24 October, 2007

A Tragedy at Ten: Justin

He broke my cigarette. Just like that: took it and snapped it in half and laid the two pieces on the table like it was the most natural thing in the world. Then he asked to bum another. We started talking, of course, because how do you not strike up a conversation with someone approaching you in a coffee house that way? At midnight, after closing the place out, we carried our talk outside to the cold February sidewalk. It had begun to lightly snow.

“You like tea?” he asked, looking at the sky distractedly, then wiping the moisture from his thick-framed glasses with his T-shirt.


“Sure. Is there another kind?”

A friendship was inevitable.

The irony now is that, as I sit here writing, I have to little to say about who Justin was as a person. He was a couple of years older than me – nineteen – and willfully eccentric. Most people who knew him might say he lived to make people laugh. If that meant exploiting his quirks, he’d do it. The way he’d argue in favor of such concepts as prohibition and socialism struck me as an extensions of that: an affectation to keep people on their toes, guessing, or perhaps merely to assert his individuality – I never knew for certain. He was also a mass of contradictions. While he espoused the glories of independence, he lived off his wealthy parents’ monthly stipend; eschewing materialistic pursuits, he spent money frivolously on novelties and gadgets. Whatever his faults, though, that carefree persona made him endless fun to be around.

There is a song by Tom Waits, one of Justin’s favorite musicians, entitled “Tango Till They’re Sore.” Starting with a shambling, drunken piano, it stumbles almost accidentally upon a tune, with the addition of a trombone and double bass, as Waits’s cigarettes-and-whiskey growl dredges us the singer’s infamous after-hours ambiance. Great as the song is, the chorus can still choke me up, after all these years:
Let me fall out of the window
With confetti in my hair
Deal out jacks or better
On a blanket by the stairs
I’ll tell you all my secrets
But I lie about my past
So send me off to bed forever more
I recognize now that there was so much about Justin Bruton that I couldn’t know. The person he truly was, when I thought of him as a friend, was buried beneath a blithe facade. It took many years for me to come to grips with the cynical idea that no one ever really knows another.

Justin took his own life on this date, ten years ago. Whether he did so only as a more determined echo of his past suicide attempts — the unavoidable succumbing to his chronic depression — or as an escape from retribution for the murder of his girlfriend, Anastasia, what’s certain is that I was oblivious to his intentions, to the darkness in his heart. It’s hard to justify our friendship now, yet I somehow manage. The part of him I knew was good. Is that enough to base fond memories on?

23 October, 2007

A Tragedy at Ten: Anastasia

A full decade now, and the ever-widening wake of her death laps onward, continuing to rock and capsize in spite of the distance. Meanwhile, her memory on our horizon gradually melds with the glare of the sun. Though the precision with which I do so has been dulled with time, I will not ever forget her. Even as we strive to hang on to those we have lost, remember them just as they were, it is a failing of our minds to truncate and generalize our every recollection until, eventually, all we are left with are a few hazy snapshots, some, if we are lucky, slightly more vivid than others.

This is what I remember most about her: her wide, white smile of rounded teeth; the way her narrow shoulders hunched as she laughed, when her head would dip slightly forward with the single, clear “Ha!” like a small dropped glass. Always so easy to laugh, but so stingy with it, like she were being taxed for each additional peal. I used to strain so hard to elicit more — a sustained chuckle, a bout of giggling, anything to get that laugh to roll, shimmering and high — but only infrequently did I succeed. Once, I can recall her laughing to tears, though I cannot remember just what I had said or done, merely that she’d sat there, on that sofa, holding her face and shrieking with glee as her eyes brimmed and overflowed. The moment was beautiful.

She was good at comforting. There was a night, when I was betrayed and my heart was broken, when she laid my head in her lap as I cried messy, heaving tears. Stroking my hair until I was done and out with them, she then kept watch as I slept with her dampened knees as my pillow and finally awoke brave enough to bear a lack of human contact. Never was it mentioned, nor did she remind me of the nurturing she offered, as though the whole evening had been nothing. The other friends lucky enough to have her soothing through piques of sadness must know the same gratitude I felt for that solace without strings — the only true kind.

She’d yearned to see Paris, New Orleans, the dangerous and dank corners of London. Old places held her in thrall with their storied decrepitude and, had she been the type to believe in reincarnation, I’m certain she would have fancied one of her past selves as an adventurous member of eighteenth-century France’s petit noblesse or a plucky Victorian socialite. Just beginning college, however, and working retail at a toy and novelty store meant her means were scarcely great; leisure travel was not to be readily had. Today, it is no feat for me to imagine her having occasion to indulge in those much dreamed-of excursions. When I think of her, she often stands in the British Isles, atop some weather-beaten hill by the sea, her fine, chestnut hair whipping over her face in salty gusts. Facing the wide, gray ocean, she stands alone and confident — the way we always hoped she would one day. But, for all its apparent dolor, the image is comforting to me in a way. I do not wish to remember her as I last saw her: a carved wooden doll in an ornate box. Her spirit was too bright for that, too lighted by potential.

However accidentally, hers is an indelible mark. Though most all of us who knew her will remain in our own ways grieving and angry for a time longer, we will still have those hazy snapshots to bring us some vestiges of happiness from the moments she illuminated our lives.

30 September, 2007

Double Life, Part Two

The rewards of my job at the bistro were to be found at the end of the evening, when I carried out a backpack full of baguettes, butter, and Styrofoam containers of soup. On my bike and out of the parking lot, I took a right down an alleyway, hardly three feet wide, between the aging brick buildings of Old Westport. The alley widened after fifty feet or so, and there, cloistered by the back sides of popular businesses in the trendy entertainment and shopping district, was an alcove in which a single wrought iron bench faced a narrow tree, both murkily lit by one sulfurous lamp. In those waning days of the summer of ’96, it was a favored place for homeless teens to loiter.

Melvin, Kim, Joe, Elise, Doc, Dave — I remember them all well, and at least the faces of so many more. Some had come to Kansas City with the intention of staying; others considered it only a temporary stopover on their way to Portland, that great indigent Mecca so renowned for its agreeable year-round weather and free public transportation. Their reasons for leaving home were as different as they themselves: a few sought escape, a few wanted adventure, and several had been on the streets so long they couldn’t even remember their parents’ faces or why they had left in the first place. Sometimes drugs played a part. Sometimes they didn’t. But every one of them had a story — travel stories like Dave’s, love stories like Elise and Joe’s, heartbreaking stories like Doc’s. How I came to know them was hardly a story at all, though, because they slept in my neighborhood, set up makeshift jewelry shops on the sidewalks, and spanged — begged for spare change — outside the coffee shops. I was merely one of the few who chose to stop and talk, or at least smile and say hello. The commonality of age, for most were near mine, made me reach out in a way, where others might turn their heads. Gradually, as I came to know them, where they stayed and what they did with their time, I began taking them leftover food from work.

I coasted along the bricks, keeping the bicycle straight in the darkness by equilibrium alone, and braked as I entered the light, welcomed by a cluster of smiling faces. Even before I could dismount, Kim was always on her feet and at me with a fierce hug, her soft fuzz of hair smelling lightly of sweat and sandalwood oil.

“Byron!” she’d sigh, as if it had been longer than a day since we saw each other last. Hugging her back, I did my best to keep from falling backwards and crushing the food on my back.

“Hey, Sweets, how are you?”

“Okay, but I stink.”

“You smell fine,” I always told her. Still, some days I found ways to sneak her home so she could shower.

“What’s up, Working Man?” asked little Melvin from his corner. His voice was forever tired and creaky, belying his disturbing youth. The baggy jeans and long-sleeved tees did nothing to camouflage his bony frame. Often, he looked jaundiced, and I worried for his health.

“Hey, Melvin,” I said, and, although I knew his stock reply, I’d ask whether or not he was hungry.

“Nah,” he would answer dismissively, “I’m good.” That tiny, lazy smile and squinted gaze told me what I needed to know.

I leaned my bike against the wall and, setting down my bag, unpack the food. Everyone got a cup of soup and, more often than not, a couple of baguettes. There was always a little extra, just in case someone else happened to be there. Theirs was a transitory world, and people came and went as a matter of course. Certainly I was no exception: the kid with the job, sober and with a safe place to lay his head every night. My slacks and dress shoes clashed conspicuously with their patched hoodies and third-hand sneakers. It’s a wonder they allowed me into their circle at all. Yet there we were, five nights a week, ensconced in our halo of yellow light, in that secret nook between buildings — just seven or eight kids sharing a meal.

09 September, 2007

Double Life, Part One

Twelve years ago, when I was not quite seventeen, I was paid a pittance to host at a little bistro of hazily European persuasion in Kansas City. Its cramped kitchen was closed during the day; the place served coffees and light refreshments until late afternoon, relying more on the patronage of the shop in front, which dealt in imported candies and tinned goods, gourmet cheeses and sausages. Passing through the shop, diners were tempted with a savory selection of coffee beans, neatly wrapped Swiss and German chocolates, and rack after rack of wine — from middle-of-the-road Chardonnays to pricier vintage Shiraz. To walk down an aisle, one almost had to turn sideways, to keep from knocking anything off the shelves. The refrigerated glass counter that ran along the left, the length of the shop, bore an obscene variety of delectably fatty foodstuffs that would make any cocktail party or gallery opening the talk of the country club. Several long strides through the front door would carry you into the comparatively open space of the restaurant.

It wasn’t much: eighteen tables clad in virginal white, with black, shiny wooden chairs, and small vases of wildflowers as centerpieces. The building was new and unadorned, with clean, white walls and recessed spot lighting that was only used during the daytime. A couple of ceiling-high windows offered a connection to the outside; otherwise the walls were solid, decorated with framed, vintage posters for olive oil and cognac. At 6:00 every evening, however, a transformation would take place, and the unremarkable coffee shop would, by a trick of the light and a bit of finesse, become a warm, candlelit sanctuary of gustatory delights. Silverware would be shined and glasses polished. Small loaves of bread that had been so diligently baked throughout the afternoon would be swathed within their basket crèches. Pats of butter would be dropped in ice water to keep them precisely formed until they were to be served. Like soft magic, the posters on the walls would spring to life in the ambient flicker of tabletop votives, and the smoke of Billie Holiday’s voice would waft up from hidden speakers — the perfect soundtrack.

Five days a wee, I rode my ten-speed from my mother’s apartment, less than six blocks away, wearing slacks and a freshly pressed white oxford, shoes polished to dark mirrors. The bike would be locked to a guardrail at the far end of the parking lot. Sometimes on my way through the front door I picked up a small handful of chocolate-coated espresso beans and pop them into my mouth before anyone saw. Usually, though, I made a beeline for my lectern — the point at which the shop officially ended and the restaurant began — and started shuffling the stack of notes that awaited me there.

Tim was always the first to greet me. “Hello, Byron,” he would drawl from his roost at the shop counter, always with a tiny espresso cup in his hand. He was fastidious about everything, and it showed through in his work ethic and pencil-thin mustache alike.

“Got your lighter?” he would ask, and by way of response I’d flick a brief flame in his direction without looking up. He kept a hawkish eye on things like that. The status of candles and unlit cigarettes troubled him in his sleep (assuming he slept). If the knot of my tie was found lacking, he let me know with a noisy slurp of coffee and a grimace. Most days, he simply stood there in his apron until the coffee was gone, then flit off to make preparations for his second role as waiter. Every shift he worked was a double, near as I could tell. Without him staring down at me, it was always easier to concentrate on my seating arrangements and the handling of last-minute reservations.

The restaurant was open until 11:00 PM, running much the same during those five hours, as any other establishment of its caliber should. Our diners were mainly wealthy retirees, executives, and middle-aged couples quietly celebrating promotions or anniversaries. Clad in bulky, conspicuous jewelry and slyly tailored suits, they arrived punctually, ate, and departed with little fanfare or fuss. My duties with the telephone usually kept me occupied for the duration, even overseeing so few tables. From time to time, there was a lull and I would help the busboy clear and re-set a table, or lend a hand serving. We all worked well together; no task was delegated. Without fail, the evening flew by.

It was after the last of the diners left that we rejoiced in the languor of closing up. Black ties loosened, sleeves rolled, collars rakishly undone, we’d pull together two tables and set about dividing tips over glasses of wine, smoking imported cigarettes. Sitting backwards in my chair, my arms folded on the back, I enjoyed the loose laughter and easy conversation of my coworkers. Tall and lanky John, emboldened by one too many glasses of Zinfandel, might stand up and offer a song from his latest performance, making up half the words as he went; or Susan, dark-haired and forever worried, might offer up a tale of some hilarious, awful mishap from her week. We reveled in our stories, our jokes. Never mind that this was in America’s heartland, I never felt so French in all my life — not even sitting in that Parisian café, ironically wearing a beret.

Shortly before midnight, we dispersed. The music would be turned off, the lights turned up, the last Shepherd’s Hotel cigarette extinguished, and the spell instantly lifted. It was a jarring transition, but only an intermediate one. The place to which I departed was another world completely.

18 August, 2007

Par Avion

[This post originally appeared on my MySpace blog, which no longer exists. The date of the original posting has been lost.]

The card depicts Notre-Dame at dusk, in all its twelfth-century glory, rendered orange by the western sun. In the foreground runs the Seine. The haze of street lamps reflects from the bank. Their light is emerald on the water and dappled, making visible the subtle, intricate machinations of the current. I have stood on those ivied banks — right there, in the presence of antiquity — though it has been years, and the card’s sender had no way of knowing this. She and I have never met, nor, indeed, exchanged any words at all. We are strangers in the truest sense, only now linked, however tenuously, by this simple token of kindness from one human being to another.

I receive these cards from all over the world — Australia, Texas, Germany, South Africa — signed with compassion, solidarity, or sympathy, and always with a little note to keep my head up, to stay strong, to remember the impermanence of all things. They never fail to bring me a sliver of happiness. It is too easy a thing, at times, to forget that kind people are out there — kind enough to write a few lines of encouragement to this pariah, without ulterior motives or expectations. The economies of time and funds make writing them all back impossible. Had I my way, each would receive a simple reply of thanks, detailing how important such things are to a man who has such limited scenery, so few warm words to enrich him and fuel the fires of his hope. To them (though they go on with their faraway lives and will never read this) I am immensely grateful, and forever hopeful that goodness, in its myriad guises, finds them at every opportunity. But for them, the gray that surrounds me would have been that tiny bit more pervasive.

Jamaica, 1987

[This post originally appeared on my MySpace blog, which no longer exists. The date of the original posting has been lost.]

My father and I entered the warm water of midafternoon from the beach equipped only with his flippers, goggles and snorkel, and an inflatable pool raft with a slender bit of rope knotted to it. He was still in his thirties, still of average build, and wore the green trunks that were old then, yet would make an appearance, ten years later, on our final canoe trip. My trunks were red and, because I was only seven — too young for real adventure stories — devoid of such provenance. Both of us, as well as my mother, bore the darkened skin and sun-bleached hair of Yankees gradually succumbing to the siren song of the Caribbean: glorious scenery, welcoming people, the casual ethos, the culinary pleasures. I still get cravings for authentic jerk pork and an icy bottle of Ting.

Our mission that particular day was primal hunter-gatherer stuff. We would swim out in search of conchs to gather up, return to the beach, beat them from their shells in an exhausting and somewhat foolish-looking procedure involving tossing the shells against the sand over and over again, then present them to a local woman whose restaurant turned them into a hearty, mouthwatering stew. The stew we'd pay for in extra conchs.

The family spent that month in Negril, in a tent, surrounded by a small grove of thin trees at the edge of the beach. The sand, perhaps, had worked its way under our skin as we slept, or too much ocean air had filled our lungs and veins with a yearning to remain — to leave responsibilities and become a family of expat beach bums, browning and crinkling into human handbags.

My parents had gone so far as to ask about schools. Outside of the cities, everywhere you turned was lush and beautifully saturated with color, and the ocean was never more than a few miles away, wide and blue and welcoming. Some may find it unfathomable, but to go and not be so moved would have been the unthinkable thing.

We waded out until the water was deep enough to swim — my father pulling the raft by its rope, and me alternately swimming alongside him and hanging from its edge. After a time, the sandy floor disappeared completely beneath us, rendering the water a mysterious shade of teal. My father swam on. Teal eventually transitioned into darkness, and this was where he chose to stop. It seemed like hours he'd been pulling. Looking back at the island, my field of vision encompassed a wide swath of glistening shoreline; in front of me lay nothing but the undisturbed sea and a horizon of vivid blues. My father pulled himself partially onto the raft. His large mustache drooped with wetness. He looked something like a walrus.

Taking in the surroundings above water, he said, simply, "This is good."

We waited.

When he'd sufficiently regained his strength, he again donned the goggles and, taking with him nothing more than two lungfuls of air, plopped out of sight with the briefest of splashes. Adrift in the Caribbean, my father beyond reach or sight, I should have been frightened. The serenity of the waning sunlight on calm waters, however, was pervasive, and I was too much in awe of my father's aquatic prowess. How he searched at those depths, without light or fear of barracuda (and for so long!), I did not know or think to ask, but each time, without fail, up he would rise with a conch in each hand. Then, several breaths taken, bearings gathered, he would dive again, often without a word of warning, leaving me to mind those large shells and ensure the gentle sway and flex of the raft didn't cause them to tumble away.

As I sat there, corralling those great, horned seashells with my matchstick legs, I looked out to the open sea, at its bold immensity, and contemplated the distance between us and home. It seemed vast — worlds away from our campsite, the friends I'd made, the frigid waterfalls, the misty mountains. How could I return to Kansas City after all this? Certainly I'd visited Jamaica before — twice — and for every day as long, but in that instant on the open water it all seemed different. I was older; experiences like this held more meaning for me.

Literally, then, out of the blue popped my father with three more conchs.

"How many does that give us?" he asked, spitting saltwater away from his lips and breathing deeply.

I counted. "Eleven."

"All right, Kiddo," my father beamed, white teeth, no tusks, but still so lovably walrus-y. "Looks like we've got dinner".

And I forgot all about leaving.

Shedding Light on Pitch Darkness (or, You Dirty Pitch)

[This post originally appeared on my MySpace blog, which no longer exists. The date of the original posting has been lost.]

On 21 May, at 6:00 AM, a short, crude write-up about my MySpace presence appeared on pitch.com, the online version of a free Kansas City weekly. Of its perhaps five hundred words, slightly more than half are the author's own. The rest are quotes, either from this blog or from the Pitch's original article about my case (a sensationalist front-page piece ominously titled "Cemetery Plot," which appeared in the paper five years ago). The author's half, such as it is, consists of hastily-drawn conclusions and trite observations unbecoming a man who presumably boasts the title "journalist." Still, it raised some eyebrows.

The author, one Peter Rugg, first met my mother at a recent benefit for the Midwestern Innocence Project, where they spoke for a time about my case. Mr. Rugg wanted information too detailed for my mother to outline, so she handed him a flier and directed him to FreeByronCase.com to do his homework. A few days later, he sent her an e-mail requesting she call him. He wanted to discuss a short piece he was planning for the paper. She immediately left a message on his voicemail including her home and mobile telephone numbers. The next week, the piece appeared on the paper's website.

This marks at least the fourth occasion on which the Pitch has in some way referenced me or my case in the last five years. At least the prior three had the benefit of being somewhat researched. Besides falling back on that 2002 story as a source, Mr. Rugg further phoned it in (or, to be more accurate, didn't) by utterly neglecting to contact any of the people he accuses of associating with a sociopath. Evidently, crafting a well-informed piece wasn't high on his list of priorities. He even blatantly mistook the context of two of the three quotes lifted from my blog entries.

Truth be told, there are numerous details of Mr. Rugg's piece with which I take issue. Some are small and petty, such as his reference to "a chicken carcass impaled on the hood of [my] car." Others are far more substantial: I do not identify with a majority of my fellow inmates quite simply because a majority of my fellow inmates are (it may surprise him to know) murderers, child molesters, rapists, kidnappers, and, yes, sociopaths. I'm curious to know how well Mr. Rugg might adjust to the social scene of a maximum-security institution, given similar circumstances. Without knowing the man, or so much as speaking to him (might as well return the disfavor, after all), I am going to guess he wouldn't exactly turn into a social butterfly.

Due to the unexpected criticism that the piece drew, the Pitch's editor, Eric Barton, has asked whether my mother would consent to a podcast interview. She has agreed under the condition she be allowed to bring her own recording device as something of a safeguard against misrepresentation.

The question, then, is this: is the Pitch finally attempting to right its previous journalistic wrongs by presenting another view of the story, or is this just another ruse by a second-rate tabloid? We'll soon know for sure.


[This post originally appeared on my MySpace blog, which no longer exists. The date of the original posting has been lost.]

I was basking today. Not in the sunlight of an unseasonably warm day, though it has been one, but in the shade of the maintenance building where I work. (The sun and I don't get along; we have an understanding.) There was nearby chatter and the occasional clanking of metal and, every so often, a whiff of smoke on the otherwise healthy breeze. The golf cart in which I sat alone was parked in a row with others outside the garage where, ordinarily, there would be none — everyone normally bustling about with parts for this or that, fetching equipment, answering work orders. The weather had left us impotent, torpid. We had done our work, made our rounds. By shortly after noon we had resigned ourselves to outright laziness.

The smell in the air was that of spring: light and moist with the imminence of rain. It was bright; my eyes, unwilling to cooperate, were strained and began closing involuntarily against the midday light, so I permitted them the briefest of rests between glimpses of the sky's perfect, white cumuli. I thought of nothing, my mind completely at rest for what had to be the first time in a week. It was momentarily glorious.

And then, the scent of memory: an unplaceable, evanescent aroma carried on the wind. As quickly as it registered, it was gone, and I was swept up and borne backwards to that final spring. 2001 had been unquestionably a waste of time — all those hours piled on top of hours, whiled away at the coffeshop, smoking myself bloody, or driving nowhere in that monstrosity of an automobile. At least it had been time wasted on my own terms, unlike now. Associated forever with that smell, there it was once more, after nearly six years, to remind me of the inescapability of the past.

Six years ago, as I sat at a small aluminum table with friends — Brahm, Kristina, Mike, Shira, F.C., and the rest — nursing a mug of Sumatran and laughing at how absurdly depressing the year had begun, I could never have foreseen the anxiety, terror, and abject loneliness that were only a few months away. It would have never occurred to me that there would come a time when, sitting on a golf cart behind a lethal electric fence, staring at clouds over the heap of razor wire that is the back gate of a prison, I could romanticize those seemingly meaningless months with such passion as to put a lump in my throat.

The moment passed, of course, as moments are wont to do, but the mood remained. I cannot shake the emptiness, the queasy feeling that whispers up my spine, "This is not where you're supposed to be." I left work feeling very heavy, almost winded. Now it is evening; I am exhausted. Tomorrow promises to be cooler, with the rain showers that will ensure everyone at work remains indoors and active. Overcast, damp, and chilly, it will not be a day for basking. It will be better.


[This post originally appeared on my MySpace blog, which no longer exists. The date of the original posting has been lost.]

Fifteen minutes to eat, but who times us and how precise their methods remains undetermined. Some days it seems like only five, others a half hour.

I shuffle with the rest of the herd through the dining hall door, in from a frigid northern wind, and patiently wait as the line winds its way past the tiny hole from which the trays are served. This is by now routine; although, in my initial weeks here, each trip up to this capacious, halogen-lit room was a frightening excursion into foreign territory. Now, I have my own regular seat.

Today's five slots of ostensibly nutritious pap are potato soup, a grilled cheese sandwich, five-bean salad, canned corn, and a banana. It is far from the worst meal offered.

Behind me stands Larry, a pale, portly farm boy who lives in my wing. He is fifty, though he looks older, and serving a sentence of life without parole. He is talking — that molasses-slow falsetto of a voice — about comic book characters, and I am only half listening.

"Of course, Tony Stark always knew he'd get more dependent on the suit, you know, as time went on. The other suits — War Machine and that — they were kind of necessary..." and on and on. I like Larry well enough, but there is relief when my turn arrives to grab a tray.

It is lunchtime, so I sit with Mack and Lee, grizzled old-timers with more time under their combined belts than I've been alive. We get the obligatory half-jokes out of the way about who's eating what, then salt the hell out of everything.

"Where's Everett?" asks Mack. "Didn't he come up?"

"He went to the property room. Legal stuff," I answer. Everett usually sits with us, but today there is a legal file to dredge through. I know, from conversations, he has five boxes full of documents in storage. He is also serving life.

Mack snorts. "Don't know why he bothers; motherfucker's never gettin' out. You know he killed his old lady, don't ya?"

"Stabbed her thirty, forty times, I think," adds Lee, looking wide-eyed through those Coke-bottle glasses. He chuckles a little. My stomach turns.

"Well, I heard he shot her," Mack says.

"Yeah, well, he admits to that," I answer, half in his defense, "He was just trying to get it out what she'd been doing to the kids. That and the thing with DFS not lifting a finger to help."

They know the story. Everett's made no secret of his documentation. Being reminded takes their bluster. Salacious gossip is nothing I want a part of, so today I am a wet blanket.

We finish eating without another word. It seems like a half hour.

Morning Nostalgia

[This post originally appeared on my MySpace blog, which no longer exists. The date of the original posting has been lost.]

White. And there are only trucks down on the interstate as I look to the east, at the murky sun. Between there and here lies an improbable distance — maybe a third of a mile — hyphenated by a fence, electric, razor-wired, and aglitter with ice. Within the prison, the snow is clean and undisturbed, save but four sets of footprints left by the bundled corrections officers during the nightly perimeter checks, and, if I angle my head sufficiently downward, the fence and the prints and even the walls of my cell fade into the periphery, and the drift beneath my narrow window becomes all I can see. Standing there like this, my cellmate silently breathing in his sleep a couple of feet away, I see the crystals at the crest of the drift one facet at a time, as each momentarily casts the morning rays. The perfect ridge is close. I could reach out and grasp a handful, I realize, were it not for this thick Lexan. It is prison's familiar torture: looking with mandatory detachment while never being permitted to touch.

I am twenty-eight and still envisioning snowball fights, sledding, those long, nose chilling winter walks around town I used to cherish as much as anything. Almost. With my calf-length coat and the wool scarf without fringe my mother knitted me years into my adulthood, I would stay out for hours — a tiny, dark mote in a sea of white — walking nowhere in particular amid the muffled tranquility. There were sometimes partners with me on those hushed wanderings, whose intentions started out well enough, but whose hands inevitably numbed or teeth chattered, and one whose whole body often ached and shivered, so I'd enfold her in my coat and we would hasten back to the indoors, her saying over and over, "I hate the cold; I hate the cold," and me, oblivious, never recognizing the implications of that until the night she broke me over her knee like kindling.

I have long since forgiven her, but in these early moments of reflection, before the inexorable din of daily prison life crescendos, there is time enough for memories, however tender or sour, and to look eastward, past that fence and the field, the brown grove of trees and the busy highway, to the slowly ascending promise of day.


[This post originally appeared on my MySpace blog, which no longer exists. The date of the original posting has been lost.]

In considering what my first blog entry should consist of, I thought long and hard. What sorts of things, I wondered, could I write about that the average person would not consider tedious and uninteresting? After all, I'm writing from prison, where day-to-day life is largely regimented and therefore quite uneventful. Somehow I manage to write several longish letters every week to friends and family, however, and those are universally reported as enjoyable, so I must be doing something right. Perhaps, if I'm able to write those letters, I will be able to find subject matter for an online readership, too. Then again, it's entirely possible no one will ever pay this any mind and it will remain one of the millions of disregarded pages on the web, gradually being cultivated for an audience of none. We'll see.

While I don't intend to use this space to address the various controversies surrounding my conviction (there's already a site, FreeByronCase.com, for that), it is inevitable that certain things come up within the context of an entry, here or there. I try like hell to keep from becoming my case, but it's difficult. When something happens in one's life with such far reaching effects, it is next to impossible for the event not to define them to some extent — this is no different. On many days, I find myself wondering about Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, Rejean Hinse, Dennis Fritz, Theodore White, and the innumerable others who have lived through being convicted of a crime they did not commit and now lead free lives once more; I wonder if and how they maintained their senses of self when every single day served as a hideous reminder of the injustice they were suffering. That is bound to show through in these entries from time to time. I believe that is all the more reason to write them….