Lloyd Sullivan clenched the vertical iron bars inside the maximum security cell he called home. Clean-shaven with sky-blue eyes and light brown hair, he wore thin sideburns along his chiseled jaw line. He stood tall in his white T-shirt stretched taut over sharply defined pecs, shoulders, and biceps that complemented his powerful legs shaped like twin towers of solid oak.
A few feet away, his cell-mate stretched out on the lower bunk with an open book propped on his chest.
“What time is it?” Lloyd asked with his back to the older, wiser inmate serving life for a crime of passion.
“Staring out that cage won’t make it go any faster.”
Lloyd relaxed his grip. A long-time resident in the house of no remorse, he was waiting for his second chance at life outside the concrete walls of the eight-by-nine bunker he occupied twenty-three hours a day.
Lloyd masked his emotions behind an intrepid gaze and filtered his inner voice from the clamor of jeering inmates while he rehearsed the performance of a lifetime. For months, his cell-mate coached him on body language and facial gestures. The prison librarian schooled him on proper diction, the importance of good eye contact, and how to establish a warm rapport with a skeptical audience.
“You know what this means?” Lloyd’s cell-mate asked without looking up from his book.
Lloyd turned his head. “I won’t have to look at your ugly mug anymore?”
“Just keep it real. You’re a better man because of time spent in this place, not in spite of it. Today is yours to win or lose. Don’t fuck it up.”
Lloyd stepped back from the bars when the lurking day shift guard approached the cell in steel-toed boots. A stocky, Viking-size man with meaty arms, the guard moonlighted in a mixed martial arts dojo. On routine prison days, he carried a ruthless reputation inside the compound. This time, he carried an assortment of thick leather belts, chains, handcuffs, and enough cans of Mace to suppress a small riot.
“Open on twelve!” the hulking guard called to the shift supervisor who manned a panel of blue and red buttons inside the control room’s impact-resistant bubble.
The sliding steel bars at Lloyd’s cell opened with a metallic ratchet sound.
“Move back,” the guard instructed Lloyd. “Farther.”
Lloyd kept his arms in front, elbows bent, palms up, exposing a large crucifix tattoo on his right inside forearm.
“You know the drill,” the guard continued. His breath reeked of spicy garlic chicken. “Strip down. Throw your clothes in the corner.”
Lloyd pulled his shirt over his broad shoulders revealing granite abs and a three-inch scar under his right armpit. He dropped his boxers and assumed the position, devoid of modesty or shame while his prison escort conducted the routine inspection.
“Open your mouth and lift up your tongue.”
“Show me your hands,” the guard instructed. “Now run them through your hair. Let me see behind your ears. Put your hands in the air and turn around. Wiggle your toes. Bend over. Spread your cheeks. Cough. Get dressed.”
Outside the cell, Lloyd shuffled along the hallway in wrist restraints and ankle bracelets designed to inhibit a prisoner’s forward motion. Rows of locked windows trapped stagnant, humid air inside the overcrowded D-block.
Raving inmates exchanged obscenities from their carbon copy digs, each equipped with a wall-mounted double bunk, an unmovable stool, and a combination stainless-steel sink and toilet.
In the shadows, straight-off-the-bus newbies languished within the jaws of the penitentiary on a futile quest for anonymity. Dressed in prison-issue skivvies with elastic waistbands two sizes too big, they found their squalid conditions in stark contrast to their comfy suburban lifestyle.
Lloyd proceeded down the metal staircase to the bottom tier constructed with a series of hallways jutting out like spokes on a wheel. Above him, inmates barked, howled, and snorted like caged beasts, stuffing blankets and sheets in their toilets in an effort to flood their cells. Dried feces clung to rolls of hurled toilet paper that descended from the upper tier. The pervasive odor of spilled urine and tobacco smoke hung in the air with the buzz of fluorescent ballasts, blaring televisions, institutional loudspeakers, and the ever-present gangster rap that defined the prison life bedlam.
Escorted by the Viking guard in front and a second man behind, Lloyd followed a maze of gates and fences until he entered the yard—where the general population gathered in cliques behind a two-story fence topped with hoops of glistening concertina wire. Lloyd recognized the prisoners who slinked along the east wall to congregate among themselves and avoid the guards dressed in gray slacks, white shirts, and maroon ties. On the west side, groups of fierce, lean, and muscular inmates commandeered the weight pile equipped with bench press machines, crooked barbells, and rusted plates. Rival gangs occupied the wobbly bleachers, employing subtle nods and hand gestures to communicate surreptitiously with other members they instructed to bury knives and pipes in the yard. Above the chaos, Lloyd spotted the guards who monitored the confined space with automatic rifles, housed inside four air-conditioned towers aligned equidistant around the property.
Sensing danger, Lloyd shifted his attention front and center to ignore the Mexican Mafia soldiers approaching from the bleachers. At the edge of his peripheral vision, members of the Aryan Brotherhood gathered to show force against the Black Guerrilla Family lingering on the basketball courts.
Despite his best efforts, Lloyd had made his share of enemies during his tenure in the hostile environment. And none hated him more than the Mexican Mafia, who resented his stubborn propensity to side with the black population when the balance of power shifted.
“Yo hessay,” a Mafia soldier in sagging khaki pants and laced boots called out to Lloyd. “Where you going?”
Lloyd followed the guard in front of him, ignoring the young shot caller with arms sleeved out in dagger tattoos.
Irate at Lloyd’s indifference to his presence, the raging Mexican signaled for his posse to follow. “I’m talking to you, hessay.” He lifted his shirt to his chest to expose the bullet hole scars on his stomach.
“Move away,” the guard ordered.
“You got no play, homey,” the Mexican soldier heckled Lloyd. He waited for his men to cram behind him and surreptitiously pass the weapon—a basic shank fashioned from a broken chair leg that had been smuggled into the vocational training shop, sharpened, and then smuggled back out in a pouch sewn inside a jacket sleeve.
Lloyd deflected the taunts with unshakeable concentration, his mind centered on a single objective.
“I said wussup, vato,” the soldier persisted despite the guard’s verbal warning and the threat of a beanbag shot to the body from a rookie tower guard itching to pull the trigger. “Yo, motherfucker! I’m talkin’ at you!” Fueled by vengeance, the soldier charged at Lloyd with the shank concealed behind his forearm.
Lloyd embraced the attack in his shackled hands, using his wrist restraints to trap the ice pick weapon and throw his attacker violently to the ground with an elbow lock and a graceful redirection of force.
Before the other guards on the ground could respond, the control tower abandoned the usual warning shots and fired a barrage of bullets at the ground.
A hundred prisoners hit the dirt all at once.
The loudspeakers crackled. “Everybody on the ground! NOW!”
A buzzer signaled the staff to place the general population on lockdown. One guard confiscated the Mexican soldier’s weapon; another hauled the instigator to solitary confinement.
“Keep moving.” The big guard prodded Lloyd with his meat hook hands.
Lloyd ventured toward the gauntlet of security checkpoints positioned between the yard and the inside entrance to the “love shack”—a minimal security administrative services building that housed the paper pushers and served as a gateway between the incarcerated criminals and those free to come and go with the outside world.
A warning sign greeted Lloyd at the entrance. Large red letters made a statement about the authorized use of deadly force. Smaller print mentioned the use of video and audio surveillance.
Escorted by the guard, Lloyd entered a changing room and had his prisoner restraints removed under close supervision from another armed officer stationed in the admin services building.
Lloyd donned a pair of slacks and a button-down shirt. “I’m supposed to have shoes with these,” he said, his words squandered on indifferent ears.
Lloyd tucked in his shirt and followed the big guard to a conference room with a window air conditioner and a video surveillance camera mounted in the ceiling. A folding chair faced a metal table with a water pitcher and a tray of plastic cups on top.
“Sit down,” the guard instructed.
Lloyd planted himself in the kindergarten chair. He kept his posture ramrod straight with his hands in his lap and his wrists cuffed and fastened to a chain around his waist. His prison-issue slacks fit him loose and short, causing the pant legs to ride high above his bare feet in flip-flop sandals.
He recognized the conference room from his first parole board hearing. The same bland walls stared back at him. This time fresh paint fumes came through the ventilation ducts. If only for a short while, he relished his time in the peaceful enclave, removed from the D-block netherworld of perpetual disruption and violence. “I like what they did with the place,” he told his stone-face chaperone.
Minutes passed like hours while Lloyd waited for the four-member panel from the Florida Parole Commission to arrive.
Three middle-aged Caucasian men and an older Puerto Rican woman assumed their spot at the conference table. A court reporter set up a portable stenograph machine.
One panel member poured water. Another sneezed in a handkerchief. A third projected his own indifference toward the one person who stood between himself and an early lunch.
“Good morning,” the chairwoman said, acknowledging Lloyd.
“Good morning,” Lloyd replied with a smile.
“We’ve all read your file, Mr. Sullivan. Since this is not your first dance, I’ll get right to the point. You’ve had quite a ride in this facility, including a failed parole evaluation in 2007. Since that time, the court has asked this board to reexamine your case. We have. And to be honest, aside from your age, I’m not convinced much else has changed. What makes you think you’re more equipped to enter society today than you were the last time we met?”
Lloyd pondered this first of several probing questions designed to peel away the cheap veneer of false pretense and expose an inmate’s true state of rehabilitation. Three years ago, the panel had asked him the same question. This time, he’d prepared a more carefully thought-out answer.