The clank of metal jolts me awake. I squint my eyes in the light, cobwebs fill my dizzy head. My wrists ache and yesterday’s bruises throb across my body. The chill bites through the thin cloth of my uniform, my body trembles in the cold. Mistress’s scent lingers in my nose. I slowly regain my bearings as I slump against the cold metal walls of my cage. The feeding bottle hitched to the bars catches my eye. I’m starving and dehydrated.
I prop myself up on my knees and shuffle to the cage door, the chains between my ankles rattling as I go. I tip forward and lean my head toward the metal straw. Clang. A fist slams against the bars. I slump back in fear, my mind fully awakened by the shock. The guard steps into view. Based upon her height and hair, it’s Tabitha. She taps the glass bottle with her gloved finger. The light shines through glass showing its half full contents.
“Inmates must prove their commitment to rehabilitation before they get a full portion.”
Her tone is cold and clinical, the mask and goggles blocking any display of emotion. I long to see Mistress.
“Two minutes to eat, inmate.”
I lean forward again and press my face to the bars. I struggle to line up the straw with the hole in the gag. It’s close.
She tilts the bottle just out of reach. I strain and push forward with all my might. I hear her foot tap against the floor. She torments me.
“One minute left, inmate.” She releases the bottle and it sways back into reach. I quickly press the gag into the straw and drink.
My hunger outweighs the foul taste. I take it down in gulps.
“Time.” Tabitha pulls the bottle from me. I moan behind the gag as I watch the bottom inch of the bottle slosh around as she detaches it from the bars. I feel even hungrier and thirstier than before. I watch her from behind as she casually strolls away. The sense of loss would be unbearable if not for my past experiences with food being withheld. I must endure.
I sit in silence as the battle rages on in my mind. I know this torture will end but I don’t know when. They aren’t pretending I’m a prisoner, I am their prisoner. Am I playing along or is this my reality?
Two guards approach me from across the building. Their presence fills me with a mix of fear and anticipation for release from this tiny cell. Lauren steps up with a clipboard.
Dominique approaches and unlocks my cages. The latch clangs and the door swings open. I shuffle out of the cage with my head down and struggle onto my feet. Her gloved hand grabs me by the collar as she leans her face close to mine. I close my eyes and tremble in fear. I hear her inhale deeply through her nose. I’m certain she smells Mistress’s scent.
“001 present and accounted for,” announces Dominique.
Lauren approaches me, tapping the clipboard with her pen.
“Welcome to your first day of rehabilitation, inmate. Bathroom privileges are provided twice a day. Shower privileges and uniform changes twice a week. Two meals a day and a third meal if you meet your work quota. Prep the inmate for the bathroom break.”
Dominique extends her hands and puts them on my shoulders. She quickly spins me and slams me up against the cages. I grunt on impact as my breath is forced out of me. She unlocks the handcuffs from around my wrists. I immediately rub my wrists, restoring circulation. Dominique gives me a shove.
They take my arms and lead me to a toilet sitting against the wall. My face flushes red with shame; there will be no privacy. I lift the back of my dress and sit on the seat. I lower the tights down to my knees. I hang my head; this is a humiliation I was not expecting.
“I think our poor little inmate, has stage fright,” says Dominique, followed by a laugh. I close my eyes, clench my hands into fists, and force with all my might. The all-liquid diet makes things simple and I finish urinating in a matter of seconds. The chastity belt makes aiming a moot point.
Dominique makes a motion with her hand. I rise slowly as both guards approach. Hands force me face first against the wall. I let my body fall limp in their grip. I am at their mercy. They force my arms behind me and I feel the metal cuffs close around my wrists, securing with a series of clicks. A hand grips my neck and bends me down. They lead me across the building while I shuffle my feet as the leg irons jingle and clank with each labored step. Mistress and Tabitha await me at the other end.
A boot to the back of my knee sends me to my knees. I look up at the women surrounding me. The masks and goggles hide their expressions completely and unnerve me. Tabitha steps forward.
“Inmate, today is day 1 of your rehabilitation. You are entering stage 1 of 3 of the process. Think of this as the ‘penance’ stage. You will suffer as a punishment for the crimes you have committed. The suffering will be pointless except in the lesson that it carries. It is up to you to earn the privilege of returning to society. 40 bags of sand await you in the field. Each bag weighs 50 lbs. You will move them 1 by 1 across the field and stack them neatly 50 yards away at the other end. When you have completed this task, kneel with your hands behind your head and wait for guard approval. You will have 60 minutes to complete this task and meet your labor quota.”
She paces back and forth before me, her boots clicking on the hard floor.
“You will repeat this task 12 times today and move a total of 480 sand bags. If you move 160 bags in the first 4 hours you will be rewarded with lunch. If you complete all 480 bags within 12 hours tomorrow you will be rewarded with a coat. To move on to stage 2 you must meet every hourly quota for 2 consecutive days.”
My fear and the cold leave me trembling. This will be painful.
“First guard shift, Cassandra and Dominique. Mount up your snowshoes, we got a few inches last night. Prep the prisoner for labor transport.”
Mistress approaches me and closes a metal collar around my neck. She tugs the attached chain in her hand making sure it holds secure. Another pull and I struggle to my feet. She avoids looking at me. My heart longs for her. My throat still feels the pressure from her thumbs.
We exit the building in a line with 2 guards in front and 2 guards behind me. The wind howls and bites through the thin cloth of the uniform. The gag is the only thing preventing my teeth from chattering. Tabitha and Lauren walk towards a pair of snowmobiles parked next to the building. I turn my head and see Dominique’s home in the distance. The prison building is only slightly fancier than a shed and located somewhere on her estate. I find it a little disturbing that she has a building with rows of cages, almost like a scene out of the old OWK.
Mistress leads me by the metal leash across the snowy field. Dominique follows behind me. I have no idea what time it is but I can picture her caffeine starved morning face behind her mask. My boots sink into the snow. Each step is a labor as I struggle against the leg irons and barely keep up. At the center of the field is a metal post with an eyelet at the top. A very thick chain hangs from the top. Mistress reaches into the snow and pulls in its length. Hand over hand she continues, the snow collapses in a trail as its end approaches.
She picks up the end in her hand. Dominique turns my shoulders away as the chain is locked to the back of my belt. She removes the handcuffs and walks away back toward the shed.
Smack. A strap stings my back and I spin quickly remembering my task. Mistress towers over me with her snowshoes keeping her near the top of the snow while I shiver as the snow begins to penetrate my boot tops. She taps her wrist and points to the sandbags across the field. I bow and hustle as fast as I can, stumbling in the uneven depths of snow as the chains prevent me from lifting my feet high enough to avoid it. I try to remind myself this isn’t real. The wind gusts and I raise my hands to my face, it burns my eyes. The chill cuts through my entire body, the fur on the uniform is mostly for show, it provides minimal warmth if any at all. This is very real.
As I approach the sandbags I feel the ground slope upward. It will provide a downhill run at the start but it will be harder at the end when I am tired. I reach out for the top bag. Clink. The chain attached to my waist stops me in my tracks, an inch or two out of reach. I grab the chain with both hands and pull.
My leg buckles as the baton strikes my thigh. I tumble face down to the ground. A knee digs into my back. A hand pins my arm behind me. I thrash my legs in vain. The cold on my body intensifies as the snow presses against my body. What did I do Mistress?
With her other hand she presses my face into the snow, mashing it deep. I struggle as snow melts against the exposed skin of the eye-holes. The gag’s air hole plugs, my nose presses against the packed snow. I can’t breathe.
“Inmate, it is against the rules to touch the guide chain. This will be marked as an escape attempt on your record.”
I struggle in her grip to no avail. Her knee presses painfully into my spine, she presses my arm tighter. The wind drowns out my muffled pleas. I let myself fall limp in her grasp. She rubs my face from side to side into the snow and dismounts hard, knocking the little bit of air left in my lungs out of me. Instinct takes over. I kneel and bow before her. She kicks me in the arm and paces away. I lie motionless and catch my breath. She terrifies me.
I sprawl out on the ground and reach out with all my might. I barely reach a corner of a bag. I latch on and tug with all my might. The bag weighs a ton. The sand is frozen and the snow accumulation doesn’t help. I shake it back and forth, my hand numbs with the pressure. It finally slides an inch. I reach out with both hands and strain. I give a firm tug, and it slides. Another tug results in more movement. I rise to my feet and pull the frozen bag toward me. It slips off the pile and tumbles into the snow in front of me.
I bend down and lift. It’s not so much heavy as uncomfortable, bulky, and awkward. My arms and back strain to hoist it to my shoulder. I wobble at first while trying to find a grip and begin the 50-yard trudge across the snowy field. I mince my steps to avoid tripping on the ankle chain. Running will not be possible. As I shuffle through the snow, Mistress approaches and matches pace with me. Her snowshoes and long strides easily keep up.
“Welcome to hell, inmate. By the time we’re done with you, you’ll never want to commit a crime ever again. You have 42 minutes remaining to meet your labor quota.”
She breaks my resolve. I had resigned myself to working my ass off and trying to keep myself from thinking about anything except the task at hand. If anything is clear to me it is the knowledge that I will suffer. My morale hits rock bottom.
I pass the metal stake in the ground signifying the halfway mark. My arms and back tighten. In warmer weather or adequate clothing this wouldn’t be nearly as bad. I shake the thoughts from my head. This is supposed to be painful, be miserable, and its design is purely to make me suffer.
Smack. I recoil and grunt as the strap hits my back.
“Pick up the pace, inmate. I get a bonus if you meet your quota under my watch. If I miss out, you’ll just have to make it up to me later. I have a strap on that’s itching to split you in half.”
50-yards may as well be a mile in these conditions. My steps slow as I reach the incline on the far end. My heart lifts as I trudge up the grade, I am almost there. The snow crunches under my boots, my heaving breaths dissipate like smoke into the cold air. The chain stops me in my tracks. I drop the bag into the snow in front of me. I straighten it so it is oriented like the others back at the pile. That’s one down, 479 to go.