Six Months to Life, page 2
He reaches over and picks up the gavel.
It’s nothing, I tell myself, laughing. Six months is easy.
When we reach the prison I’m processed, given new clothes, and walked to a large dormitory by a guard. I remember the smell of this place from previous stays—the cold concrete, the iron bars, the old mattress on the bunk. I don’t mind being back in here; it’s not all bad. Drugs are easy to find. The fistfights are fun.
On my first day I’m assigned to dishwashing duty. I have to work a few hours after every meal, then I get to sleep, sit around, pick fights, whatever I want to kill the time.
On my third morning a deputy sheriff appears in front of me.
“Prisoner Gist, get up.”
“You’ve being moved.” He looks up from his clipboard. “You are infected with hepatitis and are highly contagious. We are moving you to an isolated area.”
An isolated area meant a desk in the front of the jail. Alone.
The deputy hands me a handwritten list of each prisoner who had entered or exited the prison that day. Then he nods at the old manual typewriter on the desk.
I laugh out loud. “Are you serious? I don’t type!”
“You do now,” he says.
Great. I say, looking at the list. I turn the page, and the next page, and the next . . . This will take all day.
I scoot the chair up to the table and put the list down next to the typewriter. I look at the first letter in the first name. S. My eyes scan the keyboard. S, S, S, S, ah, there it is. I punch the key and it thwacks off the paper.
Okay, now M. M, M, M, M, there is no M on here. Then I see it and strike it with my pointer finger.
Over the next few days I lose count of how many times I curse at the old typewriter. The keys are too small and I hit the wrong ones, then I have to pull out the paper, whiteout the mistake, and roll it back in.
“Can’t you find someone else to do this?” I beg the guard.
“Nope,” is all he says, without looking up from the newspaper.
“Great,” I mumble to myself. “Where is the stupid L?”
* * * * *
After four months of sitting at that desk, hunched over the typewriter, hunting, pecking, typing name after name, I knew how to type. I was no secretary, but I could do it. A page that used to take me an hour was only taking ten minutes.
When I work, I hear the judge’s voice in my head. Use the time to think about your life. It’s not my favorite thing, looking back. I was adopted by an abusive family and learned at an early age how to run away. I took off from home, school, summer camp, juvenile hall, a mental hospital, and even jail. Running was the only thing I knew how to do.
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