It was an early morning, uncommonly quiet, and with no movement because of a fog alert, yet people were going to different places, to work, to the yard or day room to play cards and chess. My cellie went on a visit.
After my usual routine of cleaning up the cell, I had nothing else to do but relax, because I got my homework and letter writing finished last night.
My brother Timothy’s $50 JPAY to me was still sitting erect against the wall, middle ways on my bunk, which I received three day ago. A JPAY is the same in meaning as Western Union electronic means, a family member wiring funds to my personal account, and this made me feel like I matter. This environment will have you believe you’re just a number; the JPAY says different. Someone’s theory code isn’t “out of sight out of mind.”
Usually I would have used the JPAY for scratch paper or for creative writing or making out a temporary canteen list, but oddly I didn’t. When I wrote to my brother telling him that I received the JPAY, it was a certain traditional standard we had between us. He wanted to know as soon as possible, since the day of my arrest Aug. 19, 1994, that I received the funds and whatever he would send to me through the year. He made sure that I was taken care of.
A guardian of a brother’s love that I felt blessed to have and honor, as well as respect. And in that letter to him, I was still overwhelmed with joy from the previous great news.
My mother informed me of his health. His doctor changed his treatment, in which he showed signs of improvement and his strength was returning. I never prayed so hard in my life for anything or anyone and God heard me and answered my prayers. I could only imagine the torment, both physically and mentally he suffered, and he still thought of me. My brother Timothy’s love and concern never wavered.
I thanked God for saving him
Lung cancer is a deadly illness and my brother broke free of death’s grip. We are as close as blood brothers could possibly be. Although he is my younger brother, I thought of him as my older brother. I am the oldest child of my sister and brother, and a true black sheep, I am.
The result of my actions is a lengthy prison term, assigned to a lonely empty cage. Regardless how one or two people may create furnishings and paint, it is still a cage to me. Instead of a prison, it often reminds me of a large and spacious kennel for animals in small cages, submissive to their captors.
I told Timothy, when I do arrive in Portland, Ore., he gots to show me all his fishing spots. The very thought of my brother and I fishing again is an unexplainable joy of how we fished together in harmony in Long Beach, Calif. Not forgetting his cooking skills that are superb in which he could have been a professional chef.
The reality talks, the joking, just being together I would experience again. I laid on my bunk smiling and looking at the JPAY, thanking God for saving my brother Timothy’s life.
It seemed like out of nowhere an inmate appeared in front of my cell, interrupting my thoughts, telling me that I was wanted at the front desk, and quickly vanished before I could form a question. A few minutes passed and the guard came and unlocked my cell.
Still, I haven’t the slightest clue of why I am being called to the front desk. Confusion clouded my every thought, for I know I committed no wrong nor had anything illegal in the cell nor on my possession that I would get written up about.
As I approached the front desk, I did not like the looks of the guards staring at me, so I focused my attention on the C/O directly sitting behind the desk. Before I could speak, the C/O handed me a piece of paper with a name Debra and phone number I didn’t recognize, plus I didn’t look at the area code. I told the C/O that she had “made a mistake because I don’t know who this person Debra is.”
The C/O fumbled with another sheet of paper and asked me with concern, “Who is Emma Pete?”
I answered her, “That’s my mother.”
The C/O replied as if pleading, “Make the call.”
I went to the inmate phone and dialed the number, when an electronic voice spoke. “The number you are calling is low on funds,” so I returned to the C/O and told her the problem with the phone number. I then told her that, “I will make the call another day,” and her reaction and demeanor told me that this call was very serious. She then told another C/O, “Take him to one of the offices so he can make the call.”
As I followed the C/O my thoughts became concerned about my sister, Julia, who has Parkinson’s. Maybe she’d had a bad fall and hurt herself enough to alert me. It was the only matter that I could think of.
The guard made the call and handed me the phone. This person Debra’s name I didn’t recognize was my brother Timothy’s woman I hardly knew. She informed me, “Your brother is dead,” and I went numb, lost to respond.
My niece, Aisha, then spoke to me of my brother, her father’s, passing. My mind was spinning and the only thing that came into my mind was my brother was born Dec. 23, 1955. I still couldn’t produce a word of loss we both shared. Still without words to say and express, I remained silent, not by choice.
My mother got on the phone and tried to speak, but started crying and I didn’t want to be on the phone any longer, so I managed to tell my mother, “My time on the phone is up.” Really I felt helpless to attempt to console her. Hearing her cry, I almost cried as well. I felt even worse that I couldn’t be there.
As I stepped outside the office, it seemed that I was somewhere alien, for I could not feel the concrete floor beneath my feet, nor the three flights of iron steps to my cell, nor hear a voice of another human being. But I heard the loud clanking of keys unlocking the iron lock to my cell. I felt like the walking dead, lifeless. Part of me died as well.
The guard opened my cell for me to re-enter and as I did, I tried to make some sense of this very unexpected term of news. Nothing alerted me, I was thinking as I sat there on my bunk and again, I looked at the JPAY. There was a time when the chaplain would call you to church and inform you of any deaths in your family.
I then asked God, “WHY WAS MY PRAYERS NOT ANSWERED,” while the madness kept building within me. I felt blindsided and I almost began to cuss, but oddly I became quiet.
A seemingly distant voice came into my mind, telling me that I “have come so far” and that the voice is proud of me and that it “would never leave me.” It sounded like my brother, Timothy, something he would say.
I told myself that I’m in a dream and when I awake, everything would be all right. Nightmares are scary that way. I wasn’t ready.
Osbun Walton has been a part of the criminal justice system since he was a young teen. He is currently incarcerated in San Quentin State Prison on charges of first degree murder.
The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth, was founded by David Inocencio in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed. Write to him at email@example.com.