When the elevator doors slid open, there were twelve men inside the car. Two wore black officer uniforms; the others wore unmarked and faded tops and pants. They all looked at me in silence.
They all saw me hesitate.
“Do you want to get on?” one officer barked. It was a command phrased in the form of a question.
As I took a step forward, one officer stepped out of the elevator. The inmates, wearing not scarlet letters but, instead, red uniforms and cheerless expressions, moved towards the perimeter of the car. The second officer in the elevator took a step backwards, creating a square of space.
I took my assigned spot and the other officer stepped back onto the elevator to close the square. My eyes could only see his folded arms across his broad chest. The light breath of the other officer moved across the back of my neck. The inmates cast their glances—heavy, light, and of all shapes and sizes—at me. I heard my heart beating in my ears.
As the elevator lurched into motion, the air thickened in my chest:
- If a fight breaks out, I can’t escape.
- If someone touches me, I won’t know who.
- If something happens to me right now, who will be more likely to help me…?
The elevator jiggled to a stop and the doors slid open.
“Excuse me.” My voice did not waver, though my confidence did.
Without saying a word the officer stepped out of the elevator. The inmates rearranged themselves in silence. Cool air blew past me as I walked into the elevator bay.