Wednesday, December 21, 2011

25 to Life

24 years, 363 days I have sat in this personal hell. Anyone who says the death penalty is cruel and unsual
punishment has clearly never spent a day in prison. In two days they have promised me my freedom
from a crime I did not commit. I do not come from wealth  so for someone like me, just being accused
is a conviction.  I was handed a public defender who held my life in his hands. Needless to say, I was
doomed from the get-go. The trial itself seemed to be longer than my stay here. To be falsely convicted
by a jury of your own peers on nothing more than circumstantial evidence feels like an eternity. Each
day feeling like three, but at least the nights flew by.

I like to think when I’m alone. Think about the what if’s and coulda been’s. What if it was another poor
sap at the wrong place at the right time? When it’s a cops murder they come down on you like a ton of
bricks. Relentlessly clawing and tearing at your conscience, drawing out a confession that doesn’t exist.

Why me? Because I’m me. This is my destiny and I have accepted that long ago. I always had an interest
in criminal justice, which makes this even more ironic. I used to believe in the system until it made an
example out of me. It actually did more than that, it took everything that I truly believed in and shoved
it in my face like a playground bully picking on the new kid. I guess in a way that is fairly accurate. The
new kid only gets picked on for so long before rising up and coming to grips with the fact that something
must be done about it.

Officer Tio rattled my cell bars with his stick just before the doors cleared my entry. He told me that my
cousin was here to see me. It was always a pleasure to hear those words, but it was particularly special
today.  I smiled as I exited my quarters as he walked me to the visitation room. On the day of my
conviction my cousin Ronnie told me that he would be here to meet me face to face two days before
my release. We talked about what we’d do if I was found guilty, which we knew deep down
was the most realistic outcome of this whole thing.

He testified at my trial and did a damn good job of it, but it just wasn’t enough. Despite them not having
a murder weapon, I was sentenced to 25 years to life for the murder of Officer Walter Jennings. Being
a good citizen ended up being a damning decision.  The only “proof”, and I use that term loosely, they
had was my hands being covered in his blood. Ballistic tests came back negative but like I said, when it’s
a cop they don’t care who they punish as long as they put a face to the crime.

Officer Tio opened the door and let me in to see Ronnie for the first time in months. As much as I knew
that he wouldn’t forget about his promise to me, I always doubted it for some reason. It completed me
to see him here today, to know that we would finally have a chance to make a difference.

He gave me a hug and commented on my stubble and orange jump suit. He jokingly asked if it was
laundry day because it was partly faded. We had a laugh and the tone got more serious. He asked me if
I was sure that I wanted to go through with this, and I shook my head yes. He shook my hand and
slipped a razor blade up my sleeve. I went along with it, pretending to cough. With my hand next to
my mouth I sneakily placed it under my tongue.

Ronnie stood up and gave me a hug for the last time, tears rolling down his face. I looked him in the eye
and nodded, as if telling him that it would be ok. He understood and walked out of the room, and I
followed just behind him. My entire sentence was leading up to this moment, I thought about it day in
and day out, careful to never be a problem prisoner and gaining the trust of the guards. I played the role
of model citizen even though I wanted to spit in their face. Every last one of them. For ever day that
they knowingly turned the blind eye to physical and sexual assault on not only just me, but other
inmates as well. Some would say that they deserved, and who’s to say that they don’t, but do I? Does
an innocent man deserve to be treated like this? I was praying for the needle by year eight.
 I returned back to my cell and received nothing more than a routine strip search. At nightfall I began
work on the note that would define me. I wrestled with the message I should leave, the words I should

It wasn’t before long that I decided on the message I’d leave behind. I didn’t have a choice but to write it
in crayon, which undoubtedly made it seem more comedic than it should have been. Everything was
going as planned, 90 minutes after the lights went out I had my note written.

Tomorrow morning they’d find me on the floor of the place I have called home for the past 24 years and
364 days, dead. With a note on my bed reading “I was an innocent man.”