I am currently incarcerated in two different prisons.
The first is quite literally a prison. The kind with bars and guards, the kind they send your ass to when you've done something terrible and you need to repay your debt to society. That's what I'm doing here.
A little over two years ago, I made the biggest mistake of my life. While I was on some cocktail of drugs and alcohol, I tried to rob a liquor store. The owner was a feisty old man with five hairs left on his head and hands that shook when he counted out change. My father had recently cut off my allowance due to the fact that he disapproved of my lifestyle, and his philosophy that at 24 years old, I ought to be getting a job of my own, or at least learning the family business. I figured knocking over a liquor store would be an easy way to pick up enough money to support my next hit.
My friend Jeff lent me the gun. It was loaded, but it was just supposed to be for show. I never intended to fire it, and I definitely never intended to kill that old man. But when he started to pull a rifle out from under the counter, what else was I supposed to do?
And that brings me to the second prison that I live in. Because before the old man died, bleeding to death under the counter, he fired off one good shot. That shot severed my spinal cord, paralyzing me from the neck down. I would never move my arms or legs again.
The trial of Philip Carrington IV was extremely short. A good attorney might have pled the case that my injury was payment enough for what I had done and I might have walked (figuratively). But my father, Philip Carrington III, decided that he wanted nothing more to do with his eldest son, cutting me out of his will and leaving his millions of dollars to my kiss ass younger brother Doug. The court appointed attorney got me 10-15 years in prison.
Of course, if you’re a quadriplegic, prison isn't exactly like it is for the rest of the world. There's no need for handcuffs or guards with guns. I didn't have to worry about being beaten up or raped by a fellow inmate, because I was isolated from the general prison population. People like me were placed on Ward B.
The medical unit of the prison had two wards. The first, Ward A, was made up of the acutely ill prisoners. These were the prisoners with appendicitis, pneumonia, fractured bones, etc. These were the temporary residents. Ward B, on the other hand, was made up of the permanently ill. Most were elderly men with severe heart disease, lungs so bad that they had to be on permanent oxygen, and other chronic diseases. In many ways, it was less like a prison and more like the nursing home that I would almost certainly end up at after my sentence was over.
During my sentencing, the judge called me a bratty rich kid who would never really learn my lesson. But let me tell you, I've learned my lesson 100 times over. I learned it when I saw the shocked expression on the old man's face as he looked down at the spreading crimson on his chest. When my body suddenly gave out from under me. When I watched the old man’s widow sobbing at my trial. Ahen somebody yelled out at me, "The next liquor store you rob better have a ramp!”
And I learn it again every single day I spend in this hell.
"Phil! Hey, Phil! You awake?"
My eyes crack open. For about 15 seconds every morning when I wake up, I forget who I am and where I am, and think I’m in my parents home, waiting for Alina, the housekeeper, to make her chocolate chip waffles.
I groan and rolled my head to the left. The bed next to mine is occupied by Matt Fincher, more commonly known as Finch. After me, Finch is the youngest guy on Ward B. He was five years into a 20 year sentence when he smuggled some cocaine into the prison. The coke gave him a massive stroke, and now he can't move the right side of his body at all. The right side of his face droops down like he's a wet oil painting, and drool slides out of the right side of his mouth. He's my best friend here.
"I am now," I mumble. My eyes are filled with gunk, and I long to rub it out like I did in the old days.
I roll my head further and see that Nelson, hybrid half guard, half nurse, is making his rounds down our row of beds. I crinkle my nose because the stench of shit is almost overwhelming. Any guy on Ward B who can't make it to the bathroom on his own power, which is most of us, gets pumped up with laxatives and put in a diaper. We get changed twice: once in the morning and once at night, and maybe one other time if we are lucky or if it's leaking. I spend a lot of my day sitting in shit, so I've gotten sort of desensitized to the smell of it, but it's a lot stronger right now, since the guy two beds from me is getting changed.
"Sorry," Finch says. "But I need you to talk to them for me. I got a headache and I need some medicine."
Because his stroke, Finch’s speech is very hard to understand. He sounds like he's talking around a mouth full of marbles. But I spend so much time with them that I understand pretty much everything he says. So I've taken on the role of his unofficial translator. In exchange, Finch does a lot of things for me that I can't do on my own.
The two of us wait for Nelson to finish up. In the meantime, I stare at the ceiling. I spend a large portion of my day every day staring at the ceiling.
Finally, Nelson reaches Finch. Nelson is a big scary guy, although he’d probably be a little scarier without the blue mask on his face to block out the smells. He doesn't talk to us much, just gets his job done, which is fine with me.
Nelson starts pulling down Finch's underwear to change his diaper. "Hey," I say to Nelson.
"What?" Nelson says, without looking at me, still focused on his work. The smell of shit intensifies a notch as Finch’s diaper opens.
"Finch has got a headache," I say. "He wants something for the pain."
"How do you know that?" Nelson grumbles.
"He told me."
Nelson squints down at Finch with his black eyes. "He always got a headache and want something for it. I think he's full of it. Just trying to get high."
"Trying to get high on your mama," Finch says.
Nelson frowns. "What did he say?"
"He says anything you could give him would help a lot," I say.
Nelson shrugs as he wipes out the last of Finch's shit. "All right. Maybe if I get around to it. Maybe."
"Suck my cock, fuckface," Finch spats.
"He says he would really appreciate it," I say.
Nelson finishes up with Finch and helps him into his wheelchair. Like all the other guys, he’s got a hospital grade wheelchair, except his has one foot rest removed so that he can propel the chair with one arm and one leg. I have the same kind of wheelchair, except I can’t move it at all. I just have to wait for somebody to push me.
My turn is next. I'm the last to get help in the morning, which is because I take the longest. Most guys on Ward B are pretty sick, but they can at least do something to help getting ready in the morning. I can’t. I'm completely dependent on other people to dress me and get me into my wheelchair. And getting me dressed is not easy task. I'm skinny, but my arms and legs have gotten very stiff over the last two years. I'm sure if I lived with my parents and had a therapist stretching them out every day, they would be nice and loose, but I don't have that benefit. As a result, all my joints have tightened up. My arms are squeezed against my chest, my elbows won't straighten out, and my thighs have to be pried apart for Nelson to access my soiled diaper.
"Christ," Nelson comments, as he wrestles with my legs. He's a big guy, but he's working up a sweat. With my lower body completely undressed, I catch a rare glimpse of my penis. Shortly after my injury, a suprapubic catheter was placed in my abdomen to drain urine, which means I don't piss out of my dick anymore. Considering I don't use my dick for peeing, I sure don't use it for sex, and I can't feel it anymore, it has become completely extraneous appendage. I almost wish they would just cut it off so it wouldn't lie there, crumpled and depressing, mocking me.
There’s a prison uniform, but considering how difficult I am to dress, Nelson usually opts to put me in a T-shirt and shorts or baggy sweatpants. I prefer the sweatpants, because when I'm wearing shorts, you can see the bag of urine strapped to my thigh.
Once I’m fully dressed, Nelson lifts me into my wheelchair. I need a strap around my waist and one around my chest to keep me from falling out. My hands used to rest peacefully in my lap, but now with my tight elbows, my hands are squeezed into fists and pressed against my chest. Today I'm wearing sweatpants, and while my knees are squeezed together, my feet manage to stay positioned in the two foot plates.
The only kind of wheelchair I could propel on my own would be one with sip and puff controls or chin controls or something along those lines. Certainly moving a manual chair under my own steam is out of the question. But the kind of chair I need and desperately want is very expensive and my insurance won’t cover it. Believe it or not, nobody is chomping the bit to get an expensive wheelchair for a convicted murderer. So I'm stuck with the manual wheelchair for the foreseeable future.
Because I can’t do it myself, Nelson gets out my toothbrush, and does a 30 second job brushing my teeth. "Spit," he commands me, holding out a little bowl. I spit out as much toothpaste as I can, although there still a fair amount in my mouth. He only gives me one chance to spit. Then he rubs a cold, wet wash cloth over my face.
Nelson parks his supply cart near my bed, then walks back to seize the handles of my wheelchair. "Don't forget my stick," I remind him.
Nelson nods and grunts. He picks up my stick with the mouthpiece attached to it, and tucks it in my front pocket. I can't reach it there, but Finch will retrieve it for me if I need it.
Nelson pushes my wheelchair without any further conversation. I already know where we’re going. He's taking me to the dining area for breakfast. There's an open spot at the table right next to Finch, since he's the one who feeds me at meals.
"That takes longer every day," Finch comments as Nelson parks me next to him. "What, did you have an extra large crap today?"
"Fuck off," I say pleasantly.
"Hi, Philip," says the elderly black man to my left, reacting to the sound of my voice. His name is Sherman, although I’m not sure if it's his first or last name. He’s around 70 years old and has been in jail for at least a few decades. A few years ago, he went blind from diabetes, and he can’t walk very well either on account of not being able to feel his feet. After Finch, Sherman is my second closest friend here. Mostly because, unlike Finch, he can walk, which means he can push my wheelchair for me. It actually works out very well for him, because he uses my wheelchair as a walker, and I can tell him which way to go. It's a very symbiotic relationship.
"Hi, Sherman," I say.
Finch has nearly finished his plate of food, so he’s ready to feed me. He tucks a napkin into the collar of my shirt (because this is always a messy process), then scoops up some eggs onto his fork. I take a bite while Sherman talks to me.
"One of them nuns is coming today," he says excitedly. "She's going to read to us."
"When?" I ask, around a mouthful of eggs. I had more I wanted to say, but Finch already has another forkful waiting impatiently at my lips.
"Right before lunch," Sherman says. He grins at me to reveal a row of yellow, rotted teeth. Even though his teeth are awful, Sherman has a really great smile. It makes you want to be his friend. "I can't wait for Sister Elizabeth."
Finch and I exchange looks. Every few weeks, we get someone from the church to come as a volunteer. Two weeks ago, a nun named Sister Elizabeth came to read to us. We don't get to see women much on Ward B, so we were pretty excited about it beforehand. I also found out the book of choice would be Oliver Twist, which was probably too highbrow for most of the guys here, although I have to admit it was one of my favorite books as a kid. So I was really looking forward to it.
Unfortunately, Sister Elizabeth turned out to be 90 years old. Her wrinkles had wrinkles. She read us the book in this tiny, cracked voice that I could barely hear. Then after she read, she insisted on talking to each of us. I remember she gave me this condescending smile and patted me on the head.
So I wasn't exactly looking forward to another visit from Sister Elizabeth. But for some reason, Sherman loved her.
"Sister Elizabeth sucked ass," Finch says.
"What?" Sherman asks. He understands Finch better than most people, but not as well as I do.
"He said that he can't wait either," I say.
"You're a fucking cocksucker, Phil, you know that?" Finch says to me.
"He said that he hopes Sister Elizabeth will give him a kiss," I tell Sherman.
"You’re the worst translator ever," Finch says, as he shoves another bite of eggs roughly into my mouth. I have a feeling that Finch is going to make me pay for messing with him. But it's worth it sometimes.