Daniel sat in anticipation, waiting to hear the words he longed for more than anything else. Under the mature wooden desk that had seen countless of his kind, he tapped his foot up and down like a pendulum on a grandfather clock that could only be stopped after he heard the verdict. Daniel must have put in an immeasurable amount of sleepless nights and working meals preparing for this case. His sole focus for the past few months was to avenge the wrong done against an innocent, Cate Avivit.
The quaint little juror’s voice shook as she read the verdict. She couldn’t have been older than 21. As she fiddled with her brown hair the same shade as the bygone wood that distinctively marked the courtroom, she passively and reluctantly proclaimed, "We the jury find the defendant guilty on all charges.''
As the defendant's face drained of any hope that may have been there ten seconds ago in preparation for a new home whose horrors he could not yet understand, Daniel smirked in a ripple effect he did not possess the self-awareness to perceive. As he left the courtroom around two in the afternoon, his shoes created a clunking pattern on the newly-cleaned marble floor. He held his head up high, avoiding those who sympathized with the defendant and delightfully greeting those grateful for the part he played in rightfully sending that “monster” to their cage.
While on the grand steps of the white building from which he just departed, he made a statement to the press about the success of the justice system on that day. When he finally broke away from the crowds and journalists, he allowed his posture to shrink, thinking about the peace and rest he could finally get once home. His family, friends, coworkers and boss all told him to take the night off before even thinking about sentencing.
Unaware of the daze he had fallen in after a long day of suspense, he neglected to notice the woman standing beside him. She couldn’t have been taller than 5’4” and was wearing a bundle of scarfs that at a first glance would look purple and flowery, yet upon a more attentive dissection the pattern became distinctly indescribable and mystical. In no way did they compare to the Plaid, Doc Martens or Combat Boots that marked the time period. He supposed she used distinct clothing to mask the blandness of her given features. Her nose was of average size and her hair was a standard length, however, there was a distinctive quality to her eyes that sparkled like jewels. When she finally talked, rather quietly, her voice possessed a monotony that fit with the dullness of her other features. After she spoke, Daniel’s eyebrows tensed like a string pulled them together in his moment of confusion. Realizing how the nature of her tone prompted Daniel to confuse and jumble her words, she repeated herself.
“I said, ‘How do you do it? Prosecute someone, send them to jail.”’ Leaning back with a cocky grin, he gave a politician's response “Well, it’s a team effort really. We all put in long nights and do our best to ensure justice is served.” The blank stare and parallel lines across her forehead helped Daniel reach the conclusion that the question was rhetorical. Daniel settled on a spiteful stare with animalistic eyes as the best retort for the moment as he had grown too tired to come up with a holistic defense of his belief system or the childhood trauma that caused it.
Once a moment of silence passed, he found himself lost in the strange woman’s eyes. In a state of hypnosis, he hardly realized the sun had come down and she had disappeared. Everyone had disappeared. He quickly rushed to his apartment, unaware six hours had gone by since the verdict was announced. When he got to his compact home, he leisurely made himself dinner and turned on the news.
Delighted to see the local news was covering his trial, Daniel rejoiced at the flattering angle of the camera. Rubbing his forehead and slanting his eyebrows, he realized he couldn’t see the peculiar woman he talked to. Dismissing this oversight as a mere coincidence, Daniel figured she wasn’t in the shot. As he got up his body tensed for it was almost 11:00pm. He finished up his dinner and some work he thought he could get ahead on and got some rest. Tomorrow was going to be a big day between celebrating his big win and starting on sentencing.
Daniel got a good hour of sleep before waking up at midnight for no apparent reason. As he tried to go back to sleep, he thought about what might be keeping him up. He got the verdict he was hoping for and didn’t receive any notable unfavorable press. Maybe it was the odd woman he talked to and the sudden loss of six hours. Although unusual, that didn’t call for a sleepless night. As he tossed and turned, Daniel fit in ten to twenty-minute clumps of sleep before ultimately waking up again.
When the sun came up, his eyes fluttered like butterfly wings as he wasn’t ready for the daylight. Now awake, he proceeded with his morning routine like any other day. He grabbed a piece of fruit to eat on the way to work and made his way down the stairs to the ground level. When he went to grab the door, however, it felt like a wave had just hit him. As he stepped outside, he put his hand to his head as if he were wearing an earpiece to nurse a crushing migraine. As he lifted his head up adjusting to the sunlight, he shook his head twice. Was he really seeing what he thought he was seeing? After blinking twice, he resigned himself to a belief he had gone mad. As another person passed he saw it again.
Written in a bold black print hovering over their head. After walking to a busier street he noticed the guilty label, there were at least ten of them. All signifying petty crimes, shoplifting, pickpocketing, etc. The system was working. Then he would see the label that would change his life forever.
Guilty: The Murder of Cate Avivit.
He gave into every nervous tick he possessed, contemporaneously tapping his food, rubbing his forehead and fiddling with his hair. How could the person who committed the crime he just prosecuted be out on the street?
After scrunching his nose and cracking his fingers, he made a spur of the moment decision: Attack.
Daniel sprinted in the direction of the murderer and began swinging at her. The next few moments were a blur. When he regained rational thought, he realized his location, the back of a police car. After his Miranda rights were read to him, he pleaded with the officer.
“Please, you need to listen to me, that person. The one I attacked murdered Cate Avivit. You need to do something about it.” The police officer denounced this to crazy talk by a sleep-deprived man who just finished a case that spanned multiple months. After turning down Mariah Carrey's "Hero" on the radio, the officer interrupted with a question, pragmatically.
“You're a prosecutor, right?” A confused nod from Daniel served as the officer's confirmation to keep talking. “How many guys do you get with what they say on the ride to the station?” Daniel’s ability to classify this question as rhetorical shut him up for the rest of the ride.
The next few months passed by so quickly that if you asked Daniel what happened, he couldn’t tell you in complete sentences. Even still, the story would always start the same way: From April to June 1994 my life changed forever. I was arrested, prosecuted and convicted for assault. I was set to spend the next month in prison.
Luckily, Daniel knew the type of lawyer he needed as well as the ins and outs of the justice system and consequently received able to get a relatively small sentence.
Daniel arrived at the correctional facility.
The old prison had likely seen better days, with faded concrete and dented steel. On the day he arrived, the blue brightness of the sky taunted him with all the freedoms he had now lost. The warden, a soft looking man whose appearance could not be more contradictory to his demeanor, went over the boilerplate details of the prison. By the time the administration covered all the prison information and the new inmates could begin settling in, the sky turned dark.
The sound of the morning bell was as loud and jarring as the periodic thunder that facilitated Daniel’s sleepless night. His bed was still made up as he slept on top of it the prior night as a part of his refusal to settle in. As the guards shouted their headcount, Daniel subconsciously fiddled with his fingers to mask the mental taxation occurring while imagining the day ahead.
The first day in open population was disturbing. People who committed violent crimes seemed like “everyone else” to him. People who committed nonviolent crimes seemed to be growing more violent by the second. Finally, most shocking of all, there were The Innocent. The bold markings above their head did not differ on the inside. A person who lived a clean, proper life stood right next to Daniel, stripped of all their rights. What prompted the widened eyes and open jaw on Daniel’s face was the sheer number of them. Every 1 in 20 people had to be innocent. It was the price to keep people on the outside safe, Daniel thought to himself in a momentary search for comfort.
He was set to work in the laundry room, but his cellmate assured him the job was tolerable. Folding and washing sheets and clothes wasn’t too laborious and would leave room for free time in the afternoons to read, rest or exercise. From the directions he received, he easily navigated his way to the laundry room, a task he would learn to do by the pattern of the floor.
When he first arrived in the room that would demand most of his morning hours, his eyes widened like two curtains being pulled apart and his eyebrows pushed together in a contemporaneous symphony of opposite movements. The size of the room seemed contradictory to the attention it received. The high ceilings and long walls did not keep more than 5 workers in peak productivity hours. There were three long tables in the middle of the room for folding and cubbies along the walls that looked like they hadn’t been moved or cleaned for decades. The white tint of every object that furnished the room only furthered the monotony of the daily schedule and the prison itself.
Entranced by everything in the room, he hardly noticed the call across the room. The owner of the cheerful voice was a plucky young inmate named Jack. Daniel quickly rushed over to the other side of the room and navigated through the maze of tables and laundry baskets before finally getting acquainted with Jack. On the first day he learned where to put the cleaned and folded laundry as well as the basic ins and outs of what his tasks were.
As the first few days of his incarceration passed, the routine of waking up, working in the laundry room, eating, and going back to bed settled with him. However, Daniel still struggled to adapt to the loud scuffles and murmured threats especially as they transformed into a more evident state of bruises and bloodshot eyes. He did look forward to his work in the laundry room after he befriended Jack. Though their schedules were identical, their ideologies could not have differed further.
See, Jack had been in prison since the late 80’s, when he was just 23. He had been demonstrating in support of the Americans with Disabilities Act when someone picked a fight with him.
Most people in the prison knew their reality. When and if they got out, the inclination for employment would have been met with a chorus of ‘no’s. While Jack knew about these realities, he did everything in his power to rise above them. After finishing in the laundry room, he would go down to the library to continue his education. He wrote letters to those he admired such as Judith Heumann and Bobby Seale detailing his situation seeking advice on how to change it. While Daniel disagreed with close to everything Jack believed in politically, his friend’s optimism was infectious and created an environment in which everyone he knew wanted him to succeed.
“You aren’t like other inmates.” Jack said, one day during their work in the laundry room, in his curious and youthful tone. Daniel scratched his upper lip and muttered a confused reply.
“That’s not what I mean,” Jack said with a little chuckle in his voice as he playfully shook his head.
“You treat different people differently. Some of the people in here for the worst crimes you practically bow before like they're the queen of England, and the people in here for petty crimes you would spit on if it wouldn’t start a riot. I know you believe in punishment and the inhumane conditions we are subject to for doing horrible things, and we have argued about that, but why do you act the way you do?” Daniel thought for a minute, knowing he could never give away the real reason for his actions.
“I know who the good people are.” After dismissing the prior question, Daniel decided to ask the one question that could take the heat off. While folding a spotless white sheet, Daniel asked, “Why do you defend everyone here? Most of them have done bad things in their life.”
Jack replied with a big smile across his face. Classifying this question as a desperate attempt to change the subject, he conceded the conversation because he loved to debate with his friend, “They are people who have made bad decisions in their life; they are not bad people.” Daniel thought for a moment. As he scratched his chin thinking of a retort, one finally came.
“But their bad actions hurt other people.”
“That doesn’t mean they need to be hurt; that means they need to be rehabilitated so they don’t hurt more people.” Daniel decided to concede this point to his friend. He would be gone by the end of the week and wanted to leave on a good note.
The day he departed, he said bye to his friends and distributed the small items he acquired among them. As he exited the prison gates, a small piece of his belief system stayed behind. When he was finally outside, the big blue sky greeted him with all the freedoms he had lost a month ago. As he took his first steps as a newly free man, each symbolized a physical and mental step away from the painful reality he had just abandoned. Informed that his work friends were caught in a case and couldn’t make time to pick him up, he took the bus to his apartment.
When he got home, he decided the first thing he wanted to do was look at himself. In prison mirrors are in short supply and he hadn’t seen his face in a little less than half a year. When he went to wash his face, he saw a label above his head.
Guilty: Assault, Perjury, Pressuring a Confession. Responsible for the false imprisonment of 20+ people.