“Am I Free to Go?,” by Kathryn Cramer, is an edgy tale about a home invasion, except it’s the cops doing the invading. When a once-rich county builds a prison to create jobs and revenues and pushes through a privatization bill that suspends civil liberties, but there aren’t any prisoners available, then it’s time to find some—“men, women and children from nowhere, incarcerated for no reason.” Of course, it’s the cops that are tasked to find them. But cops aren’t really bad; it’s just that working as a corrections officer changes a person. They come to believe that “If you’re arrested, you’re guilty.”
The story wanders, like a victim struggling to understand what happened to them with everything jumbled up in their mind. Lucidity is a goal that’s hard to attain when you realize that underneath the alleged utopia where you live lurks a disempowered and defunded failed state, operating with its own rules. Of course, if you’re an amateur hacker and can’t resist the urge to plunder government computers to “prove” what’s going on, don’t be surprised when federal prison looms in your future. Instead, it’s simplest to be nice and compliant when the cops invade your bedroom at 3 AM. Be quiet and calm and maybe, the next morning, the cops might even be willing to apologize.
A thought-provoking story. I was particularly intrigued by the author’s description of a bio-monitoring system that includes chipped prisoners, Wi-Fi fungal mats growing in the ground and trees that act as Wi-Fi antennas. George Orwell would have been proud of how much technology has advanced the possibilities of a big-brother state.
I live in New York State’s Adirondack Park, an environmentally protected area comprising about 23% of New York State. It is a wonderful place and I love living here. But there is an aspect of the Park that I find very uncomfortable. In 1973, the New York State legislature adopted into law the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan finalizing the boundaries of the Park and putting into effect many of the environmental restrictions. That same year, the legislature passed the Rockafeller Drug Laws, which was the advent of New York State’s policy of mass incarceration. Over the past forty years, many prisons have been built in the Park, and the communities where these prisons are located have tended to become economically dependent on the prison-industrial complex. In an era of severe government cutbacks, these political decisions of the past can have strange and unforeseen consequences.
“Am I Free to Go?” is essentially a monolog. In February of 2011, it began as an exercise in narrative voice when I was working with Edward Cornell, a New York theater director who now lives in the Adirondacks. He assigned me to find a monolog to work on with him. I couldn't find any I liked.
The dramatic monologs I found bore too little resemblance to the women I know in real life and seemed constricted by gender stereotypes. (If I had found the play Wit by Margaret Edson in early 2011, I probably would have stopped there.) Next, I tried reading aloud stories I had reprinted in Year’s Best volumes, but found that many of the stories I loved best worked better on the page than out loud.
And so I wrote something. Ted Cornell listened to me read all or part of it aloud many times through many drafts; his encouragement and comments brought into the form you find it now. This story is as much human rights fiction as it is science fiction. I believe that we live on the knife’s edge of a political cascade in which consequence piles on consequence, leading the United States in directions that most of use don’t want to go. What I intended is a monolog somewhat in the mode of “Swimming to Cambodia” by Spalding Grey and about an extrapolation of the here and now that I inhabit.
“Am I Free to Go?” by Kathryn Cramer
What happens when you wake up at 11:30 pm to find the cops in your bedroom, an occurrence become far more likely in this police state scenario, where for-profit jails are looking for more business.
Think fast. Don’t even consider using the W word — as in “do you have a warrant?” Respect authority if you want to come out of this alive.
The narrator has both technology and lawyers on her side; she belongs to the privileged class for whom this utopian society was created. But sometimes people get caught up in the backlash. There are costs. The narrator is changed by the incident; she used to think these things didn’t happen to people like her.
Very cleverly done, in a light tone of voice shading into absurdity, the sort of dystopian absurdity documented by Kafka. The narration switches between the first and second person, saying in effect – This happened to me, it could happen next to you. What are you prepared to do about it? It could be called an example of If This Goes On, except that we know this is really going on already.
My story "Am I Free to Go?" has just gone live at Tor.com. It's a story I am extremely proud of. Read it today!
Scott Bakal has done an amazing cover for my forthcoming Tor.com story, "Am I Free to Go?" And he has a detailed post on the process of compostion on his blog, complete with preliminary sketches.
Not only is this a strong piece of graphic design that is impressive in its own right, but it also is a sophisticated reference to one of the more psychologically intense moments in the story. Just wait until you read it. Then you will understand quite how good this cover illustration is!