggles and was perhaps thinking, if all of them went home he would have to find another source of income. Why would he not respond in such a callous manner? The deflated convict sat down and looked at the time on the corner of the TV. CNN was on and they were still pushing impeachment. Thade was left sitting by himself so he had to stay focused because the usual distractions around him. “Relax; they have until 6:30 to call the rest of us. That is the time the last person could be called,” said one convict reassuring his comrade.
“Bro, they called six people and it is now 5:45, when are we going to get called?”
Every prisoner knew when a fed up person was about to do something drastic. Thade looked at this man and knew the hamster on the wheel in his head was slowing down.
“Fuck this shit I wanna go back!” He said slowly. Thade watched as this man rose to his feet and uttered the words as if he were looking for an army to march behind him. “I wanna go back,” he uttered louder this time. He started becoming belligerent and the shouts came rapidly and louder. The guards outside the bullpen talking by themselves had started to notice. “CO, my name is Lopez and I want to go back to my cube,” and he was now standing up and walking around. The mood was now a tense one, because the occupants of the bullpen were almost sure there would be an incident. One guard got up and came to the gates to talk to him. Thade thought to himself after waiting so many years, what was six more hours? “ Some people are not as ready as they lead themselves to believe. Thade watched as the guard and convict exchanged conversations for a few minutes. He tried to stay in his element but could not stop wondering how this guy could act like this. After all this was his moment to shine for the big prize.
A few minutes had passed since the guard spoke to the now impatient Lopez outside the bullpen. He stood up and said, “Who, me?” pointing to himself and talking to get attention. “For what?” he asked the Guard.
“You said you wanted to go back right?”
“Yeah?” he said timidly. Thade sat and watched in amazement as this guy was responding in a childlike manner. All of a sudden, he was acting like he did not know what the guard was talking about. “Here is your pass, you could go back now.” Lopez took his pass and exited the bull pen. At that point it seemed like a forced exodus was at hand. The guard started calling the occupants of the Bull Pen one by one to inform them they could leave. Thade sat quietly before the TV and tried not to engage the officer. Sadly, that would not be the day. The guard called him and asked his name. After Thade told him, he presented him with his pass and told him to come back tomorrow.
On the walk back, Thade realized how hungry he was. He was greeted at the door to the unit, by a thong of inquisitors who wanted to know what it was like. Thade was too exhausted to say anything. He told his friends that he was too tired to eat and talk and just wanted to rest a bit. After the nine o’clock count Thade closed his room door. “Six hours!” he exhaled and said. He fell asleep within minutes of closing his eyes.
To be continued...
Nascimento Blair is an aspiring writer and poet at heart. He has spent the last decade writing a collection of poems and romance novels giving his characters palpable glimmer. Nascimento has a Bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Sciences from Mercy College, N.Y and recently achieved a Master’s degree in Professional Studies at the New York Theological Seminary where he is also the former Vice President of the Alumni Association of the North Campus Chapter. He enjoys playing soccer, chess and cooking and spends his spare time with his wife and son.