Life on the outside is full of unpleasant surprises for longtime inmates.
With two children in tow, a woman prepares to witness her lover's execution by lethal injection.
"Lyell gave her a shove, then she gave him a shove, and they raced to the guest bedrooms and put on their nicest outfits. Twenty minutes later they sat at Cornelia’s dining room table, waiting for her to speak. She inhaled deeply. Her fine blond hair was wrenched from her scalp into a tight, high-sitting barrette. 'Where we are about to go,' Cornelia whispered, 'must remain a secret. Can you children remember that?' They nodded. 'Today, we embark on a farewell mission,' she said, 'a goodbye mission for a friend who will enter the other side—which is to say, children, that he will be killed.'"
Men working in penal servitude develop a fascination with a sixteen-year-old seamstress.
"Life was stuffy and tight in a stone box under a low heavy ceiling, coated in soot and cobweb. It was hard and sickening in thick walls, spotted in dirt and mold. We rose at 5:00 AM, unrested, and dull, indifferent by 6:00 we were making kringles from dough our comrades made while we slept. And all day at a table from morning to ten at night, shaping elastic dough and rocking to and fro so as to not go numb, while others kneaded flour with water. All day sadly purred boiling water in the pot where kringles cooked; on the stove the baker's shovel hit fast and angrily, flinging slippery boiled dough on hot brick. Morning to night wood burned in the oven and flared, reflecting red flame on the workshop wall, as if silently laughing at us."
Sketches from the violent, troubled life of a Middle Eastern man.
"The boy’s name was Mokhtar, but no one ever called him anything but Chico. I first got to know him when he was fifteen. He had grown up healthy and handsome. His pockets were always stuffed with money, and that was what was special about him. His life consisted of sitting in cafes, day and night, and he learned to drink alcohol and to sleep with whores. He was generous and goodhearted, but if he got angry he could be dangerous, and he often got angry when he was drunk. When Chico was seventeen his aunt died, leaving him her bank account, three houses and a bakery in the city, and a big farm out in the country. He began to give large parties, buying great quantities of food and drink for many friends, and spending even more on girls."
A prison camp, inhabited by dentist-philosophers, murderous baseball players, and other colorful figures.
"Shortstop: Evelyn Roak, surgeon, supplied human fragments to a delicatessen, and was undone by scandalous amputations."
Memories of a prison form a puzzle of theories and careful details.
"There is a theory I favor that the ground is beaten in the morning. The children allow for some ascension or ebbing of shadow before effecting a slight switching with brushrope of the soil. To explain the pattering at dawn? A slight drumming or the chatter? One cannot be too careful. The light swivels north of the third prison container, which is constructed of small bricks. I believe the women are housed there, for the birds rush off the turret at noon and there is a moment each day when the shadow is severe."
A woman reflects back on a son who died in prison.
"A few of the guards were kind to her. In a couple of them she could see them look at her as if she were a vision of their own mothers driving four hours to be humiliated, to be searched, to have the insides of her thighs patted down for the love of a son who didn’t deserve it. "
A guy just out of prison drops in at a party, with zombies on his mind.
"It turned out that everyone in the prison had a zombie contingency plan, once you asked them, just like everyone in prison had a prison escape plan, only nobody talked about those. Soap tried not to dwell on escape plans, although sometimes he dreamed that he was escaping. Then the zombies would show up. They always showed up in his escape dreams. You could escape prison, but you couldn’t escape zombies."