Archive for March, 2008

Inspiration came about while I was reading about Barak Obama’s political career on his website. Apparently, advances in forensics technology lead to the complete absolving of several death row inmates of their crimes (prompting Senator Obama to draft laws requiring that interrogations and confessions be recorded–good for him!). So I thought… what would that be like? To have been trapped in the system so long, run your race of raging and anger and then, at the end, when you’d abandoned all hope, to be set free again? A plot bunny was born.

The heavy clang of the bars sliding open caught his attention at last. He blinked a few times, coming slowly out of a long meditative trance. It had been awhile since he’d had an in-cell visitor.

“On your feet,” Warden Adler said in his customary bark, and Brady slowly creaked out of his cross-legged perch on his thin pallet. Unfolded, his limbs were long, though very thin, wispy, like everything else about him now. He stood up straight, his head nearly brushing the low ceiling.

The warden was a barrel-chested gorilla of a man, but happily tended toward the short side lengthwise and stepped easily into the cell. The man who followed was not so vertically favored, and had to duck his head to pass through the low doorway. When he straightened, Brady saw with some surprise that there was a district attorney’s badge pinned to his lapel.

The District Attorney himself? Brady thought. What could have elicited the honor? Ever since the press had died down around his high-coverage state appeal trial, he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the many lawyers who had swarmed him before (or much anyone, really, being curiously short on sympathetic relatives). Now, to suddenly have the “big cheese” of lawyers, so to speak, pay him a personal visit, something big must have happened. Perhaps they were moving his execution date up, Brady thought vaguely. He looked at the D.A. with mild interest.

The lawyer gave him a quick glance over and then withdrew a sheaf of papers from a side pocket of the briefcase he carried. Clearing his throat, he read officiously from the document, “William Franklin Brady, due to new evidence that has come to light in regards to the charges of murder in the first degree brought against you by the State of Connecticut on January 3rd, 1998, the Superior Court of Connecticut finds you innocent of all charges and absolved of all responsibility and further imprisonment. You are free to go.”

And with that, without so much as sparing another glance at him, the D.A. spun on his gleaming heel and marched back out the way he had come, leaving Brady, the warden and two of the accompanying guards staring blankly at one another inside the cell.

The warden gave him about another 30 seconds to absorb the news before saying in a gruff but marginally kindly manner, “Come on, Brady, you’re a free man. Let’s go.” He put a big, hammy hand on Brady’s elbow, nearly clasping it all the way around, and steered him firmly toward the cell door.

“Hey, is there anything you wanna bring along?” one of the two guards behind asked.

“No…” Brady said vaguely, still dazed. He didn’t have many possessions to begin with, and none he had much attachment to… except… “That book,” he said over his shoulder. “Can you bring that book beside my pillow?”

“Sure,” the guard said, and Brady was forced to turn his attention to the front again as the warden lead him down the flight of metal stairs to the cell hall’s ground floor.

They walked out and out, passed familiar places like the mess hall and the showers and the door to the exercise yard. They walked through the more friendly-looking “outer” areas, the rooms outsiders got to see like the rec lounge and the visitors’ room. And then, they were walking through rooms Brady was not familiar with, places he hadn’t seen since his first walk through — going the opposite direction — some 10 years ago. His shoes squelched uncomfortably over the unfamiliar linoleum.

They came at last to “Reception,” the deceptively-named gray-walled gateway to long-term prison life, or what Brady and many others had often called, “living purgatory” or “living hell,” depending on whether the gangsters had you marked for a bitch or not. It had most certainly been the latter for Brady in the first three or four years. But he had come to terms with his lot fairly quickly once he had been moved to death row and had had the silence and solitude of the next six years to consider his pending execution. He glanced back suddenly, wondering if the guard had brought his book.

He had, and when the warden’s brisk march halted abruptly at the Reception Counter (a grotesque parody of a hotel check-in counter), the guard placed it in front of him: Final Freedom: the Art of Buddhist Meditation. Brady clutched it securely to his torso as the Reception guards pulled out the tub full of his personal affects, smelling strongly of mothballs, which sent him for a bit of a loop because they were so familiar and unchanged and so out of context in his present existence.

They made him sign a few papers certifying that he’d duly received his property and half-listened as the warden gave him a sort of formal discharge speech. Something about government-sponsored housing and a hotel in the meantime—a nice one—and a lawyer or a social worker and a year’s stipend to live off of, courtesy of the government and justice system, so sorry for the mistake.

It was all very sudden, and even though the warden and the reception guards were all very reassuring that everything was all right now, Brady still felt a strange sense of surrealness as he was packed into a taxi with the fare paid for and the cabbie cheerfully telling him not to worry, he knew the place, he could get him there in no time. He stared blankly out the window at the wind-tossed nodding of the bushy trees lining the streets, their leaves on fire with color for the autumn turning. The very vivid blue sky of late afternoon dazzled his eyes as it had never done through the bars of his cell and the high, little window that looked out over the exercise yard.

It was all quite a lot to take in, so to keep from feeling overwhelmed, Brady had gone back to his meditation. Actually, he’d been meditating for awhile now, to some degree, since the warden had started talking about freedom and opportunity and all that back at the Reception Counter, had nodded and signed where expected of him, but hadn’t really heard anything. He’d kept his center and his calm and closed out all else. This he did now and did not stir until the taxi ground to a somewhat jerking halt and the cabbie’s voice said overly loudly, “We’re here!”

Brady slowly unpacked himself from the backseat and stepped up onto the curb in front of the Hartford Radisson Hotel. He stared up and up at the unending tower and suddenly felt light-headed. No matter how he told his mind to center and focus itself, it ran as willfully free as wild horses. Fortunately for him, the cabbie was placing the plastic bag with his affects on the sidewalk next to him and was near enough to catch him as he crumpled unceremoniously to the floor.

Word Count: 1169


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