"Think so, man.
Think so this time."
"What say we
lift a few weights, babe?"
The men are proud
of their physiques, proud of their biceps and lats, their squats, benches and
dead lifts. Their excitement indicates as much. But since there are no posing
mirrors in Stateville, and no one to show off for and few enough fans to
congratulate one after a good day, the prisoners internalize their weight
training the way they internalize everything. There is community on the
Stateville team, certainly, but in the end each man is alone and knows it.
One of the lifters
gestures at his teammates and explains, "I'm doing time. He's doing time.
We're all here together doing time, but, man, it's all your own. Ain't nobody
can help, ain't nobody gonna stick around with the bros when their gig's
The prisoners and
the outside lifters continue to chatter as they begin warmups. Snowflakes drift
in through the cracked and missing windowpanes. Crashes of iron rise above the
talk like missiles over clouds. There is no rage on any of the faces and there
is no threat and no mark of Cain, yet there is something in the furrows of the
brows and at the corners of the eyes that hints of suppressed things. A great
blotting out has taken place. "It's anger that'll kill a man in
prison," says a lifter. "Make him sick and crazy, and then they'll
The Stateville team
captain is called to the crude lifting platform in a corner of the room for his
final bench press. This is one of the last matches for the prisoners in the
gloomy basement; a slick gym is being carved out of the dining hall. But this
day the competition is lit by two yellow bulbs dangling from the overhead
pipes, and it is not until the prisoner lies down on the bench that his face
becomes visible through the shadows. Viewed from the other end of the basement,
the weight lifters resemble hunters gathered round a campfire, a group of men
resting after a long day by telling stories, pondering the day's bag, laughing,
fixing their weapons.
The captain stares
at the bar and adjusts his hands. The men watch. The only sounds are the
dripping of water from an unseen pipe and the wind toying with the numerous
holes and crevices in the building.
The spotters lift
the 485 pounds off the rack and rest it on the captain's hands, staying tense
and ready to assist, knowing that with this much weight a wrist can buckle and
snap or a man's will can crumble and the quarter ton drop on his chest.
Jesse Vail, the
Stateville Supervisor of Recreation, watches. Like everyone else, he is aware
of the many problems and unavoidable ironies involved when a prison tries to
imitate life on the outside. It irks Vail that for a long time his lifters'
totals have gone down instead of up. Yet how else could it be when all his men
were confined to their cells for months because of the disturbances—a
punishment made all the harsher because the weight lifters were not involved in