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Like Father Like Son

It was an hour until the 11 o'clock count and the Newfies were still in the TV room dipping their cups into the bottom of that gutbucket of raisin brew.
December 1, 2000, 12:00am

It was an hour until the 11 o'clock count and the Newfies were still in the TV room dipping their cups into the bottom of that gutbucket of raisin brew. The noise level was way too high and Radar, an old-line screw, was punching the clock at the end of the tier, doing his best to ignore the whole show. Radar stopped at the front of my cell on his return walk and said, "They got the Butterfly Man in there." Then he tapped my door open and walked away. "Why don't you just do your fucking job!?" I wanted to shout at his retreating back but I was already off my bunk and lacing up my runners (it would be slippery in there). Radar knew that. He also knew that if I got the Butterfly Man out of there, the whole thing might fizzle into a line of drunken Newfies staggering back to their cells voluntarily at the 11 o'clock count. Then there would be no need to call in the extraction team, file incident reports or explain in the morning to an angry warden how a bucket of brew passed undetected under his nose. Viktor, my cellmate, stared at his television and made no sign of coming as back up. At 130 pounds with a pocketful of rocks, he wouldn't be much help in a room full of drunken pirates, anyway. Maybe he'd find his name on the cell change list tomorrow. I was beginning to grow tired of a cellmate that shoved spiders up his ass and watched the surgery channel twenty-four/seven. I've never known whether it's the cautious life I walk away from, or the dangerous one I run towards, but there I was, pace quickening, heading up the tier towards the din and chaos of the TV room. Butterfly Man was both an anomaly and a product of prison life. A career junkie, he had been doing life on the installment plan. Then he had gotten out on his last bid and found some success as a playwright. He wrote and acted in a cult play called "Heroin Elvis," married the female lead and got himself stabilized on the methadone program. It looked like he was in happily-ever-after mode. Then one morning their four year-old daughter woke up early, padded into the kitchen on her bare feet, opened the fridge and poured herself a glass of orange juice. The juice was Butterfly Man's weekly script of methadone and the little girl's organs began collapsing before she finished swallowing. Butterfly Man fell for involuntary manslaughter and only drew a nickel but his own jury had sent him into a much deeper hell. The grief and guilt had tilted him so bad I figured he wouldn't have to buy next year's calendar. I've met a lot of sorry people in prison but Butterfly Man was the only true penitent I've ever known. He cut and burned himself almost on a daily basis. He was determined to stay alive, determined to suffer. His body was turning into one big scar tissue. By his own reckoning he still had a few feet of skin to get lacerated, broken or burned. It was like a project, he explained. He was making himself a cocoon of scars, a place from where he could be called, brought forth again, into the light. Tonight was a deliberate move on his part. Going into a room with a crew of drunken Newfies, he was certain to get beaten. He had, over the months, found many men willing to play sado to his perceived masochism. I opened the door and entered a TV room that smelled of greasy bodies, smoked tobacco and sour alcohol. HBO's hit prison show "OZ" was on the television, the only light in the room, but everybody was watching Jungle Lulu, resident drag queen, standing spread-legged on a table, wearing a bra and skin tight jeans. She was swaying, trance-like, lip synching to Fine Young Cannibals. Butterfly Man was lying in a corner, unconscious and bloodied. I got him propped up and then over my shoulder when Gordie appeared in front of me. "Hey, where you taking him?" I stepped around Gordie. "I was just starting to give him a hard-on," he said to my back. I wished I hadn't heard what Gordie said as I reached the door. "Aw, fuck 'em both. Ain't but a couple of motherfuckers anyway." I carried the Butterfly Man's limp body down to my cell and flopped him onto my bunk. Viktor, who saw a chance to put some of the knowledge he'd learned on the medical channel to use, tended to his wounds while I headed back up the tier. Time had come to settle a beef that had been sizzling too long between Gordie and me. I stopped by the shower stall, pried open the drain and fished out my piece -- seven inches of carbon steel honed to an ice-pick point. In another life it had been a chrome slat on a barber's chair. Radar was standing outside the Bubble, a safe thirty yards away, with the look of a man satisfied with his savvy. I entered the TV room for the second time. "Stevie-Boy! Come share a cup with us, lad." "OZ" was just ending, the Newfies were rowed up on chairs in front of the TV, cheering and booing Adebisi -- the character they loved to hate -- toothpick dangling, sneering out from the screen. Everyone except Gordie, that is -- he was in the back corner, pants around his ankles, his hairy red ass all squelched up, driving it to Jungle Lulu. Gordie had her barebacked, face down over the table with a poster of Ursula Andress taped to her back. I shared the last cup of soupy brew with the boys. Hairy, tattooed and drunken, they were a dangerous crew. Big Jimmy was full of hardy-hars and backslapping the breath out of me. Gordie swaggered forward buttoning his pants and calling, "Next!" Jimmy gave him a look you could have nailed boards to. I saw my opening. Gordie wasn't a real Newfie. He had taken a pinch down east and when Jimmy's crew was involuntarily transferred to Ontario, so was Gordie. Over the years he had lived off their strength, but tonight he had crossed a line. Newfies considered it unmanly to have sex with anyone who had a six-inch clitoris. "Hey, Gordie! Your show is coming on!!" Big Jimmy guffawed. It was a new series from Britain called "Queer As Folk." Gordie began sulking. I leaned into Jimmy. "I'm going to have a word with your man there." Big Jimmy just shrugged. Gordie started a rant about faggots and gearboxes, and began slapping Jungle Lulu around, but it was too late. I had him pinned to the wall and the ice pick up and pressing under his ear before he had time to let go of Lulu's hair. Not one of the Newfies even turned around to get a look-see. I whispered into Gordie's ear, and the swell began to leave his body, and he sagged and then slid down the wall. When I had finished, Gordie was collapsed on his ass, and falling into a crying jag. I never did have to work the knife. Jungle Lulu was the first to flee, her clothes clutched in her arms, the Ursula Andress poster flying behind her like a cape. Then Big Jimmy rose, bade me good night, and he and his crew jostled and staggered their way out the door and back to their tier. I left Gordie in a heap in the corner, still sobbing. A week later I was sitting on the concrete floor in the back of the mail bag repair shop having a conversation with the Butterfly Man. He had a sharp piece of tin he was using to gouge nicks in his ankles.

"What did you say to Gordie that night in the TV room?" he asked. "I told him he had a rat heart, filthy and wet like the rats that used to crawl out of our toilets at night. I told him what he already knew." "That's all?" "No, I told him if he ever touched you again that I would cut it out. I would hold it up and show it to everyone, and everyone would know." "You proud of yourself?" I thought that was an ungrateful question but Butterfly Man wasn't looking for an answer, he was working his way up his calves and casually flicking the bits of his flesh onto the wall behind us. Two more months had been X-ed off my down time and the Newfie brew night had begun to fade. Gordie showed up at my desk in the law library, all hang dog and slumped shouldered, looking for help. "I can't read all that good. This is from my lawyer down east. Can you tell me what it means?" The papers were a series of affidavits and information briefs submitted to the court on Gordie's behalf in an infamous class action lawsuit against a boys' home in New Brunswick. Back in the spring of 1989, Rev. James Hickey was convicted of sexually assaulting dozens of boys at Newfoundland's St. Vincent's Catholic School. After it came out, cases started popping up at Catholic schools across the country. Some decades old. One involving Gordie. I began to read. Only a god could contrive a day like that day in the law library with Gordie. I was being given instructions on what it is to be human, in the most cruel and tender of ways. Gordie's mother, his only parent, died when he was seven years old. His first social worker had taken him out of foster care when he was found in a dirt cellar beneath a house in Moncton. He had been made to lie in a shallow crater of earth for six days with the body of a dead dog. Gordie had left the gate open and the dog had been hit by a car. His foster father had put him in the grave to teach him about responsibility. The social workers seemed to change about as often as the foster homes. Only the litany of abuse and deprivation remained constant. There was the farm family that treated him as a slave and didn't allow him to eat at the table with the "real" children. The uncle who beat him with a hammer. The doctor who made him stand at attention for six hour Bible reading sessions. Finally Gordie was deposited in a home for troubled youths, a medieval lockdown run by the Christian Brothers that was at the heart of this lawsuit. I knew now why Gordie was on a different channel that night in the TV room. 25 years ago, the Christian Brothers had come to him in the dark, after lights out, and led him by the hand, out of sight and sound from the other boys. He had squeezed his eyes hard shut. He had learned to identify, by their smell and touch, how much it would hurt that night. Or, by the force in their hands, what was expected of him -- to move his head downward or to roll over on his stomach. There was the one who'd summoned him regularly to the infirmary and put hoses and plungers up inside. Another who beat him when he gagged on a load of semen. Another who made him pray, before and afterwards. Gordie became more and more uncomfortable across the desk from me. He'd wanted me to know, but not this much. "All I really want is, how much are they offering to settle?" "140K," I answered. "Eighty thousand in legal fees, and you'll get sixty thousand over three years, plus accrued interest." "Where do I sign?" I showed him where to put his signature, on the last page of the story. The story of how a young boy, his chest swollen with the hopes and desires of any young boy, is turned instead into a hollow man with a cowering in the dark corners of his breast. Next to his mark, I signed on as a witness. STEPHEN REID
Stephen Reid has done time in, or escaped from, nine different penitentiaries, including USP, Marion and Kingston pen. He is presently doing an 18-year bid in a British Columbia prison for bank robbery.