By: Julianna Reidell
The beginnings of a short narrative based off information acquired during our tour of Eastern State Penitentiary , as well as an overview of a former convict, James Dix. Told from the point of view of another, fictional, as yet unnamed convict. The time period of James’s incarceration may not correlate to some of the practices mentioned here, as well as details I made up in an attempt to further explore what the man might have been like during his lifetime. Apologies.n
Prisoner: James Dix
Four years now, and he’s back. I recognize the premature balding; stubble sculpting his thin, sloping face; stick-out ears and dark eyes. There’s something eerily liquid about that stare - a fathomless mystery, gleaming dimly with truths you’d rather never know: two deep, dark holes in what could otherwise be the mundane face of your carpenter, your brother, your husband. Perhaps he is.
But he’s back, so he’s not anyone, now.
Now he, like me and every other unfortunate wretch trapped here, is just another lifeless husk in this Penitentiary, this gate to Hell. My mother was religious, and in the hysteria of my own arrival I shied away from flickering flames illuminating cell doors, subtle horns protruding from each overseer’s thick skull, and nests of vipers writhing throughout my food, beneath the walls. Now, the same deadly serpents are reflected in the eyes of the man before me.
I wonder if he remembers me. My mind flickers through all the grimy, shadowed faces from across the long years, but he stands out, as though etched in fire and echoed by brimstone.
James, chatters the voice in my mind. After all this time, I’ve begun to forget if it’s my own or not. James Dix.
The man with the smile.
Though I have withstood this place far longer than he, seen and heard too much to experience fear, my breaths shallow as, almost placidly, just within the walls, he turns to me.
Eyes rake my face.
I can’t breathe.
… … …
We shouldn’t have met in the first place, of course. Not with the musty, coal-hued hoods forced over our heads when transported. That first time, all the bloody horror tales and sinister ghost stories by brother Elijah ever whispered in the depths of night pounded through my head with such vigor and terror that I fought back - kicking, screaming, and biting at the rank black cloth until I realized they weren’t taking me to an execution.
Then I wept, and for that, I think they hated me all the more.
That was the first time I wore the Iron Gag.
It wouldn’t be the last.