by Alison Lyke
I woke up seven minutes before the alarm went off. I stared at the barred windows. In between the slats glowed a grey, treeless morning sky.
“Good morning. You are not in prison,” my alarm said in a soothing, recorded voice, paused and the repeated, “you are not a prisoner,” until I turned it off. Moments later, my counselor, Angela, appeared in my door frame. She did not knock.
“You ready? Are you getting up?” She asked, my eyes drifted from her high, blonde ponytail to the Glock 22 in her hip holster.
“Breakfast,” she was no longer asking. I nodded. I opened my small set of corrugated wood drawers and pulled out my yoga pants and a cardigan. I can wear my own clothes. I am not in prison.
I ran into one of my favorite ladies in line for my powdered eggs, orange juice from concentrate, and my choice of white, rye or wheat toast. Margie was kind, and round, and optimistic that she could go home someday.
“There’s a new man here and he’s about your age,” she smiled knowingly. She was hopeful that I’d find someone in here and join her and Stan in the couple dorms, “He’s in rough shape though, you know.”
Fantastic. A brand new broken toy all for me. I didn’t see anybody new in the cafeteria, so I headed out into the lawns. I walked past one of the two whole families that we had in here. A husband, wife, teenage daughter, and an elementary school-aged son were eating at a picnic table. The kids were allowed fresh fruit that gave me a twinge of longing. I bet it was the teenage girl that got them in here. I know that there are whole facilitates just for teens, but she must have done something to put her whole family in danger.
I saw my new broken toy at the farthest picnic table looking every bit as damaged as Margie had promised. He had recently been beaten and it seemed that whoever it was took care to do most of the damage to his face. He was facing the eight-foot metal fence that ran around the facility.
I asked, sitting across from him in a way that forced him to turn all the way around and look at me.
“I can’t swallow. They stepped on my neck,” At least he said it with authority and didn’t cry. There were a lot of criers. Not that I blame them. I noticed that he was very clean even though he was wounded. His clothes were neat and there was no blood under his fingernails.
“Why are you here?” He asked after looking me over as well. I wonder what he saw. Probably my messy hair, my tired eyes, and my unnecessarily warm, worn cardigan.
“I ran a dog fighting ring,” I said in the isn’t-that-funny-but-not-really voice that I always use when discussing my situation.
“Why are you really here,” he dismissed me.
"Good morning. You are not in prison"
“Oh, we only talk about that in counseling sessions. People get too upset,” I paused, hoping I wouldn’t have to ask, “Why are you here?”
“I’d rather not say,” he looked down at his nails.
Pedophile or rapist I thought. Probably a pedophile because, at this point, most people would cop up to being labeled a rapist.
A small wave of counselors left through the facility’s front door and Angela headed towards our table.
“What’s this” he asked me.
“There must be protesters at the first gate. Sometimes they break through and shoot at us. The councilors are rounding us up,”
Angela beckoned me, knowing that I didn’t have to be told. My broken toy and I walked back up the hill together.
“Not to be mean or anything,” I told him, “but this protest is probably your fault. It sounds like you’ve done something pretty awful.”
He was suddenly scathing and I saw the man underneath the swelling and the bruises, “Let’s not get funny. None of us have done anything.”
He was right, but I couldn’t have that discussion again. I have had it hundreds of times, with strangers and with family members, but not with the people in here because we all just know.
A year ago I got a raise at work and I could finally afford an apartment in the suburbs that allowed dogs. I always wanted a dog, but my parents only let us have small animals. Growing up I had a succession of hamsters, then a turtle, and finally a frog. None of them offered the tangible companionship that I saw in dogs.
"It’s just a picture that says that you abuse dogs."
As soon as I was settled into my new apartment, I headed to the shelter and rescued a corgi. He came with the name Sebastian, but I changed it to Franklin, then shortened it to Frank. If there was any real mistake I made, it was buying just a leash and collar for Frank. I should have bought a harness because Frank was a runner and a fighter. When he would run at other dogs at the park, I’d have to pull up on his leash and his collar would lift up, choking him. I soon figured out that a harness would solve this problem, but it was too late. Someone had taken my picture pulling up on Frank’s leash.
The first post I was a picture of me pulling up on Frank’s leash. It looked horrible, like I was really hurting him. Whoever took the picture captured a moment where I somehow looked happy to be tugging on Frank’s neck. The caption said, “If you find this animal abbuser [sic] please detain her and call the police.”
An aquatinted sent the meme to me and I cried. I posted my very first explanation of what was going on when the picture was taken. The only thing I succeeded in was identifying myself so that I could be targeted some more. The stories and pictures came in a flood. There were manipulated photographs of me standing amid violently abused dogs. The worst was a photo of a woman who looked kind of like me taking bets in a dog fight between two Corgis.
There was news casting me as a suburban mom making gobs of money from my underground dog fighting rings. It didn’t matter that I was single with no children.
My mother, scared and confused, called and asked why the national news was reporting that I abused dogs.
“Don’t just read the story on social media,” I told her, “go to the actual website where it’s posted and look around. These websites try to look official. They mix real news with fake stories. Once you’re on the site, look for clues that let you know if the website is official. Read the About Us page or find the Contact information,”
“Why are they doing this?”
“Because outlandish fake stories get people to read their websites and they get paid per person that they can get to go to their page or website,”
“What about these pictures,” my mom asked, “I can’t prove that they are fake because there’s nothing to click on. It’s just a picture that says that you abuse dogs,”
Fake memes were hard to explain to my mom. The people making them hope that people will just read, believe, and keep scrolling. My mother doesn’t quite understand how the Internet works. She still posts those silly social media disclaimers: by this statement, I give notice to my social media account that it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, or take any other action against me based on this profile… She has never bothered to check on the legitimacy of social media posts before and was just realizing that anyone can post anything.
Then, someone found my information and made it public. My apartment was vandalized, protesters stood around my place of work. The police tried to help, but how can you fight something so random, so amorphous.
I was on my way to meet a friend at a restaurant, sitting at a red light, when someone threw a brick through my car window, knocking me unconscious. My car drifted into oncoming traffic and I almost died. That was when I petitioned for protection.
Now, I live here in a protectoral facility. I am not in prison. There are a lot messages about how we didn’t do anything wrong. We’re not allowed access to social media, which is understandable.
I hear gunshots as Angela hustles us into the facility. It sounds like the protestors have breached the first gate. Sometimes, I hope that they will breach the second gate and put an end to my quarantine.
Pay no attention to what the clock says in the morning or the friendly smiles of the counselors. This is a prison. The people outside the gate are not our only captors. We are held prisoner by the constant, unrelenting spread of deceptions and there is no end in sight.