Scapegoat by Douglas Leonard

Chapter 16– Schram at Home

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Chapter 16Schram at Home

He felt he looked like any single guy coming home from work. He let himself into his apartment with his key. His job was hard, but honest. He had made no friends yet, but he much preferred his coworkers to his associates at Robinson Correctional Center. For the first time ever, Schram felt he had good control of his life—and of himself.

He was certain his success in his new life would depend on maintaining his disciplines. Weight training came first. He had recently purchased from Goodwill (with his 10 percent employee discount) what he needed for a complete workout: a single pair of adjustable dumbbells and a couple of dozen disks of varying weights. He’d also purchased a short weightlifter’s bench. He set it all up in the middle of his living room.

He recalled his first days in prison. He couldn’t control anything that happened to him. The guards were not the problem. They were predictable in their own way. But other inmates embodied threats he couldn’t anticipate. He blundered into gangs and territories and unknown force fields. He’d paid for it with beatings and rapes. He learned early that all he could do was submit. At that stage his survival depended on submission.

That was part of it. He also had to learn how to stay out of the way. A lot of stuff happened that was not about you. Don’t take sides. Don’t notice things. Seek invisibility.

Later he learned how to put himself forward in a new way. Richard Schram had refused to be a victim before he went to prison. Soon, he learned to do what it takes to take command, outside and inside. He developed his body to make it stronger, harder, and quicker.

The Robinson prison exercise room contained treadmills, stair-steppers, stationary bikes, and cable weight machines. They had even staffed the room with exercise instructors. He remembered the tough young woman looking him up and down his first day and practically sneering. His bony frame. His collapsed chest. His flaccid white flesh. But she set him up with a routine, and he followed it faithfully morning and afternoon for months. Over time he learned to focus exercise to achieve specific goals related to strength, speed, and agility. He learned all the concepts and jargon—reps, sets, tempo, squat, deadlift, quads, pecs, lats, isotonic, and plyometric. His body had been waiting for this opportunity to achieve its potential.

The last time he’d worked out with weights was about three weeks ago. Fortunately the warehouse job gave him plenty of chances to lift, but it could not provide a balanced workout. He liked the cable weight machine in the prison, but he could do it all with what he’d bought. He lay down on the padded vinyl bench. In each hand he held a 30-pound dumbbell. He did a long set of flying exercises, first on his back and then on his stomach, maintaining good form throughout.

As he moved into his routine, he fell automatically into visualization. If weight training had been the hardware of his rehabilitation, visualization was the software. Visualization became his way of controlling the impulses that could get him killed. They were, in fact, the same kind of impulses that had landed him in prison in the first place. It began with the sensation of ice, then mounting heat as he desired to attack, strangle, kill, and burn anyone who deserved it. He realized a simple fact: acting on anger would extend his stay in prison. Everything depended on his preventing angry reactions—control began on the inside.

Schram recalled discussing his need for inner control with a prison psychologist, Joe Beam. Old Beam would rather not give a prisoner the time of day. He had bigger fish to fry. But when Schram told Beam about his desire to establish control over his destructive urges, Beam got a look in his eye that reminded Schram of Andrew Steele. Steele too had acted like he wanted to do something that might save Schram from himself, until in the end he double-crossed him. Schram never understood Steele’s betrayal. He and Steele were twin orphans. But Steele abandoned him. Schram would never forgive him for that. Of all the people he had ever hated, Steele topped the list. Steele would pay.

Beam had not failed him though. He taught Schram how to visualize to counteract anger so that he would avoid impulse actions he would regret later. Schram practiced visualization every day all day, but most intensely and effectively, he believed, during his physical workouts. The more physical effort he exerted, it seemed, the deeper the visualization would penetrate his mind. Now if someone began to provoke him--and most recently that provoker was Alvin Harris, new in the block--his natural desire was to attack and hurt or kill the provoker. Acting on those natural desires would ensure a long prison stay. To disable his own emotion-based actions, Schram managed the situation by visualization. As he went through his weight-training routines, Schram would imagine Harris saying and doing his worst to provoke him. He imagined himself stepping back and maintaining aloofness, like a tree or a rock. Then he pictured himself taking Harris’ punches, bleeding, and yet not throwing any punches of his own. This was called good behavior, and it had its privileges. By visualization, he could control himself, first, to get out of prison as soon as possible and, second, to stay out of prison.

Beam questioned him. “What about the anger itself? You don’t neutralize anger just by imagining yourself getting beat up over and over again.”

“You mean like Harris?” Schram replied.

“He’s been riding you ever since he transferred to your section,” said Beam.

“Eighteen days,” said Schram.

“Are you angry with him, Richie?”

“I hate him, I suppose, but from another planet.”

“Hate is different from anger. Are you angry with Harris?”

“It is enough for me to know that he deserves to die.”

“When you see him, how do you feel?”

“Rinsed out, like Listerine.”


“Sure. I spit him into the sink. I turn on the faucet. He’s gone.”

“Atta boy!” said Beam. Schram remembered Beam and his constant “atta boy,” encouraging him. Beam heard what he wanted to hear. What he didn’t want to hear was what was really going on in Schram’s mind during the visualization. In the present case, Schram had thoroughly visualized the time, place, and manner of his execution of Harris. He even had visualized a long conversation between them in which Harris did a lot of apologizing and begging and crying. Very important to such a visualization, Schram knew, was its plausibility. He needed to visualize no more than he could really do. He knew he really could put Harris away, and that was a deeply satisfying knowledge.

So he dealt with Harris by playing and replaying the visualization, imagining what he would do and how he would feel the next time he was provoked, but also imagining how he could kill him if he wished to. He’d enacted these visualizations so often during the past couple of weeks that he had developed a visual shorthand. Whenever he felt anger rising up toward Harris, he visualized Harris naked, screaming, flesh all on fire, burning orange and blue like someone coated in napalm. The fire would burn a long time after Harris had fallen silent and dead. He body would be only smoking bones and charred organs. Schram found that that visualization gave him excellent control, at least in the short term. In the long term, he really would kill that bastard Harris.

Joe Beam liked to hear about Schram’s great powers of visualization by which he kept his emotions in check and his actions consistent with his long-term plans. Schram’s success in the method was noteworthy enough to be publishable. He asked Schram about his techniques as often as he could. Schram observed limits as to how much he dared to tell Beam. The dangerous images he kept to himself, rated R for Richard. Visualization helped Schram, but not as much as reminding himself that before long he would be able to act on his anger, to satisfy fully his rage against all who deserved it. For the time, he realized, he was just a teapot that heated up and cooled off. Later he could boil over, screaming under control, a man executing punishment. Later he’d stay in control but take his savage satisfaction.

Schram sat in his apartment considering how useful Beam had been in getting him out on parole. He said at the hearing that Schram had become a peaceful man, that he had matured and achieved rational dominance over his destructive impulses. Steele, who had gotten the first glimpse inside of him, the only true glimpse he had ever allowed anyone, had not been useful to him. Steele had betrayed him and would pay someday. Someday soon.

Here and now, as a new parolee, Schram understood he needed to maintain his disciplines—exercise and visualization. He believed he could do it. He was glad to be free. Before long, if he operated according to his plan, he’d get his revenge and maintain his freedom too. He would kill—over and over again. The killing would be sweet relief to him. Perhaps in time he could even get the killing out of his system.

Schram finished his exercise routine by reciting his enemies in his mind. They would be destroyed. His threats lay out there, in fact, like promises. They were like live grenades buried along the pathways of those he wished to kill. Yes, he had a new way of thinking about killing. There was a whole new dimension in his killing that would be essential to his long-term success.

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