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I¶m only a few feet from the courtroom when I pause at the edge of some inconceivable boundary. The feeling that I¶m still a prisoner hasn¶t left my body and my mind can¶t escape from the cage. Somewhere inside me resides David Clark, myself infinitely aged, but I still am inmate 518. It¶s 2008 now ±26 years² and I can feel the time in my bones like some deep rooted illness. I find it hard to believe that somewhere, out in front of me in the timeline of my remaining days that there is anything recoverable from my former life. In my right hand is a manila envelope filled with a bunch of pamphlets to get convicts back on track after a bid. I remember reading some time ago that the hardest part of a conviction was returning back to life. The term used in the article was institutionalized. I had been institutionalized. 26 years of living my days by the prison¶s schedule had taken away my ability to function by myself. It was a purposeless time of reckoning, of trying to find peace with myself. Now, at the edge of 60, I had to find a purpose again after years of simply nothing.
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As I walk down main street I start to think of all the things that have changed since the seventies. I¶m mostly blown away by the advent of the computer, or at least what I¶ve read about them. Technology grew in dog years while I was in prison. When I was teacher at Oro Grande, back before Nick Monroe killed himself and that little girl, the computer was still exotic and foreign. Now they were everywhere, even the courthouse had several of them. And cell phones too, I wonder if I¶ll ever need one, if there is anyone left to call. If only Ann hadn¶t committed suicide. I knew this whole thing had been tough on her, but I never thought that she would do something like that. She had been terrified of the possibility that I could¶ve killed those kids. I remember sitting in the visiting room at the county jail trying to get her to realize that I was innocent. The doubt she had in her eyes was the hardest part of it. Some time in my sentence I realized that she never completely believed me. That when I had gotten my sentence appealed to life in prison she didn¶t know how to deal with the fact that she had married a monster. A little bit of rain starts to come down and I duck under the veranda of a coffee shop to wait out the storm overhead. Taking a seat in a cushioned wooden chair I place the manila envelope on a circular table and open it up. The rain taps a
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cadence on the concrete sidewalks as I absent mindedly flip through the pages. Most of the pamphlets are religious in nature, that somehow by finding God a person might find themselves. I don¶t want anything to do with God now. If there was one thing I had taken from my unjustified sentence it was that there was no supreme order. Just as the thought crosses my mind I hesitate on a piece of colored paper that catches my eye. It¶s an ad for a social service worker, Marie Joseph, and it reads, ³ Getting back on track is a matter of connections. Find some today.´ I linger on the paper for a moment before I make the decision to go ahead and call. It seems like a good start. I didn¶t want anything to do with religion and I wanted someone who had a no nonsense approach to helping me get on my feet. I think about what I¶m going to say as I walk to the counter to see if I can find a payphone. The kid behind the counter can¶t be any older than 17 and she smiles at me as I approach. ³Do you know where I can find a payphone?´ I ask casually. ³A payphone?´ She repeats the question with some uncertainty and I wonder for a moment how alien this request might be. ³Yeah, do you know where I could find a phone booth, or something like that?´
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³A phone booth?´ She asks again, this time with a laugh, ³Don¶t you have a cell phone or something like that?´ ³No,´ I reveal quietly trying not to date myself, ³No, I don¶t actually.´ She looks at me with an odd expression as she turns, ³Hey Katy, do you know where a pay phone is?´ A moment passes until a young blonde girl sticks her head from the back room, ³A payphone, why do you need a payphone?´ I rub my forehead impatiently as the girl explains, ³It¶s not for me, it¶s for a customer.´ ³Oh. Well you might find one at the bus station,´ she says disappearing back behind the doorway. She then turns to me as if I hadn¶t heard, ³You might find one at the bus station.´ ³Thanks,´ I say , ³ And where is the bus station?´ ³It¶s not too far, just farther down main street. I mean if you take a right out of here and keep going it should be on your left.´ I nod my head and give another thanks as I move away from the counter. She chirps a good bye as I reach the door and step out under the veranda. Walking into the rain I hurry my step and
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think about that last exchange. It seems so odd that a payphone is foreign. It was so common for me that I had never considered that it was now obsolete. I could be a time traveler in the eyes of those kids. Hell, I had been incarcerated before they were born. Their parents were probably children. They could¶ve been the same children that I taught in high school, and now they had children that were their same age. It wasn¶t a complete waste of time though. When they started allowing me books the time went by faster. I read Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Einstein, Tolstoy, Buddha, and Cervantes until I had their contents memorized. Little by little I was able to construct an entire theoretical world outside of the cage but now that I was out it seemed entirely different than how I imagined it. In the seventies I thought the world would be more futuristic, more popular science than it is now. Instead it has changed in subtle ways. True, there aren¶t regular space visits but the internet has made worldwide connection almost instantaneous. I arrive at the bus station after a few moments and step across the street dodging a car along the way. The building is
nothing special, whoever the architect was that built it had economy in mind. For some reason cheaper buildings always seem
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more square. I wonder if the square is a less expensive shape, how much more an exotic figure costs. The inside of the bus station reflects the outside in its plainness. It has no decorations and one wall is covered in graffiti. One of the murals is actually pretty good. It shows a foot crushing churches and schools. It could be a drawing from Maurice Johnson, a sort of 21st century Michelangelo. The streets were his Sistine chapel and he painted masterpieces with spray paint. But he would never be accepted by the art scene, though his work was probably more indicative of the world. Payphones line one wall near the public restrooms. I walk up to one and fish around in my pocket, and then sigh realizing I have no change. For a moment I consider calling Marie collect but then decide not to, it was probably bad practice to do something like that. In my wallet I find a ten dollar bill from 1968. It was probably out of circulation now but I should still be able to get change for it. The bus station attendant eyes me carefully as I approach the window guarded booth. He¶s a middle aged Arab man and I can tell by his demeanor that he got messed with a lot. When he first speaks he is cold. ³Can I help you with something?´
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³Do you think you can break this ten for me?´ I say placing the bill inside the metal bowl that connects the safety box to the outside world. ³Yes, hold on a second please,´ he says as he takes the bill and then pauses looking at the design. After a moment he hunches over and speaks into the mic again, ³You know this ten is from 1968?´ ³Yeah, I know,´ I answer with an edge of frustration. ³Where did you get this from? it¶s probably worth a lot more than ten dollars.´ I consider telling him some of my history but opt to lie instead, ³Oh I¶m not sure, I really need the change though.´ ³What for?´ ³I need to make a call.´ The man nods and then places the bill back down in the metal bowl as he fishes in his pocket for some change. ³You should keep it,´ he says passing the note back to me with two dollars in change, a lot more than I would need for the call, ³It could be worth a lot of money.´ For a moment I consider insisting that he keep the ten but instead mutter a thanks and turn around. Back at the payphones I
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throw a few quarters into the machine and then dial Marie Joseph¶s number as it¶s listed on the page in front of me. A few moments pass until a lady picks up the phone. ³Hello this is Marie,´ She says in a tired Boston accent. ³Hello Marie. This is David Clark, I¶m calling in response to your ad about,´ I pause for a moment on this and then finally say, ³Connecting.´ ³David Clark,´ she says to herself, ³Why does that name sound familiar.´ ³I don¶t know, I¶m not sure how you heard,´ I say thinking that someone from the courthouse had called ahead, maybe there was somebody looking out for me. ³Oh that¶s it!´ She exclaims and I hear the ruffle of paper through the earpiece, ³David Clark. You¶re that convict wrongly accused of murder.´ ³Yes,´ I say flatly in a state of shock. Sensing my tone she explains, ³There was an article written about you in the paper. Of course I¶d be able to help you. But first, how¶re you doing, enjoying your freedom yet.´
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I want to retort angrily but decide against it, ³No, not yet. I mean, I don¶t really know how to enjoy it yet. That¶s why I¶m calling.´ ³Right. Well it always helps if you have some assets or family to return to.´ I pause knowing she would bring this up, ³No, I don¶t think I have anything,´ then as a bit of a joke, ³I do have a ten dollar bill from the sixties.´ ³Really! That¶s wonderful.´ ³Wonderful,´ I repeat in shock, ³Wonderful how?´ ³Well call it serendipity but I have a friend who collects old bills and something like that might be worth a lot of money.´ ³Seriously?´ I ask in disbelief. ³No, I¶m not kidding David, you should stop by the office. I¶d love to meet you anyway. I mean this won¶t completely get you back on your feet, it will be a lot of work, but this is some good luck.´ I have trouble believing that I am capable of any luck so I respond flatly, ³Well alright then. Where can I find you.´
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³I¶m down by avenue St. Matthew, if you take the six bus, it should stop near my office. Where are you now?´ ³Now?´ and then laughing at the chance of it, ³I¶m actually calling from the bus station.´ ³Well then it shouldn¶t be too hard then!´ She pauses and I hear some more rustling from her side, ³There should be another bus in about ten minutes. Do you have any money?´ ³Besides the ten, I don¶t think-³ I pause remembering the extra money the clerk gave me, ³How much is a fare?´ ³Only a dollar,´ She says with pause. ³Well I have enough then. I guess I¶ll see you in person soon then,´ I can¶t hide my lack of excitement. The years in prison took away my zest for almost everything and the prospect of having to work away my remaining time wasn¶t appealing. I was damned either way. There was no possibility of living the rest of my life in peace. The bus arrives in a few short minutes and I board and take a seat next to a tired looking man reading the paper. As the bus rumbles on I try and see if I can spot the article Marie had told me about. I see it on the front page next to an article about the failing economy, it¶s titled A Few Leap Years. It was an interesting point of view to take on my sentence. I had been
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sent to prison on a leap year and released on one too. Now that I think of it the ten dollar bill in my wallet was from a leap year too, a strange set of coincidence. The man sees me eyeing the paper and then lowers it. ³Do you want to borrow my paper?´ I can¶t tell if he¶s being a smart ass or if it¶s his genuine tone. ³Oh, I was just interested in that article about the guy who was in prison and found not guilty because of DNA evidence,´ I say honestly. He turns the paper over to the front page and then nods his head, ³Yeah, that was a crazy article. Can you imagine being locked up for 26 years and then just being released like that.´ ³Actually yeah,´ I respond absent mindedly. He raises an eyebrow and asks with genuine curiosity, ³Really?´ ³Well,´ I start with a fatigued smile, ³That guy from the article is me actually.´ He looks down at the paper trying to find a picture or something to collaborate my story, but then, as if he isn¶t interested in challenging me, ³Hm, what are the chances?´
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A few moments of silence pass in the rumbling bus until he speaks again, ³So what are you going to do now?´ I rub my head as I respond, ³That¶s a good question, I¶ve been wondering the same thing all day.´ ³Well you have a great opportunity,´ he says genuinely, and then to justify his statement, ³ I mean you basically have the chance to completely start from scratch. People like me, we have bills and debts. Sure, you had to serve a bunch of time, but now you¶re completely free.´ ³And that¶s a good thing,´ I¶m still institutionalized. ³Yeah, I¶d say so. I wake up every morning at five and catch the six bus to work. I¶ve been in the same career for fifteen years and have only gotten a ten dollar raise. Now I¶m almost fifty and in debt, got a wife who divorced me and two kids who don¶t talk to me,´ then he pauses in self reverence, ³I¶d say that¶s pretty lucky.´ ³I don¶t know,´ I say as I start to understand what he¶s saying, ³I honestly don¶t have anything to call my own except for a reparations pension that the government gives me every month.´ I shift in my seat uncomfortably as I consider his point of view. I read something about this point of view during my time
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locked away. After a few moments I nod and then fish in my back pocket for my wallet. I find it after a moment and the man watches me as I unfold the ten from its leather entrapment. ³Well I have a proposal for you?´ I say after a moment of silence. ³Yeah, what would that be?´ He says with a look of curiosity on his face. ³I¶ll let you have this ten for that viewpoint you just told me and that paper you have.´ He looks down at the paper and then back at me, ³What? Are you crazy?´ ³Probably. Do we have a deal?´ I press. ³Sure, whatever you want.´ He passes me the paper as I hand over the ten. A few streets pass by as the sky darkens with more rain and then the bus comes to a halt. I stand and exit, leaving the man and the ten dollars behind. Stepping into the rain I¶m bombarded with downpour. I¶ve already decided that I¶m not going to see Marie, at least not today, and that I don¶t want to spend my last days working. For a moment I let the drizzle pour over me as I decide what direction to go. Then after a few minutes I realize it doesn¶t
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matter, that the direction isn¶t important. For now I¶m content to stretch my legs and take a moment¶s reverence in the leap year of my freedom.
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