The main entrance to Falconer- the only entrance for convicts, their visitors and the staff- was crowned by an escutcheon representing Liberty, Justice, and between the two, the sovereign power of government. Liberty wore a mobcap and carried a pike. Government was the federal Eagle holding an olive branch and armed with hunting arrows. Justice was the conventional; blinded, vaguely erotic in her clinging robes and armed with a headsman’s sword. The bas-relief was bronze, but black these days-as black as unpolished anthracite or onyx. How many hundreds had passed under this, the last emblem most of them would see of man’s endeavor to interpret the mystery of imprisonment in terms of symbols. Hundreds, one guessed, thousands, millions was close. Above the escutcheon was a declension of the place-names: Falconer Jail 1871, Falconer Reformatory, Falconer Federal Penitentiary, Falconer State Prison, Falconer Correctional Facility, and the last, which had never caught on: Daybreak House. Now cons were inmates, the assholes were officers and the warden was a superintendent. Fame is chancy, God knows, but Falconer- with its limited accommodations for two thousand miscreants- was as famous as Newgate. Gone was the water torture, the striped suits, the lock step, the balls and chains, and there was a softball field where the gallows had stood, but at the same time of which I’m writing, leg irons were still used in Auburn. You could tell the men from Auburn by the noise they made.
Farragut (fratricide, zip to ten, #734-508-32) had been brought to this old iron place on a late summer’s day. He wore no leg irons but was manacled to nine other men, four of them black and all of them younger than he. The windows of the van were so high and unclean that he could not see the color of the sky or any of the lights and shapes of the world he was leaving. He had been given forty milligrams of methadone three hours earlier and, torpid, he wanted to see the light of day. The driver, he noticed, stopped for traffic lights, blew his horn and braked on steep hills, but this was all they seemed to share with the rest of humanity. The inestimable shyness of men seemed to paralyze most of them, but not the man manacled to his right. He was a gaunt man with bright hair and a face hideously disfigured by boils and acne. “I hear they have a ball team and if I can play ball I’ll be all right. Just so long as I can pitch a game I’ll stay alive,” he said. “If I can play ball that’ll be enough for me. I never know the score, though. That’s the way I pitch. The year before last I pitched a no-hitter for North Edmonston and I didn’t even know about it until I come off the mound and heard everybody yelling. And I never got laid free, never once. I paid anywhere from fifty cents to fifty dollars, but I never once shot a lump for free. I guess that’s like not knowing the score. Nobody ever give it to me willingly. I know hundreds of men, not so good-looking as me, who get it for nothing all the time, but I never got it once, not once for nothing. I just wish I had it free, once.”
--by John Cheever
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