Twenty-four Years Old
THE TAP of my boots hitting the tile floor seems foreign to my ears. After years of wearing plastic slippers, the leather of my boots is causing my feet to ache already. Even the feel of denim against my legs is so strange that each step causes me to grimace. After seven years of wearing nothing more than prison orange, real clothes feel odd on my body. Still, it feels good to be dressed in real clothes, really fucking good to be a normal person again.
After finally reaching the guard station, I spend the next few minutes signing my final release forms. As soon as I’m done, I grab my bag from the guard. I lift my chin to him and head toward the door. My feet are only a few feet away from freedom, when a shout from behind me has me looking back. The warden is standing near the guard, a look of resignation on his face.
“Can I talk to you a few minutes, Isaac?” he asks, motioning me toward his office.
The only thing on my mind right now is getting outside and taking my first breath of free air, but I have to give the man this. He’s done enough for me over the years. The warden’s a good man, a better man than me. He was here the day I was transferred from juvie. Unlike the bastards over there, he sat down and listened to my story. After I told him about my sister, about her being raped, and my need to defend her, he said I was a good man. He was the first person to ever tell me that. Hell, he was the last person I ever thought would utter those words.
After looking toward the door once more, I turn around and nod. “I can give you a few minutes, Warden Michaels.”
“That’s all I’ll need,” he replies, nodding toward his office again.
I follow behind him, neither of us saying a word until we step inside. He points toward a chair and takes a seat at his desk. I sit my bag by the chair, and as I’m sitting down, he asks, “What’re your plans, Isaac?”
I’ve been asking myself the same question for the last three months, ever since the parole board granted my early release. It’s not like I have a lot of choices. I earned my GED while I was still in juvie. Since transferring to the state prison, I’ve become a certified welder. Still, not many people are going to be too happy to hire an ex-con.
“I figure I’ll head home and take it from there,” I say, letting out a frustrated breath. “I don’t really have any other choice.” It wouldn’t be my first choice either; my family isn’t gonna be welcoming, not after what I’ve done.
His eyes drop down to his desk, and he lets out his own frustrated breath. “I hate to tell you this, son, but that won’t be happening.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, even though I’m already pretty sure of what his answer will be.
My father turned his back on me the day I went after Trina’s rapist. It didn’t matter to him that the forty-year old man had forced himself on my fifteen-year-old sister. His daughter’s bruises didn’t even seem to faze him. No, my father was more worried about losing the deal he had worked so long and hard to get with Sampson Industries. You would think, after all this time, he would’ve gotten his head out of his ass and realized I did what he should’ve been man enough to do himself.
Warden Michaels leans forward and runs his hands through his thinning grey hair. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but...”
He goes silent for just a second, as if the words he needs to say will cut me to the core.
I stare at him a few seconds, dreading what’s coming, then shout, “Just say it.”
“Your sister married James Sampson,” he says, finally raising his eyes to look at mine. “Your parents think you coming home would cause friction in the family.”
I’m instantly on my feet, his words bouncing around my head. “You’re wrong. Trina wouldn’t marry that bastard.”
Thoughts of my sister’s bruised and bloody body flash through my mind. Her crying in my arms as she explained what the man did to her replays over and over again in my head. The image suddenly changes to one of me as a boy, not quite seventeen myself, stabbing James Sampson over and over again.
“I’m sorry, Isaac, but they have been married for four years now. They even share two children,” he says, his voice a little more than a whisper.
My eyes jerk to him, my mind still unable to believe what he is saying to me is true. “Why the hell am I just finding this out now?”
During the seven years I’ve been inside, both in juvie and state prison, I’ve received monthly deposits into my commissary account that could have only come from my parents. Twice a year, once on my birthday and once on Christmas, I received a card signed ‘The Decker Family’. Other than that, my family has made no attempt to contact me. My sister hasn’t even taken the time to write me a quick note. Now, I guess I know why.
“Your father’s attorney contacted me after the wedding took place. I was told that it was my responsibility to relay the news to you,” the warden says, anger lacing through his voice. “I decided there was no use in telling you anything.”
“Why the fuck are you telling me now?” I ask in another shout, unable to control the anger raging through me.
He shakes his head before answering. “It’s time. You needed to know. I didn’t want you walking out of here unprepared.”
With those words, he slowly stands up and pulls an envelope from his back pocket. Walking around the desk, he hands it to me. “That’s yours. It’s something to help you get on your feet.”
From the weight of the envelope, I can tell there is more than a little money in here. “What the hell is this? You can’t give prisoners money.”
“I didn’t,” he says, walking back around the desk. “It’s from your father. He says it’s enough to start your life over.”
Opening the envelope, I start counting out the hush money. With each hundred, my stomach drops further. When I reach twenty-thousand, I shut it and shove it into my pocket. “This a payoff to stay out of their lives?”
He blinks at my question but nods. “I believe so. He said there should be enough in there for you to get settled somewhere. After that, you are supposed to contact an attorney and they will resume your monthly allowance.”