The men over whom the officer was custodian had faces that resembled those of her brothers and cousins, her uncles and lost loves, and if she let herself think of it; her two sons. She prayed they would never breathe the air within those walls. It was a frosty and impersonal place to which she reported day after day, but she had settled into the routine of the thing more than a decade ago. She knew why it was possible to be deemed mother and savior one day, and a bitch that warranted spit in her face the next. In her time, she had invited many a miscreant to a tumble outside the path of the security cameras, and because of that, there was always a “Ms.” placed ahead of her name.
The woman believed that the brain adjusted to any condition it was subjected to for a continuous period of time, making the abnormal seem standard. But then, normalcy was generally defined by circumstance and the disposition of the company doing the defining; this was what she had come to understand. It had taken only a tiny fraction of her eighteen years on the job to become used to working in confined spaces, passing through rows of metal gates, identifying individuals by number and housing location, and locking every door behind her with a large key. It was as natural now as opening her eyes and seeing light. She could watch a security team brawl with an inmate while eating a muffin.
The day had been just like all the others. The officer sat monitoring the moving waves of brown with a dead look in her eyes. As usual, this collection of men reminded her of something that she could not yet bring herself to think about; that disturbing thing that was the root cause of their detainment in the place to begin with. She pushed it out of her mind. A young man approached her with his jeans hanging low. She motioned with her hands for him to pull them up and he complied. He smiled and she thought it odd somehow. This child, not much older than her own, seemed to already be installed there. She was moved by him. The woman suppressed her warmth like smoke just inhaled; letting it hover in a place he could not see.
His chances must have been slim from the very start, she thought, a function of his environment. He stood in front of her with his hands at his side. How courteous he was, she thought, and deferential in addressing her, and when she handed him the pen he requested, she noticed that his fingernails were clean. She was moved by him. She imagined in that smile, a boy that was loved well and loved deeply. She saw in his strut, a man that would likely make a mother out of an eager young girl; this child, not much older than her own. She was moved by him and wished to hug him and reassure him and lament the future that would not be his.
“He just got done with a hundred and forty days in the box,” the woman’s partner suddenly said, leaning near to her ear as if he were catching a whiff of her sweet sentiments. She turned a questioning glance towards him. “Yeah,” the man continued, “he went down for fighting in the yard; carved up a bunch of dudes’ faces something terrible, and he cut them up and down.” There was a pause. She let her gaze reach the young man in the corner, where he was leaning over a table writing meticulous lines across a sheet of paper. “They had to lock him down,” the man said again, “they seized a five inch blade from him. That kid is a monster. He’s a lieutenant in his gang, you know, a slasher.” There was another pause. The woman squinted and tightened her jaw before repeating her partner’s words. “A slasher?”