My buddy Brady had both done time in The Birdcage, so when the topic came up, we began swapping stories in a strange and twisted competition to see who had witnessed the most disturbing thing during his tenure in the infamously violent maximum security cell house. Eventually I had to concede victory to him. When Brady first recounted his story to me, his eyes took on a glassy, far-off look and his skin paled noticeably, as if he was reliving what he’d seen. Brady’s tale was especially frightening to him because it happened the first week he was in prison. It set the tone for his bit, as it was the first of many horrific experiences that let him know that prison could be a terrifying place.
He had been lying on his bunk, staring at the wall and bored out of his mind, and was ready to drift into a doze for the third time that morning. Days seem interminable in The Birdcage, so when it happened, it was a welcome change—something to focus on and talk about with his cellie. There was a commotion on the deck that was louder than the usual constant drone of talking and yelling. The noise quickly rippled and amplified throughout the spacious enclosure, and both Brady and his cellie looked out onto the gallery to see what it was all about. The show was only just starting.
A lieutenant and several C/Os had rushed to a cell, and the loo was already cuffing up one inmate through the chuck hole. Once the door was opened and the offender walked out, Brady saw that the guy was huge—a hulking gorilla standing in only his boxers, his heaving chest and rippled muscles accentuating his back and arms. If the guy hadn’t been allowing the authority figures to lead him away, it was unlikely they could have contained or controlled him on their own. His proportions were monstrous. As they led him off, he had something to announce to his cellie, who was still sequestered in the cell, and to the entire Birdcage. It sounded like bragging, taunting, and threatening all in one.
“Yeah, that’s right, I’ma get me a new cellie! After running up in that one, I wore his ass out!”
Being new to prison, Brady was not entirely familiar with the slang, but was pretty sure he understood what this meant. Once the first inmate was gone, two C/Os were left behind to contend with the remaining inmate. One C/O looked sick, like he was on the verge of vomiting, and the other’s face was a picture of fear and disgust.
The second inmate finally appeared in the cell doorway. He was a pudgy white kid, and his baby face was obviously streaked with tears and snot. He moved very gingerly—each breath seemed to hurt, let alone each step. His shirt was torn at the neck and hung down, exposing one nipple, which appeared far more embarrassing than it had to. The guy was trying feebly to hold his ripped clothing up to cover his nudity. The nauseous C/O instructed him to let it go, and the shirt flapped open to expose him again. The C/O managed to look guilty himself as he handcuffed the pudgy guy, but he manacled the cuffs in front of him rather than the customary, regulation method of cuffing an inmate’s hands behind his back. The same C/O placed a helping hand on the inmate’s shoulder and assisted him as he painfully shuffled forward in only his boxers and damaged t-shirt. The yelling from inmates filled the expanse of The Birdcage with a cacophony of callous insanity, and the victim was slowly escorted out.
The other C/O had disappeared inside the cell, but remained there only briefly before emerging with a dark gray woolen blanket. He draped it over the inmate’s shoulders before grasping the inmate’s other shoulder and helping him along. Before the blanket was put into place, Brady saw a dark and substantial splotch of blood on the back of the inmate’s boxers, and everything that he’d seen and heard up to that point suddenly crystallized into a disgustingly real and frightening portrait of prison life. The strong often take from the weak, and it’s not only commissary items that are being taken.
Despite the dreary, intense boredom that The Birdcage breeds, Brady said that he and his cellie returned to their positions of repose on their respective bunks. They never once discussed the incident.