Part One: The Journey to Joshua’s Story: Chapter 1
“No one even bothered to listen to my side of the story.” Joshua stated the first time I ever went to visit him at San Angeles prison. “They all just see me as some kind of murderer, can you believe that?”
“I really can’t. That’s why I’m here.” I assured him.
“I’m glad you’re here. It’s nice to have at least one person on my side.” He paused. “It really keeps me from going against myself too you know?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“It’s just-” He began with a sigh, “it’s almost just easier to give in and believe that what they’re saying about me is true instead of trying to appeal and tell them they’ve got the wrong guy. Sometimes I think ‘hey maybe it was me’ I mean, I was pretty intoxicated that night. What do I even really remember?”
“But you don’t have an evil bone in your body Joshua, intoxicated or not there is no way you could’ve done such a thing. What would have been your motive hm? Don’t get discouraged, okay? We’ll get your side of the story out there. We’re going to get through this and you’re going to get out of here. I promise.”
“Yeah in twenty years. There’s no way I’ll be out of this place before then. That’s twenty more Christmas’ I’ll be missing. Birthdays, Thanksgivings, Easters. I’ll miss out on births and funerals, graduations and milestones. And it’s not even just everyone else’s lives I’ll be missing out on, it’s my own life too. I’m in here until I’m forty-one years old, Katie. What life do I even have at that point anyway? Nothing matters anymore.”
“Josh don’t think like that! That mindset solves absolutely nothing, let’s just take this one step at a time and think of all the positives please. We’re going to tell your story, your appeal will be approved, and everything will end up working out. I can feel it.”
“Don’t be so naive. That’s not how our justice system works and you know it.”
“Oh have a little faith.”
He closed his eyes at that point and let out a slow, defeated breath.
“I’m just scared.” He said after a moment.
“Don’t be, I’m on your side. You’re not doing this alone, we’re in this together.”
“You shouldn’t stop your whole life just for me. I couldn’t ask you to do that, it’s not fair to you.”
“Oh please.” I scoffed, “My life hasn’t stopped, and I’m still doing all kinds of things like writing a book about you. It’s going to make me stinking rich you just watch. And once that happens, we’re getting you out of here sweetheart, you won’t celebrate your 40th birthday in this place!”
“It’s a good thing you’re so optimistic.”
“Every pessimist needs an optimist in their life. That’s why we’re perfect for each other, we balance one another out pretty well.”
“Okay can I have everyone’s attention please?” One of the guards announced as he stepped into the middle of the room. “Visiting hours are now over, please say your goodbyes and exit the building. I repeat, visiting hours are now over. Please say your goodbyes and exit the building. Thank you.”
“Well, I guess that means I have to hit the road.” I said to Joshua sadly.
“But you’ll be back right? You’ll come see me again?”
“Every chance I get.”
“Okay. Goodbye, I love you!”
“Until next time! I love you too.”
I walked out of the prison and back to my car. Seeing him actually in there, in that awful prison jumpsuit was the ultimate stake to my heart. It was so depressing in that place, and to see so many actual criminals made me shiver. I couldn’t let him rot in there, he wasn’t one of them; he wasn’t a criminal. It was on the drive back to my apartment that I knew I absolutely had to finish writing his story. Justice had to be within reach.
It’s a truly awkward and uncomfortable situation when you go to talk to someone who has already turned their back on a person that they never really should’ve gave up on in the first place, but that’s the way it was with Joshua’s parents. They wholly believed that he was guilty just because the court said so and they dished out a little bit of evidence that somehow sufficed in court. But his parents never really did believe him over any other person anyway, which begs the question what the hell was I even doing there?
I rang the bell and I could hear shouting back and forth about who should go answer the “goddamned door.” As I started to turn to leave due to the uncomfortableness I was already experiencing, Joshua’s mother opened the door. She was a very homely woman. That day she wore capris that showed off her cankles and a white t-shirt that was about two sizes too small. Her brown hair was wild about her head, as it always was. It was a mystery how Joshua and Justin came to be so well-kept and well-mannered.
“Oh, Joshua’s friend, right?” She said in a way that almost seemed like a question although she had met me dozens of times.
“Katie.” I responded.
“What brings you here? Y’know Joshua is in the slammer.” She smirked a little. “They got him on charges of manslaughter can you believe it? Manslaughter!”
“Yes ma’am, I know. I came here to talk to you and your husband actually…if that’s alright.”
“What would you need to talk to us for?”
“You see, I just went to go see Josh and I’m writing this book about him, about his story. His side of the events that occurred during the night in question. I know he had visited you all that day so I was curious to see if you wanted to say anything about it that I could put in my story. I just want to be as accurate as possible.”
“A book on his side of the story huh?”
“You’re wasting your time, girlie. If the court has found him guilty, he’s guilty as far as I’m concerned. Of course, I think that this unfortunate event is out of character for him, I thought I had raised him better than that, but there’s nothing we can do if the evidence is stacked up against him.”
“That’s just it though, I’m trying to unstack the evidence. This book is just the first step. I’m working to eventually get his case reopened, we can prove his innocence! I just need everyone’s collective cooperation on this and it would be greatly appreciated if you had a hand in helping with this matter on account of the fact that you’re his mother.”
“You are wasting your time. Goodbye!” She repeated and slammed the door in my face. His parents never really seemed to care about him anyway. I was livid. I mumbled every swear word I knew as I walked back to my car feeling like I had failed as much as those “help the cause” people you run into on the streets or even worse, a door to door salesman. I kicked at the gravel out of sheer anger. I didn’t know what I was expecting, this was so typical of his parents. They had hated me and my family ever since Joshua and I were little, to be quite honest I think it was envy. But it wasn’t just me they hated, it was the whole world. Maybe even themselves. As I was almost at my car, I heard footsteps behind me which pulled me from the depths of my thoughts.
“Hey!” A familiar voice called out to me, “Hey Katie wait up!”
I turned around to see Joshua’s little brother, who had just recently turned twenty, quickly walking towards me. His right eye was slightly blacked, but I could already guess where he had gotten it from so I didn’t inquire about it. He had grown quite a bit and filled out since the last time I had seen him. He really was growing up.
“Hey Justin.” I beamed as I greeted him warmly with a hug. I truly loved him like he was my own brother. “What’s up?”
“I’ll help you.” He blurted out. “They may not care about Josh but I do, I’ll help you with whatever you need. You name it and I got you okay? I was there when he got arrested remember? It was my fault.”
“Justin none of this is your fault, don’t be ridiculous. As for the help I need, I just really should start getting this case together. Which also means writing this book. Do you think you can help me with that?”
“What do you need me to do?”
“Get in the car, we’re going to my office.”
It was great to finally have someone else on my side. But it was also a good feeling to get Justin out of that household. His parents probably wouldn’t even be concerned with his absence. They always resented both Joshua and Justin. I had this theory that they resented Justin the most since he was the second born and when we were all still very young and Josh and I had playdates at his house, I often heard their parents refer to Justin as “just another mouth to feed.” I shook away those memories as I drove, and instead we came up with all the great possibilities that would help Joshua’s case. I had him write down a list of all the things we knew or more so what the cops shared, and everything we needed to find out/“investigate” for ourselves. We were getting somewhere, but we weren’t out of the woods yet.
Once we got to my house Justin made himself right at home. He waltzed through the door and went straight to my refrigerator. Come to think of it, he was probably half-starved thanks to his parents’ carelessness. He poured himself some orange juice and helped himself to the leftover pasta I had made for myself the other night. Behind the Tupperware with the leftover pasta he discovered the garlic bread I had made as well. I watched him excitedly make a plate and warm it in my microwave.
“I’m sorry were you gonna eat that?” He asked when he caught me staring at him from the doorway.
“No no, you go ahead. I’m sorry for staring, you just remind me so much of your brother.”
“Awe Katie come here.” He responded arms outstretched towards me. I hugged him and once the microwave dinged he let me go and turned his full attention toward his food. I let him eat in peace and retreated to my office where I got started on my work. Only five minutes had gone by before Justin joined me.
“I’m full!” He sang as he joyfully entered the room.
I smiled at him.
“So partner,” He started as he squeezed himself into the small bit of space I had in the chair I was sitting on. “where to start?”
“Well, partner. You can start by pulling up that other chair over there.” I teased.
“What? You don’t like me this close to you.” He teased back bringing his face within centimeters of mine.
“Stop it! Go sit over there!”
He kissed me on my cheek, sat in the other chair, and annoyingly rolled it all the way to the other side of the room.
“Is this far enough?” He yelled to me.
“Quit goofing around!”
“The world is my playpen!”
I shot him a look and he quietly scooted his chair up to my desk. He cleared his throat and put on a serious face.
“Let’s get to it, shall we?”
He nodded. “Where are we starting?”
“Well.” I said as I took out a packet of papers from inside my manila folder. “Here’s the police report that I have yet to read. I thought we could read it together. Maybe find some things that they overlooked or possibly fabricated on.”
“Okay I can do that.” He replied and we began reading it over.
Only a few minutes went by before Justin got distracted by his phone. I peeked over his shoulder to try to see what could possibly be more important than his brother’s case. I could tell he was answering back to a text from someone named Paige with two heart emojis next to her contact name.
“Who’s Paige?” I asked with a sly smirk.
“Just a girl from school.” He shrugged.
I scooted my chair over closer and leaned towards him. “A girl that you like?” I taunted.
He blushed. “Katie.”
“Okay. Okay, you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t wanna.” I scooted my chair back to my original place at my desk and continued reading over the police report.
“Yes. If you must know.” He said after a moment.
I looked up at him like a proud big sister. “Go on.” I said dropping my highlighter to give him my full and undivided attention.
“She’s just this girl from school. Her name is Paige Lakes and I don’t know, she was just in one of my classes and I think she’s beautiful and smart and kind. We got to talking one day and coincidentally we’re gonna be attending the same college in the fall so I gave her my number just as like a kind gesture, and well she already used it. She’s been like subtly flirting with me too so I think I have a pretty good shot with her.”
“Aww!” I beamed and hugged him.
“Ugh Katie!” He griped as he playful pushed me away. “This is why I didn’t want to tell you; I knew you’d get all like that.”
“I’m sorry. I’m just so happy for you!”
“Yeah I’m happy for me too. Now can we please just get back to the case now?”
“Of course, lovebird!”
He groaned and put his head down out of sheer embarrassment and annoyance.
“Okay that was the last one! Come on let’s get going with this.” I giggled as I poked at his sides.
He broke out into laughter and slapped my hand away. “Stop I’m ticklish!”
We finally both hunkered down and began going over the police report in its entirety. It would soon prove to be a long couple of weeks.