Sugar Run - Mesha Maren


July 2007

In the yellow corridor they marched the women single file. Jodi, feeling the worry of the eight at her back, wondered what significance to attach to her position as first behind the sergeant. Not much at Jaxton was left to chance. Oldest, she thought, but that may not have been true; thirty-five was perhaps more of an average age. The rest of the women, all from other units, all nameless and unknown to her, did look more youthful, though. She glanced at the one behind her, reddish bangs combed high and a rose-print blouse tucked into blue jeans. Younger or cleaner or something.

“Stop,” the sergeant said, spreading out his arms as if the women might all run on past and taste freedom too soon. Beyond him, at the end of the hall, was a bolted door with a single fogged window in the center.

Perhaps, Jodi thought, release was like diving, or rising rather. You could die from that, she’d heard, coming up from the ocean floor altogether too fast. Something got in your blood.

“Six months,” a voice mumbled.

“Quiet” Sergeant called, nodding at the curly-haired guard stationed beside the bolted door.

An arc of warm light cut across the misted window and Jodi leaned toward it; the eight behind her were silent now.

The sergeant looked to the camera in the ceiling, gave a thumbs-up, and the door popped, then swung open to the crash of rain on concrete and the idling engine of a white van. The curly-haired guard lifted a black umbrella and he and the sergeant ran, splashing to the driver’s side, leaving Jodi with nothing but the open doorway.

That ground out there—that pen of fenced wet cement—had to have been the same place where she’d arrived at seventeen, shaking, spitting, fucked-up scared. All she could remember of her arrival, though, was walking those endless yellow halls and, before that, the hot chaos of a hotel room in Atlanta—the air heavy with iron-thick blood—the paramedics wheeling Paula’s body away, and Jodi stumbling, arms pinned back in silver cuffs, puking all across the parking lot.

The sergeant stepped away from the van. He signaled to Jodi and she felt the distance reel out between them. He looked so small, nothing but a white hand beckoning. Jodi took one step and stopped. She could feel the treacherous edges stretched across that open door. Eighteen years. She’d tried to stop counting but could not. More of her life had been lived inside than out.

“Go on,” the redhead behind her said.

Rain streamed down through the double bands of the van’s headlights, hitting the parking lot and mixing into the hiss and fog. And above the razor wire, barely visible, the soft swells of green mountains rose. Jodi stiffened. Noises bounced around the doorframe: pulses of words at her back, great waves of sound and under it, a laughter beginning. A rasping laughter—not quite her father’s but not her own.


A hand slapped her shoulder and Jodi broke free. She ran, soaked wet in two seconds flat. She ran and all she saw were those mountains. Eighteen years at Jaxton and she never knew she was living in the mountains. From the exercise yard she had seen only what was straight above, a sometimes gray, sometimes blue rectangular lid of sky. Mountains were a dream that had ended when the judge said life in prison. Mountains were far off, West Virginia, home.

In the van, she bent low and headed for the far-back seat. Her wet clothes steamed and her black braid dripped down her neck, forming a tributary that ran over the edge of the vinyl seat. The other women squeezed in, their voices climbing one on top of the other, as if freedom had expanded their lung capacity.

The van lurched, motor rising steadily as the wheels began to turn. Jodi held her plastic sack tightly in one hand, the other gripping the edge of her seat. She closed her eyes and felt the dizzy, sick-sway motion of the wheels, the heat of close bodies and their faint oniony smell of fresh sweat. Eighteen years since she’d moved this way, moved in any way other than on her own clumsy feet. She leaned her forehead against the window and an arm reached around her, red fingernails grasping the latch, and then the glass tilted open.

She breathed in the cool wind, then turned to face a woman with strawberry lipstick and a tight blue blouse.

Jodi too had changed out of her own numbered jumpsuit but the clothes she