Maurice Swindler lays flat of his back with his body stretched across the top bunk, cramped in the small quarters of his prison cell as he counts the days until his release. He’d probably have more room in the small living quarters, but he’s sharing his space with two other inmates. Something he hated, but had very little choice about.
A side from being considered border line schizophrenic, he reflects about how good his life has been even before his conviction. At least, now, he thinks his life is good and he regrets the many times he allowed himself to become absorbed with the idea that the hand life had dealt him was bad.
He doesn’t realize that the bad hand he thinks he’s been dealt could’ve ultimately been a lot worse. In a quick second, though, he rationalizes, in life, there are no guarantees and life itself can change for the better or, in his case, for the worse.
He’s often struck by the thoughts of the times when he inflicted verbal and physical abuse upon his beloved wife, who was the mother of his three beautiful children. His own mother had always said their arguing will one day be the death of him or her. ‘Maurice, you and Carol better come to some common ground, because all that arguing and fighting will one day be the death of one of you,’ his mother had once said. He just never considered that it would be much sooner than later.
Maurice didn’t need a particular reason for striking his beautiful and attractive wife, especially when he thought she was talking back to him or acting moody, as he sometimes called it. Only if the children were present, he’d use restraint for not striking her on the spot. Unless, of course, it was one of those nights when she simply didn’t have time to put the children to bed before he arrived home from work or she hadn’t prepared his food just the way he liked it. Usually, she’d get one slap to the face, and usually that was all it took to get her to see things his way. Usually.
Twyla, his oldest daughter, was the only person old enough to understand what was going on, in spite of her unconsciously always taking her mother’s side. She was convinced that her father hated her mother. For what reason would he have to beat on someone he loved, his very own wife, a woman she saw as the sweetest and kindest person anyone could ever have as a parent. To her, her mother’s devotion toward her father seemed genuine, but for some reason her father didn’t appreciate it—he took her mother’s love and kindness for granted, she thought.
Twyla had to endure everything she heard and saw; while the two younger children, Ernesia and Errol, were primarily shielded from what was going on, as most of the beatings always happened in private, behind closed doors. The younger siblings would see their mother’s arm in a sling, but weren’t old enough to ask questions, ask questions and be heard, anyway. Many times, though, they’d notice their mother limping around the house but, in the mind of children, it was never something they worried about.
As of today, though, Maurice is reliving those times like they’d just happened the day before, and not twenty years earlier. People told him constantly that he should consider himself lucky to have gotten the sentencing that he’d received, which was twenty years with the possibility of parole. Some considered the twenty year sentence to be light. And yet, others considered it fair. He didn’t, though, because it was going to separate him from his children—the children he loved more than they’d ever realize. On the day of his sentencing, when he was escorted out of the courtroom, he came to the realization that he wouldn’t get to see Ernesia grow into the strong-willed young woman that she was destined to become and, surely, he wouldn’t be there to have that father and son talk with his youngest, Errol, when he revealed that he was experiencing his first girl crush. And for the first time today, he realizes that he’s missed all those things for a father and child that really mattered. Though he regretted it, he still feels that he made the right decision. He feels that every day that he spent in prison had been done for his family, whether they appreciated it or not. At this moment, he realizes that he’s spent far more time than he cared to thinking about this entire situation and he only does because he knows the truth, and the real reason that he’s done this twenty year bid without complaining. In his heart, he knows full well that everything that is done has happened for a reason and there’s nothing twisted about his sacrifice. He loves his family. He loves his children. He loved their mother, despite the circumstances. And one day, he’s sure they’d understand everything in perfect harmony.
Here he is now fifty-nine years old without one speck of gray on his head. He has no reason to be stressed, which is mostly the reason that people gray early. The answer is obvious, though, he doesn’t stress—he gets up when he’s told, he exercises when he’s allowed, and he even goes to bed like the model soldier. He abide by the rules because he never want to cause any trouble and made the commitment to himself that nothing is going to come between him and his freedom.
Most importantly, although handsome and well buffed, throughout Maurice’s twenty year sentence, he manages to maintain his masculinity. In prison, sometimes maintaining that can be difficult, but he is determined and treats each day like an addiction. Instead of being complicated, he makes life relatively simple for himself, and that’s by taking each day as it comes, opposed to taking things years at a time. Whenever he conquers one day, he prays to God, thanking him then prepares for the next day, hoping that it too will come and go without incident. The truth is, though, that maybe his life isn’t all that great being incarcerated, but it’s his life, and nothing or no one is going to interfere with his philosophy of how he deals with the fact of being behind bars.
Many of the sissy inmates try effortlessly to entice him to come over to the other side. He remains committed to his own rules of not conforming to the prison mentality that dudes sleep with dudes because the male rectum is the closest thing to a female vagina. Sometimes he laughs at the analogy of some of the guys talking among themselves on the pod.
“Man, Juju Bean, made a Nigga wanna scream last night,” he heard one inmate say.
“Naw, you ain’t felt nothing as good and as tight as Miss Thang over there. I hadn’t had a woman in so long, I couldn’t tell the difference,” another inmate says, pointing at one of the sissy guys sitting in the corner with another male inmate that’s also suspected of sleeping with dudes.
Maurice knows there is no comparison because he remembers all too well what a female’s vagina feels like, and a man’s rectum isn’t even close to being similar. A side from knowing that, though, he already knows that sleeping with another dude isn’t an option—for him, at least. He would never consider it—even if it meant masturbating every night, something that he did quite often. He’d do anything to maintain his focus and to not result to fudging the sissy inmates between the nightly guard checks.
He isn’t as excited as he thinks he should be about being released back into society. He realizes how much he’s lost, and it isn’t just the time he’s missed with his family. He knows that he’s lost oh-so-much more. More than one can ever imagine. More than he will ever be able to get back. He thinks often, though, about missing his children graduating from high school, college, and not being there to walk his youngest daughter down the aisle or see his son go off into the military. Where would he start in the process of rebuilding his family? He didn’t know when he asked himself the question ten years ago. He didn’t know when he asked himself the question fifteen years ago, and here, twenty years later, he still doesn’t have an answer for the most difficult question of his life, where would he start in the rebuilding process? He knows it’s going to be difficult, and he often compares repairing his family’s relationship to remodeling a house—so much is broken that you don’t know where to begin. Should he start with his oldest, Twyla, and then let her deal with her younger siblings, he feels she possessed more influence with them than he did?
He thinks about maybe he should start with his daughter, Ernesia, because she sometimes has even more influence over Errol than Twyla does. He knows he stands a small chance with her because she’s always been torn between her love for him and her love for her mother?
His son, Errol, though, is going to be his most difficult challenge, and he realizes that it might work best if he actively dealt with his son’s anger head on. He’s aware that his son hates him with a passion, despite how good of a job his daughter has done rearing him. He understands his position, though, and knows all of Errol’s anger has everything to do with his son’s love for his mother because when a child, especially a son loses his mother at such a young age it can come with a lot of consequences. His son, Errol was proof of all those consequences, the bitterness, and hatred that one can acquire as evidence of a young boy losing his mother.
Every now and then, during those few times Maurice and Errol would speak by phone, when his son didn’t outright hang up in his face. Back then, his son didn’t seem anything like the little boy he’d left behind, his voice is now deeper and he’s more cold- blooded than he can ever remember—he showed him absolutely no compassion, gentleness, or sensitivity towards him.
It’s no secret that Errol is committed to making him pay for his one and only mistake. Maurice never considered his actions as a simple mistake, though, and if he were to rationalize this situation, he’d say it was an honest mistake, because honest mistakes, on the other hand, were simply that—anybody was capable of making them.
Maurice knows that he isn’t the same person that walked into the prison system twenty years prior. He’s changed in more ways than he cares to admit, though. Well, he’s changed in ways that will actually matter to people, anyway. Just the thought of how people expected him to be or how his children will treat him is something that he just can’t seem to shake. It makes him nervous. Will they still call him Dad or, better yet, would they simply call him Maurice? He hasn’t bonded with any of his grandchildren—he can barely remember their names. Bridgett and Oscar keep dancing around in his head. He knows those names don’t even sound close to being correct. He really had to learn their names before he was released, he realizes.
“Swindler, your counselor wants to see you,” the Prison guard says as she unlocks the cell door to let him out. The prison is on lock down because of a violent outburst that had happened earlier in the day.
Maurice jumps from his top bunk and slips into his plastic shower shoes and follows the guard down the corridor to what the prisoners have become to know as the counselor’s den. It’s a row of offices that house nothing but prison counselors—ten to be exact. His counselor’s name is McKenzie Dorchester.
McKenzie is a dark complexion woman that stands approximately 5’8” in height, and has a strong reputation of having no concern whatsoever about her inmates, but the truth be told, it’s not that she’s not concerned, she’s just glad when she reaches the point of her inmate’s final counseling session, which means, of course, that her report recommending them for early release has been approved. In her mind, the sooner they get paroled, the smaller her caseload becomes.
She often jokes with her colleagues that she doesn’t honestly care nor does she give a damn whether the inmates are rehabilitated or not, since they aren’t moving into her neighborhood. So, to tell hell with them, she often rationalizes, not realizing that her statements has the tendency to offend some of the counselors, who are actually passionate about seeing the inmates become successful and model citizens once they are released back into society. She’d write on the inmate’s folder in big and bold letters, final session, partly because a final counseling session is an indication that she’s close to getting rid of one of her few aggravations and partly because the time to get Maurice out of her hair can’t come soon enough. Ms. Dorchester, can I have this and can I have that, ran through her mind as Maurice sits in front of her. She considered him to be a constant thorn in her side and to put it frankly; he was one of the few severe pains in her ass.
The same prison guard that had escorted Maurice down to see Counselor Dorchester is standing outside the door observing as he sits in the chair that’s turned backwards. It isn’t turned in that direction by mistake, it just so happens to be a prison rule to have the inmates sit a distance away from the counselor and to have the back of the chair facing the front of the counselor’s desk.
“Swindler, you’ve been paroled for release, but it’s not going to happen as quickly as we thought. We’ve run into a few roadblocks, so we’re going to transfer you over to the transition side of the prison until we can overcome some of these obstacles,” McKenzie says.
“What kind of obstacles are you talking about? I’ve spoken with my daughter, and she’s going to sign the release papers for me to live with her. I’m sure she hasn’t changed her mind because the house she’s living in belongs to me. In fact, it’s in my name,” Maurice voices then he pauses for a few moments. The news of his release being delayed takes him aback for a second because he wasn’t expecting to hear that. A few more moments passes before he continues, “You don’t have to say it because I can tell by the expression on your face that she must’ve changed her mind.”
McKenzie raises her hand in the air to stop Maurice from going any further. “Swindler, you have it all wrong. Your daughter has already signed the paperwork and is approved for you to go live with her, but we received an anonymous letter informing us that your sister doesn’t have enough room.”
“That’s a four bedroom house and my son still lives there, I can sleep in the room with him, at least, until I get on my feet.”
McKenzie laughs at Maurice’s words, partly because she knows when Maurice is officially released that he’s in for a rude awakening, and partly because he has no clue as to depth of the damage he has done to his own family. She knows the only person on board with his early release and living arrangement is Maurice’s daughter, Twyla, his other children don’t want anything to do with him. She remembers his daughter telling her by phone. Mrs. Dorchester, my brother, doesn’t want to be within ten feet of our father, so I need for you to give me a couple of months to allow him to find his own apartment, please.
McKenzie keeps her thoughts to herself, although the thoughts rush through her head like a freight train. She’s still careful with what she says, though, because even though Maurice is a known pain in her ass, she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings. She just wants his transition back into society to be a successful one, and she knows stressing him ahead of time won’t be a good contribution to that process. She knows he’s in for a culture shock, though, if he seriously thinks his family is planning to receive him with open arms. For some strange reason, she knows full well that he hasn’t considered all the things that has been done and needed to be undone before he and his entire family can be back on the same page.
“You’re still getting paroled, but not until your son can find himself an apartment, so you may have to stay a couple more months, but there’s always a good side to this, the transition quarters are like a palace to most inmates. You only have to share the space with one other person, and the two of you will have to share a bathroom but you’ll have separate beds. I believe living over there during the two months that you have left will fly by in no time.”
“When do I move?”
“You can start packing your things, today, and I’ll see about getting you moved tomorrow. Do you have any questions for me?”
“Nope, I think you’ve clarified everything.”