We come out for recreation at 7:00 pm every day for two hours at a time. By the time I came out Eddie was already set up in a corner of the common area playing chess. I had seen him do this before, but still the sight surprised me. When I was helping him with his sentence modification paperwork it became clear he had a seriously severe learning problem. His handwriting was terrible, he reversed his letters, he could barely read and his spelling was crap. Apparently he faked his way through school the same way he faked his way through prison. Yet here he was playing chess. His partner was another white guy, somewhere in his twenties. His gray jumpsuit marked him as a new intake who hadn't finished his medical intake processing yet. Almost everybody else out for rec was wearing regular street clothes accessorized by dew rags, t-shirts and tennis shoes tagged with their particular gang colors. Colors made the correctional world a little easier to live in since it told you where you did or didn't belong. Eddie was set up in the default neutral zone and I joined him there.
The game was in progress and the new intake was getting the worst of it. He had lost a rook, both bishops and half of his pawns. In an amazing feat of concentration, Eddie was actually staying focussed long enough to slowly manuever the intake's king to the corner of the board. The new intake wasn't helping his game by talking about his problems as he played. I could tell Eddie was annoyed.
"Focus man, focus," Eddie said, which I thought was one of the most ironic things ever to come out of his mouth. Eddie had the attention span of a neurotic flea.
"Well, what am I supposed to think? The last time I heard from her was when I was up the road in local, now here it is three weeks later and I don't know whether they got kicked out or if she gave up on me or what," the new intake said anxiously.
"That sounds like an emergency," I said.
"Yeah," said Eddie, with a quick glance in my direction. "Maybe Father Joseph can help you. I hear he gives emergency phone calls." His eyebrows were raised in apparently sincere concern, and the corners of his mouth didn't even twitch. He was good. I knew I could never hold it together so I buried my head in my papers and stayed quiet.
"Just go to the 2C officer and tell him you just found out about a family emergency. He'll write you a pass to go to the chaplain's office on the third floor. It's on 3D post."
"Thanks!" the new intake said as he laid his king down in surrender. He got up and headed for the 2C officer's desk.
"You're going to hell for that Eddie," I said.
Eddie grinned. "I know. At this point I'm just hoping for a better seat."
Before we could set the board up for another game the tier gates ground open and a line of more grey-suited inmates trudged in carrying their cardboard boxes of property. At the end of the line came Puckett escorting Antonio Fennell. He was back from his seg time.
"Crap," said Eddie. "I was hoping to get some sleep tonight. Now we're back to 'wassup' and 'ya feel me?' and 'yo check it out' and 'nome I sayin'?' and the banging and the hollering all night. Somebody needs to medicate that kid."
"Wait a minute," I said. Puckett was walking Fennell past his old cell, past the Crips row, too far down the tier for my comfort. "What the hell? Oh shit, Eddie, they're putting him in with you."