Mason had never seen a prison where inmates could lean right up against the wall surrounding it without getting a bullet between the eyes. He mentioned it to the correctional officer they called, Matlock, as the two of them made small talk. They were murderer and cop perched in the sun, leaning against a wall used for handball. They were underneath a gun tower, and a gray concrete wall surrounding A, B, C, and D blocks. Both men looked at the athletic field used for bloody prison sports. A few hundred men, braving the harsh January winds. Watching the flag football game: one team blue, the other yellow. No pads in sight—on every down someone pounded to the snow. That was the Graterford Penitentiary way.
"Besides getting out their aggression in a legal fashion," Mason said, "you know what else they're engaging in?"
Matlock said, "It's called football. What the hell are you on?" He lifted his eyebrows.
This was the dumbest guard Mason had ever encountered. His success at busting inmates selling drugs, producing hooch, and engaging in gambling because inmates gave him tips. Mason had been in the fourth year of his seventeen-and-a-half to thirty-four-year sentence. Matlock being called Matlock after the TV attorney was blasphemy.
"They're delusional—downright out-of-touch with reality—playing in the Super Bowl," Mason said, "pretending they're in sunny New Orleans at the Superdome. They don’t see the fucking snow on the ground. Both teams think they're the mighty San Francisco 49ers."
Matlock said, "They ain't worth a damn. Can't even get a dive play right."
Mason shook his head. Idiot. He turned to size-up the guard's profile, the bill of his fitted cap curved around a round face. Gray shirt with matching epaulets that matched his pants; radio and flash light hooked to his belt. Mason looked at his size, eye-to-eye with Matlock at six-two. From there, where Mason went straight up and down with athletic cuts hidden under prison browns, Matlock was fifty-pounds heavier. Most of the weight surrounded the guard's waist. His shirt fitting him like the skin on a sausage. Disgusted, Mason turned back to the 49ers.
He watched a sheisty black guy go deep for a pass and get clipped going up for the ball, mowed down by another black guy on defense. The few white boys—speed dealers and bikers—who had the balls and the weight, were linemen and punched each other each chance they got: every play. No Hispanics on either roster. They spectated and bet prison currency—packs of cigarettes—on the winners. Not the two Puerto Ricans doing laps around the field: clockwise, because in every jail inmates did things backward. The same two ran ten miles every day, along with twenty sets of pull-ups and dips. No weights, they needed to be lean and quick.
Ricardo Suarez and Luna Gonzalez, Pretty Ricky and Big Lu, wife and husband, both built like jockeys, both serving LIFE for murder. They hadn't done their usual ten miles, walking along the fence to observe the game, they had Mason's full attention. He had his eyes locked onto them.
After they settled amongst their kind, Mason said, "Some people are making plans to escape. What if I told you when and how?"
Matlock stared at him with his signature raised brows, his way to judge if a convict was telling the truth or giving him a crock-of-shit. "Who're you talking about?"
"There's a price for everything, Matlock," Mason said with his eyes still on the game.
"I get your weed in here."
"And you're paid well for that, sir. Now, what I need," Mason said, facing him, "is leeway to do me. Some peace. This place is the worse. Most of these muthafuckas are violent prisoners with no morals. They need the police's feet on their necks. I don't."
Matlock said, "Coming from a convicted murderer on his third state bid: did one federal for being a felon possessing a weapon, and a half dozen county bids."
"You've done your homework?"
"Then you know I'm not like that anymore. Look at those vicious derelicts. I'm not all that violent, perhaps a recidivist, but when they parole me, guess what, I'll be a model citizen."
Matlock raised one eyebrow. "So your rat now?"
"Not at all," Mason said, "I have to be here a long time and ensuring my future and yours. You stop a prison break, make sergeant, advance your career to lieutenant on the express train. I get peace of mind by you not bothering me. Let me run my business, keep me from working some shitty job for twelve-cents-an-hour."
Matlock furrowed his eyebrows. "Tell me something: How'd you get arrested? I mean the specifics."
"We got time for that?"
"You need to make the time because I'm not buying you rolled over and want the cheese I set aside for rats. And if I hear a lie, I’ll lock you under the jail. While you're there, I'll catch the guys trying to escape."
"OK...put that way...four years ago..."
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