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Fiction

Has it really been 20 years James thought as he limped up the Granite steps at the front of a Federal Prison? He couldn’t believe it had been that long. He thought back to when he could still run up the steps, and was full of optimism. Now 20 years on, the system has taken its toll on him. He staggers up the stairs one last time, through the sliding wrought iron gate. It is the last shift, the last day of his career. The building still looks the same, the ornate wrought iron fixtures, and the shined brass lamps on the wall. The White Marble floors, polished to a high sheen. Even after over a century the place still looks both foreboding and regal. It isn’t the building that is the problem; it is the people and the system itself. James thinks to himself how great it was the first day he came here, how he held such high hopes for the future. Now despite all of his accomplishments and all of his accolades, he is just a shell of the person he once was. A simple officer filled with hopes that were dashed and expectations that were never met. As he limps to check in with the lieutenant for his last shift, some how it just seems so empty.

   James always wanted to be a federal agent, ever since he served in the military he had expectations of become a federal officer. Once he finished his military service, he went to school got an education and then became a police officer. He spent a few years learning the ropes before applying for a federal position. He tried out for the secret service, the marshals, the FBI, and many other federal agencies, and then nearly 6 years after he began his quest to fulfill his dream, the only agency to offer him a spot was the federal bureau of prisons. It wasn’t what he envisioned, but he knew that he was getting past his prime and at 30 years old, sometimes you take what you can get. If he had only known then what he knows now? How the system will chew you up and spit you out. How the bureaucrats do not care about your dreams or ambitions. How they don’t want you to make a difference or improve on the system. They like things just as they are, you at the bottom and them at the top. No chance for changing anything just let sleeping dogs lie. Now with his body worn out and belief in a broken system waning, all he wants to do is finish out one last shift and limp back out the front gate and to never look back at what has been a disappointment of a career.

   James checks in with his lieutenant who seems almost numb with indifference. He just waves him on and gets back to his coffee and paperwork. James goes to his post, a guard tower with too many stairs for someone with a bad hip to climb, but he manages anyway. At the top of the lonesome perch where order can be restored on command from the end of a carbine rifle, James meets another old and tired officer, who looks just as haggard and longs for his retirement, which will come shortly after James leaves. With a brief exchange of pleasantries, the two change the watch. The morning shift officer leaving as the sun is getting full up, and James beginning a routine that he knows all too well. Check the equipment, count everything and log anything that seems important all the while watching, the endless seemingly pointless watching. , a thing that James has been doing for over two decades now. Not watching for escaping felons or violence, but watching for opportunities. Something he has long since given up on. As he sets in the guard chair looking over the vast sprawling complex that occupies over 27 acres of prime real estate. , watching from this perch for the last time.

   James had been in the Department of Justice for 5 years when he first became aware of the intransient nature of the system. He had worked all of the post that a person could work. He knew the ins and outs of everyday prison operation. He had completed many basic and advanced qualifications. He was educated, trained and diligent in his duties. He was sure that he would warrant a promotion. He had gotten several awards for courage, ingenuity and being vigilant in preventing escapes and plots to break institution security. Now as he sits in his small space atop a cinder block tower, he thinks how foolish he must have been to think that hard work could get you anywhere. Despite his best efforts, months and years went by and time began to wane. James thinks to himself, that he could have done something else with his life. He could have remained in the military or chosen a vocation, but he wanted to be a law enforcement officer. He wanted to make a difference. Now he laughs as he drinks a cup of coffee and looks out on a prison full of murderers, drug kingpins and sexual predators, what a wonderful career I have had.

   As the time drags on and the clock ticks away the minuets and hours, James watches the sun travel through the sky as he has done so many times before. He listens to the wind blow and thinks about how many people he has seen retire. How many officers he has seen die of hypertension from the long thankless hours and stress of the job? He listens to the refrain on the radio sitting in its charger. The mind numbing routine that drones on day in and day out in a prison. Not wanting to depress himself to much, he opens up a book that he brought with him. He thinks to himself about the number of policy manuals and regulations he had memorized and procedures learned while in a place like this or on a swing shift. He realizes how much sleep he has lost and how much family time he has missed. Things that can never be gotten back, all to serve a thankless faceless bureaucratic master that only gives out what it wants out of necessity and not out of gratitude. James puts his book down and gets up to walk around. He stretches and checks outside of the perimeter wall, a 42 ft tall 2 ft thick barrier that is sunk deep into the ground. ; surrounded on the inside by layers of razor wire and chain linked fences. It is an imposing warning to any inmate or any person who thinks that they can get out of this place. He pours himself another cup of coffee and sits back down in his chair. He remembers how he once thought that by the time he had 20 years in the system, that he might possibly be running a place like this. , sitting in the Wardens chair, overseeing the operations. He just laughs and thinks how only polished bureaucrats and people with connections get those kinds of jobs. He like so many others have been relegated to what the Army would call being a dog face solider. A grunt meant to carry out the drudgery. Well now it is almost over, the clock is ticking towards shift change and the coffee is gone. All that remains is to turn over the reins to someone else.

   As his last shift comes to an end, and James walks down the spiraling stairs of the guard tower over looking the vast prison complex for the last time. He exits out the external door and gets into his car. He pulls out of the parking space and heads slowly around the 1.07 mile perimeter of the vast prison he has called home with over 3000 inmates for just over 20 years. With a tired back and weary spirit, he looks at the place where he has fought battles, saved lives and protected the public interest at the behest of the U.S. government through the tenure of 4 Presidents who never knew he existed and a thankless system that only cares about maintaining the status quo. A system that he no longer believes in nor does he care about. If it all fell down tomorrow, he wouldn’t even miss it. He would just roll over in bed and go back to sleep, thanking God that it was finally gone.

July 16, 2021 15:05

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15 comments

Kaori .
01:05 Jul 22, 2021

It's a very sad story. I'm not sure if it's just me, but some parts are repeating. (Maybe it's just me) Overall I like the flow of the story, even though it all happened in one sitting. I think you portrayed the summary of his life in an interesting way, that keeps me reading and finding out if he will actually do something.

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James Mckinley
19:24 Jul 22, 2021

The repeating is designed to show reflection and regret in the character. If I could do it over. What would I do differently? That is my question ? If I the system fell apart and had to be started again, I wouldn't bat an eye.

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James Mckinley
19:24 Jul 22, 2021

The repeating is designed to show reflection and regret in the character. If I could do it over. What would I do differently? That is my question ? If I the system fell apart and had to be started again, I wouldn't bat an eye.

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James Mckinley
19:25 Jul 22, 2021

The repeating is designed to show reflection and regret in the character. If I could do it over. What would I do differently? That is my question ? If I the system fell apart and had to be started again, I wouldn't bat an eye.

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