A dark story about crime and punishment
My eyes shoot open and I sit upright in my bunk. The first thing I feel is the fear, as it bubbles up inside me, leaving acid burning at the back of my throat.
I look around the green walls of my room. A soothing colour, they say. Whoever, they are, they know nothing!
Today is Friday, 1 March.
I run cold water into the stainless steel sink and set up my utensils. Just like old times! I even manage a fleeting smile before rinsing my shaving brush in the water and shaking out the residue. I rub it round and round the creamy, white soap, three times clock-wise, then three times anti-clockwise before I paint my face. Bending closer, I can barely make out the brown eyes peering back. I inhale the heady, fresh scent and my mind flutters backwards in time.
With a huge effort I stop myself. Snatching up the worn, brown plastic comb I pull it savagely through my thin grey hair. I tug hard, bringing tears to my eyes, trying to flatten the hair over the bald patch which has emerged in recent years. I massage a dollop of Brylcream through my fingers and press down hard, sculpting the strands into place.
I miss the feel of my stainless steel razor the close shave. After rinsing away the suds with ice-cold water I rub dry. I run my battery razor up and down my face, hoping to stem the grey stubble. I crane forward again and like what I see, not as clean-shaven as with my razor, but needs must.
When the warden turns the keys in the grey, metal door and pushes it open, I am sitting, waiting patiently.
“It’s time Warren, are you ready?”
I nod my head, staring at my shiny shoes.
The other warden, the young one with the smirk, grabs me by the arm and pushes me ahead. My heart flutters. I take a deep breath; in through my mouth as I count to four, holding it deep inside me, for the count of seven, then I exhale slowly, for the count of eight. I repeat three times as we walk along the corridor to that room.
I wonder who will be there this time. Will it be the same as before or . . .
I’m shoved through the door. My breath becomes shallow. My heart quickens. My mouth is dry and I have trouble swallowing, I feel as if a golf ball is lodged at the back of my throat, cutting off my air supply.
“Sit down Warren,” says a female voice.
I look up to see a slight woman, bird-like in her features, with a halo of grey hair and blue darting eyes. I remember her. I’ve seen her face in my dreams often enough.
“You know we only want to talk to you.” She waves her arm to the right and introduces Mr Spence and Mr Shaw on the other side. “We’ve met many times Warren, I’m Ms Jackson,” she forces a smile which never reaches her beady, blue eyes.
I nod indifferently, knowing that every word I say will make a difference. My words, my tone, my actions – everything will be watched and analysed and debated. My head is pounding. I want to put my hands over my ears and bury my head between my legs and rock until it all stops. But I can’t do that! I take a deep breath; in through my mouth as I count to four, holding it deep inside me, for the count of seven, then I exhale slowly, for the count of eight. I’m about to repeat it for the second time, but I sense the six eyes across the table waiting expectantly for my answer – but I haven’t heard the question!
I cough into my hand then sit up straight, push my back into the chair and look them in the eyes.
“Sorry, just a little cough I’ve picked up,” I say clearly. “Would you mind repeating the question?”
The tension leaves the air.
“I just asked if you needed a glass of water before we begin?” said Ms Jackson.
“Very kind of you,” I say, as I take the half-filled plastic cup from across the table, ensuring that it looks accidental as my fingers brush her hand, like a moth to the flame.
Mr Spence clears his throat, pulling at his shirt collar where an expensive tie encases his scrawny neck. “Warren Davis, we are gathered here today to see if the time you have been incarcerated here at the Tennessee Department of Correction has helped you to see the error of your ways. We wish to see if you can be released into the population to benefit society. This is your chance to prove to us that you are no longer a threat . . .”
I tune out; I’ve already heard this speech so many times before. In my mind, I replace it with my speech. I’ve practiced it so many times in my cell, pacing up and down, making sure I am pitch perfect – as if my life depends on it. It does. I stifle a laugh. Do they honestly think I’m going to say or do anything to keep me here any longer? I can feel my lips moving and clamp them shut. I’ve learned my lesson on that one. I tune back in to the droning voice, looking Mr Spence directly in the eyes while he talks. He’s one of those guys that just loves the sound of his own voice.
At last, my time comes to speak.
Taking a deep breath, I sit up straight and begin.
“I have most certainly learned my lesson.” I pause, looking at the ground, conciliatory. “I was a young man, when I made my mistakes, not mature enough to realise the impact it would have on those around me. I was suffering,” again I pause, this time making eye contact with Ms Jackson, “suffering more than anyone could know. As you are aware, I was born in this prison and spent my first six months here with my mother – until she was stabbed by another prisoner and died days later. With no family, so-to-speak, a litany of foster homes followed – where love was withheld from me, I never learned how to behave in society. But I have learned. I have found God and he has saved me! Then, I thought I could take whatever I wanted, pluck it – like Adam taking the apple. I know now that is wrong.” I allow my eyes to rest on each of them. “But God has forgiven me and I have forgiven me! That was twenty-eight years ago. I am no longer that Warren.”
The silence in the room is palpable. My best speech yet! I feel like punching the air with my fist but I do not. I sit upright and stare straight ahead.
Ms Jackson nods her head to the warden at the door and I brace myself, holding my breath.
She walks into the room, her head held high. So like her sister. I can see a tremor in her neck, the vein bulging, pulsing beneath the collar of her thin, white blouse. Her black suit jacket and trousers sit well on her thin frame. Her black high heeled shoes are as shiny and well-cared for as mine. If only she let her blonde hair grow a little longer, so that it could drape her shoulders. My mind swirls backwards and I can smell green apples as my fingers caress the silken tresses.
“Ms Dean, we know how hard this is for you, please take a seat and read your statement,” says Mr Shaw.
Beth Dean nods and sits down in the empty chair across the room. Exactly as I remember her every day of the trial. She takes a folded page from her large, leather hand-bag. She cannot prevent the slight tremor of her hand as she bends her head and begins to read:
“Warren Davis is a cold-blooded killer who should never be allowed to leave the Tennessee Department of Correction. The rape, torture and death of my twin sister Rachel changed the lives of everyone who loved her. The grief and stress ended our parents’ lives and because of you,” she pauses, looking up, straight into my eyes, with such hatred, that I feel I’ve met a kindred spirit.
The voices in my head get louder. I clench my fists; hold them by my side, scraping the knuckles of my right hand against the hard plastic chair.
I can feel myself rocking back and forth. Stop, I scream inside, just hold it together for a few more minutes. So close. I bite the inside of my cheek, tasting blood.
“Rachel,” I moan.
I close my eyes.
I know it’s over.