You Never Know
I entered a challenge involving novice screenwriters. The goal was to create a premise for a film. The criteria required a plot that was original or at least had never been used in a Hollywood movie. There were many submissions. This was mine:
A gay man, James, is looking for love where there is little to be found. He has fantasies about a boy he knew in school. The crush he felt for this tall, long haired blond drummer in the high school band was compounded by the way this boy “Al” would look at him with those bright blue eyes during band rehersals. He fills his day dreams with such non-sense but always wakes up to find himself working away in a psychiatric hospital where he is an orderly.
His dreams come true one day when Al pays him a visit. The shy but friendly boy next door type approaches him with overt talk about being curious and wanting to find out if he is gay or not. Our hero gladly accepts the role of teacher and begins an affair with the handsome man of his dreams.
A few days later Al asks James to help him find some recreational substance. James agrees – anything for the boy. Later still Al asks him to help his friend get some, too. Anything for the boy. And again later he asks to get an even larger supply. Anything for the boy. At this point things go horribly wrong.
James is at the designated meeting place for the exchange when he is quickly surrounded by gun slinging Narcotics agents and police who do the obligatory man-handling and ruffing up of the unsuspecting James.
Fast forward 6 months later. James’ parents mortgage their home to buy the best defense for their gentle son. The lawyers work out a deal for probation with the District Attorney. Sentencing doesn’t go as planned. Judge Bison (known as the “Hanging Judge” to his friends) declares the plea bargain invalid. He wants to make an example of this scourge of the community. He sentences James to 4 to 10 years hard labor in a notorious state prison. James is dragged away in irons right before his grieving parents eyes.
The first few weeks he is held in a 12×12 cell with 7 other inmates. He is then taken to the mother of all southern prisons.
James is shackled along with 11 other inmates for transfer in an aging prison system bus to the prison system intake facility in an isolated area surrounded by swamps.
Upon entering the enormous dungeon like prison he, along with more than a hundred other new inmates, is stripped, has his head roughly shaved, hosed down with less than tepid water and sprayed with a cocktail of de-lousing agents. Next he is given clothing consisting of boxer shorts, t-shirt, tube socks, a pair of brogan boots and a uni-size white jumpsuit emblazed with broad stripes down each side and “STATE PRISONER” on the back.
The entire group is shuffled hurriedly to a dormitory housing 200 bunk-beds already half-filled. The usual cat-calls and whistles go up as the fresh meat is delivered to the hungry wolf pack. Luckily, James had made friends with a couple of inmates who shared his cell in the county jail before the transfer. He at least had some familiar faces around. The fear among the young inmates was apparent. The old timers who were re-entering the system seemed right at home.
An aerial view of the prison reveals a sprawling campus of identical wings all housing several 200 bed dormitories.
The scene plays out as you would expect. Rapes, beatings, and stabbings are common. James is luckier than some. He and his “friends” chose bunks near each other. They go to meals together, take yard call together and are quickly becoming like brothers.
James manages to land an office job in the occupational assessment dept. His job is to give aptitude tests to new inmates for their placement in one of the many prisons and prison farms in the system. He meets so many pathetic young men who are being victimized not only by the system that incarcerates them but by the animals who populate the prisons. There is nothing he can do to help them. His feeling of helplessness is almost overwhelming and he longs for his freedom.
Years go by slowly. After 3 years of imprisonment he is granted conditional release and probation for the remainder of his sentence. He is first taken to a “half-way house” for re-assimilation into society. This was what James had been waiting for but he had no way of knowing what lay in front of him.
James arrives at the half-way house. It’s an old hotel that was in decay but is being renovated by the released inmates. The lobby is an art deco masterpiece. The rest of the hotel is in differing stages of repair.
The feeling of doom he felt is receeding. There are no guards present, only counselors. The residents are coming and going freely and checking out at the front desk to go to their jobs. The new residents like James are told to wait in the lobby for “The Doctor” to arrive.
He leans against one of the marble columns still dressed in his freshly pressed and starched prison uniform he had worn for the past 3 years. He felt self-conscious about his clothing because everyone except the new arrivals are wearing civilian clothes.
As he waits he notices more vans arriving with other newbies. They file in through the double glass doors one by one. There is one who catches his eye. A man with dark brown hair and brooding eyes looking stoic. His physique was evident through the snug fitting uniform with the short sleeves rolled up in a cuff. The man glances over at James and they exchange glances before looking away.
“The Doctor” arrives mid morning. It wasn’t what James expected. The Doctor was in fact not an MD but a PhD and he was the director of the facility. He was a tall black man with an imposing presence and his last name also happened to be Doctor – Dr. Doctor – hence, “The Doctor”.
A meeting room was where the indoctrination was held. All the newbies were assigned rooms, duties in the house, counseling schedules, employment interviews and access to civilian clothing for those who had none. James’ family was to arrive that afternoon with his civies. He was assigned to a semi-private room on the 5th floor with a friendly enough fellow. He was assigned to KP or kitchen duty for the first week. He had to be on duty at 4am to begin breakfast and prepare sack lunches for the men to take to work.
The next morning at 4am he walked through the swinging doors of the kitchen. There stood the man he had exchanged glances with in the lobby the day before dressed in a black tie-dye t-shirt and jeans with a white apron and hairnet on. His biceps were ferocious. James looked to the floor so this man would not see the desire in his eyes.
As the work progressed words were exchanged about personal data, history, how they came to be where they are today, etc. During breakfast service Anthony, the handsome stranger, and James stood side by side filling plates and then cleaning up afterward. Laughter and pats on the back were flowing freely. Then, as they washed dishes together it happened. Anthony noticed James gazing at him in a particular way. Anthony asked James if he would like to go to the garden and have a smoke. When they were outside, alone, Anthony grabbed James by the shoulders and kissed him gently. Of all the places James’ might have expected to find true romance, the garden of a hotel/half-way house under renovation was not one of them.
The days go by swiftly. Eventually the two managed to be partnered in the same room. They went on job interviews at the same businesses in hopes of landing jobs together. A lead foundry full of burly men was hiring and did hire both of our heroes to work as apprentices driving forklifts to start and working up to blast furnace helpers.
Six months later, Anthony is released from the half-way house. He had found an apartment nearby and promised to wait for James. Two weeks later James was released and joined Anthony. They were never alone again. Love and happiness had come to James after a long journey through darkness full of betrayal, inhumanity and grief.
Radiohead’s “Everything In It’s Right Place” plays as the credits role.
I had several ideas for the ending but I liked this one the best. Too often Gay men are portrayed as social deviants or pedophiles or misfits of some kind. The message is always the same. I would like to see some mainstream movies that cast Gay men in a positive role with the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. That is who we really are. The protagonist in this story is just a typical guy who does typical things as he works his way through difficult situations. Just as we do in real life.
ps – I thought I might come back and include some of the ideas I had for an ending:
1) James loses hope and becomes twisted by his experiences, escapes from prison, goes on a killing spree
2) James finishes his prison sentence, hunts down the boy who betrayed him and the judge who unjustly sent him to prison, kills them and leaves them in a compromising sexual position suggesting a murder/suicide
3) James returns home to find that his parents home had been foreclosed by the bank and were living in poverty, ends up working 2 full time jobs to support and repay them then dies a broken man – alone
I had a few other ideas with more flare but since I try to make this blog family friendly I’ll leave those out of the mix – lol.