A guard checked a number against the ID bracelet on the man’s wrist while marking his name off a clipboard as he stood in line.
Another chained the man’s cuffs to his waist and shackled his feet together, so he had to shuffle to board the prison bus behind other stumbling inmates in orange jumpsuits. He heard some snickering among the jailers about something called “diesel therapy.” The term puzzled him, but amid the scuffling and stern faces, he had no time or nerve for questions.
His answer came thousands of miles later via a road trip through highway hell during which he had to constantly remind himself that he was Jack Clemens and he used to be rich.
After the first day, he had learned not to eat the baloney sandwiches offered for lunch. Not only did they taste like shit, but bathroom breaks were stretched hundreds of miles apart and by the time the bus finally stopped for gas, he’d soiled his pants.
“Idiot. Asshole.” The guy in the next seat swore at him, looking as tough as his talk with cornrows, tattoos, and scars.
“Sorry.” Those who knew him on the outside would have been surprised by such a quick apology. Atonement had never come as naturally to him as blaming others. During his court sentencing, Jack had been given a chance to speak, but instead of expressing regret for his crimes—as his attorney had urged—he insisted that he’d been unfairly persecuted. All that blather did was piss off the judge and land him ten years in the slammer.
Now, seven hours into this excursion, the entire bus reeked.
This wasn’t the deal Inmate 16780-59 had envisioned. After all, he wasn’t a violent felon. Or a repeat offender. Maybe some of the outlaws on the bus deserved transport torture, but not him. Sure, he had tried to game the penal system and that arrogance had cost him his comfy bunk at a country club prison camp in northern Minnesota . . . but what did they expect? He was a white-collar criminal.
Until his crime made headlines, his wealth wasn’t the kind that made Jack Clemens a household name. He didn’t own a professional sports team, or appear in television commercials, or invent a product that changed the world. He simply moved money around various financial accounts, and thus could walk down the streets of Minneapolis without being recognized. With brown hair and blue eyes, medium height and weight, this middle-aged man was average in every way but income.
That night, after six hundred miles crammed in narrow plastic seats with stiffening legs and sore arms, the chained gang left the bus to be housed at another prison overnight. The inmates were given fresh uniforms and a chance to shower. But he was afraid of the showers and cleaned himself with water from the toilet.
He had no idea where he was, where he was going, or when the journey would end. He’d stopped trying to calculate what direction they were headed in, knowing only that he didn’t belong on this bus with these animals. The guards ignored him when he tried explaining that a mistake had been made. He waited for the attorney to fix things, but days turned into nights and the wheels on the bus kept rolling.