The Tipping Point

Officer Steve, possibly the most hated correctional officer of the Lake County Correctional Facility, leads Fred Dewitt, an ex-alcoholic laborer, in his mid-50’s, down a concrete block corridor, past the protective custody cells (one of which houses a mouse of a man whom to Fred looks more like a pedophile than anyone he has ever seen – although the man’s actual charges are unknown to him. The other is occupied by a large pool of vomit. The vomit is composed entirely of baby-shit-colored stomach bile in which the solids have congealed into a single pulpy mass, the liquid having run off in a stream that creeps steadily towards the cell door. Fred estimates that 80% of the countie’s inmates are junkies in on heroin related charges) and then to the door of the visiting room. C.O. Steve radios the control tower and there is an audible click as the steel door unlocks. Steve gestures for Fred to enter and he does. The visiting room is actually two rooms -mirror images of eachother- each composed of 5 partitions, 5 stools, 5 black telephones, and one large bullet-proof glass window which seperates the inmates from their visitors. There is one inmate at the far end of the room whispering furtively to a pregnant woman who is listening stoically although her face is streaked with tears and make-up. Fred chooses the partition closest to the door and sits down. He stares blankly at the empty stool in front of him. A few minutes pass and there is a click from the door behind him and Fred turns to see who else he will be sharing the visiting room with.
A sedated-looking Dwayne Marsh, a current alcoholic laborer in his early 20’s, enters the visiting room and perks up awkwardly at the sight of Fred Dewitt sitting there. Fred studys him with obvious disdain.

C.O. Steve: Take a SEAT Marsh.

The door slams shut. Dwayne chooses the middle partition and sits down. Fred and Dwayne attempt to ignore eachother’s presence but the tension is too much for Dwayne.

Dwayne: So… looks like they fucked up, huh?

Fred: What? What are you talking about?

Dwayne: The C.O.’s, man. They’re not supposed to put us in the same room if we have a separation between us. Right?

Fred: God-DAMN-IT. I fucking knew it was you.

Dwayne: What? Nah man you put one on me. Didn’t you?

Fred: You really think I’m scared of you? I’ve never put a separation on anyone, kid. I’m not a little bitch.

Dwayne: Dude. Neither have I. I swear…

Fred: You’re gonna stick with that, huh?

Dwayne: I’m telling you man I didn’t put a separation on you. They even asked me when I got booked in if there was anyone, uh, that I shouldn’t have contact with. Because we’re uh, co-defendants they asked about you specifically, but I told em that it was just a random thing – that we’re cool.

Fred: So why the hell won’t they let me go to the AA meetings then? They literally TOLD me there’s a separation on me and I can’t go to my fucking meetings because of it. Now that I think of it, why are you even going to meetings? What… let me guess, you’ve decided to quit drinking while you’re in jail? This shit’s serious to me, kid. I’m not just trying to kill time.

Dwayne: I’m NOT going to meetings, man. Actually, I plan on drinking the moment I get out of here. I’m tellin you, dude, someone else has a separation on you.

Fred: You wanna know the last time I was in here? NINETEEN-EIGHTY-SEVEN. Right around the time they made DUI’s more than a slap on the wrist. Fucking Mothers Against Drunk Driving… I was one DUI away from mandatory prison time. Haven’t been back since. So no-one knows me here and no-one expects me to be here. Who else would put a separation on me?

For a moment they sit looking at each-other and Fred is surprised when Dwayne does not avert his gaze. He knows then the kid is telling the truth. But there is something else. Something is off. Dwayne’s eyes. His pupils have spilled over their usual boundaries; deep black pools pushing the whites from his eyes.

Fred: Goddamn, kid. You alright?

Dwayne: You mean other than being in jail? Yeah, I’m okay.

Fred: Your eyes. They’re extremely… big.

Dwayne: Oh. That. Yeah, well, I had a, uh, episode down in C.R. (Central Receiving) and I had to spend 3 days in isolation until the doctor could see me. She put me back on my meds.

Fred: Your meds? Psych meds?

Dwayne: Yeah. Depa… uh Depakote and Seroquel. Yeah Depakote and Seroquel.

Fred: Shit. I had no idea, kid. I thought you were just, you know: annoying?

Dwayne: It’s cool. I probably should never have gone off em. But no health insurance and all that… you know?

Fred: Yeah I know. I haven’t had health insurance since I was 18 years old. But wait. Where do they have you housed? You’re not in general pop are you?

Dwayne: Nah. I don’t think so. They got me in 5-G.

Fred: Shit, kid, you’re in 5-Goofy? THAT’S why I haven’t seen you. You didn’t put a separation on me, did you?

Dwayne: I swear. Like I said: I know it was just a one time thing. We’re friends, ya know?

Dwayne says this with such innocence that Fred’s stomach fills with shame and any malice he still harbors towards the kid instantly dissipates with pity. This is an uncomfortable state of being for Fred and he attempts to shake it off and move on.

Fred: So… how they treatin you in 5-Goo… uh, 5-G?

Dwayne: It’s okay I guess. Boring. Everyone just watches t.v. and sleeps. They only get up for meals.

Fred: That’s jail.

Dwayne: I guess… No-one ever really even talks to eachother. Well, except, you know the door between the pods that the C.O.’s walk through when they do headcount? Well, some guy is always knocking on it, trying to trade us commissary for Seroquel. I only did it once. He said he’d give me three candy bars for half a pill but he ended up only sliding a packet of oatmeal under the door. It wasn’t even maple & brown sugar or cinnamon & spice – just original.

Fred: You gotta get your end of the trade first. There are a lot of parasites in here.

Dwayne: I know. I was just hungry. My girl won’t answer the phone or put money on my books. They don’t feed you enough in here…

Fred: I’m in the same boat, kid. Don’t worry about it. We’ll be outta here soon. It’s just a misdemeanor.

Dwayne: Yeah… speaking of, well, I don’t mean to bring it up -not trying to piss you off or anything- but I’ve been playing it over and over in my head: why DID you attack me?

Fred: Attack you? YOU swung first, kid.

Dwayne: I don’t know, man. That’s not how I remember it. I’ll admit it IS pretty hazy but all I remember is you dropping your end of the futon and coming at me.

Fred: Fuck. Okay, yeah, but I wasn’t ATTACKING you.

Dwayne: I don’t know, man. You looked pretty crazy. I felt an overwhelming need to protect myself.

Fred: Ah shit. You’re right kid. I’m sorry. I lost it.

Dwayne: It’s cool. But, uh, why? I didn’t even say anything.

Fred: I’ve been dealing with a lot of shit lately. But that day, well, it was the radio station you’re always playing on your phone…

Dwayne: That’s a quality station. Where else are you gonna hear hits from 3 decades?

Fred: Yeah, well, I usually appreciate being able to listen to music while working. Helps take my mind off the fact that I’m 54 years old and still lugging furniture around for a living, but that day it was just too much. It was that 4 Non Blonde’s song. I think it’s called “What’s Up”? I don’t know…

Dwayne: Really? That’s a good song, man.

Fred: No. No. You’re right. That song’s not bad. I hate to admit it but I actually like it in a way.

Dwayne: I like the lyrics.

Fred: Sure.

Dwayne: What was it then?

Fred: Well, it wasn’t just one song. It was one after another. I think it started with Smash Mouth’s “All Star.” Or, wait, is that Everclear?

Dwayne: I can’t tell the difference either.

Fred: And then Creed’s “With Arms Wide Open” came on and I distincly remember thinking: Oh wow. I can feel my blood pressure rising.

Dwayne: Yeah. That’s not a good song.

Fred: No. It isn’t. It wasn’t a big deal, though. I figured, okay Fred, it’ll all be over in 3 minutes and maybe a halfway decent song will play next. But when the first notes of what I recognized as “Rockstar” by Nickelback came on, well, it was too much.

Dwayne: Damn. You put it like that, I guess I can see where you’re coming from. But, you know, you coulda just asked me to change the station or somethin…

Fred’s elderly mother shuffles in and takes a seat. She sits there looking uncomfortable until Fred, exasperated, gestures for her to pick up the phone and put it to her ear. He turns to Dwayne for one last word.

Fred: I know. Like I said: I lost it. I’m sorry. But I gotta deal with this…

Dwayne: It’s cool, man.

Fred’s Mother: What? Freddie? Hello?

Fred: Nothing, mom. How are you doing? You didn’t have to come.

Fred’s Mother: How do you think I’m doing? Of course I had to come. My only son is in prison.

Fred corrects his mother that this is not prison nor will he be going to prison. She ignores this and he listens passively as she tells him how he is negatively effecting her. Dwayne’s girlfriend and the mother of his son (he has spent the last week listening to fellow inmates talk about women as if they are wild animals in heat and he is now only 50% sure that he is the father of his child) walks in and looks at Fred as if he is the biggest piece of shit she has ever laid eyes on and then continues down the row and sits in front of Dwayne. Fred can hear them slightly and he can tell Dwayne has just asked her for money for they immediately begin arguing. 5 minutes into the visit, C.O. Steve opens the door and informs the 3 inmates that 15 minutes has passed and their visit is over. Dwayne attempts to explain to Steve that although 15 minutes has passed since he entered the visiting room, his actual visit has, in fact, only been 5 minutes long at most. Fred says goodbye to his mother, hangs up the phone, and exits the room without looking back. Fred is relieved that the visit is over and says nothing to C.O. Steve. This is partly due to the fact that Fred knows Steve is an unmoveable force in the C.O. world, but mostly because earlier in the day, the bookcart came through and he finally found a readable book that contained all it’s pages and was not a Western or a Romance and, now, he is eager to lay back on his bunk and lose himself in its words. It has been a long time since he’s had an abundance of free time and he plans on making the most of it (i.e. catching up on sleep and doing as little as possible). As Dwayne exits through the door he turns around for one last glance of his girlfriend but the visiting room is empty.

By A.M.

(Drugs and Culture)

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