That night I heard, “Fuck the popo,” and thought, shit, somebody’s done for.
The day before, “Don’t carve your name or you’ll be back, that’s what I heard in jail; buddy carved his name in and three years later was staring up at it, same cell, I seen it.”
The bench and table of the courtyard smoke pit were covered in names and dates, some carved, some in Sharpie ink. “Denial is not a river” stayed on the board.
The new people seemed to always have the same odd expression, as if they had found themselves in a zoo exhibit. “Don’t worry, you’re in the right place,” somebody’d say, not considering that perhaps this wasn’t consolation.
I looked out the window, waited for gossip of who was done for—nothing—nothing but a tabby cat—feral, I think—reminded me of the Fs—fight, flight, freeze.
One day past into the next, more names, more dates, empty beds briefly then replaced—new chore lists—I went to clean the ashtrays and found my initials underneath and I must have froze because the next I knew the ashtrays were full and the smell of burritos was coming from the kitchen.
One day at a time, as the cliché went, but sometimes the days seemed to all come at once and I knew my Fs by then—so well—even the feral cats would be jealous.
War stories filled the air with cigarette smoke. Visitors shifted around, hugging the walls. I became the next crib champion, cleaned out more ashtrays, but never put my name in.
And still when I hear a loud sound from an unknown location or watch a cat burst out with electrified hair, think—somebody’s done for, somebody’s done for. I couldn’t be crib champion forever.