Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Before I knew it I was sitting in the prison parking lot, gripping the steering wheel so tight that my knuckles had turned white. “What am I doing?” I asked myself. Yolanda’s lecture had been more than effective, obviously because I was sitting in the parking lot of this God forsaken facility that housed some of the most broken souls I have ever encountered in my life trying to summon enough courage to go in and do my job.
What was I afraid of? I honestly couldn’t put my finger on what it was about this case that was making me so uneasy. Finally, I shook it off and forced myself out of the car and made my way into the haven of madness where my newest prospect was awaiting my arrival.
“Hey, Bert,” I said to the heavy-set security guard I had gotten to know on a first name basis.
“Ms. Jackson, you back again so soon? I think I’m going to have to make them give you an office up here pretty soon. You got a hell of a piece of work waitin’ for you this time,” she chuckled lightheartedly, as she checked me in. After completing the necessary procedures, she buzzed me in and led me down the long corridor to the visitor’s chamber.
She paused before entering the combination to open the large metal door to the interview room and looked at me with a serious look on her face. “Now don’t be alarmed when you go in, Ms. Jackson,” she warned, “we had to take special precautions with this one. She’s prone to having extremely violent episodes from time to time, so her restraints are a little different from what you are used to seeing.”
I nodded and then she finished entering the code. I took a deep breath and forced myself to walk inside. There before me sat an extremely attractive petite woman, with a dark brown complexion, a short cropped Afro, and she was securely wrapped in a straight jacket and shackled to the table. The restraint contraption was wrapped so tightly around her body that all traces of femininity outside of her face where hidden within in its confines. I tried to mask my shock by feigning a brief coughing episode, but her piercing eyes gazed unflinchingly at me as she watched my every move.
Gingerly, I pulled myself together and sat down at the table. I was unaccustomed to the interviewee being in the room before me. Normally I had a chance to collect my thoughts and get situated before they arrived. Nevertheless, I was determined to remain in control of the situation and go about obtaining my interview in the same fashion that I always had. Never mind the fact that the gruesome photos of this woman’s victim flashed through my mind every ten seconds, and now I was sitting across a table from her. My palms were sweating profusely.
The deafening silence was broken by the slam of the door as Bert returned to her station. The two male guards that remained in the room looked expectantly at me as if to say “get on with it already”.
“Hello, Ms. Langston,” I croaked in a voice I barely recognized, “my name is Vanessa Jackson. As you know, I’ll be conducting the interview that you requested from the Women’s Lib Magazine.”
She smiled briefly and with the subtle smile she offered her eyes softened as she replied, “I know who you are Ms. Jackson, thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I’m sorry if my appearance startled you.”
“Thank you. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting…this,” I stated.
“Well, they seem to think that I am prone to violent episodes so this is the only way they would allow me to meet with you.”
“Are you given to violent episodes?”
“I am given to violence only when violence is required. I believe that violence begets violence, Ms. Jackson. Are you familiar with the principle of an eye for an eye?” she asked pointedly.
“Yes,” I admitted skeptically.
She sat back gingerly in her chair and looked me directly in the eye. “Do you believe in that principle?”
“I guess I believe in it in theory, but I also believe that no one has the right to take the law into their own hands.”
“Is that what you feel I did?” she asked with obvious amusement in her face.
“Yes, I do,” I responded holding her gaze defiantly.
“Well, Ms. Jackson, I really hope that by the time we finish this interview you will be able to see it from my point of view. I don’t expect you to condone what I did, but I feel that justice is in the eye of the beholder. Our legal system is set up to protect the rich and condemn the poor. People with money rule the world, and it was unfortunate for the man that killed my sister that the decision of the United States Justice System was overturned- by me.
“Contrary to popular belief, Ms. Jackson,” she went on, “I am not crazy or insane. I planned that man’s death down to the second, executed my plan flawlessly, and then I turned myself in. If I had to go back I would do it all over again, except if I knew then what I know now I probably wouldn’t turn myself in. Prison is not a fun place, but I am a woman of conviction and I accept the consequences of my actions. But make no mistake, I have no regrets about what I did.”
As I sat there taking in the depth of what she’d just said, I realized that I had probably bitten off more than I could chew with this assignment. Then I thought of Marion Hayes and the promise I had made in honor of her to help these women tell their stories and be their “Voice”. “God doesn’t put more on you than what you can handle,” I though to myself.
I was scared to hear her story and I fully acknowledged that fact. I was afraid what hearing it might do to my character. After gathering every last bit of courage I could muster, I pressed the record button on my recorder, looked Dawn Langston straight in the eye and said, “Ready whenever you are.”
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Monday, February 18, 2008
Without further ado, I give you "Beautiful Rage: The Break of Dawn"
I remember a saying that I once heard my grandmother say, “time heals all wounds,” and I have to admit that particular sentiment never sat well with me. Ideally, I suppose that it made perfect sense in the grand scheme of things, that time would heal all wounds, but even though the wounds heal the bearer of those wounds never forgets how the wound got there.
After my sister died, correction, after my sister was murdered at the hands of a deranged white man, I kept hearing my grandmother’s voice in my head assuring me that time was going to heal my wounds. I tried to listen to Grandma, but eventually the darkness that was continually growing in my heart drowned her voice out: for good. It was at that point that I decided to do what I needed to do to make my own wounds feel better.
It took me exactly three years, two weeks, and five days to pull it off, but I accomplished what I set out to do…I avenged the death of my sister. I methodically planned and executed the kidnapping, torture, and murder of my sister’s murderer. It was poetic justice to me, but the powers-that-be called it a crime. So, that’s why I’m here in this God forsaken hellhole that many affectionately refer to as prison, waiting for the chance to tell my story to “The Voice”- that’s what we call her in here.
The Voice is the reporter from the Women’s Lib Magazine that told the stories of those other two women and made their voices be heard on the outside where people are so quick to judge. And now it’s my turn to be heard. I killed a man and I have no regrets because he deserved it.
I want to be heard not because I feel the need to expunge my demons or clear my conscience, but because I just want the world to know that sometimes revenge is a sweet, sweet dish and it is always best when it’s served cold.
“You know that you are the one to blame for all of this,” I stated matter-of-factly to the headstone in front of me. It was a cool, balmy day and I wanted to do what I came to do and get out of there before the rain began.
It had been a little over two years since I began my work at the Wayne County Women’s Correctional Facility. My first assignment had been an interview with Marion Hayes, who was sentenced to life in prison for murdering her husband. She was the reason that I was here now. Her story was so compelling and heartbreaking that it moved me to do more to help the stories of incarcerated women be heard. Not that I was trying to justify anything, but after hearing Marion’s story I just felt that people are often too quick to judge the actions of others based what is on the surface.
Once a month, I made it my business to visit her gravesite to clean off the tombstone I had purchased and deliver fresh flowers. For someone that had experienced some much ugliness in her life, it made me feel good to make her resting place look as though somebody cared that she was gone. It wasn’t just for her, it was for me too because meeting her had changed my life. During our interview sessions I grew to respect her tremendously for her strength and resolve, so much so that I ended up considering her a friend.
It is because of her that I continued to push on with this assignment, or whatever you want to call it. My last interview was with a young girl name Timberlynn Crawford, who got herself emotionally involved with a married man and ended up killing his wife. That case on top of Marion’s death was so emotionally draining for me that I actually thought about giving this up and going back to my former humdrum life of writing about politics. But then, I began to receive stacks and stack of letter from inmates begging me to please tell their stories so that their minds could be put to rest, and then came the nickname. “The Voice” which is what they started calling me.
“I just don’t know what to do with all of this,” I admitted to the headstone, “I don’t know how much longer I can listen to all of these people’s stories and not go crazy. It’s like I’m reliving these events each time they’re told and it’s really starting to get to me.” I sat there staring blankly at the slab of stone as if I expected it to respond.
“This new case is a doozy,” I said, “The next woman I’m supposed to go see killed her sister’s accused murderer. If you could have seen the pictures of what she did to that guy… it would literally make you sick! I mean, what am I supposed to do with this? I don’t know if I can keep doing this…” I whispered.
“I just don’t know if I can keep doing this,” I reiterated to Yolanda, the editor and chief at the Women’s Lib Magazine, in my office the next morning. She just sat and stared blankly at me as I continued to go on my tirade as to why I couldn’t continue the Prison Chronicles series.
“This is really starting to take a toll on me emotionally,” I continued pacing back and forth, “Marion Hayes was already a difficult case for me to handle after what happened, Timberlynn Crawford’s case had me dealing with repercussions from the victims family on top of the emotional stress, and now this? Dawn Langston is obviously a nut-case.”
“How do you know that?” Yolanda inquired.
“How do I know? Did you see what she did to that guy?” I asked disbelievingly, “How could someone do that to another human being and have no remorse whatsoever? I watched the court video, that woman showed no emotion over what she did period. How do you expect me to go in there and try to make sense of this? At least with the other two stories, they showed regret and remorse for their crimes. That is how I was able to connect with them and tell their stories on a level where people might be able to identify with them, but this…I don’t know what to do with this.”
Yolanda said nothing as she gazed at me with a smirk on her face. After she was sure that I had finished my tantrum she stood up and handed me the dreaded Langston case file and said, “Look, I know that this is difficult for you, but do you remember why we started this series?”
“Yes, I do but…”
“But nothing, Jackson. We aren’t doing these stories to justify the crimes that these women commit, we are doing these stories to give the public insight as to what drives these women to commit the crimes they commit. That’s it. Do you know why I picked you?” she asked pointedly.
“No, actually, I don’t know why you picked me. Please enlighten me,” I replied sarcastically, as I sat down heavily and began to massage my temples.
“Because you have a heart and you wear it on your sleeve. That’s what makes you such a great writer! It’s your words that have given life to these women’s stories because you were able to identify with them and feel what they felt! You didn’t judge, you just told the stories and that’s the whole point of the project- to just tell the story. Now if you want me to take you off the project, I will. I don’t want to, but I will. Just remember this…you said yourself that ‘you never know what a man’s been through until you walk a mile in his shoes’. Now all I’m asking you to do is give this woman the same chance you gave the other two.
“I know that her case seems pretty extreme to you, but if you judge her before you hear her story, aren’t you doing the same thing that you condemned the public for doing when you started this project?” she asked in a way that clearly said that she really didn’t need a response.
After that I sat for a long while meditating on our conversation and decided that I would be a coward and a hypocrite if I didn’t follow through with what I promised I would do. No matter how disturbing the prospect of this assignment seemed, I had to see it through or I would never forgive myself.
Monday, February 4, 2008
I would never forgive myself for what happened to Chad. I couldn’t believe how stupid I had been. I had seen the change in him, but I was too wrapped up in my own problems to give it a second thought. I vowed that from that point on, no one would ever hurt my brother again. I put that on my life.
Once we were back at the orphanage, Chad was put into counseling to start him on his road to recovery. He had begun to wet the bed and cry out at night, and would not talk to anyone but me. Even that was very seldom. He would barely eat and he didn’t show interest in anything. More often than not, he would just sit and stare or mope around with his head down.
Therapy seemed to help somewhat, because after about a month he began to communicate more and slowly started to interact again with kids his own age. It was a long process, but I was by his side every step of the way. At first, the head mistress thought it would be better for Chad to attend therapy alone, but I quickly set her straight about that. She didn’t want to make a big deal out of it so she let me have my way. Lucky for her, because as far as I was concerned it wasn’t going to happen any other way.
It was a slow process, but the therapist was very patient and kind. He didn’t pressure Chad about anything. He just allowed him express himself in his own way, and before I knew it he was carrying on like he had known that man for years.
Chad was still very squeamish around any woman but me, and I wasn’t officially a woman yet. He would hide behind me whenever female workers came around, and if I wasn’t around to be his shield then he would just stare at the ground while being spoken to.
Some nights while he was sleeping, I would sit in my bed and watch him sleep. I tried to imagine why anyone would want to hurt a little kid like that. The more I thought about it, the madder it made me. In the end, my anger was always redirected at myself. I knew Chad didn’t have any bad feelings towards me because he was too young to think in those terms, but I had let him down big time and it was killing me inside. Once the anger went away then the tears would come, and blessed sleep would soon follow.
I prayed to God once again to please watch over my little brother and me. Even at that young age I had a strong faith in God. I never questioned Him about why so many bad things happened to us, I just kind of accepted it as my lot in life and dealt with it the best that I could. Besides he gave us all free will right?
The days passed by slowly and I found myself thinking about Marshall a lot. I missed him terribly and wondered if he thought about me at all. He was about the only person I could really talk to besides Chad and he was too young to understand my problems.Finally, summer was over and it was time for school again. I was going to the seventh grade and Chad would be in the second. We would be attending the same charter school as the other children at the orphanage, and oddly enough I was actually looking forward to it. Same shit, different school, so I figured I would make the best out of a situation- not a bad one necessarily, just a situation.
That's it for "The Breaking Point", folks! If you want more, please order your copy at www.black-smithenterprises.com.