Dormit in Pace
Sitting in the cells beneath one of our country’s circuit courts, my travel-weary eyes settle briefly on my hands. Their stillness and my stoic-like composure belie my internal turmoil.
I cast a cold eye over my surroundings – stale urine and solid waste regurgitated from a steel toilet lays siege to the senses. Cigarette butts litter the floor; confetti of condemned men. Crude misspelt graffiti bears mute testimony to the length of their sentences and the shortness of their education. A reasonable inference using the inverse square law – my maths teacher would be proud.
In a few minutes, I’ll be led up into Court no. 2 and be sentenced on charges of attempted armed robbery and possession of firearms. My idée fixe of arguing in front of a judge is moments away from fruition, but not in the manner I envisaged many years ago. A wry smile plays across my lips. I search my memory for the correct phrase…….Pyrrhic victory………..no. Gallows humour – that’s it! My smile breaks into laughter, bouncing back from the walls; hollow and mocking. I reminisce back fourteen years to a deeply troubled teenager studying for his Leaving Certificate. Then my life takes a hard, handbrake turn that sends me skidding off into the undergrowth.
A rebellious stint in the army, followed by an even more rebellious one in rehab. From Casablanca to Cape Town. West Africa to the Middle East. Scandinavia to Europe. The British Paras to the fabled French Foreign Legion. Finally, sitting in a holding cell laughing to myself at the absurdity of it all. Funny how life works out. I’m brought out of my reverie with a bang. The dead bolt sends a metallic clang reverberating around the cell. A grim-looking officer appears and grunts ‘It’s time’. A witty riposte dies in my throat; false bravado has no place here. Mephistopheles awaits. I straighten my tie. I’ve had my fun, time now to settle the bill.
Nearing the end of a cramped journey in the back of a sweat box, I can begin to make out the prison through the snot-and-spit-encrusted Plexiglas window. Its hulking limestone façade looms larger as we draw closer. Occasionally it’s thrown out of focus as the driver takes aim, plucks yew and finds his mark in every pothole. Cackles of laughter from the driver and his sidekick reaches from their cab and penetrates into my cage. “Simple things please simple minds” I muse through gritted teeth.
Freedoms dying rays flirt briefly with the razor-wire, bestowing this beast with a beautifully deceptive crown of sun-kissed steel thorns. Anachronistic electronic gates give access to the Dickensian dramatic compound. A no-nonsense sheet steel gate is recessed into the towering wall.
The van comes to an unnecessary stop, catapulting my head into the metal. Hmm, so it begins. I shake off the stinging pain and get my first close up of the prison; its limestone blocks are behemoths, looked as if hewn out of granite and laid by Titans. Doors slam shut, muffled voices. In a deliberate dissociative attempt, I close my eyes, fill and empty my lungs in one fluid motion and drift away. Titans, Giants of Greek Mythology, Cronus, Progeny of Uranus, father of Zeus… Cronus…Did he give his name to Time? Damn it, was it the sound of keys that forced that connection?
Another deep breath… Focus. Focus… Titans. Giants. Tartarus… Who or what is Tartarus? The impending sound of boots and keys…Oh. Tartarus – the abode of Sisyphus. And Cronus…Tartarus is the lowest dungeon in Hades, a prison of persecution… Cold, circular steel snaps around my wrist.
Whatever brute majesty the exterior had – if any, it was in every sense of the word – a front. Inside it is dilapidated. Numerous spider-web cracks in the overhead concrete serve as conduits for the dankness, allowing its accumulation to follow a gravitational path where it collects in scummy puddles on the uneven ground. A terminally ill fluorescent light, flickers more off than on. So, this Carnival of Rust is to be where I am to be rehabilitated?
I can hear the melting pot of the criminal spectrum getting ready to get locked down for the night. The cacophony of caterwauling seeps into the courtyard and escapes into the crisp night air. A caricature of gluttony approaches. Massively overweight, perched on undersized legs…almost unsteady legs. His sweat-stained shirt threatens to explode under the strain of his bloated stomach. Wisps of lanky, yellow hair are combed over a grey, liver-spotted skull. Purple bags sit under bulbous, unintelligent eyes…the glazed eyes of a drunk if I am not mistaken.
“You’re late” he spits. Through the haze of halitosis, the smell of alcohol is unmistakable. His sneering charge, a statement of fact, but the implication that I am liable is amusing.I am guilty of many things, but not this. Continue reading “Dormit in Pace” »