Today, I am a free man.
Freedom. It sounds deliciously strange when I say it aloud; it sticks to my tongue like honey, feels like a sweet wet kiss as it passes between my lips.
The first thing Iâ€™m gonna do is buy a big steak dinner and a bottle of ice cold beer. T-bone, if I can get it. Iâ€™ll eat slowly, savoring each bite and swig. Iâ€™ll sit there for as long as I like, and when Iâ€™m done Iâ€™ll go back to my room at the halfway house and sleep long and hard until I catch up on all the dreams I missed having.
Then Iâ€™ll lie in bed and drink in the silence of night in the free world.
Today, I am free and the past twenty years spent rotting in a 3 by 5 cell pour out like a jar of black molasses. Yet as I watch the iron gates of the Parkerville Correctional Facility for Men clang shut behind my back, I feel as though I have only just arrived, a defiant young man so full of rage.
That angry young man with blood on his hands. Damn. All these years and the sensations still come rushing back: the smell of blood and gunpowder, the cashier’s strange, lifeless stare.
Back then, Parkerville was hard time. The warden–Cliff Page was his name–loved to pick out two big, healthy black bucks and make them fight against one another in the Pit.
The Pit was a patch of mud not much bigger than a cell, in the corner of the southwestern prison wall. On each wall was a guard post, and from that guard post, with a scope vision rifle, the warden would pick and choose the fighters.
I was one of his favorites. He never bet against me, because he knew I had the rage. No man on equal footing would ever be able to take my life.
He used to call me Killer.
The killer who walks out today is a timid old man with only a battered suitcase and a few twisted scraps of pride. But Iâ€™ll still walk tall out of those gates–and somewhere, deep down inside me, that angry young man will smile.
â€œHey Ray, what are you smiling at, boy? You smiling cause you’re finally out of here?â€
â€œYeah, Ross. I guess you could say that. I smiling ’cause I can finally leave this all behind.â€
â€œTry not to spend all your money on whores and booze, Ray. Good luck to you.â€
Ross isnâ€™t a bad guy for a guard. Only ever saw him beat up a fella once. Of course, I wasnâ€™t really looking out for it. But Ross didnâ€™t have a mean streak like so many of those guards. Some come in here mean and looking forward to beating some poor jail bird. But most come in here fresh faced and gentle.
But they turn. My, how they turn.
â€œFunny thing, Ray. Youâ€™re getting out today, and I gotta stay. Just whoâ€™s the prisoner here, anyway?”
â€œDonâ€™t know for sure Ross, donâ€™t know for sure.â€