A Different Christmas Story (Chapter 12)
Christmas Comes to the SHU, part 1
As Babbitt approached the sally port, the gate came to life and with a loud buzz electricity pulled the plunger back into the lock allowing Babbitt to push the gate inward. He invited Cassie and Scott to join him in the prison yard. Once they were inside, Babbitt let the gate swing back to its locked position. Metal echoed once again across the empty asphalt surface.
Babbitt could see the couple was nervous and kept his posture soft. They exchanged names and shook hands. Scott saw Babbitt eyeing the bag containing the Christmas gifts that soon would be distributed to the occupants of the SHU. Scott grabbed the drawstring to open the bag so Babbitt could search it however stopped short when Babbitt raised his hand, waiving off the gesture to show him the contents.
Babbitt explained the protocol for the task they were about to undertake.
“As we approach each cell door, I will open the rectangular slot. I would like Cassie to take one cup out at a time. First, tip it so I may inspect the contents then hand the cup to Scott who is to grab it around the top rim and hand it to the inmate. Now listen carefully, the inmate will be allowed to extend his hand out of the slot to receive his gifts by taking the bottom portion of the cup. Scott, do not ever put your hand into the cell. If the inmate makes no attempt to accept his gifts or does not extend his hand we will move on to the next door. Keep the conversation limited. Understood?”
The three of them began their journey across the north yard to the SHU. Out of nowhere Cassie made a statement that stopped Babbitt in his tracks.
“I have a message for someone, and it's important that I give it to him.” The look on her face was somewhere between stern and serious. “I promised.”
Babbitt stopped for a moment in silent, deep thought. The wheels of the cart began squeaking again as they moved forward in unison. “What is the message and who is it for?” was all that was asked.
Cassie’s heart was pounding, “Georgia Petros has a private message for her son, Danny.”
Babbitt responded softly, “I’m sorry, I can't allow that.”
The rest of the walk was uneasy. No other words were exchanged until Babbitt told his guest to hold up as they stopped in front of a strange looking door. Babbitt unclipped a large ring of heavy looking keys and inserted a strange looking one into what looked like a light switch cover, only it was metal not plastic. They waited.
White had collected all the trays and was satisfied all the bones had been returned. He had double checked to ensure no inmates had held onto any of these potential weapons. He directed the prison trustees to return the empty food carts to the main kitchen. As they mingled between the entrance and elevator to the lower depths of the dungeon the bell rang several times in succession. At the same time a bell rang in the SHU control room. The alarms alerted the prison trustees to assume procedure and clear elevator door area while the duty officer was informed someone had arrived.
As the elevator doors opened, the trustees followed procedure and lined up themselves against the far wall. They stood attention-like however their their hands were placed in the small of their backs and they faced the wall.
The gate-door of the elevator opened and Babbett stepped out followed by Cassie and Scott . The heads of the trustee inmates turned right, in unison, as if they had been given a military drill order. They all focused on Cassie. Even in her conservative church uniform she turned heads. She became instantly uneasy.
Babbitt barked out “Are you men eyeballing me?”
Almost in unison they called back “No Sargent.”
Without turning his head Babbitt shifted his eyes in the direction of Cassie and Scott and gave them a reassuring wink.
Through the wire reinforced glass of the SHU control room, White could see Babbitt motion for him to join them at the elevator entrance. His first reaction was to compose himself. He was annoyed that Babbitt had gotten in the way of his plans today. He took a deep breath. Babbitt’s confidence always seemed to unnerve him. His one comfort was that he and Babbitt were on the same team.
White had an internal battle plaguing him. The truth was -- he walked the prison in constant fear, ever vigilant. Each day paranoia churned deep within his stomach, looking for a way to exit and it had become a daily struggle to keep it locked down.
The SHU was much safer with their single man cells, affording him protection from the general prison population. White liked it there -- the bright lights kept it shadowless. But the powers that be didn’t appreciate his gifts for discipline. He was assigned to general where he knew, one day, his fear would be sniffed out by one of the predators roaming the yard. It was just a matter of time. Too many of the inmates hated him. White had become a prisoner, not much different than the inmates who would eventually break and seek the refuge of protective custody.
White removed his large round brass ring that housed the various keys that allowed him free movement in and out of the various sections of the prison above as well as below ground. He entered the elevator room entrance and relocked the door.
Babbitt told White to escort the trustees and carts back to the upper world, as the main prison was referred to when in the dungeon. Babbitt also told White not to bother coming back, then wished him a Merry Christmas. He started to protest and was cut off by Babbitt, “Wouldn't want those bones to fall into the wrong hands would we, White?”
White directed the the trustees to load the carts into the elevator. All four looked to Babbitt for approval, he nodded, and they proceeded to the elevator. White, again, reached for his keys to start the sequence to shut the door which in turn set of the bells alerting everyone the elevator was in motion.
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