Just another day in a prison without end

Written by Varrick Kwang
Art by Jimmy Chan

Another day behind bars, another day watching grainy footage of civilians protesting about “freedom” and how “vaccines are evil” on communal TV. I can’t help but groan. The people of Port Estrella never fail to astonish me with how stupid, selfish, and cruel they can be. A virus and its mutated strains are running wild out there and they complain about having to take countermeasures to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

They shouldn’t be complaining. Do they even make sense? 

Those idiots out there in the free world complaining about having to get jabbed, wear masks and obey social distancing guidelines clearly have never been behind bars before. 

If these fools had been here, they would have been tased and tied up by the guards in a stretcher, then taken to the vaccination booth to get jabbed. And then thrown into solitary confinement for a week. They don’t know how good they have it. 

Even if they did not protest they would be hauled by armoured officers to one of the courtyards turned into vaccination centres with their wrists and ankles bound in chains. I went through this process three times. 

These civilians should be glad they get to be vaccinated without being in chains. Don’t get me started on how we have to kneel in the middle of the courtyard for an hour while our arms are still sore. Anyone so much as to make a noise, take a baton to the very arm they got the injection in.

Those bloody civilians get to sit in nice chairs for half an hour and collect freebies, we don’t. Hell, they could even claim vouchers and get to join a lucky draw as an incentive. 

I’ve been catching up with the news through the carefully curated prison broadcast. That’s all the prison media harps on these days: the virus and only that. No more finance news, no politics, no tabloids, nothing. It’s all vaccines, viruses and case numbers. 

I started to read a copy of Moby Dick while the other inmates kept on looking at the prison TV despite how boring it was. 

I’ll never see the streets again, so the closest thing to having an adventure would be in a good book.

Yet a few pages in, I put the book down, as I was little under the weather after my third booster shot mandated by the warden. Nothing much, just general discomfort, dizziness and a lot of fatigue. 

Who am I to complain? I chose that path. I was born into the ghetto where there was nothing but crime and despondence, yet I could have moved away from it all instead of embracing it.

I started off meddling with my mom’s old computer, with the applications, the settings, and then the command lines. Since my mother had no money to buy me toys, I spent my days with the old desktop.

From there I got deeper and deeper. Soon I was impersonating people online, then I moved on to scams and finally to hacking. When the hood rats confronted me over trying to steal or con their money online, I simply shot them- to summarize. 

From there I started my own gang, which I dubbed Terminal 38201- and I got dubbed “Gambling Dragon”. My men bore the tattoo of a Dragon marked with the four symbols of Poker on its forehead while holding poker cards, swords, and guns in their talons. The body of the dragon had the number 38201 emblazoned on it. I had one of those inked on my chest, but the prison officials forced it off me. 

I started to buy houses with the new streams of wealth I made through extortion rackets, scam call centres, hit jobs, and underground casinos. Then, I expanded to online casinos. 

Within two years Terminal 38201 became one of the biggest gangs in the slums of Port Estrella. 

Eventually, the law caught up to me after one of my men got arrested. I’d like to think I would have avoided being caught if he hadn’t snitched on me. Up to this day, I did not know who exactly started the snitching- one did, then followed by the other, and before I knew it everyone said their piece.  

So here I am serving ten life sentences for ten murders and more than two hundred cases of computer hacking. That and organizing a criminal gang. Looking back, however, I do not feel much guilt or regret over the scums I’ve put down. Many of them were greedy, murderous assholes, not very much different from me. I know I wasn’t the best person myself, but at least I wasn’t the one being stomped into the dirt. And besides, I funded the effort to build hospitals, clinics and schools in my area, to do some good with all that money. 

To think that someone like me would lose it all, was unfathomable to me in my prime.

This isn’t something I like to ruminate on. Nor is this something I want to talk about in-depth. 

I lived in yachts, cruises, mansions, penthouses…and now, all I am reduced to is a small cinder block room barely big enough for a straw mat and a urinal. The walls are painted a plain grey, and those damned officers tear down any and all pictures or posters I put on them. 

Back in the old days, my houses never had such dullness- they were painted brightly with pastel colours and had intricate artwork portraying landscapes or gothic architecture.  I even had an oil painting of a whale in the toilet.  Model ships in bottles adorned my fireplace, it looked beautiful. 

Then those fucking cops smashed my bottled ships and took away my art pieces when they raided my home. 

My balconies had infinity pools for me to admire the cityscape while I swam, and now my only window in my cell is a frosted window enforced with metal bars that I gaze out of while I soak in a pool of sweat. The opaque window panel is almost like a mockery–it might as well not have been there. 

I take off my orange jumpsuit with the number 38201 inked on the back, faded from years spent in the max security block, then went to sleep on my straw mat. 

The sirens of ambulances rudely wake me up from my sleep, despite being faint through the concrete walls of the cellblock. My head throbs as I wake up to the sight of a prison cell- barren, dark and musty. It’s times like these when I feel a slight twinge of regret for everything that landed me here. Only slight. 

Vestiges of red and blue sirens shine into my cell under the darkness, despite the frosted glass filtering them like a membrane. 

I pictured medical staff fully covered in PPEs scampering to the ambulances with the sick–my fellow inmates– in stretchers while fully armoured in their face shields, masks and suits. 

The virus must have spread here at last. Given how virulent the spread is, I’m only surprised that it didn’t come to our gates sooner. I cannot imagine how bad it is for the affected, and their families. 

I never did have any empathy for anyone before I came in. Certainly not anyone I’ve robbed from, or anyone I’ve put in the ground. A prison TV harping on a global pandemic sure as fuck didn’t. 

I have been away from the streets a long time, but my instincts never dulled. You don’t get to survive this long without being sharp. The virus has arrived in this prison. 

Just then, an idea starts to form in my head, and the spark of the wildest hope does too. 

Nothing to do with revenge, or going back to the old business. Oh no, I have long forgotten about it, and I have no more desire to start over from ground zero. The white whale has long been skinned down to its bones and drained of its fat. 

I want to find my best friends, Tom and Tasha- the Ishamels to my Ahab.