This is an excerpt of Canadian writer Rob Dominelli’s Where the Spirits Take Them. Follow the links for Part One, Part Two, Part Four, and the Epilogue
On the opposite side of range thirteen was the segregation unit, although it was known by the inmates as the hole or the digger. This was a long corridor with single isolation cells. Every one of them was accessed by a big grey door with a little window and a meal slot that like the window above it could be covered with a sliding steel plate. All seven units were identical, except for the last unit that was clear plexi-glass. That one was for inmates considered so suicidal that they were under constant watch. Across from the see-through cell was a guard at a little desk who recorded the prisoner’s actions in a ledger.
Allan’s cleaning duties had him cleaning all the floors on delta unit, including the floors, desks and shower in the segregation corridor. Other than a few threats from the inmate Boss Cobbs had removed from the cleaning position, he enjoyed the time he spent outside his range.
The suicide watch cell was the first time Allan met Walter Dagenais, a drunk driver who had struck and killed three teenagers in a compact car. Walt left a drinking establishment in the Valley in his black Yukon and decided to take the back roads home off of Main Street to avoid any potential spot checks. He took a corner too fast and plowed into the Ford Festiva wherein the three kids sat smoking a joint.
The newspapers ran the story for days and the opinion section of both local papers were filled with angry letters and emails from Sudbury residents who called it a senseless tragedy and sent their condolences to the poor families who lost their loved ones at the worst possible time, the Christmas season. Some called for the stiffest penalty possible for the idiot drunk and others bemoaned the state of the “liberal justice system” and predicted Dagenais would get a slap on the wrist. It was safe to say that the prisoner Allan saw wearing only a security blanket with nothing underneath (inmates deemed suicidal by the jail shrink weren’t permitted to wear the orange overalls) was the most hated man in Sudbury.
Allan stopped when he saw the man and nodded. Walt nodded back. He was huddled next to the stainless steel toilet and sink looking miserable, his long legs splayed out before him. Allan thought Dagenais looked barely thirty, just a kid himself. The man’s eyes were red and swollen with tears and his red hair was wild and unkempt.
“Keep moving Trudeau,” The officer at the desk said. It was Officer Dunlop, a tall and muscular man with black spiked hair and forearms covered in tattoos. He wasn’t a bad or malicious guard, he was simply cool and dismissive and had little patience for prisoners. Allan knew the type, the kind of correctional officer that was your keeper not your brother, and that was fine by Allan. An important part of doing time was that although you could be cordial, it was best not to get chummy with the guards lest you be viewed with suspicion and scorn by your fellow prisoners. He finished mopping the floor and cleaning the shower and when he was done, Officer Dunlop radioed Boss Cobbs to come collect his cleaner and bring him back to his range.
The next time Allan mopped the seg corridor, according to the chart hanging on the wall Dagenais had graduated from dangerously suicidal to simply suicidal and was no longer under constant watch. That meant he was allowed the privacy of a regular segregation cell and the dignity of wearing orange coveralls like the rest of the male inmates.
“Hey,” Allan heard Walt call from his cell. Allan looked down and saw the man’s eyes in the open meal slot. They were still red and puffy and there was something else in those green eyes too, Allan was sure of it. It was fear.
“Can you get me a newspaper? Please?”
Allan kept mopping. He had read the stories in the Sudbury Star and The Northern Life about this man and the letters calling for his head. He knew that the jail staff didn’t give inmates considered suicidal the newspaper.
“Nothin’ in there worth reading chum,” Allan said. He had mastered the art of looking like he was working while talking in jail, keeping his voice low and moving his lips as little as possible while appearing to scrub at a particularly dirty area of the floor with the mop in case any guards were watching.
“I don’t wanna read it, chief. I need it to cover the mirror. That’s how they’re gonna get me.”
“That’s how who is going to get you?”
“The kids, man. They’re in the mirror. I hear em, chief. Every night.”
Allan quit mopping and stood there looking at Dagenais’ eyes peering out at him from the meal slot.
“I never meant to hurt them kids,” the man in the hole said. “I keep thinking that this is all a nightmare and I’m gonna wake up at home in my own bed and everything will be alright but it isn’t, man. Things are never going to be alright again.”
Allan saw fresh tears in the man’s eyes.
Remembering he was being watched, he started mopping again. Allan thought maybe this Walter guy was suffering from the DTs, and Allan had some experience with withdrawing from alcohol himself. Hallucinations both visual and audial could be expected. Allan thought that if there was ever a man who deserved to be haunted, it was Dagenais. His irresponsible actions caused three teenagers to be stolen from their families forever.
On the other hand, Allan knew the feeling of being powerless over alcohol. Under a different set of circumstances, he guessed that it could very well be him in the hole charged with DUI manslaughter. There was no one on suicide watch so the little desk where Officer Dunlop sat a few days earlier was empty, and Allan saw a discarded newspaper in the waste-basket beside it. He looked over his shoulder and saw Boss Cobbs chatting up a female officer at the end of the corridor, and went for it. He quickly grabbed the paper out of the basket and tossed it in Dagenais’ cell through the meal slot, and then resumed mopping.
“Thanks man,” Allan heard the man call out. Allan nodded but didn’t make eye contact, and continued on his cleaning route.
When he was brought back to the range, Allan went to the washroom in the day area and looked in the little mirror above the stainless steel toilet for a long time. What served as a mirror in the Sudbury Jail was a small sheet of stainless steel bolted to the brick wall, and in every range they were all the same. Years of frustrated and angry prisoners punching them and smashing them with whatever objects they had at hand had left it with huge dents that distorted the reflection making faces look warped like a funhouse at a carnival. Allan had never seen a jail mirror that wasn’t damaged and wondered if Dagenais saw the faces of those teens in the reflection, warped and spiraled and accusatory.
Follow the links for PART ONE, PART TWO, PART FOUR or EPILOGUE
A life-long resident of Northern Ontario, Rob Dominelli is one who was always keen on the written word, but, believing it wouldn’t amount to anything, he gave it up. Having spent much of the late nineties in a cycle of dependency and incarceration, he returned to writing again, creating silly stories to amuse other inmates. Fortunately for us, Rob continued writing after his release, and can be found at http://bobbydeeworld.blogspot.ca/