A Lap With Rocky

Note from the Editor: This piece was submitted to us by Michael J Moore, an incarcerated author in Washington State. It is a creative non-fiction piece depicting a day in the life of his incarcerated neighbor, Rocky.

Rocky walks alone because he has trouble making friends.

Before he entered the foster system at five, his biological father would lock him in a closet whenever taking care of him became too much of a nuisance - which was most of the time. He shifts uncomfortably when he speaks about this period of his life, and asserts that his closet wasn’t cool like Harry Potter’s.

A thin layer of fog hovers over the track in Monroe Correctional Complex’s recreational yard, so it’s a wonder Rocky is walking at all. Condensation obstructs the view from the gun-towers posted along the thirty-foot brick wall, and usually gets the yard shut down. The October sky; however is bright gray as if the sun is pressed against the other side, providing just enough light to allow for the crowd of prisoners who would otherwise be locked in six-by-nine-foot cells in the hundred year old facility. Most of those walking the track do so counterclockwise, and Rocky is no exception. His baby-blue beanie-cap covers his red hair, and his eyes are trained on the gravel which lies ahead. In a few steps, he’ll pass the cement bench where the Whites sit, and one will likely say something to another about him, but it will fall on deaf ears.

His parents lived in separate homes to which he was bounced back and forth, and though his biological mother didn’t keep him in a closet, she beat him so badly it has, over the years, caused his hearing to diminish. At thirty-two, he stands almost daily, staring up into the faces of angry guards, who yell at him because he’s unable to read their lips beneath Covid-masks.

He has a beard that matches his hair, and wears a pair of black, plastic rimmed glasses that he pulls off and wipes once the Whites are behind him. Up ahead, phones are mounted in a row to the fence. Once Rocky has set his glasses back over his nose, he sees two guards sitting on a bench just beyond the phones, staring at him with a contempt that seems to transcend that which they reserve for all prisoners, all the time. Averting his gaze, he pushes on.

Rocky is overweight, but he hasn’t always been. His first set of foster-parents inherited a sickly thin, starved boy, whom they didn’t yet know was also autistic. He came with a file that stated speculations of having been sexually abused, along with behavioural patterns they weren’t equipped to manage. For the next couple of years, he was passed from house to house, until he finally found a home with his grandparents. For the first time in his life, there was a regular supply of food, and that’s when Rocky began to gain weight.

He passes the phones without so much as a glance, and by now the guards have lost interest in him. On his right is a cluster of tables occupied by black prisoners. One, a young weightlifter, lives in the unit with Rocky and has been harassing him because he doesn’t believe he’s deaf. If Rocky were anybody else, it would be intrinsically understood that this matter is nobody’s business but his own, but Rocky Connor is docile, and unlikely to push the issue.

Prison harbors a culture plagued by arrested development, which assures the social climate is a perpetual popularity contest. Rocky has never thrived in such environments. In school he seldom had friends. Kids made fun of him because he was fat. Because he wore bulky hearing-aids. Because he had a speech-impediment. So right after Freshman year, he dropped out.

On his left is a set of bleachers, constructed from concrete, and containing members of a Chicano gang who pay him no mind. On his right is a volleyball net, and then the picnic table where the Paisas sit. These are the undocumented immigrants, and the Chicanos who weren’t gang-members prior to their incarceration.

Rocky’s grandparents had a fancy paddle, with which they hit him when yelling wasn’t enough to purge him of behaviours related to his disabilities. He learned quickly not to cover his ass with his hand because it not only drove further punishment, but the wood hurt more against the frail bones of his fingers. They never had much money, and tended to live in low-income neighborhoods. Surrounded by diversity, Rocky became fluent in Spanish, and even though he was embraced by the Paisas, his awkwardness has kept him from bonding too closely with many of them.

So, still, he walks alone.

For the first time during this lap, he glances up and nods. A few of them nod back, and then Rocky pushes on. To his right, a game of handball is in effect. Up ahead, the homosexual population occupy benches. On his left is a desolate soccer-field because the grass is too wet on which to play.

Rocky refers to his grandparents as his mum and dad, and his biological mother as his sister but he refrains altogether from speaking of his biological father. His “parents” lost the home in which they were living when he was sixteen, and ended up moving into a motel while Rocky went out on his own. He worked in retail for a while which required more interaction than was practical for an autistic man, and eventually found himself cooking in restaurants. He applied his culinary skills in the prison’s kitchen, until he was fired for an incident related to his hearing.

The fog increases on the far end of the yard, and though he can’t see it ahead, he’ll soon reach the point at which this lap began.

Rocky was living in a cargo van when he was arrested. The seats were removed and the floor laminated. The windows were blackened so nobody could see him at night cooking on a built-in kitchenette. He had a gym membership which he used for taking showers and watching tv from atop treadmills where, even then, he walked alone.

Michael J Moore is a Latinx author and playwright from Washington state. His books include Highway Twenty, which appeared on the Preliminary Ballot for the Bram Stoker Award, the bestselling post-apocalyptic novel, After the Change, which is used as curriculum at the University of Washington and the psychological thriller Secret Harbor.  His work has received awards, has appeared in various anthologies, journals, newspapers (including HuffPost) and magazines, on television and has been adapted for theater. Follow him at twitter.com/MichaelJMoore20or https://instagram.com/michaeljmoorewriting.

This piece was published by the Forgive Everyone Collective.

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