camera doesn’t Stop Recording
I’m still shaking. I can’t believe what I have been a party to tonight. I was told to record, and so I did. I didn’t know how it would all shake out; how could I? Now I’m facing an investigation and may even go to prison myself.
All because the bastard told me to keep recording.
I work as a correctional officer in a Stragview Prison. As a male, most of my time is spent working in a Close Management dorm or serving on special teams within the facility. For those who have never worked in prison, Close Management is the kind of dorm you usually see on tv. Each cell is an eight by 10 box where the men sleep two per cell, with bunk beds set into the wall, and the doors roll shut at night. I work the night shift, so life is usually pretty straightforward. After lights out, your charges are locked away until chow time in the morning. Other than hourly well-checks to make sure no one is in distress, your hardest decision is usually which inmate to shake down for books or which corner to nap in until it’s your turn to do a round.
Our Captain, Captain Rosund, is a nice enough guy who doesn’t usually make our lives too hard. He’s hard when he has to be, but he doesn’t sweat the small stuff. I’ve seen him hold his ground in an emergency, standing against a Quad of unruly inmates even when weapons were present. He’s been my Captain for about a year now, and my shift honestly couldn’t have asked for a better one.
On Monday, he wasn’t the one to greet us after we had our bags and pockets checked in the security room. The Captain that held our roster for the evening was a stranger. He had a head of wild gray hair with a thick wiry beard to match. His thin build teetered on emaciation, and he had a pair of stormy eyes that seemed to be roving the crowd constantly. The group of CO’s that stood around the waiting area were utterly cowed by his menacing appearance. Even some of the Sergeant’s seemed to be giving him a wide berth.
“I am Captain Peterson, Captain Rosund is ill tonight, and I am his replacement.”
His voice had a quality that made me uneasy.
He sounded like an old general in a war movie, addressing his troops just before all hell broke loose.
He gave us our dorm assignments, and we all left in a clump as we discussed how odd he was. Sergeant Dack, the assigned yard Sergeant for the night, was incredibly nervous about the prospect of having to work with him all night. He joked with the confinement Sergeant, a mousy guy named McMan, that he might come and help him do paperwork instead.
Turns out, there were a lot of us doing paperwork before the night was over.
The night went mostly as expected. Mail was handed out before the first count. Master Roster was conducted before lights out to ensure that everyone was present and accounted for. By ten-thirty, we had all our inmates snugged away in their cells. I was just deciding which counter to prop my feet up on when the phone rang. Dotson, the Sergeant assigned to the dorm with me, rolled his eyes at it before saying to me, side mouthed, “Sounds like this is the moment they decide to get up to shenanigans.”
The statement would prove to be prophetic.
It was Dack. He wanted an inmate from Quad 3, Inmate Garman, in leg shackles and hand restraints to be brought down to the Captain’s Office ASAP. Dotson nodded as he relayed this information to me, rolling his eyes theatrically. I started assembling the necessary items we would need to outfit Garmen for his trip. When Dotson hung up, I asked him why they wanted Garman so late at night?
Dotson only shrugged at me, “Dunno, but do you mind taking him? I’m up to my tits in paperwork, and I really need to get caught up.”
I agreed and went out to Quad 3 to get Garman ready to go.
Garman was not happy about being rousted. Garman was in his late thirties, his short brown hair going prematurely gray, with the thin, stoop-shouldered look common in inmates. He wanted to know what all this was about and why they wanted him so late and just how long this was going to take, and he wanted to know now. I told him that the Captain wanted to talk to him. If he had questions, then he better take it up with him. That seemed to finally get him in motion. When the Captain called, it was never a good idea to keep him waiting. He balked again when I told him he had to wear the ankle chains, but at this point, it was just grumpy bluster. We got his hands secured behind his back, his leg restraints in place, and I called him in over the radio as Dotson buzzed us out onto the compound.
The compound at night is probably the most peaceful place in the world. Prisons are almost always set up way out in the middle of nowhere, and it seems to be by design. When the lights go out, and the children go to bed, the dorms look almost peaceful. The crickets and the night birds were the only sounds around us as we walked. I saw Garman look around and take it all in with the kind of resignation only the incarcerated can manage. We often forget when we put on the uniform that some inmates are still human too. Not all of them get to keep that humanity here, but some of the lucky ones are strong enough to not let this place turn them into animals.
Some Officers are lucky enough to keep their humanity too.
The Captain’s office is a square concrete building in the center of the compound. It’s close enough to every dorm that you could run to someone’s aid in about a minute from the front door. Dack was waiting for us when we arrived. Dack was usually a good-natured fella, quick with a joke or a sarcastic remark. Tonight though, he was standing over a little pile of crumpled cigarettes, and he looked haggard. He looked up at us as we approached and threw something to me that I almost dropped.
It was the video camera that we used for “disturbances.” Anytime an inmate needed to be put on camera, you could bet that he was about to have a bad time. I had run the camera a few times, mostly to monitor inmate after they had been sprayed with gas or slammed on the ground. I knew enough to figure out that this was not going to be an ordinary meeting.
“What’s this for?” I asked anyway, wanting confirmation.
Dack took a long drag off his Winston and added it to the pile, “Cap wants the meeting recorded.”
“Any particular reason?” I asked, not used to seeing Dack this short and out of sorts.
“No clue, but would you please do it? Peterson…the Captain I mean…I don’t want to spend any more time with him than I have to.”
“Why? What’s going on, Dack?”
“I’m going to confinement to help McMan with his paperwork. Come find me when it’s done, okay?”
“Dack, what the hell is going on?”
Dack looked at me, and I could tell he was scared, “That guy… he’s not right, man. I don’t know what it is, but I know that I don’t want to spend any more time with him than I have to. Just do this for me, will ya? Please?” and it was the please that did it.
I told him I would, and Dack slumped off towards confinement.
I walked Garman in and knocked on the door to the Captain’s actual office. The outer room held a computer, a copy machine, and a couple of filling cabinets that mostly had people lunch boxes or crap people took from inmates inside. The outer office was empty, which was a first. Usually, the place was full of Officers and Sergeants who had escaped their dorms to hang out with their friends at the Captain’s office. The absence of others should have been a second red flag, but I shrugged it off and knocked on the door a second time.
“Come in,” said Captain Peterson.
When we came in, he was finishing up a phone call. His eyes got big when he saw Garman, and he lost his train of thought for a second. Garman stood before his desk, unimpressed with the wild gray gentleman who sat behind it and looked around the office as Peterson finished his phone call. Peterson dragged his eyes away with some difficulty and turned his attention back to the phone call.
“No. No, Mary, I have to go. Yes, yes, I intend to go through with it. Don’t worry, after tonight, it won’t matter. I love you too, goodnight.” and with that, he hung up the phone. He reached around it and unplugged the cord, rising from the desk as he did so and walking around to look at me. He stood much too close to me, and I could almost smell his sweat as he bent to look me in the eye. His sweat did not smell altogether healthy.
“Do you know how to operate that?” he asked, indicating the camera.
“Yes, Sir,” I said, trying not to let him hear my discomfort.
“I want you to record our interview. I want you to record, and I don’t want you to stop. No matter what happens, no matter what you see or hear, no matter what Inmate Garman or I might say, I want you to keep recording. Can you do that?”
That made me nervous. What had I walked into? Garman did not seem too keen on our conversation either, but since he was the one in restraints, he didn’t really have a lot of say in the matter. As I stood there, the Captain’s manic gaze fixed on me, I found myself nodding and opening the camera to begin.
I pushed the button labeled record and moved back a little to frame the scene for whoever might watch it.
The Captain stepped out of the frame and locked the door.
Then he sat behind his desk, and for a moment, the two just stared at each other.
“Do you know who I am, Inmate?”
Garman scoffed, “You’re the Captain, right?”
Captain Peterson mulled this answer over for a minute. He sat behind his desk, leaning in to look at Garman, and I took advantage of the lull to take a step back into one of the corners, so the two were both in frame. Garman, standing before the desk, and Person sitting at it, were easy to get in the shot. I wanted everything in sight for whatever reason I was recording this. I didn’t want anyone to claim something afterward that I didn’t get on tape.
Peterson chewed the answer over, and It did not seem to satisfy him.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked again, something unsettling creeping into his voice.
Garman rolled his eyes, “Look, Cap, if you called me down here to play games, then let’s just skip the crap, and you tell me…”
Both Garman and I jumped as Peterson slammed his hands down on the desk. When he looked back up, his eyes were full of terrible knowledge, and when he spoke, his voice was full of barely controlled rage.
“DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” he bellowed, spit flying into Garman’s stunned face.
Garman stood, petrified, and Peterson was forced to answer his own question.
“My name is Frederick James Peterson, you piece of human garbage. Does that ring a bell?”
Garman stammered a little but still seemed unable to answer.
“You were convicted of murder, isn’t that so, Inmate Garman?”
“Ye…yes,” Garman stuttered, a big glob of spit sliding down his cheek as he tried to speak.
“Your record says murder, but that’s not the whole story, is it Garman?”
Garman didn’t answer, but Peterson did not seem to require one.
“I bet not many of the other inmates know why your here, do they Garman? You tell them that you’re here for murder, maybe that you were wrongly convicted after defending yourself. We know better, though, don’t we? You see, you’re a child killer, Garman.”
“No,” Garman breathed, wincing out the words, as though they hurt him to think about.
The Captain moved quicker than I would have thought him capable. One minute he was sitting, and the next, he was up and over the desk. Garman’s head snapped to the side as his open palm connected with his face. He staggered back, startled and hurt, but kept his feet in the face of the grinning apparition who now sat atop his desk.
“Don’t you dare lie to me, you piece of shit! You were convicted of murdering thirteen children between the ages of nine and thirteen, weren’t you?”
When Garman didn’t answer, he hit him again, and this time I saw a line of blood dribble down his chin as he brought his head back up. I took a step forward, meaning to stop this. Peterson fixed me with his crazed eyes, though, and I took a step away again. Those eyes told me plainly not to get involved, not to come between them. He didn’t want to hurt anyone but Garman, but he would if I got in his way now.
“Didn’t you!” He shouted, and this time, Garman looked up.
“Yeah, that’s right. I’m a child killer, I’m a child murderer amongst murderers. So what?” he asked, blood pattering from his mouth onto the Captain’s uniform shirt.
Peterson hit him again, but it was no open hand swing this time. He hit him full in the face with a closed fist, and this time Garman’s blood pattered across the floor in a torrent. He cried out, high and pathetic, and Peterson turned his face towards him as he drank in his anguish. I thought again about stopping this, but Peterson’s display had scared me into submission. You didn’t often see someone in authority, at least not in my line of work, lose their cool so utterly and so quickly.
“That’s right, Garman, you’re a child killer, but that’s not all there is to it, is there? You didn’t just murder them, you also abducted them.”
Garman gagged on his blood but still managed to shake his head in negation. Peterson hit him again, and this time I heard his jaw pop as his fist flashed across it. He hit him three more times, a quick one-two-three in quick succession. When his head came to rest, I feared his jaw might be broken.
“Don’t you dare lie to me, Garman. You abducted them, tortured them in your basement, and killed them as they hung crying from your rack. You sit in the chow hall, in the library, laugh with your friends on the Quad, and all the time you know what you are. You know that you deserve to die for what you’ve done.”
Garman had hunched down, trying to cover himself as the Captain lunged at him again. Instead of his fists, however, he put a boot in his guts and sent him sprawling against the filling cabinet. I heard his head connect with the metal box and saw the bright spray of red as his scalp broke open. I lowered the camera and tried to go to him, tried to stop this from escalating any further, but Peterson shoved me away and screamed at me to “Keep Recording!” The camera shook as I lifted it again. I wanted to stop, wanted to leave, but I didn’t want to leave the two alone.
I realize now that my presence meant very little to him.
I was merely a means to an end.
“At your trial, I sat in the gallery and prayed that someone would grant you the death that you deserve. I prayed and prayed that you would feel the terror of waiting on the needle, right up until they slid it into your vein. I wanted you to suffer as I had, as my Catherine must have before you…” but at that, he took his shoulders and slammed him into the cabinet again. The blood flew then, Garman’s blood-splattered the cabinet and flew onto the wall. I imagined I could see his skull beneath the torn scalp, and as I sank to my backside on the floor, I could do nothing to turn aside.
“My Catherine was beautiful, she was pure, and you took her from me. Then, that soft-headed judge gave you life, LIFE, in prison. Did you give my Catherine life? No, you ended her life. I’ve looked for you for the last five years so I could give you the same thing you gave her. Finding you became a sort of…mania in me, you see. When my wife left me, when my friends stopped calling, when my son went to live with her because he couldn’t stand to see what Catherine’s death had done to me, I blamed you and added just one more sin to your tally.”
As he spoke, he took his frustration out on Garman. The man was limp, unconscious if not already dead, but Peterson went right on abusing him. He punched him, stomped him, slammed his head and stomped his fingers, and by the end, the man looked like clay that had been worked by an untalented child.
“I am your judge, Garman. Your judge, your jury, and your executioner.”
Garman’s blood had sprayed across the overhanging light, bathing the room in a pool of red. The spreading pool of blood from Garman accented the room. Peterson hunched over Garman’s body, panting like a dog as Garman slowly bled his life away. He rose, graceless, and turned to glare at me. His face was a mask, stained with blood and pits of viscera. He looked like an angry God, like some old totem unearthed by a violent storm, and as he approached, I was filled with deep and resonating fear. He loomed over me, and I could see him putting those fists to work on me as I sat hunkered in the corner.
He bent and took the camera from my numb hand.
Then he left through the door, pushing it open and walking from the office like nothing had happened.
That was twelve hours ago. I sat in the office hyperventilating as the phone begin to ring. I let it ring. I had no strength left after what I’d witnessed, and the phone going unanswered brought Dack back to the office. When he saw Garman, slumped against the cabinet and covered in blood, and me cowering in the corner, he called the Major. The police arrived shortly after that along with the Warden, the Inspector, and Internal Affairs. I told my story repeatedly. By the eighth retelling, I felt ready to scream. No camera footage exists of the event in his office. He unplugged the camera in his ceiling, and the only footage on file is of me bringing Garman from the dorm to the office. Dack told them that Cap had wanted to speak with Garman, and Dotson corroborated the call. That took my name off the top of their list as a suspect, but it still didn’t answer where Captain Peterson had gone.
Captain Peterson, as it turned out, was the father of Catherine Peterson. Catherine had been Garman’s last victim and the victim that had finally seen him caught. However, Garman had information about a child sex ring that he had been selling tapes to in exchange for a lesser sentence. Garman had assaulted many of his victims on camera, and the videos had been netting him a high price with that particular brand of pervert. He flipped on them, which allowed his record to say nothing about how he had murdered children. A dozen perverts off the street and one murderer behind bars for life was probably a fair trade in the court’s eyes.
Captain Peterson, though, had disagreed.
They still haven’t found Captain Peterson or the video camera. There is no footage of him leaving the facility, and the only way to get out is through the front gate. That means he must still be on the compound somewhere. He’s still there, maybe plotting violence against another inmate, perhaps just reviewing the footage like a scholar studying cataclysm.
I had no choice, you understand. I had to keep filming. Even if I had stopped, it wouldn’t have changed anything. The Inspector didn’t like that answer, but you see the truth of it.
As I lay in my bed now, I can see that last image of Peterson superimposed behind my eyes.
I see that bloodstained man coming towards me, and I wonder if I’ve indeed seen the last of him?