I reported to the Receiving and Diagnostics Unit at the New Hampshire State Prison a few weeks before my release. I was going to a doctor’s visit. Prisoners arrive and leave through R&D’s dungeon-like ground floor. I figured this was the next-to-the-last time I would see its drab brown walls.

Doctors’ visits are a distraction from prison life, an opportunity to look at the world outside the wall. The enjoyment is seriously dampened by handcuffs and leg shackles. Sitting in a doctor’s waiting room trussed up in leather and chains is humiliating. Conversation usually stops when you come shuffling and jangling through the door, a guard at each elbow. People look away. Even chatty receptionists fall silent.

Today would be different, I told myself. I had been approved for parole. I was classified as C-2.  I didn’t need to wear handcuffs to be outside the wall.

The prison has a five-tier classification system linked to a prisoner’s level of supervision. Most guys are C-3, they live in the prison’s general population. Close custody and maximum security prisoners are C-4 or C-5. Prisoners, like me, with a C-2 classification, can live beyond the perimeter fence in the Minimum Security Unit.

I waited in the concrete holding cell for half an hour before the transport team arrived.  The jangle of shackles echoing off bare walls announced their approach.

One of them barked, “Horner!” as they entered the room.

“Holding cell 2,” answered the guard at the desk. The electric lock snapped open. I stepped out of the steel-barred door.

“Hands against the desk, Horner, and spread ‘em,” said a pimply-faced kid in a uniform.

I didn’t recognize him.

“Must be a newbie,” I thought.

He patted me down then reached for the cuffs. I kept my hands at my sides.

“I’m C-2.” I announced.

 The new guy glanced at his partner. “You still have to wear the cuffs,” he said hesitantly.

“Why? Classifications has said I can live outside the walls.”

“But you’re still behind the walls. Everyone who leaves the prison gets cuffed.”

“But, I’ve made parole,” I argued. “I’m just waiting for the Interstate Compact paperwork to come through so I can go home.”

The newbie’s partner stepped in to show him how it’s done.

“Are you refusing the transport, Horner?” he asked. “Because we can cancel your appointment. It makes no difference to us.”

I weighed the option and decided I wanted to see the doctor. I reluctantly offered him my wrists. He snapped on the cuffs and buckled the leather retaining strap around my waist.

I was hogtied, but I wasn’t ready to concede this fight. I had spent the last eight years being restrained and caged like an animal. I was sick of it. Now I had the parole board’s blessing, the he’s-safe-enough-to-live-in-polite-society stamp of approval. These goons were treating me like I was fresh from the courthouse.

“So, the fact that the parole board and Classification have said it’s safe for me to live outside the walls doesn’t mean anything?”

They exchanged exasperated looks.

The more experienced one said, “Look, Horner, take it up with the Warden,” then added, “What if we happened to run into your victim out there. Huh? How do you think she would feel seeing you loose?” It was said with a generous helping of contempt for me and my kind.

I was momentarily flustered by the casual reference to my crime.

As I lifted my feet for the young guy to shackle them, I said, “So all this stuff is theatre.” I raised my manacled hands as far as the belt would allow. “It’s all a show for the public.”

Their only answer was to grab me by the elbows and escort me, a little too fast for the shackles, down the hall and into the waiting van.

I sat in silence in the back seat. The guards rode in the front, bantering with each other, ignoring me like a foul odor.

I tried to tell myself they were only doing their job.

But eight years of prison had done its work. I had become like my keepers. All I could feel was contempt.