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English Publications

Short Stories

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Caged Angels

Michael Xia

A single note falls like a raindrop at my feet, shattering into a thousand tiny rainbows. I think there must be an angel caged in the cell next to mine. If I could play the instrument of my voice as miraculously, would I be closer to God? It seems my destiny is to be an ordinary raven, even here, where birds are forbidden to fly.

My reverie is broken by a clamor of keys and slamming gates. A prison guard bellows, "Get your ass out here, damn crackhead. Damn you stink like a Indian!" I rise as do the twenty-five other men who have shared this cell with me over the past forty hours. None of us is certain to whom he refers. It is not me, not this time.

I sink back to the floor that has become so cold I could ice skate on it. I look for the largest person (the fat ones give off the most body heat) and huddle close to him, but made sure it didn’t seem like a homosexual come on. In here we have no prejudice or pride. We have a camaraderie of spirit we did not share in the street. Out there we took each other's money, drugs, and bitches; in here, we give each other warmth and hope.

A harsh voice shouts, "Eric Young!" It is my turn. I am shoved into a much smaller cell and sprayed with horrid smelling breath to frighten me. I stand calm and quiet because I want to please the guards. I have been here two times before and I know the rules well. They know me, I know them, but I know better than to address them in a rude manner. There are rarely any clean sheets stocked so I had to settle for unwashed rags. I wonder why they bother to cage us when they let us go the next day.

Just as sleep comes to steal me from this misery, another voice intrudes, this one gentle and assuring. "Sir, my name is Mr. Smith. I have been in a worse position than you and look at me now. I have fine clothes, a fine job, and I'm fine lookin' too! If you want what I've got, you have to do what I did to get it. I pledge my support to anyone willing to make a change." I step out of the cell not even flinching when the gate clangs shut behind me.

As we are walking to the dormitory where I will be housed, I hear singing and stomping. I am amazed when we arrive and I see that it is military marching and cadence.

"My God Mr. Smith," I exclaim, "you didn't tell me I was joining the army!"

"There's more to it than that, Eric," he says.

He calls the men together to introduce me and they applaud. One man approaches me and says, " Good morning. I'm Steven, the unit captain. In this program it's mandatory that we attend school. We have five minutes to get on line so let's go!"

We march down the bleak hallways to school shouting, "Yer left, up on yer left, it won't be long, yer left up on yer left, we're goin' home!" I suppress an urge to laugh outloud, especially while the men in general population are watching us. Unlike the adolescent boys that are in jail, adults are not required to attend school, so most of them don't. They spend their days watching television, playing cards, getting high, (yes, there ARE drugs in jail) and fighting. We are allowed outside one hour per day for recreation, but our program is kept separate from the other inmates. We are learning to change all our negative behaviors and that means changing who we hang out with.

After three hours of computer training, we return to our dormitory. Awaiting us is a social worker who visits our unit weekly. She suggests that we continue treatment at a residential facility upon our release. I can't see myself doing that. I want to stay clean, but after eight months of jail how can I volunteer to be cooped up for another year, being told what to do and when to do it? I feel so much pain and guilt over not seeing my family for the years I was using, how can I not see them when I am released?

At night after dinner, we meet in groups with the counselors to discuss our issues, which run the gamut from being shot at to being abandoned, to abandoning our hope. A man who I do not know well, starts the group.

"You know," he says, "this is my second time here. When I left I swore I was going to a residential program. I missed my freaking kids so much I figured later for that! Well, I got home and my bitch, who looked after them for years, just hugged me and went out to get her hair done. The fuck was up wit dat? The kids were all over me for attention and fighting, and I was a nervous wreck! My bitch finally came home and when she thought I wasn't looking, took her purse. I was so mad. Then my kids wanted her to put them to bed instead of me. I didn't want the kids to see us fight, so I went to my other old bitch’s house. Just like when I got busted, she was getting high. I had nowhere else to go, I was depressed, so I got high right along with her. Now, here I am again, but this time I am going to take the cotton out of my ears and put it in my mouth!"

God works in mysterious ways. Though my situation isn't exactly the same, I see he felt the same as I do now. I do not want to make the same mistakes as this man. I lost my friends along with my self-respect. My mother died while I was in active addiction not knowing what would become of me. I have not had contact with my father for two years. I have decided that I am no longer afraid to die, I am afraid of living my life the way I was. I am slowly coming to believe that I am just like every other human, no better, no worse. I decide to go to residential treatment and I encourage my peers to do the same.

Unfortunately, many are called, but few are chosen. I hear of many who leave and die of overdoses or have been killed in gang related fights. I am determined not to be one of them this time. That is the part I wish I could give away, not just to addicts, to everyone, this love of self. I cannot, but I can live in an exemplary way.

The day of my release has come and I am sent off with cheers and hugs. I await the volunteer who will drive me to the rehab center. I laugh aloud when I see that it is Mr. Smith, who inducted me into the program in jail. There is a certain symmetry to arriving at yet another program with Mr. Smith, and I pray I will be as successful in this one.

A single note falls like a raindrop at my feet, shattering into a thousand tiny rainbows. I step up to the cell and say, "Mister, you sing like an angel. My name is Eric. A few years ago I was in a worse position than you and look at me now. I get paid to come to jail! If you want what I've got, you've got to do what I did to get it. Would you like to hear more?" The angel looks at me and smiles.

- End -

About the author: Micheal Xia is a student at Stuyvesant High School of New York City.

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