Wednesday, January 23, 2008

GroupThink: the Lighter Side - Chapter 1

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Year 0

As the cell door slammed shut, Nate, the largest of John’s new cellmates quipped: “Well boys, looks like we got ourselves a new plaything.”

The two other men in the cell sniggered at this while John, the man who had just arrived, started listlessly at him.

John wasn’t his real name, so he had been dubbed “John Doe” by the authorities who had apprehended him after he murdered a passing stranger; apparently for his wallet. Normally, when someone does that to another person, they are bright enough to flee the scene, but in John’s case, he had just stood there, holding the wallet, until the police had arrived. It was fairly obvious that John was severely mentally ill, but in the days of cutbacks or closings of state mental hospitals, John had ended up in a maximum security prison, along with his new friends.

Nate, the man who had spoken, approached John. Nate was about 250 pounds of muscle, bald, and psychopathic. He put his hands on his hips as he looked John up and down.

“Well fella, there’s something you should know about me.”

Nate’s fist slammed into John’s head. John bounced off the bars and slumped to the ground.

“I don’t like new people.”

Nate’s other two cellmates laughed at this, perhaps with a bit more enthusiasm then was warranted, since it meant that they would have to endure less of this treatment at Nate’s hands. For himself, John just lay on the ground and stared at the ceiling, the few meager possessions given to him by the guards on the floor with him.

Nate got to work, giving John an introductory beating and rape so that the new guy would know “whose boss” in this cell. He was disappointed with John’s reaction – basically none, but that was John’s reaction to most of life these days.

His condition, such as it was, manifested itself when he was 5 or so. Much of the time he functioned at just well enough to clothe and feed himself. He would react to his environment in a slow and methodical fashion, and basically without the capacity to communicate.

Every now and then he would become very active, at least compared to most times. During these periods John would use different speech patterns, body language, etc. All in all he seemed to be a different person. One of the few doctors who John had seen in his life had diagnosed him with multiple personality disorder and prescribed some medication that John’s family couldn’t afford.

What was actually happening was that John would start picking up the thoughts of another person – for a short period of time he actually was that other person – but such a conclusion was expecting way to much for an overworked doctor who himself was addicted to Vicodin.

That had been the situation John was in the night that he killed a random stranger. A crack addict nearby who was desperate for a fix had invaded his mind and caused John to awaken from his slumber. He espied a passing stranger, attacked and killed him. Unfortunately for John, just after his victim was dead, the connection was lost, and John found himself in his current situation.

John’s primary response to violence was catatonia. When someone like Nate decided to beat him up, John would lapse into a coma for a few days. This was fine as far as the people in the infirmary were concerned, they preferred people who weren’t a lot of trouble, but there was only a limited amount of space, so the prison guards encouraged Nate to ease up on the beatings.

Nate was mostly trying to impress on John the hierarchical nature of his new environment, but the situation being what it was, he complied with the requests of the authorities and only bothered John for sex. This was fine as far as John was concerned, he had lived with such arrangements on the street for years. Street people have to put up with a lot if they want to survive.

Year 1

It’s hard to say exactly when it started.

If you’ve ever had the experience where you’re eating with some friends and you notice that you have lifted your glass at the same time as your friends, then you have experienced a piece of it.

“The voice,” as it came to be called, ran deeper than that.

One fine day, one of Nate’s associates remarked on the fact that Nate had put a piece of bread on John’s plate during lunch. Nate looked down at his plate and frowned. His bread was missing.

“You better gimme that back now, or I’ll kick your ass.”

“I ain’t got it! You gave it to your punk.”

“The hell!”

“Check it out.”

Nate looked over at John, sitting a couple of tables away with some other gimps. John did indeed have extra bread. What happened next was even weirder.

“What the fuck…”

John got up, walked over, and put all his bread on Nate’s plate. And then walked back. Nate spent the rest of lunch confused.

When he got back to his cell, Nate was sitting on the floor with his back against the wall. Eating bread.

Things like that started to happen all around him. Not necessarily just for John, but for everyone in the cell. After what happened in the lunchroom, it became more subtle.

One of the more noticeable times was when Nate woke up one morning, swung his legs out over the floor and hopped down. From the third bunk. Nate always took the bottom bunk – it was just one of those things.

Nate frowned and looked over at Ed, who was sleeping in the bottom bunk. He was going to pound the shit out of him when he remembered that Ed was sick last night and had to use the toilet a lot. Nate was about to shrug it off when he realized that he had never given up the bottom bunk before, even in the same situation. If anything, he would make the sick guy try and hold it all night.

Year 4

Things were getting out of hand.

In some ways, prison was like the military in the sense that a certain amount of discipline is expected, even necessary in order for things to run, if not smoothly, then at least predictably. In the last few months, there had been very few beatings near Nate’s cell.

The thing is, you really did not need someone to step out of line for them to warrant a beating. Sometimes they could have something nice happen to them: maybe a visit from a relative that other people thought made you too “uppity.” Whammo, problem solved.

Finally, one of the guards even remarked on the fact and it struck Nate that something had to be done. That night, Nate got ready to beat up John.

As beatings go, it was fairly typical for Nate. Rage, his old friend, came to Nate’s aid as it always did, putting the man into an almost meditative state. He doled out his punches and kicks onto the unresisting man in a methodical way, careful to ensure that the bruises would be very visible, but also careful to ensure that John did not die.

The two other people who shared his cell watched Nate beat John with expressionless faces, having learned long ago that they could neither hide from Nate nor help John avoid his beating. All in all, fairly, typical.

Then Nate noticed some differences.

After he was done, Nate lay down in the bottom bunk. Administering a proper beating took some effort. When he looked over at John, he saw that Ed and S&W were attending to him, but in a way that would actually help. What’s more, Nate had a headache.

It started barely noticeable, in the back of his head. As time went on, it grew to encompass his world, until he felt like his head was being used as a drum. Then the body aches set in. When the guards dropped by and took John off to the infirmary, Nate tried to pretend he was asleep.

The next day, Nate still hurt, but not as badly as he had the day before. The worst part was that he was deathly afraid that Ed or SnW would mention his condition to everyone else. To his surprise, however, they kept quiet. Despite the discomfort, Nate managed as best he could and got through the day. There were a few raised eyebrows over his quietness, but he managed enough growls and dirty looks that people thought that he was just in a bad mood. Word had also gotten around about John.

It took a full week before Nate was really feeling better. Strangely enough, that coincided with John’s return from the infirmary.

When John got back, the four of them sat around and stared at each other. Nate noticed the bruises on John’s head and felt the corresponding places on his body. They seemed to ache a bit. Nate looked around at the others and they too were prodding themselves in the same areas.

This was going to make things difficult.

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