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Metal Fatigue

87 pages1 hour


Metal Fatigue is an anthology of stories relating to prison, incarceration, hopelessness and hope. These are largely first person accounts of survival behind bars and give a visceral look at what it means to do time. The stories present a critical look at the prison system and the stats for those held behind bars. A child lost to the system, a father’s plea for reconnection.

Jimmy passed his eighteenth birthday locked inside a cold, stinky cell in the obsolete old city jail. The toilet obviously didn’t work, an issue probably for several years... running.

He thoughtfully reflected on his dry-humor pun. Besides, no one locked up ever flushes the motherfucking john. Never. Revoltingly putrid fecal matter, left in desperation by prisoners with nowhere else to go, overflowed and formed a vile puddle at a low spot in the frigid concrete floor. The prison smelled like shit. Smelled worse than shit. His own more recent addition was beginning to decay.

If Jimmy had been home for his birthday, no doubt his father would’ve treated him to a steak dinner at The Outback; and perhaps a ballgame at the stadium afterword. Instead, Jimmy celebrated with foul-tasting water—grey water reprocessed from sewer waste—and several slices of stale bread upon which a near-microscopic dab of something resembling peanut-butter could be found sticking near the center—if one studied it closely, of course. The rancid bread was always stale in this place, just like the air, thick with mildew and the smell of unwashed bodies. It all mixed with the reeking toilet to produce an odor more disgusting than sweaty armpit pubes set on a smoldering fire.

Tonight, for the most part, a stifling quiet lingered throughout the cellblock. The only sounds being the incidental shout of a guard, the muffled moan from a prisoner, or the occasional fart from either. Every so often, a cell door clanked open, followed by scuffling noises signaling a new prisoner’s arrival.

Two weeks forever, he’d sat there in solitary now. But he still wasn’t so desperate as other prisoners on the cellblock who would actually shit themselves just for a laugh. Two weeks plus three lonely days, he reminded himself, marking off another day on the wall with the sharp edge of a small stone, chipped away from a section of rotting-old concrete. He made the mark with an awkward jab of his left hand. His right arm hung broken, suspended in a dirty sling he’d torn from an old rag.

Sinking down onto the cold concrete slab that served as a bed, Jimmy leaned his head against the wall and shut his eyes. He figured it might be nine o’clock... or thereabout, although he really couldn’t be sure. Maybe ten. His watch had disappeared on intake at R&D receiving the first day, along with all his other personal effects... confiscated for “purposes of security” by the prison R&D guards. Problem was, they’d never listed his expensive Rolex watch on that property receipt they’d forced him to sign under the threat of tossing him in solitary stripped naked.

Any questions about time, or anything, for that matter, brought only taunts and trouble from the guards. Especially the big one called ‘Boiler Bob’—so named by the prisoners for those angry-looking boils in evidence on the back and both sides of his incredibly thick neck.

“What’s time to a prison roach?” Boiler Bob would mock, his furry broken teeth bared in a cruel laugh. “Hah, I know! I bet you’re impatient for your next fine meal... is that it?” Invariably he and the other guards goaded the prisoners about the food: food so foul even the cockroaches all passed around it in wide arcs.

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