The factory layout depicted on the architectural drawings was a common commercial theme I had viewed dozens of times in drawings at work. Shipping and receiving were relegated to the portion of the building closest to the street and farthest away from manufacturing. Second-floor offices overlooked the production floor and somewhat insulated administration personnel from manufacturing noises. Blue-collar areas such as cafeteria, locker rooms, storage areas and the foreman’s office were ground level. Acquiring the names of those linked to Cornerstone had eaten up most of the evening and hadn’t been a whole lot more difficult than obtaining the drawings. By 2:00 a.m., we had acquired the names of the board members, compiled a list of the executive officer’s home addresses and emailed Gomez.
Upon wakening, silence pervaded the penthouse. We were too far above the street for screeching tires and honking horns to reach. It felt like a crypt. Worries and second thoughts kept me company. The room felt quietly crowded. Ace and Mark were scheduled to return tonight. Earlier, Kira appeared at my door wondering if I was hungry. As we shared a meal, we finalized our plans, after which I returned to bed for additional rest. Time to relax, to heal, to prepare mentally. My injuries bothered me less today.
Apprehension soaked every pore in my body. Had we missed anything? I went over our strategy, every move, replayed every lesson I had absorbed in the military and in prison for weaknesses. We were prepared for most eventualities, but no strategy was foolproof. Well laid plans almost always went awry in the thick of things where emotions and danger forced improvisation. Waiting was hard, harder than action. Having waited for twelve years, one would think I’d be an adept. I was not. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, letting each breath out slowly, locating my centre. Random memories drifted disconnected as I floated between dreaming and sleep, healing, visualizing my stratagem. Internalizing my intent.
Embracing my penitentiary past where prisoners are denied credibility, and all too often willingly disavowed their humanity for the sake of survival. Where the future had no name. Identical activities went on day after day, week after week, and year after year. Even the kitchen menu repeated every five weeks, except for breakfast, which was on a seven-day rotation, fifty-two weeks a year. Nothing of consequence altered prison’s emaciated reality, except the occurrence of violence. Prisoners will do anything to pass time. Put a man in an empty seven-by-ten-foot cell with nothing but a steel sink and a toilet, a small steel desk and steel bed, and he will count the cinderblocks comprising his walls; the number of rows of blocks, even the number of partial blocks. If left alone long enough, he will name the cinderblocks and then speak to them.
Two modified Ford pickup trucks, known as prowl trucks, driven by correctional officers armed with high-powered rifles, toured Kent Maximum Security Institution’s razor-wire topped fences twenty-four-seven. Pressure sensors, motion detectors, magnetic interlocks, high-resolution cameras, fog lights and parabolic microphones, are part of its security measures. To enter the Maximum-Security Institution one must pass through high-security gates protected by razor-wire crisscrossed with motion sensors and watched by state-of-the-art cameras. In addition to the electronic measures, guards carried C6 carbine rifles, the M-16’s brother. Two electronic ten-gauge steel doors were the last barriers to navigate before newcomers entered the main institution. Strategically placed gun ports offered unrestricted field of fire at all points of access and egress.
Stencilled in blue spray paint across the lintel of the final steel barrier, a quote from Dante read, ‘Abandon all hope, ye that enter here.’
Maximum-security penitentiaries are violent and brutal steel leviathans that gobble up the weak and spit out the bones, all broken down and busted up. It was to be my home for the next twelve years.
Boredom turned me into a voracious reader. In addition to reading, I underwent tutoring in safe cracking: the making of homemade explosives, detecting and disabling alarms and lock picking. Actual lock picking is very different from the Hollywood portrait. Picking a lock required two basic tools: a probe, commonly known as a pick, and a torsion wrench, often called a spatula. Probes lifted pins. The torsion wrench kept the tension constant and supplied the means to turn the cylinder once all the pins were in the upright position.
Picking locks became a hobby.
Each lock was different. Each had a rhythm and a natural order to it. Various locks had differing numbers of pins, and the pins had varying degrees of tension. To pick a lock, one performed a dance between physics, balance and touch. Anybody can learn to pick a lock, but to do it behind your back while leaning against the door required skill and daring, especially when a guard sat at a security bubble ten steps away.
John, nicknamed Tiny for his massive thews and his two-hundred-and-sixty pound sculpted physique, taught me how to bang weights. On my first visit to the weight pit, I loaded 275 pounds onto the bench press bar and laid beneath it. That I managed to lift it from the cradle demonstrated some natural strength, but very little sense. Bringing the bar down was easy. Gravity was my friend. Pushing it back up was a different story. Pinned beneath the bar, I struggled and squirmed until Tiny lent a hand. As if it was warm-up weight, he lifted the bar off my chest and set it on the rack. The next day, feeling sheepish, for my chest sported bruises, I sat in the corner and watched every motion Tiny performed.
“What do you want?”
“To get strong, really strong, combined with lots of endurance and stamina.”
Gauging some unknown quality in me, not unlike a buyer about to purchase a racehorse, Tiny said, “If you wanna jack serious iron, not girly-man shit, get the fuck outta my pit. Go stretch. Do five sets of push-ups, seventy-five per set, followed by five sets of fifteen pull-ups and five sets of fifty dips. Come see me when you can knock it down in forty-five minutes. We’ll see what you got in you then, soldier boy.”
Ten weeks to the day, I sat on the stool waiting for Tiny. It was the first time I had entered the weight pit since his instructions. Typical of the calm, quiet man I would eventually call friend he never said a word. He acknowledged me with a look and a grunt and started stretching. So, did I. Tiny pointed to the flat bench press station, loaded a black, forty-five-pound slab of York iron onto each end of a fifty-five-pound bar and threw on two collars.
“Touch your chest, pause, push, no squirming, bouncing or arching your back. Stop just before you lock out your elbows. Give me twenty-five warm-up reps. If you can’t do twenty-five on your own, then I’ll spot you, but there ain’t no I-can’t-lift-it-no-more, or it’s-too-heavy-for-me bullshit. That dog don’t hunt here. Got it?”
“Loud and clear.”
We worked our chests, followed by our triceps, with a variety of movements, for a solid hour. The next day, we worked our backs and biceps, and the day after that our shoulders and legs. We worked for an hour in the morning with weights and an hour in the afternoon with only our body weight. On the fourth day we rested. On the fifth day, we repeated the first day’s exercises. By that time, the muscle stiffness I endured was almost crippling. Stubbornness and my over-sized pride stopped me from complaining, but when Tiny held out a folded T-shirt soaked in 3535 heat rub, I humbly tucked it next to my skin inside my weight belt. Banging weights was not cool. It was pure, unadulterated torture when performed properly.