E L E V E N Y E A R S L A T E R
I have no idea where they were keeping Shay Bourne before they brought him to us. I knew he was an inmate here at the state prison in Concord-I can still remember watching the news the day his sentence was handed down and scrutinizing an outside world that was starting to fade in my mind: the rough stone of the prison exterior; the golden dome of the statehouse; even just the general shape of a door that wasn't made of metal and wire mesh. His conviction was the subject of great discussion on the pod all those years ago-where do you keep an inmate who's been sentenced to death when your state hasn't had a death row prisoner for ages?
Rumor had it that in fact, the prison did have a pair of death row cells-not too far from my own humble abode in the Secure Housing Unit on I-tier. Crash Vitale-who had something to say about everything, although no one usually bothered to listen-told us that the old death row cells were stacked with the thin, plastic slabs that pass for mattresses here.
I wondered for a while what had happened to all those extra mattresses after Shay arrived. One thing's for sure, no one offered to give them to us.
Moving cells is routine in prison. They don't like you to become too attached to anything. In the fifteen years I've been here, I have been moved eight different times. The cells, of course, all look alike-what's different is who's next to you, which is why Shay's arrival on I-tier was of great interest to all of us.
This, in itself, was a rarity. The six inmates in I-tier were radically dif24 ferent from one another; for one man to spark curiosity in all of us was nothing short of a miracle. Cell 1 housed Joey Kunz, a pedophile who was at the bottom of the pecking order. In Cell 2 was Calloway Reece, a cardcarrying member of the Aryan Brotherhood. Cell 3 was me, Lucius Du-
Fresne. Four and five were empty, so we knew the new inmate would be put in one of them-the only question was whether he'd be closer to me, or to the guys in the last three cells: Texas Wridell, Pogie Simmons, and Crash, the self-appointed leader of I-tier.
As Shay Bourne was escorted in by a phalanx of six correctional officers wearing helmets and flak jackets and face shields, we all came forward in our cells. The COs passed by the shower stall, shuffled by Joey and
Calloway, and then paused right in front of me, so I could get a good look.
Bourne was small and slight, with close-cropped brown hair and eyes like the Caribbean Sea. I knew about the Caribbean, because it was the last vacation
I'd taken with Adam. I was glad I didn't have eyes like that. I wouldn't want to look in the mirror every day and be reminded of a place
I'd never see again.
Then Shay Bourne turned to me.
Maybe now would be a good time to tell you what I look like. My face was the reason the COs didn't look me in the eye; it was why I sometimes preferred to be hidden inside this cell. The sores were scarlet and purple and scaly. They spread from my forehead to my chin.
Most people winced. Even the polite ones, like the eighty-year-old missionary who brought us pamphlets once a month, always did a double take, as if I looked even worse than he remembered. But Shay just met my gaze and nodded at me, as if I were no different than anyone else.
I heard the door of the cell beside mine slide shut, the clink of chains as Shay stuck his hands through the trap to have his cuffs removed. The
COs left the pod, and almost immediately Crash started in. "Hey, Death
Row," he yelled.
There was no response from Shay Bourne's cell.
"Hey, when Crash talks, you answer."
"Leave him alone, Crash," I sighed. "Give the poor guy five minutes to figure out what a moron you are."
"Ooh, Death Row, better watch it," Calloway said. "Lucius is kissing up to you, and his last boyfriend's six feet under."
There was the sound of a television being turned on, and then Shay must have plugged in the headphones that we were all required to have, so we didn't have a volume war with one another. I was a little surprised that a death row prisoner would have been able to purchase a television from the canteen, same as us. It would have been a thirteen-inch one, specially made for us wards of the state by Zenith, with a clear plastic shell around its guts and cathodes, so that the COs would be able to tell if you were extracting parts to make weapons.
While Calloway and Crash united (as they often did) to humiliate me, I pulled out my own set of headphones and turned on my television. It was five o'clock, and I didn't like to miss Oprah. But when I tried to change the channel, nothing happened. The screen flickered, as if it were resetting to channel 22, but channel 22 looked just like channel 3 and channel 5 and
CNN and the Food Network.
"Hey." Crash started to pound on his door. "Yo, CO, the cable's down.
We got rights, you know..."
Sometimes headphones don't work well enough.
I turned up the volume and watched a local news network's coverage of a fund-raiser for a nearby children's hospital up near Dartmouth Co llege.
There were clowns and balloons and even two Red Sox players signing autographs.
The camera zeroed in on a girl with fairy-tale blond hair and blue half-moons beneath her eyes, just the kind of child they'd televise to get you to open up your wallet. "Claire Nealon," the reporter's voice-over said,
"is waiting for a heart."
Boo-hoo, I thought. Everyone's got problems. I took off my headphones.
If I couldn't listen to Oprah, I didn't want to listen at all.
Which is why I was able to hear Shay Bourne's very first word on I-tier.
"Yes," he said, and just like that, the cable came back on.