Public Safety Writers Contest Short Story Non-Published

Honorable Mention –  HARD TIME


Ben had learned to play Cribbage with his father, the one form of recreation the two shared. The game became a passion for Ben—adding and playing combinations of cards came easily to him. He was as proficient at the game as his father had ever been. Jim never shared his brother’s interest in the game. Prisoners were allowed to have playing cards, and although gambling was forbidden, it flourished throughout the camp. Ben was not a poker player but liked to gamble. Taking a wood-stave from an old water barrel, he carved a cribbage board. It was far from perfect, but it worked well enough. Jim played when Ben couldn’t find anyone else, which wasn’t often. Many of the prisoners were skilled players. Although Ben far outclassed his opponents, he was smart enough to let others win often enough to keep them coming back. His prowess kept the brothers in cigarettes, the prison currency.


Once the roadway was twenty miles into the swamp, their keepers no longer spent nights at the inmate camp. Instead, at nightfall, they parked a truck a mile or so from the camp. Two guards armed with shotguns and revolvers took turns sleeping and watching while the others stayed at their encampment of shacks. It worked well for them. They were paid to have four present within the inmate’s encampment at all times. It didn’t work as well for the convicts, especially not for Ben. Within days of arriving, Ben was attacked after the guards withdrew for the night. Finished with their evening meal, the brothers were getting out the Bull Durham for a smoke when a half dozen other inmates approached.

“Howdy, boys. I’m Pete. Me and my friends are here to welcome you to our little piece of heaven.”

A bull of a man, Pete was doing life for rape and murder. The acknowledged leader of the prisoners, Pete, was a vicious degenerate. He took pleasure in beating and raping weaker men.

“I’m Jim, and this is my brother Ben. What can we do for you?”

“Interesting that you should ask. It’s your brother that I want, we’re gonna be special friends.” Pete motioned to his followers, who surrounded the brothers.

Jim and Ben were on their feet in an instant. “What do you mean, your special friend?”

With a smirk, Pete answered, “What it means is that you and I are going to get to know each other really well, punk. When I want a piece of ass, you’re gonna give it to me.”

Now in a fighting stance, Ben shouted, “Over my dead body.” Jim stepped to his brother’s side.

“Little shit on my dick, little blood on my knife, makes no difference to me,” Pete growled as the men attacked.

Jim was as strong as an ox, but not fast. Ben, not as tough, was faster on his feet. They got in a few licks before three men pinned Jim and Pete kicked him into unconsciousness. Ben was helpless and unable to stop the others.

Once Jim was unconscious, Pete and two others dragged Ben to Pete’s tent. The one real tent in the camp.

Inside, they stripped Ben naked and left him alone with Pete. “Like I said, a little shit on my dick or a little blood on my knife. Tonight it’ll be your shit on my dick.” He rolled the semi-conscious Ben onto his stomach. Straddling the helpless man from behind, he bent forward, Pete whispered, “Feel that? Get used to it. You’re gonna get a lot of it.”

When Pete was satisfied, he dragged Ben outside, threw his clothes out, and went to join his friends for a smoke. “Nothing like a smoke after a piece of ass,” he joked.

Ben managed to pull himself up, get his clothes on, and untie Jim, who had been bound after being knocked out. From then on, they were often subject to Pete’s brutal attacks. The brothers got stronger and managed to fight off some of the attacks, but were only seldom successful.

Three months into their sentence, Ben had suffered as much as he could endure. Jim, twenty, and Ben, seventeen, decided to kill Pete.

One night, Jim was settling down to sleep when Ben turned to him. “Jim, if we don’t do something, I am going to kill myself.”

Jim was awake and alert. “Whatta you mean?”

“I can’t take it anymore.” The two talked late into the night. They agreed escape was impossible. Even if they got away, they knew they would be caught and brought back to the chain gang.

“What if we kill Pete?”