Once the police had me in the van I had nowhere to go. The seat belt held me down, with the buckle out of my reach so I couldn’t take it off. The reason for that were the handcuffs on my wrists, keeping my hands secured behind my back. Although I knew the arrest was staged everything was by the book. The officers who took me into custody played their part well, almost as if they weren’t aware it was all preplanned.
When they informed me I had an outstanding warrant for “parole violations” I almost laughed. But I went along with the pretext, and now here I was in the prisoner van, what used to be called a paddy wagon in the old days, heading to someplace known only as the Center. There was a heavy wire screen all around the back compartment of the van, forming a small, mobile jail cell. There were two bench seats, with me fastened into the front one. There was a gate inside the side door. Combined with the bars across the windows it would be difficult to get out. A heavy grill separated the front compartment. There were two officers: one driving, and the other watching me with the occasional glance over his shoulder.
I knew for sure I wasn’t really going to jail, but I didn’t have any idea of the final destination or how long I’d be left sitting in the back with the handcuffs on. I was the only passenger so the guards in front didn’t really have to keep up the pretense.
From the window I saw we were in the pass on the way out of the city. I figured it had been long enough. “Excuse me,” I asked politely, “but how much longer do I have to be cuffed? And could you tell me where the Center is located?” I didn’t see any reason for them to keep me restrained. After all, I was here of my own free will, and I hadn’t committed any real crime.
The officer who wasn’t driving turned around to look at me through the grill. “No, I won’t tell you how far it is. If the handcuffs are inconvenient feel free to take them off.” He turned back around. Both of them were laughing at his little joke. After a moment he turned around again. “As long as you are in our custody they stay on. Live with it.”
I didn’t have a key or a hacksaw, so that answered one question. I’d have to wait and see what was going to happen next. It did make me realize I really was past the point of no return. I began to wonder if I’d done something stupid after all.
My guards were ignoring me so I leaned back on the bench seat to watch the scenery go by. We were past the mountains now, out of the city traffic. Between the bars on the window I saw the landscape turn into desert. This time of day there weren’t many cars on the highway. For some reason I had expected the Center to be somewhere downtown, but I was obviously wrong. Out in the desert there was a lot of empty space, the perfect place to hide a building. The news often had stories about all kinds of offbeat groups living out there, from polygamist communes to secret military bases to survivalists in their doomsday bunkers. I suppose whoever it was that ran the Center was in the same category. The enigmatic name certainly fitted in with the rest of the fringe groups. Since that was my destination I’d qualify as one of those fringe types too.
We were on one of those long stretches of road with nothing but sagebrush, cactus and mesquite in every direction. Every so often there would be an overpass, with mysterious, unmarked roads leading off into the empty expanse, no doubt right to those secret bases full of flying saucers. It was one of the upcoming overpasses where the van slowed and turned to the off ramp. I sat up to see if we were stopping, and if there were any signs that might tell me where we were at.
There didn’t seem to be anything useful. There were no signs or roads out to the desert on this side of the highway. The van pulled over at the top of the overpass and the guard on the passenger side got out. He slid open the door to the prisoner compartment. From the way the van had parked no one in a passing car could see me.
The guard unlocked the gate and swung it open. I watched him, not sure what was going on. Based on his previous comment I did not expect my situation to suddenly improve. “We need to get you ready,” he told me. That didn’t sound too good for me. They had not been the most helpful of travel companions up to this point in the trip.
He dropped a bag onto the floor of my compartment. I watched as he drew out a set of leg irons, ankle sized cuffs with a longer connecting chain. This was definitely headed in the wrong direction. I wanted the handcuffs off, not extra ones on my ankles. “Look,” I told him firmly, “this has gone far enough. I’m cooperating with you, I played along with that fake arrest, but it’s long past time we moved on. Take the handcuffs off and let’s go to the Center. I’m not going to give you any trouble.”
He stood there, looking at me, one of the ankle cuffs hanging open in his hand. Suddenly he grabbed my right foot and snapped on the cuff. Before I could stop him he had my left ankle and closed the cuff around it. He pulled the connecting chain under the seat and did something with it. I couldn’t see but the result was my ankles were now chained to the floor of the van. For good measure he slipped off my shoes and dumped them in the bag. “I wouldn’t recommend trying to run through the desert, at night, without any shoes. Spines from a barrel cactus are long enough to go through your foot. Think of it as stepping on a nail, stuck in a board full of nails.”
I jerked on the leg chains, to no effect. The chances of a leisurely stroll across the desert weren’t very promising. He leaned back, out of the way while I struggled to get free. They had me wrapped up in a nice bundle now. When I stopped the guard spoke up again. “What makes you think the arrest was a sham?” he asked. That brought my defiance to a halt.
If it wasn’t a setup that meant I actually was under arrest, and these guards were the real thing. “The local police transferred you to the custody of the State Corrections department because of the parole violation. There’s no hearing, no booking, no phone calls. You don’t pass Go, and you don’t collect $200. You’ve won an all-expense paid trip to a privately run, high security correctional facility, standard procedure when someone’s caught with outstanding parole violations.
“I don’t know where you got the idea this was some game, lady, but you better get a reality check. Since you did a runner you’re now in the high risk category. It’s going to get a lot worse, at least for you, before it gets better.”
No wonder the arrest was for a parole violation. Since I was already convicted, at least in theory, it was too easy to make me disappear. I’d been neatly tricked into signing up to be an inmate in some kind of private prison, with no way out. This wasn’t what I had in mind when I accepted that offer of a “fully committed” experience.
The guard pulled a large blindfold out of his bag. “This can go easy, or it can go hard. Either way you wind up with the blindfold on. I don’t want to hurt you but this,” he held up the blindfold, “is going to happen. What’s it gonna be?”
His terms were simple and direct. I was in no position to stop him. “Easy,” I told him. It would be pointless to fight. He was much bigger and stronger, and he wasn’t chained hand and foot. The driver was there if he needed help, but that wouldn’t be necessary, either way.
He got in the van, behind me. “Hold still,” he ordered as he fastened the blindfold around my head. Everything went dark when it covered my eyes. I heard the gate for the prisoner compartment click shut when the lock engaged, followed by the side door being closed. A moment later we were moving again, down the ramp to the highway.
I had no idea where we went after the lights went out. That must be the reason for the blindfold, to keep the location of this Center a secret. Eventually I felt the van slow when we left the highway. I heard one guard get out, the van pulled forward and stopped again to let the guard back in. We must have gone through a gate onto a private road. We weren’t going as fast now but from the amount of time that passed it had to be some distance from the highway before the van started to slow down again.
I figured we must be at the Center when the van came to a stop. Someone got out, followed by the sound of a garage door opening. The van pulled forward and stopped again, I presumed inside some building. The sound of the side door and then the compartment gate opening was good news. I still couldn’t see due to the blindfold but the leg chains came off, followed by my seat belt being unbuckled. A guard took hold of my arm to help me out. As soon as my feet hit the floor they pushed me up against the side of the van. Another pair of handcuffs went around my wrists, after which the old pair was removed. These had a heavier, more restrictive feel. It didn’t end there. I felt another set of leg irons click shut on my ankles. It seems they weren’t taking any chances with me.
Someone else took hold of my arm and ordered, “Come with me.” He led me away from the van so that it could leave. That’s when I discovered the chain between my ankles quickly brought me up short when I tried to walk. I heard the garage door closing after the van drove away. Immediately afterwards my blindfold came off.
There wasn’t much to see. No windows, but from the dry air it was safe to assume I was still in the desert. There was a door with a barred gate at one corner of the rear wall, next to a counter with a man sitting at it. The man holding my arm pointed me toward the corner. I noticed both of them wore some kind of black uniform, but there were no badges or insignia patches. This must be the Center.
At the counter the man behind it looked me over. “This is how it will be,” he began. “If you cooperate, do as you’re told, you won’t be hurt. If you are difficult then we do whatever it takes for you to comply. Which do you prefer? Consider your situation before you answer.”
It wasn’t a tough decision. I was helpless and terrified. These men could do whatever they wanted with me. And as the one guard pointed out, my situation, as he called it, meant there wasn’t much I could do to stop them. “I’ll cooperate,” I answered.
“Always address men as ‘sir’. Now, try it again.” He looked at me, waiting for my reply.
“Yes, sir, I’ll cooperate.” This must be my first test to see if I was serious. I thought wrong; the real test came next. The guard behind me pushed me down, bent over the counter. He held onto the handcuffs with one hand while he pushed my head down with the other. When I tried to rise up he pulled up on my arms, forcing me back down.
“I’m going to remove your clothes,” the guard in front of me explained. He held up some large scissors in one hand. “You will hold still while I cut them off. If you try to struggle we’ll put you on the floor. There’s nothing you can do to stop me, so don’t even try.” He came out from behind the counter, towards me.
I was in a panic, trying to think of some way I could persuade him to stop. “Sir? If you let me go I’ll….” I paused, took a breath, and continued, “I’ll take off my clothes. You don’t have to cut them off.” I didn’t want to do it but I hoped to retain some dignity.
The man holding me down leaned over me. “This isn’t a negotiation. Those clothes are coming off, and it will be done our way. Look, we’re being patient with you, but understand you have no freedom, no rights, and no say in here. Your only ‘right’ is to do as you’re told. Now, be quiet and hold still. This will be over in a minute.”
He was right. I gave up and did as he ordered. While one held me down the other man quickly cut off my clothes, starting with my blouse and working down. He could have simply pulled down my skirt but he chose to cut it up the back until it fell off. My underwear was gone in seconds, joining the other rags on the floor. I closed my eyes, prepared for the worst now I was stripped naked.
Instead the guard holding me down took his hand off my head and let go of the cuffs between my wrists. Putting his hands on my arms he helped me stand up again. The guard with the scissors was back behind the counter. The scraps that used to be my skirt and blouse littered the floor around me.
“You did well,” the man behind the counter told me. “It’s rare we find someone who adjusts to the realities as rapidly as you. If you continue to behave you will find it will be to your benefit during your stay.”
If he meant to reassure me it didn’t help. There wasn’t anything difficult to understand about my unwilling cooperation. Even though I certainly did not enjoy standing in front of these men baring all, any alternative would leave me in the same place, except I wouldn’t have whatever goodwill I might earn by not resisting.
“Hold still,” the guard behind me ordered. I felt a ring go around my neck and snap shut, locking in the back. There was too much weight to be a necklace, but it wasn’t uncomfortable.
“This is your identification,” the man behind the counter explained. “You will wear it at all times, day and night. Any attempt to tamper with it will be severely punished. Is that clear?”
“Yes,” I answered. He stared at me, frowning but not saying a word. Then I remembered. “Yes, sir, I understand. I must keep it on.” I was sure it was locked on. It was obvious to me these men left nothing to chance.
“Listen carefully. The regulations here require that you wear a chastity belt. It is mandatory and there are no exceptions. I want you to stand up straight, spread your legs and hold still. Do it now.”
When I turned around the guard behind me had a belt ready, waistband open. I recognized it from pictures on internet sites. It was the real thing. Following his instructions I widened my stance, with my legs as far apart as the leg irons would allow. I stood still, praying that putting me in the belt meant I wasn’t going to be subjected to something worse.
I felt the waistband on my waist, above my hips. Holding it closed he reached between my legs and pulled up the centerpiece, an oval shield with a small vertical slit in the center. Attaching it to the waistband he did something to fasten it all together. When he let go it was securely locked around me.
“Like the collar any attempt to tamper with the belt will be severely punished. You will wear this belt at all times, except when you shower. You will be responsible for cleaning the belt when it is removed.”
The band was tight, and being above my hips I couldn’t slip out of it. The section between my legs was also a snug fit. I could live with it. In fact I’d have to live with it since I didn’t have the key.
The guard at the counter spoke. “Unless you are confined in a room you are required to be under the control of a Warden at all times. That includes a full set of chains, similar to what you are wearing now. If you are ever found outside a room without an escort and not properly restrained, or if you tamper with the restraints, you will be punished.
“This Center enforces strict regulations governing behavior for women like you. Fail to live up to the rules and you will be forcibly reminded to follow them in the future. There is a zero tolerance policy for disobedience, for laziness, or disrespect. Do not test our patience.”
Now I was sure not only had I done something incredibly stupid but quite likely dangerous as well, in accepting the offer to come here. That phrase he used, women like me, what did he mean by that?
“You will be taken to a holding area for new arrivals, where you will join a group. At that time you will receive an orientation lecture which will explain your duties and obligations during your stay here. Do not speak until given permission.
“We’re done here. Take her away.” The guard, no, they called themselves Wardens, took hold of my arms and pointed me toward the rear door. I was afraid once past the bars I’d never leave. I tried to hold back but the man behind me was too strong. He forced me toward an uncertain fate.
The Waiting Room
“Face forward, don’t turn around and don’t move,” the Warden told me in a firm but businesslike manner. I stood in front of the cell, looking through the bars at the other women seated on the wooden bench inside. There were two empty spaces next to the cell door. One of those places must be reserved for me.
I didn’t dare turn to look but I heard the guard put the key in the door to open it. It swung open smoothly, away from me. “Inside,” he ordered in a curt and efficient tone. To emphasize the point he used his grip on my upper arm to push me into the cell. As I expected he steered me to the next free position on the bench, where the line of seated women ended.
Not one turned to look at me. Every one sat up straight, head high, staring straight ahead. For the first time I saw the level of obedience expected of us. He turned me around to face the bars, pausing for a moment to inspect the line of women on the bench, but with his hand still on my arm. With his other hand he checked the handcuffs securing my wrists behind my back one last time.
My arms were sore from wearing those handcuffs behind my back for so long. In the van I had on what I thought were typical police handcuffs, with a connecting chain, but the ones used at the Center were hinged, something I had not seen before. Instead of a chain there was a hinge with bicycle chain type links. The hinge forced me to keep my wrists together and in parallel, to further limit my freedom of movement. They were close fitting around my wrists but not tight enough to cut off circulation. From my own exploration with fingertips I knew the keyholes were facing away from my hands, a small detail that proved these Wardens were professionals. My hands would remain behind my back until someone released me.
His free hand shifted to my shoulder. “Sit,” he ordered, pushing me down. I sat down on the bench and leaned back. “Keep your back straight, your head up, and your eyes front. Don’t look around. Do not speak.” His orders were clear, and from what I saw the same ones given to the other women on the bench. I was to hear the same instructions many times in the coming days.
The bench was designed to accommodate restraints, with an upper backrest slightly forward so there was room for my hands. I did my best to sit up straight. From the corner of my eye I saw him nod in approval.
The Warden, that’s what we were told to call them, let go of me and knelt down. He picked up the chain linking my ankles, slipped it through a shackle embedded in the floor and snapped it shut. He jerked on the chain to make sure it was secured. The leg irons effectively immobilized me, a guarantee I would be sitting at the same spot on the bench when he returned, whenever that might be. “Keep your legs together, knees touching. Both feet are to remain on the floor.” I did my best to comply.
He stood up, took a long moment to survey our group one last time, walked out of the cell, closed the door and locked it. He tugged on the door to make sure it was secure. “Until I return you may talk quietly. Do not stand up. If you need assistance, call out and someone will come to help.” With those parting words he strode off, never looking back at us.
I relaxed once I heard the outer door shut. I heard him slide the heavy bar across the door, the one I’d seen from the outside. Leaning forward I could just see the steel door set into the thick walls. It was the only way in or out. This side was a solid and featureless sheet of metal, no handle or keyhole. I didn’t see any possible way to open it.
The bench felt cold on my back and legs. None of us had any clothes, except for the metal chastity belts around our waists and between our legs. And of course we all had steel collars around our necks. I tried to stretch out my legs but I didn’t get very far. That shackle in the floor made certain I would stay in my position on the bench.
I leaned back, closed my eyes and let out a sigh of relief. I had made it this far without getting into trouble. I felt off balance, afraid I would be punished if I misbehaved, scared because I didn’t know what was expected of me. I needed to know more just to survive. It took all my self-control not to start shaking.
“Is this your first time here?” the woman sitting next to me asked. I opened my eyes and turned to face her.
“Yes, first time. Does it show?” Of course it showed. I was terrified. I was resigned to being trapped in here. Now I had to find a way to fit in, but there was so much I didn’t know.
“Don’t worry, you did fine from what I saw,” she answered. “The giveaway is that slight hesitation, not enough for a reprimand, but it’s obvious you’re thinking rather than reacting. Give it time and you’ll get over it. That’s what you, and the rest of us, are here for.” She nodded toward the group on the bench. “And if you don’t mind me asking, are you here, uhh…” She paused for a moment, “uhh, voluntarily?”
The question took me by surprise. Of course I was here by my own choice. Then I realized the implications, not everyone arrived of her own free will. “Yes, I was offered an opportunity for what was called a ‘fully committed’ experience. No limits, time or otherwise, no backing out if it didn’t suit me.” No walking away, that is what I was promised, and so far they had delivered on that part. I would not be leaving on my own. The level of security here, from only the part I’d seen, was overpowering. “What do you mean, voluntary?”
One of the women further down laughed, as if at a bad joke. I had an uneasy feeling there was much about this Center, as it was called, that I didn’t know. The woman next to me offered some explanation, “There are three ways to get in here. You can ask, they agree and here you are. Or you obey your master, which is why I’m sitting next to you. And the third way, well, they come for you, anytime, anywhere. Not much you can do about it. That’s how our Laura arrived.” She nodded toward the woman who had laughed.
“You mean kidnapped?” I exclaimed, rather more loudly than I should. That was a shock. I lowered my voice, hoping I didn’t break the ‘quietly’ order. “But, that’s illegal!” Up to this moment I had pretended there was still some rule of law protecting me. That illusion was breaking down. No real prison would be run like this.
Laura spoke up, “Sure it’s illegal, but here I am. Those…” she stopped, suddenly mindful of where she was, and the possibility someone might be listening to us. “Those men grabbed me in the middle of the day, threw me in a van and brought me here. They don’t seem to be too concerned about legal niceties.” I could see she was upset. I didn’t blame her since it now appeared as if I had arrived in much the same way.
The woman next to me continued, “My name’s Paula, by the way. And Laura’s right, the only law here is what the men holding us decide it will be. No limits, you say? Well, you got that part right. The Wardens do whatever they want with us. Even though you came here on your own they aren’t going to let you go, no matter how much you beg or demand. I suggest you don’t even try, it only annoys them, and that always leads to some kind of punishment.”
I heard the bar on the outside door being opened. Immediately I sat up straight, head high, staring straight ahead at the grey wall on the other side of the bars. I felt a nudge on my shoulder. “Knees touching, feet together in front of the lock on the floor,” Paula whispered to me. The door swung open.
The other Warden had told me to sit that way, but I forgot. I didn’t hesitate in following her advice. I had the impression Paula had been here before, from the way she spoke. I decided to watch her; she would know what to do. From the corner of my eye I could see she was sitting up exactly like me; I felt a tiny bit of satisfaction in getting something right.
I saw one Warden enter, leading a woman dressed, or rather undressed, and bound in the same manner as all of us on the bench. I watched her as she was led into the center of the hallway on the other side of the cell bars. Even though her ankles were chained together she had a certain grace, her stride precisely measured to use most of the chain but not pull it taut. Every move on her part was a response to the Warden’s grip. She seemed to know exactly what to do, before he told her.
He turned her toward the far wall and let go of her arm. She stood absolutely still, not moving a muscle. I could see the handcuffs on her wrists, identical to the ones I wore. Her hands were frozen, not a finger twitched. I envied her remarkable poise.
“Look at me,” the guard ordered. I turned my head slightly but did my best to keep still otherwise. “As new arrivals you require some basic information on the regulations here in the secure area: what is permitted, what is forbidden, what is expected, what is not tolerated. This woman will tell you what you need to know for today. She has permission to answer a narrow range of questions. If she declines to explain further, do not press the matter. You will be told what you need to know when you need to know it.” That last phrase was another one I would hear over and over. He took hold of the woman’s arm and turned her around to face us.
“You will sit quietly and pay close attention to what she says. When she finishes she will let each of you ask one question. She will tell you when you may speak, and when you will stop.” He let go of her arm. “You may begin when the door closes.”
“Yes, sir,” she answered softly. Without looking back he walked to the door, went through and closed it. The click of the lock, followed by the sound of the bar sliding across the door, was loud in the silent room.
Our lecturer let out a sigh and visibly relaxed. “You don’t have to sit in position,” she said, “I’m not a Warden.” She turned around and held out her arms, wrists cuffed behind her back. “That should be obvious. My name is Cathy, and I am an instructor here, although that doesn’t earn me much in the way of privileges. Likely you will see me many times during your stay. Before I begin I want to remind all of you not to speak until given permission. I’ll get to each of you in turn, so be patient. If you do talk out of turn I am required to report you immediately. You all heard the Warden’s order; I don’t have a choice in the matter. What happens after that, well, better you don’t find out right this minute.”
She walked over to my side of the bench. “A few of you I recognize. You know the rules but listen anyway. There are some changes since your last visit. Those of you here for the first time, we’ll start with the basics.”
She nodded to Paula, the woman sitting next to me. I realized they must be acquaintances. “Welcome to the world where male dominance is the law of the land. The first principle, the most important, the one you never forget, is obedience. A man, any man here, tells you to do something, you don’t argue the finer points. Don’t think, act. Hesitation can be construed as disobedience.” She started walking along the bars, looking at each of us on the bench.
“If you haven’t guessed yet, disobedience is the worst possible violation here,” she stopped for a moment. “I can’t stress this enough, do as you are told. Even the slightest hint you aren’t with the program, the Wardens will be all over you. They watch us constantly, and trust me they don’t miss those little details. Any mistake on your part they’ll know it. If you can, report an infraction yourself, before they get to you. It’ll go easier that way.”
She stopped at the other end of the bench, close to the door. “The second principle, be dependent. Maybe you think that’s a bad thing? If so, change your opinion right now. When you eat, when you sleep, even when you can speak, you need a Warden to allow it. If in doubt, always ask permission. If it isn’t allowed, chances are good it’s forbidden. Acting without a Warden’s express permission is almost as bad as disobedience. If it’s an emergency you can violate a regulation, but you better be prepared for the consequences. You are always, and I mean every single time, no matter what, punished for breaking rules. If it’s justifiable you get off lightly. If they think you’re trying to pull some kind of trick, they come down hard.”
Cathy walked back to the center of the corridor. “Third rule, pay attention, your attitude is important. You are expected to be an active participant, doing your best to adapt to your new life here. Show them a bad attitude, minimal cooperation, sarcastic responses, and you’ll find out they always have ways to make your stay worse than it is now. You will be taught the regulations here in the secure area, learn them by heart. Those rules exist so you know your boundaries. They form the framework that governs your lives from now on. Concentrate, focus on the moment, and never forget where you are.
“I want to add a word of warning. Maybe you think you can do enough to get by. You’ll go along, pretending, but you aren’t serious about applying what you will learn in here. You can try, but the men here are experts. They’ve been running this place for a long time and they’ve seen it all. You won’t fool them for a minute. All you will accomplish is earning some extra time inside these walls.
“You think nobody is perfect? Well, think again. That’s what you have to be. I mean perfect, as in no mistakes. If you ever hope to get out of here you must prove to the Wardens, and to yourself, you can do it.”
I thought about what she said. I would never admit it publicly but I really didn’t have a problem with her principles. In my own experience, though limited, I knew I could be obedient and dependent. Unlike many women these days I was comfortable following the lead of a strong, determined, confident man. But perfect? That was a new one, and it worried me.
She bent over, stretching her arms behind her. “These handcuffs really start to suck after a while, don’t they?” I smiled, a few of the women laughed. I wouldn’t argue the point. “The Wardens don’t care if we are uncomfortable wearing them. Why do they force these things on us? Because they can; that’s all the explanation you’ll get. They don’t justify their actions to us. In any case, I have yet to figure out how to get handcuffs off without help. Point is, you make the best of whatever is handed to you. Don’t expect, and don’t ever ask for an explanation. The Wardens tell us what to do; we obey, we depend on them to take care of us, and we respond with a positive, compliant attitude.”
She paused, a serious look on her face. “Maybe you don’t want to pay attention. You think you’re an independent spirit; you can make it on your own, nobody tells you what to do? You are welcome to try that kind of approach but what it will earn you is a quick lesson on just how miserable the Wardens can make your life. Nobody and nothing protects you in here. The Wardens literally have no restrictions on what they can do with, or to us. Think about that for a minute. Take a look around if you need confirmation.”
I did look around. I was isolated, cut off from the rest of the world, confined behind steel bars, chained hand and foot, stripped naked, in the hands of men accustomed to getting what they wanted. My existence depended on submitting to their authority, no matter my own preferences. She had a point.
I had well and truly gotten myself into the worst predicament of my entire life. That offer to come here had been the answer to all my problems, or so I had read into it. I wasn’t sure what I had expected but it certainly wasn’t an indefinite prison sentence.
I’d been in relationships with dominant men before. I had promised to obey them, and I’d always delivered on that promise, at least until it became impossible to continue. But I’d never been in a situation like I found myself in now. It had always been my right to choose the man who controlled me, and if he didn’t deliver I had the option to walk away. More than once I did just that, walk away. I began to understand the wording on that offer now. This time I wasn’t going anywhere.
“Now, let’s start with position. For those of you who have visited the Center before, this is something new. The Wardens have detailed rules governing how we stand, sit or kneel. There’s only one right way so listen carefully. When you are told to stand in position, keep your back straight, head high, don’t speak and, this is important, stare straight ahead. Do not look around. Arms go at your side, palms facing in. If you are told to sit down, same posture but your hands go in your lap. Your left hand is on top of your right, crossed at right angles. And if you are ordered to kneel, the rules can be complicated. For now you keep your knees together, hands go on your thighs halfway to your knees, and keep your palms down. You’ll be taught the rest later on. If you are wearing handcuffs, obviously you don’t need to worry about where your hands should be.”
She held out her hands again, behind her back. “By the way, get used to these things. Chains are the Wardens’ favorite tools to control us. Easy for them to use; but very difficult for us to ignore. Nearly always your hands will go behind your back, just to make life a little more complicated for us. There’s no secret in the fact they like to see us helpless. I don’t need to tell any of you how well these restraints make it impossible for us to resist the Wardens.”
Cathy backed up against the wall so we could all see her clearly. “Along with the handcuffs you might have noticed the leg irons on your ankles.” She spread her legs apart, pulling the leg chain taut. “Hard to miss, aren’t they? Leg irons will be your constant companion during the day. Wardens rarely take them off. They like us to walk slowly so don’t be in a hurry. Try to run with these on and you’ll fall flat on your face. Like the handcuffs it’s a tool to control us. When you are in position be sure to keep your legs together, with your feet just far enough apart to accommodate the cuffs on your ankles.”
“The exception is if you are ordered to spread your legs.” There were some giggles at the sexual innuendo. “Yeah, but not for that reason. It means you stand with your legs as far apart as possible, like I’m doing now. Keep the chain taut, if your ankles are hooked together. You’ll encounter this when the Wardens take off or put on your belt.”
She looked at Paula, sitting next to me. “Something else that’s new is what I like to call ‘wall inspection’. Part of keeping position, when you are on your feet, is facing the wall. The Wardens now make us face the wall while we’re standing. Don’t ask me why, but it’s what we have to do. You will have ample opportunity to examine all the walls in the secure area in great detail.
“For now remember this. When you are put against a wall do not move. Keep your eyes forward and do not, I emphasize this, do not look around! Stare at that wall; scrutinize the paint like you were studying for a final exam. Stay there until he tells you otherwise. It may be seconds, it may be hours. However long it takes, wait to be released from position.”
Cathy walked over to where I was sitting and stopped in front of me. All that separated us were the bars. “I’ll start the questions with you. State your first name and ask a question. Everyone, never use your last name in here, that’s a rule too. After you ask your question do not say anything more unless I tell you otherwise.”
Questions? I had a lot of questions but where to start? The most important first, even if I might not want to hear the answer. “My name is Lenora. I came here voluntarily. When will I be allowed to leave?”
She stared at me for a moment as if in disbelief. “I’m sorry; it’s just that it’s so rare to meet someone who made a deliberate decision to come here on her own. I can’t tell you when you will be permitted to leave, but the how? In a way that’s simple, if not easy. First thing, you satisfy the committee that oversees the secure area that you have been diligent in learning how to behave. Once you get past that then your master will decide when you are ready. The collar on your neck identifies you as his property. That gives him the final say as to what happens to you. When will he let you go, who knows?
“That applies to everyone here, even me. I can’t leave unless my master allows it. If I don’t meet his expectations today,” Cathy shrugged, “then I stay here. If he chooses I can easily find myself on the same side of these bars as you. You are all recent arrivals so don’t plan on leaving any time soon. For that matter, don’t plan at all. You won’t know until the last minute when you are going to get out.”
His property? A man now owns me? Someone I don’t even know, and I’m his plaything? I opened my mouth to ask her more, but the sudden frown on her face stopped me. I wasn’t supposed to continue unless she gave me the okay. I sat back against the bench. I could feel the collar move around my throat as it touched the back wall. At that moment I realized the point of forcing us to wear collars. In here we really were a man’s possession. Like it or not I couldn’t change that fact, any more than I could open the collar and take it off.
Who was this man I suddenly belonged to? How could I please him, how could I even learn to be “ready”, as Cathy had put it? I looked down at the chastity belt around my waist. If he was my master he would have the key to open it. I could please him that way, but somehow I knew it wasn’t the real point in being here.
Cathy shifted to Paula, the woman next to me. “State your first name and question,” she said in what was obviously a format she was required to follow.
“I’m Paula. My question…” she trailed off, seemingly lost in thought. “My question, which side of these bars would you rather be on?”
That wasn’t what I had expected. I looked at Paula and her intent expression. I turned to Cathy, who was at a loss for words. The question was personal and a pointed one. The two of them must know each other, probably for some time. Cathy might be in temporary charge of our little group but for the moment Paula had neatly turned the tables.
“I didn’t expect that! Where would I rather be, right this minute? If I had a choice I’d be sitting in there next to you instead of standing here. I’m on this side because my master ordered it. That doesn’t mean I like it.
“The rest of you should know Paula and I are old friends, so don’t think badly of her for asking. More than once our situations have been reversed. I think she might be having a bit of fun at my expense.”
She moved on to the next woman, who asked a simple question, “What happens next?”
Cathy didn’t answer immediately. She must have anticipated the question since it was so obvious, but still she hesitated. “I’m not going to answer that, in part because I don’t know, but even if I had some idea what the Wardens intended I wouldn’t tell you without their permission. You have to understand, information is a precious commodity in here. They will tell you what you need to know, but only when you need to know it. You will hear that over and over. My personal opinion, it’s to teach us patience, or maybe to keep us from worrying. But whatever the reason you have to learn to wait to find out.
“They keep us in the dark as much as possible. It’s one more way to control us. What will happen to me when I finish here? A Warden will take me somewhere. I’ll wait until he tells me what to do next. Maybe I’ll get to go home, maybe I’ll be sent to teach a class. Or maybe I’ll be punished because I failed in my assignment here. I hope not, but I do know it can happen.
“Same for all of you, don’t try to anticipate. Learn to be patient and wait. You’ll find out eventually. This is important. You asked what we call an improper question. Don’t ever do it again. You get a free pass the first time, but now you know. From now on it will be considered an infraction of the rules.” I wasn’t surprised at Cathy’s explanation. It fit right in with the picture I was forming of the Center.
I perked up with the next woman’s question. “When will we be given clothes? Is it some kind of uniform?”
Cathy shook her head. “No, there’s no uniform. There aren’t any clothes either. What you are wearing now is all you get. If you arrived here from the outside world then you know your street clothes were destroyed. That makes it just a little more difficult to escape from here. And if you came in from the other side of the Center, you know you can’t get to your clothes from the secure area.”
What was the other side? This was the first time I heard about it. Maybe she meant the living quarters for the people who ran this place. That was a bit of new information: there was another side and Cathy was allowed clothes there.
She continued, “The Wardens strip us to put us at a psychological disadvantage. Guess what, it works, even if you know why they did it. If it’s any consolation, the chastity belt stays on day and night. You get a short break from it in the morning when you take a shower. That’s when you have to clean the belt too, every single day. The Wardens supervise you closely then, so don’t get any ideas.”
Cathy had moved on to the next woman, the one called Laura, “State your first name and question.”
“My name is Laura, and I want to know what right you or anyone else here has to kidnap me and hold me prisoner against my will?” Laura stood up when she spoke. She wasn’t going anywhere, like the rest of us her ankles were chained to the floor. That didn’t stop her from continuing. “I want out of here right now! I’m not playing this game. The rest of you might want to be treated like sex slaves, not me. Get someone in charge in here. Take these chains off and find me some clothes. I want to be taken back home immediately. After that, we’ll discuss whether the police should be involved.”
I looked at Cathy, wondering how she would respond. I could see she was frightened from the look on her face. She didn’t say a word. Instead she hurried to the wall at the end of the hallway, as far away from the door as possible. She stopped at the far end, her nose almost touching the concrete block. She didn’t move or speak.
Paula nudged me again. “Sit in position,” she whispered. “Try not to attract attention to yourself. This is bad.” I took her warning to heart. Cathy’s reaction was enough to tell me I was about to see Wardens in action. I stared at the wall through the bars, wishing I was invisible.
Laura didn’t stop. “What are you doing? I told you to get someone in here, knock on the door, do something,” she shouted. “Are you trying to hide? That’s pathetic!”
It didn’t take long. I heard the door being unlocked. Here it comes, I thought to myself. Several Wardens rushed in. I dare not look around, but I could count four of them in front of me. I heard the key in the cell door. I held my breath, my heart pounding in fear.
Two of them came into the cell. They went past me. As quietly as possible I dared to breathe again. I couldn’t see what was happening but I heard Laura. “Finally, get these things off me.” After that all I heard were muffled protests. It sounded like she had been gagged. A moment later the two Wardens went by me, all but dragging her between them. The Warden standing in front of us shut the cell door behind them. Not one of the Wardens had spoken, which demonstrated a well-planned operation. In a matter of seconds Laura was gone.
Another Warden, standing next to the cell door, had retrieved Cathy. He stood behind her, hands on her arms, holding her in place.
“All of you, look at me.” I turned my head to the Warden standing in front of us. I saw Laura’s back disappear through the door, her hands still cuffed behind her. “I regret you had to witness this incident. You should know the rest of you behaved responsibly and will not be punished. You will not discuss what happened here.” He nodded to the Warden holding Cathy, gesturing at the cell door. “A meal is being prepared for you. When it is ready you’ll be taken to a place where you can eat.”
The other Warden unlocked the cell door, pushed Cathy inside and sat her down next to me. Using the same procedure when he brought me in, the Warden knelt down to fasten her leg chain to the floor. He stood up but didn’t leave. Instead he slowly walked up and down in front of the bench. On the way back he halted directly in front of Paula. “Lean forward,” he ordered. I was frozen in place but from the corner of my eye I saw Paula’s head. I saw him reach over her shoulder.
My heart stopped when he put a hand on my shoulder. “You too, lean over.” Without even thinking I bent over at the waist, as much as I could. The chastity belt hurt when it dug in. I felt his hand on my cuffs, checking to make sure they were doing their job.
Satisfied I wasn’t about to jump up and make a crazy dash to the open cell door he raised me back up before letting go of my shoulder. Only when he turned his back to leave did my anxiety level drop to something under blind panic.
He closed and locked the cell door. Both Wardens stood at the bars, looking us over. “When we leave you may talk quietly. The next time the door opens I want to see every one of you sitting in proper position. If even one of you is not in compliance, all of you will be punished.”
They left, shutting the hallway door behind them. I turned to look at Cathy. Why was she now part of our group? I started to ask but she shook her head.
“No, you heard, no discussion. That includes me. Please, could I have a minute to myself?” As she turned away I could see tears in her eyes. I was confused, why was she so upset? It wasn’t her fault that Laura had acted up. For a moment I felt sorry for Laura, what would they do to her? I was sure they would punish her, after all she had disobeyed practically every order we had been given.
That tempered my sympathy. I know not every woman is like me, but I can’t help feeling some disapproval when authority isn’t treated with respect. That includes obedience when a man’s in charge. In Laura’s case it was Cathy who had to face her tirade, but still, we are all under the control of the Wardens. Maybe I didn’t approve of their methods but they didn’t seem to be psychopathic monsters. Aside from the harsh conditions none of them had mistreated me. And why had Laura waited until the men were gone? No, the more I thought it over, the less I worried about Laura. Like it or not we were subject to male authority in here. Our place was to submit, not question and make demands.
I kept looking at the door, worried that it might suddenly open and I’d be out of position. I didn’t want to get into trouble but it would be far worse if my own mistake resulted in everyone else being punished too. “Don’t worry,” Paula told me, ‘we’ll have plenty of warning. Listen for the bar being opened, that’s the early warning system.”
“Thanks,” I told Paula. “I think I’m still in shock over what’s happened. This isn’t what I expected at all. I had the impression this was going to be some kind of extended stay in one of those commercial BDSM type dungeons.”
“Ahh, no,” Paula replied. “Forget about that. In here it’s all about getting into your head. And no, I’m not revealing any secrets. I’ve been in here many times. I can tell you Cathy’s advice is accurate. Don’t fight the program. You’re going to be here a while. Swim upstream and all you get is a longer stay to adjust your attitude. You can fight it but they have all the time in the world. Sooner or later they wear you down.”
I thought about Paula’s advice. What exactly did it mean, getting into my head? It sounded ominous, bringing up images of horror stories about brainwashing and psychological manipulation. I certainly didn’t want that kind of “life changing” experience.
“Good morning, gentlemen. If you would take your seats we’ll get started.” The shift captain walked over to the podium at one end of the room, in front of the conference table. “To start, I’d like to extend a personal welcome to the newcomers. As you are all aware we are chronically short of manpower. Their arrival is much appreciated. And for the rest of you some good news, no more double shifts.”
Steve was one of those newcomers. He had volunteered to be a Warden as much out of curiosity as his sense of duty in preserving the institutions represented by the Center. Up till now he had been a passive supporter, primarily financial, but the recent plea for help had finally motivated him to act. There were personal reasons too.
He looked around at the table at the other Wardens, all wearing the black uniform, leather duty belt and polished boots of Center Wardens. Their appearance was carefully crafted to be both authoritarian and intimidating. Every one of them was here for the same reason, to run the secure area in the Center.
With the training course behind him today he started the real job. He’d be working solo most of the day, but the helpful voice of Central was always in his ear. Central Control, or Central for short, was the monitoring center for the extensive network of surveillance cameras and microphones hidden throughout the secure area. The observers in the camera room saw and heard everything.
“To start I’ll go over the fundamentals. You veterans know it by heart but it never hurts to sit through the occasional refresher.” On the screen behind the podium a PowerPoint slide appeared, showing several bullet points.
“Here are the guidelines we follow. Our mission statement is to provide a certain experience for our female guests.” That brought a few chuckles from the men around the table. “Doesn’t that phrase have a nice sound to it, makes you think this is a luxurious spa? It doesn’t take very long for them to discover it’s not a Las Vegas resort.
“That brings us to the first point, consistency.” He highlighted the top bullet point on the slide. “We are not arbitrary in the ways we exercise control over the women entrusted to our supervision. Their rules of conduct are well-defined and easy to follow; in turn we enforce the regulations in a consistent and predictable manner. They understand what is expected, we provide the direction to help them meet those goals.
“You need to think before you act, because once you tell them what to do you are committed to a course of action. If you make a mistake you can’t take it back. That’s why we established procedures for you as Wardens. We’ll back up whatever you decide, but please consider that too. Your actions also commit the rest of us to follow through.”
“The reason consistency is so important is that when you are managing our guests you are always right. You have the unlimited power to rule by decree. They can’t question your orders; they can’t ask to talk about it first. There is no compromise, no building toward a consensus. They must believe in us as the ultimate and infallible source of authority over their lives. Do not ever let them see two of you disagree; it spreads doubt and undermines our ability to control them. Never countermand another Warden’s orders. It leaves them confused, unsure who to obey.”
The highlight changed to the next line on the screen. “This one you know, obedience. You are always in charge. They know it, they expect it. Whenever you are in the room they look to you for direction. We do our best to reinforce that image. Your uniforms are designed to project the image of power and authority. Along the same line their lack of clothing is deliberate, to put them at a psychological disadvantage. Same with the restraints and cells, you have complete physical control. You must display an attitude that says you expect nothing less than immediate compliance to your orders. Anything else is unacceptable, so you must be alert for any signs of hesitation or resistance. If you see any indication of push back, act at once to put a stop to it. Catch it early. Often a few words are all that’s needed to correct her behavior.
“Remember, letting it slide, pretending not to see, you won’t be doing her any favors. She knows what she did will warrant corrective action. If she gets away with it she will be disappointed, frustrated, and worst of all encouraged to try it again. Shut it down right away. It’s to her benefit, and it shows the rest of the group there are no favorites, no one gets away with anything.” Steve nodded in agreement. “One more point on that subject, do not show any favoritism towards the instructors. If anything they must be held to a higher standard. They’ve already been through the program. Keep a close eye on them, and come down hard for even a minor infraction. There’s no excuse for any of them to make mistakes. If you think they need to spend the night in the secure area, or more than one, don’t worry about her master. He knows it’s necessary.”
He moved down to the next bullet point. “And that brings us to security. You are the front line in enforcement. We have a perfect record here; no one has ever left without finishing the program. Yes, we have multiple layers of containment, but don’t rely on them. Always use restraints outside the cells, no exceptions. Every door has a lock, make sure they shut and latch. Open doors also leak information; make sure they don’t inadvertently see or hear any activity outside their own area. Keep them isolated.
“It doesn’t hurt to keep them guessing either. The less they know about what’s going on, the more difficult it is to form some kind of escape plan. Practice random checks even if there’s no reason for it. Limit group sizes and mix them up; it’s next to impossible to build a conspiracy if the members can’t stay in contact.
“And watch for any signs of marks on the walls. We make it as difficult as possible to navigate the corridors, as you all know. If any of them ever gets loose, they have no idea where to go. Keep it that way.”
Steve could vouch for that. Part of his training was an attempt to find his way around without the help of Central. Every corridor, ever door looked the same, and there were no signs anywhere. It was an endless maze, more than once he wound up going in circles. At least he had the keys to open the numerous doors and barred gates. Without those, anyone trying to escape would be quickly trapped.
“One last word before you start. We aren’t bullies, so don’t be petty or brutal. Keep in mind they are under tremendous stress. We have taken away everything they had, leaving them totally dependent on us. Yeah I know, what’s so bad about that.” He paused as the men around the table laughed. “And don’t forget these are intelligent and very perceptive women. They can read you like a book; they’ll know instinctively how to influence you.
“Don’t think you are immune either. Most of you have experienced the uncanny skill a submissive woman has in learning to read our minds. That’s why it’s so important to remain aloof and impersonal. Keep your orders short, to the point, give out only the minimum of information, and above all no casual conversation. The less they know about you the better, for your sake, not theirs. We take their ability seriously. That’s why Central keeps you moving around. It minimizes the time they have to learn about us.”
The captain picked up his clipboard from the table. “Okay, that does it. Check your pockets. No cell phones, no wallets, nothing you might accidentally drop and they pick up. No wristwatches, they don’t need to know what time it is. Keep those keys secured to your belt at all times. Shut those doors!
“I’ll run down the assignments for this morning. You’ll get this on your earpieces too, but I want everyone to be aware of what’s going on.” He began reading off names. “Steve, you’ll be part of the team handling the new arrivals.”
The offer to come to the Center had arrived unexpectedly in my email. When I read it I was fascinated at how the sender seemed to know all about me. Ever the optimist I hoped it would deliver on what it promised. I knew something was missing in my life; maybe I could find an answer in a new setting. No matter how I tried I couldn’t find a relationship that would last. It had to be me, something I was doing wrong. That fateful email promised to be the solution. Whoever sent it understood I needed something more.
To those who know me it’s no secret I am attracted to men who are dominant, who make it clear what they want, and don’t hesitate when it comes to expecting their women to be submissive. I hear that tone of voice, see that look in his eye, and his words become the reason for my existence. Whatever he wants, that’s what I have to do. I can’t explain why, maybe it’s the way my brain is wired, or something in the genes.
I’ve always sought out that type of man for relationships. Some worked out better than others but none have lasted. I am never disobedient, that was a source of pride for me. I enjoyed being the submissive partner, but that became the problem. I was a partner. I knew I could stop and walk away any time I felt like it. No matter how much I worked at it I could never get that nagging thought out of my head. As time went on it ate at me, to the point I became frustrated and unhappy. Because of that doubt no relationship was ever really satisfying. There had to be some other way.
I had talked about it online with some friends, other submissive women. None had any useful advice, but one night I did get that email explaining there was a way to overcome all my doubts. It described a place, obviously kept secret, an isolated location where I would be able to fully realize my potential as a submissive female, a place founded on the core principle of male domination and female subjugation. Details were few, but it was clear this was no simple roleplaying game. As the email put it, the experience was “life changing”.
I was struck by the odd choice of words, ‘subjugation’ instead of the more common submission. It was a subtle difference but in hindsight I now understood the choice of wording. I should have paid more attention to what it implied. Subjugation was the perfect definition of what I faced now.
I still don’t know why I accepted. The terms were simple; place everything I owned in storage. Tell all my friends and acquaintances I was moving to another city and would get back in touch later. And the last detail, where I would be picked up in a parking lot at a certain time of day. Not just picked up, but arrested by the police, or someone posing as an officer, I wasn’t sure which. After the arrest I would not be taken to jail but to the Center, as it was called. The offer did contain a warning that once I was arrested it was the point of no return. From that point on I was committed to participate in the Center program to the end. The offer didn’t go into the details of just what that program entailed.
I was to take nothing with me. Everything I required would be provided. Essentially I would make myself disappear, so no one would have a reason to look for me. It was a classic recipe for some serial killer prowling the Internet. Bad as it sounded I still followed all the conditions, to the letter. Maybe it was desperation or just foolish dreams that made me accept. I went to that parking lot, was met by a police car, and after a little show of being arrested I was bundled into a police van and taken away. No one had a clue where I was now, and no one expected to hear from me anytime soon. I had been thorough in making sure the cavalry would not be riding to my rescue.
Ironic that detail about providing all I needed; everything provided turned out to be nothing provided, as far as clothes. This wasn’t the first time I’d been handcuffed, or even the first time I had to go without clothes. I’d even worn a collar a few times. It was my first time in a jail cell; I’d never even seen a real chastity belt before now; and I’d never been chained to the floor. All those other times were fun and games. I knew it would end the same night. Or I could stop it with a safe word.
There was no safe word this time. I suppose it was what I asked for, what I thought I wanted, but now it was real, and I knew my captors had no regard for the law. Within a very short time I learned subjugation meant just what it said, literally “under the yoke”, or in my case forced to obey without consent. In less than a day it went from an adventure to survival. My only course of action was to cooperate, do what I was told, and hope I’d find a way out some day.
We didn’t have to wait very long before the Wardens came back for us. They took us out of the holding cell one at a time, fastened us to a long chain with another handcuff on the right wrist, and then led us off into yet one more featureless corridor. There were only two Wardens handling us, one at each end of the long connecting chain, or what I later learned was called a gang chain. Cathy was in front, I was next, with Paula and the others behind me.
We went through two barred gates blocking the corridor, each time stopping so the lead Warden could unlock it, and halting again as the trailing Warden closed it again behind us. That’s when I got the first lesson on what Cathy had jokingly called “wall inspection”. Every time we stopped for a gate we had to face the wall. At each stop one of the Wardens went up and down our line to make sure we got it right. Anyone who dared to look to the side got an immediate reprimand from a Warden. Even though the shouting wasn’t aimed at me I still cringed. I thought about what Cathy had told us, so I stared at the wall, afraid to even breathe when a Warden passed behind me.
After passing through a gate we were put against the wall again while the Warden at the end of our line closed it. I didn’t know where they were taking us but it seemed to take forever to get there. We weren’t able to walk very fast anyway, due to the chains on our ankles. Combined with the wall routine at every door it turned into a slow, tedious trip. I didn’t understand why the Wardens insisted on such a clumsy, time consuming procedure.
There were no windows, no signs on the walls, no clue as to where we were. The men who designed this place clearly knew how to build a maze. Even if I had some way to get the restraints off, overpower the Wardens and grab their keys I’d be lost within minutes. They were serious about making sure we enjoyed their hospitality for as long as they liked. I suppose I should have been outraged, like Laura.
What I felt was admiration, even though I was the prisoner. This Center represented substantial resources to build and run. No detail was overlooked in their efforts to confine and control us. The hard work of the men behind it, the risk they took to capture and hold women like me, spoke of a certain personality. I was intrigued at what it said about the type of man it took to run the Center.
Even though I was a captive I didn’t fear for my life. No, that kind of man wouldn’t bring me here to be the victim of some hideous murder. Property, that’s what Cathy had said. I hoped that meant I was something to be desired, treasured and protected, but on his terms. Not on my terms though; no one had bothered to ask me. I thought about Laura’s comment that we were sex slaves. From the little I’d seen so far I had to believe she was wrong about that.
We stopped in front of a door. It looked like all the others we had passed. Once more we were ordered to face the wall. I heard the lead Warden open the door, but I couldn’t see what was inside. He explained what we were to do next, “You will be taken into this room one at a time. When you go in there will be a shelf with trays to your right. Each tray has the same meal. You will pick one up and take it to your assigned table. You will place the tray on the table, sit down in position, and wait for permission to eat. You will be given further instructions then.”
I finally understood why making us face the wall worked so well as a control technique. I couldn’t see where the Wardens were standing, or if they were watching me. Much as I wanted to look around I knew I had to stare at that blank wall. It was one more way we were placed at a disadvantage.
My ears still worked though. I felt some movement on the group chain, followed by his “turn around” order to Cathy. I heard her leg chain drag on the tile floor.
A moment later he was back, this time for me. I felt him remove the gang chain cuff and lower it to the floor. He took hold of my arm, steering me to the door as he ordered me to turn. Inside I saw Cathy sitting at a table, the untouched tray in front of her. His hold on my arm stopped me. Standing behind me he unlocked the handcuffs on my wrists before pointing to a tray.
The relief on my shoulders felt wonderful. After all this time my wrists were finally free. I took the opportunity to stretch before I picked up the tray. The Warden gestured towards where Cathy sat, indicating I should join her. I followed him to the table, where he pulled out a chair for me. I saw Cathy’s eyes tracking me but she didn’t move. Her hands were in her lap. I sat down as he pushed the chair in. Copying Cathy I carefully folded my hands in my lap.
He wasn’t done with me. He walked around the table to where he could see both of us clearly. I was relieved when I saw his nod of approval. He went back to the door. I couldn’t tell what he was doing but watching Cathy I was sure he was finished with us for now. I risked looking down at my tray to see what we were being fed.
The plate was covered with a plastic dish, to keep it warm. No clue there, but I did see a bottle of water, plastic utensils and napkins. The aroma woke up my appetite, though I wasn’t sure what we had been given.
The Warden was back again, this time with Paula carrying a tray. He seated her in the same manner. When he finished he backed up, to inspect us one more time. Cathy was right about that too. They do watch us constantly, checking every little detail. Details we had to get right every time. Perfection wasn’t going to be easy. The constant inspections wouldn’t give us many opportunities to get away with minor mistakes.
We were required to sit in position for quite some time, until the entire group was seated at the tables. I could see a pattern developing: making us wait was standard procedure, along with staring at walls. That one I already had plenty of practice in learning. Our day was going to be managed according to the Wardens’ schedule. Cathy was right; we did have to depend on them for everything.
“You may begin. You are allowed to talk, but only at your own table. Do not speak to anyone else, do not stand up, and do not leave your table. If you require assistance, raise your hand. You will have ample time to finish your meal so you need not rush.” That was from the Warden who had been at the end of our line. He left after his speech, closing the door behind him. The other Warden remained, but he went to a reserved area partitioned off from the rest of us. A rare sign warned us not to approach without permission. The warning seemed redundant to me since we weren’t even allowed to stand up, much less walk around.
Just to be safe I waited until Paula lifted off her plate cover before I reached for mine. I had a piece of chicken breast, potatoes and a vegetable mix. Cathy and Paula both carefully unfolded one of the napkins before placing it on their lap. I wondered about that, could we cover our legs? We weren’t given clothes for a reason. Both these women knew the rules here, so it must be acceptable to use a napkin that way. I did the same, carefully smoothing the napkin in my lap while I sat with my legs close together.
“This is different,” Paula started the conversation, holding up a fork with a slice of potato on it. “Quite a change from the old days, isn’t it? Remember eating and sleeping on the cold floor?”
Cathy nodded, “Yes, it’s more civilized now. There was quite a discussion on it. I was even asked to contribute my opinion. I argued the benefits of eating and socializing in a normal environment helped to make the stay here tolerable. You see the compromise. We get to sit at a table but we’re still separated into small groups. I don’t imagine you approve?”
I approved. I’d rather sit at a table than on the floor any day. Cathy’s last comment did seem strange. There was no hostility in the tone of her voice. They might be friends but I sensed they didn’t agree on some of the Center rules.
“You know my views,” Paula answered. “I prefer sitting at a table too, but not if it limits a Warden’s authority. No, I don’t agree, they should be free to control us as they see fit.” She turned to face me. “Lenora, you may as well know I’m considered to be a very conservative hardliner here, at least when it comes to topics of power and control. I expect my master to dominate my life, to tell me what to do, to say, even to think. I don’t want any restrictions placed on him, any more that I want anyone interfering with how I submit. That extends to the Wardens and how the secure area is run. You’ve heard of the term, ‘slippery slope’? Once it starts, the precedent is set to limit how we are managed; it won’t stop until we’ve lost everything the Center stands for. There should be no boundaries on how we are treated.”
If nothing else Paula was passionate in her beliefs. Whoever owned her must be an exceptional man to bring out such dedication and loyalty. Rather than get involved in what might turn into a political argument I went in another direction. “The old days? How long has the Center been here? I had no idea such a place existed. Did you really have to sleep on the floor?”
Cathy and Paula looked at each other, then at the Warden’s place in the back. He didn’t stand up. “My fault, I’ll tell him,” Paula said. “Lenora, forget what I said. You can’t ask questions like that about the Center, and we certainly can’t answer them. We aren’t allowed to mention details about prior visits either. I made a mistake and I’ll answer for it.” She turned around in her chair and raised her arm.
I was confused as to what was going on. I saw the Warden stand up. Cathy put down her fork and placed her hands in her lap. Paula did the same so I followed her example to be on the safe side. He was heading straight for us. Why had Paula called for him?
The Warden stopped at our table. As usual there was an inspection where he looked over all three of us. He turned to Paula and spoke, “What is it?”
Paula answered, “Sir, I broke a rule while we were talking. I mentioned details from a previous visit. No one else was involved.” She lowered her head and stared down at her hands.
He frowned. I knew Paula was in some kind of trouble though I still didn’t see what harm she had done. He took hold of the back of her chair. “Stand up, put the napkin on the table, hands behind your back.”
Paula must have expected it, for she stood up immediately. He reached for a holder on his duty belt. A moment later Paula wore those hinged handcuffs I now hated. He pushed her chair back. “Kneel, face the woman on your left. You are forbidden to speak.” He held her arm, steadying her as she knelt. The tile floor must be uncomfortable on her bare knees. “Spread your legs,” he ordered. Paula immediately opened her legs wide. “More, and keep that back straight.” She straightened a tiny amount.
I was that woman sitting on the left. Was I supposed to do something? I looked up at the Warden. “The two of you will finish your meal. Afterwards you will feed this one by hand. Do not rush, she will wait for you to finish. Make sure she eats everything. Raise your hand if she does not cooperate or if she breaks position. Do you understand?”
He stared at me. I wasn’t being punished but I was still terrified. “Yes…yes, sir. I understand,” I managed to stumble out. For a moment I thought I’d wind up next to Paula on the floor, but he must have been satisfied with my stammered answer. He returned to his area in the back.
I looked down at Paula. She didn’t look at me, that wasn’t allowed. I turned to Cathy, who hadn’t moved a muscle during the Warden’s visit. “What should I do?” I asked.
She picked up her fork and resumed eating. “You heard him. We eat. Then you feed her. While you’re at it, keep checking to make sure she doesn’t move. He made you responsible for her.”
I looked down at Paula again. She was still staring straight ahead, legs painfully spread wide. “Don’t speak to her,” Cathy warned. “She’s being punished. If you interfere you get the same, or worse. She’s familiar with how it works and what you have to do. Ignore her, as long as she keeps position.”
I continued eating. Every few bites I looked down at Paula. I might not like it but I had a duty to perform. “Cathy, can you tell me why Paula called the Warden? I don’t get it. Didn’t she know what would happen?” It seemed strange, talking about Paula as if she wasn’t there.
“Of course she knew. You heard her take responsibility. It’s simple; she broke the rules, so she had to answer for it. It doesn’t make any difference if the Warden heard her or not. She has to report it. The moment you asked your question we both realized she had crossed the line. The same would have happened if I had started it, except I’d be the one on the floor.”
When I finished I pulled Paula’s tray over so I could start feeding her. She still knelt on the floor. I picked up her plate in one hand, bent over to better reach her, stabbed a bite of chicken and held it out to her, plate under her chin. She looked at me, opened her mouth and took the food. After a couple of tries I got into a rhythm where she was able to chew and swallow before the next morsel. When I looked up everyone in the room was watching me. Everyone except the Warden, he was still behind his partition. I had no idea if he was observing us too.
There was no conversation to go with her meal. She wasn’t allowed to speak, nor could Cathy or I talk to her since she was being punished. When she finished eating I wiped Paula’s face with her napkin. I wasn’t sure what to do next, so I asked Cathy.
“Put your hands in your lap. We can talk but you should sit still. When he stands up, stop talking, sit up straight and don’t move.” Yet one more pattern learned, sit with my hands in my lap if I wasn’t busy. I checked Paula again. She was back to staring straight ahead. She didn’t have the luxury of putting her hands in her lap.