In the Armadillo prison, located somewhere deep in a desert of the United States, Joseph Skinner lay on his mattress and stared at the Playboy poster which was taped to the bottom of the top bunk of the bed. He had just added a mark to the tally he was keeping on the wall. This way he kept track of the days he had spent locked up. Every mark stood for another day he had survived in this wretched place. The list gave him hope. If he had survived this long without getting into too much trouble, he would make it through the next few years. He was already halfway there. There were many marks to go, however, and many days left where something could go wrong. He took his sentence one day at a time until the moment he would be released.
Skinner had just finished an hour of exercise in the courtyard. Usually, the morning session lasted until twelve, but this morning all the inmates had to be back in their cells by eleven. He was nervous. The past few days had been restless in the Armadillo prison. Skinner knew why. Today a big group of new inmates would arrive. This had not been officially announced, but Big Egbert had told him a few days ago.
‘The Obama Administration closed West State Jail due to cutbacks. Half of that scum will be transferred here next week,’ Big Egbert had said. ‘That damned Obama with his cutbacks. The place is bursting as it is. I’m telling ya Skinner, shit will go down here soon.’
That was not all Big Egbert had to say: ‘Rumor has it there’s a famous one amongst the new guys. He’s not from West State, but he was convicted a short while ago. I haven’t figured out who it is yet, ‘cause it’s classified. But they say he’s in the music business. It’s probably one-a-those trigger-happy rappers. Those fellas are always causin’ trouble.’
Skinner didn’t like change. He liked piece and regularity, which gave the least chance for conflict. In the years he had spent in prison, he had come to know all the nooks and crannies of the place. He had learned how to handle dangerous prisoners and prison guards and especially how to avoid them. But with a group of newcomers, the balance in the prison would change and no one would be able to tell what was going to happen next. Skinner looked at his tally on the wall and got a weird feeling in his stomach. He felt that his routine of marking the days would soon be disrupted.
He was startled from his thoughts by noise from the ground floor. The distinctive sound of the alarm told him that the cell block’s central door had been opened. He walked over to his cell’s bars to see what was going on.
‘That will be the group of newcomers I told you about,’ Skinner heard Big Egbert say from the cell next to his.
The new inmates had to be divided amongst the cells. Prison guard Dook guided two of them up the stairs to Skinner’s hallway. Dook was a bulky figure with an old-fashioned idea on keeping order, which did not restrain him from using violence. He always reminded Skinner of an old neighbor kid; a bully who for years on end had stripped him of his pocket-money and bag lunch. Dook had a bulbous nose which stood up at the end, combined with his plump cheeks, he closely resembled a pig. However, the last person who had dared to mention this fact had received a violent trip to the dentist by Dook.
Everyone on Skinner’s hallway had a cell to themselves, but two of them would apparently soon have a cellmate. Dook placed one of the two prisoners in a cell at the front. He walked on with the other.
‘Move along, you get to join Skinner’s cell,’ Dook called out.
Skinner took a step back when Dook appeared at his cell’s door with a slender young man at his side. ‘Ey Skinner, I’ve got something for you. He’s just dry behind the ears,’ Dook grinned while he unlocked the door and slid it open.
‘Fuck you, ya big sow!’ the boy retaliated and he spit on the ground. ‘Let me go with those greasy fingers of yours.’
Skinner expected hell from Dook and jumped backwards onto his bed. Blood would be spilled any minute now. But Dook only pushed to boy calmly through the door.
‘That kind of talk will soon pass,’ Dook said smiling. He slammed the door back shut and quickly walked down the stairs.
Skinner couldn’t believe his eyes. The little guy that was put in his cell, tiny as he was, had called Dook a big sow and spit on him. And it had gone unpunished! No blows with the baton, no blood, no isolation. Dook had only given him a soft push into the cell. What was going on here?
Skinner adjusted his glasses and looked closely through the thick pebble glass at the kid. Who was he that he could get away with this? He was only a boy; he looked frail in his too big orange jumpsuit. At first glance he didn’t look like someone you should be afraid of.
‘Bastard, I’ll get you for this!’ the kid called after Dook and he slammed his fist against the bars. After that he turned around. His forearms contained several medieval tattoos. Skinner met his eyes. They were alight with something wild, a certain frankness. He had the look of a young pit bull terrier. With his defensive stance, lifted eyebrows and his chest puffed out he gave the impression he was fearless. The kid’s look made it clear to Skinner he was not impressed with his new surroundings and he shrugged his shoulders.
Skinner had an odd sense of foreboding. This new cellmate was going to mean something to him. He decided to break the ice.
‘You’ve got some balls for such a little fellow. What’s your name?’
The kid looked at him.
‘I’m not a little fellow,’ he answered. ‘My name is Bieber. Justin Bieber’.
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