A Bad Idea I'm About to Do

Free A Bad Idea I'm About to Do by Chris Gethard

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Authors: Chris Gethard
this was the murderer’s row of the West Orange High class of ’98. But on the
bus, I sensed a different side of all of them. Their verbal sparring might have sounded tough, but there was a subtext of desperation and fear. They seemed sad and insecure outside the context of a high school.
    When we pulled up to Rahway State, the bluster and posturing stopped. The prison was huge, surrounded by guard towers and fences and covered in barbed wire. Quiet fell over the bus as we all asked the same unspoken question: If it’s this bad outside, what must it be like inside?
    Fear punched me in the gut. I was in over my head. I considered asking Knutsen if I could stay on the bus, but before I could, three surly prison guards leapt onboard.
    â€œEveryone sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up!” they screamed. It was clear that these men had no qualms about murdering any of us. “I dare someone to talk! Give me a reason to spill some brains on the ground, I’d fucking love that!”
    A shocked silence spread among the crowd and we sat down.
    â€œNow stand the fuck up!” We leapt from our seats. They had us under control immediately; we sat when they told us, we stood when they told us. As they herded us into a concrete pen and made us stand in a single-file line, I understood that they were treating us as badly as any prisoner. Though I tried to stay stoic and calm, I shook like a Parkinson’s patient who has recently been given tragic news. Knutsen was nowhere to be found. The only other noncriminal from my school was gone. I was on my own.
    The guards ran up and down the line, screaming at us. I winced, shocked that they were treating me exactly the same as everyone else. I had figured that someone would call ahead and tell them, “Hey, go all out on these guys, except there’s one volunteer, so take it easy on him. You’ll know him when you see him—he’s the one who wears sweater vests and looks like he’s really into
Morrissey.” No one had placed that call. I was bearing the brunt of things as much as anyone else.
    When the kid in front of me noticed my trembling, he whispered, “Stay still, merigon.” For years, I thought that “merigon” was a derogatory way to call someone an American, like “gringo.” Only recently did I learn that it’s the Spanish word for “faggot.”
    The guards walked the line, holding up Polaroids of inmates who’d committed suicide. Mostly they’d hanged themselves with bed sheets, but one particularly gruesome image showed a man who had sharpened a broomstick and impaled it through his own neck.
    Well , I thought to myself, I guess this is real life .
    My shaking grew. I breathed in heavy gasps, sweating as the guards brought us into the general-population area. A group of prisoners folded laundry inside a cage. When they saw us they dropped the clothes and sheets and ran to the bars, screaming.
    I first realized they were shouting at me personally when one guy remained conspicuously silent and made eye contact with me. As our eyes locked he shouted just loudly enough for me to hear it: “I’m gonna fuck you, Red. I’m gonna fuck you.”
    I almost shit my pants with fear. My hope was that the eventual loss of my virginity would be a tender and loving affair. If this man had his way it would be violent, bloody, and nonconsensual. I’d never felt so unprotected. And seeing the rage in the eyes of this unapologetic rapist dwarfed any anger I’d ever known. We’d been on the prison grounds less than five minutes and I’d already learned what I wanted to know: I wasn’t tough, no one in my school was tough, no one I would ever meet again for the rest of my life would be tough in comparison to these men. I wanted to go home.
    We went on a whirlwind tour of the prison, every step scarier than the last. The guards locked us inside a small cell with a prisoner.
We stood

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