March 20, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

The Detained

By Olivia Kate Cerrone
Published: 2017-01-02

"You know how Anel gets, riling everyone up," he said.

"Well, he hasn't been able to get a strike together yet, has he? Don't worry about the others. They're only bored. We'd be better off in a normal prison where there are programs and libraries. Shit to occupy your mind," Devi said.

"People might listen this time," Jean said.

Devi said nothing. He tore away at another streak of rust.

"When I was arrested, this immigration officer tells me, 'Haiti is good now, you can go back,'" Jean said. "But who do I know there? I haven't been back in over twenty years, not since my mom and I came over when I was five. I got no one back there. They all dead."

"That don't matter now. You just keep your case moving. Whatever it takes," Devi said. He rose, stretching out his tall physique, and faced Jean. "Here, we all in the shit."

Jean punched in the access code on the silver keypad of the phone, and pressed the receiver hard against his ear, as if that might block out the noise of rec hour in the congested space outside of the cells. A large wall-mounted TV, always set at a loud, intrusive volume, blanketed over the men's voices. Most sat around in plastic chairs, playing cards or waiting to use the phone or laundry machine. Several adjacent, glass-framed rooms stood nearby, one housing a prayer group, where others sat together, holding hands in a circle. Several guards monitored them from a desk shielded by a Plexiglas window.

The line opened, accompanied by a strange, static undertone. Anel once told him how a guard listened to all outside calls in case you tried to conduct illicit business or complain about the conditions inside. They could cut you off at any time. Jean's chest tightened with each long ring until Alisha, Elyse's mother, answered.

"You just don't quit, do you?"

"Don't come at me like that. Listen—"

"It's no place for a child. How many times you going to make me tell you that?"

Jean sighed. He could hear the gin in her voice, making it shrill and bitter. He imagined her fingernails clicking with impatience along the edge of the phone. They were long and red, belonging to tender hands that dressed and washed their daughter. He pictured Elyse content in her bedroom, playing with her favorite Elmo doll.

"Just let me talk to her. I don't know how much time I have," he said.

"You did this to yourself," Alisha said before hanging up.

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