The atmosphere crackled with electricity as the loudspeakers came to life. “Prisoners, to your marks.” It was the only command made of them before the speakers went silent and the guards spread through the floors to ensure that the command was followed. The prisoners moved towards the middle of their cells and stood on the mark on the floor, hands in the air palms flat. The clear doors to the cells slid open signaling they were allowed to walk out into the corridor. In unison the prisoners walked forward and stood just outside their cells, palms still flat in the air. The door at the end of the corridor slid open and the prisoners took their cue and turned towards the door, walking in a single file line to the outdoor area where they would be permitted one hour of exercise.
Several lamps were stood dark around the blacktop they were forced to spend time on. Prisoners segregated themselves based on the crimes they had committed prior to being brought into prison. Each group had their own section of the yard they hung around and if anyone outside their group wandered into their area they had better be ready for a fight.
The Killers hung around the weights, they would sometimes lift weights but more than not they would simply hang around them so nobody else could use the equipment. Their name said it all they were guilty of murder. Despite their crime they were not the most feared or hated group in the prison yard.
The Gamers could be found on the basketball court, they would make use of the court and play each other in what appeared to be a never ending game of basketball. Gamers had been involved in anything from petty larceny to grand theft. Most had to learn to fight when they entered the prison system, joining the Gamer gang kept many thieves safe.
The Benchwarmers hung around the benches watching the other groups, always watching. Benchwarmers were hated by other inmates as their crimes were often seen as cowardly and pathetic. Most of the prison fights were with a Benchwarmer and a member of another gang. Even the deadliest murderer could not abide these men who were involved in some kind of sexual crime, rape and child molesting being the most common. The group was, however, the largest and they fiercely protected each other so fights with them ended up huge brawls unless the price could be paid for a Sniper to kill a Benchwarmer.
The furthest from the doors, half hidden in shadows was the Sniper gang. They were small but powerful. Most of these men could get anything another prisoner wanted inside the prison. If you were addicted to Joy they could smuggle it in, if you needed another inmate killed they could arrange it, they could do anything for the right price. These men were scum of society. Their businesses outside the walls oftentimes made them guilty of multiple crimes. Selling emotions to the black market was not for the weak-hearted and these men were proof of that.
Lastly, the Ladies hung around the doors. These men committed crimes that did not fit into one of the four main categories. They were considered weak and easy prey. Ladies would oftentimes find a protector in one of the other groups. Their protector would make sure that no one picked on them in exchange for other services the Ladies would provide.
Prisoner Four-Three-Eight never wandered into the yard he preferred to stay close to the wall. He did everything he could to get out of joining the others in the yard. He managed to be absent for exercise time most days but on the rare occasion he was forced to spend time outdoors with the rest of the population he stayed close to the wall. He never participated in the games of basketball that started up nor did he move to lift weights, to do so would be a sign that he was joining a gang.
No one on the inside knew what crime he was guilty of, he never spoke of it to anyone lest he be forced to join the gang of those who had committed a similar crime. He didn’t want to talk to the others. He knew he wasn’t any better than them, but choosing not to speak of his crime was one of the few freedoms he had left and he wanted to hold onto it as long as possible. He was better off alone against the wall.
His first trip to the yard was brutal. He wouldn’t speak of his crime so the others labeled him a Lady. When one of the Killers tried to get what he wanted in order to protect Eight there had been a fight and Eight had beaten the other man to a pulp. He had earned solitary for that but no one considered him a Lady anymore and they let him be.
His eyes scanned the yard as he watched the groups as they feigned their freedom and animosity towards each other. Four-Three-Eight wasn’t sure they really disliked each other or if it was just something that they thought they were supposed to do. It wouldn't matter once they ended up in the Mines. After watching for only moments, his eyes looked upwards towards the dome that surrounded their yard. The sun beat down unapologetically as the inmates went about their time outside.
“Eight,” a whispered voice came from a few yards away. He knew immediately it was his cell neighbor talking to him. He was the only one who even attempted to converse with the silent inmate any longer. His neighbor, inmate Four-Three-Nine had been chatty when he first arrived at the prison, asking him about his crime, his name, his past. Four-Three-Eight gave no information up so the man had started to call him ‘Eight’. No one else had been able to get his name out of him, the guards only called the inmates by their prisoner numbers and that suited him just fine. It wasn’t long before the other inmates started to call him Eight; even the guards would shorten his number to Eight when they ordered him about.
Eight turned his attention to the other man waiting to find out why he was pestering him during yard time. Typically, his cell neighbor, Four-Three-Nine, who told him his real name but Eight could never remember, hung around the Killers. He told Eight he hadn’t really killed anyone but he wasn’t joining the Ladies.
“Couldn’t pull dish duty today?” The man asked as he sat down next to Eight, much to his annoyance.
Eight shrugged and turned his eyes back to the top of the dome. He could really use a cigarette but he wasn’t going to approach the Snipers to try to get one. He wasn’t sure what they would want from him in return and he couldn’t chance letting anyone in this place know that he had a weakness for nicotine. Almost as if his cell neighbor could read his mind he pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered Eight one before pulling one out for himself. Eight waited for his turn with the match, he ignored it when the match burned too close to his fingers as he lit his cigarette.
“Thanks,” he muttered as he savored the nicotine that he got from taking his first drag in months.
“Not as good as Joy but it will do, eh?” Four-Three-Nine said before taking another drag from his cigarette. The man held his breath before releasing the smoke, blowing it towards the top of the dome. “Though nothing beats Hope.”
Eight didn’t say anything in response to his neighbor’s comments. He silently puffed his cigarette and watched the sky. He didn’t need to reply to this man about how addicting Emotions were he watched his mother waste away addicted to Emotions and what was done to her through the guise of helping her.
He forced his mind away from thoughts of his mother as the finished smoking his cigarette in silence. The loudspeaker crackled on again announcing that yard time was over and all prisoners were to line up to be led back inside to their cells.
Eight took his place in line in front of Four-Three-Nine and waited to file into the building. The floor thundered as the men returned to their cells and took their places back on the mark on the floor facing the door palms flat. The doors slid shut and they were released to do whatever they could do to pass the time in their solitary cells. Eight wished they were more solitary. He didn’t share a cell with anyone but it didn’t matter in the Glass House. The cells were all made of a clear and unbreakable Plexiglas. Eight could see all the other prisoners around and across from him. Guards could watch you piss if they so inclined. It was the smallest price paid for committing crimes and being caught in the Fifty Second Year of Order.
“Attention,” A voice crackled over the speaker system. Every inmate stopped and looked towards the speaker closest to them. The only reason for an announcement after yard time and before dinner was to announce those that would be sent to the mines the following day. They would be able to request a special dinner that night as their last in the comforts of prison.
Every inmate feared the time they would be called to go into the bowels of the earth to the mines. None of them could predict when they would call their number for them to report. When the penal system had first been established the new regime knew they could not continually feed lawbreakers without the public revolting again so they put in place a program in which the prisoners could earn their freedom. The program appeased those who still wanted leniency for the criminals and yet was determined harsh enough for those who wanted the criminals to pay in some manner. But the program failed. The prisoners kept going into the mines, but none ever earned their freedom and those that would protest were too busy with other problems to protest the treatment of lawbreakers.
Eight started to pick the dirt from under his nails as he waited for the voice to continue. When the voice finally came back he held his breath as he waited for the numbers to be called hoping that he was excluded from this batch.
“The following prisoners will get to choose their meals tonight and will report for duty in the mines in the morning.” Eight held his breath as the numbers started to be called. They were numbers no where near his own. If he believed it would have helped he would have crossed his fingers in hopes he wouldn't get called.
“Four three nine,” As his neighbor's number was called he glanced briefly at the man who's face had fallen into a solemn expression he wasn't sure he'd ever seen the man wear before.
“And finally, Four three eight.”
Eight's breath caught in his throat as he heard his number. He was still looking in the direction of Four three nine's cell and the other man looked up and caught his eye. The fear in his neighbor's eyes was apparent and was surely mirroring his own fear. Eight closed his eyes, took a few deep breaths and leaned back on his bed once again.
A small, thin smile spread across his face. At least he'd finally have a decent meal.