Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Modification Program

by Adam Folgers



GETUP, GETUP, GETSHOWERED, GETSHOWERED, GOTOWORK, GOTOWORK.

"I'm up! Shutdown alarm app." The loud, insistent voice stops telling me what to do. I sit on the edge of my bed for a minute or two, contemplating calling in sick. The bedroom light turns itself on. The jolt of sudden light gets me moving, and I get up, get showered, and head to work.

My name is Jerry Wilson. I've been a Correctional Officer for about twelve years. I've hated my job for eleven years and oh, about...350 days. I graduated from the California Department of Modification and Corrections Academy and reported directly to San Quentin State Prison, the only state prison still running in California. Do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars. I need to do something different.

CoffeeSynth, I need caffeine. Now. I make a beeline for the hydro station on the corner.

"Hello, Jerry! Have you played Encroaching Destruction II yet?" The vapid stare on the HoloBot's face is almost as irritating as the falsely exuberant and mechanical tone of its voice. "The anticipated sequel to Encroaching Destruction features the latest in MMO interfaces, and it's the most violent HoloGame to be released in almost a decade."

"Shut up, bot." The stupid expression is replaced by feigned surprise, but at least the thing obeys. "Crap, Eddie! I thought you said you fixed it so these damn machines would stop bothering me every time I come in here."

The old Hispanic man behind the counter doesn't look up from the newsprint on his media display, "I scanned you and entered the command for the system to ignore you. Must be a glitch in the system."

"Story of my life."

"Do you want Encroaching Destruction II?"

"For Job's sake Eddie, you're as bad as the ad bot! I work at San Quentin. We Uplink felons into ModProgs every day so they can live out their life-sentences in a computer program. I don't want to come home at night and do the same thing to myself. Screw the HoloGame, I'll just take this cup of synthesized crap you call coffee."

"Five twenty-nine."

"You're going to have to break away from your display long enough to scan me."

Without looking up, the old man hits something on the register, grabs the scanner and holds it out in my general direction. I hold my left wrist under the business end until the register beeps.

"Do you know why I keep coming back here, Eddie? The customer service."

####

Driving to prison sucks. I try to focus on the voice of the talk-show host streaming from my iShunt through the rattle-prone speakers in my greencar.

"Good morning, California! Does it creep anybody else out that Governor Bauer, yesterday, signed a contract with Vernetual Reality to start offering VirtuaClasses as an alternative to sending our kids off to real school every day?"

That is a little bit creepy; kind of like asking the mom who works as a stripper to chaperone the school dance. There's nothing wrong with what she does, but if you're looking for a chaperone, maybe just ask the librarian.

"I am sure that James Verne is an amazing donor. Oops, did I say donor? I meant person. Listen people: we all know that the multi-trillionaire owner of Vernetual Reality donated heavily to the Governor's campaign, but there must have been at least one adviser whispering in Bauer's ear: ...DON'T DO IT! Folks, do you really want the same people who are developing, running, and maintaining our state's Correctional Modification Programs to be developing, running, and maintaining the future of public education? I know I don't."

I agree with the guy, but on the upside, maybe I can get a transfer to the California Department of Education now, since I have experience working with Vernetual Reality systems. I'm gonna stop by the Personnel Office and look into a lateral transfer.

If driving to prison is horrible, arriving is the total shits. I navigate through the parking lot, and the menagerie of greencars, park my Tesla Infinite, get out, and key open the trunk. My Infinite is definitely showing its age. The paint, what's left of it, is faded to an almost translucent shade of blue-gray. It's more scratched and dinged than a retired wrecking ball. But it runs, I don't have a payment on it, and it still meets all of California's tight-ass pollution and energy efficiency requirements, if barely. I stick a few bottles of water into my lunch bag and slam the trunk shut; the catch won't engage unless I slam it.

Before I head toward the front gate, I take a minute to look out across the San Francisco Bay. All the horrors and the horrible people locked up in the cesspool behind me belie the amazing view in front of me. I still wonder at the contradiction that is San Quentin State Prison. California's first state prison is now its last.

The front face of the Joint where I work was preserved when they remodeled the rest of the grounds. It reminds me of a medieval castle, with two front-facing, and ancient-looking, towers connected by huge sections of solid rock wall. A 250-year-old monster, still menacing the waterfront of the Bay.

As I make the descent into hell, through sally ports, past co-workers, around all the housing units full of zoned-out vegetables Uplinked to ModProgs, I see a woman, dressed in light blue scrubs, that I've never seen. A new nurse. She's tall, with light brown hair pulled into a ponytail. She has striking green eyes, and she's smiling at me with the kind of friendly invitation that's only seen around here in new people.

I ignore her and keep walking; I don't like most people. Working amongst evil people leaves you a little jaded and unwilling to try to make new friends. And dating evil soul-sucking women leaves you a little broken and unwilling to try new relationships. C'est la vie, right? Most nights I go home and plop down in front of my media display and lose myself in old movies and liquor. There is a lot to be said for the classic 2D movies, there was just something special about those old time actors. They could draw you in and really make you feel. That's been lost in the big HoloCinema industry today. And there is also a lot to be said for Johnny Walker on the rocks.

I walk into "Old Badger" for another day, like all the days before. Most days it's all I can do to keep from watching the clock as my life ticks away in here.

I get to my post and walk the tiers to make sure no one is hanging lifeless in their cell: 0600.

Announce chow: 0700.

Tray pickup: 0730.

Monitor and assist with medical appointments/Techie installations: 0800-1400.

New fish orientation, and bullshit handling, and fire put-outing: all day, every day.

Relieving officer walks in so that I can walk the hell on out: 1400.

And I hit the gate running. Not that I have anywhere or anyone to get to, but if you drag your feet around here, you run the chance of getting forced over into a second shift. One of the oldest and most time-honored prison mantras is: "I just wanna do my eight, and hit the gate." True that.

Today is Friday, the beginning of my work week. Chow is complete, tray pickup is done. I just finished my second cup of CoffeeSynth -- black. I may have rolled with the punches when the trade embargoes against the U.S. started making real coffee too spendy for a working stiff like me, but even synthesized coffee shouldn't be ruined with sugar and flavored cream. We just got a new arrival.

"Alcott, Deandre. Out of Fresno County." As I call his name, the inmate looks up at me. I can see the contempt, he not even bothering to hide it. "Your California Department of Modification and Corrections number is ZAF68213; you're assigned to C-Pod cell 324. You'll need to include that on any correspondence. This is Badger Section, it's gonna be your home for the next ten to twelve days while our medical staff and the Techies get you ready to be Uplinked to your ModProg."

"Hey, Dep, I need to get my shoes back. They took my shoes," says the new fish.

"No personal clothing is allowed in the Reception Annex. You wear what the state issues you, or you go naked." These are phrases that flow with the ease of repeated use.

"That's bullshit, Dep. Those are my shoes, I got back problems. These shoes are gonna mess up my back, man."

"If you have a medical condition that needs to be accommodated, you can tell the doctor about it. He'll be in to see --"

"Fuck that! Give me my fuckin' shoes, Dep."

"First of all, you need to watch your language. Second, you're not allowed to keep your shoes, no matter how pissed-off you get about it. And stop calling me 'Dep'; there aren't any deputies here, we're all --"

"Let me talk to the sergeant." I can tell as he says it that he thinks he has pulled out a trump card that must make me fall in line.

"I'm not going to call my sergeant because you don't like the rules. In five minutes we're gonna call lock up, so the doctors and techies can come in and get to work --"

"Fuck you. You want me to lock up? Get me my shoes!" Anger is really starting to boil up out of this guy. "Otherwise you can come on over here and try to lock me up, bitch."

"You'll take it to your cell when we call lock-up, or you're gonna have a real bad first day here. I'll knock you out with this percussion inducer --" I brandish the silver cylinder on my hip at him. "-- Then my partner and I will drag you to your cell, toss you in there, and the door will not be opened for three days. You'll be put on nutri-packs to ensure that you get the necessaries to survive, but no meals. Follow the program in here, or don't. It's up to you."

"Fuck this, I'm gonna write the ACLU and sue your ass."

"Good luck, asshole. By the time you make it here, even the ACLU backs off a little. You're not a scumbag: scumbags do all of their time in county. Every single felon that makes it here for ModProg is a certified piece of shit, and the world knows it. Society, and the ACLU, just wants you to be fed -- and not killed -- long enough to lock you up in the cozy little life in your ModProg. So keep your mouth shut until we can Uplink you, and you can live out your life as a sewage pumper, or whatever, in the program the Mainframe creates for you. It's not that difficult."

"Not that difficult? Then why don't you plug in and give it a shot? Some fuckwad-peon job, a wife that hates me even more than I hate her, programmed in for good measure, just to make sure I can't get laid. Whoever came up with this 'unpleasant but humane' computer-program-life bullshit sure is a sadistic prick."

If I didn't want to reach out and strangle this asshole right now, I would probably agree with him. I back off to let the situation cool down. If I were about to get plugged in to a computer program for the rest of my life, I'd probably have a piss-poor attitude too.

Once all the convicts are locked up in their cells (Alcott doesn't say a word when I call lock-up, he just shuffles into his cell), I head back to the office that I share with my partner. It's a pretty pathetic excuse for an office, cramped and disorganized.

"Hey Wilson, did you break down the program for that new guy that just came in from Fresno County?" That's Ken Morley; my partner. He's much less bitter than I am: he's only been in the Department for two years.

"I tried, but he isn't trying to hear anything I have to say. Knucklehead." I squeeze in behind Morley so that I can reach my lunch bag and grab a bottle of water.

Morley turns his head to cock his eyebrow at me over his shoulder, "Another bad weekend, huh?"

"Nah, I'm fine. This guy's just got a bad case of attitudinal diarrhea of the mouth."

"Oh no! ADM? Another case? This is turning into an epidemic! I'll get the on-call doctor on the line; we need to nip this in the bud!"

"Go screw yourself, Morley. You think my attitude is the problem? You go get that prick settled in."

My partner just chuckles and turns back to his Universal Display. Ken Morley can be a real pain in the butt, but all-in-all, he's an okay guy.

I sit down in the other chair while Morley looks over next week's intake manifests.

"I heard this morning that Bauer signed a contract for Vernetual Reality to start VirtuaClasses for public education." I try to sound off-hand about it.

"Yeah, I read an article on that last week. Pretty cool, huh?"

If it gets me out of this pisspot it is.

"I think I'm gonna try and lateral into a job in CalEd. I've got enough experience with Verne's systems and hardware that I would be an asset, right?"

"No dice, Wilson. That article said that Vernetual is going to be supplying the staffing for the project."

Well doublefuckbeans in a jar! "Maybe I'll just apply at Vernetual directly then. I got a good enough base that I won't require much training. I think they'll pick me up."

"What? Give up your retirement and medical benefits? You've got like ten years in already, don't you? Why would you wanna throw that away?"

TO GET AWAY FROM HERE!

"Yeah, you're probably right." Maybe I'll promote instead.

"Hey Jerry?" Morley always switches to first names when he wants something.

"What's up, Ken?"

"Are you signed up for overtime tonight?"

"Signed up? You know I never volunteer, I hate this place." My voice is laced with incredulity and derision.

"Yeah. Hey listen, I think I'm next up for a hold-over, but I really need to get home tonight."

"Why are you telling me this?" I know why he's telling me this; he wants me to take one for the team. But why make things easy on him? If I'm going to take his hit and stay, I might as well get to see him squirm a little.

"I was just going to ask you if you would save my ass if they hit me tonight. I'll take your next one. I just really need to get home tonight." He turns away from his Uni-D so that he can plead with me face-to-face; it really comes across as impersonal if you're asking a favor from someone and sorting new intake databases at the same time.

"What's so important at home, that I should stay in this hellhole if they hold you over?" This better be good.

"Tonight is our tie-breaker with the Tucson HoloHawks for the last wild card spot."

Really? MMOHG Baseball?

"A HoloGame? You want me to work your double so that you can make it home for a HoloGame? Kick rocks, Ken."

"Come on Jerry. If we don't make the playoffs this year we're going to lose our biggest sponsor..."--Dan's Downtown HoverBoard Hut; very prestigious--"...and that'll end us. I wouldn't be asking if it wasn't important."

But it seems to me that he is asking, and that it isn't important.

"Okay, fine. But you're taking my next hit."

"Cool, thanks partner."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just make sure you and your nerd friends beat those Tucson nerds in your nerd game, okay?"

"Ha-ha. Really, though, thank you man."

"No problem, I guess."

Sure enough, about three hours later, the Watch Sergeant calls to hold Ken over for a position in ModProg Control. Right before shift change I call the Watch, and tell them that I want to volunteer for ModProg Control Officer #1, badda-bing, Ken Morley goes home, and I report to ModProg Control. On second thought: GO TUCSON HOLOHAWKS!

Modification Program Control is the central monitoring hub for all of the ModProg bays in San Quentin, and since ModProg is our sole mission, it is basically the most vital and important post in the institution.

Conflicts in programming reality/inmate perception have to be found and dealt with immediately, but there are never any conflicts to handle. There are only 500 program variations in use. With about 47,000 inmates in active ModProgs, that means that a lot of inmates are living the same lives. Same background, parents with the same names, same low-brow job, same crappy apartment.

The only difference, at start-up, is the inmates own name; for some reason a guy's name has to stay the same, or the brain's sense of self starts rejecting the program right off the bat. Once you Uplink an individual to the Mainframe, his individuality begins to change the complexion of his stand-alone ModProg. The Vernetual system that runs these programs has been fine-tuned over forty-plus years of applied operation, and it never offers any real chinks in the armor for a brain to catch on.

I am probably going to have to resort to ModProg watching to stay awake. It's part of the post description anyway, so I really am just doing my job. Really. Log and Video review is a required task of every officer on every shift in ModProg Control.

After I get into ModProg Control and relieve Owens, I see that my partner tonight is Jimmy Bowen. Bowen and I get each other, we've never really liked one another very much, but we're both on the same asocial page.

Each of us is responsible for completing ten ModProg Log and Video reviews. So here's the plan: Bowen can do whatever he does. Me? As I review the ten logs that are next up, I'll keep an eye out for the one that promises to be the most entertaining. It will be an inmate who has gotten himself into a pickle, or an inmate that seems to be really weird. That one I'll save for last, the others I'll make quick work of and whip out the reports, so I'll have a couple of hours at the end of the shift to really watch the weirdo's ModProg video feed.

Three of the Mods I'm assigned are female -- an automatic disqualification for Wilson's In-Depth Review Service. Two officers have been fired for 'exploitation' of female inmates in the last five years. One of them had a pretty lucrative business selling compilations of lewd video archive footage copied from the Mainframe. I'm not going to be number three.

One of the males is a grocery store clerk in his Mod, not up to anything overtly suspicious: the epitome of ModProg success. Five of the remaining Mods all seem to show some promise, their pseudo-lives in some state of mess and confusion. As I look over the final Log, for an inmate named Mike Pay, I find paydirt!

This guy went on vacation to Iran in his ModProg. And while he was there, it looks like he decided to murder some women. Three women. It says here that thanks to appeals for clemency from the American Consulate, his sentence was commuted from death to life imprisonment. In an Iranian prison! I can't pass up the chance to be a fly on the wall, in a ModProg Mainframe recreation of life in an Iranian prison.

Skimming through the video archive footage on the first nine ModProgs puts me to sleep twice. I am sitting at the desk in ModProg Control, with my Uni-D sitting in a receiver in front of me, trying to watch a grocery bagger's highlight reel, doing the head-jerk-no-I'm-not-asleep thing while my eyes keep refusing to open back up every time I blink. I shake myself to wake up a bit.

"Bowen?"

"What?"

"When is the last time you saw someone in prison inside their ModProg?"

"I don't know. Ten years ago, maybe. With all the thought re-routers and impulse buffers they've installed in the last decade to stop these guys from committing felonies inside the ModProgs, I don't think it happens anymore."

"It just did, this guy I've got to review next just got locked up for life in his Mod."

"Jobs! He must be a real sicko. It takes some extra-special crazy to get around all the safeguards the Mainframe runs." Bowen sounds a little surprised, but more, like he is just that much more convinced that the world sucks, and so do people.

The State tries to force these pseudo-people into living law-abiding pseudo-lives. Sometimes the criminal mind prevails despite the most concentrated efforts to subdue it. In the ModProg, though, there is always a 100% arrest and conviction rate, as Mike Pay would tell you, if he could.

As I settle in and watch this guy's Mod for a couple of hours I am astounded by the brutality and inhumane conditions allowed by the system. I know that the system is designed to deliver reality in as close a recreation as possible; these beatings that interrupt the long night of Mike Pay's stay inside an Iranian prison must be authentic. Yet I can't help but wonder what the progressive public of California would have to say about this man's ModProg existence.

I think the best hope to which Inmate Pay can cling is that maybe, sooner or later, his jailors will get bored with him or find a new pet project. Maybe then he'll be left alone to rot in hunger and his own waste. One of his victims was married; the Iranian prison officials allowed the husband to come in and have a session with this guy. I can't even begin to tell you the things I'm seeing.

I watch a little more of the ModProg Video archive, compelled and disgusted at once. Now I need to cut the feed and write a report on this before shift change sneaks up on me. I keep my report short, I conclude that all logic and reality systems are operating within normal parameters, but finish the report with a red-flagged statement that the conditions inside this Mod seem to be outside the intended criteria set by Penal Code. Decisions about stuff like this are way above my pay grade. Thank God for small miracles.

Officer Callins arrives to relieve me.

"Thanks for the early relief, Callins." She grunts in response.

Say it with me now -- I hit the gate running.

No extra stops on the way home tonight. I have enough hydrofuel to keep my Infinite running until I reach the parking garage underneath my crappy little apartment building. I park in my assigned stall and zombie-walk up the stairs, through my front door, and all the way to the edge of my unmade queen-size bed. Then I collapse, uniform and all, into an exhausted coma of my own. A few short hours from now the alarm clock app on my home media display will be yelling at me to

GETUP, GETUP, GETSHOWERED, GETSHOWERED, GOTOWORK, GOTOWORK

####

A week-and-a-half after I bit the bullet for Morley, he throws me to the wolves. I'd had another wretched day. Our reliefs had arrived together, and so, we are walking out together when Sergeant Macklin stops me at the front gate.

"You're up, Wilson."

I glance expectantly over at my partner. My good-old-buddy, Ken. The guy that is practically running out the door right now.

"Morley! You owe me a save, bud!"

"I'm sorry Jerry, I can't do it tonight, we made it to the NHLDS! I've got game two in an hour."

"Some partner you got there, by the sound of things." That from the same smiling-faced idiot of a sergeant that officers avoid like the plague.

"Yeah, he's a real gem. What spot are you holding me for?"

"Uplink."

"Main, or security?"

"Uplink Main." The job could be worse; at least as the Main Uplink Officer there is enough busy work to help the shift fly by. Uplink Security is so boring that I literally fell asleep on my feet the last time I worked it. I woke up with the wall of the Uplink Room trying to smash my face.

I take my time getting to the Uplink Room. If I gotta stay tonight, then what do I care if the bozo I'm relieving gets home twenty minutes late? No skin off my nose. I walk into the Uplink Room and the officer that's going home doesn't say a word, he just pushes past me and barges out the door. I can't blame the guy: I'd do the same.

So instead of being brought up to speed by the previous shift, I spend fifteen or twenty minutes sorting through paperwork and settling in. By the time I'm ready, the two Security Officers, Hernandez and Washington today, have the first inmate strapped in and ready for his uplink.

I grab the Uplink Display and carry it over to the ModProg Bay that this guy will spend the rest of his life in. Inmate Rios is a short, skinny, Hispanic gangster. He was convicted of Murder 1st four years ago. Once in Los Angeles County Jail, he murdered three more people; two other inmates and a L.A. County Sheriff's Deputy.

I pull the probe out of the sterilization dock on the side of the Uplink Display and jab it into the upturned palm of Rios' hand. The inmate is already unconscious and unclothed; the prick of the probe, as it verifies his DNA, brings no reaction.

Once the background of the Uplink Display turns green to indicate a positive match, I head back to the desk and place the Display on its receiver. I match all of the sentencing data on the screen to the hard copy that we receive from the county court. Once I approve the data, the Mainframe returns a synopsis of the Mod chosen for Inmate Rios.

As I review the details of Rios' new made-up life, I also handwrite them on a CDMC Form 1204. We retain the original 1204 with our copy of the court paperwork; a copy is sent back to the county court for their records as proof of sentence imposed. The form is standardized with the inmate's real information printed at the top above the handwritten details of his new Mod life. Mother's name, father's name, DOB, hometown, schools attended, work history, imaginary address.

I place my right thumb in the Staff Identification Box on the Uplink receiver, scanning my thumbprint to verify my authority to approve an Uplink, and imprint my badge number in the ModProg Bay's memory banks. Then with my left hand I reach over and mash down the big red Uplink Button.

Enjoy your new life as a burger flipper, Rios.

Now the waiting.

It takes twenty-five minutes for the Mainframe to get a Mod up and stabilized, then the Escort & Installation Officers will wheel this guy out in his Bay to his assigned Pod and plug him in for the long dream. Then, my Security Officers will head down to Old Badger and pick up the next convict on the list, and we start the process over.

While I'm waiting my mind drifts to how much I am hating Ken Morley and his stupid MMOHG baseball team: the San Francisco Terabytes. My stupid partner is pursuing his dream, I understand that. I hate the HoloLeagues.

Shunting in to watch your favorite HoloTeam play at an underwater baseball stadium is cheaper than driving to a brick-and-mortar stadium and buying tickets to watch a bunch of overpaid real athletes. But give me a real baseball stadium, with real weather, and real players. I begin to imagine Ken getting grabbed from behind by some huge inmate and dragged back to a cell for a little prison hanky-panky. I know it's evil, but it makes me smile.

Hernandez and Washington rouse me from my bitter musings by buzzing the door. I push the unlock button. BZZZ-CLACK. My two partners walk in on either side of a handcuffed Inmate: Deandre J. Alcott. I can't help myself, I smile.

"Alcott, my partners here are going to secure you in your new life-support ModProg Bay. Well, it's not new-new. But we wiped it down after we got the last convict out of it for his funeral. Then, we'll shunt you in and you'll go to sleep. That's it; it's that easy." This is one douchebag who won't be there when I get to work tomorrow.

"Hey Wilson, you think I can get a last meal?"

"No way in hell. Secure him in the bay, guys." I hadn't even noticed his name on my list. This is the only ray of light in this mandatory overtime. If I weren't such a professional, I would be enjoying this.

As I walk over to the desk and grab the Uplink Display, I glance down at the Uplink List, find Alcott's CDMC number and punch it into the Uplink Display. Looks like this scumbag couldn't stop raping women. I knew I didn't like him for a reason. I grab his court papers and the pre-printed 1204 and start verifying all of the info while I wait on the Bay to get him knocked out.

"Hey, Wilson, your buddy's ready to get ID'd." Hernandez shouts over with an affected Mexican accent: he was born in Oakland. So were his parents. It's annoying.

Walk over, and probe him for DNA match. Green light, and he's one step closer. I return the Display to its receiver and hit the button verifying the displayed information. When the Mainframe returns the Mod for Alcott I skip over the minutia of his new fake history and glance at the job field.

"Hey guys! Washington! Hernandez! Come check this out! Some Techie genius over at Vernetual's genius lab has created a Correctional Officer Mod. This douchebag is going to be a C/O in his Mod!" This is sort of outrageous! We hate our jobs, but for somebody else to decide that they're suitable punishment for a serial rapist is just plain insulting.

As my partners come around behind me I start checking out the rest of the details so I can write them down on his 1204.

"What the fuck? What is this bullshit here?" This isn't right, the particulars of his Mod can't be right," Hernandez says. He's so annoyed that his accent goes missing.

"That's crazy, I can't believe the Techies would slap us in the face like that. We've got to sit here day in and day out and Uplink felons into lives as Correctional Officers? I --"

"Shut up Washington!" I blurt out, "What is this crap in his history details? What kind of sick joke are you guys running?"

"What are you talking about Wilson? Calm down, bro."

"Don't 'bro' me, this is messed up, forget this." I stand up and shove my way through Hernandez and Washington on my way to the door. It's time to report some bastards. I pop myself out, BZZZ-CLACK, and head straight for the ModProg Sergeant's office.

I'm steaming. This is some elementary school crap that has no place in prison. This job is too damn stressful for jerks like them to try to mess with my head. I have to deal with douchebags in orange all day every day, I'm not going to take dumb crap like this from douchebags in green too.

Sergeant Gonzalez is in his office reviewing something on his Uni-D when I throw open his door.

"I'm filing a harassment claim against Hernandez and Washington."

"Whoa, what?" Gonzalez is one of those gymrats who's constantly working out, eating protein bars, drinking recovery shakes. His bicep is as thick as my thigh. "What happened, Wilson?"

"Look, I've been in the Department for twelve years Sarge, I've never even thought of filing on anyone, but this crap is uncalled for." I'm pretty huffy; I'm pissed off and having a hard time keeping myself under control.

"Slow down, Wilson. Tell me what happened."

"I'm getting ready to Uplink an inmate. Hernandez and Washington are the Security Officers in there today. Anyway, I approve this guy's identification and sentencing data and I begin to review the Mod that the Mainframe spits back."

"Okay..." There's a look in his eyes that says that he thinks I'm blowing something up that I shouldn't.

"The job this guy is going into in his Mod is Correctional Officer."

"What? There isn't any C/O Mod." The look changes a little, now I can see a hint of disbelief.

"That's what I thought too, but it was right there in front of me, Sarge. But that's not even the cherry on the cake: every detail of his history is straight out of my autobiography. My parents' names, my high school, my DOB, everything. Every-little-detail!" I'm verging on hysterical. I think I might throw up.

"That's impossible, Wilson." I could see a sense of relief flood over his face, obviously I must be mistaken about the whole thing; he thinks I'm off my rocker! "Come on, let's go down to the Uplink Room and sort this out."

Gonzalez grabs his Uni-D and heads out the door. What choice do I have? I start out after him, back toward the Uplink Room. We walk in silence, I can't find anything to say, and I don't think Sergeant Gonzalez wants to hear anything I might have to say anyway.

When we reach the door to the Uplink Room, Gonzalez presses the button on the intercom panel just to the right of the door. We wait for a couple of seconds. BZZZ-CLACK. Gonzalez pulls the door open and holds it for me to enter first.

Hernandez and Washington are both staring daggers at me as Gonzalez walks in behind me.

Washington steps forward, "What the hell's your problem Wilson?"

"Yeah, what the hell?" That's Hernandez. His fake Mexican accent slips a little; that must happen when he's mad.

"Calm down, all of you, and shut up." Gonzalez takes charge right away, foregoing any verbal altercations. For now. "Let me look at a couple of things first, then, we'll all talk about what the hell is going on."

Great, now I get to stand here with these two guys staring at me like the kid who ran and told teacher. I think I might get beat-up at the bus stop.

Gonzalez stares at the Uplink Display for a minute, then pulls up something on his Uni-D. He looks at that quickly and calls me over.

"Wilson, come here." I walk over to the desk, when I get my face right over his shoulder he holds his Uni-D right up next to the Uplink Display, "I think maybe you should apologize to your partners and take the rest of the day off, I'll cover for you."

I'm trying to respond, I can't seem to get any words past the block of wood that seems to be in my throat. The Mod details are all the same, just the way I remember them. On the Sergeant's Uni-D is my background file from the Department's databases. Only none of the details in my background file are right. Tom and Sarah Wilson? My parents are Albert and Mary. I didn't go to De La Salle Prep. Everything in my own background file is wrong! Right down to my birthday.

"No," finally squeaks past the block.

"What do you mean, no? Wilson, what is your problem?" Gonzalez is starting to lose his patience, which is just fine by me, because mine is long gone.

"I mean, no. That background file is wrong, that is not my info. My info is in Alcott's Mod details. RIGHT THERE!" I jam my finger into the screen of the Uplink Display.

"Calm the hell down, right now."

"Uh, Sarge?"

"What is it Washington?"

"That inmate over there has been unconscious for about twenty minutes now. We can't leave him like that much longer; we need to Uplink him now or pull him out of there."

"You can't Uplink an inmate to that ModProg! You can't do that Sergeant; that has to be some kind of violation of my privacy or something! Please Sarge, don't do this."

Sergeant Gonzalez sure didn't seem to be hearing the same impassioned plea that I was delivering; his face remained blank.

"Look, I don't know what's going on with you, and I don't need to." He starts to turn away from me and back toward the Uplink Display. "Go home Wilson. That's an order. Sign out, drive safe, take a couple of days if you need to." I am already gone in his mind.

I know if I let him Uplink Inmate Alcott to my life, that it would be real somehow. I haven't let my subconscious tell the rest of me what that means yet, but I know it won't be good. I won't allow it.

I walk around to the side of the desk. I see this idiot moving his right thumb toward the Staff Identification Box! This steroid-deluded ox is going to do it! Before my brain even checks with me to find out if it's okay, my right hand balls up and I reach back. By then my brain has checked in. My response? FULL SPEED AHEAD! I put everything I've got into unloading on Sergeant Gonzalez' face.

####

"Hey Jones, when is the last time you saw an inmate in a mental ward inside his ModProg?" Officer Jackson asks looking up from the ModProg Log he is reviewing.

"Ten, maybe fifteen, years ago. With all the safeguards and brainbuffers the Vernentual people have been installing, I don't think it's even possible for an inmate to be crazy inside his Mod." Jones' tone never changed, Jackson thought that if he told the old-timer that all of the bays had just deactivated and all the cons were waking up, Jones would refill his coffeesynth before he hit the alarm.

"This guy I'm reviewing, in C-Pod, Bay 324, was just put in a padded room three months ago." Jackson brought up the ModProg feed on his Uni-D, "Man! This guy is really freaking out; here, take a look at his feed." He turned his Display to face Jones.

"Shit! Give me his Program Log over here on my Uni-D. What happened with this guy?" Jones starts running his eyes along the readout that Jackson sent to his screen. "HEY SARGE! GET IN HERE!"

"What's shakin' fellas?" Sergeant Janneeta Allen was taller than Jackson and wider than Jones, all wrapped up in CDMC green.

"Hey, Jane." Jones and Allen had worked the line together for a long time before Allen had promoted, and he never let little things like stripes on your shoulder or bars on your collar change the way he felt about you. Or the way he treated you. "Look at this; Jackson was reviewing this guy's ModProg Log and saw that he's in a psych ward somewhere. It looks like some Techie genius has created a Correctional Officer Mod. I didn't realize my life was that bad."

"I could have told you, Jonesy," Allen said with a chuckle.

"Yeah, bite me, Jane. Anyhow, looks like some glitch in the system started feeding the details of his mod to him as he was getting ready to Uplink an imaginary inmate."

"Steve Jobs! Really?"

"Yeah, here's the Log. He's not taking it well in there."

"Wow." The sergeant left that sage declaration as her only input as they all watched the feed from the Mod on Jackson's Uni-D.

The inmate was in a solitary confinement room, strapped down to his bed, screaming, "This isn't real! I'm in a Modification Program!! NONE OF YOU ARE EVEN REAL!" Two orderlies were trying to stick a needle in his arm when Sergeant Allen finally spoke again.

"What's his name and number?"

Jackson referred back to his Uni-D. "Wilson, Jerry, #ZAF68213."

"Okay, I'll contact the Watch Commander and get authorization to do an emergency ReMod; we need to get this Mod offline."

"You should just leave the scumbag to reap his oats." Jones had a standard-issue hatred for all inmates.

"Just send that Log to the Watch Commander's Uni-D. We need to find all the other convicted sickos in here that are living their Mods as C/O's. I'll need to put a report together for the Captain."

"10-4, Jane." A smile suddenly lit up Jones' face. "Hey Jane, what if you're living your ModProg right now?"

"Fuck you, Jonesy." The green color that started to creep over her face made Jones fall off of his chair, laughter bringing tears to his eyes.

THE END


© 2012 Adam Folgers

Bio: Adam Folgers is a Correctional Officer at a California State Prison who lives in Central California with his wife and two daughters. Really. This story is the first finished work that he has submitted for publication. (He's off to a good start!)

E-mail: Adam Folgers

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