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Birthday Gas

The squeaking of tennis shoes on linoleum floors makes a distinct sound. That, along with angry voices and the ring of metal rails raises alarms in my mind. I walk to the door and look out. I can only see a small portion of the rock from my narrow window. All of the men I can see have their attention focused in one direction. Although I’m unable to see what the cause of the commotion is, years of experience tells me that a fight is in progress.

Officers rush on the wing and come to a halt when they witness the fight. Only moments pass before they leave quicker than they arrive.

“ALL INMATES IN UNIT F3A, RETURN TO YOUR CELLS!” Someone yells through the intercom system.

All of the cell doors are locked, so no one is able to follow the ‘directive’ given by Big Brother. The announcement is repeated, but to no avail. No one has the keys to let the men in their rooms. Seconds later a loud bang rings out, once again, out of my vantage point. It is gun shots! The officers are shooting gas canisters and rubber bullets into the dorm. The men trapped outside of their rooms run for cover to the showers and other recesses of the dorm to be out of the line of fire.

Multiple canisters are discharged into the living space of 150 men. The gas begins to fill the air in the dorm. Some men have been through similar situations and know to get low and put a wet rag over their eyes and mouth. Others are getting in the shower and turning the water on. Usually, no one wants to touch the floor of a prison shower at all, but men are laying in the showers gasping for air. When you are struggling to breath, any phobia that you may have loses its relevance. The need for air is our most immediate physical need.

The gas is still filling the air as I watch from my cell door. This is my first experience with tear gas. The gas seeps under my door and I instantly taste fear. My eyes are watering, and snot is dripping from my nose. My windpipe feels like it is turned off. Only a little gas is in my room and there is much more waiting to come in. I’m going to die! Shattering my outside window seems like the only way to breath. My body starts adjusting to the effects and now I can breathe. My eyes are burning, and my lungs are working to push the chemicals out of my body. Even though I’m still coughing, I’m able to breath.

Now that I can think about something other than my next breath, I stuff the cracks of my door with clothes to block more gas from entering. My panic is gone but anger is taking over. It was only two men fighting, but we are all suffering the consequences. I’m sure the officers took no consideration of existing medical issues before shooting gas into our living area. We continue to suffer for hours before the guards come in wearing gas masks to count us.

I’m lying in my bunk with my eyes and lungs burning thinking, what a way to spend my 37th birthday.

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