Curtis Lock Down
Sam woke up in the morning with the same void in his belly, every day for the past six months since she’d been gone. He usually felt better after his shower, the water washing the worst of it down drain. Some days were better than others.
When self-pity crept in, he kept Eunice’s parents in mind knowing whatever he experienced, they likely suffered even more. He stopped in on Martha regularly. His mother had assured him, Marjorie and the church ladies took turns making rounds to check on her too. She didn’t go a day without a visitor with home cooking.
Sam drove out to Kilby Correctional, to visit Curtis who sat in jail awaiting trial after his plea deal refusal.
Curtis smiled wanly at Sam through the glass between them.
“Eunice has got herself into a heap of trouble. I believe someone knows where she is,” Sam said, flustered.
“Son, we need to keep the faith she is in good hands,” Curtis said.
“I should have stopped her from getting close to Terrence. My jealousy got in the way. I chose to ignore her comings and goings. I put my head in the clouds because I didn’t want to find out bad stuff, like she was with someone else. I knew some of her other friends were troublemakers too, especially Lil Red. I never trusted her. She didn’t look me in the eye ever. I got the impression she had a chip on her shoulder. Curtis you know when you can read someone because they remind you of yourself? I knew what made Lil Red tick because it was familiar to my own thinking,” Sam said, trusting Curtis, who’d been a father figure to him.
“You knew Lil Red was involved with guns?” Curtis asked. He gave Sam a piercing stare fluorescent reflection bouncing off his eyeglasses.
“I predicted it but kept it to myself and never went after proof. I’ve got to trust myself more,” Sam said.
He wondered how Curtis knew Lil Red but didn’t probe further, as the facility recorded conversations.
“Eunice was close to Gabrielle and Terrence. Lil Red was lurking somewhere behind the scenes,” Sam said.
“Did they offer you a straight up plea deal?” Sam asked. “My friend Jose’s cousin took a 5-7, deal instead of risking 15-20 at trial,” Sam said.
“Goddamnit no! They bargain with your life. It’s only plea deals there’s trials. 98% of cases. If you don’t take one you sit in jail for years awaiting trial. Bargains happen behind closed doors without a judge, so you can imagine they mostly go in favor of the wrong side. Those guys have plenty of ways to get their hands on police reports. You know, forged documentation. Lawyers want it quick and done. What are you going to do wait years for a trial, when you’ll surely be proven guilty or take the 3-5 instead? Most are bullied and broken before trial.” Curtis said, slobbering as he spit out the words.
“Did your lawyer have a game plan?” Sam asked.
“You see the thing is Sam, he says I have two priors, one in the Navy and one from New York. Did community service for one but the other was in 1969, when 21 Panthers were arrested. I was never a member but did a small job in the Bronx. I didn’t have the info they wanted but the lawyer says I have a letter in my file. Tell you ’bout that some other day. Now I’m trapped in what the smug lawyer calls, ‘three strikes you’re out,’” Curtis said.
“I’m familiar with three strikes. That’s why a lot of guys I know don’t have fathers. Some deterrent that rule is,” Sam said.
“Lawyer says I coulda had it easier given my history of good deeds and community service but since the massacre is tied to thugs, drugs and killing I can kiss leniency goodbye,” Curtis said.
“It makes it seem like the government keeps minorities down. They’d argue it’s the same law for all ex-convicts minority or not,” Sam said.
“They’re shit scared, there will be a revolution so they lock us up every chance they get,” Curtis said.
“Afraid of a reckoning that will come one day. Back when I was a lad, we ate possum pies so we killed ’em. After the deed, I swear I felt I was being watched by God or that possum’s family. I had bad dreams they would kill me for a long while. I wonder if these lawyers sleep with one eye open,” Curtis said.
“I’ve been trying to understand criminality around drug charges, for my project with Principal Butler. Did you know crack and cocaine are the same substance? Crack is cocaine cut with baking soda and smoked, yet the criminal charges are completely different,” Sam said.
“Yeah. Ever hear of bread pudding? It’s like taking day old bread crusts, that’s the cocaine. Smashing it together with cream and sugar or baking soda as is with crack. It gets turned to crystalized rocks and sold to poor ass ghetto kids,” Curtis said.
“The law treats them different but I can’t find out why. They say crack is a black drug and cocaine is white but costs a helleva lot more,” Sam said.
“The war on drugs is a war on black folks. You’ll never see a SWAT team raiding, a university of white cokehead students,” Curtis said.
“What’s your lawyer telling you? What’s next?” Sam asked. He’d read that prosecutors have more power than anyone else.
“Sam, lawyers are all the same. Even your own lawyer. He says at least taking the plea, starts the clock on doing the time,” Curtis said.
“It’s the lesser of two evils. They’re using fear to con people into taking the plea,” Sam said, sickened by the hopelessness of it.
“It’s a colossal injustice. That’s what it is!” Curtis said.
It was time for Sam to leave so he stood up.
Curtis got up.
“Just one thing I gotta ask Curtis. You ever hear from Eunice?” Sam said. His words sounded like a trap and perhaps subliminally it was.
“Ach. Course not. How can you ask me, Son?,” he said.
How could he not ask?
“I know. I suppose you couldn’t say so. I’ll stop. Curtis you know I love your daughter. I don’t wanna live in a world without her,” Sam said, getting choked up.
“I know Son. I know. It’s called coping. Sometimes we got no choice. You give my Martha a hug for me,” Curtis said. “And Sam, you got no choice but to hang onto the good things.”
Was Curtis saying, Eunice was fine and to hang tight?
“Yessir I’ll bring Martha with me next time, if she’s up for it. Take care of yourself Curtis,” Sam said.
On his drive back, Sam thought about the nonsense of justice. He admired Curtis for choosing trial over plea deal but if only 3 percent of cases went to trial, how was America the land of the free? It was as if the constitution didn’t matter.
Thomas Jefferson had implemented, I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.
The Sixth Amendment guaranteed, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury.