The Attentions of Dangerous Men

by Ace Boggess

They walk her in handcuffs from the POD—two squat black correctional officers from the security team, each holding one of her twig-like arms, and the cocky white sergeant following close behind, his face sun-burned, grinning.

C.O. Christian doesn’t resist. She takes short steps, her neck bent forward, dirty-blond hair dangling over her forehead and eyes. She looks like a criminal. She looks like one of us.

We’re on lockdown, supposed to be prone on our bunks until the action ends, but we ignore that order and stand at our steel-mesh cages to watch. We wouldn’t miss this. Sure, we hate to see her go, dragged out like this, with a sheriff’s deputy, no doubt, waiting downstairs to haul her the rest of the way. We like C.O. Christian. She’s been better to us than most, and better to some than any. Even so, she’s one of them—or was. When one of them gets taken down, we’ve won. This unites us—blacks, whites, the few Latinos. Whatever our day-to-day differences, disputes, tensions, we’re together: our side, their side—the art of war.

“You all can get up now,” the sergeant shouts over his shoulder. “Fun’s over. C.O. Anderson will be here soon to let you out of your cells.”

We despise C.O. Anderson. He’s older, angry, muttering to himself most of the time. He hates us, too, and walks the POD far more than required. We’ve seen him crawling around in the floor at night like a wild animal, trying to sneak up on us, catch us in flagrante delicto smoking, fucking, or getting fresh tattoos. We wish it had been Anderson towed away in handcuffs. We’d want him to resist, end up beaten down, bloodied, broken. He’s too strait-laced, if a little excessive or batshit crazy, and we’ve never seen a guard get fired for that, let alone arrested.

We hear the POD door bang shut, and C.O. Christian is gone from our lives. Too bad, really. She enjoyed the attentions of dangerous men, depraved men, men who for hours saw no one else but her.




We talked to her at night after lights out. We said things to her other correctional officers wouldn’t have permitted. And she said things to us. Intimate things. Disturbing things. Coy, tantalizing things. She told us about her exes—the abusive ones, the ones who couldn’t get it up, the ones that hurt her most by leaving rather than staying—and about her parents—respectable pharmacist dad (dead) and waitress mother (very much alive and out there somewhere banging strangers for bigger tips).

Christian was taller than most of us by at least a foot, but thin as one of those plastic skeletons hanging up in high-school science class, which most of us failed, except for the meth cooks who, even in those days, were interested in tidbits of chemistry. In addition to her blue uniform, she often wore turtlenecks—to hide bruises, we imagined—and always long sleeves, even in summer. We knew what that meant. How many nights did she stand at our cages, sharing stories and scratching at her chest, neck, face?

We could get to her, we were certain. At least, one of us could.

Around the other guards, we showed her proper respect and called her C.O. Christian. In private—as private as a darkened prison POD can be—we called her Candy, which was short for Candace. It was the sort of casual bond we shared, as if she were one of us for eight hours at a time. We understood from the beginning that her days here would be limited, destined to end in shame.

She wasn’t the first, and she’d be forgotten as soon as the next scandal hit the prison. We’d seen officers escorted out many times. Counselors and teachers, too. Or, we heard stories about how they stopped showing up for work after they realized the higher-ups were on to them. But the higher-ups had their issues, too. One of the former wardens went down for embezzlement, and a captain got himself caught watching child porn on a prison computer. The staffers were human like us, although we didn’t see them that way any more than they saw it in us. They were flawed beings, and we searched for those flaws. We were good at finding these weaknesses and exploiting them. We needed angles or leverage to convince them to break rules for us. Maybe we wanted one to look the other way during minor infractions, which made their lives easier as well as ours. Sometimes it was for sex, whether straight or gay. More often, it had to do with coaxing them to smuggle contraband: drugs, tobacco, a cell phone, or even something as small as a barbecued chicken sandwich from KFC.

This would’ve been true at any prison, but more so at Boone County Correctional Center. The place remained highly understaffed, and a high percentage of the new hires didn’t consider it their lives’ goals to be guards. They came in fresh off the unemployment line or recently retired from jobs for which they were better qualified. Corners were cut—psych evals discarded as in the case of C.O. Anderson or, as with C.O. Christian, evidence of drug abuse ignored. Many of the officers that passed through here were lonely, many more in poverty—the easiest thing for us to take advantage of. Some were just stupid. We put it bluntly like that because stupid could go either way: a tool for a us to utilize or a malfunctioning weapon firing at random in our direction, bringing many of us down. We tried to avoid the stupid ones unless we had no other choice.

Christian wasn’t stupid; she was poor, attention-seeking, and probably a junkie. In spite of that, she kept her job for more than a year.

Now that’s she’s gone, we can’t be certain which breach brought her down. We’ll know by morning. We’ll talk among ourselves. Rumors will spread. Another compromised C.O. will tell us Christian didn’t know that, during her weekend off, the maintenance crew installed cameras in the second-floor utility closet where she did many of her dirty deeds. Which one was it? We have our suspicions, and we won’t be surprised when the security team comes back for Lucky next.

Lucky—not a nickname—is the perfect foil for C.O. Christian. He’s older, experienced, and, though stubby in stature, built with the hard, smooth physique of a stone gargoyle, which makes him at once ominous and unthreatening. We never see him without a smile on his face—by itself, a feature that allows him to stand out. A bit of a clown, too, he’s our collective id, a man of pointless decadence. Though convicted of a dozen counts of burglary, he doesn’t have much time left on his sentence. The Mingo County Circuit Judge ran all his terms concurrently because of the circumstances of his crimes. He broke into twelve houses and fixed himself dinner. For the most part, he put together sandwiches from whatever he found. Twice, though, he cooked full meals of pasta and garlic toast, then wrapped the leftovers and placed them in the fridge for the homeowners to sample. He got caught after enjoying a turkey sandwich on a warmed sourdough bun, then lying down on the living-room couch for a nap.

We’re fond of Lucky. He amuses us. He dances in his cell and sings old songs from Jerry Lee Lewis and Chubby Checker. He talks shit to all the guards, though never in a hateful way that will bring their wrath upon him. “Hey, Jeffers,” he might say, “you know there’s a bastard housecat on your head?” Or, “Don’t look now, Smith. The warden’s coming to snatch his mustache back. You better hide that thing.” Lucky is a cunning beast with hard fists, a thick skull, and not a hint of malice. Yes, we love Lucky. We love him, but we didn’t give him a heads-up.

The cell doors buzz at once, and C.O. Anderson’s tin-can voice crackles from eight intercoms. “You all can come out now. Hour and a half to lockdown. Only an hour until my shift’s over and I get to go home. Don’t give me any grief tonight. I’m serious.” The boxes go silent except for light static that tells us he’s still there, listening in for any snide reply.

We race for the cell doors. We step out into the sterile dayroom. We take our spots around tables, picking up our cards and chess pieces, locating our books of crossword puzzles and sudokus. We watch TV. Monday Night Football is on: Seattle versus Tampa Bay. We don’t care about these teams, and we’ll miss the end of the game after our regular lockdown time at eleven-thirty, but we watch anyway. It gives us time to think, to plan our words. We say, “Can you believe it was Christian?” We say, “Sure enough.” We say, “Candy was always going down. She was reckless.” We speculate about the cause. “You know she was bringing in tobacco,” we say. “She brought it in suitcased in her hoo-ha,” we say. “Heard she smuggled dope,” we say. “Pain pills,” we say. “Cocaine,” we say. “Or heroin.”

What we don’t say is that we realize what went on in that utility closet. We don’t say it because we refuse to name Lucky. We won’t get involved in anyone’s business but our own—a good rule to live by. But, of course, we know. We’ve watched for months as she escorted Lucky off the POD to get a toilet plunger. We’ve heard other guards snickering, joking, guessing. We knew what some officers thought was happening, and we knew when those cameras went up. The staff used our hands, paid for at ninety cents a day, to drill the holes and run the lines. We knew, and we said nothing. We didn’t warn C.O. Christian because it’s not our job to save an officer from herself, and we didn’t warn Lucky because of our good rule to live by, and maybe we were a little envious of what he had going, and maybe we wanted to see the chaos.

We watched from our distance, side-eyed and smirking, as Lucky serenaded Christian whenever she walked by his cell. He sang “Love Me Tender” in a perfect Elvis voice and “Sister Christian” way off key. He hummed pop-metal ballads from the 80s and chirped Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” in a speaking voice that sounded as if he were telling a raunchy joke. We didn’t know when this became courtship, but we recognized it as an introduction. We saw her smile at him. We saw her grimace. We saw her walk by without a word.

Sometimes, she stopped at his cell. We tried to listen in on the conversations, bus most often we couldn’t catch them because we were raising our usual ruckus on the POD. “Candy, will you be my valentine?” we heard Lucky say once, his tone sarcastic. It struck us as odd because it was the middle of October. Soon after, in a voice so loud he meant for it to reach across the entire POD, he said, “Will you bring me some candy, Candy?” as if she hadn’t heard that a thousand times before. We watched her blush. We watched her walk away.

She came back, though—then, and often. On day shifts, she’d stop and talk to us at the table in front of Lucky’s cell, making sure he got a good look at her standing there. He might not leave his bunk or say a word, but we felt him staring, his eyes drawing pictures of what she looked like under the long sleeves and loose-fitting uniform. Night shifts, though, she’d lurk at his cage. He’d jump off his bottom bunk and whisper to her through the mesh for hours. Those whispers were like booming, incomprehensible chants in the post-midnight semi-dark.

She told him stories about her two children, and about her ex-husband who had them, raised them, and wouldn’t let her see them. We heard the sound of sobbing. Sometimes we heard Lucky’s cooing hum in reply. We are not—at least, not all—good men, but we can be comforters, working miracles when we need to, when we might benefit from the effort. Lucky is one of the best of us at that. He calmed her down, whispered some joke that earned a laugh, and redirected her into a happier subject like pop songs, beer, or what she would do with all the money in the world.

Lucky shared, too—too much, we thought but didn’t say. It was during one of these late-night murmur sessions that we learned Lucky also had a child—not a child per se, but a daughter, Kim, likely fully grown—he never saw. We didn’t hear the reason for his falling-out with her, but we could guess. We all had those reasons, those loved ones missing from our lives.

One night, a couple days after Thanksgiving, the two of them spoke a bit too loudly. Those of us not asleep or trapped in a cell with some fat con snoring like a chainsaw, caught more than snippets of a conversation:

“Do you miss your old man, Candy?”

“I miss the fun we used to have together.”

“Not him, though.”

“No. He’s a douchebag. He couldn’t find his way out of a paper room with a cigarette lighter and a pair of scissors in his hands. I miss Sue and Brandon a lot. We used to go to the park back before the park wasn’t a good place for them to be. We’d swing on the swings together like we were flying off into the sky. In the winter, I’d make them my grandma’s snow cream with a little extra vanilla, and we’d sit around pretending it was Haagen-Dazs, pigging out all evening until their bedtime. I’d tuck them in and read to them.”

“You sound like a good mom.”

“I was.”


We didn’t hear the rest. A burst of radio static from Christian’s walkie reminded them both that noise traveled at night and they needed to keep it down. Still, we were touched by what we heard. Lucky had a genuine sweetness to him that surprised us, so used to him playing it cocksure and goofy.

Not long after that exchange, Lucky’s toilet broke. Nothing suspicious about it at first, even when it seemed to back up only on C.O. Christian’s shifts. It did overflow, and Lucky was the one most affected by its foul eruption. He had the bunk right next to the bathroom area’s raised steel wall, his property box pressed against the metal. Water and sludge that stunk of men oozed through the gap between wall and floor left there on purpose so that guards could see an inmate’s feet should he be back there during count. Lucky was unlucky that way. What little he possessed would be submerged in piss and worse if he didn’t notice and fix the problem soon enough.

He blamed us—not all of us, but his cellmates among us. Maybe he was right. We can be rude and vile. We amuse ourselves with small things like flushing objects down the steel toilets which suck with force and can handle almost anything: socks, torn tee shirts, empty chip bags, and whatever contraband we can dispose of if we know a search is coming and get to the bowl before the security team shuts off our water. We’ve flushed entire black poly-fiber blankets, mesmerized as they swirl and disappear as if part of a magic trick. We have no respect for the plumbing, but find great joy in these powerful machines, these shiny silver Pac-Man sprites swallowing whatever dots and ghosts we throw at them. So, perhaps we did lodge some remarkable item deep in the pipes. We were willing to shoulder the blame. Looking back, though, we wonder if Lucky jammed it up himself, willing to suffer indignity for his endgame.

Whatever the cause, we often heard Lucky shouting from behind the mesh of his cage. “Candy, help! I need the plunger! Hurry!”

She’d buzz him out of his cell and joke, “Did you blow up the toilet again?”

“That toilet has Satan in its guts,” he’d reply, or, “No jokes today. We got to rescue my stuff.”

C.O. Christian would say into her walkie, “Escorting inmate Collins to the second-floor utility closet.” After she got the okay, she’d buzz the door and disappear with Lucky for a short time, or later, a long one.

Lucky always returned with the plunger. Whatever might have happened in the utility closet, he came back and attacked the toilet with ferocity we normally reserve for fights among ourselves. Then, it was back to the utility closet to trade the plunder for a mop and cleaning supplies that left the whole POD smelling like a women’s hair salon, followed by a third trip to return everything.

We didn’t mock Lucky for this, didn’t tease or ridicule. We felt for him. There are humiliations the worst of us would rather not suffer, and this was one—a horrible lottery in which Lucky always seemed to draw the black stone.

To her credit, C.O. Christian took the whole thing seriously. Maintenance requests were filled out, work orders placed. Some of us on the maintenance crew were dispatched to Lucky’s cell, although we never found the problem.

“Damn thing’s haunted,” Lucky said to us.

We laughed, but stopped out of fear he could be right. We didn’t believe in ghosts, but then again, we did.

The overflowing of Lucky’s toilet continued throughout the winter, as did trips to the utility closet, the late-night whispers, the shared glances. We observed. We listened. We said nothing. For a while, we wished we were him.

Then, we felt the tension between them shift, wires tightening around their throats until neither could breathe, and we held our breath, suffocating with them in empathy. Suspicions arose. Other guards asked us questions. We didn’t answer, or maybe we did. We’re fickle like that. We might have ratted him out. We might have pointed with our eyes as if to say the killer’s over there! Or, perhaps the two them were careless—nothing more complicated: too many trips to the utility closet, too many minutes spent inside.

We went back to our card games and inane TV shows about pawn shops and bounty hunters, and they went back to playacting guard and prisoner as if they weren’t already one blurred image to us now. We could wait. We’d be there for the outcome. We were spectators unable to leave the theater, chained to our gum-stained seats like forty-seven Prometheuses.

It began with the rule violations. To create the appearance of distance, C.O. Christian, who rarely filled out incident reports on any of us, handed write-ups to Lucky as if he were the most disruptive inmate in the population. She caught him smoking and wrote him up for it, even though we suspected she supplied him with his tobacco.

That didn’t concern us. We had been before the institutional magistrate and found him compassionate. He often dropped class-II write-ups for smoking down to class-III, which were meaningless, and ordered no punishment stronger than a month’s probation.

Next, she hit him off for not shaving—the sort of thing only the pettiest guards did.

Lucky took it in stride, laughed about it, scraped his fingernails over the stubble on his cheeks, and waited for the magistrate to lower the charge and add to his probation.

When Christian later threatened to write him up for the same offense, Lucky cocked his head and said with a whine, “Get over it, Candy,” so instead she got him for insubordination.

We were beside Lucky as his legal rep, arguing his case. We watched the magistrate’s cracked, wind-burnt face twist into a totem mask of frustration as he said, “Mr. Collins, she really doesn’t like you, does she?” which meant she had achieved her goal.

Lucky smiled at this and accepted fifteen days under loss of privileges—a fair trade for the safety of his secrets. He had to wear a jumpsuit the color of a smashed lightning bug with LOP printed on the back, and he couldn’t use the phone, buy commissary, or watch television for a couple weeks. We joked with him about it, called him glowworm, and asked him to turn off his clothes so we could get some sleep, but inwardly, we were impressed.

Soon, everything returned to normal. Lucky was back in khakis, and his toilet continued to overflow. We watched him leave for the utility closet, returning with a plunger and rosy cheeks. We nodded, applauding. We carried on. We played our games and ate our snacks and listened to new whispers of rumors among the guards. It took a few weeks, but they came.

C.O. Christian panicked and went too far. During a routine walkthrough of the POD, she spotted Lucky in his cell wearing nothing but his wrinkled white boxers. She acted shocked, offended, said he grabbed his crotch, taunted her, and exposed himself. She wrote him up for sexual assault, a class-I violation—serious business.

This outraged us. It could send Lucky to the hole and rob him of good time, leaving him stuck in this goddamned place for an extra year or longer. We refused to accept it. We went to his hearing as witnesses, lining up to testify that we had seen it all, that Lucky was minding his business, and that if C.O. Christian noticed his stubby pecker, it was because he was adjusting himself and she was looking.

The magistrate stopped us after the fourth man in, not wanting this case to last all day. He dismissed the charge, noting that no rule prevented an inmate from wearing nothing but boxers as long as he stayed in his cell, and also that, yes, men do need to adjust themselves from time to time. He added, “There’s something more going on here between you two,” looking from Lucky to Christian, then back to Lucky. “I don’t know what it is, but stay away from each other.”

That was the beginning of the end for C.O. Christian. It should’ve been the actual end, but we have no idea what went on in her mind. She was other to us, alien. We hoped she would learn her lesson and leave Lucky alone. We knew Lucky wouldn’t learn it, and he wanted no advice from any of us.

There remained Lucky’s toilet to consider. Always the toilet—that spewing, fetid, unexplainable cauldron of toxic magic. It clogged. It bubbled. It thrummed. It overran its banks. By now, we would’ve fixed it if we could.

One weekend in March, after being called to maintenance, we were handed tools and new equipment. We were sent to the second-floor utility closet, where we placed four cameras in discreet spots in all four corners of the room. In the light, they were difficult to notice. Only if the lights were turned off would those four red dots be visible like wrathful, godly eyes.

We weren’t allowed near the computers connected to those cameras. We never saw what they captured on Monday when Christian returned and Lucky’s toilet did its thing. All the same, when the security team locked down our POD the first time, we imagined those images as if we were watching homemade pornography.




“Lock down,” C.O. Anderson shouts, back again. “Everybody lock down now!”

“Not again,” we mumble. Some us yell, “We still got time!” But we’ve been expecting this.

“Lock down, or I’ll write every one of you up for refusing an order.”

We cuss. We grumble. We do as we’re told, shuffling off to our cells to watch the final episode of our favorite show.

The security team struts through the POD, looking in every cell, barking orders. “On your bunks! Face down!”

We comply until we feel each correctional officer has passed by twice. Then, we’re up at the cage as before, taking in the scene, listening.

Lucky’s out in the dayroom, hunched over a table and surrounded by officers in blue. We expect him to be cuffed and marched straight to the hole, but that doesn’t go down. He’s signing documents, write-ups—many of them. We imagine the possible charges, but we’re sure our minds don’t catch them all.

The sergeant stands next to him. His brown hair is slicked back. His prescription sunglasses reflect light from the flickering fluorescent bulb as if sending out a code. He’s grinning as though he’s the smartest man in the room. “And this one,” he says, laying another document on the table.

“Ah, come on,” Lucky says. “Escape? Really?”

The sergeant shrugs.

“Compromising, sure. Sexual assault, I get it. It’s not true, but I get it. The rest of these….” He smirks as if to say, Yeah, sure. “But how do you come up with an escape charge out of all this? I never even left the floor.”

“We’ll see what she says. We don’t know yet what kind of nonsense you put in her head. Maybe we’ll drop it, maybe not. We’ll see. Don’t know what we don’t know. Haven’t figured out what you were after.”

That smirk again. “You know what I was after. You have pictures.”

“I have video.”

A raised eyebrow. “Can I see?”

The sergeant lifted a hand as if to strike him, then lowered it. “We’ll play it for the magistrate.”

“He’ll love that.”

“I’m sure.”

“Clear a lot of things up for him.”

“Sign it,” the sergeant says. “You’ve been served. Whether it’s true or not, we can figure that out later.”

Smirk. Nod. Grin. Lucky leans over and signs the last form.

The sergeant tears out copies of all the forms and hands these in a stack to Lucky. “I have to ask you this. It’s your right not to answer, but I want to know…I mean, just for me. Why’d you do it? Knowing how much you had to lose, how much she had to lose, why would you?”

Lucky says nothing.

Once, I guess, I understand. You’re here. Must be frustrating. Who knows, you might get away with it.”

“I did get away with it.”

“But to keep it up all this time? What, was she in love with you? Were you in love with her? Why?”

Lucky keeps quiet for a few seconds, stares down at his cheap blue Taiwanese sneakers, then looks back at the sergeant and says, “I didn’t have anything better to do.”

We try not to laugh. It can’t be helped. He’s one of us again, the enemy of our enemy. We fight this war with one-liners. We fight with indifference. We can’t win with rage, so we use everything else. Sometimes there are setbacks, sometimes advances. Lucky has taken the flag. We applaud him for it and the price he’ll pay, as we celebrate his asking for the toilet plunger once the sergeant has him safely back in his cell. “Damn thing really is broken,” he says. “You can ask anyone. They’ll tell you.”

And we will.

Ace Boggess, ex-con and winner of the Robert Bausch Fiction Award, is author of the novels States of Mercy and A Song Without a Melody, and five books of poetry. Recent fiction appears in The Laurel Review, Notre Dame Review, Folio, and other journals. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.