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Input/Output, short story by 

Do You know what it’s like to be overwhelmed by fear? Total kind. The kind I felt when they opened the cell. You’re entering and there is this little bulb shining, 30W at most. You can barely see anything. Walls all singed, blackened. Beds weren’t better. Air was stinking and stifling, medium-sized window with net, grates and a wall two meters behind it. There was almost no light from that window. As if You entered the basement. Only three times worse. Hole. You consider yourself a normal person and there are only degenerates. Bald, skinny. Or the other way around – muscular. You’re standing there and saying to yourself: “Dear God. What the fuck have I got myself into?!” Then immediate fear. They’re gonna get you. I wasn’t able to sleep for two weeks. Every night I had my eyes wide open. Later, when I got used to it, I slept very well.

I have never slept that well in my life. Habits stayed with me. At home you’re switching the light off, in prison you don’t. One time I was at a hostel with a friend of mine. Conditions were so bad, we felt like in a cell. And there were bunk beds. And we waited for someone to come and switch the light off. That night was the first time I slept as well as in prison. I felt safe.

I was afraid a lot. Very much. For real. I never showed it, but I felt it. I was afraid that I’m never coming out. And that I would have to live there. That was my worst fear. Man loses hope when it takes so long. Even while I was coming out, I didn’t believe it. It’s a feeling as if a man have to stay there till the end of his life.

Do You know who I am afraid of? Other prisoners. Prison guards. You never know when someone is coming through the door. And who it would be. And you know what’s funny about those doors? You can never open them yourself. You know – when you want to. Door can be opened by someone with the key – so either pedagogue or some psychologist. They come as they want, when they want, as if it’s their place. They break the routine you worked out. Door is being opened only for a walk and at lunchtime. Even if you want to see a doctor, he can examine you through the door. And after the evening roll call only the head guard on shift has the keys. So if, God forbid, something happens, like you were beaten or something threatens your life, you’ll wait a long time for help. If you have a heart attack – you die in cell.

You know what else makes you afraid? Violence. It occurs mostly between old and new ones. The new ones often have some kind of tussles. But the ones that are there longer are calm. Everyone knows their place. Their routine. Knows who to talk to, what to do. And young ones always tell petty stories, wait for something. Everyone went through this phase. So when you hear the same story for the hundredth or thousandth time, you’re pissed. You have to fight all the time – for your dignity, your safety, you have to sense threats that can come your way. And eliminate them. Counteract them. You’re learning. Even a pen can cause a row. You’re ready to kill each other over a trifle matter like a mug standing the wrong way. Or a broom not where it should be. If no one holds you off, you can’t stop. If there is a fight in a cell with two people in it, there’s an 80% chance there will be “head”. It means that someone dies. Cause there’s no other person to interfere and say: “Sorry, it’s time”. So when someone gets carried away, there’s no mercy. If you’re hitting someone, you’re doing it to kill.

Cause it’s like this prison itself awakens hate and aggression in you. And you have to deal with it some way. If you don’t, then, sorry, you’re a victim. There are only two groups of people: victims and tormentors. There’s no half-measures. I miss this honesty. You know, who’s good, who’s bad. I cannot catch that at liberty, who’s telling the truth, who ‘s lying. But I’m learning. And I’m honest. I don’t lie.

Fear of returning to prison is always with you. Every inmate knows that you can always go back behind bars. Even if I know that I did nothing wrong, I avoid police. Lately, I had to go to the police station and I was afraid to go in. Cause I thought I was never going out of there. Every former inmate knows it’s the begging of the end when he sees a police station.

People with families have it the worst. If someone waits for them, it’s a tragedy. If no one waits for you, serving your time is different. I had an advantage cause no one was waiting for me…

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