Latasha stepped up into the prison van. Her hands were shackled in front of her as she had had them done before. Only now, she was going to prison. She sat down and looked around. Other than the driver, there was only her and two guards. Two fat, old, white men. She thought if she were to be in a race against them, they would never catch up to her. But she was shackled, and they had guns. Now wasn't the time for flight.
As the van traveled away from the jail, Latasha thought of how she ended up here. Her boyfriend had beat her almost every time he was drunk. She had decided to leave him. Once, when he discovered she was going to leave, he had beat her so bad, she couldn't go into public for days. It took a long time for her bruises to heal.
Since then, she had kept her plans to herself. She knew the next time he caught her trying to leave, he'd kill her. She wished he would get killed first, but didn't think she was that lucky. Or that he was that unlucky.
When he did come home that fateful day, he wasn't just drunk, but in a killing mood. She had been packed when he showed up. He came in and started to hit her, then he pulled out a gun. They yelled, she fought. He acted as tough as his drunkenness would let him. Then he shot her. When she fell, he became frightened, and shot himself.
She had just been wounded, and now he was dead. She was so afraid, all she could think of was running. She grabbed her bag, and ran.
When she was caught a few days later, she told her story. She was arrested, charged with his murder, and put in jail.
She couldn't afford a lawyer, so one was appointed to her. He didn't seem to care. She felt he was just a white man, here to throw a Black lady into prison. Get it done before dinner was on the table at home.
They said he was dead, she was only injured. She faked it to make him look bad. She must have planned it all. Packed her bags, waited for him with a gun, killed him, wounded herself, planted the gun, and ran.
She saw the jury. Most white, a few Hispanics, an Asian. All against her. She was just a Black woman against them all. She was going to prison for life without parole. They said 'guilty' on the count of 'Murder One'.
Two hours later, as the bus neared the prison, Latasha noticed they had driven into a storm. The wind was blowing fiercely across the road, the rain coming down in torrents. Could the driver see anything? She couldn't see out her window.
Suddenly, she felt the van jerking to one side, then the other. It started to tip, then to roll. She tried as much as she could to hang onto something. Anything, to stop her from bumping into seats or bars. It seemed like forever, and when the van stopped rolling, her world had gone dark.
When Latasha woke up, she couldn't hear anything. No wind, no rain, no storm. How much time had gone by? She wasn't sure. She could feel light streaming, shining on her. Was it The Light? She hurt so much, she doubted it.
She moved, checked herself over, at least as much as the shackles would allow. That told her she was very much alive, and still a prisoner. She looked around. Both guards were dead. She couldn't see the driver any where. Maybe he had gone for help. She wasn't sure. What she did want, was to get out of the upside down van, get out of the shackles.
She crawled over to the guard with the keys. They were hanging off his side. Easy enough to get them unlocked. When she was out of the van, she stood up, again checking to be sure nothing was broken. Just bruised and sore. She looked around, nothing told her which way to go or what to do.
She decided to leave the van, but didn't know on which direction, so she headed down the road in the opposite direction the van was pointing. She figured if she saw vehicles, she could jump off the road, and hopefully the brush would hide her.
It was only a few miles, and she came upon another car. This one was also turned over, in a large ditch. She walked around. There was a woman laying beside the car! A white woman. Young, pretty, dressed as if she was rich. Latasha was ready to just walk away. Maybe this woman had also run off the road. What did it matter to her?
Then she heard the woman take a deep breath. Latasha decided to kneel down beside her to check on her. She heard the woman speak softly, weakly, "My baby. Is my baby hurt? Please help my baby."
Latasha looked around. No baby to be seen. Then, she heard a soft cry come from the car. she walked to the car, looked in, and saw a baby only a few months old, secured in a car seat. A beautiful baby with blue eyes, blonde hair. A white woman's baby.
She went back to the woman. The woman had died while Latasha had only spent a few minutes finding the baby. She didn't know what to do, and when the child started to cry, she decided to help. She looked again at the baby, and the baby looked at her, and smiled! Latasha's heart was touched. She unbuckled the child, got the bag that she was sure had diapers, bottle, and milk, and started her journey again.
She continued down the road. When she came to a corner, she decided to turn away from the main road. On the way, she had stopped to feed the baby, change its diapers (a girl, how sweet!), rock her, cradle her, and help her to feel comfortable.
After what seemed quite a while, she walked over a small hill, and saw a beautiful, picturesque valley. She had to think of it as 'picturesque' because she had never seen a valley like this except in pictures.
Cows were grazing in a green field. Large irrigation pipes, pumping water onto the already green grass that would soon be hay. On one side sat a large, brick house. A mansion compared to where Latasha had lived. Surrounded by large oak trees and a white picket fence. On a tree hung a swing, and children laughing as they swung each other.
There was a large barn, sheds that held farm equipment, and closer to her, a small house. Maybe a caretaker's house. She decided that was where she'd leave the baby. The caretaker could probably find a home for the baby. Who knows, maybe they even knew who the baby belonged to, and find its family.
She decided she'd go to the back door and leave the baby on the doorstep. When she cried, the crying should arouse whoever was inside.
As she approached the house, a car from the big house pulled up. A man got out, and walked brusquely into the small house, never knocking. Latasha crept around the back to an open window. She heard men arguing.
"I told you to do the job so it looked like an accident, but did you have to do it so close?" He was angry, yelling at the top of his lungs. "Because she's so close to the house, it better look good, or else!"
Latasha wasn't sure what they were talking about, then the other man responded, "That road is deserted most of the time. The only ones who use it are the prison vans, and then only to take prisoners in. She won't be found till she's dead. Good and dead!"
Latasha felt she wasn't the smartest person, but knew she was smart enough to figure out the story. The woman was the rich man's wife. Had given birth a few months ago, and for some reason, he didn't want her or the baby around. He had his farm hand kill his wife, and now he was to kill the baby.
As Latasha held the baby in her arms, she felt a love for the child she had never felt before. It didn't matter that she was Black, or the baby white. All that mattered was the baby needed her, and she loved it.
She held it tight. She backed away from the house, fearful for the child's life, and now fearful for her own. She turned and snuck back up the drive, keeping as close to the trees and bushes as she could. Each time the baby would whimper because of branches slashing at it, she'd stop, hold it, cradle it, and reassure it. She kept repeating, "It'll be OK baby. I've got you. Trust me. You'll be alright." She wondered if that was the truth.
For the rest of the day, and into the evening, she worked her way along the road, hiding when a car came into sight. She fed the baby, continued to care for it, and continued to reassure it. She didn't know if the reassurance really helped the baby, but it helped her.
Night was approaching. Now she had a new dilemma. There was no where warm to hide the baby. She might be warm enough, but how would the baby do? And she was running low on diapers, and now she was giving her the last of the milk.
She struggled to think of a solution, and only came up with one. It wasn't good, at least for her, but it was the only way she could be sure the baby would be cared for. She decided that when the next car appeared she would step out and hand the baby to them. Maybe she could run away fast enough the person n the car wouldn't see her well, or which way she had gone. She had to hope.
Just as she made up her mind, she saw headlights. She pulled her inner strength together. It was dark now, and she couldn't see the car well. She stepped out of the trees, into the headlights. She was afraid suddenly it might be one of the men who wanted the baby dead. She almost expected the car to speed up. But it slowed down, and came to a halt in front of her. When a man and a woman stepped out, Latasha knew she wasn't going to get away. She looked at them, at the car, and realized it was a patrol car, and these were police.
They gently took the baby from her, and the policewoman led her to the patrol car, no one saying anything. Words would come later, Latasha was sure. But what would those words be?
Latasha sat at a bleak, off-colored table, in a bleak off-colored room. They said her lawyer was coming, but she had no idea why. She had told the police all that had happened. She had told the truth. Of course, she had told the truth before, but she still ended up in prison. What could they add on now?
A man walked in. A fat, old, white man. He gently set a briefcase down, sat in a chair that creaked under his weight, and looked at Latasha. He introduced himself, "Hello, Latasha. My name's Ted Casey. I'm your lawyer."
Latasha asked defiantly, "What do I need you for? I've already been found guilty of murder. What you here for?"
He frowned. This wasn't going to be easy. "You have now been charged with the deaths of the two guards, the van driver, and Mrs. Alvin. Plus, the kidnapping of her baby." He waited to see her response.
Latasha was speechless at first, but when she found her voice, it wasn't quiet. "What? Murder of who? That's not possible!" She lapsed into speechlessness again.
In a way, Ted wasn't surprised about Latasha's shock, yet he felt she must have known something. How could she know nothing? He went on to explain, just in case she really didn't know.
"They found the two guards dead, and you gone. The van driver had been injured, but died shortly after arriving at the hospital. He said you had tried to kill him by strangling him with your shackles. It caused the van to slide off the road and down the embankment.
"Then you ran. You saw Mrs. Alvin by her car, which had just run off the road. You killed her, and kidnapped the baby." He sat quietly and waited.
When Latasha found her voice, she could only stutter, "It...it...it's not true! That's not what I told the police. Not at all. How can it be like this? So many lies!" She buried her head in her hands and began to cry.
Ted felt sorry for her. Some women cry to get their way, but he felt Latasha's tears were real. She was truly unaware of the charges.
He gave her time to pull herself together. He felt that here was a woman who was in charge of herself. That she was strong, not used to giving in, but had been beaten down too many times. How many more times could she be pushed under the bus?
When he felt she was ready, he asked her, "Tell me everything that happened. Right from the start."
"But I told the police everything! All of it. If they don't believe me, why should you?"
"Pretend I'm different. Tell me what happened, what you remember. Let me ask questions, let me take notes. Let's figure this out together. Trust me, and tell me the truth."
Latasha wondered if she really could trust him. She had trusted so many, and see where it landed her?
She started her story from realizing they were in a driving storm, felt the van roll, and how she got free. As she told it, Ted would ask questions. Details. At first she was irritated. How could she remember all of the details? Yet, as he asked in different ways, she was remembering the details.
When she got to the part about finding the woman almost dead, Ted asked for even more details. Surroundings. Time of day. Distances. Things no one had asked.
As she spoke about the two men's conversation, he asked about tone of voice, deepness. Could she describe the men? What words had they used as they argued?
She told of her desire to help the baby, and finally deciding to give herself up. How she talked to the police, and they brought her to the prison, never asking questions.
They had been talking for a few hours. When Ted got up, he had a lot of information, but had even more questions. None that Latasha could answer. He reassured her, "We'll set this straight. Trust me."
How could she trust him? No one yet had been trustworthy. After all, he was an old, fat, white lawyer man. Yet she let his words sink in as she thought about the baby. It trusted her. It had to. There was no one else to look after it. Others wanted to hurt it, to kill it. But she had saved it. Would Ted Casey save her? She would have to trust him if she had any chance at all of getting out of this mess.
It was a few months later when Ted came into the interrogation room. Latasha had been in here since her first meeting with Ted, answering questions, not sure what was happening. Today, he had a huge smile on his face. It made him look younger, she thought. What could be so good that he smiled so much?
"Today is a great day for you, Latasha! A great day! I have had some friends of mine work on your case. They got evidence about the van, the storm, everything. Latasha, you have been found innocent of that accident and the deaths involved in it. Isn't that great?"
Latasha thought about it, and was glad, but her thoughts continued. "So what? I'm still here on murder. What about the woman and her baby? I'm still in trouble, ain't I?"
Ted smiled even broader. "And that's my next point. We worked on that, too. We have found evidence of a crime, and yesterday, Mr. Alvin and Mr. Johnson, the caretaker, were arrested for the death of Mrs. Alvin, and attempted murder of the baby! Those charges are removed, too!"
Latasha couldn't believe her ears. She had been believed, and people had acted on it. She was grateful they had been dropped, but then her thoughts ran to the first trial that found her guilty. She still felt wrongfully convicted of her boyfriend's suicide. She had this in mind as she looked at Ted.
He leaned forward, excited about what he wanted to say next. "I know what you're thinking, and if you want, I'm going to have a new hearing on your first case. I read reports, court documents, and I saw they missed a lot of what you said. No one ever presented your facts. Latasha, can we re-open a new case?"
She was so grateful, all she could do was whisper, "Yes."
It was a few weeks later when she saw Ted again. This time, he had more questions, but now about the first set of charges.
"Tell me about the first time you were arrested. What happened then?" He was already poised with pen and paper.
"That was a bogus rap that landed me in jail. And that bogus court hearing? What an insult!" She had become hateful in an instant.
Ted didn't let it bother him. "Yes, all the details, from beginning to end.
Latasha began with her relationship, and how it dove into a beating frenzy each time he was drunk. Again, Ted asked for details that she thought she had forgotten long ago. Now, those details were important. He helped her remember. She had to review all the horror of being beat up, time after time. Why hadn't she left him? She was dependent on him. When she wanted to be independent, he wanted to kill her. The fear of being shot, and the gratefulness of being wounded, and he was dead. Was she happy he was dead? Yes. Because she would never again have to look over her shoulder and wonder if he was there, ready to kill her.
A few hours later they were done. She was tired. Mentally exhausted. Ready to leave the room.
Again, Ted said, "Trust me. I believe every word you say. Their police reports and trial hearings don't match, and aren't even close to what you say. I am going to do everything I can to get you out of that mess, just like we got you out of the recent mess."
Latasha still was having trouble trusting him, so she asked one more question to help her understand, "What do you get out of this? I don't have any money, I can't pay you. What good is it for you to do all this for me?"
Ted thought about it, and said, "I want justice. So often, I see people who don't get it. I'm too old to let people run over me, so I try to do what's right, even if others don't appreciate it."
This time, Latasha could only cry into her hands. Ted Casey was a good man to trust, and she would appreciate all he had done, and all he would do.
Latasha was back in the same courtroom of her first case. She was sitting next to Ted. She looked at the other lawyer, a different man from last time. He was a Black man! How could he be against her? He was supposed to be a Brother, not a man to try to convict her of such a heinous crime.
She turned to look at Ted. Here was the right man to listen to. He had been talking a lot to the jury. She didn't understand the legal words, but she didn't hear words that were used the first time she was in court. Words like 'whore', and 'slut', and 'pimp'.
The events of that horrible night were brought back. She relived them as they were spoken of. Remembered the determination to leave, the fear when he showed up, the fight, the gun, the shot, and then the next shot that ended his life.
And the other lawyer, who should have been her Brother, was against her, still trying to prove she was the murderer. Would they listen to him?
That's when Latasha realized it was in the heart of a person if truth was told, if people could be trusted. Ted had a good heart, as did those who helped him. Latasha was good. She had stuck to the truth all along. This Brother wasn't good. Others weren't good. It was their heart that made them good or bad, nothing else. She had learned to trust a person with a good heart.
When the jury came in, everyone stood. The judge asked for the verdict. Latasha was tense. She closed her eyes, stood still, held her breath. She felt as if her own heart had quit beating. She released it, in a rush of happiness, when she heard the words, "Not Guilty".