A little background first. I was serving a 15-year sentence in a penitentiary in southern Arizona. What I was in there for isn’t important. During my stay there, there were countless things that happened that no one could explain, and even more that no one wanted to know more about.
It all started with a prison legend. Supposedly, years ago something awful and unexplainable happened in the prison. Every morning we’d be woken up, and expected to stand near the front of our cells while guards visually confirmed we were present and accounted for. Apparently about a year before I got sent there, the most brutal and unexplainable thing happened during one of these routines. A man who had a cell to himself looked very off during this check. When a guard pulled over another guard to help him check it out, they found it wasn’t actually the prisoner they were expecting at all. It was a totally different man. This man was wearing the skin of the other man over him. Loosely fitting, draped over him, apparently looked like a real monster. The scariest things were though, was the guy wearing the skin was NOT an inmate. They had no idea how he even got into prison, let alone a cell. What’s worse is that they couldn’t even figure out who the hell he was. He wasn’t documented anywhere. And whats worse than that? They never even found the body of the man of the skin he was wearing.
Pretty grisly stuff, I know. And I realize that’s not the go-to definition of a skinwalker, but that’s what the prison called him. The Skinwalker. Didn’t help that the guy never talked apparently. Anyway, that’s what started the whole skinwalker superstition around the yard. Apparently the guy got shipped to a different spot about a month after it happened, and just about everyone in genpop felt all the better for it. I heard about the story on the second day of my stay. Hell of a story to hear to place in your home for the foreseeable future.
Now onto the real shit though. Sure, that guy was The Skinwalker, but all he did in the long run was get an old lifer Navajo inmate to tell everyone about actual skinwalkers. It seemed like a lot of the prison culture actually revolved around them.
Now, apparently, skinwalkers are tricky to point out on the spot, but if you manage to survive around one for more than a minute or two, almost everyone can tell the mannerisms are all off. They can mimic human speech but not replicate it. They twitch manically. They have an unnatural gait while walking. But apparently they got better with experience. The old Navajo guy – his name was Carl – said that he was sure there was an actual one among the prisoners. Slowly picking us off over the years. He called it “The Grandmaster Skinwalker” at one point. Apparently he thought it had human mannerisms down so well that you might not even be able to tell if it was your cellmate for a day or two. It had to be good he posited one night. He would expect a skinwalker to jump at any opprtunity for a kill. But this one realized it had a revolving door of people to kill coming to it, and masterfully bided its time, as Carl thought, for years.
A lot of guys found humor in it. A lot more were really on edge about it. Every once in a while in prison, people snap. Sometimes you’ll find your cellmate swinging in front of your bunk, strung up around the neck by his pant leg. Sometimes you just can’t take it anymore. But in our yard, people tended to snap in a very special way. It wouldn’t be an outburst at dinner, or a silent suicide in the night. Guys would just stop talking. Hunch over and shuffle around. Any friendships they had would be mostly out the window. They would turn into a loner during rec time, they would let their hair hang in front if their face.
No one liked to talk about it. Like if they did, it would happen to them next. I felt the same way. I didn’t know if it was a skinwalker, or just people going crazy. But I didn’t want to find out. It wasn’t clockwork or anything, but every time someone snapped in this way, it wasn’t more than a couple weeks before they were “shipped off” or “transferred” to God knows where without anyone else knowing beforehand.
Then there was the nighttime occurrences. Short, loud bursts of sound echoed through my cell block during all hours of the night on a regular basis. It sounded like a mix between a pigs dying squeals and nails on a chalkboard. Just another thing no one liked to talk about. Even scarier were the shadows and footsteps. The block was dimly illuminated in the night by a few lights hanging from the ceiling outside the cells. I myself saw shadows flit across my walls on a regular occasion, when there were definitely no guards near my cell. One time near the end of my sentence, I woke up, looked at my back wall and found a perfect silhouette of a person standing there, but when I looked, my bunkmate was asleep, and no one was outside my cell.
And the footsteps. Everyone hated the fuckin footsteps. They were the scariest part. In the night, sometimes, more rarely than the shadows, you would hear ungodly fast footsteps. They sounded like wet feet slapping on tile floor. Whatever caused them would fly from one end of the block to the other in a dead sprint. Whatever it was, it was inhumanely fast. If you happened to be awake before it started, by the time you heard the footsteps on one side of your cell and whipped your head around to see the thing run by, it sounded like it was 3 cells past you. Everyone hated the footsteps. I agreed, I thought they were the worst.
I was released from that place about a month ago, and I have more stories than I can count. I swear it was nearly my turn. About a week before I was discharged, my cellmate, and a good friend of mine “snapped”. In the same kinda way. I didn’t sleep for an entire week. Well I did sleep of course but never for more than a few minutes at a time. Never turned my back on the guy. The scariest thing? I woke up one night to him somehow snaking his body through the bars of our cell. For reference, I couldn’t get anything past my shoulder through them. The worst part though, he was coming back in to our cell.
On the day of my release I didn’t say a word to him. Just left. He seemed fine with it, so, so was I. I had made it through, 15 years of prison fights, gang disputes and for all I know, skinwalker abductions. I left through the front gates, a free man. As I walked along the fence for the rec yard, I spotted my cellmate, standing off on his own, like he had for the last week or so. I shook my head, not even really sure if it was him anymore. I took one last look over the yard, this time from the other side of the fence. I wish I hadn’t.
There, standing off on his own, on the other side of the yard, was Carl. Slouched over, eyeing the other inmates, and twitching manically.