Burnt Film by Justin Hawthorne

“For Ethan”

I sat in the back of that bus, chained to the seat like an animal. 25 years to life. I remember the way the words fell out of his lips. He seemed so angry about it. His voice was powerful and biblical and his physical features only added to his religious-like character. His words washed over me like the Blood of Christ and drowned me for what would be the rest of my life. I was going to prison. I knew I wasn’t going to make it out. I was going to die inside a massive, concrete and steel box.

I’m going to fucking die, right now. By the time you read this, my body will be soaked in my own blood. My face will be whiter than the pages of paper. My lips will be colorless. My eyes will be vacant. My body will be an empty house. Nobody inside. I suppose it’s not much different from me living, is it? I’ve been empty since her.

I killed a 16-year old girl. I set her on fire with old Polaroid photos I took of her. That bitch. She broke me. She ripped the soul out of my body and left me here. I am the shriveled piece of meat that has been rotting since the day I heard her name and his in the same sentence. Whore. She whored me out of a life. She whored me out of a future. Now the only future for me is what’s going to happen after I finish writing this. I have to write. I still have one story to tell.

Walking into prison for the first time is an experience your body doesn’t even allow you to feel. You don’t feel your legs move forward. You don’t smell the air. You don’t feel anything but the weight of the chains wrapped around you. There’s no sound, really. It’s something your brain can’t understand. No book, no story ever really prepared me for it. You suffocate in fear walking past those walls- past the barbed wires. They are menacing. They are Satan’s wrath. You stand there with people you don’t know. Murderers, rapists, molesters of innocent children stand chained to you. I was stripped naked and I stood next to them all. They had grown, hairy, tattooed bodies. These were men beside me. They had receding hairlines. They had beards. I stood like a child. At eighteen years old I just made the cut to be tried and imprisoned as one of these full-grown animals.

They shaved our heads and threw soap in our eyes. They broke us down by the pound and built us back up like crooked, evil Lego pieces. Everything started and ended with ‘sir.’ They trained us like soldiers but we weren’t. They just wanted us disciplined and empty. I forget a lot of what happened after my shower. I just remember walking into my cell.

It’s filthy. The whole place is so filthy. The bed has the souls of how many who have died here? Who slept in these sheets before? There are stains of brown on the pillow- blood that had once circulated in the trails and innards of a man now cling to the sheets of where I will lie. I had no roommate. I had nobody to keep my mind company. I had only a bible, a sink, a toilet, and a browned bed.

I was going to cry that first night. I felt the tears build in the back of my eyeballs. I didn’t let myself. I had to be strong now. Twenty-five years I was supposed to stand tall and tough and never cry. You just aren’t supposed to cry. The days are long and hellish. Work is intense. The loneliness was surreal at first. I talked to nobody that first week- maybe it was that first month. I don’t remember. Everything sort of comes in a daze when I think about it.

I sat in the cafeteria and stared at the piles of savage. It wasn’t food. It was fucking garbage. I just looked at it as I mechanically fed it into my face. My taste buds didn’t work. My teeth felt like they were rotting. There was no joy anywhere. There was nothing to bring pleasure.

Then he spoke to me. He seemed friendly. He just asked me about my name, where I had come, how long I was in and so forth. We got to talking for a long time. We would walk around the courtyard together. His demeanor mirrored that of a hardened man yet he only had been breathing for twenty-two years. He had come to this place baby faced and with clear, natural flesh. He had stood next to me with scars and marks tattered across his torso and his back. His face covered in scratches. His neck stained in ink. His knuckles were massive, coated in calluses and tattooed with the words “Kill Them.

His mustache was thin like his arms and legs. He told me he could never put on much weight, which was why he got cut from wrestling. He told his coach he could fight without the weight and the two got into an argument. Somehow or another, the forty-eight year old gym teacher, with two daughters at home, found himself with a slit open throat and his blood crawling across the waxed gymnasium floor.

He had been inside the same walls as I for four years and had decades of time to continue. He said he was lonely since his friend had recently killed himself in his cell. He had nobody else to talk to. He stayed away from the gangs and for some reason they seemed to want to stay away from him. I took to him like a shelter. I didn’t want to get stabbed in the throat by someone. I didn’t want to have to ‘prove my strength’ to some fucking gang. I just wanted to waste twenty-five years in this place and get out.

I knew it wouldn’t happen.

Eventually someone did approach me. Actually it was more than one person. It was maybe three or four. They wanted cigarettes. I didn’t smoke. They told me I had to each get them a pack. I didn’t know where to find them. One of them punched me in the mouth and I began breathing hysterically. They stared at me. I thought it was over.

Then he came from behind. He stabbed one of them in the back of the leg and he toppled down. The same one that had just punched me in the face turned to stop him but failed. He stabbed him in the belly. Others came around and started fighting. There was chaos. I ran. I turned back and watched him stab the carcass over and over again. It looked like fun to him.

Sometime later he got out of the hole. I saw him again. We got to talking more. He said that I owed him one and I agreed. I asked what he wanted and he said he’d tell me later. I didn’t think anything of it. I thought about getting him a present from the market. There was some old man who was able to get his hands on some contraband from the outside.

In Hell, I wonder if they have two-ply toilet paper because I know for a fact they don’t in prison. He and I would always talk about it and how it practically tore us to the point of rectal bleeding. It was something we strangely bonded over. I imagined a nice roll of something from the outside would be good enough for him. I asked the old man one morning how much a roll of decent toilet paper would cost. He said $30.

I wrote to my mom asking for money. I got a letter back telling me she had killed herself. She couldn’t handle the truth about what I had done. My uncle gave me the thirty, though. I went to the old man and he told me it would take a few days. I didn’t tell my friend what I had planned. I wanted to surprise him. A week later I had the roll hidden in my cell. I wanted to give it to him. We found a way to sneak back to my cell one day where I could hand it to him.

I didn’t tell him that I had a gift, just that I wanted to show him something. He followed me into my cell. I reached behind the toilet to get it and I heard him draw something from his shoe. Then there was something cold brought to my neck. It was hard and frozen. He took my pants off. He said I was his new friend now. I tried to stop him. It was over before I could get him off of me. He left my cell.

After that I was alone again. I had nobody and part of me just wanted to move on and forget about it. Another part of me wanted revenge. Eventually, that part of me grew. I started collecting paper clips that I would find every once in a while near the Warden’s office. In that wing, there are several offices and since I had moved from laundry to custodian for my good behavior, I was able to spend some time there. Finally I had enough, maybe twenty. They had to be the thick, tough ones that could actually pierce someone’s skin. It took me a month to keep them all and keep them hidden but I had them. I let my imagination run wild for a little. I had some ideas.

I thought about finding a way to feed them to him. Maybe I’d slide them in his food and he’d happen to swallow one and it would puncture his stomach and he’d burn from the inside out. Then I figured it would be too difficult logistically. He’d see the shine of the metal before he put it in his mouth. Then I thought about stabbing him right in the courtyard. I wasn’t strong enough to over power him. He was bigger than me. He was maybe six-feet and three inches plus he had the wrestling background.

I thought about it for a long time. One afternoon I found him. I told him I missed him and wanted his company again. He told me he liked the idea. I proposed the option of going to his cell instead this time, since there is a fastidious new guard eager to impress the superior correctional officers. He laughed at my vocabulary and said sure. We made plans to sneak away on a Wednesday into his cell for a moment. He said he’d only need five minutes.

Wednesday I found myself tucking 10 of the paper clips into some toilet paper. I had created a concealed little device, wrapping one end of the clips with the paper and leaving the other end exposed. It wasn’t so hard placing the covered end where it had to go but it was a little awkward walking. I had to practice walking a little in my cell but eventually I got it right. I took the other ten paper clips and wound them to make a single, sharp blade. I stuck that in my sock. Again, I practiced walking. It was pretty uncomfortable with the thing in my ass and all, but I figured if he asked me why I was walking funny I’d say I hurt my ankle and had a limp.

We met in an area just outside and we and carefully manipulated ourselves over to his cell. Being overtly cautious, we made sure there was nobody close who could find us for these few minutes. He told me to lean over again and I did. I dropped my pants and I heard him drop his. I don’t remember much else but his screams after his first thrust. He fell backwards after attempting to violate me again and lied on the floor clutching his genitals as they bled. He screamed over and over and loudly. I removed the thing from my ass and stuck the sharpened edge in his stomach. Then I went for my sock and grabbed the other. I jumped on top of him and though he did try to wrestle me more, my contraption found its way to the center of his jugular.

I scoured his room hastily looking for his shank. I wanted what he put against my throat. I wanted that frozen, steel thing. I found it finally, stashed inside of an empty book cover. I placed it into my sock and ran to my cell. I was on the opposite wing of the prison. I had to sneak through certain areas. I had to avoid detection. I knew they would find the body soon. His screams had been loud enough that someone must have heard them.

I made it back here now, in the cell. I don’t want to go to the hole. Murder inside of a prison- I don’t know how long I’ll be in there. They’ll probably leave me to die. I may as well just do it myself. I’ll slice my own neck. It seems fitting- his last friend killed himself, my mother killed herself, and now it seems it is my time for suicide.

Locked away in these walls I was never going any place special anyway.

Hell, here I come.


Justin Hawthorne is a 19-year old writer from New Jersey.


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