Land of the Free

Land of the Free

A Story by Arizona Sky


I remember when I was a young boy; my father would sit me up on his knee, balancing me with his large, strong hands. The other hand held a newspaper, while a traditionally carved pipe bounced from his dark lips and the comforting but strengthening aroma of the smoke snuck itself deep inside my childhood.

            I had never thought much of these times, so casual and often, until I could not offer them to my own children. My youngest daughter had just turned seven when everything in my life was ripped up and beat down, suffocated so that almost none of it was left. I often wonder if she remembers anything about me other than the good things her mother said, or the hateful words of society surrounding her. I wonder this now as my tired, dry fingers run across the dusty chain-link fence of my childhood street.

            When I was only thirty two, everything I owned and cared for, was torn from me in the course of three weeks. I had not done anything to deserve such a drastic change, nor done anything to deserve the nightmares that accompanied it. But the rest of the world didn’t see it that way. Only my wife stood by me, and even she had that edge of doubt in her voice every time she said goodnight over the phone. The police, the judge, and poor Tom’s family didn’t see any good in me either. I’ve come to believe God was the only one who really knew the truth at that time. With everything they put me through, I sure began to believe I had drawn the gun.

            I had been convicted of murdering Tom Layla, who of late had become a competitor at the office. I suppose I was accused so quickly because of the recent argument we had that had ended up with yelling and the slamming of doors, which I’m sure had frightened our colleagues. I suppose it also made sense, because I had experience in hunting and knew how to handle just about any kind of gun. I being a tall black man also got the gossip going. These factors seemed to overpower the more obvious ones in the case. Like how I had been at least five miles away from Tom’s home when the shooting occurred, driving to work after dropping my daughter off at her dance lessons. There was also the fact that all three of my guns had been locked away in our attic for over two years and the shotgun used to kill Tom had no fingerprints of mine.          

            But the murderer had worn gloves. I had yelled at Tom the day before. I was a tall black man living in a rough neighborhood. And therefore I was guilty and given 95 years to life in jail.

            I think now, back to the day I was told the verdict, and my fingers stop at the edge of the fence. I’m staring out at the apartment buildings that rest on the graveyard of a field where I once played baseball with a large stick and homemade rubber ball. I remember just how much I dreamed of this place in the years I was confined.

            For the first three years of my imprisonment, my wife Beth called me every Sunday at 7:30 pm. Then on February 20th, I didn’t receive a call. Dates like these become important when you’re in the same room, following the same schedule, facing the same people every day for thirty five years of your life. Two hundred and seventeen nights filled with the creeping darkness stirred by the worry for my wife passed before she called again. She sounded different, her voice calmer and proper. She no longer had that concern or pain in her tone; she had become just an old friend calling up for a Sunday night chat. The divorce had been completed, my eldest son had graduated high school and Melody, my youngest daughter, had received help for her depression.

            The next five years consisted of one call every three months, every four months, every seven, every twelve. After thirteen years in prison I received one call a year, Christmas Eve. December 24, 1997 I could hear another man’s voice in the background, Beth was distracted, her voice layered with more alcohol than care for me as the man sang to my daughters. I slept that night, not because I knew she was no longer mine, but because I knew my daughters had a strong man with a loving voice watching over them.

            I find myself running my fingers over the rundown brick of the apartment buildings and I can hear a child’s voice from inside. The molding in between two bricks crumbles beneath my soft touch, and I’m reminded once again how quickly things can fall apart while the rest of the world stands on, unaffected.

            July 14, 2001 was the last time Beth ever called me. The last happy birthday I was ever granted by the woman I still called the love of my life. June 13, 2002 my youngest daughter graduated from high school. She did not call.  September 26, 2004 my father died. I had not spoken to him since 1981.  I could not recall the smell of his pipe. January 2, 2008 my mother died. I had not heard her voice since the day my father’s death was announced. To this unfair prison I had lost my wife, my children, my father and my mother. I had lost my home. I had lost my life.

            I’m staring now at the flag flying above the schoolhouse across the road. It is half mast today; a congressman was shot today. I wonder who was accused. Who is truly guilty? I wonder if they are the same person.

            On October 24, 2012 I was released from prison. A group described to me as the Innocence Project had used the latest technology available to prove my innocence through DNA. It may have been the first time I truly respected science, and the first time in awhile I had truly respected a group of people.

            I have nowhere to sleep tonight. I suppose a bed is what I’m searching for now, walking through my old neighborhood. Then again, maybe I’m searching for something else. Something figuratively larger than a place to spend the night in the community that once sheltered and raised me. Hope.

            I feel the sudden urge to laugh at the flag, lifeless on the tall metal pole that is absorbing anything left of the sun’s heat on the crisp, fall afternoon. I can picture the children inside, reciting the pledge, mindless of their commitment. They’re learning today in history class about the way America works. We are the greatest nation because we are the land of justice, freedom for all. How can people be so blind?

            I laugh lightly, sadly and watch the very corner of the flag catch the wind and move slowly. I am standing in the place that once made me feel so free. My feet, covered by shoes worn by too many thieves and murderers before me, stand awkward on the concrete which once warmed my stomach on a summers evening. My hands lay limp by my side, brushed by the wind which once gave me a child’s breathe of energy and excitement. I am homeless, alone in the place which once gave me warmth and comfort. I am now free from the jail that held me thirty five years as my past life, my past loves morphed into myth and yellowed newspaper pages. But I am not free.           

            For how can I be called free when I am confined by the haunting images of my past? How can I cite the pledge when justice was only offered three decades after I was so wrongfully accused? How can I call myself a free citizen, when I, because of color of my skin, the mistake of a raised voice, lost all I loved due to my country’s verdict?

            How can I breathe hope and pride for my country, when I was imprisoned in the red, white, blue, and forever bloodstained bars of the land of the free?

© 2012 Arizona Sky

Author's Note

Arizona Sky
Had to write an 'allegory' for my English class. This is what I came up. :) Enjoy

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Added on November 3, 2012
Last Updated on November 3, 2012


Arizona Sky
Arizona Sky

I'm a young teen very inspired by great authors, musicians and artists of any and all kinds. My brother inspired me to begin to write real stories (short stories) when he wrote a wonderful paper in .. more..

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