Cognizant. Suddenly aware of
himself, Gero systematically ran diagnostic checks throughout his entire body:
"Working". Deeply stretching, he listened for recognizable sounds and smelt
familiar odors before opening his eyes. "Fucking prison," he muttered to himself as he emerged from the deep haze.
There was no rush. Lying calmly, not
bothering to get up, Gero heard voices conversing. Men spoke across to one another, up and down, and from floor to floor, making arrangements for the day's social activities.
"Hey Lefthand, do me a favor. Holler up at
He-man on the fifth tier and tell him to bring out some coffe and smokes today, "shouted Begging Benny.
"I'm a little short."
"Every morning you got me asking SOMEBODY for
SOMETHING," replied Lefthand. "Man you always short! You could'n't blow a
midget without a step-ladder!"
Muffled bursts of laughter revealed all
who were awake, and even Gero managed a prolonged grin. "Oohs" and "Aahs"'
started up instantly. Someone said, "Vertically challenged men. ! Midget' s not P.C."
Still more laughter.
Never a break, never a break, thought Gero.
Gero hated the first person who spoke each morning. He
preferred the solitude of the quiet early dawn: birds singing, taunting, boasting, bragging of their liberty, showing off their
youth as they flew by the aging convicts in their cages. He hated the clinking of padlocks against metal traylots, the jingling of officers' keys as they woke you accidentally at three o'clock in the morning during their count. He hated the announcements over t~e P_ system. He even hated the sun that illuminated his world afresh each morning.
Mostly though, he hated himself.
"Hey, Lefthand," continued Begging Benny.
"What, man? What you want now?" "Holler at He-man for me."
"Yeah, right! Just cool out."
The plexisglass window was reinforced by several bars of alkaline steel, and daylight shining through it
warmed Gero's cell. Translucent particles iridescently reflecting in dance
promised another glorious summer day.
He slept with a wool blanket each night regardless of the weather, and now, fo1ding its last corner military style and tucking it under, he finished making his
bed. Despite a conscious effort to avoid hurting himself in the narrow walkway,
manoeuvering between the corners and the concrete wall and the metal bedframe, he nicked his shin on the sharp corner of the frame. He breathed out
a string of profanities.
"Are you going out today?" asked a guard as he approached
The guard hung a pair of handcuffs on the barred door and proceded down the tier enquiring as to who was
going to the exercise yard today.
Everyone loathed getting stripped and searched whenever they 1eft their cell, but it was procedure on Death Row. Going outside was a privilege, the price was condemned degradation.
As he washed, Gero listened quite closely, and quietly to the many conversations that went on each day, a prudent habit he'd developed during his early years in prison. when detecting any hint of hostility in the words or tones spoken by one inmate to another, he wisely removed himself from their proximity. He didn't associate with
the toublesome types, wasn't affiliated with the rowdies. Nevertheless, something was grating on his mind; he couldn't quite point out what it was, his spiceless food tasted even more bland than
usual. Was his subconscious telling him to watch his back more than usual?
Had he unintentionally said something stupid yesterday, and now would regret offending the wrong nutcase? What was it?
Basketball! It was basketball, now he remembered. He had a one-on-one game today against
Cutthroat, that was it, just a silly game. Relief poured through his body like water, quenching the tension in his
muscles, and he breathed a sigh. He'd forgotten that the match was today. Gero wasn't a
fearful man, but when confronted with conflict he would have small anxiety attacks, a sense of paranoia that
secretly shamed him.
"You can't beat Gero": Raul said.
Cutthroat had been within earshot of Gero's group of friends on the yard when he stoutly proclaimed that he
could beat anybody under 6'1 in agame of basketball.
"You can't beat Gero," Raul said again confidently: for years
he had watched Gero play. It had snowballed from there, the usual exacerbation of testosterone ensued,
and before Gero realized he was the subject of many bets.
He was put under the microscope, his past performances scrutinzed, his skill questioned. "...yeah, but he's 35 years old. Okay, okay,
I'll give him that he's pretty agile and can run games all day, but still, Cutthroat's younger and quicker;
and he's got a few inches on Gero. No way Gero's going to stop him inside from making 1ay-up shots.
"Man that's crap and you know it. He's twice as strong as Cutthroat down under and
I'll bet money on it. See, one thing you're forgetting about is Gero's devastating
outside shot; and his...."
Raul and the others argued back and forth.
Gero really didn't feel up to these machismo
Ten years ago he'd have run Cutthroat's ass into the ground, but this morning his body wasn't warming to the
idea of pushing and, pulling, running, and jumping, and battling youngsters for big orange balls. Why hadn't he outwitted these insatiable idiots, he thought.
He could have dodged the match without losing face. A few choice remarks, a bit of reverse psychology, hell even a lame excuse would have worked. Perhaps he exulted in his
resilience, his seemly infinite youth. He knew deep down inside he could beat Cutthroat; he was winning 7 to 4 in
a game of first to 11, but his body was tiring and he wished it was over already.
Fridays were generally tense. Inmates returnig from the adjustment center-the
Hole-were reintroduceed into regular population, often only to be thrown back in the Hole for fighting, not quite content with the outcome of the previous fight. There was to be no such distraction today, and the match had gone on as planned. Everyone stood around observing the game, criticizing,
laughing, clapping; encouraging the players. Most of the older fellows were for Gero, obviously pulling for
him, as if his victory ,would reaffirm their usefulness, credit their very lives. Cutthroat also had his
believers too-they pointed out Gero's weaknesses at every turn. Lefthand;
He-man, and Begging Benny drank coffee and smoke cigarettes while watching the two players struggling for the ball, with
loud voices and exaggerated joy they laughed at every missed shot. This aggravated Gero and he
mentally castigated himself for falling into the trap, and being the day's entertainment for fools.
Physical defeat on any level in prison could and would be construed as weakness, encouraging the
bullies and vultures to circle. Perhaps a young man might recover but for an old man,
he's normally put out to pasture, his opinions no longer important, his respect
optional. To Gero this was, more than just a game: everyone was watching, everyone judging.
Cutthroat managed to close the gap within one point: the score was now 10 to 9 and
Cutthroat had possession of the ball. If he scored, then the winner would be forced to win by two
points, a deuce game. This would prolong the match. Gero was barely able to produce enough energy to finish a regulation
game, he'd surely lose an extended one.
Gero began a campaign of aggressive fouling, roughly attacking the ball each time Cutthroat came in for a close shot. This way, although Cutthroat maintained possession of the ball due to the excessive fouling, Gero kept
him from scoring. This frustrated Cutthroat, but tickled the many spectators.
"That's cheating, Gero," he complained. "You're just afraid that if you play fair
I'll win. Every time I come close you foul me. Man, if this was the NBA you would've already fouled out by now and I would win by default. So what's up, you gonna play fair or
what?" Gero didn't even respond, he just stood , ready to defend the basket.
Cutthroat came down, again he was fouled hard. "Foul!" he cried.
"Just shoot outside," advised one of his newly acquried fans.
But Cutthroat had little confidence in his outside shot. A few people ridiculed Gero's unsportmanlike
behavior, but most commended him for his tenacity. After all this is prison, and you got an unlimited number of fouls to give.
After being fouled a couple more times,
Cutthroat reluctantly shot outside and missed. Gero quickly retrieved the ball, shot, and scored the game-winning basket. His strategy had
paid off, congratulations all around.
He had won, and it didn't matter how.
Written by, Gregory C. Smith