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I'm told I was granted a trial. But it must have been a speedy one, because when it took place, I was still in a deep coma caused by the police officer's rifle butt, which melted over me like margarine in the Sahara sun.

When I awoke, I was lying on a hospital bed hooked up to all sorts of probes and devices that beeped like an old video console. Above me, passing a damp washcloth over my forehead, an African-American girl, very pretty, with translucent green eyes, smiled and welcomed me. It was Tracy, thirty years old, locked up for eight years for piercing her brother-in-law with a hair iron because he had beaten her sister. She had been sentenced to death, but caught in extremis by an abolitionist decision of the California Supreme Court. Her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and she has been studying law and cooking ever since. The law, to prove that she had acted in a situation of assistance to a person in mortal danger, and should therefore have her sentence reduced. And the kitchen, so that she could work in it and make rain and shine over the whole prison by distributing good food and more or less important rations. This way, no one came to bother her, or make trouble for her. And when she had a little time left over, she helped out the nurses, as she had been one herself during the Kuwait War.

She handed me the orange Smith Correctional Facility outfit and took me on a tour of the property. It was quick enough, as the clink was small, but enough to make me feel oppressed as I met the eyes of the girls who ran their tongues over their lips to let me know I looked appetizing. I was put in a cell next to the gym. A cell I had to share with Margaret, a former drug addict who bore all the stigmata, very thin, trembling and extremely irascible. Without looking at me, she pointed to the bottom bunk because she'd always had the top one and couldn't stand bedbugs. And that it was like that and no other, that if I wanted to fight, she was ready, she worked out every day and she'd lay me out if need be, or slit my wrists while I slept. Thus put at ease, I laid my sheets down on the mattress, which was full of stains, each browner than the next, and went off into a corner, away from my roommate so as not to be struck by a razor blade. Fortunately, it wasn't long before it was time for a walk. Tracy came to my side to introduce me to the figures of the place, how the clans worked, who the kingpins were, who I could sit next to, who I could make eye contact with. She told me I was lucky to be French, as newcomers were usually given a raw deal, with the choice of a beating or being flushed down the toilet until I passed out.

Even so, when curfew sounded and the lights went out, I was dragged out of bed, gagged and dragged by my feet into the craft room. It was the Mexican women's clan, and they wanted to know who I was, where I'd come from, what I wanted, if I wasn't a federal agent hiding in the body of a little French girl who'd come to set them up. After sticking enough spikes under my fingernails to make sure I wasn't an infiltrator, they gave me a taste of tequila made from a cactus in the courtyard and asked me if I'd be willing to act as a mule to get foie gras into the prison. I was French, so it should be easy for me. They had a plan from the outside, something out of the ordinary, she said. But to get it through, they needed a newcomer, a holier-than-thou. I couldn't see myself committing a crime by smuggling foie gras when I had to get out quickly. I declined and left to join my cell and my beloved roommate. But Juanita, one of the five, very pretty in the face and very strong physically, tripped me up. Then she lifted me off the floor and threw me against the wall with a terrible din that made nothing but my lungs flinch. She grabbed me by the collar and started strangling me, then showed me her teeth as if she was going to plunge into my neck to inflict a bite or worse, tear out my carotid artery. The very next day, I went to the visiting room to meet their smuggler, a Chicano in a hoodie and baggy shorts, from which he took out the foie gras, unwrapped and uncanned. Just smelling it and seeing where he'd taken it from made me gag, which I repressed to avoid arousing any suspicion. And like him, I smeared it over my lower body in several layers, so as to be able to pass through without being spotted by the security guards, hoping that the smell wouldn't arouse their vigilance.

Arriving in front of my backers, without waiting for me to utter a single word, the Mexican girls dragged me to the far end of the library and out of sight, laid me down, removed the bottom of my outfit, each took out a piece of bread, a piece of plastic which they used to help themselves to the foie gras spread over my lower body. I wasn't proud of myself, nor was I in very good posture, but it was the price I had to pay to stay alive until someone could get me out of this joint.
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