First thing in a new day, an inmate’s cheek
gauzed over a stitched hole. “I was too long
on the phone, so he smashed my head on the wall
and I bit his lip in self-defence. Then he bit
me — you can see it under the bandage.”
And a piece of cleverness: a new kind of shank
discovered when they turned out a cell,
fibreglass given a flaying or flensing edge
in the workshop, then hidden in a shoe,
to be carried past the metal detectors
in all innocence. The officers wear with
misgivings a stabbing vest, knowing what
their charges know, a slash to the throat
or the femoral artery will kill as surely
as a straight thrust. They learn some rolling
aikido motions to throw off an attacker
but know then to run fast and far from a fight
that ends in swarming and a zippered bag.
The phone: “Get over here, an inmate’s down.”
Late sixties, this prisoner has fallen on the range.
His heart has been stopped five minutes
and his body is grey. They work his chest
to drive the death out of it, but it stays.
The paddles come and shock after shock
merely confirms what you can see in his skin.
“Yeah, he’s dead.” At once, there is a cough and a pulse.
Strange recidivist, the fellow is back.
A few hours in hospital and he is filthy
with rage. “I signed a fucking DNR.”
And sure enough, the file reveals
a long-expired wish to die. The lawyers
are called, and this case is going back to court.