In the 80’s I was employed as a correctional officer at an Ohio jail. It wasn’t where I thought I’d end up but it was a job and I was happy to have one. I was booking in some new detainees when a man caught my eye, I did a double-take and waited for this man to get closer. He was a spitting image of a colleague named Luke.
If I hadn’t seen him an hour prior I’d be convinced it was Luke. While I was booking this man in, I found his name was Ryan and not Luke. A small breath of relief left me and I told him he was a spitting image of someone I knew. Ryan had a sombre attitude about him and didn’t pay much attention to my comment. Considering the circumstances I wasn’t surprised.
I mentioned it to the coworker next to me and he agreed but shrugged it off. It’s just a coincidence he said with an indifferent tone. I ran into Luke later in my shift and told him about Ryan. We looked him up on the computer and Luke was visibly surprised. “Looks like you have a doppelganger” I joked. At first, Luke shrugged it off as a coincidence telling me he just had that sort of face.
I thought nothing of it after that, it was just something that made the day a little more interesting. A week later Luke told me that he’d been monitoring Ryan out of sheer interest. He had borrowed Luke’s favourite book Atlas Shrugged from the library. “Another coincidence?” I jokingly asked him. “I guess it is” Luke replied. His face was hard to read but there wasn’t much to it other than a heightened interest.
Over the next month, Luke became even more engrossed with Ryan. He would come to me every so often and tell me about another thing they had in common. Some traits had more merit than others. When Luke told me they both bit their fingernails, I thought it was a little far-reaching but hearing his comparisons made the job more interesting.
Luke started to speak with Ryan and they shared the same interests but again it wasn’t anything you’d consider crazy. Luke and Ryan enjoyed sports, namely football and they enjoyed the same beer. Luke was spooked and I started to become worried about him. Millions of people like football and millions of people drink the same beer I said to him.
Luke would say Ryan was a good person and if he had grown up in a better environment that this would have never happened. I wasn’t convinced of that, I argued that we all make decisions that lead us to where we are regardless of the cards we are dealt with.
The obsession started to get out of hand when Ryan was in danger of getting jumped for a disagreement with a shot caller. Luke pulled strings to move him into a new cell block but unfortunately it isn’t always that easy to escape the grasp of some pissed off prisoners. An inmate ended up jabbing him with a dirty needle.
Luke came to me visibly shaken and told me that Ryan had contracted Hepatitis from the incident. I didn’t have any sort of feelings about it. Luke began acting strange and was more pedantic over Ryan’s safety.
I confronted him about it, we weren’t supposed to play favourites even though many guards did. I thought we were above that sort of conduct even if he did have hepatitis. Luke’s voice was trembling as he defended himself “You don’t understand. Now I have it too”. He’d known for a while now but kept it quiet knowing he’d lose his job.
He told me he needed to protect Ryan to protect himself. I argued with him over it, the number of fights we had to break up that involved potentially contaminated blood. It was a coincidence and nothing more. Ignoring my better judgment and let it go for a while because despite all else, Luke was a good friend and I knew he needed the money.
Although he tried hiding it, I noticed the white in Luke’s eyes start to turn yellow. I decided I couldn’t keep quiet and told the higher-ups. It wasn’t fair on the prisoners or the staff that he was infected.
Luke never forgave me for this action. The last thing he said to me was more of a desperate plea. He wanted me to do all I could to keep Ryan safe until he got out. Out of pure guilt, I did what I could until he was released.
To this day I haven’t heard from either of them. I still think about it from time to time. Was it just a coincidence or something more?