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            Officer Erhardt’s polished black boots squeaked against the freshly cleaned rubber floor. An inmate, some girl he had never seen before, was still holding the mop. She averted her eyes as he marched past her and stood in front of a massive plexiglass and steel door, labeled 0286-A in bold black numbers at the top.  The interior was painted in a shade of baby blue, the lighting dimmed.           

            “Central, 0286,” Officer Erhardt said into the radio marked A-1 with yellow paint. He scratched at his mutton chops and waived the radio in the direction of the camera set above the door before attaching the radio back on his belt.

            A loud clank followed by an electrical hum echoed through the hall. The door slowly began to slide open. Officer Erhardt stood with his back to the wall until the door quit moving. This was the first door of twenty-four that separated him from the entrance of the prison and A-Unit where he was headed. Alpha was where they placed the violent offenders.

            “Living the life,” one officer said to another in passing; a row of inmates followed close behind him in single file.

            “Dumb asshole,” Erhardt said under his breath. “Never let an inmate walk behind you.”

            Down the hall, the door to the sergeants office swung open. The Sergeant stepped into the hallway, facing the doorway. Erhardt slapped the elevator call button and listened as Sergeant Rikke reprimanded one of the new recruits.

            “If I catch you with a chew in your mouth again boy, you’re fucked.” His eyes bulged from his head like they wanted to jump out and slap the poor guy. He had a wild stare even when he was being casual. Yanking the leash in his left hand, he summoned Bogie to his side and slammed the door.  He turned and looked in Erhardt’s direction and smiled. The German shepherd even looked to be smiling at him.

Sergeant Rikke was different from the rest of the officers. He wore baggy cargo pocket pants that were grey, instead of the black straight leg slacks everyone else wore. He stuffed his pants into his boots and wore his shirt un-tucked like a jacket. He was also the owner of the prison guard dog Bogie who made a point to defecate in inmate units. It was more than Rikke’s looks though; he had a confidence that was louder than the rest of the cocky bastards under the prisons employ. He was an asshole. The Sergeant and his dog slowly strode toward Erhardt who nodded at the Sergeant and moved his attention to the elevator.

“Officer Erhardt, how ya doing?” The elevator doors opened.

“I’m fine, Sergeant. You?” Erhardt asked as he stepped into the elevator.

The Sergeant pointed in the elevator and snapped his fingers; Bogie pranced right in followed by the Sergeant himself.

The Sergeant pulled a can of tobacco from his cargo pocket and tapped it vigorously before putting a wad in his bottom lip.

“Chew?” The Sergeant asked Erhardt.

“No thanks Sergeant. I don’t chew.”

The Sergeant shrugged his heavy shoulders. “Suit yourself.”

            “Going up?” The Sergeant asked.

            Erhardt scowled. “You know damn well I’m headed up. You put me in Alpha.”

            The Sergeant laughed. “I told you last month. You’ll be in Alpha for the rest of your career. I’ll make you hate them pieces of shit until you do what’s right.” The Sergeant stepped closer to Erhardt. “Nobody invited ever refused. You think you’re better than us? A guy like you fits right in, strict, loyal, tough, and hard. You’ll see we’re not wrong after enough time in there goes by.”

            Officer Erhardt shook his head. “I won’t just smack around inmates to give you what you want. You’ve got the wrong guy.” The elevator doors opened.

            “Have a nice day,” the Sergeant laughed and smiled at Erhardt, who stepped into the hallway off the elevator. After the doors closed Erhardt flipped a bird in that direction.

            Most of the doors were open during shift change, and Erhardt made his way down a series of hallways that bent in rigid angles. Every hallway on the floor converged to a small plexiglass room with monitors and a door control panel for the entire third floor. Inside operating the station was Officer Switzer. He called out of a tiny mail slot on the door that only he could flip open.

            “Hey Wolverine!” he called out. It was the nickname attributed to Officer Erhardt ever since he had grown mutton chops.

            Erhardt waved at Switzer and yelled back, “I’m in A-Unit. Open her up for me in a sec.” Switzer saluted Erhardt and spun his chair around to face the control panel.

            Once Erhardt got to the first of the two doors of the entrance he noticed inside the partition between the two doors was another officer who was kicking the unit door and yelling expletives into his radio. He could hear Switzer’s laugh echoing through the concrete hall.

            The door in-front of Erhardt slid open, allowing him to join the other officer. Only one door could be opened at a time between a unit and its adjoining hallway. As Erhardt approached he noticed it was Officer Ray, the joke of the institution. He was about five foot tall and weighed a whopping ninety pounds wet. He had one hell of a mouth that got him in trouble in the units and on the streets. On more than one occasion he showed up to work with a black eye. Rumor had it an inmate even dangled him from the second floor railing of the mezzanine once.

            “Awe shit,” Erhardt muttered as he identified Ray. “You my partner?”

            Officer Ray turned around. “Fuck no, I’m support. Here’s your pod sheet.” Ray shoved the sheet of paper on Erhardt’s chest and walked out of the partition before the door could close.

            “Thank God,” Erhardt said, waiting for the door to Alpha to pop open. The inside door unlocked and popped open on command from third floor control, unlike the rest of the doors in the prison that slid open and close automatically. The officers were responsible for the security of the inside door and would be reprimanded if a lieutenant came into the unit and it was unlocked.

            Entering the unit was always strange. New inmates came in and old ones were moved out every day, so it was hard to tell what sort of crowd would be inside. There were familiar days and then there were days where an officer had to start all over again and retrain the inmates to the way things were done in a unit. Officer Erhardt was one of the few strict officers who never let a rule fly. Inmates knew that when he walked in that popped open door, today was not business as usual.

            “Hey Robo-Cop is here,” some of the inmates started to shout as he walked into view. During a shift change all inmates were locked in cells lining the walls around the unit. The name calling and yelling were not to incite Erhardt, they knew better; it was more of a way to warn the rest of the unit that he was here.

            “Shut the fuck up,” Erhardt yelled. “I don’t want to hear shit from you today. My head hurts and we’re all going to have a nice calm day.” He started to march around the unit with his left hand tucked behind his back, gripping his belt. As he walked by each cell door, he looked through each small window and searched for signs of contraband and rule breaking, yanking the door to make sure it was secure before moving to the next. All was clear so far, so he made his way down to the officer’s desk where his partner for the day sat leaning back in a plastic chair with his feet propped up on the desk.


            Halfway through the shift, the units with two officers send one officer at a time to relieve officers for lunch break. The officers alternate until everyone has received his half-hour break. Officer Erhardt, being Alpha officer 1, had to relieve the G/H control pod. G/H was a control room like the third floor control, only smaller. It controlled the doors into and out of units G and H, the cells inside G and H, and the nurse offices inside G unit. These officers who work this station must also patrol the G and H units every half hour, using their radios to have central control open and close the doors for them.

            G unit is the medical unit. It’s where the nurses provide diabetic inmates with insulin, place the sick inmates for care, and where piss testing is performed. H unit is considered intake. It’s a place where the handicapped individuals may choose to be segregated from other inmates and where all freshly booked inmates go until a counselor can evaluate them to decide which unit they belong in.

            On this particular day G unit had three inmates in medical lock up. An elderly woman on an oxygen machine, a guy with a broken arm, and a new guy they believed was coming off of dope. Officer Erhardt had made his way up to the post and was beginning his first patrol. The nurses were all away at lunch and he was the only employee in the units.

            As he made his way into the medical lockup room he could hear a loud scraping noise coming from the cell at the far end, home to the doper. Officer Erhardt peered through the window, but he could see nothing in the cell. He could only hear the noise.

            “Hey where are you!” He yelled. No response. Erhardt pulled the chart off the door.

            “Steve Makke,” he said aloud. The chart read that he had been arrested for stealing steak from Giant Eagle.

Inmate is dangerous to unit population.

Drugs are still in system.

            “Hey Steve I need you to step where I can see you,” Erhardt said as he slipped the chart back into the door slot. The scraping sound ceased but the guy didn’t enter visibility.

            “Steve if you don’t open this door, I’m going to open it and come in. You don’t want that do you?” Erhardt grabbed his radio and waited a moment. “Last chance,” he said. Nothing happened.

            “Central, pop G-523.” A moment later the cell door slid open. Officer Erhardt shimmied in sideways to face the blind-spot. Steve Makke leapt from the sink. In one hand he held a toothbrush that had the back-end sharpened to a point; in the other hand he held a broken piece of the metal mirror which was supposed to be bolted to the wall.

            Erhardt quickly reacted, grabbing Steve’s arms by the wrist as Steve came down on-top of him. The little junkie was no match. Erhardt jolted the inmate backward into the wall, knocking the weapons from his hands. He tossed Steve to the floor causing him to smack his head off the steel frame of the suspended bed. Blood began to soak the inmate’s hair.

            “Code brown, code brown…code white, code white,” Erhardt yelled into the radio. Brown was for inmate attacking an officer and white for medical emergency. The first one to respond to the call was the Sergeant. His office was across the hall from G unit. The Sergeant stormed in and paused at Steve on the floor with Erhardt standing outside the cell. His gaze wandered to the weapons on the floor.

            “Anfallen!” The Sergeant yelled. It must have been some word for attack because Bogie instantly jumped into the cell and began to ravage the barely conscious inmate. The Sergeant loomed over the horror, Erhardt yelling for it to stop. The German shepherd didn’t quit until the Sergeant yelled another German word. Blood was all over the cell. Puncture wounds from the bites dotted Steve’s arm, blood gushing from them.

            “Why did you do that? He was already subdued.” Erhardt said, pushing the Sergeant. Bogie snarled.

            “You don’t get it, do you Erhardt. That trash attacked an officer. When he attacks one of us he attacks all of us. That shit doesn’t fly here and now he knows it. When will you realize that you have to make a decision? You are either one of us or one of them?” He shook his head and pointed at Steve, who lost conscious. “He wanted you a dead man. Erhardt started to walk away.

            “Besides, it looks like you did him up good before I showed up. I told you, you’re one of us. Join the squad…don’t kid yourself.”

            Erhardt stopped and turned slowly to face the Sergeant.

            “Face it Rikke, I’ll never be like you.” Erhardt ripped off his badge and tossed it on the floor before shoving his way through the army of nurses that finally started to rush in.