C-95 (The Shirt)
By the time I got to C-95 at Riker’s Island,
I was feeling sicker than I thought humanly possible. I knew I was
in serious trouble. I was charged with more than shoplifting this
time. I had a sale of a controlled substance and faced the possibility
of doing time upstate. I didn’t care. I just wanted some methadone.
I hadn’t eaten in almost two days, and I felt my stomach preparing to get
rid of whatever was in it. I edged over to a corner of the cell so
as not to puke on anybody. I didn’t make it. Bitter green bile
erupted from my insides. It tasted like really strong cocaine.
I didn’t get it on anyone but my brown suede shirt was soaked. The
vomit was quickly seeping through the fabric. It warmed my icy skin
but it smelled like gangrene—sickly sweet, cloying. My bowels were
starting to twist up now too, and I could feel warm liquid seeping from
my clenched cheeks. Please let me die.
“Beckett?” Someone was calling
my name. It was not the angel of death but instead a guy named Roderick
that I knew from the streets.
“Man you look bad,” he said.
I grunted. I felt another wave of nausea coming
on. Suddenly I was retching again but there was nothing left inside
of me. I had become a parody of a man vomiting. Roderick and
the other guys in the cell eyed me with a combination of amusement and
disgust. I guess I was a sight. A hundred and ten pounds of
retching, dripping stench.
And then, Roderick noticed the shirt.
“You motherfucker, that’s my shirt!”
What could I say? I stood there hoping
my pathetic appearance would elicit sympathy.
One of the other inmates intent on seeing
some action egged Roderick on, “Man, you let that guy fuck yo shirt up
I turned towards him wielding my ravaged face
like a weapon. He turned away muttering something about how white
boys smell like shit. Roderick too must have decided that whupping
my ass wasn’t worth the risk of touching my filthy body. Inhaling as little
as possible, he asked me if I wanted a cigarette. I nodded and he
handed me a Marlboro. I lit it and breathed deeply. The smoke
flavored the residual bile in my mouth and made it possible to swallow
without gagging. I smiled. This was one cigarette no one would
want to bum a drag off of.
I was so grateful for the cigarette that I
took the shirt off. I scrunched it into a little ball with the dry
parts on the outside and handed it to Roderick. I was down to a raggedy
wife beater t-shirt but I didn’t care. The puke in the suede
shirt had gone cold and was no longer comfortable. Then a C.O. started
calling out names and guys started filing out of the bullpen. Roderick
was the first one called.
Gingerly holding the shirt he said, “Find
out where you’re housed and let me know. I’m in Quad 17.”
Soon there were only three other guys and
myself in the cell, all new arrivals to C-95. We had to be processed
before we could be housed and chances were good that I wouldn’t get any
methadone until the next day.
A C.O. asked us if we wanted to eat.
I thought it a ridiculous question but my cellmates jumped up and peered
through the cell bars looking for a sign of the food wagon. The thought
of eating hot baloney and powdered mashed potatoes made me nauseous again.
I had been stomped on by the cops when they
arrested me and now my chest and abdomen muscles felt like they were being
torn loose from my ribcage. My throat and mouth were dry and burning
from the bile.
I smelled the food wagon before I saw it.
I retreated to the farthest corner of the holding cell. The other
men crowded the door in anticipation. Huddled in my corner, I watched them
eat. I tried to remember the taste of the cigarette smoke.
“Yo man, you gonna eat? Gimme
yo food if you ain’t,” one of my cellmates said, slurping down the last
of the green tinged baloney on his tray.
Sure, I thought. If he wants to kill
himself eating that shit, be my guest. I pulled myself up and went
to the gate. I asked the CO for a tray of food. He looked inconvenienced
by my request. All the guy had to do was tell the inmate working
the food wagon to dish up another tray of slop. If only we all had
such demanding jobs. If only being a junky was that easy. The
inmate worker didn’t look any happier. Getting paid ten bucks a week
to sling swill wasn’t exactly an ideal job but at least it gave you commissary
money. He loaded my tray and passed it through the bars. I
pivoted and lurched zombie-like towards my cellmate. I handed him
my tray and went back to my corner.