I sat in the small cell and stared through the bars. The great green fields I had dreamed of would be just that, a dream. The thin shafts of light that came in through the small slits above seemed to have dimmed. The birds I could no longer hear. Was I going deaf? Had my eyes begun to falter? Or was I simply resigning myself to my fate. A cold dry wind blew through the building. The thin blankets we had been given would not have kept me warm even on a summer night, leave alone actually providing solace from the cold. Despair seemed to feed off the people in here. There was always a thick cloud of gloom hanging over us. This was death row alright but this was no “Green Mile.” I snickered to myself when I thought about the book. Stephen King should stick to writing horror stories, maybe then he would actually be able to write about Death Row. The horror that gripped the inmates, the screams of pure terror that rang through the floor on the first night an inmate spent on death row, the horror of having your cell door opened and knowing that you would never be coming back. Some screamed and fought all the way to the chair; others simply wept and gave in. Some others kept up a façade of courage given away only by the wet stain down the front of their pants.
I got up and stretched, felt the pressure on my lower back and sat back down. The crumpled letter lay beside my feet. I bent down and picked it up read it for what must have been the seventh time. I noticed that the letterhead read Bradley, Brookfields, Bradlow and Associates now. Back then when I first went to them it was simply Bradley law agencies. He seemed to have prospered while I was wasting away in here. The letter said it all. It was the last nail on the coffin. My appeal had been turned down. There was no hope for me. No second chance, no redemption. I would die in here just like all these other convicts. A single tear ran down my cheeks, all that waiting, hoping to see Angie graduate, walking her down the aisle and giving her away, everything gone just like that.
As I sat there staring into space, I thought back to my very first day in this hell hole. The day I was brought here. A brilliant summer morning, being driven to court to hear the final verdict. The judge sentencing me to death, Angie running up to me, putting her small arms around me, not understanding why her dad was being taken to prison. My mother pulling my little Angie, away from me. Her small face stained with tears, the last image I had of my little Angie as I was bundled into the van. The long drive, the remorse, the pain and the anguish all a blurry memory. Reaching the pen, the dreaded “slaughter house” as I had heard Jim at the local pen call it. The gates opening and the thousands of faces staring at me as I was taken out. My first sight of the tall impregnable walls, the sinking feeling inside my heart knowing all was lost. The dressing down and the de - toxication like I was some sort of animal and then the walk, the long walk down the aisle that seemed endless. On both sides I could see the faces of the other inmates. Their eyes bereft of life following my slow progress down the aisle. Then the low, slow murmur starting up and then getting louder and louder, the chants of “rookie”, “rookie”, ringing in my ear. The steel mugs ringing against the bars in tune with the chants. My private cell, my personal hell hole. The one place where I was to rot away until my time came.
I was shaken out of my sleep by the clanging of the mugs. In the normally eerily silent death row all you really heard were the occasional screams of anguish or the loud prayers that were sent up in the futile hope of some sort of miracle. So the clanging of the mugs always meant something. Then I heard it, the slow soft murmur getting louder. The chants of “rookie”, “rookie”, surprisingly, I sought comfort in the taunting chant, knowing that I wasn’t the only one doomed for life. Death row could get awful lonely and the coming of a new inmate spiced up things. I craned my neck to see who the latest addition to our illustrious group would be. The sight that greeted me was one that I was accustomed to. Those smug officers walking by the sides of this, well what looked like a 20 year old boy. He was dark skinned. His face was full of fear, tears running down his cheeks as he walked down the passageway. I felt sorry for him. The poor kid, probably had a troubled life, someone must have just put a gun in his hand and told him to go have fun I thought. As he passed my cell, I thought to myself my little Angie must be out there alone and just prayed that my mother was taking good care of her. He was put in the cell right next to mine and I cursed my luck because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep with this kid in the next cell sniffling away, howling to be let out and probably promising all the gods that he’d never do it again. They all did it. It had to be today that this had to happen, bad enough having my appeal turned down and to add to that I had this kid to contend with. Once the officers had left, and the place had quieted down a fair bit I went to the edge of my cell, put my head against the bars and said, “Hey there kid, my name’s Alex, What’s yours?” There was no immediate reply from him and this wasn’t surprising. They rarely ever talked in the beginning but what the hell? I had tried. I sat back down and waited for the moaning and the prayers to start.
I must have dozed off for when I got up the shift had changed. I looked around and noticed that Steve across the aisle was staring at me, gesturing at the cell next to mine, the kid’s cell. “No!” I shouted to myself. I couldn’t let the kid kill himself in here the first day. I grabbed up my mug and started banging it against my bars and shouted out to the cops, “he’s gagging himself.” It was something some of the new guys tried. Tearing up their bed clothes and stuffing it down their throats. They’re way of finding an easier way out of living in this hell hole. It seemed just like what the kid would do. Why hadn’t I thought of it earlier? I should have known. I could probably have talked him out of it. Death row takes a lot out of a person but you never stop caring for others. Once you lose that then you become just like vermin. Steve across the aisle then shouted out to me, “No Alex, he’s not doing himself. Just look at him.” I craned my neck as much as I could and looked into his cell. The sight that greeted me was not something I expected. There was the kid, lying there and he seemed to be fast asleep! This was a first. No one, not even the worst of them mass murderers or even the ones with twisted minds ever slept the first night. The patrolmen or the ‘wolves’ as we called them finally reached my cell. I knew I was in for it now. I had screamed out to them telling them the kid was killing himself and now here he was sleeping soundly.
I saw the look in their eyes. They had been disturbed from their usual poker game. There was going to be a price to pay. Out came the batons and the cell door was opened. Across the aisle I saw Steve throw me a sad look and then withdraw to the back of the cell. I retreated against the wall and in came the two of them. The first shot got me in the stomach and I went down. Then the kicking started and one of their boots went into the side of my head and that was the last thing I remembered.
When I came to, I found myself on the floor where I must have fallen. I tried opening my eyes and noticed that I was seeing double. I closed them and tried opening them again. This time it seemed less blurred. I couldn’t feel the left side of my face but could taste blood in my mouth. After staying in this hell hole for this long I knew how to check for broken ribs and loose teeth. As I slowly tried to push myself up to my knees I could feel the pain in my gut where the baton had gone in first. Gingerly I felt my ribs and miraculously none of them seemed to be broken. I was lucky and I knew it. Normally when they gave us “special attention” like that it normally meant a couple of broken ribs and in some extreme cases broken appendages and the pen wasn’t exactly the best place for ‘tender loving care’. I looked up and saw Steve looking intently at me. He took one look at my face and then shook his head. His way of saying it wasn’t that bad. Yeah he could say that, it wasn’t his face that felt like it had been hit by a sledgehammer. This is what you get for being concerned. I shook my head at my stupidity. I should have checked first. Why was I so bothered about some kid? He was going to die anyway. Then I heard the soft clanking in a sort of rhythm. I looked up questioningly at Steve. He shrugged and pointed at the kid’s cell. I didn’t exactly feel like talking to the kid now, especially since it was his fault that the left side of my face seemed to be swelling to the size of a basketball. Well it really wasn’t his fault but I wasn’t in the mood for reasoning now. I moved to the left of my cell and clanged my mug against the bars in the same rhythm. Then I put my face next to the bars and tried to say hello. I sounded like I was trying to talk with my mouth full. Then for the first time I heard his voice. I was so surprised. His voice was so different from what I had expected. He sounded so grown up, so mature. He had a trace of an accent. I’ll never forget the first words he said, “Hey Al, sorry I got you beat up man but I don’t know you well enough to die for you yet.” Even with the pain I felt, I couldn’t help but laugh. Steve looked up; I don’t think he had seen me laugh in a long time. It felt good, that I can tell you. The kid then put his hand through the bars and held it out and said, “Hey, I’m OC, it’s nice to meet you."