Contest #205 shortlist ⭐️


American Crime Sad


6.30am -slop out. 7.30am -breakfast. 8am -lock up. 10am -roll call. 10.30am -yard recreation. 12 noon -lunch. 1pm -yard recreation. 3pm -internal association. 5pm -supper. 6pm -lock up. 8pm -lights out.

Get used to it. This is it. Your daily routine for the rest of your life. Yes, it’s monotonous. Yes, it could destroy your will to live. But you’re stronger than this; you’re unbreakable. Unbreakable. Keep saying it. Un-fucking-breakable.

You’re sixty years old and they won’t let you work anymore. You’ve pleaded. You’ve even offered to go back in the kitchen though it’s twenty years since you worked there and you hated the pervasive smell of cooking that seeped into your clothing, your hair, your skin. But they won’t allow it; the rules won’t allow it so, now, you just have to accept it -there’s no longer a job that will help break up the never changing ritual of your day. It is what it is. At least you have a cell of your own now even though the double bunk looks ominous.

You’re an avid reader, can’t get enough even if choice is an issue. So that will help. Of course it will. That would be a huge help if you weren’t having trouble with your vision. Would reading twice as much make the condition worse? Fuck it. Just have to see.

You are an exercise freak, probably the main reason that, apart from your eyes, you’re in such good condition for a man of your age. You could start doing extra stuff separate to your normal routine. Have to think about that. Yes. That’s a real possibility. 

What about writing? Nah. Apart from the vision issue, you haven’t got a soul to write to. Not a single fucking friend or relative. Don’t think about that though. It only gets you going. What else?

Painting. You could start painting. You’ve always fancied having a go. Fuck, the eyes again. Christ, there must be stuff that didn’t strain the eyes.

Rattle of keys in the cell door.

“Slop out”.

He climbed off his lower bunk and reached underneath it for his pot. Then he exited the cell and lined up with all the other prisoners, urine filled pots in hand, eyes front. When the last cell on his landing had been unlocked, the guard blew a whistle and they all turned left and traipsed along in single file to the toilet unit where they emptied the contents, rinsed the pots and returned to their cells; a flowing, continual line of criminals. Occasionally, a new inmate would have mistakenly used his pot to defecate as well as piss, causing sink blockage and this would provide some merriment as others taught him the error of his actions by jeering and cursing the transgressor and splashing him with the contents of their own pots. Slop out -the most degrading aspect of the daily prison ritual.

By rights, he was an “old lag” except, because he looked after himself, he didn’t look his age. He’d understood the need to exercise and, in twenty five years, had never failed to do so. He knew the dangers of smoking, was wary of the use of drugs and alcohol -all of which were easily obtained inside -but he had never partaken of any. He had a sweet tooth, his one weakness, but he had disciplined himself and allowed only one day each week when he would treat himself. He had carefully avoided any homosexual approaches. It wasn’t his thing and, after what had happened to him, he would never again expose his emotions to another human being. He believed in the importance of vitamins and made good use of his time on yard rec, soaking up vitamin D, eating lots of vegetables and fruit. So, though he was now sixty years old, he looked like a man fifteen years younger, his body lean and taut, his face tanned.

He was a lag though; a long term prisoner. There was no escaping that fact. This would be his twenty sixth year in captivity. Twenty six years of a life sentence. When he’d first arrived in this place, he’d been a square peg in a round hole; completely out of his depth, a man who had never so much as picked up a speeding ticket in his previous thirty five years of life. He had almost given up; almost. On his first slop out, he’d been the one who had misused his enamel pot and suffered the consequences and had been made to wear his stinking clothes for the remainder of the week until the Sunday when new clothing was issued and prisoners were allowed their one shower of the week.  He’d been the one who’d had food openly stolen off his plate at meal times, pushed and shoved around in the yard-his persona giving off, not just the odour of stale urine, but fear and weakness. In his cell at nights, he’d cried and thought about how he might end his life.  

That first shower changed all that. He'd felt reborn, reinvigorated, cleansed. He became determined to conquer his fears, adapt to this new way of life, think how best he could endure. He'd thought through every aspect of his future and how he could, somehow, turn his misfortune into something bearable and learn to accept this daily, repetitive, ritualised way of life designed, he knew, to slowly wear down normal individuals. He wasn’t normal. He was unbreakable and, now, it was time to adapt again.  

Twenty five years ago, this thirty five year old, mild mannered, law abiding citizen had returned home unexpectedly to find his best friend in bed with his wife and, in a state of deep shock, had beaten his friend so badly that he'd later died in hospital. During the trial, it was revealed that his friend had stoutly resisted the overtures made by his wife on several occasions before, finally, succumbing to temptation. As he was sentenced to life imprisonment and led from the court in handcuffs, he had looked back at his wife, who had sat in court each day during the trial, and she had smiled mockingly at him. He knew then that he had killed the wrong person that day. All these years, he had fought hard not to think back for it did no good but, on occasions such as Christmas, he could not help but hark back to her betrayal of the life they had planned together. He would recall her smile that day in court and he would rage.

He had been eligible for parole on a number of occasions but had known that there was no chance so, though he had gone through with the process, had never been disappointed with the eventual negative outcome. Now, three weeks into his “retirement”, bravely adapting to his new daily routine, he was summoned to the Warden’s office for the result of his latest parole hearing. At least, he thought, it breaks up the day. His shock was severe when he was told that parole had been granted. Release in two weeks. Unable to show any emotional reaction, he walked in a daze back to his cell, unhearing of the congratulations his accompanying guard was passing on.

Two weeks! Two weeks and you will, once again, be forced to establish a new ritual, adapt to a new way of life. How can you possibly hope to adjust to normality? It will be like dumping a kitten in a jungle and expecting it to thrive; it would be dead within the hour. You’ve read about such things as credit cards, cell phones, transsexuals, DVDs, Black Lives Matter, QAnon, election fraud, Facebook, an eighty year old corrupt President with dementia, Twitter, automobiles that look like something from outer space. But reading and seeing images of such things is not akin to living among them. Get your head around it. It’s happening. You’re unbreakable, remember? It’s just another routine, just another ritual that you’ll overcome. Unbreakable! Deep breaths. Keep saying it.

On the morning of what was to be his last day in prison, he didn’t slop out when his cell door was unlocked. The stunned guard found him, wrists cut, hanging from the top tier of his bunk, his ripped shirt serving as a noose. The thought of adapting to a life that had left him behind twenty five years previously had been too much. As was the law, he was buried in unconsecrated ground within the prison compound, his funeral the last ritual in his pathetically sad life.

July 02, 2023 05:56

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Amanda Lieser
13:14 Aug 08, 2023

Hi Charles! This was a stellar shortlist! It was bone chilling to read the point of view and wonder about my own young life. The fact that you chose an older character meant a reminder of the reality that anyone can be perfectly “normal” one day and then be sentenced to life in the next breath. Those few lines you included about the trial was particularly interesting and it made me eager to know more about how I got to this place. But then you pulled back and perhaps it’s because that’s the way of life: it doesn’t matter HOW you get there, i...


Show 0 replies
Kay Smith
21:24 Sep 05, 2023

This captivated me from the first paragraph! A wonderfully monotonous and thrilling ride! Well done!


Show 0 replies
Angela Ginsburg
14:47 Jul 21, 2023

Very engaging character. Interesting exploration of how people survive and even thrive by pure inertia and any outside force will send them spinning into space. Congrats on this being shortlisted.


Show 0 replies
Story Time
19:28 Jul 18, 2023

I thought the idea of a ritual and the endangerment of that ritual's end as a catalyst for tragedy was a great idea, Charles. Good job.


Show 0 replies
Philip Ebuluofor
17:26 Jul 18, 2023

The finishing left mouth agape. How on earth are all options, it is his death that you chose,? Haba. Anywhere, it was a mighty hooking tale. Congrats.


Show 0 replies
Michele Duess
15:58 Jul 14, 2023

I was expecting him to find his wife, finish the job and end up back in prison. Congrats on a very sad and unexpected twist.


Show 0 replies
Michelle Oliver
09:37 Jul 13, 2023

Oh this is so sad. The rituals of daily existence were all he had and an old dog couldn’t face the thought having to learn learn new tricks. It’s interesting that the ritual of living in captivity became his whole life, without it he had no life. Critique wise, you have chopped between second and third person in this story. I’m not sure if that was intentional and stylistic, but as a reader I found it jarring. If feel it would be better to stick to one or the other. Thanks for sharing


Show 0 replies
Nina H
18:33 Jul 09, 2023

Oh Charles, what a heart wrencher here. When ritual and routine become so much a part of a person, changing that can feel impossible. I love reading everyone’s stories and seeing where the prompts will take them. What a unique take you’ve had here!


Show 0 replies
Mary Bendickson
20:53 Jul 03, 2023

What a sad tale. Could those last couple of weeks been some kind of training effort to prepare and equip him for a new start in life? Congrats on the shortlist!


Show 0 replies
Helen A Smith
11:08 Jul 03, 2023

This is an excellent story, albeit a desperately sad one. I thought you made excellent use of the prompt. It was revealing in showing how important rituals were to the main character, that although he thought he was in good shape physically and had not been broken by the system, mentally the opposite was true. Very visual writing with a hard but somehow meaningful ending to a lost life. Well told.


Show 0 replies
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.