Crossing into Liberty
What freedom can a person have behind the wall?
The white phone matched the gray, peeling walls that surrounded the bevy of women waiting to talk on the phone. The day seemed normal, inmates milled about, yearning for the chance to talk with their loved ones. One woman, Ellish Vat, leaned her head against the window. Her dark hair clashed against the grayness. Her skin looked like yellow glue. She flashed a smile. On the other line, her six-year-old son talked about first grade. Ellish became excited. She shouted when she heard of her baby’s stellar grades.
“Do you mind?” Ghana Mohibi said.
She had skin the color of molasses. She pulled herself away from the phone bay.
“How about you mind your own goddamn business,” Ellish said, holding the phone.
She did everything she could, squeezing the transmitter tight as wringing out a wet shirt, to not let her son hear her use strong language. “Baby, mama’s gotta go, now. Congratulations on all of those A marks. I love you, too. Take care.”
Ellish whirled around and faced Ghana.
“What, now, bitch? I can’t even talk to my son on the phone?”
Ghana held the phone.
“I’ve got to get back with you, baby. I can’t wait to taste your lips.”
She then hung up the receiver and approached Ellish. A dearth of guards intensified the situation. Ghana swung first but missed. Ellish kneed Ghana in the stomach. A raucous crowd gathered. Ellish punched Ghana in the cheekbone. Ghana flipped Ellish onto the ground and started pounding away at her face. Ellish flipped over and got up and slapped Ghana across the face. Blood spurted like a tiny geyser from Ghana’s forehead. Cheering and yelling drove the two inmates to continue their brawl. Now, the correctional facility officers flooded the scene. The rest of the inmates all got flat on the ground as the siren blared like a smoke alarm. The two women who had started the fight had been cuffed and sent on their way to the psychological therapist.
Standing at just five feet six inches, Retired United States Marines colonel, Lyceia Hollingsburg, could still command a room. She had a close cropped 'do with a shock of gray in the middle of her head. Her skin remained as black as those spiders with the red hourglass on their abdomens. And she was just as venomous. But that was against the enemy where she commanded one of the first all-female infantry units earlier in her career. With her placement at the prison, she used that fierceness and coupled it with understanding and a gentle demeanor. She looked over the two inmates. She observed their battle scars and wanted answers.
“I just want to know how this all started,” Lyceia said.
“No, because ––”
“And I tried to tell her–”
“One at a time ladies. One. At. A. Time.”
Ellish raised her head. Both of them realized that they couldn’t fight if they wanted to, due to being shackled to the chairs in which they sat.
“This bit—I mean my fellow inmate over here wanted to know what my business with my only son was about. And she was over there getting nasty with her good-for-nothing boyfriend.”
“No, that’s not how it went, ma’am. She started barking into the phone like a madwoman about her kid’s grades. Nobody wants to hear about his minor educational achievements.”
Lyceia folded her hands. “Miss Vat, you are in here for how long again?”
“C’mon, Miss Hollingsburg. You already know.”
“Of course, I know. I want you to say it, please.”
Ellish obliged with a roll of her eyes and her head swung back. “Three hundred and sixty four years, two months, three days, three hours, six minutes, and the seconds keep on counting.”
“And Miss Mohibi. How long will you be staying behind bars?”
“Two hundred and fifty seven years.”
“Your next parole date, Miss Vat, is in 3,314. Your next parole is in 2,783, Miss Mohibi. Why are you both fighting when neither of you will ever see freedom?”
“I’ve got more bodies than her! I actually hunted down and shot and killed sex offenders.”
Ghana turned to Ellish. “I have killed vermin like you with a single detonator. You might have killed more, but I made a greater impact.”
“Yes, you killed a four-year-old girl with a pipe bomb, you goddamn terrorist.”
“So, I have,” Lyceia said, “a serial killer and a mass murderer. Each of you have life sentences and this scuffle in the phone room only exacerbates things. I want to make this clear—”
Ellish is talking under her breath.
“Will you shut the hell up?! You see she’s trying to talk!” Ghana shrieked.
The two guards waited for the right moment to subdue the two inmates if they ever lifted out of their chairs. They just kept a watchful eye over the whole proceedings.
“Thank you, Miss Mohibi, but I can take control of the room, thank you very much. With both of you sitting here, I would like to know what each of you plan to do with the rest of your lives here at Tenor Women’s Correctional Facility. You both will not be able to escape these walls as fully free women. So, what do you see for your future? Do you want to apply for schooling? Do you wish to continue fighting and adding more years to your sentences? Because this is unsatisfactory. In my years in the Corps, I ran across young Marines with waivers the size of filing cabinets. I always wondered what it was about young people who had the impetus to fight for their country and die possibly or loose a limb or their mind. What I want to do for both of you is to get you back on course. This fighting is utterly pointless. I’m going to prescribe—”
“No, please, Miss Hollingsburg. Don’t pump me up with drugs. I just want to do my time, talk to my son, and try to keep from being just another poor example,” Ellish said.
“Too late for that,” Ghana said.
“Bitch, you don’t have as many bodies as I do! Remember. You can get touched, too,” Ellish said.
Lyceia took over.
“Stop it! You two have plenty of time. Time to think. Time to grow. Time to heal those wounds that keep festering. You say that you have murdered more people than she has? What kind of achievement is that? On Family Day, will you look your son into his eyes with the same kind of salacious glee with which you speak of your crimes? And Miss Mohibi––you better look at me when I’m talking to you! You are one of the most dangerous figures in this entire complex. But you can be rehabilitated, while never again crossing into liberty. Death is your only ticket out of here unless you’re transferred to another prison. But I won’t let that happen. I think that it is a good fit for both of you to be housed under these conditions for the remainder of your lives. Your horrific crimes have led to the suffering of so many. Especially you, Miss Mohibi. I’m going to have to remain firm. Miss Mohibi, you will not be a part of the general population any more. You will be sent to spend twenty three hours a day in your cell and confined to this solitary state of existence, indefinitely.”
A grin crept onto Ellish’s face. Lyceia noticed.
“Don’t get too comfortable, Miss Vat. I’m extending your parole date. This means that you will never qualify for a parole hearing in your lifetime. That’s why all those years had been tacked on to your sentence in the first place. But this way, there will be no chance of you even contemplating being released from here. Now, I want this to be clear. Both of you women have committed heinous crimes against your fellow citizens. America has been known for its protection of individual rights. Why you are here is a testament to this particular edict designed by the Founding Fathers. Both of you have violated this sacred ideal in gruesome ways.”
A tear streaked Ellish’s face, while Ghana just stared off into space.
“Am I getting through to you ladies?”
There remained a brief pause before the two women answered the therapist.
“Yes, ma’am,” they said in unison.
It was a sound like deflated balloons. Both inmate remained bereft of any signs of enjoyment, happiness, or even relief. Their faces seemed to show their minds. Ellish wrestled in her thoughts the next time that she would see her baby boy in freedom would be... never. Like a flickering film image she watched her young boy play as a toddler. She kept the reel going over and over again in her mind’s eye. Sure, Family Day would come and go and she would see him get older. He’d graduate from high school, from college, find work, find a bride and live out his days. But her brain kept finding the men she murdered. Their faces flashed like cards from a dealer. She remembered each and every one of the men that she had canceled. All of them swept into her consciousness in succession and forced her to recall the entire series of murders. She could not shake the vicious scenes and the bloody aftermath of her dealings. Her mind spun like rims on a truck. She could only consider the missed time that she would not be there for her only offspring. She still felt justified in tracking and striking down those evil men. Why couldn’t she be lauded for these actions? She knew. To take any life, even a loathsome lot as sex offenders deserved to have their rights protected. She said to herself that she should’ve just shunned them. She could have rallied around other victims of sexual assault and continued on with her life. Instead she chose to break bad and never looked back.
And Ghana was no better. Her brain kept telling her that her dirty work was for a righteous cause, that her ideology let her kill with malice a business executive, a homemaker, a restauranteur, and a child. In her head, she never had a chance for respite. Grinding against her thoughts were the people that had succumbed to her bomb blast. It felt like an entire world had fallen onto her mental frame. Still, through all of the imagery, she held no sense of contrition. In fact, she wished that she had killed more Americans in the inferno that proceeded. All she wanted to do was to stay true to her way of feeling. Yes, she knew that she had failed to take even more lives. She felt more embarrassed and malcontent with the low number of people that she snuffed out of existence. She kept hearing the shriek of people injured and the non-shrieking of the dead people chilled her, despite her cruelty. She had stolen the lives from those people on that searing day. She contended with the faces that cropped up in her memory banks like too many phantoms invading her thoughts. What lingered in her mind was the idealism of a cause that she wished to fight and even die for, even if she didn’t want to kill herself in the whole event. She felt no remorse, however. She just wanted to see as many people die at her hands. Her mind, whatever was left of it, kept telling that she was in the right, all the while knowing that her actions remained brutal. Clanging against her brain was the images of the four people that fell because of her.
But Lyceia’s mind fluttered as if wings had sprouted from it. Her psyche consisted of knowing that she had been able to elevate the minds of these two inmates. All of her knowledge and education had led her to this point. The common sense that evolved into logic and reason impelled her. Her sterling consciousness permitted her to live the life of trials and challenges and still be able to rest easy at night. Work granted her the opportunity to continue what she had learned in the Marine Corps. “It’s all about business.” Everything in her train of thought consisted of this simple, but often neglected philosophy for life. She felt assured in her recommendations. In ensuring that the two inmates would receive the proper punishment for their misconduct, Lyceia found it within herself to continue to push for improving the mental state of these women. With the understanding of both of the women’s plights, she could ascertain which form of punishment to hand over to the warden. It was not her duty but her own selfish consideration of facts. From the perspective of a woman who commanded thousands of troops, she could handle the goings on at a women’s prison in Wilmington, Delaware. She knew from her military experience that to punish anyone for a crime that they committed stood for justice. Only the vicious would seek draconian levels of punishment when the precise amount of retribution should be doled out in order to keep peace among the facility walls. How she could go through all of the trauma and outpouring of force just reminded her of her life in the Marines. As a woman amongst the officer ranks and a combat officer at that, she had to have the wherewithal to contend with the factions who said that she was never good enough. At times she even doubted her own abilities. But she hardened into the dynamic figure which would lead her Marines into battle and win them. This earned the respect of her superiors. And even though she never picked up the general ranks, in all of her years as a Judge Advocate General, she knew that only swift and exacting force should be applied against those who initiate it. Her mind had grabbed her by the hand and whisked her off into a land of firmness, fairness, and tranquility. Yes, peace stayed on in her thoughts in order to deal with women who committed monstrous crimes. These despicable people still held some vestige of rights and limited freedoms.
Lyceia’s consideration of the fact that both women should receive the proper amount of time added on or spent in solitary confinement led her to strengthen her bonds with them.
“Miss Vat, Miss Mohibi...I want to extend my most sincere thought, knowing that you both will continue to make model inmates during your days, weeks, months, and years at Tenor Women’s Correctional Facility.”
The guards took custody of the two inmates and marched them out of Lyceia’s office. The therapist got up from her seat and began dusting off her case full of her medals and commendations. She observed a battle axe that she had earned with her unit. She made sure that the weapon was spotless after she had finished appraising it. Lyceia straightened up her collar, as if she still donned a military uniform. She sat down at her desk and peered out of the window.