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Ocean's 11...The Book
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New Jersey
There was nowhere to go but up for inmate #7736648367.
Prison is a hellhole for the spirit. It kills some men. Some men it just breaks like a bundle of sticks, leaving them bitter and vengeful. Some men stagger out the door cowed and repentant, while a few exit walking tall, resolved to be better men. On all men, prison leaves its mark. No one who does time locked up in the Gray House escapes without a scar on his soul, a deep humiliating sense of irretrievable loss. A man coming out of prison is never the same man he was going in. It is a sad but unavoidable truth. There have been one or two exceptions to this rule. And then there are a few people who don't even seem to notice.

An empty room with a single chair was all he could see when the door opened. That was what freedom looked like to a man in the midst of hard time. When a gray-green cement floor, walls, a hard bunk, and iron bars for a view were the circumference of a man's life, that empty room with its single chair looked like blue skies over
a distant horizon, with the fragrance of jasmine thrown in. It looked like hope.

A few right answers. A carefully modulated attitude-part deference, part repentance, part quietly reassuring self-possession-and a man could be a breath away from liberty. Be cool, play it straight, walk-it was a simple formula. It had worked thousands of times. Why not once more? A guard held the door open for the man to
step in. The guard withdrew and closed the door behind him. The man took in the featureless,
windowless walls, the hard floor, the harsh fluorescent light. It was a room with all the charm of the principal's office. He was mighty glad to be there.
"Good morning," a voice said.
The prisoner, wearing gray-green state-issue fatigues and a neutral but expectant expression, turned toward the voice at the other end of the room. This prisoner was a tall, disconcertingly good-looking man in the early prime of life, and none of the light appeared to have gone out of his large, liquid dark eyes-the kind of dark eyes women liked to look deep into in the search of truth.
"Good morning," the prisoner said.
"Please state your name for the record."
"Danny Ocean," the prisoner said.
"Thank you," the voice said tonelessly. "You may sit down."
Mr. Danny Ocean glanced back and forth as though presented with a wealth of plush seating choices; then he chose one of the hard, straight-back chairs. He sat and made hirnself cornfortable, looking up genially, thinking, What a beautiful room: 50 large and airy.
"Mr. Ocean, the purpose of this meeting," said a second voice, a woman's, "is to determine whether, if released, you are likely to break the law again."
A purposeful pause.
Danny riffled through the half dozen replies that burst like Poprocks on his tongue, rejecting them all. He waited out the moment, rnaintaining perfect eye contact. The female voice went on. "While this was
your first conviction, you have been implicated,though never charged, in over a dozen other confidence schemes and frauds. What can you tell us about this?"
"As you say, ma'am," Danny said, "I was never charged." He gave an affable smile to the woman, who had sculpted gray hair with the rigid texture of a helmet and a face just as unmoving. None of the three members of the parole board-two men in addition to the woman-changed expressions as they stared at Danny
from behind the table.
"Mr. Ocean," said another board member, a dour stick of an individual, "what we're trying to find out is, was there a reason you chose to commit this crime, or was there a reason why you simply got caught this time?"
"My wife left me," Danny said, shifting as though uncomfortable at the memory. He gave the smallest shrug. "I was upset. I got into a self- destructive pattern."
"If released," the woman board member said,"is it likely you would fall back into a similar pattern?"
"She already left me once," Danny said. "I don~t think she'll do it again just for kicks." Glances darted among the board members.
"Mr. Ocean," said the third board member, the sternest visaged of the three, "what do you think you would do if released?"
Danny thought deeply. "I don't know," he said, looking from one board member to the others. "How much do you guys make a year?"
They stared at him coldly.
Danny stared back at them, then broke into a congenial grin. It was a minimum-security prison downstate.
It was not set far back off the road, or distanced from the civilized world with high, razor-wire walls and guard towers bristling with searchlights and automatic firepower. It didn't have body searches and lockdowns for inmate counts twice a day. There was no "hole" or solitary-confinement dungeon. It wasn't the kind of place where, if you were slightly built, you were destined to become Bruno's girlfriend. But it was a prison. You didn't just walk out the door and go up to the races when the ponies were running at Saratoga. You didn't attend your kid's first Little League baseball game. You couldn't take the wife to the latest chick flick she wanted to see at the cineplex. The free ticket your buddy got you for the big game had to go to somebody else. Life stopped. It was a prison with locked gates, to which someone else had the key. The day the key turned in the lock and a man could walk out and keep on going was a bright and shining day. No cloud could darken the sun for a man who had finished his time and was once more at blessed liberty. Among all the days in a man's life, he would remember this one most vividly and pleasantly. "Ocean, Daniel," a guard called out from behind the desk at the prison checkout station. Danny stepped forth, and the properties clerk doled out the few personal possessions that Danny had surrendered at the beginning of his term-a watch, a wallet, a wedding ring, a few bills, a plastic bag containing civilian clothes, a pair of shoes, a belt. The guard produced a form on which each item was listed, with a line at the bottom for the former prisoner to certify their return. "Sign," the guard said, pushing the form in front of Danny. As Danny snatched up the pen and signed with a flourish-going out was so much easier than coming in-the guard reached down and added a piece of mail to Danny's small pile of possessions. "This came for you today. Rest'll be forwarded to your parole officer."
A second guard, leaning lazily on the counter watching the proceedings, shifted his head a bit to read the return address embossed on the official-looking envelop the properties guard put down. "Those your lawyers?" he drawled with idle interest. Danny focused on the envelope. "My wife's," he said. He opened the envelope and scanned the documents within. His eyes flickered across the papers, his blank expression hard to read.
"What's it say?" the guard said.
Danny stared at the papers for a beat, then looked up. "I'm a free man," he said and grinned, stuffing the papers in his pocket.
The final staging area for an inmate's first small step into freedom was a changing cubicle the size of an airline john. Danny shouldered his way in, plucked his folded-up civilian clothes out of the bag, and pulled them on. Pricy slacks, a three-hundred- dollar dress shirt, a thousand-dollar jacket. It was apparent, despite the creases and slight rumple, that there was not a loose thread among them. He tugged his cuffs and smiled; the old skins felt good. He slipped the cash in the wallet, slid the wallet in his pants. On went the watch. He picked up one last item to put on: a silver wedding band. Danny considered whether or not he would slide it on.
The lettered brass plaque on the wall outside read:
Someone had graffitied below it:
If you were in prison, you'd be home now. Prison humor from someone who plainly had never done time in prison. The great metal doors opened, and Danny stood within their frame, ready for release. From a distance he looked good-standing tall, well dressed, a man at ease. A close observor would pick up the fact that he was indeed wearing his wedding ring. Did it matter? Apparently to Danny, if to no one else. He hovered there on the threshhold, on the precipice of freedom, for a moment. The winter wind whistled a little on the far side of the gate, and some trash blew in the street. Danny raised his eyes and took in the scene. The view ahead was not exactly pleasant. Industrial New Jersey-sooty, drab, down-market, dreary. Life was hard out there. Life inside, however, had barely been life at all.Danny mustered his courage and took his first step back into free America
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