Failed Short Story

Everyday seems to have become a routine. I wake up, kiss my wife and ready myself for work. It’s gotten to the point that I am starting to despise this life. But I keep at it, not because I need a job but because I feel like it’s my duty to keep people safe. My father once told me that there were three types of people in this world, and I was born a sheep dog, always looking out for those who are ignorant of the evils that lurk within our society. Running the Attica Prison Facility is no joke, the stress alone would be enough to wither any healthy man. I often ask myself how is it that I haven’t had a heart attack yet, with all the chaos and turmoil. Must be that I was destined for such burdensome task of containing those rejects.

Today seemed a bit different. Right when I got to my office I was pummeled by the grievances of the inmates. Many times they ask for simple things, and other times for miracles. They don’t seem to understand that this place runs on a budget, but most importantly it runs just for the sake of keeping them from harming society, not to be fancied like in a five star hotel. I greeted my secretary Jennifer like I always did, every Monday through Friday. This time, she had already prepared the coffee pot. I grabbed a cup Joe and took a swig, entered my office and began reading the grievances.

There was one that caught my attention, it was written by some inmate named Elliot L.D. Barkley. I ran a check on him to find out who he was and why he was in here. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a murderer. Most of the people in this prison were in here for doing pretty nasty things. Many claimed the usual temporary insanity scenario as they couldn’t explain why they committed such atrocities. I knew all the tricks, all the ins and outs of their feeble minds. In their moment of rage they would see red, and almost by celestial chance they happened to kill. It was all bollocks. They were born that way. Their animal instincts would overrun their reason, and like any wild beast they would prey on the weaker ones.

Elliot was in for manslaughter, brought in from another maximum security prison probably out there in Texas. We ran things a little different than Texas. Here, out in the nowhere of New York, we didn’t believe in taking chances with these scum. Parole was usually never granted, only on rare occasions were change could really be seen. Why would anyone change though? At times I almost felt as if I were an inmate of my prison, cooped up within the four walls of my office, in a small tight confined room eight hours a day, five days a week.

Unlike the other grievances, Elliot’s was very well written and structured. He was demanding more toilet supplies, more living space and better food. But I wasn’t having any of that. These animals needed to know that why we were overpopulated. Not only that, but the budget isn’t enough to cover for more free things. They should be happy that they have a roof above their heads and a place to sleep. We served them food three times a day. What more could they wish for, besides being free? They would never be free. They were animals that needed to be incarcerated for the rest of their lives.

“Jennifer, tell the Captain I need to speak with inmate #3425.”

“Will do Mr. Oswald,” she replied.

I sat back down on my leather chair and leaned backwards as I checked the other grievances but kept going back to Elliot’s. There was something about that note that disturbed me a bit. It had many signatures on the back. I just hoped that they wouldn’t be planning anything silly. If they were, we would have to squash it swiftly. We couldn’t afford to settle for petty negotiations. I didn’t even have enough funds to hire more personnel, let alone squash things by giving them the little things they wanted. Often times all you needed was to acknowledge them and give them something. Bartering was good for making them feel like they can change the system. Not this time, we were short because the governor cut our funding by nearly half the last couple of years.

Attica never really ever had any big problems like other prisons. It was built back in the 1930s like a fortress, and rebuilt after the shotty foundation decided to crumble. We almost had a whole unit escape when the walls broke down, but because of the watch tower, those who tried escaping were gunned down. I got up from my chair and looked out the window. Those new walls were impressive. They were high enough that scaling them would be impossible, and if by an act of luck someone did, they would probably break their legs from the fall on the other side. They were good for keeping everything inside, and from keeping prying eyes from peeking inside.

I glanced over at the pictures on my wall. It still pains me to see the picture of my sister Margaret. Almost feels like she was mowed down by that drunken lunatic just yesterday. I only hoped that she didn’t get to suffer. She has been the sole reason I got into this career path. Since that day I swore to keep offenders off the streets at any means necessary.

“Mr. Oswald, they are here with the inmate. Do you want me to let them in?” Jennifer asked, peeking hallway into the door.

“Yes, let them in.”

“Hey Warden,” the Captain nodded.

“Take a seat Mr. Barkley.”

Mr. Barkley went inside the room and sat down, the ringing of the cuffs reminded me of my first days as a regular guard. “Thank you Captain Lopez, please take a seat as well.” He sat down behind the inmate and looked at him.

“Mr. Barkley, I believe you submitted a grievance just days ago along with various signatures. What is the most important thing on this list that you would be willing to accept if none of the others can be negotiated for?”

“Warden, if we cannot agree on all of them then this would have been a waste time. We have been struggling to survive under these awful living conditions, you know that. We need the basic essentials, and you guys are treating us like animals just giving out a single roll of toilet paper a month, per cell when you clearly know we are overcrowded in there, tightly compacted into those small cells like sardines!”

“Do you honestly believe that you deserve those luxuries?”

“We only want space, clothing, better food and fresh water. We are not animals!” Barkley shouted. He seemed a bit agitated. He just didn’t know that things didn’t run that simple.

“I could only give you one thing and that is extra toilet paper. Everything else cannot be compromised for. We don’t have the budget we did years ago. I do understand that the prison is overcrowded but there is nothing I can do about that.”

“You’re the Warden for god’s sake, do something about it!” he exclaimed.

“You animals keep on asking for things. Haven’t you done enough? Killing innocent people, not being able to behave in a society meant to protect everyone and you dare ask me like we owe you something. We don’t owe you anything. Your stay here is not meant to be comfortable, not now, not ever. There is no negotiating. Take him away Captain.”

“These living conditions are inhumane!” Barkley shouted as he was being dragged away.

I never truly understood how they could not get the bigger picture. They weren’t in here to be kept alive, they were here to repent and die for the sins they had committed. Granted not all of them were murderers, but their actions hurt people. And that was good enough to let them rot. At some level I did rationalize with them. It must be really hard losing your freedom and being incarcerated till your dying day. But the actions justified the punishment.

I grabbed the budget folder from the drawer and went over it. The numbers just didn’t make sense. There was no way in hell I could even give them the extra toilet paper. We had already spend most of the funds on just paying everyone who worked here. I had found ways to cut corners on our spending by choosing different services providers but at the cost of quality. I had never tasted the food here, but for what Whole Food Supply was charging, I didn’t doubt for anything that it was all crap. I had also already petitioned the Governor for more funds and he never responded at all.

We were possibly disconnected from the world around us, just being out here in the middle of nowhere, a place forgotten by society. I kept thinking trying to come out with a solution but nothing truly came to mind. The only thing left to do was cut down the guard force to save a little extra money, but that would be a very huge mistake. I wasn’t willing to allow something like that to happen, so I began writing another petition to Governor Rockefeller. This time, I would have to deliver it myself.

It is possible that my petition could have gotten lost in all the mail the governor receives on a daily basis. On the other hand, it is very much possible that he might have read my petition and tossed it. In the end everything boiled down to politics. Rockefeller’s stance on cutting funds was the main reason he was re-elected. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the reason why he never replied. Besides it being bad to ignore petitions, it would prove catastrophic in the long run. Something would eventually give and he would have to answer.

I finished typing the petition, sealed it in an envelope and placed it in my suit’s pocket. Before I even logged off the computer the phone rang out. I picked it up and was confronted by a hysterical voice on the other side.

“Warden, the inmates are staging a hunger strike in the chow hall. What do you want us to do?”

“I’ll go talk to them. Tell Captain Lopez to meet me down there and prepare the Special Response Team just in case.”

What now…

I made my way out of the office and took a few officers with me. We headed down the chow hall, located on the third floor. Even from the elevator we could hear the chants of the hundreds of prisoners, amplified by the thick concrete walls that enclosed us. Upon reaching the main entrance I was confronted by the Captain.

“Captain, what’s the problem?”

“It seems they are staging a hunger strike for their demands. It’s headed by Barkley and some other goons.”

“I’ll talk to him again. Ready the response team and have any available units on standby just in case anything goes wrong.”

I went in there, a bit arrogant, thinking that the situation could be dismissed. I walked up to Barkley accompanied by the Captain and seven other CEOS. The inmates got up from their chairs and gathered around us. Must have been at least a hundred. I could feel the tensions escalating. Maybe it had been a bad decision to waltz in there without waiting for SRT. It would only be a matter of minutes before they would come crashing in here with their riot gear.

I looked at Barkley straight in the eye and asked him what he wanted.

“You already know what we all want. And you’re going to get it for us. There is no debating here, just like you said. Isn’t that right?”

“I already told you that we cannot do anything about that. Our budget doesn’t allow for that. Can’t you get that through your thick head?”

Before we could even get to agree on anything the SRT busted into the chow hall, unknowing of what was truly happening. At the moment when I heard the loud bang of the flash grenades, I knew everything had been lost. We had almost reached an agreement and now, we were back at square one. A fight erupted between the guards and the inmates, all fighting one another like wild animals. I turned around and made my way to the entrance. It would prove detrimental if I were caught in the situation.

I felt a hand grab me from behind, preventing me from escaping. I turned around and tried getting him off of me but couldn’t get his hands off my suit. To my left I spotted the Captain running full blast towards the entrance. Our eyes locked, I then reached for him but he kept on, leaving me behind. The SRT managed to subdue a few inmates but they were quickly overrun by the masses of mongrels. We all got taken hostage, except for the Captain and a few of his men. They locked the doors and contained us.

I felt the pummeling of a few inmates on my head. I embraced myself and curled up in a ball until they stopped. Barkley instructed the inmates to tie us up and place clothing on our faces so we couldn’t see what was going on.

“Mr. Oswald, you have forced us to do something drastic. You could have simply agreed with our small demands. But no, you couldn’t be reason with. You only see us as filthy animals contained within your fortress of punishment.”

“You have no idea what you have done. They will come and kill you all!”

“You can still stop this. Just concede and tell the press everything that has been going on here. They have already been contacted and will be here any minute. The world needs to see how inhumane the institution has treated us. How you have treated us!” she screamed in my ears.

My heart was racing. Being taken hostage was never something I had prepared for. I began panicking, breathing harder and faster. “Let us go, let us go!”

They must have taken us to the back of the kitchen because the noise had subsided. A few of the guards talked among themselves, trying to give themselves desperate hopes of coming out alive. It was a failed attempt, we all knew that we would most likely lose our lives. But that small linger of hope was sufficient to keep us from giving up.

I could hear the faint sounds of the inmates chatting amongst themselves. I couldn’t really make out what they were saying but my imagination was quick to invent something. It was as if I could hear them talking about murdering us to make a statement.

“Bring them all back in here,” Barkley commanded a few of the inmates. They would surely now execute us. I wasn’t ready to die just yet. I had a beautiful wife at home and a young daughter who loved me dearly. When I felt the tight grip of one of the inmates pick me up by my arm I felt my heart drop. I would lose them without ever saying how much I truly loved them. The memories of them quickly flooded my mind as if trying to keep me from panicking. I bet the other guards were going through the same.

“I just need to make sure they are okay. And then we will begin negotiations.”


That voice, sounded different. Must have been a negotiator. I felt a bit relieved knowing that they would not murder us and negotiate. They didn’t know it, but there is no true negotiation. The man was probably a SWAT unit trained in observation, looking at all the angles before they came in and executed the inmates.

The inmates removed the clothing obstructing our sight. I looked at the man and he stared back. I could feel the razor sharp stare tell me everything that was going on. They were indeed going to come in and take them all out. I nodded, trying to tell him not to do it. He turned around exited the chow hall.

“We did it guys, we will get what we’ve wanted!” Barkley shouted, celebrating what he thought was a victory.

They waited for almost an hour but got no response from the negotiator. “What, why are they talking so long?” a few asked him.

“I don’t know. They should have already started negotiating with us by now. Something’s wrong about this whole thing.”

Indeed something was wrong. The negotiator was only trying to buy time for some assault force to come in here and kill them all. But they were too naïve to understand that. They thought that by just taking a few hostages the institution would negotiate with them. What they failed to realize is what they did was considered an act of terrorism, and the U.S. doesn’t negotiate with terrorists.

A series of loud bangs rang out and glass flew everywhere. Startled, the inmates looked back and spotted military infantry rappelling into the chow how via rope. Before they could even act the soldiers began firing at everyone. I witnessed the bodies being shredded by the gun fire. A few tried to run away but the bullet would eventually catch up to them. I stood up and screamed at the soldiers to stop shooting but one of them turned to me and raised his rifle. He pulled the trigger. I closed my eyes and felt a strong push knock me down. I looked at saw Barkley lying on the floor with a gun would to his chest. He looked at me, spazzing from the pain.

“It wasn’t supposed to end like this…” he stammered. I kept looking at him dying in front of me. Looked around and only saw the bloodshed. Even the guards that were with me had been shot.

I felt puzzled when they secured me and took me to another room where I spoke with the negotiator. I then learned that the Governor had ordered the assault. He sent in his killers to squash the situation before the media could even find out about what was going on. I then realized who the real monsters were. Society was willing to allow the institution to kill just as much as the inmates incarcerated here. The only difference was that they had already been deprived of everything. The truths were kept away from the rest of populace. Just like me, they had been thinking that these institution were meant to help protect society from harm. I had been so wrong; they were human just like us, demanding to have at least to essentials so they could rot peacefully in this God forsaken place. The guards and I were just pawns on their chessboard.


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