Waking one morning to learn Trey had been whisked away, transferred to another facility, Jeremy fears he and Trey might never see each other again. When he learns from the local news that Trey has been sent back to county to face a retrial, he doesn’t know whether to pray for his acquittal or to hope for his return. Jeremy has to forge a new path, discover a way to move on with his life without Trey. The two will likely never see each other again, but Jeremy can’t forget so easily. He turns to others for support and falls into the arms of another man, but will his new love ever really take the place of Trey?
The reality that Trey was gone took a while to settle. Jeremy found it easier to pretend Trey’d be back, that he was just temporarily absent. He couldn’t quite wrap his head around the idea that they’d never see each other again, that for all practical purposes they were dead to each other. If Trey somehow managed to get a reduced sentence and an eventual release date, he’d be forever prohibited from contacting Jeremy, even by letter. Felons were not allowed to communicate with other convicted felons. Period. And even if his trial did not go well and he was again convicted, chances remained slim to none that he’d be returned to the Pit as Jeremy’s cellmate.
Trey had been everything to Jeremy. His salvation. In an otherwise bleak and hopeless world, Trey was his ray of sunshine, his hero and protector. And now, without him, Jeremy faced all the challenges of survival within this godforsaken hellhole alone. He had no safety net, no one to make him feel safe. And every night when he rested his head on his foam wedge encased within a pillowcase, the hollow within his chest ached, yearning to be filled. Grief. The horrifying and excruciating process of coming to terms with a significant loss nearly crippled him.
And to make matters even worse, he now no longer had Shadow. Jeremy had been removed from the program due to the injuries the dog had sustained. When he couldn’t offer an explanation for the broken ribs, they booted him. Seeing other inmates in the commons and outside in the yard with their dogs stabbed him like a knife in the heart.
Routine became his coping mechanism. He had to stay busy, force himself to function in spite of his lack of purpose. Going through the motions of life became his focus, existing merely for the sake of staying alive. He crocheted. God, did he crochet constantly. Afghans, scarves, mittens, you name it. And he began answering letters he received through the Write-a-Prisoner pen pal program. Just as Shontay had predicted, lonely middle-aged or elderly gay men sent him long letters pouring out their souls. They seemed to yearn for a connection, anyone to listen, even if that someone was a convicted murderer who’d never see the light of day outside the prison walls.
Warren, Edward, and Sam were the three who wrote most frequently. Warren, a retired dentist from the Upper Peninsula, communicated primarily through email. Though Jeremy did not have access to the Internet, he could retrieve pre-screened emails from his inbox on the computer. The system also allowed him to transmit emails, which also were subject to censorship, but each one cost an electronic stamp. He’d used some of his savings to purchase a supply of these stamps, but after his initial purchase, he never really had to worry about it. The pen pals seemed eager to donate, and they usually kept him well supplied.
Warren was the first to offer money. Jeremy had given him the sob story Shontay suggested, that he was falsely convicted of a crime and abandoned by his family. Actually, it wasn’t far from the truth, and Warren accepted Jeremy’s explanations. He used a money transfer service to send two hundred dollars that went directly into Jeremy’s prison account, and offered to help Jeremy by sending either more cash or a care package every three months.
Edward, a forty-something school teacher, identified as a sexual submissive. Though currently single, he’d been in a long-term relationship with a very dominant controlling man for the better part of the previous decade. Now abandoned by his master, he yearned for someone to control and use him. What better candidate to use and abuse a masochist than a sociopathic convicted felon? How was Jeremy going to pull that one off, though? He hardly fit the part and had virtually no desire to abuse anyone, least of all a seemingly mild-mannered, overly polite gentleman like Edward. Shontay laughed when Jeremy read her one of Edward’s letters.
“Have him let you call him. Then during your conversation, talk real mean to him. Call him bitch and tell him you’re gonna fuck him up.”
Jeremy shook his head. “That’s fucking crazy. Why would I do that, and how?”
“It’s a fantasy! He wants to be used, so use him.”
That first phone call netted Jeremy a five hundred dollar prepaid card.
Sam, the third pen pal, proved far more challenging. He wasn’t at all like the others and didn’t fit the stereotype. At first Jeremy thought the guy might be just fucking with him, jacking him around, and even Shontay warned that he might be just be a time waster. But surprisingly, Jeremy and Sam kind of hit it off, in spite of the fact they were quite different from each other.
Sam, only twenty-six, held a college degree and seemed incredibly smart. Openly gay, he wrote passionately about his love of politics and civil rights activism. He’d been a college junior when marriage equality was legalized and had protested, then celebrated on the steps of the Supreme Court that June. Currently he focused on his post graduate work, a law student.
Occasionally Sam sent emails, which were always very brief and to the point. Most of them were simply to advise Jeremy that he’d be sending a longer letter via snail mail. Those were the pieces of correspondence Jeremy most valued. They were filled with anecdotes and bizarre rambling tangents that always made Jeremy smile no matter how miserable he was feeling. Sam had a way with words, and the more they talked... or technically wrote... the more Jeremy liked the guy.