I passed through the gates at the institution for the criminally insane, past thick iron bars, past stolid armed guards. I was told bluntly to stop, to raise my arms and was frisked thoroughly. As the guards eyed me, seemingly hostile, I felt a nervous tremor in my stomach. I was not a threat but they didn’t know that. They knew only that I was here to visit one of their most dangerous prisoners.
Burt Jensen had been born in a tarpaper shack on a dirt poor northern Wisconsin farm. He lived through his childhood in that shack with only a small iron stove for heat, sleeping on a ragged pad with one blanket on the floor in one corner of the single room that housed them all. His mother had died giving birth to him. He had one brother four years older, who used to beat him nearly every day and steal food from the tin plate on which he ate. Those were the good days. The day his father, Olav, didn’t beat him.
One night they both beat him, kicked him into a small bundle and left him on his pallet while they laughed and drank the evil smelling alcohol they brewed out of potatoes. Later that night, after they had passed out, he took a knife and cut both of their throats.
When the police came to take him away, he was hollow-eyed and chanting, over and over
Cops call it
That’s all the authorities ever got out of him. Just that mad rhyme. That was all he had ever spoken since that horrible night.
So now he was here. In the bowels of this huge grey institution. And so was I.
I was a reporter. After months and months of effort, I finally had been granted this opportunity to talk to Burt Jensen. Was I fearful? Oh, yes. Even in spite of knowing that he would be shackled, hand and foot, and I would be "protected" by the armed guard in the same room.
So I entered. And waited. The room was empty except for a small wooden table and two straight-backed wooden chairs.
I jumped as I heard the door clang open. And Burt Jensen came in, with a guard holding tightly to one arm. His dark hair was disheveled and hung down on his forehead. His eyes were on the floor. The guard roughly pushed him down into the chair by the table opposite me. I sat and, slowly, his eyes rose to my face. They were blank.
My long sought interview was a disaster. Burt Jensen didn’t answer any of my questions, he didn’t respond at all, he just stared. Not at me, exactly, but through me. He sat still for the entire time, just staring.
Finally, I had enough. I gave up. I turned off my recorder, looked at the guard and nodded. He took Burt Jensen’s arm and raised him from his chair. And I turned to leave. As my back turned, I heard, for the first time, Burt Jensen’s voice.
Nails in his arms,
Spear in his side,
I stood there, stunned, as he repeated the words over and over again as the guard shouldered him down the hall. His words grew fainter as my hands gripped the edge of the table in an effort to stop the trembling.
This is the sixth in series of weekly writing exercises initiated by Willow, who posts a photo and invites people to write a poem or a story or an essay based on it. You can learn more and read other entrants' writings at Magpie Tales.