A Prisoner’s Coast to Coast Journey: Three Very Long and Unusual Months

It was three-thirty in the morning when the taller of the two guards woke him by using a metal flashlight to deliver a few sharp pokes to the thigh.

“Roll ’em up, Bird. You’re going on a little trip,” said the short one with the acne scarred face and slightly hunched back. “You’ve got fifteen minutes to get dressed and have your stuff at the door.”

The inmate, J.L. Bird, knew better than to protest. To argue would serve to do nothing less than to earn him a couple of weeks in “the hole.”

So Bird reluctantly pulled on a pair of khaki prison pants—the ones with the elastic waistband—, a clean white t-shirt, threadbare white socks, and blue slip-on deck-style shoes (prison issue). Next, he opened his locker and emptied the contents—instant coffee, toiletries, an apple, the remainder of his prison clothing, two paperback books, a bible, a pencil, a calendar marked with a large X over previous days served, pieces of mail,  and a few assorted odds and end—onto the middle of his twin-size mattress.

Bird took a last look around to be sure he hadn’t missed anything before rolling the mattress and its contents into a ball (“rolled up”), otherwise known as “inmate luggage.”

“Hey, Ralph, I heard they rolled up Little Pauly last night. Heard he punched a guard so they put him on ice for a few weeks. Hit him with an assault too. A street charge. There goes his good time.”

Bird, tasting his own nighttime grungy breath, held the knot of belongings under one arm and carried it to the front door where the night shift dorm officer stood yucking it up with the two transportation officers that had interrupted his dream time.

“Where am I going?” Bird said, addressing no one in particular.”

Ignoring his question, Scarface said, “That everything?”

Bird nodded. “That’s it.”

“Let’s go, then,” Scarface said while pushing open the heavy steel door.

“Can I at least brush my teeth before—”

“I said, let’s go.”

Bird knew better than to push his luck by asking Scarface more questions. He was not a friendly man.

When the trio reached the main office area, the taller guard told Bird to place the rolled-up mattress beside the property room door and then have a seat in one of the two plastic chairs near the control booth window. Bird heard a buzz followed by a click, the sound of an electronic lock responding to the button pushed by the officer behind the tinted glass.

The outer door swung open and two U.S. Marshals stepped into the room—the first was hefty muscular man who obviously knew his way around a gym. He wore his hair short but not so short that it hid the gray at his temples. The second Marshal was an attractive  female with hair the color of Poe’s raven and the whitest teeth Bird had ever seen. The woman wore her hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail, leaving her neck exposed. A small mole on her right cheek was the only blemish on her pale skin. She doesn’t spend much time outdoors, Bird muttered to himself.

The two Marshals didn’t waste any time. They walked over to Bird and instantly set about the task of preparing him for a trip to who-knew-where. “Face the wall. Put your hands on the wall. Spread your feet. Anything in your pockets? No needles? No drugs?” He felt the mans hands dig into his armpits. Thumbs tracing his spine. Fingers inside his waistband, workng all the way around his middle. A hand went far up into his crotch, then down his left leg. Then another hand in his crotch before sliding down his right leg. “Open your mouth. Lift your tongue. Move it from side to side, slowly.”

A chain around the waist. “Hold out your hands.” First one cuff through the waist chain and then both wrists clamped tightly. The same for the ankles. Snap. Click. Metal clanging against the tile floor.

The woman said, “We have a long day ahead. Now would be a good time to use the restroom. You won’t have another opportunity to do so until tonight.”

Bird shuffled his way into the restroom while a male prison guard held the door open, watching to be sure Bird didn’t pull a Houdini and escape through the drain. When Bird finished washing his hands the guard handed him a small paper sack that contained a sandwich, two ice cold boiled eggs, a semi-soft orange, and a cardboard container of artificial juice. “Here’s your breakfast and lunch. You’ll get dinner on the other end.”

Minutes later the female Marshal unlocked a heavy padlock hanging from the sliding doors of an unmarked gray passenger van. She motioned for Bird to climb in, a somewhat difficult task to accomplish with his feet tethered to the short chain attached to the leg irons that circled his ankles. Bird took his time and made it easily. It wasn’t his first rodeo. He slid into the seat beside another inmate. The van reeked of body odor and unwashed clothing.

The female closed the door and Bird heard her snap the lock closed. She climbed onto the driver’s seat and switched on the ignition while her partner signed the last of the transfer papers.

Bird pressed his face against the thick wire grating that separated the prisoners from the front compartment. “Where’m I going?” he asked the woman.

“You’ll see when we get there,” she replied.

He’d not expected an answer to his question, but it never hurt to try.

Bird felt the van rock from side to side as the other Marshal opened the passenger door and climbed onto the seat. He tossed a clipboard brimming with papers onto the dash and snapped his seatbelt in place. “Let’s roll, ” he said. “According to the officer we’ve got about two hours to make a three-hour drive.”

“You have the directions?” female Marshal asked.

“Yes. He said to turn left on the main road and drive until we get there. Supposed to be nothing but desert between here and there. Says we won’t miss it because it’s the only thing we’ll see on the way, besides tumbleweeds, lots of sand, and maybe a roadrunner or two.”

And so it began, the first leg of a cross-country trip to court. A trip that would take Inmate Bird, #12345-456, a very long three months to go and come back. All for a ten minute appearance before a federal judge.


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