TERMINAL ISLAND • by Daniel Mkiwa

I left Shiggy at his house and drove south on the Harbor Freeway, past the industrial plants and over the big green bridge to The Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution.

They call it Terminal Island because it is really on an island. It’s a man-made island, but I don’t know how or why people would build an island just to hold a prison. It would make sense if the island was already there, but why go through the trouble to build a whole island? All the white people in Long Beach were afraid of the black folks escaping. When people get paranoid, they do crazy things.

I had the music pumping loud. I was trying not to stay mad at Shiggy. He was my friend for sure, but Damn. Shiggy talked like… like I should just keep George’s cut.

The old man couldn’t do nothing ’cause he was in jail. And if I thought he was going to be a problem, the Aryans would take him out for just a thousand dollars. The trick would be to talk to the right guy. And Shiggy knew which one was the right guy.

But see, Shiggy didn’t understand. George wasn’t just some old fool who got pinched. He was like my godfather. He was always around when I was a kid. He helped carry my Daddy’s coffin. He had been like a dad to me when I was coming up.

After I got through security, I had to sit by the scratched-up Plexiglas with the phone receiver. I had nothing to do but look around and wait.

The shiny grey speckled tile was clean but the room had that industrial government smell, like a library or a post office. The fluorescent bulb above me flickered. I waited. It took forever for them to bring George out to see me.

When I finally saw him, I was shocked at how bad he looked. The relaxer in his hair was wearing off, making it a frizzy mess. His face was shiny and his eyes were hard and bloodshot. He looked like a homeless man.

George was one of those older guys who would always be wearing a suit, usually with a different color vest and double buttons. He always wore a suit. Now he had on one of those bright orange prison jumpsuits with a black number stenciled on the chest.

“You got my cut, boy?” he said into the receiver.

“Yeah, I got your cut.”

“Where is it?”

“I got it.”

“All fifty thousand?”

“Forty-five. Ten percent went to Shiggy.”

He looked like he wanted to punch me. But that was the deal he had made. I had nothing to do with it.

“I need you to get it in here to me… a thousand at a time.”

There was no way I was going to do that. Not one time and for sure not forty-five times.

“George. C’mon, Man.”

“Don’t back-talk me.” He hissed and pointed his finger at me, “I need my money in here.”

“What are you going to do with money in prison? Buy cigarettes?”

His eyes bulged and he showed his yellow front teeth like a snarling animal. “You just do it, you hear me?”

George didn’t trust anyone with his cash. He would rather hide it in his mattress than rely on somebody outside. He was paranoid, and when people get paranoid they do crazy things.

But he could see I wasn’t going to do anything or put anything inside me just to smuggle him his money. His lips got tight and he clenched his fist. He wanted me to get Marlene to come visit him. He could get Marlene to do anything.

I couldn’t believe him. Locked up behind that Plexiglas, with his hair all crazy, and he tried to scare me. What did he think I was, ten years old? Why didn’t he just act all nice like he used to? I could have helped him figure something out.

I told him I would talk to Marlene, and I left him sitting there holding the phone receiver.

I drove north on the Harbor Freeway, past those yellow-orange streetlights they have in Long Beach, and away from Terminal Island.

They call it Terminal Island ’cause “terminal” means the end. It means they’re dead. They’re over. He had at least eight years to go. I would be 26 before George would be able to get out.

And that’s if he got paroled.


I couldn’t even imagine being that old.

I didn’t listen to any music when I drove away. I just drove, thinking about Shiggy and the Aryans.

And what forty-four thousand dollars could buy me.

Daniel Mkiwa is a writer. He lives in the Los Angeles area.

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