Bill Conlon lay on his belly in the yard of Graterford prison. His head rested on a crooked arm; his right hand clutched a rosary fashioned from raisins strung on thread from an unwound sock.
Thirty yards away, Mikey Osborne lay on his back—moaning, gripping his throat with both hands, tightly knitted fingers failing to dam the blood spurting through them.
Shots from guard towers whizzed throughout the yard. Bill’s mind screamed, They got Mikey!They got Mikey!
He was desperate to help, yet dare not move; instead, he shouted, “Help him! Somebody help him!” But none of the prison staff or other convicts lying prone in the dusty yard came to Mikey’s aid.
Seconds became minutes and puddles of bloody mud settled around Mikey’s neck as a spray of rubber bullets spat dirt next to Bill’s outstretched hand. He let go of the rosary at the sound of the loudspeaker command.
“You! You with something in your hand! Let it go or you will be fired upon!”
He put his intertwined fingers behind his head and squeezed his eyes shut, and with every pulse of Mikey’s punctured jugular, Bill’s chance to make own life right drained away too.
Eight months after Mikey’s death, Bill was released, having served his full twelve year sentence.
On the bus from Graterford into town, he touched his hand to his shirt pocket and felt his improvised rosary, but chose to read from his prayer missal instead. It was still no use.
He swayed en route to the halfway house in the north part of town. They’d give him a bed until he got on his feet. A security job waited at nearby Temple University.
Twelve years of mea culpas had failed to reconstitute his hollowed-out soul. Back in Jesuit seminary he had yearned to cultivate goodness, but was easier said than done. Philosophy and theology opened his mind, but sinful impulses were insidious. Not even the slammer could purge them. Maybe made them worse.
He walked from the bus stop. The neighborhood hadn’t changed since he last saw it back in ’72—litter-strewn sidewalks, pawn shops, check-cashing stores and storefront churches with names like Pearly Gates Soul Saving Station. At Diamond Street he came upon a whore whose deep V-neck barely tamed her floppy tits dangling like eggplants into the open window of a Lincoln. His breath shortened and anal muscle contracted at the sight of ass cheeks rebelling against shorts too small and too tight to cover much. He reached up and touched his gold cross. Even praying was hard.
He rang the bell at Radiant Hope Re-Entry Center. He was greeted by a short man with rounded shoulders and beard of gray stubble—useless as cover for rosacea painting his nose and cheeks.
“Hi, brother,” the man said. “You Bill?”
“Yeah, you Albert?”
“Yeah, welcome.” He went to grab Bill’s duffel bag but Bill wouldn’t let go. It held his secrets.
“’S okay,” Albert said. “Follow me. I’ll take you to the office.”
They walked down the hall to an office with a frosted glass window. Hand painted in a spidery script all wrong for office lettering was the name Henrietta Jackson, MSW. Albert gave a tap on the window. A soprano voice from the inside chirped, “Yes? Come in.”
“It’s me.” Albert said, sticking his head in the door. “I brought the new guy.”
He stood aside as Bill faced an attractive woman of indeterminate ethnicity. Her pasted-on smile was framed by a generous application of scarlet lipstick on luscious lips. She was dressed in a loose-fitting blouse buttoned to the top. Anything pushing out the blouse’s loose pleats begged concealment and constraint—especially in a five-story brownstone filled with men whose last taste of a woman was years ago.
She pointed to a chair beside the desk. “Take a load off, Mr. Conlon, relax. I’m Henrietta.”
She held out her hand. Bill refused to let his gaze wander to the hem of her skirt although it was hiked four inches above kneecaps blanched by the pressure of ecru pantyhose. Instead, he offered his own hand, suddenly self-conscious of the jailhouse tats his sleeves refused to hide.
She leaned back in her chair and swiveled slightly as she spoke—her nattering on automatic pilot.
“We are a social service agency whose mission is to empower the formerly incarcerated by easing their transition into the community . . .”
As she droned on, Bill fought to push away images of the penitentiary and Mikey bleeding-out in the yard. The outside world of 1985 was still so new, and yet wasn’t.
Transitions? What transition could be worse than going from civilization as a Jesuit brother teaching in a private high school and into prison where existence was tenuous, mood was fragile, and respect measured by the timbre of voice or inches given or taken? What was this woman going to tell him about transitions?
“Do you have any questions?” she asked.
“You may want to participate in some of our meetings,” she said.
“I will,” Bill said.
But he needed to find Deadly Eddie Matthews—
get to know him—
look for an opening—
find out why Eddie shivved Mikey in the yard—
then kill that sonofabitch.
Excerpted from I Detest All My Sins by Lanny Larcinese.
Lanny Larcinese is a native mid-westerner and dyed-in-the-wool city guy transplanted to the City of Brotherly Love where he has been writing fiction for seven years. His prize-winning short stories and non-fiction have appeared in magazines and online publications. When not writing, he lets his daughter, Amanda Kohn, charm him out of his socks, and works at impressing his longtime companion and artist Jackie Perskie, who is his first-eyeballs reader and helps keep his work visual. Lanny is very active in the writing community, supportive of those behind him on the curve, and deferential to those ahead of him whose inspiration and mastery of craft are constant sources of stimulation since he gets jealous easily.
Image altered by Cartoonize.