This is a story inspired by real life accounts of gang life and sexual violence in prisons. It will include scenes of rape and sexual slavery. It is rated M for good reason. Please consider yourself warned.
Thine Own Palace
The door was drawn closed behind him with the squealing anguish of metal on metal. It was all he could do to stop himself from shivering at the sound. As always it made him want to itch and scratch, but instead he simply clenched his hands by his sides.
"Welcome to T block, enjoy your stay" the prison officer smirked, voice lilting with sarcasm as he locked the door and slammed shut the visitation window, leaving Sendoh entirely closed in.
He looked around him. Bunks, two of them – one above and one below, white concrete walls, no window, one primitive sink (cracked) and one small toilet. He surveyed it all with his jaw set hard.
The room had no natural light, there was only a single low-watt bulb above his head which cast a dull orange glow onto everything. It flickered slightly, making his eyes tired. The walls seemed to stretch too high above him as if he were being swallowed by a cold hard yawn. The claustrophobia set his head spinning. There was barely room for two people to pass each other, and there was no way out. No escape. A tomb. Just concrete unyielding against flesh no matter how much one clawed.
A rustle of blankets made him twitch slightly in nervousness, heart pounding as his eyes snapped immediately to the upper bunk where first a hand and then a pair of feet appeared dangling off the edge. He stared, baited, arms tensed and ready to fight, and saw a grim unfriendly face appear looking down at him.
For all he knew he could be locked in this concrete cage with a snake. A venomous spider. A monster. In and out of cells like these, one came across all manner of creatures. All nature of criminals.
The impression Sendoh had was of confident strength, something not entirely cruel, a show of power which didn't necessarily match with personality. In fact, what Sendoh saw in the man who looked down on him now was someone who reminded him very much of himself. Someone turned hard by necessity.
The brown eyes took in the sight of him suspiciously, weighing him up in terms of size, weight, strength, attitude. Wary of what might happen, and knowing full well that there was nothing except his own fists to protect him if this man decided to take a disliking to him, Sendoh did not drop his guard.
"You got a name?" the man demanded after a moment with a kind of gruff civility.
"Hanamichi Sakuragi" the man sniffed and ran the back of his hand under his nose. "Where ya from?"
Ah. The question. Sendoh knew this was the crux, the end all, the foundation of the rest of his time here. Whether he'd live in hell or whether he would live tolerably would all come down to this almost unassuming query. Even if he made all the right moves, it could still go wrong right here.
"Ryonan" he revealed, eyes alert for any kind of reaction in his cell mate's features.
There was a moment of silence, in which the red-headed Sakuragi did not give anything away. Sendoh rolled his tongue in his mouth nervously, feeling suddenly dry, unable to shake the adrenaline fuelled apprehension of wondering if he was about to be prematurely checked.
Finally the red head huffed and shrugged. "Can you fight?"
Sendoh's heart hammered hopefully. First test passed. But there was a long way to go yet.
When Sendoh did not immediately reply, Sakuragi tossed his head and grinned, revealing a telling gap of missing teeth. "Ah well, we'll find out soon enough." He lay back down on his bunk, vanishing from Sendoh's view once again, conversation over.
Sendoh hesitated. He knew he ought to contest Sakuragi's right to the top bunk – but if Sakuragi turned out to have high influence in the gang Sendoh hoped to fall in with it would be stupid to anger him needlessly now.
He stood indecisive for a moment before remembering that indecision was the greatest show of weakness, and then forced himself to sit down on the lower bunk as if he just didn't give a shit.
Don't over-think it he reminded himself for the umpteenth time. Be strong. Be sure. Don't be stepped on. Be one of them.
The unwritten laws of survival.
They remained silent together as the afternoon passed without event. There was nothing to do. Sendoh heard Sakuragi snoring softly above him as he dozed. Such easy abandon in the presence of a new and unchecked cellmate marked him as either extremely confident or extremely foolish.
Sendoh had no wish to take the chance. Instead he sat in the quiet and the still, just waiting.
Finally there came a hammering on the door and Sakuragi let out a snort as he sat up, roused by the noise.
"Dinner," a voice announced, "Move it." Sendoh's gut tightened in apprehension at what he knew was coming next.
They went, Sendoh following a step behind Sakuragi, not exactly walking together, to the dining hall – if it could be called such a thing. It was an outside area, covered by a concrete roof but open on the sides so that in winter it would be freezing, and in summer baking hot and filled with flies. Four tables stretched across the concrete floor and this… Sendoh knew… this was true gangland.
No guards patrolled here. It was fully under the control of the inmates and their own peculiar sense of justice. This was where you survived or died.
Sendoh's eyes flashed around, noting everything quickly, knowing that the tiniest misstep could be costly. Four tables and five gangs, obvious by their seating. Perhaps seventy or eighty men in total, some large, some small, all with the telling shallow cheeks and black-rimmed eyes of prison life. Many were scarred or wounded, signs of battles old or recent; black eyes, scabs, scars were abundant everywhere Sendoh looked.
And everywhere Sendoh looked, eyes looked back. A hush fell and he knew that the time had come for his baptism; his true test. He forced every inch of calmness he possessed to his aid, trying to squeeze it out through his own pores in an effort to appear what he knew he needed to be. There appeared to be a space around him, a void in which he existed, marking him as an outsider, as someone unprotected. As prey. But he couldn't let it eat at him. He couldn't let the sense of isolation make him feel isolated. He reminded himself: Be strong. Be sure. Don't be stepped on. Be one of them.
It was a shaven headed slanty-eyed yakuza who challenged him first. Rising from his position at a bench he stepped forwards to meet Sendoh who did not adjust his weight.
"Where ya from, punk?" was the question.
Somewhere behind him, Sakuragi answered on Sendoh's behalf, "Ryonan."
This didn't seem to be an answer that the yakuza approved of, because he cracked his knuckles menacingly. Sendoh weighed him up silently: larger, heavier, stronger, more experienced. Sendoh wouldn't win this fight. Even so, he did not back down. The rules were simple here; you were defeated as soon as you showed you were.
Other members of the man's gang rose and made their way over to support their ally, eyes all around the dining area glued on the coming confrontation curiously. Fights like this happened every day, but never failed to draw interest. The yakuza cracked his knuckles again. "Come on then, Ryonan punk" he goaded, and without warning struck out with his right fist, cracking Sendoh painfully across the jaw.
He staggered with the blow, taking two steps sideways, tasting blood in his mouth. But he didn't fall. He didn't think. He clenched his fist and sprung back at the man, aiming for the nose, feeling his fist connect with a sickening crunch. This time the yakuza fell back, blood streaming, face in obvious agony. But he would not be subdued so readily. He fought to maintain his place in this messed up society just as desperately as Sendoh fought to gain his. Those that triumphed survived. Those that fell fell hard.
They continued to scuffle violently together, cheers and goads going up from those who looked on thirsty for the fight. They kicked up stones and dust and blood as they grunted and gasped and growled, throwing knocks and kicks and punches.
Sendoh was mid swing when a second pair of arms grabbed him from behind, pulling him backwards, holding him in place. He didn't challenge that it wasn't fair, two against one. This was how things were done. This was the world. Instead he narrowed his eyes angrily as the yazuka man approached, fist drawn back. The first blow was to his stomach, the next to his face. The fists felt like hammers. Blood flecked the ground like rain.
Sendoh's spirit flagged slightly beneath the weight of the pain and the violence. Demons told him to drop to the floor and surrender. But he couldn't bear to submit himself to what he knew that would mean. Instead he called on his anger, his rage, pushed himself into losing control, struggling with more ferocity than ever. He somehow twisted enough to loosen the second assailant's grip on his arm, and with a furious jerk managed to bring up his heel to kick him in the groin.
Arms finally free, Sendoh set about getting his revenge, slamming into the large yakuza like a truck, not thinking, not feeling, not aware of his hurt nor the blows he continued to receive. There was no logic in how he fought now. It was all blood and fire.
When a third man joined the fray he barely noticed it. His fists swung right and left with continued ferocity, but he couldn't keep it up forever. When his strength began to flag everything he'd been holding back – his bruises, his agonies, his lost blood – came back upon him with a vengeance. A well placed blow to the head knocked him backwards and finally he fell to the floor, stunned.
This time two men held him down tightly while the original man – now bloody and gasping – drew a shank fashioned from a piece of scrap metal and waved it at Sendoh menacingly.
"You're fucking for it punk" he growled.
Sendoh's eyes blurred but he somehow managed not to look away as the rusty blade approached.
"Enough, Koganei" came an unexpected gruff voice and Sendoh blinked dazedly to see that another man had appeared and grasped the assailing yakuza by the blade hand. "You've checked him. It's done."
The yakuza Koganei struggled out of the other man's grip and spat angrily on the floor. "Akagi" he hissed, glaring up at the other man before spitting again and staggering away, paying no attention to his flooded nose. The hands that held Sendoh down also left and instead it was Sakuragi who pulled him to his feet.
Sendoh swayed slightly as the world tilted around him. He touched an eye tentatively and didn't need a mirror to know it was black as sin.
Still he couldn't help feeling a little relief. He'd proved himself of worth. Test passed.
"What's your name boy?" the giant known as Akagi demanded.
"Sendoh… Akira" he responded woozily.
Akagi looked him up and down, just as Sakuragi had done hours ago, noting his size, strength and fire, summing him up in the only terms that mattered here.
"Well then come on" the man finally growled, turning away and gesturing for Sendoh and Sakuragi to follow him, "you're Kanagawan, then you sit with us."
Sakuragi flashed Sendoh a grin as he helped him over to the bench where the fellow members of the gang awaited curiously.
For now, at least, he was safe.
ANs: I recently read a report relating to the issue of prison rape, and am basing this story on information gleaned from it (with some creative adjustment, of course). I do hope to make it as accurate as possible.
Please feel free to look up the report that I'm using as source material for yourselves – "No Escape: Male Rape in US Prisons" commissioned by the Human Rights Watch – it is available free online.