The air is stale, Sam wrote in her notebook. She looked up, took another step, and shook her head. She touched the tip of her pen to the page again and crossed out the sentence.
Fear is more alive in the air than the actual people breathing it. I can’t tell if it is a fear of where they live, of the prison itself, or of what exists outside of the building. Maybe it’s fear of how they will continue life after they leave the stone walls of their own guilt or maybe it’s the fear that they’ll never escape it.
The stone walls, or their guilt?
Sam closes her notebook with a huff.
“Something wrong, Miss Roberts?”
Sam shakes her head and tucks her pen behind her ear. “The readers think they want the truth, but they really just want a story that will defend all their pre-conceived notions and beliefs about prison life. They’re going to want bathroom fights and guilt, not broken systems and separated families.”
“You’ll give them what they need, not what they want, Miss Roberts, you always have.”
“Thanks, Mark,” Sam says with a sly smile.
Just then, the large steel door in front of them opens and the officer that greeted them steps through. He’s large with smooth, dark skin and a lined face. Sam catalogues his look, makes a note of the soft way his lips lay against each other and the way his eyes say “kind” more than they say “tough.”
“Right this way, Miss Roberts. You’re wanting to interview some inmates, correct?”
Sam nods. “As many as I can.”
“Any in particular?”
“Yes, actually. Three specific ones, ” Sam reads off two names from her notes, the two most recent additions to the prison, and glances up at the security guard.
“Perfect, they actually already agreed to meet with you,” the security guard says as Sam and Mark stop to sign the waver at the next window.
“And Emmett Cole.”
“No can do. Miss Cole is in solitary. She’s not permitted any visitors.”
Sam stops and crosses her arms. “When will she be allowed visitors?”
The officer starts typing a code in for the next door. “End of the month.”
“What did she do to land herself solitary?” Sam asks, pulling out her notebook.
“Sorry, Miss Roberts. That’s not information I can share.”
“Who can share it?”
“No one to you, Miss Roberts.”
“What do inmates usually do to get solitary?”
“Attack another inmate. Attack an officer. Attack–”
“So, Emmett Cole is a violent inmate?” Sam asks, writing in quick shorthand in her notebook. She jots down a note that a bead of sweat is creeping down the officers temple and that Mark is shifting between his feet beside her.
No one likes talking about the punishment that comes after violence. Violence itself is entertaining. It brings droves of crowds to theaters and boxing gyms. But the punishment? The result? The fact that sometimes violence is necessary?
You get shifting feet and beads of sweat.
“Emmett Cole was sentenced to life in prison on account of three murders, that much is public knowledge, Miss Roberts. I believe an intelligent journalist like yourself–”
“Novelist. I don’t work for the news anymore.”
“Right, Sorry, Miss Roberts. I’d figure you could deduce that Emmett Cole isn’t our most peaceful inmate.”
“I’ve heard she’s popular, well-liked and rarely gets in trouble, though.”
“Well, she’s in solitary now, isn’t she?” The officer stops and turns back to Sam. He crosses his arms and raises one eyebrow. “What’s it to ya’, anyway? They told me you’re writing a book but why is Emmett Cole so important to you?”
Sam returns the pen to behind her ear and shrugs. “I find her story interesting.” She walks through the door to the visiting room and takes a seat. Behind her, the officer stands frowning and Mark chuckles.
“What?” The officer says, looking down at Mark.
“You didn’t read up on Sam Roberts before her visit did you?”
“I know she’s a popular writer and used to work for that politician.”
“Yeah, and she’s his niece. Those three people Emmett Cole murdered?” Mark looks at Sam who has her journal open on the table and is tapping her pen against the table. “Sam’s husband, sister, and mother.”