Please don’t read this post. It is going into the Tales of Darkness series. It came to me out of the blue. I clicked the ‘write’ button and this story developed itself and after reading it a couple times I didn’t see any glaring errors so I hit ‘publish’ and it was off.
The thing is though, as the evening wore on I was drawn back to re-read it. Suddenly I realized; I am feeling a bit disturbed. It’s really quite an ugly story. I dunno, maybe you’ll like it. Whatever, You’ve been warned.
The light is filtered through dirty glass about 15 feet away, on the other side of the steel bars of my cage. There’s nothing to see but I climb as high as I can anyway. There is a small fenced courtyard with a basketball hoop. The buildings are placed as to offer no view.
A few days before, the keys clanged and the door opened, “OK, listen up. Grab your blanket, pillow, and mattress and follow me.” Six of us from maximum security shuffled down a bright hallway to a part of the facility I’d never seen. We passed a threshold with double fire doors and time went backwards 50 years. Gone were the bright yellows and oranges replaced with clear coated concrete and light or dark grey institution paint. One person per cage, 24-7 lock down with one hour exercise per day starting after 3 days. I found out it is what they all called the ‘Old Jail’.
I glanced at my good friend Gary who is an aging criminal defense attorney from California way. We are having coffee and donuts in the office common area. He was just telling me that if 10 people are randomly pulled from the street and accused of murder, 8 will go to prison for the murder. “Don’t they get pissed going to prison for something they didn’t do?” I asked, curious where this was going. He looked at me like I was stupid. “You gotta get over it. It’s better to go to prison for something you didn’t do than for something you did do. At least that way you’re innocent.”
It didn’t sit well but I could relate.
My mind went back to the good old days. 18 years old, mid summer was in full swing, and the fair was opening tonight! I got all dressed up and was wheeling past the Tastee Freeze toward the country music concert at the fair when my way was suddenly blocked by two Sheriff cars and another came up from behind. The terrified policeman went through his routine and I found myself in a detective’s car headed for the city. These two clowns were high fiving each other for solving the crime. “What crime Goddammit!?” The driver sneered and told me I’d find out when we got to the station.
There’s no way to express all the crazy shit that goes on in your head for the first six weeks or so. Every form of fear, overwhelming self pity, crying while visiting with the folks on the other side of security glass and wiping dry before returning to the cage.
The thing is, there’s nothing you can do. If you yell at the guards they smile while they beat you and keep asking if there is anything else you wanted to say. The other prisoners don’t want to hear it on account of their own problems. You get a few friends that visit then disappear. Then is the day when the guards laugh hysterically as they read out loud the ‘Dear John’ letter and then stuff it back in the envelope and push it through the bars. “You really fucked up getting the Sheriff’s daughter pregnant!” We had dated but hadn’t done it!
Lots of photos and interviews, visits with the public defender, and a criminal psychologist that keeps touching my leg and asking if I like older men.
“So what do these guys do?” I asked Gary. ‘Plead guilty” he said. “They will get 20 years if they lose in the trial or 2 years if they plead guilty”. “Happens all the time.” he said. “Some guys take their chances in court and sometimes they win. The trial will likely take longer than the 2 years of prison so it’s usually worth it. The system is criminal.”
I knew what he was talking about but I listened, acting amazed and horrified that such a thing could possibly be true here in the good ole USA.
I made the decision in a dinky attorney/prisoner room with a flickering florescent. I didn’t trust the dainty man who had been assigned to be my defense but I had no known options. “If we fight it we will most likely lose and you are looking at 14 years in State Prison. If you plead guilty, I think we can get you out of here in 3 months.” “Is there any guarantee? I mean what if they give me 14 years anyway?” “Well kid, sometime you gotta take your chances.”
A few more weeks went by……. I anguished. I didn’t do it… More self pity.. I was circling the drain. I finally made up my mind and called the public defender.
“OK. Lets do it.” My heart was pounding. I’d been in a cage for over 6 months now. I wanted this shit over. “You sure? Once we do this there isn’t any turning back.” “Yeah, let’s do it.” I took several deep breaths. I hoped to GOD that this defense attorney could make this happen. “Oh, just one more thing……” “What?” He fidgeted a bit. “We are going to need an excellent evaluation from the criminal psychologist. He wants to see you three times.” His eyes bored into me. “What?” I was trying to understand his sudden change in mannerism. “You are going to need an excellent evaluation.” He continued to look directly into my eyes. “Do…. you….. un-der-stand?” He wasn’t blinking.
Oh shit, this can’t be real! Yes, it was starting to sink in.
“Yes. Yes, I understand.”
“Make sure you do. He is a powerful man and you don’t want to mess this up.”
“Will anyone know?” I couldn’t swallow right. My throat was lumping. He looked at me directly for a few more seconds and then looked down. “I sorry.”
He shuffled some papers and pressed a buzzer button and his slight form was replaced by a guard.
Desperate days…. He needed and had 5 meetings rather than 3.
Some weeks after the guilty plea I waited for sentencing and no one would tell me anything. The judge asked questions of all involved and lectured me of the severity of the crime how irregular it is that such a minor sentence was requested. He locked eyes with the psychologist and continued.
“TIME SERVED PLUS 45 DAYS!” He banged his gavel.
The psychologist glanced my way and winked. I looked back at the judge and he spoke directly into my soul. “YOUNG MAN, I DON’T EVER WANT TO SEE YOU IN MY COURTROOM AGAIN!” I disappeared for 45 days.
A few months later I was visiting with an old girlfriend. She was caring for her new baby. It was a baby boy with a flat, broad nose that was a remarkable match to the man sitting next to her. We had both been dating her. He was a proud daddy!
The future shortened and the past grew and ancient men enjoy coffee and donuts.
As Gary talked, I remembered back to the day when I had used micro-phish to look up old news articles and had read in the court and legal section the day after sentencing. There was my mug-shot and a quarter page rant about an armed robber getting 45 days county jail and how unfair it was that I had gotten off so lightly.
So Gary headed off to do a plea bargain in court and I walked in the smokey sunshine back to my office. Though I will never know the experience of robbing someone at gunpoint, maybe Gary is right. Maybe it is better to be in jail for something you didn’t do than to be in jail for something you did. But….. There might be a third option…..
Do you like older men?