Destiny at DANAMAX

         It would seem that a small bit of sympathy had finally slid through the cracks in the facility’s high walls, during an otherwise uneventful afternoon in late spring of 2017.

         It was a gesture of good will, extended from the producers of “The Crime Wave Show,” to the residents of the Level Five correctional facility.

         The over-watch MK-19s (which had posted sentry in the evenly-spaced guard towers along the high walls for the last ten years) were finally being replaced with their more subtle fifty caliber counterparts.

         Issues had been raised (some from humanitarian groups around the world, and a few from among the fifty million American viewers at home) as to the kind of collateral damage that the MK-19s might cause, if someone decided to start WWIII out in the yard and the towers needed to lay down suppressive fire.

         Someone did, in fact, intend to set it off in the yard soon. That someone was Barry Dvorak, the creative mind behind the show. General Population never would have gotten wind of the plan he was now hatching in Associate Warden Dean’s office, had not twice-convicted armed robber (and fan-favorite) Jonathan Latham been waiting for adjudication just outside of the office where the meeting was taking place.

         Latham was on the gangplank, his manacles looped through three-points of chained contact. He was waiting with five other men who were guilty of similar infractions. Sounds from the cells bled out onto the tier where the men were waiting. The heavy waxen smell of the solvent used to mop the floor was soaking into the paraffin of the walls around them, which were made of heavy asbestos mortar, gleaming under the harsh fluorescent transoms above. The lights made the walls sweat with a thick layer of antiseptic butter that clogged the lungs of the cons and made the prison even hotter, which increased tensions, and sometimes even managed to film over the lenses of the cameras that followed them as they lived out their lives on cable television.

         All six of the seated men were dressed in the same federal orange reflective uniforms. The drawstring had been removed from the waist of the prisoner on the end furthest from Latham. The man was on Suicide Watch, and whenever the group stood, he would shuffle and struggle to hold his trousers up.

         Jonathan Latham was close to certain of the reasons that had brought the man next to him here, but he leaned in toward him anyway, and asked, “What’d they say you did?”

         The man whispered his response, the motion of his mouth as imperceptible as that of a ventriloquist. “Busted my crime cast cam...” His voice trailed off. Then he added, “Fuck the American public. Why should they be amused by my misery?”

         Latham nodded, ready to slide into jailhouse lawyer mode, climb up on his soapbox and speak a little about the injustice of it all. But words, semi-audible, began filtering through the pebbled glass of Warden Dean’s office.

         Inside of the office, on one side of the desk, Barry Dvorak stood behind and to the left of the Warden. The Warden remained seated, looking very uncomfortable. His face was red, overgrown with busted capillaries that had erupted under the slow volcanic pressure of his alcoholism. His suit was two sizes too large for him.

         The hotshot producer stood in stark counterpoint to the warden. His tie was a filigreed gold relief of rare birds conjoined along the plumage of their tails, dancing down to the triangle at the base of his tie, which rode above his pinstriped Oxford shirt. There could be no question of who was in charge.

         True, there never had been a doubt, but the disparity between the two men had never been spelled this clearly. And it had never been made so obvious to such key personnel. The three men on the other side of the desk were, in order: Carmine Trujillo, Brandon Falcon, and Jerome Means. None of the men before the warden and the TV show producer were necessarily the most violent members of their respective races in DANAMAX.

         But they were definitely the most charismatic, and had asserted themselves as the heads of organizations that controlled things that not even the some twenty-five hundred cameras posted throughout facility could catch.

         The three men waited. The producer finally spoke. “Gentlemen.” The Warden winced at what, for him, was a grossly misapplied term. “Before we close out the Two-thousand Seventeen season, and go on summer hiatus until Eighteen, we need one thing. And let’s be frank about what that one thing is.”

         No one spoke, until Dvorak spoke again. Two words. “Race War.”

         “Wait a goddamn moment.” The warden attempted to stand. The producer was well muscled from a personal trainer, and he easily held the porcine drunk down with one hand. The walkie-talkie twittered away on the warden’s utility belt, a static-chirp in the background.

         “Well?” The producer asked, now that the warden had been contained. Outside, the six men on the bench listened. The three men present in the room exchanged looks, not used to conferring with each other, unsure of who should speak first, as it might be taken as a challenge to the other two. A king could become a rook if he were not careful.

         Trujillo, the parlaying bridge between black and white, spoke and summed up the sentiments of all three. “You’re fucked up, man.”

         The producer didn’t lose a beat. “It’s not me, gentlemen.” He said. Once again, the warden winced at the misnomer. But Dvorak continued. “The American public has spoken. Progress has been made in this country. But there is, apparently, some underbelly which needs to find expression.”

         Dvorak gesticulated wildly with his hands, used to pitching, brainstorming, utilizing the cliché of thinking outside the box. He was not used to speaking to stone, taciturn men who couldn’t afford to show fear, let alone enthusiasm.

         “It is your duty to exorcise these demons. The secret mind of America is speaking to us through these cell-phone polls. And more than anything else, they want this war. Oh…”

         The producer crossed the threshold of the desk, and the security of the warden’s side. “They may play footsie around the water cooler. But, like it or not, the American public still has hate in its heart. And it is your job to give that hatred…release.”

         He faced the stone lions and said, “The votes are in, boys.” Brandon Falcon, the clandestinely half-Jewish, openly white supremacist convict began, faltering, “Uh, Mr…”

         “Call me Barry.” The producer said genially. Falcon blinked, chose to pass on both first and surname. “Hey, man. Between us, we got less than a year left total before we raise. We’re doing good time from here on out.”

         “I got my GED last month.” Means volunteered, eyes watering morosely. There was silence again. In what had to be the greatest example of irony in the annals of the DANAMAX penitentiary, the Warden found himself in full agreement with his convicts. He almost wanted to hug them.

         It was the producer’s turn to redden, and he shouted to the three men, blustering toward the murderers. “This show will happen with or without you. It’s your choice whether you’re the stars…or the extras.”

         Moments later the door was opened. The trio filed with an armed guard past Latham and the other five cons awaiting adjudication for destroying the webcams, which were permanently affixed to their bodies, and streaming at “Crime Wave’s” LIVE 24-7 sister feed, onto the internet.

         …Hours later, the trio sat conferring in the mess hall, speaking low above the clatter of stainless steel trays.

         The constant din ensured that this was one of the few places where the Crime Cast microphones, which were affixed to the lapel-area of their uniforms, would not pick up on their conversation.

         Their talk had to do with the real reasons behind the truce, which had nothing to do with imminent parole or high-test scores on the GED. The subject was heroin. “Hey, big bear.” Trujillo whispered to Falcon. “You can flush the fucking pony if this party goes down, you know?”

         It was the equivalent of a spoken kite, the only one that transcended Aztec, Viking, and Panther codes. They knew the meaning. The wall of men behind them, the Neo-Nazis, Black Guerilla Family, and La EME, were dancing into the living rooms of millions who were delighted by the mysterious intrigues that these sessions presented on an otherwise transparent reality forum. What happened in these bull sessions provided the one cliffhanger in the show. Twenty-three cameras whirred and drank it all in, while the Mossberg-equipped guards paced on the catwalk above.

         The wall of white, brown and black men suddenly parted, a lame-duck fish somehow entering the sanctum. He was a near-total transsexual, and didn’t rate a sit-down in even the quietest of times, let alone when a war was about to go down, a war that had been forced from the outside, a war that they had no control over.

         Jerome Means stood and slapped the lipstick from Betty’s lips. He chastised all the BGF brothers in site, leaving alone the Peckerwoods and Aztecs. If he tried to put other men’s soldiers in check, it might lead to a genuine war, from the inside out.

         “The fuck did y’all let this prison-vagina into my office for, huh?”

         Betty trembled before them, and one of the brothers spoke up on the transgendered convict’s behalf. “Jerome, man. She says she’s got some information we got to hear. And it sounds copasetic.”

         Annoyed to his violent, dynamite core, Means waved Betty through. “Bring your pretty ass here.” He pulled Betty toward him, posterior-first, drawing laughs from all three groups. “What do you know that I don’t know, mama?” Means asked.

         Betty spoke. “That big shot? That TV guy?”

         “Dvorak.” Brandon said, distastefully recalling his Hollywood hustler demeanor.

         “Right.” Betty shivered from the constant, trembling assault his prostate suffered. “Yeah. He’s already paid off like six guys. It’s going down, today in the yard, whether the rest of us want it or not.”

         The three kings leaned over their starchy, untouched lunches, hardening before them in metal trays. The men were all thought, no words. But during REC, there would have to be action, and fast, if genocide were to be avoided. “Fuck,” Jerome said, the closest he had ever come to showing weakness to anyone besides his wife during a tearful (and un-filmed) conjugal. Trujillo said, “We got to weed them out, and fast, carnal.”

         The other two men nodded, agreeing.


         Wind slapped against the ancient brick along the four high walls of the yard. The clouds above were icy-gray, indifferent flying saucers intent only on study, unwilling to beam humans from the hell below.

         The oblivious played handball, basketball, baseball, anything to keep the mind preoccupied, off the weight of time, and the scrutiny of the cameras, perched in a ratio of two for every one tower. Each of the towers had a .50 cal trained in zigzagging sectors of fire, manned by one guard apiece.

         Two of the towers, one at the north side, another at the south, held an extra man. The second, weaponless individual on the North tower was Warden Dean, his oversized polyester suit billowing in the draft. The other, watching along the South tower, with a set of high-powered binoculars, was Barry Dvorak.

         Down below, separated from the crush of anonymous, shabby flesh, were the men who went shirtless even in the coldest weather this side of snow, their jumpers exchanged for gray, drawstring-tied sweats used solely on the exercise yard. The white cons were over by the weight pit, congregating around the dip-bars and the dead-lift benches. The blacks had the bleachers.

         The Mexicans had the handball court, and the additional burden of Betty, still spilling details into Trujillo’s ear, unbidden, as the head of the Soldati tried to weed the feral rats from the common sewer dregs.

         “The warden ain’t in on it.” Betty said. “But he knows, and for the first time ever, he’s working with the cons. He says that TV guy promised anyone who set it off a free color TV and a cell-phone, plus an MP-three player. There’s gonna be blood over that stuff and you know it.”

         “Mm.” Trujillo said. His jaw gave a noncommittal pulse.

         Then he saw it, two or three protective custody cases that had been snuck into the yard. They had no qualms about selling out their fellow man, violating the only shred of law the cons could breed among themselves when they were trapped between the guards and the hungry eyes of the television.

         And their moral fiber was nil.

         Unfortunately their aim was a bit better, and when they went to throw their riot canisters (which came courtesy of Crime Wave Productions) they threw them toward the three coalescing racial spearheads, clouding the air and trailing a phalanx of snitches who had debriefed, and child molesters who had skated hazing due to administrative segregation. They were men armed with canisters, bats and sticks, men who would be richer an MP3 player tomorrow.

         At least, Trujillo thought before the smoke brought him choking to his knees, they won’t be famous when tomorrow finally comes. The millions of Americans watching at home couldn’t latch on to what they couldn’t see, what was becoming cloudier by the moment. Hopefully there’s at least enough smoke, he thought, to keep TV-glued thumbs away from cell-phones and voting.

Some of Joseph Hirsch’s most recent fiction was published by “Silverthought Press.” More of his work will be featured in the spring edition of “Zahir: A journal of Speculative Fiction.” He currently lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

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