Chapter 1: The Victim
The Department of Corrections. Orlando, Florida.
The probation office was hidden from the congested highway, located in a crowded strip mall directly behind a large grocery store, around back where the loading docks and dumpsters paralleled a dense, mosquitoey palmetto forest. Three narrow, connected but separate, one-story DOC offices labeled only A, B, and C—designed to blend into the rear facade of the grocery store, were deliberately concealed from the general public. A dichotomy where innocent families shopped for groceries out front and guilty criminals reported to their probation and parole officers out back. In the isolated DOC parking lot, full of potholes and bygone vehicles, tattooed convicts huddled together smoking, telling different stories that all ended the same way—that they were innocent.
A longhair, tattooed, mangy-clothed, homeless-looking man, spirit intact, pedaled his bicycle to the glass entrance of Office A, chained the rickety bike to a small palm tree, and went inside; just like he has done for the past thirty-four months of supervision.
Three rows of gray-plastic and chrome chairs faced him, every seat occupied, thirty “wrongly-convicted” faces looked up at the same time as he entered: each a petrified, incarceration-gray death mask. The penal room’s shadows cast patterns like prison bars.
A ragged line of probationers also stood along the front (glass) and side and rear (block) walls; four filthy walls plastered with posters of wanted absconders, victims of unsolved homicides, employment opportunities, and the rules of reporting to probation: no weapons, drugs, cell phones, etc. allowed inside of the building. There was an erratic, perpetual flow of depressed men and women entering and exiting the mysterious office; some individuals entered to never resurface again, absorbed into the collective machine.
He stood in the compliant line to sign in, patiently awaiting his turn. Waiting to face the uniformednarmed corrections officer sitting behind her molested pane of hand-groped bulletproof glass that was centered in the defaced rear wall. Her inky, fat face distorted by a myriad of greasy, smudged prints. The place crawled with palmetto bugs.
“Next!” Each report of her point-blank voice rang-out! like a discharged sidearm.
Eventually reaching the armed officer, he was shoved a battered clipboard through an abused rectangular slot; he then mindlessly (by rote memory), filled out the dirty form: Name: Sasha Bogod Malyj. Age: 43. Corrections Number: E30541. Appointment Time: 10:00 am. Officer: Carney. Date: 03-19-2010. He then handed the familiar clipboard, greasy black pen still chained to it, back through the familiar slot.
Standing along a filthy block wall with society’s downtrodden, lined up like a man facing death by firing squad, he leaned against an absconder’s tattered wanted poster while reading Orwell’s novel 1984. Occasionally looking up as felons’ surnames were called out and they were buzzed in through a locked door to see their probation officer. He also looked up from his book whenever someone new entered the hopeless waiting room through the glass entrance’s tinted and fingerprint-besmirched glass door; always sizing them up, speculating about what crime they had committed. And, he always prayed: Please God, don’t let anyone I know walk through that door.
The faint smell of BO, marijuana, cigarette smoke, and stale booze circulated throughout the stuffy and silent waiting room. An electric wall clock buzzed . . . then clicked! each time it advanced its heavy minute hand. An oppressive pattern of high-tech cameras, all watching through a floating veil of dust, were suspended from a yellowing acoustic-tiled ceiling like bulging blown-glass eyeballs; the curious electronic eyes were interspaced with round speakers like perforated, void-black, electronic mouths yawning inaudibly.
Lost in Orwell’s words, he suddenly realized it was 10:45 am and his surname had not been called yet. He would wait until 11:00 am before questioning the grumpy and mannish female corrections officer sitting behind her unhygienic pane of bulletproof glass one-digit typing: her keyboard slowly clacking, punctuating the silence, making a sound like an old hen pecking on plastic.
“Malyj!” Finally, like a sucker punch! to the face, the electronic mouths summoned.
Approaching the locked solid-steel door to the right of the bulletproof sign-in window, it buzzed, “Bzzzzzzt!”, allowing him to enter the actual probation office. The solid-steel door buzzed again, “Bzzzzzzt!”, locking behind him as he followed a mute, burly, uniformed officer down a long, bare, air-conditioned hallway. The armed officer’s holstered 9mm recoiling violently against his right hip; his angry, steel-toed boot steps echoing loudly in-between long military strides. He smelled of Kevlar, sweaty leather, gun oil, adrenalin, and testosterone. Time now heavy, slow, and gray as wet cement.
Immediately, Malyj noticed the differences between the two unequal settings: the dead waiting room had had a still, funky, coffin-tight, tombstone-gray atmosphere, empty except for the gray-plastic and chrome chairs protruding from the dirt-covered tile floor like chintzy headstones; while the alive office area hid a bustling, Pledge-fresh-clean, vast, mustard-yellow-painted, technologically-advanced corrections department functioning like some precision machine under an endless sky of cloud-white acoustic ceiling tiles. His mood, his state of mind, remained the same—a false mellow.
He was escorted into a small, bare, artificially-lit room to his right for a random drug test. Then, the male officer accompanied him into its claustrophobic restroom (lit by a buzzing incandescent light bulb whose horizontal filament burned wavy across the darkness like fiery Arabic writing) and visually verified he actually urinated into a small plastic container. Screwing the orange lid back onto the clear, graduated specimen jar, he flushed, washed/dried his hands, and surrendered his 2.5 ounce sample of warm, dark-yellow urine for testing.
Leaning against the small, bare, artificially-lit room’s cool concrete block wall, waiting for a test strip to indicate if he had tested positive (+) or negative (-) for an assortment of illicit drugs, he casually read more of Orwell’s novel. Armed officers patrolled the hallway like hungry wolves. A timeworn drinking fountain clattered softly—like sabers rattling in the distance.
The test strip finally indicated negative (-), so the armed officer marched him down a long, minimalist hallway lined on both sides with small, barely furnished and barely decorated, windowless probation offices. Their shadows like black ghosts fluttering across bare walls. A few sharp lefts and a few sharp rights later he found himself lost, but now seated in his probation officer’s empty office. The armed officer scowled, spun on his bootheel, and vanished like a shot. . . .
A tall gaunt man, totally bald, with pregnant eyes, and a thin red mouth like a razor’s slash, barged! into the office and plopped! down into a squeaky black-leather chair behind a desk piled high with case files. He reeked of cigarette smoke. “I’m Officer Grohowski, Officer Carney is in court today,” the uniformednarmed officer said with a southern drawl, then cleared his phlegmy throat, “Malyj, 10:00 am, right?”
“Yessir!” Malyj’s heart began palpitating wildly inside of his chest; this twist birthing many new suspicions inside of his paranoid mind. His old muscles tightened. He forgot to breathe for a terrifying moment. Sweat pooled along his pale brow’s puzzled wrinkles.
Grohowski swiveled around, pulled open the middle drawer in a black, fireproof file cabinet. “K, L, M (callused trigger finger pluckin’ at files like guitar strings), Malyj, Malyj. Here you are!” He pulled out a faded-brown file about six inches thick, the thickest and heaviest file in the five-drawer cabinet, swiveled back around, then slammed! it onto the desktop. He opened the file antagonistically, studied it in silence for a few minutes, mouthing every word while quickly flipping back and forth between the malicious pages. Finally, he reclined in the squeaky, black-leather chair and adjusted his rectangular eyeglasses on an aquiline nose. He studied Malyj curiously—creating a long, awkward moment of silence—then blurted like an emotionally-retarded child:
“Three DUIs! One guilty, one thrown out, both in the 1990s and six months apart. One thrown out in 2005. And, your driver’s license is currently suspended, and expired.”
“Yessir! I am an alcoholic, but! I have been sober since 2006,” said in perfect English, only with a slight Russian-sounding accent. A sharp pang of ingrained fear stabbed his gut, a painful, bloody feeling like he was digesting a broken vodka bottle. Terrified, he laughed out loud.
“Assault and battery! Charges dropped.” the latter said blasé.
“If you say so, si-rrr—”
Grohowski shot Malyj a bemused expression. “Explain?!”
“All I did was yell at someone, sir. She stole five hundred dollars from my bank account, every cent I had, and used it to buy heroin. I threatened to call the cops on her if it wasn’t replaced the following morning. She filed a whopper of a false police report on me later that night, beating me to the punch, and I was arrested no questions asked. Never told what I was being arrested for—a fabricated freedom of speech restriction, never read my Miranda Rights. I never touched her; I never got my money back, sir.”
“You one of those guys with an excuse for everything, Malyj? It’s never your fault is it?”
“You know how corrupt this state is, sir . . .”
“This state! would never arrest an innocent citizen,” interrupting rattled; a protracted moment later, Grohowski (glancing down at the open, spread-eagle file) continued:
“Failure to disclose HIV status! Arrested: Third-degree felony. ROR. Court: Pleaded no contest. Media present. Sentence: Withheld adjudication. Three-years probation. Court-ordered counseling. Court costs. Fines. This (glancing back up at Malyj), is why you’re sitting here now?”
“Yes, sir. Because of an obscure, antiquated, unjust, and discriminatory HIV-specific law still on the books, dating from the HIV-ignorant 1980s, from the Ryan White era. A law not based on current scientific or medical fact, but on media-generated irrational fear. A law I believe will be repealed one day. History’ll absolve me,” he said, sounding rejected. The office suddenly foreshortened. Thinking pissed off:
You assholes sentenced me to three-years probation, making my HIV-positive status public record—forever, knowing damn well it was really a death sentence I received.
“The law! is the law!” Grohowski screamed blindly, pounding! his cadaverous fist on top of Officer Carney’s desk. Twice. “The HIV-positive individual, aware or unaware of their infection, even if disclosing their positive status to their willing sexual partner, even if practicing safe sex by using condoms, even if their viral load is undetectable, even if no transmission occurred, are ‘guilty by infection’ and will be held liable for engaging in any sexual activity. They are subhuman bioweapons of terror. The HIV-negative individual, even if choosing to practice unsafe sex, will not be held liable to protect their own health, will not be held liable to protect the health of their community. They are the innocent casualties of HIV/AIDS biowarfare. SCF Bioterrorism Statute 0420.07 is the law!” Collecting himself, Grohowski continued with the round of questioning:
“You infected someone; transmission occurred? You had intent to harm? You failed to use a condom?” His eyes suddenly seasoned lie detectors.
“Nossir!!! I am denied the same medical privacy rights and expectations as every other American citizen. I was arrested for allegedly keeping my private medical condition to myself. . . . I am the victim of this victimless ‘crime.’”
“An excuse for everything . . .”
Abruptly. “She knew, sir!”
“I see ‘she’ filed other accusations against you, also all dropped.”
“I have been accused of many ‘he said, she said’ things, sir, all untrue.” If this line of questioning continued, he would take the Fifth.
“You look nothing like your numerous mugshots.” Grohowski eyed Malyj’s amazing reverse-metamorphosis from above his rectangular eyeglasses. He found it impossible to imagine: this longhair, this tattooed wreck, this reeking mess, had once been a truly productive citizen: a successful architect with a beautiful wife, five loving children, and a spoiled Siberian cat—with a plethora of wealthy relatives and Ivy League friends—a Republican living in a self-designed, tri-level mansion with three European luxury cars parked in its pricey cobblestone driveway . . .
“Deliberate on my part, sir,” choked the homeless-looking man, “I’m terrified of being recognized.” Malyj was suddenly conscious of his mangy clothes and smelly, like a wet dog in a hot dumpster, unwashed body.
“I see . . . ” That’s suspicious, the seasoned officer thought to himself, red flags waving wildly inside his mind. He recalled (from about three years ago), seeing a professional, clean-cut Malyj on the ignorant local news, recalled him being persecuted for being HIV positive, recalled him being slandered by some cancerous reporter. Sacrificed to ratings.
Grohowski shook his head, closed the massive file meticulously, spun around in the swivel chair, filed the Malyj/E30541 file back in the middle drawer, slammed! the heavy metal drawer shut, then spun back around in a loud, nerve-racking squeak to face Malyj. His intense questioning, body language, even facial expressions had a certain tone; standard procedure to elicit a response. He stared at E30541 with contempt.
Malyj, ashamed of his public “criminal” record, sooty white face reddening like a blooming polychrome rose, broke eye contact with Grohowski and just stared down at the old paperback his dirty hands were unconsciously wringing.
The desk phone rang! startling Malyj. Grohowski picked it up, receiver to his hairy ear, pockmarked bald head nodding with pseudo surprise, “I see, thank you very much, no, no, I will take care of it.” He hung up the iridescently-greasy receiver and smiled, exposing his coffee-stained teeth. A yellowed, nicotine-stained hand gestured toward . . .
“You do drugs, Malyj?”
“Not since—since 2006. Why?” His old brain a mental abacus calculating, billions of suspicious thoughts sliding back and forth and back and forth between cerebral hemispheres.
“You failed our drug test . . . ” A ruse.
“LIAR!” A ruse instantly challenged. “I’m fuckin’ sick ‘n’ tired of being falsely accused of things! Not again! Never again!” Malyj jumped to his feet and demanded to see Grohowski’s supervisor, wanting to file an official complaint, wanting to be retested.
“Sit back down, now! or I will have you arrested,” said in a tone to restore power and control and order—to create fear and terrified obedience—to eradicate all hope.
Malyj sat immediately, his bravado deflated; a couple pages from his favorite—now mangled paperback, littered the polished tile floor under his uncomfortable metal chair.
“Parents still alive? Siblings? Spouse? Children? Family? Friends? Coworkers? Clients? Landlord? Pet? Facebook friends? Twitter followers?” A long sigh. “Anyone?”
“No one, sir, it’s just me, an outcast. I haven’t seen a familiar soul or been able to land a job in almost three years, since my HIV-related arrest was televised to the world and my HIV-positive status made public record. My ex-wife and five children have even legally changed, discarded, my patronymic Malyjovich as their surname. I’ve been living downtown under an overpass—like a leper. It’s all in my file, sir; also the reason I’m so far behind on my supervision fees.”
Grohowski stared back unsympathetically. His pale face an emaciated mask half illuminated by Officer Carney’s computer monitor. Malyj’s ugly 2007 mugshot filled the coffee-bespattered screen—arousing three years of suppressed emotion inside of Malyj:
Damn Internet! Damn Google! Damn background checks! Damn public records! I hate technology (the State-to-citizen umbilical cord disseminating poisoned info, disseminating reeducation), how it allows out-of-touch cops like yourself (cyber bullies), to post ugly mugshots and falsified arrest records online for the world to see for an eternity—branding a man. A world where being ignorant of Man’s laws for one second becomes a death sentence, eclipsing a lifetime of good works, destroying a good name. A brave new world devoid of privacy, forgiveness, and second chances, rendering human beings unemployable and homeless: trespasses once buried by time, or location, forever exhumed by technology. A godless world, where imperfect people are enslaved by perfect technology and unjust laws, for profit. A cruel technological world where the weak commit suicide (log off), or worse (go postal), believing it their only escape—their only protest. Technology’s injustices the fuel for Malyj’s hate: God forgives and forgets your sins and crimes, like a stone dropped into the depths of the sea; technology does not, keeping them forever front-page news, just a Google search away, keeping you in constant fear, keeping you forever paying your debt to society. His mind was ranting and raving; wishing he could scream! his thoughts aloud. His trembling body wanting to dive! over the desk, punch! the liar in his emotionless face, strangle! the Pharisee’s thin neck with his uniform’s even thinner tie, and smash! the coffee-bespattered computer monitor (that still held his ugly ’07 mugshot prisoner) to bits. Though, as usual, Malyj remained submissive—always a lamb to the slaughter.
“Homeless,” Grohowski continued. Off the grid, perfect, thinking to himself. . . . “Now, I’m going to need a couple of cheek swabs.” Grohowski rummaged through Officer Carney’s desk drawers, searching for a DNA test kit.
“I thought only violent, convicted felons were required to submit to a DNA test?” said Malyj, panicking, not wanting to surrender his DNA—believing it the ultimate form of identity theft. Damn damn damn! His fight-or-flight response building . . .
“Nope! I’m your acting probation officer—you do what I say—or it’s a violation of your probation—and I can have you arrested.” Grohowski presented Malyj a red-and-white DNA packet to sign immediately, deliberately denying him any time to read the packet’s fine print. Malyj was conflicted; this unexpected demand took him by surprise, made his mind go blank. His blood pressure dangerously rising and rising and rising . . .
“Wait, slow down, I need time to read what I’m signing, just give me a second to read the . . . ” Stalling to think. No matter what decision Malyj made, a yes (his signature)—agreeing to the test, or a no (no signature)—violating his acting probation officer’s command, Grohowski would get his catch-22 DNA sample. It was like being forced to sign a false statement about yourself—one you have already read—only worse.
Interrupting Malyj’s rambling, Grohowski screamed “Violation!”, intentionally transforming Malyj’s withheld-adjudication probation into an active felony. Two awaiting, giant, plainclothes detectives rushed into the small, windowless office and threw Malyj to the hard tile floor (a crooked portrait of Dr. Franz Karp - Director of Corrections, stared down at him despotically), handcuffed him—hands behind his back (chained by those less than he), placed him under arrest (wrongly), forcefully swabbed the inside of both cheeks for his DNA (no signature required now), then dragged him by his lion-like mane of silvery hair down a long, bare, tiled hallway—toward a pair of chromium-plated elevator doors whose elevator only went down. His mood, his state of mind, changed—suddenly devoid of all hope.
“HELP!” Malyj screamed over and over again, his bloodcurdling cries echoing up and down the cold hallway. He was lugged past a long line of contorted bodies parked along a section of mucus-covered wall like they were waiting for the elevator: all pissed off, all screaming, all wearing mesh hoods (spit masks), all strapped into two-wheeled, welded-steel restraint seats, all smelling like pepper spray; each weeping, distorted face struggling to escape its mesh net like a cocooned larva. He could hear the metallic rattling of the main elevator’s gears and cables getting closer and closer, rising up to meet him. A tattered 1984 still clutched in his right handcuffed hand, some of its yellowed pages had fallen away, strewn behind him, all over the beautiful hallway’s polished tile floor. Beside the elevator’s shiny metallic doors, each side, a colorful American flag drooped from a tall steel pole set in a heavy steel base. Above the elevator’s shiny metallic doors (chromium-plated doors now vibrating wildly and spitting dust the grayish color of incarceration), a maxim carved in white marble:
CORRECTION EQUALS CONFORMITY
CONFORMITY EQUALS PROFIT
“Ding!” Grohowski could hear the main elevator’s smudged and battered doors struggle to open, then struggle to jerk shut. He could hear Malyj’s bloodcurdling cries, hear the abused elevator’s gears and cables metallic rattling, hear their sweet music plunging deeper and deeper into the dusty Earth until fading away into silence . . .
“Gotcha! you violator, and with only one month of your supervision left! Grohowski always gets his man!” So overjoyed by his “impound,” he had referred to himself in the third person. Again, he pulled out Malyj’s massive file, filled out a new (falsified) arrest report, placed it inside of the already overstuffed manila folder, red-stamped! a large IMPOUNDED on the front cover, and filed it back in the middle drawer of the black, five-drawer, fireproof file cabinet. This month’s quota beyond met; he locked the impound cabinet.
A very satisfying day at DOC Office A, indeed, the impound officer thought to himself.
Grohowski, exhilarated, yet paradoxically dreading the eternal process of entering Impound E30541s file information into VIL-EN (Violator Impound Levels - Ego Neutralizer, affectionately referred to as “Villain” by impound officers, the State’s internal quantum computer system), lit a misshapen cigarette, paused, then exhaled a pale stream of smoke from a half-smirk into Officer Carney’s small, windowless “probation office.”
Sasha Malyj was now property of “The Department of Corrections.”