Category Archives: Views From The Inside

Hope

Doom and despair, agony and loneliness,
they were my days and my companions for years.
Rage consumed my soul.

My mind screamed for a way to be heard,
long days locked in a box.
The stigma of a convicted murder.

The case false, but conviction so true,
no one cared what I had to say.
The courts turned a cold shoulder.

I almost fell into the void of no return,
hope a word or just a thought?
No, it’s a way of life for me.

Walk in those shoes… who, what, where?
All light at the end of that dark tunnel.
My life started to change.

You gave me a voice to be heard,
I have a voice again.
People are listening now.

I am a person again, with a story to be told,
I write and cast off the clouds of darkness.
I am alive again, through my published words.

To write heals my soul,
patches my torn spirit.
Justice may again be within my grasp.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR.  Reggie West is serving life without the possibility of parole.  He can be reached at:
Reggie West #FE-6643
P.O. Box 945
Marienville, PA 16239

So, What Do I Do Now?

Remember when you were seven years old?  Take a trip with me, humor me if you will. You’re seven.  You live in middle class America, and you’ve been strung along in the fantasy that Santa Claus exists.

You’ve spent twelve months cleaning your room, brushing your teeth and combing your hair.  You’ve refrained from pulling girls’ pigtails and throwing pebbles at them – or spit balls.  You’ve eaten your vegetables, even broccoli, and you’ve been as invisible as a seven year old boy can be – because you’ve been told, if you’re good, Santa Claus might bring you that new bike you’ve been asking – no, begging – for.

Then Christmas morning comes – you run down the stairs and look under the tree – no bike.  You run to the garage and look where your old bike still sits, just to check.   Your old bike…

By now, you’re frantic.  You’ve been good for a year – a whole year!  You not only deserve a new bike, you earned it – so where is it?

I’ve been ‘good’ for the last five years, twenty-five if truth be told.  I’ve brushed my teeth, combed my hair, cleaned my room.  I’ve done every conceivable thing I’ve been told to do by my handlers.  I was told that if I did these things – which I would have done anyway – I’d be released on parole.

Simple enough, right?

No bike.  No bike for another two years – January, 2020.

After seventeen years of being on my best behavior (no problem with me), I’m set off from going home.  Now, in the grand scheme of things, 730 days isn’t a long period of time, when you’ve already done 9,125 days, 720 is a drop in the bucket.

However, I’m not well.  As a matter of fact, my health is declining at an accelerated rate.  I’m 57 years old, not seven.  There are days when I barely have the energy, the strength, the will power to get out of my bunk, yet I still do.

There are days when I don’t feel like putting all my stuff away, and playing the compliance game.  For years, I’d run a tab.  Then I’d get $20 and make a list out to go and buy hygiene products, stamps, maybe a snack or two and a diet coke for my dog, Sparky.

I’d get the Diet Coke – $.40.  $19.60 was owed to the state.

I lived like that for years – until Evelyn found me, inspired me, nurtured me and blessed me a thousand times over.  So, for the last two years, I haven’t had to play ‘The Company Store’ game.  But, time marches on, people get tired, tired of waiting for you to come home.  They sometimes forget about you.  I understand this all too well.  I’ve been waiting for that bike since I was 48.

Next parole date is two years from now.  Nothing has changed.  I’m still the same good humored, good hearted person I’ve been all my life – except for that five minute period where I lost control.  I’m not going to change these things – ever…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  ‘Shipwrecked, Abandoned, Misunderstood’, but he still has the things his father instilled in him – humility, respect and love.  In spite of 25 years behind bars, he continues to wake up every day holding on to his humanity and on a mission to change the world for the better.

John Green #671771
C.T. Terrell Unit A346
1300 FM655
Rosharon, TX 77583

Buried Emotions

There is nothing I can imagine more terrifying than a parole interview.  All the time under your belt means nothing in those brief moments.  Your entire life depends upon how you present yourself, how you project, body language. It’s all on the line, and you might not get a chance to see the review process again for God knows how long.

I’ve waited five long years for each of the last two.  That’s 1,825 days between each, or 43,800 hours.   It is 2,628,000 minutes – or, yes, 159,680,000 seconds.  But, who’s counting?  I certainly have been…

At the interview, you are in an awkward situation if you have amassed an impressive resume that includes certificates of completion in areas of Bible Study, Vocational Classes, Self Improvement, and Educational or Rehabilitation Programs, such as Substance Abuse and Anger Management.  With that approach, you risk looking so desperate to go home, that you’ll do anything to get there, like an actor in a movie playing the perfect part.  When the cameras go off, will you go back to being the criminal they perceive you to be?

If you sit in your chair and do nothing, you might appear as if you don’t care about your future and you do not wish to go home.  You’re seen as being comfortable in your little space.

If you appear calm, cool, and collected, does that mean you are unremorseful, cold and calculated…

If you pour your heart out, you’re seen as over emotional, not in control, capable of doing something similar to what brought you there in the first place.

Put simply, you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.

All I’ve ever had was the truth.  All I’ve ever shared was the truth.

There’s no way to sugar coat the worst three minutes of your life.  Those three minutes that affected the last 25 years, not only for yourself but your family and friends – those you hold dear.

It is said that regret is such a waste of time.  That you cannot change the past and therefore to spend hours, months and years regretting something you can’t change is fruitless.  I disagree.

To forget the past is to chance repeating it. That isn’t an option for me.  I made the worst mistake anyone can make, to ever consider forgetting it, is to chance repeating it.  I will hold tight to these regrets until the day I die.  But, what has bound me to these emotions will not affect the way I feel, think or react.  My lesson, bad or good, must be maintained as a reference.

I’m just a man.  Men make mistakes.  Good men make bad mistakes.  Good men know how important it is to not make the same mistakes again.  That’s what I told them, from my heart.  And if they set me off again, for however long they determine – that’s what I’ll tell them again – from the heart.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  ‘Shipwrecked, Abandoned, Misunderstood’, but he still has the things his father instilled in him – humility, respect and love.  In spite of 25 years behind bars, he continues to wake up every day holding on to his humanity and on a mission to change the world for the better.

John Green #671771
C.T. Terrell Unit A346
1300 FM655
Rosharon, TX 77583

Found Faith

Locked in a cell with nothing but pain,
Thoughts of injustice running through my brain.
Sitting on Texas Death Row, waiting to die
For a crime I’ve not done, you might ask why…

How did it start, where will it end?
Why did this horrible nightmare begin?
Why did she lie and condemn me to death?
I’ll ask this question with my last breath.

I understand she was scared and alone,
But to blame it on me was wrong.
So, now I lay behind these walls of concrete and steel,
Waiting for justice on my appeal.

Kept in solitary confinement in this man made hell,
Empty inside, no longer a man, only a shell.
Missing my children all these years,
Shattered dreams, lost hopes, silent tears.

Angry for all the years I’ve lost,
Found faith for that man on the cross.
If not for the lord to help ease the pain,
The cruelness of this place would drive me insane.

When my day comes and it’s my turn to go,
There’s something I want everyone to know.
Life is short and often tragic,
Find the Lord, you’ll find life’s magic.

God bless you and me!

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  It’s eighteen years later…
I’ve lost the faith.

Troy J. Clark #999351
Polunsky Unit D.R.
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

Death Row – A Double Edged Sword

When you first arrive off the transport van, you are interviewed by the ‘Death Row Classification Committee’, handed a rule book and told that you are expected to follow the rules and policies.  Just a few days before, you were condemned to die by lethal injection because they believe you can’t be rehabilitated and are incapable of following any rules.

You spend the next twenty years being a model prisoner.  It won’t help you on appeal.  They don’t want to know if you could have been rehabilitated.  They don’t want to know the person you’ve become is not the man they labeled as ‘incapable of following rules or functioning in society’.

If you were to violate every rule, they would want to know.  I ask myself over and over – Is it possible to disagree with my confinement, yet accept the rules placed on me by it?  What does it mean to be in agreement with your incarceration?

Regardless of how much I ponder this, I know it’s not about what they say or do with me but what I see in myself, the dignity I live with, and the behavior I expect and look for from myself.  What kind of growth can I reflect upon myself, what is it I believe I am capable of living like?  Regardless of what the courts or prison officials tell me, I have to maintain a certain level of respect and accountability for my behavior and actions.  It’s a reflection of who I am, and nothing beyond that matters.

The sword may have two edges, but I have no worries of either cutting me, for my actions are my armor of protection…

Travis Runnels, is a published author, and is currently working on his second novel.  He lives on Death Row.

Travis Runnels #999505
3872 FM 350
Livingston, TX 77351

Herman

While Mongo was the most interesting and misunderstood of my acquaintances since incarceration, Herman had to be the sweetest of my friends.  He was at least twenty years my senior and probably the closest thing to a father figure I’ve ever found in this place.  My own dad passed away in 1988.

Herman had a never ending love for all things Astros and Rockets.  If a game was on TV, he could be found in the dayroom with a cold drink or a cup of coffee, cheering or jeering at the screen.  That’s where I found Herman during the ‘94-‘95 season, when the Houston Rockets won their first world championship in basketball.

There he sat, surrounded by Rocket haters, watching Houston destroy Orlando in four games – a sweep.  I’ve watched and loved the Rockets since I was eight years old.  My Uncle Mike was stationed in San Diego at the time, and he took me to my first pro basketball game.  In their first two seasons, they were the San Diego Rockets, and they moved to Houston in 1970.  I’ve been a Houston Rockets fan ever since.

When I arrived, there was one Rockets fan watching the game – then there were two, Herman and I.  And so it began.  Over the next twenty years – off and on because they move fellas around like chess pieces in here – Herman and I would watch the Rockets and the Astros.  In between games, we’d play dominos (his game not mine, I can’t count fast enough).  When he made store, he’d buy coffee and cookies, and when I got money, I’d buy enough for two.  We laughed at and told the same jokes, over and over again, as if they were being told for the very first time.  Herman was my bud.

If I didn’t talk to anyone all day, I’d stop and talk to Herman for at least an hour.  We talked about everything.  He worked all his life in the oil fields and drew a pension.  When he retired at age 54, he drew SSI.  Herman was self sufficient.  Then he was given twenty years for his third DWI in ‘95.  He did 19 years, 6 months on that, and when they paroled him, they sent him to a drug rehab for six months before he finally got off paper.  Therefore, he served the entire sentence.

The system is full of guys like Herman.  It eats guys like Herman for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Guys like Herman are good for the bottom line.

Herman still writes me once a month, twice if he’s up to it.   I don’t miss many people, but I do miss my buddy.  I’m sure he’ll be okay though.  He’s a tough old bird.  We survived nineteen years and six months in here together, how could he not be?

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  ‘Shipwrecked, Abandoned, Misunderstood’, but he still has the things his father instilled in him – humility, respect and love.  In spite of 25 years behind bars, he continues to wake up every day holding on to his humanity and on a mission to change the world for the better.

John Green #671771
C.T. Terrell Unit A346
1300 FM655
Rosharon, TX 77583

It Was A Panic Attack!!! Trust Me… I Know??

Since my arrival in the Missouri Department of Corruptions, I’ve grown.  I have developed. I have matured… but I’ve become some – thing, something I cannot place in words.  I have learned how to speak Swahili.  I’ve learned about religion, dogma, doctrine and esoteric science.  I have accepted life, I have endured pain.  I have seen conflict.  I have waged war…  I, in a nutshell, became insensitive to people, places, things, etcetera.

What I haven’t found is self. I overstand that many different key fundamental elements make up the crux of my being.  I know that I exist, yet I don’t know… I just don’t.  I sometimes sit and ponder as to the ‘how’ of things.  The ‘why’ of situations.  That ‘what if’.  My answers have merit, this I do know.  I get them in my most manic of states.  However, I am not crazy, or so I think.

In all of the malarkey that I hear, all of the beef I contend, all of the pigs that I resist, I still just am.  This is my issue.  Why won’t ‘they’ just allow me to be?  This is my question every nanosecond of every single hell scorned day, WHY?

Out of everything that I lost once, I was forcibly kidnapped, held for ransom and subsequently placed in the gulag to rot, wither and die – I have yet to lose my mind.  Of all the things that were taken away when they stripped me of my dignity, I was able to retain my thoughts. Every tangible object was taken and then memory obliterated, however, they have yet to kill my hopes and dreams.  I will not leave those behind.  Not because I am so strong to appropriate them from the death grasp of these feral hogs, only due to the reality that this is all that I have left. They would have to literally murder me in order for me to subserviently turn them over – or so I hope.

One other thing I haven’t lost is control.  It humors me to utter (write) such a statement.  I mean of self, but even this is frail.

I’m not pessimistic.  I just see nothing but darkness. Like Riddick in miseries Chronicle.  I view those most ugly of creatures, fighting with only tooth, nail, brawn, and vigor.   Still I remain the victor.

As the day twists into night, time seems not to matter much.  I can care less about a clock.  Maybe this is because I’ve gone years without seeing one.  Sun up, sun down.  Lights on, lights out. Three measly portions and a flex pen later it’s time to retire and they still won’t stop racing.  Even upon forced slumber, LaLa Land rejects me.  Will I ever be accepted?  Is there anybody who won’t ostracize me?  Do I approve of who I have become?  And the story goes on – the sun is peeking.  Nearly Fajr time.  I finally nod… yet still aware.

I’ve romanticized with the idea, the vision, experience, even aftermath of a revolution.  I am no revolutionary – I am a reformist in the most contemporary sense.  An ‘illegitimate capitalist’ as Huey P. Newton placed it in his essay, “Prison, Where is Thy Victory”.  I’m a militant feminist, debatist, reactionist, humanist, and a (poly)monotheist.  I’m intolerantly intolerant [sic], confused, yet in the know.  I’m an opportunist.  A follower as well as a leader.  I AM A CONTRADICTION; DUALISTIC.  If I cannot be true with self, I’ll be the epitome of a fraud to a jury of my non-peers.  They will judge.  It’s just the way of (wo)men.  Trust me, I know.  I am of them.  This is my struggle.  What occurs in my psyche daily. The thing I battle with subconsciously until my cerebral cortex feels as if it’s on the verge of implosion.  The shit I can’t control… my thoughts!!!  WHO AM I?  What will I become??? This is the question.

As I stir, I sit up and groggily walk over to the grimy steel sink.  “Bismellah,” as I make wudu, purification, I think about the Last Day.  I heard the wail of the Adhan, and its breaks my thoughts abruptly.  As I fall into sajdah, prostration, and mouth the prayer of Ibraheem and taslim to the left and then the right to the Noble Scribers, “Count time, Count time.  Standing count.  Name and number.  Make yourselves visible!”

I begin to think.  Unnaturally, I growl, “Greer 1153032.”  WHO AM I?  Is this my life?? My heart races.  Breathe… I thought I saw a monster out of my peripheral.  I turn to my left in alarm, braced for the attack.  Nobody??  It’s me, the man in the mirror.  As I look at my reflection, is it??  Damn! This can’t be happening again.  Breathe…

Tracy Greer, Jr. has been in ‘the hole’ for two years.  He is a gifted writer of poetry, fiction and essays.

Tracy Greer, Jr. 1153032
South Central Correctional Center
255 W. Hwy 32
Licking MO 65542

 

Letters From Home

BANG! BANG! BANG! “Mail call!  What’s your number?” yelled the obese guard as he finished beating on my rickety cell door with his pale, meaty fist, as though he was trying to wake the dead.

Startled out of my blank stare at the off-white, filthy, concrete wall across the cell, with its peeling chunks of paint, I drone a response, in a voice devoid of feeling, “Nine, nine, nine, three, seven, seven.”

I was lying on my ‘mattress’, another word for a hard, plastic sleeve, stuffed with what feels like a bunch of golf balls.  Lying on a bed of dirt would be more comfortable.  I was wearing the dingy white Death row uniform, basically a jumpsuit made of a denim-like material, the letters “DR” painted boldly on the back and on one of the legs, with thin, grey socks on my feet, attempting to keep my feet warm. My head was propped up on the thread-bare blanket I was issued, something a homeless person would balk at.

“Here!” barked the police academy reject in a voice that let me know he was disgusted with me before he slid two letters under my cell door, just past the doorway.

It took my depressed mind a second to register the mail on the floor. Once realization hit, I leapt off my bed as if it were on fire, took three steps to the doorway, and snatched my mail from the cold concrete. From the evening light struggling to squeeze through the tiny window in the back wall of my cell, I read the front of each envelope – one from mom and dad, one from Sara, the mother of my son.

My heart beat so hard and fast, it felt like it was going to explode right out of my chest. My hands were trembling and my breath struggling, as if I just sprinted a mile. The sheer desperation emanating from my being blurred out everything but those two letters. Someone could have opened my cell door and hit me over the head, and I would have been oblivious. I was starved beyond words for communication from outside the steel and concrete walls – especially from my family.

I read the letter from Sara first. Even though our relationship was on the rocks, I missed her terribly. Just holding her letter brought me comfort – the softness of the paper she handled and the scent she left on it. I soaked in her words like a dry sponge touching water for the very first time. Her loving words made me ache for her even more. I did not realize she was experiencing as much pain and suffering from being apart, as I was. I read her letter so fast, I had to read it again, a bit slower, to make sure I didn’t miss anything.  I read it a third time, slower still, because I needed the reprieve from the darkness that had plagued me since my arrival on Death Row nearly a month earlier. I clung to her words like a drowning man clings to a life preserver in the middle of the ocean.

Reluctantly, I placed her letter on my bare desk, which is nothing more than a thick sheet of metal welded to the wall, right next to my metal bunk.  The desk and bunk are dingy and rusted in several spots.

I took a deep breath and opened mom and dad’s letter. I say ‘mom and dad’, but my dad isn’t much of a writer, so mom writes for both of them. Their letters are always so full of love, comfort, encouragement…things I need to hear in order to keep from being swallowed by the darkness and going insane. It would be too easy to just let go. Like I did with Sara’s letter, I read my parents’ letter a second and third time, basking in the comfort with each pass. God, I miss them so much. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what they were going through. Children are not supposed to die before their parents…

I placed their letter next to Sara’s, and sat on my bed.  My cell was cold, which told me it was still cold outside. The heaters don’t work here. No surprise, nothing seems to work right here. To operate my steel-encased wall light which resides above the sink/toilet combo, you have to beat the front of it – one or two hard hits turn it on, four of five hard hits turn it off. I’m surprised the light bulbs haven’t shattered yet.  The toilet is probably the only thing that works properly. It’s a stainless steel sink/toilet combo bolted to a stainless steel wall. It’s quite the beast! In fact, it works so damn good, when you sit on it and flush, it feels like it’s going to suck you right down the drain! I have to be careful, as I only weigh a buck thirty. When it rains, water trickles through all the cracks in the walls, which is probably why my cell smells like a moldy, wet dog.

Sitting on my bed, the pain and horror of my situation begin to creep back in, like watching a horror movie in slow motion. I am soon filled with despair. The jury foreman’s words haunt me: “We the jury, find the Defendant, Kenneth Vodochodsky, Guilty of Capital Murder of a Peace Officer….” And then there’s the voice of the Judge: “….I hereby sentence you to Death.”  What a nightmare! When will I wake up?! Murder…Guilty…Death…All for a crime I did not commit!

“How the hell did this happen?!” I wonder aloud for the thousandth time.  I squeeze my eyes shut as tight as I can, trying to block out the memories. Tears begin to stream down my face, hot and accusing, puddling on my lap. My eyes red, puffy, and hurt to the touch. I no longer bother to wipe the tears away. When will they stop?! My nose is red and on fire from attempting to wipe away all the snot that seems to be trying to keep pace with all the tears running down my face.

It’s times like this I’m grateful to at least be in a cell by myself.

The sight of a grown man breaking down and crying is disturbing. In prison, it’s also a sign of weakness. If you’re perceived as weak, the predators will come after you. Hence, being surrounded by a pack of convicted killers is another reason to be grateful for a cell to myself. I contemplate if any of them are planning to come after me. What about the guards? Their looks of disgust and hatred are overwhelming.  I shiver from the fear, the unknown.

I pull my knees up to my chest, tightly wrap my arms around them, and rest my chin on top. I take a deep, shuttering breath. The tears are now down to a trickle. I think to myself for the umpteenth time, “What am I gonna do now? Am I going to die here?”

—-To be continued—-

Written by
Kenneth-Conrad Vodochodsky
#01362329 – Diboll Unit
1604 South First Street
Diboll, Texas 75941

Thank You, Kim – A Christmas Gift From Prison

Deep in the confines of our prison predicament, where our lonely existence fades out of the sight, mind, heart and emotions of others – you remember us in friendship, with humanity and kindness.  You come to know us, understand us, and care for us in ways most others could not, would not, or cared less to do.

In the degradation, abject humiliation, abandonment, and neglect we feel inside this deathly cold womb of incarceration, isolation, and loneliness, your friendship is truly a consoling companion and walkinthoseshoes is a lifeline to the living.   In spite of our sins, flaws, and guilt, you show mercy and sympathy and manifest grace and forgiveness.  In our deep regret, lamentation, and repentance for our transgressions, you offer empathy, compassion, and afford us absolution.

For our rehabilitation, you provide encouragement, hope, support, and confidence, and shower us with your knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual nourishment.  When circumstances threaten to turn us into animals and monsters, you help to shelter our humanity and inspire us to rise above the demons of our world, to subjugate the beasts within, to protect, promote and be the best that we can be – making you a truly indispensable ally in many of our battles and triumphs, including those against our base aspects.  Anonymous stranger, friend, or significant other, some of us may be to you, but to all of us, you are much more than a ‘mentor of authors’.

Kim, your mere presence in our lives is reason enough for some of us to better ourselves, when and where other reasons may not exist.   Among souls of times, past, present, and future, yours is of a divine nature and sublime substance, because by the virtue of your enlightenment, magnanimous principles, benevolent deeds, and noble ways and actions, it’s you that helps us to endure, overcome and also to transcend the penitence for our ignoble deeds, ways and actions.  For that, we shall always remain immeasurably grateful and profoundly appreciative, admiring of you for being the illuminated, uplifting and incomparably beautiful earthy angel that you are.  Thank you!

This was a gift to me, from a man serving life.  Darrell has contributed several pieces to this site, and continues to write.

Darrell Sharpe #W80709
P.O. Box 43
Norfolk, MA 02056

Mending Fences

One of the most difficult aspects of spending sixteen years on death row is the societal disconnect of being stowed away from the outside world.  Unlike other facilities, death row implements a measure of isolation that wedges a gap in the mental evolution of its denizens. Though outlets are provided as a source of information – like TVs, newspapers, and visits – the basic cable viewing and local coverage lacks the exposure to stave off the inevitable.

In June of 2016 telephones were installed on death row. This avenue for communication was an enormous leap from the single ten minute phone call that we had previously been allowed annually. The holiday phone calls, as the process was known, were administered under strict procedures and they often found their targets at work or unavailable, and if they were available, there was not enough time to speak with all those who were available and eagerly waiting. Not to undermine the value of those precious moments and the tender voices of our loved ones, but ten minutes a year is insufficient time to fully sense that you’ve spoken with someone. Today, things are different. The atmosphere on death row is alive with the promise for potential amendment. With the telephone installments, I am a notion and a few clicks away from breaching society.

The first call I made was to my mother, who relocated to be nearby after I was sentenced.  My mother has visited me weekly and provided for me in such a way that I am seldom in need.  She and I have sang, prayed, and cried together throughout the years to lessen the pain in each other’s eyes.  Just being able to talk with my mother by phone was an honor.

The second person I called was my Aunt Patsy.  Much like my mom, Aunt Patsy has been essential to my endurance with her continuous faith and optimism. She has visited, written, and sent funds, dutifully, as if I was her own son. Aunt Patsy has been a friend that I could confide in, and, right or wrong, she believes in supporting her family in every way she can – I admire that the most about Aunt Patsy.

After those two calls, I got around to making the most anticipated call that had been seventeen years in waiting. A call that came with hesitancy and doubt, and would either offer an incredibly wonderful experience or sizzle with awkwardness and discomfort. With jittery fingers, I punched in the digits. The phone rang once, then twice. Each clatter of the ringing that thrummed in my ear made the dissonance in my head more evident: desperately hoping someone answered, on one hand, while, on the other, praying to God that they didn’t.

Suddenly, the automated recording sprang to life as I resisted the impulse to hang up. What was I to say?  Where would I begin?  I was completely unaware that my breathing had stalled, until a sigh of relief escaped me.

“…Thank you for using Global Tel Link.”

Then I heard her voice, “Heyyy, Duck!”

And everything hit me at once, a plethora of memories and emotions from a life I once knew. A tear slipped out of my eye before words left my mouth as I realized why the moment was so endearing.  It was because nothing will ever be more important than family.  I’ve always stood by that philosophy, and I’ll die by it. I smiled as my worries morphed into joy.

“Hey, Aunt Pudding. It’s good to hear your voice.”

Aunt Brenda, whom everyone in our family called Pudding, was my mother’s older sister by one year. As kids, the two were best friends.  My mom looked up to Aunt Pudding and wanted to be just like her. Then, at 16 years of age, Aunt Pudding married and moved away from home to start a family, which left my mom to feel abandoned. Their relationship hardly suffered, instead, it strengthened as they grew. The dynamics of family closeness was similar with all my aunts and uncles. Whether a bill needed paid or someone needed a place to stay, they’d always provide for each other. This closeness was the inheritance for us children of the family. Aunt Pudding, herself, was the mother of six, though my brother and I made seven and eight. I spent countless Saturday mornings on her living room sofa watching Bugs Bunny cartoons and Soul Train.  In the backyard was an old pecan tree I’d climb while Aunt Pudding hung clothes out to dry.  Her house was a staple in the community for many of the neighborhood kids, and the lesson that our closeness reinforced most was that nothing was more important than family.

All that changed, May 17th, 1999, when our closeness went awry.  Aunt Pudding’s eldest son learned of my interest in a murder and covertly alerted the authorities.  After meeting with the detectives and detailing the crime, he was given an ultimatum: testify as to my involvement in open court or be criminally charged himself.  This act caused a rift in my family from which there would be no healing.

I never blamed Aunt Pudding for standing by her son.  It was indicative to how my grandmother raised her children.  It’s why my mom stood by me.  It was because, regardless of our children’s shortcomings, they are our greatest responsibility.  Still, the ordeal took a toll on my mother and Aunt Pudding’s relationship.  The sisters spoke occasionally, though careful to avoid mentioning their two sons. Other family members differed in opinions and ultimately chose sides.  Some doubted that the cousin would lie about something as serious as murder, while others were persuaded by the testimony of DNA findings.  It was an explosive circumstance that fragmented our family’s closeness with few whom I wondered if I’d ever hear from again.

Then about five years ago, while visiting with my mother, Aunt Pudding took ill and was hospitalized. Initially, the diagnosis looked bleak, but she slowly began to pull through. Many in our family gathered at her bedside to offer support and prayers. It was the closest we’d been in fifteen years.

Though I was unable to share in the experience, I agonized in seclusion.  I’d lost my grandmother and an aunt already; I couldn’t bear to lose Aunt Pudding.  There is no greater pain than the hurt I’ve felt in not being able to say goodbye. If I ever had the chance, I’d find a way to make things right.

With the telephone installments on death row, I was given that chance.  I expressed my eagerness to reconnect with Aunt Pudding, and my mom made it happen.  Aunt Pudding and I were in such high spirits that all the messiness seemed forgotten. Our conversation flowed like cool spring waters over the jagged stones of past controversy. It reminded me of more pleasant times, back in the days when Aunt Pudding’s doors were open to me, even in the wee hours of the night, or when I would raid her fridge to sate my appetite while she encouraged me to eat more. Back in the days when our love was unconditional and the only sides to be chosen had long been determined by blood. I will always love my Aunt Pudding, though amidst the chaos, I’d forgotten what that felt like, until now. And yet, nothing will ever be more important than family – the proof is in the pudding, just listen to her voice…

“Heyyy, Duck!”

“Hey, Aunt Pudding.”

What could be more important than that?

©Chanton