by Delroy Nesta Williams
“Has the Jury reached a verdict?”
“Guilty!” someone from the crowd screamed out.
“Quiet please! The Judge scolded....
“Yes, your Honor, we have,” the Foreman responded over the clamor in the courtroom.
“Quiet, Quiet,” Judge Lewis continued from the bench as he pounded the gavel, “I will throw out everyone if this continues!” as he motioned to the bailiff, who was trying his best not to stare in the direction of the Judge.
“If this doesn’t cease immediately I will hold everyone in here in contempt of the Court and throw you all in the cell,” he continued as the crowd finally settled down, “learn how to behave in a court of law!”
The courtroom was filled to capacity as my court case had become the talk of the community. It had turned friends into enemies but for the most part it had turned almost everyone against me and my family over the past six months, so much so that they all wanted to tear me into shreds.
I stood next my lawyer and I gazed over to her to try to read her thoughts about the pending verdict but all I could see in her expression was a deep, blank stare into nothingness. Although she was looking straight ahead at the Judge’s bench but wouldn’t beat an eyelash. She was looking in the Judge’s direction with impatience like she had somewhere else that she needed to be. She was clicking her heels against the tiled floor and seemed in a hurry to get out of the courtroom. Her demeanor was starting to give her away as much as her makeup. It had been exquisite that day but her lipstick didn’t suit my fancy. I wasn’t sure what she was wearing under her gown but something told me it was no business suit. The further pounding of the gavel by the Judge disturbed my thoughts though as I turned to eye the jurors who now had my fate within their hands.
I had my legs and wrists bound in chains and in my head I was already very much a prisoner. I had only pleaded not guilty because my family wanted to try the case in court in hope of a mistrial but I had come to accept my fate a very long time ago. From the first days of the trial I had wanted to stop the Judge and get it over with but my lawyer and my mother had convinced me that there was still a chance that I could have gotten off on some technicality. That technicality didn’t work though and now I was convinced that I would live out the rest of my life behind the doors of Her Majesty’s Prison. It would not have been my first time up there; in fact, I already had a reputation within those walls and some enemies awaiting my return.
“Your Honor, we the jury, find the defendant guilty on all counts,” resounded in my head a few times before I bowed to the floor, clenched my fist and smiled. I smiled not from being happy, but because there was now closure for me and I could now face what I had been promised in my mind. I was a prisoner months ago, even before the start of the trial, now I could live out the life of one. The anticipation of the verdict was worse than the verdict itself. I turned around and saw my mother’s tears being wiped by my sister as she tried to console her a few rows behind me. It was a sad sight but I refused to dwell on that.
“Sentencing will be in one week’s time, on February 05th at 9:00a.m. in the morning,” Judge Lewis confirmed as he slammed his gavel down before leaving the bench for the comfort of his chambers.
“I will be fine!” I mouthed to my mother as she shook her head in disbelief. She had always wished the best for me and envisioned me as someone that I wasn’t. All my life, at least from what I can remember of my childhood, had been lived trying to show her otherwise, trying to dispel her myths but my mother was blind to all that I had done. She preferred to think of me as her perfect firstborn child. In a way I think she created the monster that I had become. She showered and pampered me so much that the only way I felt free was to break away from her bonds. As the bailiff lead me out of the courtroom, I again looked in her direction but this time around, her face with buried in the shoulder of my youngest sister who could only shake her head in my direction. It was the type of expression that I had wished for as a teenager but never got. Now as a man confined to the walls of a prison, I had finally found what I had sought. It came with a price, a heavy one too but at least I had found disapproval from my mother and sisters.
I kept replaying the moment in my mind over and over again as the police bus sped out of the city to make its way to St. Johnson’s Village, followed by scores of media persons attempting to get a last shot for the 6 o’clock news. The potholed road to the prison made the ride really bumpy and for a moment it seemed like I was on a bouncy castle ride again. I remember the first time going to Coney Island as a little boy; it was the happiest of my childhood memories. I was too small for the other rides but not the bouncy castle. Cotton candy and bouncy castle, that was the world to me at that time but not now. Those two young girls were probably at that bouncy castle age too. I couldn’t take back what I had done, so there was no use feeling regret, I would just accept the consequences.
I didn’t enter the house to hurt them; I didn’t even know they were in there. But when I swung the bedroom door open and just saw them lying there in the bed, so inviting, something took over me. I approached the bed, looked around on the vanity for anything to steal but there wasn’t a valuable in sight. I turned towards them and the next thing I know I’m hovering over the two of them, their clothes covered in blood. My hands and clothes were covered in blood too, so I panicked, I really did. If I had taken a moment to think, to really think, maybe I would have gotten away with it all. Instead, I rushed out of the house, covered in their fluids and ran onto the streets for all the neighbors to see. I screamed my lungs out like a little baby right then and there as the crowd gathered to witness the commotion. Later, I was accused of rape and double murder but like I had testified during the trial, I couldn’t remember ever doing that. Maybe I did murder them but I wasn’t a rapist.
The gates to Her Majesty’s Prison swung open to reveal my new home. A newcomer would have been petrified to enter into the yard but it was familiar territory to me. I saw Snookie, the stray cat that had also made the prison’s yard its home, under one of the vehicles. It was hiding from the midday sun, coiled up like a snaked behind one of the tires. The old broken down Landcruiser was still rotting away under the office window of the Superintendant. I loved the familiarly of this place. I breathed in slowly; the aroma from the kitchen was just beginning to escape from the small window inside the main hall. I was famished. Thank God we had made the journey before the lunch hour. Prisoner registration took mere minutes, as I already had my file. The registration clerk just smiled at me when she realized who I was, not even a look of surprise on her face or a second look.
“It didn’t take you too long to get back in here?” she asked. I just nodded with a small smile of my own. Words weren’t needed at this time. She could read more from my face than I could ever utter at that point.
I was assigned to Cell Block D and given my new name, Inmate 7311. It was my first time in Cell Block D; I had known the other areas a lot better. Inmate 7311 was then ordered to his holding cell to wait the lunch hour. As I was hurried through the prison yard, the other inmates were either busy with exercise drills, basketball or in the workshop area. A few of them stopped for a few minutes to glance at me. I caught a few with sly smiles as well. The prodigal son had returned home and as expected, his brothers were not at all pleased. Or maybe they were, maybe the expressions on their faces were strained from hiding their joy. A few lingered around the makeshift library that was once my favourite area in the prison. I used to spend hours reading black history books and studying the Bible with the evangelists who came once a month to save us. We needed saving - saving from ourselves, fellow inmates and from the prison itself. The greatest gift you could give an inmate was the gift of hope, our maybe the greatest curse in my case. At every instance that I thought that I had turned the tide in the prison and was on my way out, I found myself returning to the same lifestyle on the outside. I actually felt a lot safer within the prison walls than out there in the real world. I knew what time my meals were given to me, what time I was allowed to do everything. Outside these walls, I was left to my own demise. I was never ready for that responsibility.
The sound of the buzzer disturbed my thoughts; it was now time to eat. I rose up and made my way to the canteen counting my steps to keep my mind occupied. Although I was really hungry, I dragged my feet to delay my arrival. The canteen would be my first exposure to the full prison population. Before and during my trial I had been kept in complete isolation, with only brief moments of communication with the other prisoners. Today was different, for I had already been found guilty and I wasn’t sentenced as yet, it was good enough of a reason to transfer me to the main holding areas with the other inmates.
As I strolled through the line, getting scraps of food dumped unto my platter, I remembered being in my mother’s kitchen. It was separate from the main house and so I would often sneak out at nights or early morning to steal from the pot. We didn’t have much though and sometimes all we had to eat was bread. There were many occasions where all I had to put in the bread was used cooking oil. It still had the flavor of the smoke herring or egg of the other day’s meal; bread and oil was the best – especially if I had cold glass of lime squash to drink.
I left the hall still hungry, wishing that I could have eaten a meal from my mother, from the blackened pot that always took days to clean after the meal. That was the first time since I had entered the prison that I felt all alone, lonely enough to force a tear from my eye. One solitary tear, it was fitting.
That was the last thing I really remembered before drifting away on my cot. It was cold, maybe from being unused for so long and a stiff cold breeze rushed through the small window. The worn out comforter didn’t little to keep me warm but I did manage to close my eyes. I was now in dream land.
The door of my cell flung open and as I opened my eyes from my small cot, I saw a figure emerge from the corner. It was one of the officers. He stood there with a big grin on his face while my eyes got used to the light in the room.
“What’s going on?” I asked, sensing that I was in some sort of trouble.
“Where do I start?” he asked.
“From the beginning?” I retorted.
“Keep quiet!” he shouted, obviously disturbed by my nonchalance. I shifted my body and was now seated on the cot, ready to spring up in case of any sudden move by the officer. I didn’t like his mood or the sudden quiet that existed in the neighbouring cells. It was too eerie, like they were all waiting on the main event.
“You know those two girls?” he asked.
“Which two girls?” I quipped, trying to be defiant.
“They’re family,” he said, “my wife is related to their mother. She cries every night for them, every night.”
“It wasn’t me; I swear… it wasn’t me!” I begged.
“She keeps me up all night with her tears, I can’t sleep, I can’t even make love to her anymore. Do you know what that feels like?”
“No, I don’t… I’m sorry… I am sorry!” I replied trying to force tears from my eyes, hoping that it would save me from what was about to happen.
“You will be sorry, trust me!”
“Do what you must but if I survive, you won’t!” I sounded, trying to give an air of confidence and bravado. But my last words almost formed a knot in the bottom of my throat. My bowels seemed tied up too. I was trapped, he know it and I did too. I couldn’t move a muscle.
“I thought I told you shut up!” he yelled as his voice echoed around the four walls of my cell, resonating like the sound effect in the movies. At the moment when I thought he would attack me, Officer Daniel surprised me and turned around to leave. It was only then that I noticed that he dragged his back leg, probably the result of some accident or broken bone. He hit his baton against the door frame and it dropped but he didn’t stoop to pick it up. Officer Daniel just left it there, at the base of the frame. In my hastiness, I leaped from the cot to retrieve the baton but as I picked it up two or three men jumped me, one kicking me to my head and the other to my chest. I tried to curl up in a ball to reduce the effect of the blows but they still connected firmly to all parts of my body. It was no use to scream out; this was prison not the school yard. I tried to block out the pain of the situation and for the first time in months, I attempted to pray. The evangelist who visited the prison during my earlier sojourns had taught me how to pray but I had neglected the spiritual part of my life for a long while. I needed the Lord though, that was the only way I would make it out alive. I was about to mouth out the words of my prayer when I received what felt like a shoe to my mouth, my front tooth flew out and my mouth filled with blood. I swallowed hard and the blood descended down my throat. It was the first time that I had tasted my own blood. More and more blood filled my mouth so I spit it out at the men in the cell.
“Motherfucker!” one screamed as he landed a punch to my left eye. I couldn’t hold it in anymore and I cried out in agony.
“Take off his fucking clothes,” one of them shouted. I opened my eyes to peek at my attackers. They were dressed in prison blues, they were inmates. Somebody else was there too. A shadowy figure stood above watching from the dark.
“Move!” he shouted and as the three inmates cleared the way, a bucket of ice cold water hit my body. I didn’t feel it on my skin, I felt it in my bones, and every nerve within me reacted to that water. My blood stopped pumping for a few seconds before I realized what had actually happened to me.
“Now, finish the damn job!” he commanded.
That was the last words I remembered hearing. I blacked out soon after from all the blows to my head and chest but looking back it was more of a survival mechanism. I don’t think I would have made it if I had remained responsive. They maybe thought I had died and so left my lifeless body in the cell to soak in the water and blood.
I scrambled up but my legs couldn’t stay together, my ankles felt broken and it pained me to apply any pressure unto them. The brown stains on the legs of my pants could have only been dried up blood. How long was I knocked out? The shoebox window of my cell let in so little light that it was difficult to guess the time.
“Help, help, HHHHHH-EEEEEEE-LLLLLL-PPPPPP,”
I felt a sharp pain near the base of my back as I wiggled in an effort to stand up. I moved my right hand to the spot only to feel a baton wedged inside me. It was up my anus. Someone had shoved the piece of stick up my ass. I continued to cry out for help but not even a mouse stirred. Nobody came!
“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” I cried as I dislodged the baton, pulling it out with as much force as I could muster. I couldn’t even watch it after; I just threw the club against the bars. It rang out loudly. Still nobody came, nobody at all. I rolled over now, my face inches away from a pool of water and blood. It smelled of urine too. I used the little strength that I could gather to pull myself unto the cot and throw myself in the middle. I fell right through it. Someone had made a cut right down the centre of it. I was stuck again but this time I decided to just close my eyes and let it be. I would die right there if that was my punishment, I was ready to die.