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A rite of initiation provides a violent — but welcome — admission to an eternal bond

In this excerpt from "You Who Enter Here," author Erika T. Wurth introduces us to the prison gang culture so coveted by the protagonists of her novel

Erika T. Wurth’s publications include two novels, “Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend” and “You Who Enter Here,” two collections of poetry and a collection of short stories, “Buckskin Cocaine.” A writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, she teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University and has been a guest writer at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee and was raised outside of Denver, where she lives with her partner, her two stepchildren and her extremely fluffy dogs. 

The following is an excerpt from “You Who Enter Here.”

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.


2020 Colorado Book Awards finalist for Literary Fiction

After that, after jail for Chris and Matthew, who had been tried as adults, Chris getting six months and Matthew three, things were nearly back to normal. In fact, they were better. 

“We got mad respect, yo!” Chris said. 

Matthew walked around posing in goofy exaggerated rap-postures, where he’d bend deeply to the floor like he was Eminem posing for the camera, his lips kissing the air hard and his arms wrapped around his thin body, and Chris laughed, smoke shooting out of his mouth as he did. Matthew smiled. He was happy.

“You Who Enter Here” by Erika T. Wurth

Prison had been all about hiding razors in his mouth, in his ass, about yellow cards outside his cell identifying him as a Native and in a gang, about fish lines moving towards him in the dark his first night in, about talking with Stanford, an OG in the 505s that had been in there for a few years and was about to be let out, about weeks in isolation living with your mind tearing itself apart, about learning, about making connections.

About showing his mad love for the 505s. About throwing signs when he knew that no one but the person they were meant for was looking. About reading when he had a few minutes to himself in the prison library.

In prison, he had finally been ranked in. The 505s had some connections in prison, money. They paid people to run drugs, to look away, to hurt people. His ranking in had happened in the laundry room, the washers and dryers making a loud clacking noise that covered everything. And he was told that if he cried out once, he would be out, lost to them forever. That he would be a fucking woman if he cried out just one time.

Erika T. Wurth

Matthew had nodded but inside, he had been glowing. He knew that this was going to make it so that he had family forever, that he and Chris would be more than blood, that he would have people after this who would do anything to protect him.

But he was also happy because it had been a long, long time since he’d cried out in pain. Not physical pain anyway. He’d learned to keep quiet, to keep a straight face when he had been so young that he couldn’t even remember when he first understood that going inside himself, as far as he could get and sitting in there inside a lovely grey space was the best thing he could do when his mother was hitting him because he’d spilled her last beer, when her boyfriends would hit him because he was looking at them in the wrong way, when the one, the first one, had come to touch him at night. 

Matthew turned nineteen in prison. 

When the first blow had come, it was as if time had slowed, like in a movie. He wanted to savor the moment before the fist hit flesh, because he knew that after this ceremony, he would never be the same, he could never come back. He would be a man, and more than a man, a cold length of steel pipe, a happy thing that could not feel. A man that no woman could ever hurt again. 

The man who hit him first was a Homie that had been in for a good long time, and a survivor of a number of shootouts. His name was José. Matthew liked him. They had talked in the weight room together, lifting, Matthew spotting for him.

José was short but huge, and covered in tattoos, his arms spilling ink from one shoulder to the other; the roadrunner, New Mexico-style women with long black-eyelined eyes and huge breasts, the state of New Mexico with those distinctive lines on top indicating Aztec blood and language, the thunderbird with 505 in Roman numerals across his chest. And scars from bullets in his side, his leg, and half a pinky missing from when he was ranked in a few years back. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Now José’s fist was coming down, hard, his face a sharp, expressionless line of grim determination, and Matthew waited for it like it was a sunset. He held himself up for as long as he could, taking the blows to his face, his shoulder, his sides, until José’s friend began to kick him in the legs, and he buckled.

That’s when Chris came in. He looked over at him, keeping himself hard, quiet, expressionless. He knew that this was a test for Chris, too, they knew they were tight. But their ultimate loyalty had to be the 505s. Chris kicked him hard, taking turns with José and the other guy until he was all the way down, his arms covering his face like a child, and he began to bleed in earnest now, his mind blurring towards the grey until finally a great wave of something washed him ashore and mercifully, out to sea. 

Buy “You Who Enter Here” through BookBar.
Read an interview with Erika T. Wurth.


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