A sample of "Stamps and Cigarettes"

As several people know, I’ve begun working on a graphic novel about my experiences in prison. Right now it’s limited to a series of notes and sketches since it’s still in the very early stages of development. I thought I would share the prologue script and a few of the preliminary sketches that go with it.

Again, none of this is remotely finalized.


Put out your hands,” he said.

“Sir?” I asked.

“I said put out your hands,” he repeated.

What choice did I have? I was justanother inmate working in the messhall at the Lakeview Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility. Just another number. Twelve-A thirty five twenty nine, to be specific. The man in front of me is Drill Instructor Mukulich, amerciless sonofabitch with cold, unfeeling eyes, a massively bald and overweight asshole that lacked any hint of a redeemable personality. I’d never even spoken to him before and our first encounter was clearly not going to be remembered asa pleasant one. He held a spatula, which he slowly smacked against his other hand to demonstrate his impatience.

My assignment was the A-side Runner,the one who fetched everything for inmates and staff alike. Out of potatoes? I’d slap on the oven mitts and get a fresh tray worth from the hotbox. Needmore coffee cake? I’d slide a tray off the rack and bring it over. Margarinerunning low? I’d get another stick, open it, and roll it into small balls forserving. No more milk? I’d run to the dairy cooler, grab another five gallonbag worth, pop off the tab and let it flow into the trash can where I’d scoopit out with a pitcher for serving into the small brown cups that had been recycledfor countless years and had little brown flakes of material that would breakloose and float in the serving of milk and then inmates and staff alike wouldblame me for it even though this fucking shithole facility should have justbought proper cups to replace these shitty ones…

But who am I to ramble on aboutsuch things? I’m DIN #12A3529. I’m not supposed to think. My job is to get whatever anyone needs asefficiently as possible to keep the serving line moving at a steady pace. Period. Just another spoke on the wheel.

“Do you know who I am?” Mukulich asked me, brows furrowed. We’d just finished serving dinner to the other inmates,about four hundred people.

“Sir, you’re Drill Instructor Mukulich,” I replied with a faint smile, glancing at his nametag, as if Ididn’t already know who he was, in a lame attempt to lighten the tension.

“I’m the one that sends people to The Box,” he stated as if it were something to be proud of.

The Box, for the those unaware ofhow most prison facilities operate, is a specially designated building with very small and cramped cells for inmates that got out of line. Inmates housedthere were not allowed to have phone calls or visits or any amount of timeoutside. It was essentially solitary confinement. How long you were trappedthere depended on what you did wrong or how much you needed to heal. Say or instance you talked back to a Drill Instructor or refused a direct order. You’dprobably go in The Box for a week or two. If you started a fight or were inanyway involved in one, you’d be looking at three months in solitary. And ifyou really pissed off a Drill Instructor and he decided to beat your face in,you would be put in The Box until you healed so there’d be no witness orevidence that you’d been assaulted or otherwise brutalized by staff. Inmatessometimes went crazy from the lengthy confinement. For a little perspective, one prisoner in Texas was sent to The Box and after a couple months consequently removed and ate his own eyeball. Simply put, it’s the last place you want to be.

So why was I being threatened withthis extreme punishment? Part of my job as Runner is to collect the serving utensils after each meal and have them thoroughly cleaned and returned towhichever officer was in charge of supervising that day. However, this was only my third day working in the messhall and I’d never been given any instructionon what the hell I was supposed to do. It was all trial and error aside from occasional guidance from other inmates. But that didn’t matter. Reason and logic rarely played a role in Shock.

“Mukulich has been holding theutensils for five minutes,” Hamilton had cautioned me as I was scrubbing tomato sauce off a counter. He was one of the four inmate servers along with Diaz, Boyson, and McDowell.

“Oh good,” I had replied, thinking I wouldn’t have to worry about them anymore. See, I did know that part of my job was to have the utensils cleaned and returned. That much I knew. But I had no idea that it was the number one, most time-sensitive priority.

Until now.

“No, you need to get them from him,”Hamilton insisted nervously. “He looks pissed off already.” I glanced over at Mukulich, who was staring blankly, fuming. The utensils were to his right onthe serving counter and in his hand held the spatula. I realized that I was fucked no matter what but the sooner I owned up to my mistake the less severe aconsequence I’d face. The clock was ticking.

“Sir, Inmate Barnes requests permission to speak to the Drill Instructor, sir,” I had said as I approached him.

“Are you the Runner?” he asked.

“Sir, yes, sir,” I replied.

“I’ve had these for five minutes already,” he said flatly. “You should have gotten to them before I did.”

“Sir, this inmate apologizes, sir. This is my first time working the messhall and I didn’t realize…”

“Are you justifying?” he asked, incredulously.

“Sir… sir, no, sir. No excuse,sir.”

“You need to always get theutensils returned first thing.”

“Sir, yes, sir”, I acknowledged, trying to be as respectful as possible. “I realize that now and won’t make that mistake again in the future.”

That’s when he ordered me to put out my hands. I complied. He lifted the spatula up and whipped it down against my open palms, which quickly reddened. I didn’t expect it to sting so sharply, but with enough force I guess even a rubber spatula can cause a surprising amount of pain. The first hit was tolerable, but as he continued to execute a second and third strike to each hand, one at a time, it started to become unbearable. I lowered them back to my sides.

“Put your hands back out,” hegrowled.

“Sir, no, sir,” I replied. Despite my defiant words I did my best to also maintain a respectful tone, a careful balancing act that could very well dictate my fate.

“Put your hands back out or you aregoing to The Box.” I reluctantly complied and he continued the abuse. After several more strikes I could no longer tolerate the indignity nor the painitself any further. As the spatula swung down and hit my left palm, I quickly closed my fingers and gripped the spatula tightly. I didn’t let go. His eyes grew wide and murderous with amazement.      

“Sir,” I said quietly, looking him in the eye with as much confidence as I could muster. “That’s quite enough. Lesson learned, sir. Lesson learned.”

“What would you do if you were meright now?” Mukulich growled.

“I would recognize that this inmatewas new to the messhall, made a mistake, learned from it, and would observe him tomorrow to re-evaluate,” I said carefully, releasing my grip. “And I’d give him a second chance to get it right.” My reply seemed to register as reasonable as his eyes gently softened. I felt a wave of relief.

“Put out your hands.”

So much for reading his body language. No longer confident in my ability to control the situation, I put my hands back out and allowed them to be whipped yet again without speaking a word. After one hit on each hand, I lowered them. I was through with this game. He smacked my right arm a couple times and then stopped.

“Next time you WILL go to the box,”he warned, and walked away fuming. I looked down at my throbbing hands and saw the welt forming on my arm. All because a spatula was was returned five minutes late.

Another day at Lakeview Shock, I thought to myself. Another day in hell…


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