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"Brian," said Justin, feeling the panic rising inside him. "I don't want to be shackled."
The C.O.'s had come to the cell to escort Justin over to the Administration Building and the van that would transport him to the Pittsburgh courthouse where his hearing would take place. Justin had already put on the green jumpsuit that inmates wore whenever they stepped outside the Quad.
"Don't worry," Brian soothed. "It's only for the ride into town. Once you get to court, Julie will be there and the cops will remove the wrist and leg cuffs."
"Are you sure?" Justin gulped. "My mother is going to be there. I don't want my mom to see me... to see me chained like an animal. I'm not violent, Brian! Why do I have to be shackled?"
"Because it's the rule, Justin," Brian said softly. "They'll remove the shackles when you get to the courthouse because you're going to change into your suit, remember? Julie will have it there so that you can make a good impression on the judge. Julie won't allow you to walk into court looking like a prisoner, believe me." Brian touched Justin's face. Caressed his pale cheek.
"I believe you," Justin sniffed.
"Good. Are you all ready to go?" Brian asked. The C.O.'s were waiting impatiently.
"I'm ready," said Justin. "Do you think I'll be back in time for dinner?"
"I... I don't know," Brian replied, looking away. "You'll get something to eat. Don't worry. I told you everything will be fine." Brian leaned over and kissed Justin reassuringly.
One of the C.O.'s made a disgusted face. Fucking faggots! "Hurry it up, Taylor!" The C.O. snapped. "The van is waiting and it's a long drive into the Pitts!"
Justin stepped out of the cell and onto the tier. "Goodbye, Brian!" he called, as they led him away. "I'll see you tonight!"
At Administration Justin stood and tried not to tremble as they put the shackles on his wrists and his ankles. Another long chain connected the two pairs of cuffs. They were heavy and Justin could barely stand upright let alone walk when they were on. That was the point, thought Justin. So you can't walk. So you can't run. So you're tied up like an animal. To remind you that you are an animal in the eyes of the Law. A criminal. A prisoner.
There were two other inmates waiting to get into the van. One was going to the county jail to await another trial, while the other was being transferred to a prison in another state. He had finished his term at Stanton, but he still had another sentence to serve out in New York.
"Where are they sending you?" asked Justin as the men were settled inside the van.
"Auburn. I got 20 years for dealing cocaine. In New York that's a ball-breaker, kid," said the other inmate, shaking his head. "The Rockefeller laws are the fucking worst."
"Shut up!" snarled the C.O. "No talking in the van!"
The prison van bounced along the road from Stanton and Justin could feel the difference when they reached the state highway. The wheels turned more smoothly and the van seemed to race along towards Pittsburgh. The relentless movement of the van made Justin sleepy. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
"Heads up!" called the C.O.
Justin jerked awake. The van rumbled to a stop and the doors opened.
"Step out! Right now!"
Justin stumbled as he tried to step down from the van. He almost fell on the narrow steps. A policeman caught him and shook him roughly. "Watch your goddamn step!"
"I'm sorry," Justin whispered.
Now that he was outside of the Quad he was truly afraid. Everything was unfamiliar. The C.O.'s from Stanton turned him over to some strange cops who were taking him into a strange place. Brian had always warned him that the unfamiliar was dangerous. You didn't know the people or hallways or the dark corners. You didn't know who might be lurking there and what they might do to you. In the county lockups they sometimes threw hardcore cons in with kids they picked up for speeding. That's where you got into trouble. No one came when you called for help. No one would come to your rescue. And Brian was miles away.
"Shut up and move!" the cop barked. He was holding his baton in his hand. He shoved Justin with the end of it, pushing him through a doorway. There was a long corridor and Justin shuffled down it slowly, dragging the shackles as he tried to keep pace with the cop.
"In here," the cop said shortly. He opened a door and nudged Justin into a tiny room.
Julie Finch stood when Justin came through the door. The kid looked terrified and the cop was looming over him, tapping his baton against his fist.
"Would you mind unshackling my client, Officer?" said Julie, trying not to let her anger show in her voice.
The policeman grunted and unlocked the wrist and ankle restraints with the key that the Stanton C.O. had given him. "I'll be putting these things back on you when you go back to the joint, kid, so don't try anything funny!"
Justin nodded, but he couldn't speak. His throat was too dry and his whole body felt compressed.
"Thank you, Officer," said Julie. "I'd like to talk to my client now."
The cop shrugged. "We're watching you through the window," he reminded her.
"I'm aware of that. My client is going to change into his suit and prepare for his hearing -- if you don't mind?" said Julie very grandly.
"Bitch," said the cop, but he left the room.
"Justin!" said Julie. She put her arms around the boy and hugged him. "Don't look so scared! Everything is under control."
"Those chains," whispered Justin. He rubbed his sore wrists. "I fucking hate them!"
"I know, Justin. Let's get you into your suit, okay? Your mother brought it for you to wear." Julie took the blue suit down from where it had been hanging on a hook on the wall.
It looked like an alien garment to Justin. A plain blue suit. His mother had bought it for his graduation from high school.
"I don't know if it still fits," said Justin, hesitating.
"It'll fit well enough." Julie smiled at her young client. She helped him off with the faded green jumpsuit that prisoners in transit always wore. What an ugly, ugly thing, Julie thought, folding it and setting it on the table. "Trust me, Justin. That's all you need to do."
Justin swallowed. He stepped into the blue trousers, while Julie held a freshly pressed white shirt and a blue and red tie. "Brian said that I should do everything you tell me to. So I will. I trust you, Miss Finch. But I'm afraid. I'm really afraid!"
"Take my hand, honey," said Julie, squeezing the boy's hand tightly. "There's nothing for you to fear any longer. It's almost over."
Justin stared at himself in the men's room mirror as he washed his hands. Not in his workshirt with his prison number printed over his left breast, but in a blue suit with a white shirt and carefully knotted tie. He almost didn't recognize himself.
"I wish Brian could see me now," he muttered.
"What did you say?" asked the policeman. The cop was standing at the door, guarding Justin while he pissed. Since the only window in the men's room was about a foot wide and almost at the level of the ceiling, Justin wasn't certain how they expected him to try to escape, but that was the rule.
"Nothing, sir," Justin replied. Then he followed the officer out into the corridor and down the hallway to the courtroom where Julie was waiting for him.
Julie held Justin's hand as they walked inside. Justin was surprised at the number of people sitting in the court, since he had assumed that this was a closed hearing. He looked at his attorney questioningly.
"Those people over there are reporters from the local press," Julie whispered. "That's Kevin Broderick from the 'Pittsburgh Clarion.'"
"Reporters?" Justin frowned. "Why would reporters be here?"
"You'll see, honey," said Julie, leading Justin to the front table.
Then Justin saw his mother sitting in the front row. Next to her sat Ron. Jennifer nodded to her son, but she didn't speak to him. She was clutching a handful of kleenex and she looked very nervous. Even Ron looked anxious. He kept running his fingers through his curly hair and clearing his throat.
They all rose when the judge entered the courtroom. Judge Margaret Higgins was a small, stern-looking black woman with a neat afro. She sat down on the bench and the hearing officially began.
Justin had already been through one trial and he knew his case inside and out, but Julie had given the judge a pile of new information. Justin was surprised. During his original trial there wasn't all that much evidence beyond the bags of marijuana and the handful of Quaaludes that had been found in the car. That and the testimony of the two cops who arrested him and his blood-alcohol test. The rest of it had all been rhetoric by his prosecutor, James Stockwell.
Stockwell had made long, pretentious statements about drug-ravaged teenagers who hid behind their wealth and privilege to get away with murder. Then he had pointed to the defendant, Justin Taylor, as an example of the arrogance of those spoiled kids who thought they were above the law. Taking drugs and driving while drinking, thereby endangering the peace and well-being of law-abiding Pittsburghers. Law and order had turned out to be the linchpin of Stockwell's mayoral campaign and he rehearsed many of his political themes during Justin's trial.
On the other side, Justin's lawyer, Gordon Maxwell, had said almost nothing in his client's defense. He had no real answer to Stockwell's accusations or grandstanding. And the judge, a tough, old-school ex-cop, bought the prosecutor's argument all the way, sentencing Justin to 5 years in prison.
The key to Julie's position was Gordon Maxwell. Craig Taylor's good friend and golfing buddy. A member of their country club. Julie went after Gordon Maxwell as if he were on trial.
Justin began to listen more intently as Julie presented evidence that Gordon Maxwell had connections to the Stockwell campaign before Justin's trial and had directly aided it afterwards. She presented evidence of large donations from Maxwell and a network of his friends -- many of them members of the same country club as the Taylors -- to the Stockwell campaign and also evidence of an attempt to cover up where those donations had originated.
Justin glanced back at his mother. She was crying silently, while Ron held her hand and looked grim.
Could it be true? It looked like Justin's own attorney had allowed him to be railroaded into prison so that Jim Stockwell could have a platform for his campaign to win the Republican nomination for mayor. And it had almost worked. Almost. But Stockwell's campaign ended up in a shambles and Stockwell himself was now under indictment and out on bail. But all of that was too late for Justin. His life had already been transformed forever.
"These power-hungry men sacrificed this young student on the altar of their own ambition," Julie said in conclusion. "Your Honor, you have seen the evidence that the Prisoners' Legal Defense has managed to discover connecting my client's original attorney with the man prosecuting his case. Both had much to gain from a victory by Mr. Stockwell. They little cared for the fate of my young client, who was only 18 years old at the time of his trial and who had never been in trouble with the law in his entire life. He was an Honor student, a talented artist on his way to a prestigious art institute. But instead of spending his freshman year doing what he loved, he was sent to prison with adult felons. There he was assaulted and brutalized physically and emotionally. He watched his cellmate almost murdered before his eyes when that man attempted to protect him from further attack. My young client, Justin Taylor, has lost his freedom and lost his innocence because James Stockwell had political ambitions. Yes, Your Honor, Justin Taylor made a mistake, but the price he has paid is far beyond his offence -- an offence which would have ordinarily gotten him probation and community service. And now his prosecutor is himself facing prison. I imagine that he will ask for the full mercy of the court -- mercy that he did not ask for in the case of my young client."
Justin sat with his mouth open. What would the judge say now? Justin looked over at all the observers in the courtroom. Reporters, Julie had said. Now he knew why they were there. They were really covering Stockwell's trial, not his. But Justin's case had become inextricably intertwined with that of the disgraced prosecutor.
The judge called a short recess and left the bench.
Julie turned to Ron and grinned at him. "Not bad for a broad, huh?"
Ron smiled back. He no longer looked nervous. "Perfect, Julie. Higgins has had your material for a couple of weeks now and you know that she was only waiting to get a good look at the kid." Ron looked Justin up and down. "He's the picture of wronged innocence in that blue suit. He looks like he stepped off a Christmas card!"
"That's because he IS innocent!" cried Jennifer, still shredding her kleenex.
"Jen, please keep your voice down," urged Ron. "Those reporters are going to want a statement afterwards, so save it for then."
"After what?" asked Justin. He began to feel the panic again. It was building in his chest and moving up into his head, where it began to pound between his ears.
Finally, the judge returned. She didn't look at all happy. She began making a long statement that seemed to be addressed as much to the reporters in the courtroom as to Justin and his attorney. Justin found his mind wandering. His eyes kept checking the clock. It was getting late. He'd definitely miss head count and maybe dinner. He wished that Brian were here with him. Then he wouldn't feel so jumpy. Brian would know what to say to reassure him. Justin reached over and touched Julie's hand. She smiled at Justin and gave his hand a tiny squeeze.
"And because of these abuses of the system by the former prosecutor and also by the defendant's own attorney -- who is currently under investigation himself," the judge continued. "I find it impossible to see how Justin Taylor could have received a fair trial under such circumstances. The method of his prosecution and the sentence that he received are a disgrace to our judicial system, and the indignities that he has suffered in the time he has spent behind bars are shocking." The judge held up a folder. "These are statements from the warden of Stanton Correctional, as well as from the chief physician and the chaplain, testifying to what this young man endured there. Keeping all of these facts in mind, I am vacating his conviction and I hereby order his immediate release from detention."
Justin couldn't hear anything else because his mother began to sob and Ron yelled, "Yes!" Julie stood and thanked the judge. And then....
And then what?
Justin sat in stunned silence. The reporters crowded around, asking questions and pushing microphones in his face. Ron and Julie were both making statements, while his mother kept crying.
"But... but...." stammered Justin. "But... what happens now?" He turned to his mother. "I'm going to be late for dinner!"
Jennifer smiled and wiped her eyes. "Honey! You don't have to worry about that anymore! Didn't you hear the judge?"
"Don't you understand, son," said Ron, looking triumphant. "She's vacated your sentence! She's erased it! You have no conviction and no record! It's better than we could ever have hoped for!"
"You mean that... that I'm not going back to the Quad?" said Justin. "At all? Ever?"
"No, sweetheart!" cried Jennifer Taylor. "You're going home! Home -- where you belong."
But Justin Taylor wasn't smiling. His face froze as he stared at his mother, then at Ron and Julie. "But what about Brian?" he breathed. "I have to go back! I have to!"
"Don't be ridiculous, son," said Ron. "We've been working our asses off to get you out of Stanton. You're certainly NOT going back!"
"No," said Justin, backing away. But there was no place to go. No way to get back to the Quad and see Brian. To talk to Brian one more time.
"It'll be all right, Justin," said Julie, hugging him tightly. "This is what Brian has been working on for months! This is exactly what he hoped would happen! And we couldn't have done it without him."
"Brian," Justin whispered, dropping his head into his hands. "Brian!"
After Justin left for court, Brian didn't leave his cell for the rest of the day.
Emmy, Michelle, and Ben stopped by to walk with him to lunch, but Brian begged off, telling them that he had some reading to catch up on. So they went down without him.
Brian rested on the bottom bunk, slowly turning the pages of his 'New Yorker' magazine. He read the words, but nothing registered. They were only words, after all, empty of a human voice, ultimately meaningless.
Afternoon head count came at 4:00 and the men returned to their cells. Wesley kept peering out through the bars, waiting for Justin to come back from court. Justin had promised to tell Wes what the courtroom was like and what the judge had said and whether Justin had been afraid when he walked into the room.
Going to court terrified Wesley almost more than being in prison, but like a child who loves being frightened, Wesley was also fascinated by anything having to do with the legal process. He enjoyed hearing the stories of other inmates' trials, court dates, and confrontations with the judges. Wesley was certain that Justin would be brave in front of the judge and the lawyers. Justin was always brave when it counted the most.
But Justin didn't come back for head count and Wesley began to worry.
"They're probably holding him until tomorrow," Al told his punk. "If the hearing ran late, then they'll keep him in the lock-up there and bring him back to Stanton in the morning."
Then, just before the doors were racked to let the men go to the Chow Hall for dinner, two C.O.'s walked down the tier and unlocked the door to E-320.
"Kinney!" The first officer called. "Step out!"
Brian was ready. He set down his magazine and stood up. He walked to the door slowly.
"Kinney, your cellmate, Taylor, is...."
But Brian stopped the C.O. "I know. I have his gear all packed. I've already separated his personal clothing from his government issue and put his things into his duffle bag." Brian indicated the bulging bag on the floor of the cell. Then he pointed to a pile of precisely folded workpants, shirts, and underwear laid to one side. "I put his art supplies and his school books in this box." Brian pushed a large cardboard container forward. "You can check them, but it's all there." He paused. "Everything that belongs to Justin."
Brian had also taken Justin's drawings down from the walls of the cell and placed them carefully in the box with his sketchpads. The only picture that remained was a drawing in pastels of a golden horse running in a green valley. That one was still taped to the wall next to the bottom bunk.
"I think this is everything," Brian repeated, very softly.
The two C.O.'s exchanged glances. "How did you know that the kid wouldn't be coming back to the Quad, Kinney? What are you, psychic or something? Hell! The warden didn't even expect that!"
"I knew," Brian replied steadily. "I've been working to that end almost from the day Justin walked in here. He had to get out. It was the right thing. The only thing."
"The fucking judge vacated the kid's conviction!" marvelled the first C.O. "Can you beat that?"
"That's called Justice," Brian said simply. "No one deserves it more than he does. No one."
The Brian turned and walked back to the bunks. He laid down on the bottom one, switching off his little reading lamp.
The C.O.'s picked up the heavy duffle bag and the cardboard box containing the possessions of Justin Taylor and carried them out of the cell.
"Aren't you going down to chow, Kinney?" asked the second C.O.
"No," said Brian. "I'm not hungry. There's no need for me to go down there."
The C.O. shrugged. "Suit yourself," he said.
He closed and locked the door to E-320, leaving Inmate Number 1969-21455 alone in the dark.
Posted June 22, 2005.