Ever failed at life? That's where Josh Kruger found himself last winter: broke, hungry and bunking with a violent stranger.
For days at Fernwood—curiously situated on the same grounds as the Curran-Frumhold Correctional Facility, perhaps as a reminder of what not to do during times of extreme hunger—I would wander the halls inspecting what, apparently, was once a hospital or retirement home for old crooks. RECREATIONAL ACTIVITIES, read the cracked enamel sign on a door in the central hall that led nowhere; in the courtyard, postmodern sculptures were the perfect cigarette butt receptacles.
Three fellow social rejects shared my dormitory-style sleeping area; we called these pods, and they were tiled areas, each housing four bunks cordoned off into “rooms.” One of mu podmates babbled incessantly about Mexicans, crackers, faggots and cops all night, every night. He took a particular hostility to my presence; after several days, I’d had enough and, on a whim, blew a snide kiss at him. This set him over the edge, leading inexorably to the moment when I got a fist in the face. Immediately, the man was ejected from the grounds. About an hour later, the cops showed up, and refused to do anything. After all, it was a fight between two bums.
A few weeks later, as things were getting better for me, I ran into the guy at St. John’s Hospice while eating lunch. Recognizing me, but seemingly not remembering the assault at all, he asked me how I was. My confusion notwithstanding, I still had enough focus to realize that he had wet himself in public.
At that point, and for the first time throughout this entire ordeal, I truly felt like a piece of shit.
Josh Kruger is a writer and editor in Philadelphia. His new PW column, “The Uncomfortable Whole,” will present stories and ideas that challenge our cultural understanding of what “normal” means in American life anymore.