For Download (and the best reading experience): Rage (PDF)
By William Burcher
Goddamn fucking animals.
The bald one, the white supremacist, had aimed the last one at his head. The mass of glass the size of a hand had exploded on the concrete wall of the tower, fifty feet from where Woodburn had thrown it. That was the name, Vaughn thought, of the bald Nazi that he would be long in forgetting.
It had been from the screen of an old fashioned TV set that’d been hanging from a metal stand in the pod dayroom. The glass was surprisingly thick. Already in a fucking financial pinch, now the county’s going to have to buy LCD’s or something similarly ridiculous. That or not give them TV’s. But that would never fly. Not even after today.
“Did you get that on video?” he asked Grisham as the door to the tower opened. The door opened from the inside, the only way it could and once inside he and the other deputies were perfectly, most assuredly protected – from anything hard, from anything blunt, from anything wielded by the hand of a man, or 50 of them. The seeds of doubt were raised however when the metal cage and the inch-thick glass panels of the dayroom had fallen, all within a few minutes of their rampage. These were supposed to be impregnable too. And fire or rather smoke might be another issue. He’d seen one of the Mexicans using the exposed wires from the TV’s power cord to create sparks. That was an old jail trick. They’d have a fire soon enough.
As he entered the tower and ascended the 4 or 5 steps onto the platform that provided an unobstructed view of the inmate area, he could see Woodburn in his dayroom glaring at him. Woodburn had an unobstructed view too. In times like these, in one of the animal games that were so common and which might actually run this place (although a day like today spoke to the system’s imperfection), Vaughn was forced to meet Woodburn’s gaze. Two junkyard dogs staring at each other. Two animals. Goddamn fucking animals. Vaughn hated it. But he held the white man’s stare, unblinking, un-wavering, solid. Perhaps five seconds went by, and Woodburn looked away, shouting as loudly as he could, in his only-more-than-adolescent, southern-falsetto, “Vaughn, you faggot! I’m coming for you! For you and your KIDS! You and your WIFE! You and your BITCH! I will RAPE her Vaughn! I will RAPE your bitch and make you watch, motherfucker! I got people, and I will FIND YOU! 283TJS. 2009 White Silverado!”
That was new. Both Grisham and the rookie turned and looked at him, from behind him. He could sense their looks, their anxiety, their fear. Grisham and the rookie were wondering if he was feeling the same thing, the sudden surprise, the sudden dread at the reference to reality, to the real world, their vulnerable, real lives. Vaughn knew this, and he knew that he would not show his own to these men he worked with, and these men, these animals acting out below him. “It’s actually a 2011,” he said in his most monotone to Grisham and the rookie without looking their way. He then leaned forward and activated the microphone without breaking Woodburn’s gaze. “You boys need to stop this shit right now. If you have any sense left in that thick bald skull of yours, Woodburn, you will listen to me. You know how this is going to end. They have half the department massing outside those doors. They have gas. And they have guns. You know that, right? You’re rioting, Woodburn. That’s a lethal force scenario … “
And as if to emphasize his point two of the dogs they’d brought in from the streets began to bark-whine in their high-pitched, anxious way. It was an animal noise of pure emotion, pure intensity that Vaughn had not heard in the world outside of this one. Because in the world outside of this one the dogs were tamer, and less prone to maul the skin off someone’s leg, or face. The sound reached well into the tower, and he knew that Woodburn had heard it too, and Vaughn saw the man make a quick glance toward the main module door, outside which he couldn’t see, but the direction from which the solution would come, when it did. And it was the direction from which the dogs would come too. In that instance Vaughn saw Woodburn’s fear, but he also knew that the bald man would not back down now. He couldn’t now. Now it was a game. Now whatever sense of jailhouse honor the man had before this day would cause him to consider death rather than obey, rather than back down. Vaughn could not help but appreciate the man’s situation, and his choice.
Woodburn had looked around at his comrades quickly before he answered, his voice slowly raising in volume, “Fucking bring it, faggot! This is our house. Bitch! Let them come! This is close-combat. And we’re ready!” He flashed one of the shanks he’d made from broken shard of inch-thick security glass, wrapped in a white cotton t-shirt soaked in water or sweat. He then took off his gray jail shirt revealing his white hairless torso and his acne-covered back, and his tattoos. A swastika the size of a dinner plate branded the center of his chest and the black imperial eagle of the Third Reich stretched from shoulder to shoulder on his upper back. Despite the lack of exercise in County and his obvious softening, Woodburn was still built well from his time in DOC. It was one of the reasons the prison guys hated County – the lack of weight time. Woodburn had been at the jail for maybe two months, facing new charges of robbery, felony assault and aggravated motor vehicle theft. He’d already been convicted of attempted murder.
Vaughn watched as Woodburn said something inaudible to the 8 other men in the dayroom with him. He then took his Max grays off completely until he was wearing nothing but the stained white boxer shorts that they all wore. The other men began to undress too, a few of them almost comically modest as they removed their shirts and their pants. “They’re going to soap themselves up,” Vaughn said. That was another jailhouse trick. They’d be hard to restrain and get into cuffs, hard to hold on to when their skin was covered in soap. His head moved from side to side slowly, “Doesn’t matter if you’re dead, Nazi.” The blood would probably be more slippery than the soap anyway. It always was.
The intercom rang and then a female voice spoke authoritatively. Weiss was in the floor control tower, outside of the main module door, and had the primary responsibility of being a separate, independent control for all the main module doors on the floor. Her separation provided a prudent level of redundancy. She was also very good at her job and when the incident had begun Vaughn remembered thinking to himself that he was glad that she was on the floor. “We’re going to open the module doors. They want to keep them open for the push, when it happens. Doing it now will allow a surprise. This is what the captain is saying at least.” He heard a chime from the electronic touch screen of the control board which was Weiss’ request to open the main door from her end. Without an override, both would need to acknowledge the request to allow the door to open. Vaughn touched the door icon, blinking now in red and the big solenoids of the main door released with the typical crack, the pneumatic mechanism hissed, and the big door began to open. It was loud and he could hear the other inmates start to shout and swear inside the module. Some taunted him, others taunted Woodburn. The blacks, especially, were vocal. He thought he heard Washington, an old OG Crip who’d moved to Denver from Chicago and was currently charged with murder, shout obscenities in Woodburn’s direction. It was hard to tell, though. There were 90 of them in the module and all 90 were shouting.
Woodburn and Cervantes and another of them, Lopez, had stacked the turquoise bed mats that the inmates slept on either on the concrete bunk or the floor in the cells. They would attempt to use them as shields from the baton rounds or the Taser probes when they came. This was all well and good, Vaughn thought, but he knew that behind the less-lethal guys in the stack there’d be operators with AR-15’s. The turquoise mats would not protect the men from a .223 round. All nine of them had mats now and they lifted them high, shielding most of their bodies. All nine took strategic locations in the dayroom, the best being the alcove provided by the toilet which had a half-wall of cinder blocks built up around it in a semi-circle for a measure of “privacy”. Woodburn was here, Cervantes in a corner near the old TV stand, and the rest scattered throughout, most near one of the three steel tables with awkward round steel chairs bolted to the floor. All nine paused for a moment facing the direction of the main module doors, the direction from which the assault would come. They could still hear the dogs barking outside, louder now that the doors were open and they could hear the sounds of the mass of deputies gathering in the alcove outside, but they couldn’t see anything. Thirty seconds went by, then a minute, then maybe two. Vaughn knew that the sleeping mats were heavy, and slowly the men in the dayroom began to drop them, one by one. The mat would slide lower on the man’s body, slide further below his chest, and finally come to rest on the floor. They were tired, Vaughn thought, they had to be. Good.
Vaughn couldn’t hear what the Sheriff was saying, but he could see him, pacing up and down the ranks of deputies lined up just outside the main door. He looked like a rabid dog, nearly foaming at the mouth, the man’s full energy, his full power evident in his walk, in his face. He’d later discover that the man’s chant had been “Let’s get this fucking show on the road, boys!” in his bald, booming western twang for the entire ten minutes leading up to the assault. Vaughn saw the first ST guy, too. In the gear he couldn’t tell who it was, but a few seconds later another appeared, and then another, until there were 12 of them, all suited and armored in thick black canvas and Kevlar, helmets and shields and tactical gloves.
He had always been a student of anxiety, the modern word for simple fear. It had always amazed him how contagious it was, how it wafted through the air, how he could smell it. He didn’t think a deputy was worth his or her salt if they weren’t at least a novice student of fear. You had to be, in this place. It helped you survive, and it gave you an edge – on them. Everyone experienced it – you, them. The separation came with how one acknowledged fear. At this moment, in this place, the fear was almost overpowering. It threatened to pull you under like a wave if you let it. You could almost see it floating around, a haze surrounding each man in gray pajamas, or each man or woman in a uniform with a badge. You could certainly smell it, its rancor, its acidity, its oil. Every man in the tower, and every man in the module, every man and woman outside was breathing it through their skin. Like oxygen. Like water. And the funny thing about anxiety and fear was how little they talked about it. They were men who didn’t talk about such things – instead most tried to cram the upwelling back down to the place from where it came. This was a mistake though. He’d learned this his first few years in this place (he’d never thought that years would grow into decades). If you denied the fear, if you refused it, it came out in other ways; it came out in the one fearful way that the part of you seeking most to control it, couldn’t control. He could be better at it than most, controlling his external reaction to it at least, and consequently had a reputation. “Steely Vaughn” he’d been called. But they didn’t know that deep down it raged in him just as much as they – perhaps more, and his only trick was simply to let it. You had to let it – otherwise your attempts at its management would destroy you. He acknowledged its presence. He acknowledged its power. And inside he allowed it to be, smiling at it from another part of him.
Grisham and the rookie behind him were not as good at this. They were each as bad as the typical inmate below. They shifted on their feet. They sighed. They made inappropriate comments. The twitched. They laughed strangely, forcibly. Vaughn was glad the rookie had the camera and was filming the events. It occupied him so he didn’t think about things, he didn’t let the fear overwhelm him. It was good that they were doing that, too – for the inevitable trial. It would be interesting to know what happened to the video, though, if the shooting began. People didn’t like to see other people shot with rifles in confined spaces. People didn’t like the blood.
The ST stack was lined up and ready, and the two dog handlers had been given riot masks and were lined up behind the team. He could see Chavez with the ARWEN in the lead, behind only Wesson who was the biggest, and he held the massive black ballistic shield behind which the team would stack. They all held Tasers, two held large canisters of OC, and four held AR-15’s.
The men did final gear checks, checked the gear of the other guys in front and behind, and entered the module. The two dogs who were behind the line of men began to whine and bark more energetically and the sound was offensive, sharp – like knives in a hot house of cacophony. The rioters saw them immediately and one of them, Cervantes, even attempted to throw a hunk of glass through the hole they’d made in the glass paneling. It fell short though and seemed a pathetic attempt. He had to expose himself to throw it, stepping away from the steel dayroom table, and away from his comrades. As the team approached he didn’t throw any more. All of the men raised their bed mats and began to shout taunts and obscenities. Vaughn couldn’t hear specifics, only a steady stream of “pussy, bitch, motherfucker, faggot” and the like coming from the dayroom. Woodburn was the most vocal, he could see (rather than hear). As the stack approached the other inmates locked down in their cells began to howl and shout, many laughing. They would get a show, Vaughn thought. It would be something to write home about.
He saw Woodburn drop his mat and start quickly toward the edge of the dayroom cage. The man shouted and swore, gesticulating wildly like some chimpanzee in a nature film. By now the team was within a few yards of the dayroom and as Woodburn crouched down, palming a hunk of broken glass, Vaughn heard the crack/thunk of the ARWEN and saw Woodburn’s right arm go limp, a mass of blood and fluid swelling instantly under his skin into a red mound the size of a baseball on the outside of his bicep. Woodburn had a stunned look on his face and within a moment or two the second round hit him square in the chest and the entire module erupted as he collapsed, out cold. The team reached the dayroom cage and within an instant it was apparent how the rest of the assault would go. The men on the other side of the glass and steel had left perfectly sized openings through which the ST guys could spray, shoot and Tase without exposing themselves. And immediately the inmates were unable to do anything about it, overwhelmed by the onslaught, hiding like children behind their mats, trying their best not to leave any skin exposed. Two of the team held fire-extinguisher-sized canisters of OC spray, and immediately began to hose everything off inside the dayroom with the stuff. The fluid dripped from the ceilings, it clouded the air, it covered the glass and the walls and as the sweet scent reached everyone in the module through the circulation system, they all began to cough.
Vaughn saw Cervantes first get hit in the foot by the ARWEN, forcing him to drop his mat, exposing his torso. He took a second round to his gut, and it appeared as if something inside had ruptured beneath his skin, a mass of intestine swelling out through muscle as he fell. He was then Tased by two of the team simultaneously. Wesson had then given him the signal to pop the dayroom door, which had held strong and remained locked throughout the riot, even as Cervantes had begun to remove and tamper with the electronic panel housing the control unit before it became apparent that the assault would come soon. As the door popped the team flooded inside and within seconds the remaining men still conscious, still hiding behind their mats had been shot with the ARWEN, were down wailing, vomiting, or pissing themselves. One of the team made a call on his radio and the arrest teams of five or sex deputies began to flood the module, running up the stairs as thickly as the space allowed, entering the dayroom and landing with knees-in-backs on top of the inmates already down. They were cuffed and hogtied, and each limp body was hoisted and lifted by a team, carried out and down to the stretchers that were lined up outside the main module doors.
Woodburn’s body had been the first to go. Vaughn had been standing since the start of it all, and he could see clearly now that the first extraction team held the Nazi, each deputy with a limp appendage. He was held face down and naked – his uncut cock shrunken and shriveled into near-nothing. Woodburn drooled and the snot ran out of his nose in long ropes, dripping on the polished concrete floor. Vaughn could see his face, expressionless, staring down, eyes unblinking with something, with shock. He was wordless and without fight, quiet and his body was flaccid. It was the body of a man, an animal even, without life. The body could have been dead had it not been for the snot and the drool and the wild, staring eyes. Vaughn wondered what those eyes saw, and what the body felt, beyond the obvious pain. Demise and simultaneous release, he thought. This is what Woodburn saw. And if death were anything but these two things along with pain, Vaughn could not think what.
By now the howling and laughing and taunting had stopped and there was a palpable calm. Everyone was coughing to a degree and some (deputies included) were finding it hard to breathe – their eyes watering, their noses dripping streams of clear snot. They watched and waited as each inmate was extricated roughly – hands, arms, legs, heads smacked against the close quarters of the steel door frames, the steel stair railings in the rush to get them out. Each man had been stripped naked before being carried out to insure that they held no weapon, no thing that could hurt or could cut in the waistbands of their boxers.
And as with most real things there was no herald at the point of climax. There had been no banner or parade. There was merely a dying down of the energy of the place, a quieting – a lessening. The rioters were removed and within a few minutes the extent of another problem became apparent. They had a module of 81 other maximum security inmates who couldn’t breathe because of the OC now circulating throughout the floor. Vaughn didn’t have time to dwell on Woodburn or Cervantes or the fate of the 7 others. He was tired by now – it was three hours past the end of his normal 12 hour shift – and he had to organize, coordinate, and bark orders at Grisham and the rookie. As he left the tower and walked into the open air of the module floor he was struck first by the smell of the OC, and then by the overwhelming sense of release. It was like the aftermath of an hour of strenuous sex. Or more. If he were a Christian he’d think the sins of the world in the form of dark, looming clouds had suddenly been lifted by the singular act of one. He noted this and then forgot it and began to speak with the old captain who was blowing his nose into his uniform sleeve about getting the rest of the inmates out to a place where they could breathe.
It had been two weeks since his riot and Woodburn now spent 23 hours of his 24 hour day locked down in Ad-Seg, or “the hole” as most of them usually called it. His neighbors were two black men, one a massive, obese man by the name of Jones who’d raped another inmate. The victim had been young – just nineteen, blond, fair, small and effeminate, and a careless deputy had housed the two together in a medium security cell. There had been some question as to the actual nature of the “rape” however as the blond kid had suddenly come into a small treasure of commissary tortilla chips and cheese dip once he’d gotten to his new module. Woodburn’s other neighbor was another black guy, Hurley, who was all of five foot four but built like some Greek statue – only shrunken and thickened with muscle to the point of absurdity. Hurley was a bully with the other inmates and fought constantly but Vaughn never had a problem with him. He was actually pretty funny sometimes. Vaughn had the passing thought to “accidentally” open Woodburn’s cell door when Hurley was outside of it in the unit’s small dayroom. He knew that Hurley would probably have assaulted Woodburn to the point of near-death or further if he had the chance. But that would have been improper. And unprofessional. And criminal. And this was not him. This was not any of them.
Woodburn would never talk to him during his cell-checks. Vaughn had given up after the third try or so. Woodburn was clearly depressed and Vaughn half-suspected to find the man hanging from a shredded uniform shirt or a bath towel each time he came upon the cell. He’d heard that his DOC prison gang was furious with Woodburn for rioting without their sanction, and for rioting with some Mexicans no less. Depending upon the man’s stature with the gang before the incident this alone might mark him a dead man. Cervantes was housed on the level below Woodburn, on the opposite end of the unit so the two couldn’t talk. Vaughn didn’t think they’d talk even if they were right next to each other.
Cervantes would speak to him sometimes though. Mostly he’d ask when he could get his mail, or a paperback off the book-cart. Vaughn would always tell him the truth – that the decision to deny him these things was not his to make, and unfortunately he had to follow orders. Cervantes would always mutter a paltry, “fuck, man” to that response, but his anger wasn’t directed at Vaughn. Vaughn was his only human contact throughout an entire lonely, numbing day and Vaughn was also the bringer of food and soap and the cheap Kool-aid that they got with their lunches and dinners. He wouldn’t jeopardize the opportunity to say even a few words to another man by going off, complaining or threatening.
On a hot day when the jail air conditioning system couldn’t keep up with the demands placed upon it and Vaughn spent his shift sweating, stifled and repressed in the module, he thought to ask Cervantes about the aftermath, the “after”, the part that he didn’t see – when the participants were removed, taken first to the medical unit and then to Special Housing. Cervantes seemed eager to talk to him and Vaughn opened the meal pass-through with his keys so they could talk more freely.
“You know, Vaughn. That whole shit was one big fucking mistake. I should never have listened to that bitch Wood … Wood-, whatever the fuck his name is. Shit’s fucked. I was facing maybe 15 before and now I’m facing life, and the hole for most of that. Shit’s fucked,” and Vaughn saw the man pause, and go back for a moment, to that afternoon spent naked and raging like an animal in the dayroom. Cervantes thought to himself for a moment, seemingly searching for some realization, some thing that he could grasp on to, some thing that would make the event worth the cost that he’d incurred. He seemed lost for a moment and then a half-tension came to his face.
“And you wanna know the worst thing, man? It wasn’t all the other shit. Pain, whatever. I don’t give a fuck. Had more pain on the streets. Ain’t nothin’. Ain’t trippin’. The worst part, man, was being treated like, some thing. Stripped and naked in front of them ladies. Them women deputies. That was the most humiliating thing of my life … ”
He looked down and then out his window after he said that. He sighed loudly, as if he’d been holding his breath as he spoke. And Vaughn knew what the man was thinking. Vaughn saw it, the climax, the meaning that Cervantes did not see.
Vaughn knew that Cervantes was filtering his true feelings, his real thoughts, his more authentic realizations about what happened through the dense but tattered and frayed screen of his own self-image. Admittedly being naked as a child, beaten and demoralized, humiliated in front of some female deputies had not been fun. It might even have left a scar uglier than that 37mm round. But being first sprayed with OC, shot with an ARWEN, and hit with a Taser had been bad too. Worse still was the utter acquiescence, the pure surrender that he and the rest of them had shown when faced with an overwhelming force. They had been beaten. They had failed. In seconds they had lost and they had given up and for men such as these this was an impossible thing to admit. But it was equally an impossible thing to ignore. The same parts of them that had raged against their confinement and against the authorities that held their sway had given in so easily to events when events turned against them. And now, now the same part of Cervantes that intoxicated him that afternoon was whining to itself, a child’s pathetic voice coming soft and fearful from the deep, convincing itself that this had not been the case, and that the utter destruction that it had faced that day was not the worst part of it all – that some faceless female deputy’s opinion of his genitals mattered more, more than this.
Vaughn paused for a moment, seeing, nodding to Cervantes as if he agreed with him, understood him. He then told the man gently to get some sleep, shut and locked the pass-through and began the long walk back to the tower.