Finely Broken (Full essay- written while I was still incarcerated)

*Warning* I decided to just post the entire thing. It’s a lot longer but has a better flow. Hope you enjoy!IMG_1478

Okay, boys and girls. I’m armed with a brand new Bic Round Stic, medium point ink pen, a Tops 3M legal pad (which advertises itself as “the legal pad PLUS”. I have yet to figure out what the PLUS is), and an Oxford “Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.

 

I swear by Oxford. I was turned on to Oxford dictionaries years ago by an astute English professor, who passionately claimed that all other brands of dictionaries were only suitable for kindling. Don’t run out and burn your Webster’s yet. There have been times in my life, when in a crunch, I have been forced to stoop so low as to consult other inferior brands, and I have to admit that I have seen very little difference among them. Gasp! No, it’s true. However, I still prefer my Oxfords, if only out of habit, and they really have been good to me, so, I’m a loyalist.

 

Today, kids, we’re going to explore a long, difficult and interesting subject: recidivism. Say it with me now. Re-cid-i-vism. It is kind of a pretty word, but it’s an ugly subject. Hold on. Here’s the Oxford “Advanced Learner” definition:

 

Re-cid-iv-ist/ri’sidivist/noun (formal) a person who continues to commit

crimes, and seems unable to stop, even after being punished –

re-cid-iv-ism/izem/noun

 

That’s right. Habitual felons, career criminals, wheels (that’s what they’re called in here) “and the wheels on the bus goes round and round and round.” When will it stop? Nobody knows.

 

It’s a real phenomenon in here. I’ve met so many guys who are on their second, third, and fourth tours of our state’s lovely facilities that I thought it would be interesting if we sat down and discussed it together, once and for all, just you and I. Don’t worry. I’ll do all the talking. You just try and keep up, okay?

 

Let’s start with my buddy, “Cornbread”. We’ve known each other for close to two years now. We actually hung out some, for about the first month or so, of these two years. I quickly had to distance myself from him.

 

Cornbread is on his third tour of our esteemed institution. There is not a doubt in my mind that it won’t be his last time up this particular river.

 

The thing is that Cornbread is absolutely innocent! Just ask him. I mean, sure, he was busted with a bunch of meth (this time), and he’s certainly traveled down “the junkie’s highway.” But as he states (oh, so often!), his was a “victimless, non-violent crime.” I mean, he HAS alienated his entire family, and anyone else who spends any time at all with him, but that is NOT, I repeat, NOT, his fault. He got “hit with a bitch” (a habitual felon charge), and they cruelly loaded him up with time.”Those bastards!” He only has about three years left, and normally he would be eligible for minimum custody, but people keep starting fights with Cornbread. I mean, what’s he supposed to do? Should he just stand there and take it. He doesn’t start the fights. He never does. He’s the victim here.

 

As I’m writing this, our hero is locked away in the hole. He had a confrontation, this time, with the guy who runs the clothes house. Cornbread punched the guy a couple of times, in the mouth. Well, the clothes house guy had it coming. He refused to give Cornbread an extra pair of pants and an extra t-shirt. I mean, any of us would have done the same thing were we in poor Cornbread’s shoes. It’s just the right thing to do. Right?

 

This is actually the third time this month Cornbread has been placed in segregation (poor guy). They really have it in for him.

 

Well, you guys won’t have to worry about the big lug for too long. In a few short years, he’ll max out and be safely out of here and back on the streets with you, where he belongs.

 

My friend, “Big Wheels” – man, they did him wrong! They gave him almost fifteen years. Charged him as a habitual felon. He had taken up stealing. Mostly, it was big items. He stole music equipment from churches, a lawn mower here and there. It escalated because it was so simple. Well, it finally ended after he stole a jet ski from the local mayor’s house. Now, I suppose that does deserve some time, but fifteen years?!? Isn’t that carrying it a bit far, and especially charging him as a career criminal? Sure, he did some time before this, but that was ten years prior. He hadn’t bothered anyone in those ten years. He just laid back, grew his own pot, did a little coke here and there, a little meth (not much at all, really). He drank some, sure, but he doesn’t have a problem or anything. He was just minding his own business. Oh, yeah, the other reason he shouldn’t have been charged, as a habitual felon is his two felonies weren’t even similar. I mean, how can you consider someone a career criminal when the crimes weren’t even similar? That’s just crazy.

 

Well, good ole Big Wheels has got Jesus now. He had Jesus before, the first time he was in prison, bit it wasn’t like this time. This time, it’s real. He has been trying to put that fire under his two sons, but, well, he has done this a few too many times, and they’re just not buying it anymore, but it really is really real this time – really.

 

His oldest son has started smoking pot recently (shrug). What can you say? There ain’t nothin’ wrong with a little weed, and at least he’s honest about it, right?

 

Well, that’s neither here nor there. It’s not any of his business, really. He has other things to worry about.

 

Like the chipped bone in his leg. Now Big Wheels is a big boy, about three hundred pounds of big boy, but he just has a healthy appetite, and he HAS always been big-boned. It’s not his fault. Nothing he could do about that.

 

Now, carrying around all that weight wears him out fast, but he does like to eat and he hates, just hates, to see food going to waste, even if it’s the terrible stuff “they’re trying to kill us” with in here. (He tells me that, back in the day, the food was much better.) We all hate to see him go hungry. It would break your heart to see how hungry he gets. So everyone chips in here and there to make sure B.W. gets fed. Just anything that’s not going to get eaten, thank you very much. Praise Jesus!

 

Here’s the thing: The medical staff here, they refuse to operate on that chipped bone in his leg. Okay, they said they’d do it – IF he went on their “special diet” and lost some weight. He tried that “special diet” and lost some weight. Do you know they feed you the same stuff over and over every day? Who could stand that? Not you or I. We wouldn’t stand for it! Well, neither will he.

 

In fact, he doesn’t. There’s this old guy who lives in the same block as Big Wheels, and the medical staff have assigned him a wheel chair, but the old guy never uses the thing. He can’t even stand using it. So, Big Wheels really does need himself a wheel chair ‘cause it hurts so darn much to walk anymore. The medical team doesn’t even have the heart to give him a wheel chair. I know, I know. I couldn’t believe this either, but it’s true. All they’ll give him is a can, or a crutch – and they call themselves doctors!

 

Fortunately, the kind old man could see our friend’s anguish and he has very considerately given Big Wheels the wheel chair to use. Thank Jesus for that!

 

Huh! Would ya look at that! Here we were talking about recidivism and somehow or another we ended up talking about B.W’s diet and how he got in the wheel chair and all that. Now how did that happen? I mean, that’s got nothing to do with crime, now does it? Certainly not. No way.

 

You know, one day I did ask B.W. about his last crime. I mean, honestly, he’s a pretty smart guy, so I couldn’t figure out how he did something as dumb as robbing the mayor’s house. So, I asked him.

 

I said, “What exactly were you thinking? I mean, why HIS house?”

 

He said, “Hmmm…I don’t know.”

 

And I’ll tell you what, folks; a truer statement has never left that mouth. He really doesn’t know.

 

I said, “You, uh…. you might want to think about that? Just if you get some spare time. You really might devote a little effort to thinking about that.”

 

Well, B.W. is one career criminal you won’t have to worry about for too much longer. His health is failing quickly. He hasn’t had a good day in years. Besides that chipped bone in his leg, his ‘ol ticker has been acting up. His arthritis is getting progressively worse. His lungs are beat all to hell. In fact, he can barely navigate that wheelchair all by himself these days. He has to have a pusher. Just anyone will do as long as he doesn’t have to do it himself. He doesn’t have to go far – just to the chow hall, and maybe a push back to his room.

 

No sir, no ma’am, you don’t have to worry about Big Wheels committing any more crimes. He’s done. He’s got Jesus now.

 

Let me tell ya ‘bout “Revolution”. He’s not a repeat; in fact, this is his first time down. They loaded that sucker up with six years just ‘cause he’s black! That’s how racist those crackers are who run the show. I mean, yeah, he shot a guy but it’s not like he killed him or anything. He just shot him in the leg. He’s shot a couple of people, in fact, but they couldn’t charge him with those ‘cause he never got caught, so they just gave him the six, but really, that wasn’t even for shooting that guy. You know how THEY are – rich ‘ol white guys, scared of a brother trying to make a decent living for hisself.

 

Here’s the proof. When he was arrested, they had a bunch of pictures of him all over town, on different street corners, slingin’ his dope. They had actually been watching him! You won’t believe what they did next. They tried to get him to roll on his friends! Well, not Revolution. He don’t play that. Naw, he ain’t no snitch. He’s a martyr. He took the hit for everyone, and they gave him six years. White trash, bunch of rednecks in bed sheets. That’s all they are.

 

Well, Revolution is gonna fix all that. He signed up for the educational program. He was gonna get hisself one of those degrees ‘til he figured out that’s what they want you to do. Do you know that if you enroll in school, they expect you to show up every day? Ridiculous! I mean, there’s other stuff going on around here, like basketball, and…well, there’s basketball. A lot of times they have games at the same time they’re having class. What’s a brother to do?

 

Revolution stuck it out for a little while – as long as could be expected of him. He didn’t get no degree or nothin’ like that, but he got a certificate and he made hisself a plan.

 

That’s right. ‘Ol Revolution got it all worked out. The problem was he tried to get too big, too quick. He was sellin’ dope to just anybody ‘cause he had to get those Benjamin Franklins. What ya really gotta have is a front, something legit, so that you can ring the cash registers while you make all your big money out the back door. That’s what those rich ‘ol honkeys do. Everybody knows that.

 

So now that he has a vocational certificate in the culinary arts, he’s just gonna lay back for a while and plan his future. These other cats – that’s why they keep coming back. They’re stupid. They don’t plan.

 

See, Revolution is smart. He ain’t coming back. He’s gonna open up a little restaurant, just a little joint, so he can be legit. Then, while that place runs itself, he can be makin’ the real money hustlin’ dope. He ain’t gonna do it like last time – no, sir! This time, he’s only gonna sell in large quantities, to a very select few. I mean, when he first gets out, he’s gonna have to start small just to raise the money to open his restaurant, but that’ll take no time at all, really. Sure, he could try and get a loan from a bank, but crackers and Uncle Toms run all the banks. He knows better. He knows those guys don’t want nothin’ to do with a Bro-ther!

 

You folks be sure to check out Revolution’s diner. It should be opening up in a few short years.

 

Let me tell you about my new buddy, “Jr.” Even though technically, he isn’t a habitual felon, he used to be.

 

This is his third time living “the easy life.” He just came back a couple of months ago. Now, like I said, he used to be a habitual felon, but he was broke of all that mess the last time he was down. This time, it was different. This time, it really wasn’t his fault. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking, but you couldn’t be more wrong. I mean, mostly, Junior’s back in here because of politics and all that nonsense. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here, let me tell you what happened.

 

See, Junior and his girlfriend, they was ridin’ down the road together. They hadn’t been drinkin’ or nothin’ like that, but they got into an argument. Well, it was a big ol’ argument and she just wouldn’t let up. Turns out she was what you might call “bi-polar” but poor ol’ Junior didn’t know all that. All he wanted her to do was just shut up. But she was crazy mad and he was trying to concentrate on driving. Well, she just WOULD NOT shut up, so he did what any of us would have done, really; he busted her in the side of the head, just to get her to calm down, so he could drive (that’s how the blood got in the car.)

 

Well, like I said, Junior didn’t know she was crazy or anything. You’ll never believe what she did. She jumped right out of the car while it was still moving. Can you believe that? What a nut! Accidents happen, I suppose. The car ran right over her head and killed her, instantly. It wasn’t his fault. How was he supposed to stop that?

 

Junior panicked and split. He got out of there slick as snot.

 

That’s why he got pulled over to begin with. But he ‘fessed right up. He didn’t try to run from the law or anything. So they put him in jail.

 

Normally…normally, when something like that happens to, say, just a regular ol’ Joe, they’d charge him with involuntary manslaughter, but Junior was an ex-con, so they threatened to charge him as a habitual felon, which would have landed him in here for the rest of his life, probably.

 

Now, this is where the whole thing gets political.

 

See, you probably don’t know it, not having any first-hand experience in it yourself, but there are all kind of little deals that get made, behind the scenes, between lawyers and district attorneys. This stuff happens all the time. They’re all a bunch of crooks just scratching each other’s backs to get by. Just ask any of the cons in here. They’ll tell ya.

 

This is what typically happens. Say you have a lawyer who has ten easy cases, and he has one hard case. Well, he’ll work it out with the D.A. (like over golf, or dinner), so they can both come out looking good. The D.A. will go light on the ten easy cases, and then, just so he doesn’t look bad, he’ll slam the harder case. It happens all the time.

 

That’s what happened to our boy, Junior. They kept threatening him with “a bitch” ‘til he had no choice but to take the plea. He was scared not to take the plea, which was murder II, and got him twenty-five years. They scared him into it so that ten other cases could walk. So, you see, truly, Junior took the fall for a lot of guys. They probably don’t realize that. If you happen to bump into any of them, you might be kind enough to point this out. They’ll appreciate his sacrifice, I’m sure.

 

In the meantime, Junior, who used to be a habitual felon, is working as hard as he can to get back to court. Keep your fingers crossed for him. I know I will.

 

Okay, look. I’ve got to stop this nonsense. When I first started this rant, I intentionally chose to use sarcasm because I felt that it would help me convey my anger, while at the same time allowing me to be a little humorous. I thought the use of humor would make the subject matter a little more palatable. Here’s the problem. I have one more guy to write about, one more “example”. The thing is that he’s a dear, dear friend of mine. I know I’ve been a little harsh, but truthfully, I care about all of the guys I’ve written about so far. Some of them have been close to me. Some of them are still close to me. In a way, that’s why I find it so easy to be sarcastic about their circumstances. I care about them. If I didn’t care, it wouldn’t piss me off so much to know that they’re coming back. If I didn’t care, I could just say “hey, not my problem”.

 

Look, the thing is that, whenever I watch someone leave this place; hell, whenever ANY of us sees someone go home, we ALL get excited for them. Part of us leaves with them. I’ve walked out of that gate with a bunch of guys, and it has felt great every time. But, man, when you hear they’re back…well, it means none of us could make it out there, and that hurts, and I’ve had to come back a bunch!

 

A while ago, I guess it was about a year ago, actually, I was in the chow hall having dinner when this cat came in yelling. He had his hands up over his head. He was waving them and yelling, “I’m going home! I’m going home! You don’t have to look at my ass anymore!”

 

He went on and on like that.

 

Guys were laughing. I was laughing. It took a while for the place to quiet down. When it finally did, there was one single spontaneous clap. Before I knew it, all of us were clapping. We were all going home. That felt good.

 

Then, three months later, you flip on the TV to watch the morning news, and there he is. Just robbed a gas station, or stole a car, or killed someone. It shatters you.

 

My friend, Al, is 62 years old. He has been doing time for half his life, under “the installment plan”.

 

Al has probably been the closest friend I’ve had in here. I took a long time to figure out why that was. You see, Al and I really don’t have much in common. I’m an avid reader, and always have been. Al has only ever read one book – the Bible. It’s the only book he cares to read. Al grew up in a poor, rural, Florida farming community. He was a sharecropper’s son. I grew up in middle-class suburbia, the son of a nuclear consultant. Al is religious almost to the point of fundamentalism. I prefer to think of myself as spiritual. I have a very personal, very private relationship with my God.

 

So why did Al and I start hanging out together? I really don’t know why he hangs out with me. I suspect, in some ways, I fill a paternal need in him. A few times, when I haven’t felt the desire to attend church services, Al has become visibly upset with me, though he has only spoken openly about the subject on the rarest of occasions. Usually, the only real evidence of Al’s despair was the clench of his jaw, or the grief in his eyes. He wasn’t angry with me, as much as he was displaying a fatherly concern. I’ve always appreciated him for that. At times, I’ve been tempted to remind him that I have a father, a very good father, but so far, I’ve refrained from doing so because I know that it would only hurt him, and I don’t want to do that.

 

I started hanging out with Al because I love stories, and Al has some stories. One nice thing about this place is the stories. Everyone has some, and they are all fascinating. I learned a good while back to hang out with people older than I, not because they have more or better stories than people my age, but because they have developed the fine art of telling them, which only comes with time.

 

The first summer I was here, Al and I would get together every night after dinner and walk the perimeter of the fence. Lap after lap, hour after hour, I would ask Al questions and we would leave the prison together as he spoke of the hog slaughtering days of his youth, or the time his brothers brought the milk cow into the living room and put lipstick on her (jus’ ‘cause they was bored.)

 

He told me about his crazy sister who, one time, chomped down on her boyfriend’s thumb and refused to let go. She threatened to bite it off (she would have, too!) if he didn’t drive her clear across town. Well, he obliged, and unable to shift gears because his thumb was still between her teeth, drove her all the way across town in first gear.

 

When Al was a small child, his daddy would take him to juke joints. He’d put little Al up on the bar, and Al would dance to the music of guys playing “a box” (guitar) and some spoons, and “people would be a jumpin’ and a hollerin’”, and they’d throw coins at Al’s feet, up on the bar there, while he danced for’em.

 

One time, at lunch, we had been served oranges. Al started in on a story about how, at one point, he had lived on oranges for a whole week. He had sworn he would never eat another orange, but he still eats one every now and then. I asked why he had to live on oranges. He told me he had spent a whole week in an orange grove, and that’s all there was to eat. I asked why he had spent a whole week in an orange grove. He told me he was on the run from the law.

 

Al’s got all kinds of stories about being on the run. He has been on the run a lot. A whole lot. He has been in prison a lot, and has some great prison stories, too. Some of his stories are sad, some of them are scary, but a lot of them are funny – only because he makes them funny.

 

He’s soft-spoken. At times, he barely speaks above a whisper, and I have to ask him to speak up.

 

He reads his Bible every day. I think I’m one of the few people he has told this to – he was ashamed of himself when he told me …Al taught himself to read by going to church. He would memorize verses out of the Bible when they were read out loud in the prison church services. Then, he would go back to his cell and repeat them, over and over, committing them to memory. He’d mark pages to refer to and then look them up later. Slowly but surely, he started to put together simple words and phrases. Those led to sentences, and those sentences became his religion. I have a few pages of Al’s notes in my possession. At best, I think he’s about at a third grade reading level. In all fairness, for someone self-taught, who started so late in life, I don’t think that’s doing too bad. Al reads his Bible every day. He is sitting there reading it when I step out of my room in the morning. He reads it off and on throughout the day, and I have no doubt that if I were to go knock on his door right now, I’d find him with his Bible stretched out across his lap, with him carefully taking notes.

 

Here’s something to keep in mind before I go on. Just keep it in mind. You don’t have to think on it, or anything. One of Al’s sisters has been to prison for killing a man. Both of Al’s brothers have been locked up. One of them is currently on death row in Florida. Prisoners are not allowed to write each other. Al can’t write to, or receive letters from, his brother. It is very unlikely they will ever see or hear from each other again (until they meet at Zion’s gates). One of Al’s two sons has been to prison twice so far. Like I said, you don’t have to think on it or anything. It probably doesn’t mean anything.

 

I also need to explain a few things about “the new law”, just some things that people who have never been to prison don’t usually know.

 

I think the new law, or structured sentencing act, came about around 1996, in North Carolina. Other states have it. Some states that used to have it have repealed it.

 

What happened was that the taxpayers had gotten absolutely fed up with the prison system’s revolving doors. The stories all became too familiar: some guy would commit armed robbery, be sentenced to ten years. He’d stay infraction free and be back on the streets in a mere two or three years.

 

That’s why state officials came up with structured sentencing. They classified all the different crimes they could come up with, everything from murder 1 to returning videos late, and set specific lengths of time for each crime. They eliminated parole. Instead, you are now handed a minimum and maximum date. If you get a job and stay out of trouble, or stay in school and stay out of trouble, then it is possible to work your way down to your minimum from your maximum. Confused? It took me a while to understand it. I’ll use my own case as an example to clarify things.

 

I had never committed a felony before. When I was sentenced, I was given eight and one-half, to ten and one-half, years. That means that if I came to prison and did nothing but read books, watched TV, and slept, then, in ten and one half years, the state would have to let me go, no matter what. Also, if I came here, got in fights, hustled dope and homemade wine, then in ten and one half years, they would STILL have to let me go. However, if I get a job or go to school, then slowly but surely, I can reach my minimum date of eight and one-half years. Like right now, I’m assigned to school, so I “earn” six days a month off the ten and a half years, down to the eight and one half.

 

Now, once I’ve reached that eight and one half mark, I’m home free. I have no more incentive to do anything. There’s no parole. I can’t get anymore days knocked off. I’m going to do eight and one half years, no matter what. I’ve been down two and a half years now, and I’m about six months away from hitting that point. Personally, I’ll stay in school as long as you good taxpayers will fund it. I enjoy it. I would die of boredom without it. I can’t speak for my buddies, though.

 

Similarly, if you happen to be pulling a really long bid, say twenty-five to thirty years, there’s not a lot of incentive to do anything. You’ve got plenty of time to get around to it. Besides, when you’re looking down a thirty-year barrel, what’s another year here and there?

 

Philosophically, I’ve argued both for and against the new law. Obviously, the majority of inmates hate it. One time, I was standing with a group of guys who were complaining about it, and I said, “Yeah, but you gotta look at it from the taxpayer’s point of view. They got tired of watching us come in, get a slap on the wrist, and walk out.”

 

One of the other guys pointed out, correctly, that so far the new law has had no effect on the recidivism rates. My argument was that the reason for this is, no one knows about it yet. I mean, it’s only ten years old. My friend, Esa, was standing there with us. He had more time to do than all of us (I think thirty years). I said, “Hey, Esa, when you get out, you plan on doing anymore crime?”

 

Esa said, “When I get out, I ain’t even gonna litter!”

 

My argument against the new law is that, like my friend said, it’s ineffective. The only incentive to really do better is the motivation that some of us possess naturally, and others don’t. The prisons are becoming overcrowded war zones.

 

Actually, there are a lot of reasons. If you’re interested, you can do the research yourself. I want to get back to Al.

 

I asked Al one time if he thought he had grown up in an abusive home.

 

“Well”, he said thoughtfully,

“I suppose people might call it abusive this day and time. My daddy and mama fought, and he would hit her sometimes, but she would beat him just as bad as he beat her, sometimes.”

 

Like I’ve said, Al has been in trouble a lot. He wasn’t a drinker and he never did drugs, but he was a fighter. He’s got all kinds of great “liquor house fight” stories and more than a few “prison fight” stories. He has been shot and stabbed more than most of the guys I know who have been shot and stabbed – and that’s a lot!

 

Here’s what happened to land him in here this last time. I’ve got to omit some of it because I’m just not clear about it. Neither is Al.

 

Al was in minimum custody right before he got out last time. He was on work release, where he worked as a dishwasher and busboy for Shoney’s.

 

He had met a strong, Christian woman while he was in prison, and they had gotten married. He would get weekend passes, and they would spend the weekends together, and a few hours in the afternoons during the week, after he got off work and before he was required to get back to the prison.

 

Not too long before he was released, her diabetes, or, as he calls it, “her sugars”, had taken a turn for the worse. She had to have her legs removed. Al told me that they would sit in her room together for hours on end, reading the Bible to each other, and just talking. He told me this was the happiest time of his life.

 

A few months before Al was released, she passed away. I asked him once if he ever talked to her now, when he was alone – just curious.

 

He said “Yeah, most days.” Smiling, he told me, “Sometimes she even talks back.”

 

He went to Florida to visit his family. He spent some time with one of his sons. His niece drove him to different thrift stores and bought him clothes.

 

He came back to North Carolina and became very involved in his church.

 

For reasons still very much a mystery to Al, one night he just lost it. He doesn’t recall what happened. All he knows is that he flipped. A close friend of his from the church tried to subdue him, tried to control him, tried to stop him. Al beat that friend into a coma. He has no idea why he did it. He doesn’t remember it at all. I bet I know why. I bet you do, too. We’re not going to tell Al, though. He has been through enough.

 

In his very late fifties, under the new law, Al was sentenced to about thirty-five years in prison. He should get out when he’s about ninety years old. I’m sure he’ll do very well.

 

I never hear Al complain about time, not like the other guys.

 

Al likes his soap operas, his “stories”. He watches them every day after lunch. He has a job working as the chaplain’s assistant. It doesn’t require a lot. He sets up chairs for the services, and during the day, he shows inmates where the birthday cards, Christmas cards, Valentine’s Day cards, and get well cards can be found. The rest of the time, he’s busy reading his Bible and taking his notes. Sometimes he falls asleep on the job. He tells me he’s about ready to “retire.” Al’s getting old. Maybe he has been old.

 

The last day of autumn, the guards left the yard open a little late. During the winter months, we’re not allowed outside after three-thirty in the afternoon. This was the last day we’d be allowed outside until the following spring. It’s also the closest I’ve come to seeing the night sky since I’ve been down.

 

Al and I were walking together. They sky was a deep azure and burning orange. Beneath the prison lights, the dying grass glowed a vibrant green; it crunched beneath our feet as we walked the fence together.

 

I said, “Al, when do I get to laugh again?”

 

In his quiet, soft-spoken voice, barely above a whisper, he said, “Yeah, that can be hard.”

 

And we kept walking. We just kept on walking.

 

 

 

“And then the wall rose,

Rose slowly,

Slowly,

Between me and my dream,

Rose slowly, slowly,

Dimming,

Hiding

The light of my dream.

Rose until it touched the sky –

The wall.

 

(From “As I Grow Older, by Langston Hughes)

 

L’ Robert Veeder

 

 

 

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