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Archive for December, 2010

Labels Last A Lifetime

James stared down at his hands. These sheets of paper were his only reminder of what today was . One picture was a three year olds sketch of a turkey with multi colored wings..the other a photograph of a little girl in pigtails, bright eyed biting into a turkey drumstick,a dab of mash potatoes on her button nose.  The letter from his sister said she asked about him and that only made the feelings of hopeless sorrow worse.

His sister , in the letter further described her day. She talked about the homeless kitchen that she served five hundred meals in three shifts on Thursday. They ran out of food at 4 pm , and there were people still coming, twice as many as last year she said.  She talked about people by name; Mr Holland who had his grocery cart of belongings taken by the police, Mr Jeremy who played his violin outside the local grocery store collecting pennies to buy soap and underwear and socks : things people take for granted for the homeless veterans that lined up for dinner at St Vincent’s . His sister remembered them all; she was the only one who wrote to him in here. She reminded him that no matter how alone he felt there were others that might be worse off. She gave him the reminder that God knows truth even if courts saw fit to lock him in a five by five cell of metal and concrete.

Worse off…. James didn’t see how men who were free to move and walk on the street , see the sky. see the smile on a child’s face, free to get a job and buy beer at the end of the week were worse off.  A few cells down someone started singing a Christmas carol and he wondered what his daughter was dreaming of for Christmas. He missed her last two his only way of seeing her excitement were through the pictures his sister sent. But even good intentions were like salt water in an open wound.  He pulled out a hair ribbon that still had a remnant of baby smell ; he kept it under his pillow . He put it to his nose and he remembered drying and twisting her hair into tiny braids. Her momma never had the time ..she was always too busy getting high to care. If only he hadn’t taken that job. He would be Christmas shopping for a baby doll, blocks or a tricycle right now. He would never get to see her ride her first bike, clean her skinned knees when she fell. If it wasn’t for his sister his little girl would be in foster care right now. He never wanted that for her.

That last morning he made her pancakes. She sat in her high chair rubbing her sleepy eyes. He made a happy face with strawberries and blueberries, and created her curly hair with whipped cream.  When he put the plate in front of her in her booster chair she clapped her tiny hands ; picked up a berry dipped it in the whipped cream and held it up ..” Here Daddy.. for you” . That moment he replayed in his head when men howled in rage, when fights broke out in the fenced in yard in their ten minutes under grey sunlight, when fights broke out as they ingested grey meat and grey potatoes, damn even the water was grey.

His buddy Joe had gotten him the job. Easy money he said ..it added up to be worth two months rent,utilities and Christmas presents for his little girl. If they did a good job Joe said they would get to do the delivery again. Two thousand dollars a piece for just driving a truck from Dallas Texas into Tijuana Mexico: just loading up a shipment of goods and bringing it back. It was only to take twelve hours, his sister said it was no problem to watch Sarah. She was going to take her to a Disney movie and to Chuck E Cheese. His sister couldn’t have children and she poured all her maternal joy into his little girl. He didn’t think about what he was delivering from Mexico, he never met his employer. He got the keys of the truck from a gum chewing receptionist at an almost deserted warehouse. Nobody was there.. he didn’t ask her name. There were no business signs, no logos, no stickered merchandise..just white tubs that looked like painters tubs. He didn’t ask questions of the Spanish speaking goons once they reached Mexico either. How could he? He didn’t speak Spanish. There were no signs at that warehouse in Tijuana either. He knew the men had guns by the way they held themselves.. eyes glaring , watching him and Joe load the five hundred tubs into the back of the truck. There was a filling station in the back of the warehouse so they wouldnt have to stop anywhere. Quite convenient or without a trace? Now he knew that their entire trip was being watched and they didn’t have a paper trail of evidence tying them to anything or anyone.

They were pulled over by DOT about five miles back into Texas. Not a problem to James, he had a clean licence, no outstanding warrants, but when the K-9 patrol arrived and tubs were being opened… it all became slow motion..handcuffs were being snapped on his wrists and Joe started to run.  They shot him on that desert road, shot him down like a coyote on the outskirts of the night ..an inconsequential loss in the logs of International drug trade. In that moment , that split second man is measured , sized up and analyzed without reason. All those sheriffs saw were drugs ..and because it was a DOT stop and the truck just came through the Mexican border, federal agents were contacted. In this country it is stop, drop and slam in a cell, and the truth means nothing in that moment. The truth that James knew nothing about drug cartels, had no connection to the man who was to pay him, they shot Joe who knew where they were supposed to deliver, and with his blood crimson stain on sand was the last link to any further communication with the American drug distributor. All the sheriffs, the FDE , the judge the lawyers could see was the truck, the drugs  and the Mexican American border. To them.. that is drug trafficking. A label that means 15 years in prison. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t give them names or that the  warehouses were vacant. When they were stopped Joe called “the boss” to the contact number, when the detectives traced the number on the phone : it was a trac phone number; easily bought at Walmart and easily disposable, no bill tracing. These two drivers: joe and James were disposable people.. given this job so other hands were not dirtied. Tomorrow they will be replaced by another Joe, James, Harry, Scott or Henry: all men with families, little smiling faces that need them to come home. Some days he wished that he had run like Joe…to be shot down like a rodent in the bottom of the food chain, so he didn’t have to wake up every day to repeat like the last. When and if he ever got out he would have no family, his little girl would be an adult and wouldn’t remember him, we wouldn’t be able to get a job with his charges. Drug trafficking… hell he wouldn’t even be able to get food stamps to feed himself. He would be lucky to find a park bench and a meal at St Vincent’s then he would be arrested for not having a home and sleeping on the street. Forever branded , forever labeled, cast out of the human race; for what? For driving a truck, to earn money for the only thing that ever mattered in his life… his little girl , Sarah.

On Christmas Day, James sister Carol received a telegram. James had been stabbed in the cafeteria of the federal prison, the only belongings they could return was the letters and pictures of Sarah.

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