The very building itself looked ominous. If you looked past the high fence, the barb wire, the guards clad in body-armor clutching their semi automatic weapons; if you looked only at the grey cinder blocked building, it looked doomed. However, prisons were rarely architecturally beautiful. It looked exactly like what it was; a fortress. Only this was a fortress designed to keep people in, rather than keep people out.
As he stood staring up at the building so many people had told him was his destiny, he thought about how a few different choices in his life could have led him to a different fate. Here he was standing on the outside looking at a place most people shuddered at the very mention of.
It had happened when he was seventeen; he wanted to buy clothing with the right labels; he wanted to have the cash to go out every night and party without having to bum cigarettes off everyone else. He wanted everything he saw in the movies, the music videos and the magazine ads. And then a friend of a friend offered a solution.
At first he was just a look-out. His job was simply to warn the big players if there was everyone watching. Then he started handling; he did the grunt work. All his instructions began with the words, “Grab that” and ended with “put it there.” He didn’t feel guilty. And the money was incredible. All he had to do was go where they told him to go, do what they asked him to do and keep his mouth shut.
Suddenly he was at all the best parties; he had all the right clothes and nobody dared to mess with him because they feared his friends. He was living the life.
He never played around with the stuff; he wasn’t stupid. He was just one minor cog in the greater machine. He didn’t mouth off or draw attention to himself in any way. Eventually he had a reputation of being a closed mouth guy that worked hard and who could be trusted.
His parents knew that something was up, but they were smart enough not to ask. For the first time in his life, he felt powerful. He did what he wanted to do and he could buy whatever he wanted without having to beg for hand-outs. He was a man who suddenly had complete control over his life. And life was good.
However, that was when things went wrong. A hand-off was interrupted by the police and a few major players were taken down. He had been saving for the day when he could get out of “the game” and this was his chance. The group broke up and the fight for leadership quickly escalated. Several were killed and the police took down a few others. In all the confusion, no one noticed that he was no longer active. He got out and moved to a different part of the city.
He got a job in construction and his well-honed ability to do what he was told without question paid off once more. The money wasn’t what it had been, but it was still good. He was quiet and so most thought of him as reliable and loyal; he never contradicted them. Slowly all the old ties deteriorated and he was forgotten; a minor player from a different era.
Now here he stood, in front of the very prison he would have been sent to had he been caught. He had never been on the police’s radar, but he still watched his step around cops.
The company he worked for was doing some excavation work for a nearby dump and the dark bulk of the “correctional facility” loomed above the workers. It made many of the men nervous and he had the distinct feeling that he wasn’t the only one who had crossed the line of the law at some time in the past.
Fate was a funny thing, he thought. By law he had been a trafficker and now here he was a free man unburdened by a criminal record. He had been lucky once and he knew that only a man without sense would ever try pressing that luck again.
His boss came around and announced the end of the work day. He packed up and when asked declined going out for an after work drink. Climbing into his truck, he turned back for a moment and silently he sent up a prayer of thanks for having been spared a fate, most considered, worse than death.
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