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much less offer him something as precious as a piece of gum.
"I want some," Calloway demanded. He must have seen the bounty
going by, since his cell was between Shay's and Joey's.
"Me, too," Crash said.
Shay waited for Joey to take the gum, and then pulled his line gently
closer, until it was within reach of Calloway. "There's plenty."
"How many pieces you got?" Crash asked.
"Just the one."
Now, you've seen a piece of Bazooka gum. Maybe you can split it with
a friend. But to divvy up one single piece among seven greedy men?
Shay's fishing line whipped to the left, past my cell en route to Crash's.
"Take some and pass it on," Shay said.
"Maybe I want the whole thing."
"Maybe you do."
"Fuck," Crash said. "I'm taking it all."
"If that's what you need," Shay replied.
I stood up, unsteady, and crouched down as Shay's fishing line reached
Pogie's cell. "Have some," Shay offered.
"But Crash took the whole piece—"
I could hear paper being unwrapped, the fullness of Pogie speaking
around the bounty softening in his mouth. "I ain't had chewing gum since
By now, I could smell it. The pinkness, the sugar. I began to salivate.
"Oh, man," Texas breathed, and then everyone chewed in silence,
except for me.
Shay's fishing line swung between my own feet. "Try it," he urged.
I reached for the packet on the end of the line. Since six other men
had already done the same, I expected to see only a fragment remaining, a
smidgen of gum, if anything at all—yet, to my surprise, the piece of Bazooka
was intact. I ripped the gum in half and put a piece into my mouth.
The rest I wrapped up, and then I tugged on Shay's line. I watched it zip
away, back to his own cell.
At first I could barely stand it—the sweetness against the sores in my
mouth, the sharp edges of the gum before it softened. It brought tears to
my eyes to so badly want something that I knew would cause great pain. I
held up my hand, ready to spit the gum out, when the most remarkable
thing happened: my mouth, my throat, they stopped aching, as if there
were an anesthetic in the gum, as if I were no longer an AIDS patient but
an ordinary man who'd picked up this treat at the gas station counter after
filling his tank in preparation for driving far, far away. My jaw moved,
rhythmic. I sat down on the floor of my cell, crying as I chewed—not because
it hurt, but because it didn't.
We were silent for so long that CO Whitaker came in to see what we
were up to; and what he found, of course, was not what he had expected.
Seven men, imagining childhoods that we all wished we'd had. Seven men,
blowing bubbles as bright as the moon.
For the first time in nearly six months, I slept through the night. I woke up
rested and relaxed, without any of the stomach knotting that usually con78
sumed me for the first two hours of every day. I walked to the basin,
squeezed toothpaste onto the stubby brush they gave us, and glanced up
at the wavy sheet of metal that passed for a mirror.
Something was different.
The sores, the Kaposi's sarcoma that had spotted my cheeks and inflamed
my eyelids for a year now, were gone. My skin was clear as a river.
I leaned forward for a better look. I opened up my mouth, tugged my
lower lip, searching in vain for the blisters and cankers that had kept me
"Lucius," I heard, a voice spilling from the vent over my head. "Good
I glanced up. "It is, Shay. God, yes, it is."
In the end, I didn't have to call for a medical consult. Officer Whitaker was
shocked enough at my improved appearance to call Alma himself. I was
taken into the attorney-client cell so that she could draw my blood, and an
hour later, she came back to my own cell to tell me what I already knew.
"Your CD4+ is 1250," Alma said. "And your viral load's undetectable."
"That's good, right?"
"It's normal. It's what someone who doesn't have AIDS would look like
if we drew his blood." She shook her head. "Looks to me like your drug regimen's
kicked in in a big way—"
"Alma," I said, and I glanced behind her at Officer Whitaker before
peeling the sheet off my mattress and ripping open my hiding place for
pills. I brought them to her, spilled several dozen into her hand. "I haven't
been taking my meds for months."
Color rose in her cheeks. "Then this isn't possible."
"It's not probable," I corrected. "Anything's possible."
She stuffed the pills into her pocket. "I'm sure there's a medical explanation—"
"He did this," I said, well aware of how insane it sounded, and yet desperate
to make her understand. "I saw him bring a dead bird back to life.
And take one piece of gum and turn it into enough for all of us. He made
wine come out of our faucets the first night he was here . . ."
"Okey-dokey. Officer Whitaker, let me see if we can get a psych consult
"I'm not crazy, Alma; I'm—well, I'm healed." I reached for her hand.
"Haven't you ever seen something with your own eyes that you never
She darted a glance at Calloway Reece, who had submitted to her
ministrations now for seven days straight. "He did that, too," I whispered. "I
Alma walked out of my cell and stood in front of Shay's. He was listening
to his television, wearing headphones. "Bourne," Whitaker barked.
After his wrists were secured, the door to his cell was opened. Alma
stood in the gap with her arms crossed. "What do you know about Inmate
Shay didn't respond.
"He can't sleep much," Shay said quietly. "It hurts him to eat."
"He's got AIDS. But suddenly, this morning, that's all changed," Alma
said. "And for some reason, Inmate DuFresne thinks you had something to
do with it."
"I didn't do anything."
Alma turned to the CO. "Did you see any of this?"
'Traces of alcohol were found in the plumbing on I-tier," Whitaker admitted.
"And believe me, it was combed for a leak, but nothing conclusive
was found. And yeah, I saw them all chewing gum. But Bourne's cell's been
tossed religiously—and we've never found any contraband."
"I didn't do anything," Shay repeated. "It was them." Suddenly, he
stepped toward Alma, animated. "Are you here for my heart?"
"My heart. I want to donate it, after I die." I heard him rummaging
around in his box of possessions. "Here," he said, giving Alma a piece of
paper. "This is the girl who needs it. Lucius wrote her name down for me."
"I don't know anything about that..."
"But you can find out, right? You can talk to the right people?"
Alma hesitated, and then her voice went soft, the flannel-bound way
she used to speak to me when the pain was so great that I could not see
past it. "I can talk," she said.
It is an odd thing to be watching television and know that in reality, it is
happening right outside your door. Crowds had flooded the parking lot of
the prison. Camping out on the stairs of the parole office entrance were
folks in wheelchairs, elderly women with walkers, mothers clutching sick
infants to their chests. There were gay couples, mostly one man supporting
another frail, ill partner; and crackpots holding up signs with scriptural references
about the end of the world. Lining the street that led past the
cemetery and downtown were the news vans—local affiliates, and even a
crew from FOX in Boston.
Right now, a reporter from ABC 22 was interviewing a young mother
whose son had been born with severe neurological damage. She stood beside
the boy, in his motorized wheelchair, one hand resting on his forehead.
"What would I like?" she said, repeating the reporter's question. "I'd like to
know that he knows me." She smiled faintly. "That's not too greedy, is it?"
The reporter faced the camera. "Bob, so far there's been no confirmation
or denial from the administration that any miraculous behavior has in
fact taken place within the Concord state prison. We have been told, however,
by an unnamed source, that these occurrences stemmed from the
desire of New Hampshire's sole death row inmate, Shay Bourne, to donate
his organs post-execution."
I yanked my headphones down to my neck. "Shay," I called out. "Are
you listening to this?"
"We got us our own celebrity," Crash said.
The brouhaha began to upset Shay. "I'm who I've always been," he said,
his voice escalating. "I'm who I'll always be."
Just then two officers arrived, escorting someone we rarely saw:
Warden Coyne. A burly man with a flattop on which you could have served
dinner, he stood beside the cell while Officer Whitaker told Shay to strip.
His scrubs were shaken out, and then he was allowed to dress again before
he was shackled to the wall across from our cells.
The officers started to toss Shay's house-upending the meal he hadn't
finished, yanking his headphones out of the television, overturning his
small box of property. They ripped his mattress, balled up his sheets. They
ran their hands along the edges of his sink, his toilet, his bunk.
"You got any idea, Bourne, what's going on outside?" the warden said,
but Shay just stood with his head tucked into his shoulder, like Calloway's
robin did when he slept "You care to tell me what you're trying to prove?"
At Shay's pronounced silence, the warden began to walk the length of
our tier. "What about you?" he called out to the rest of us. "And I will
inform you that those who cooperate with me will not be punished. I can't
promise anything for the rest of you."
Warden Coyne turned to Shay. "Where did you get the gum?"
"There was only one piece," Joey Kunz blurted, the snitch. "But it was
enough for all of us."
"You some kind of magician, son?" the warden said, his face inches
away from Shay's. "Or did you hypnotize them into believing they were
getting something they weren't? I know about mind control, Bourne."
"I didn't do anything," Shay murmured.
Officer Whitaker stepped closer. "Warden Coyne, there's nothing in his
cell. Not even in his mattress. His blanket's intact-if he's been fishing with
it, then he managed to weave the strings back together when he was
I stared at Shay. Of course he'd fished with his blanket; I'd seen the
line he'd made with my own eyes. I'd untied the bubble gum from the
braided blue strand.
"I'm watching you, Bourne," the warden hissed. "I know what you're up
to. You know damn well your heart isn't going to be worth anything once
it's pumped full of potassium chloride in a death chamber. You're doing
this because you've got no appeals left, but even if you get Barbara freaking
Walters to do an interview with you, the sympathy vote's not going to
change your execution date."
The warden stalked off I-tier. Officer Whitaker released Shay's handcuffs
from the bar where he was tethered and led him back to his cell.
"Listen, Bourne. I'm Catholic."
"Good for you," Shay replied.
"I thought Catholics were against the death penalty," Crash said.
"Yeah, don't do him any favors," Texas added.
Whitaker glanced down the tier, where the warden stood outside the
soundproof glass, talking to another officer. "The thing i s . . . if you want...
I could ask one of the priests from St. Catherine's to visit." He paused.
"Maybe he can help with the whole heart thing."
Shay stared at him. "Why would you do that for me?"
The officer fished inside the neck of his shirt, pulling out a length of
chain and the crucifix that was attached to the end of it. He brought it to
his lips, then let it fall beneath his uniform again. "He that believeth on
me," Whitaker murmured, "believeth not on me, but on him that sent me."
I did not know the New Testament, but I recognized a biblical passage
when I heard one—and it didn't take a rocket scientist to realize
that he was suggesting Shay's antics, or whatever you wanted to call
them, were heaven-sent. I realized then that even though Shay was a
prisoner, he had a certain power over Whitaker. He had a certain power
over all of us. Shay Bourne had done what no brute force or power play
or gang threat had been able to do all the years I'd been on I-tier: he'd
brought us together.
Next door, Shay was slowly putting his cell to rights. The news pro
gram was wrapping up with another bird's-eye view of the state prison.
From the helicopter footage, you could see how many people had gathered,
how many more were heading this way.
I sat down on my bunk. It wasn't possible, was it?
My own words to Alma came back to me: It's not probable. Anything's
I pulled my art supplies out of my hiding spot in the mattress, riffling
through my sketches for the one I'd done of Shay being wheeled off the
tier after his seizure. I'd drawn him on the gurney, arms spread and tied
down, legs banded together, eyes raised to the ceiling. I turned the paper
ninety degrees. This way, it didn't look like Shay was lying down. It looked
like he was being crucified.
People were always "finding" Jesus in jail. What if he was already
"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work;
I want to achieve immortality through not dying."
-WOODY ALLEN, QUOTED IN WOODY ALLEN AND HIS COMEDY, BY ERIC LAX
There were many things I was grateful for, including the fact that I was
no longer in high school. Let's just say it wasn't a walk in the park for a
girl who didn't fit into the smorgasbord of clothing at the Gap, and who
tried to become invisible so she wouldn't be noticed for her size. Today, I
was in a different school and it was ten years later, but I was still suffering
from a flashback anxiety attack. It didn't matter that I was wearing my
Jones New York I'm-going-to-court suit; it didn't matter that I was old
enough to be mistaken for a teacher instead of a student—I still expected
a football jock to turn the corner, at any moment, and make a fat joke.
Topher Renfrew, the boy who was sitting beside me in the lobby of
the high school, was dressed in black jeans and a frayed T-shirt with an
anarchy symbol, a guitar pick strung around his neck on a leather lanyard.
Cut him, and he'd bleed antiestablishment. His iPod earphones
hung down the front of his shirt like a doctor's stethoscope; and as he
read the decision handed down by the court just an hour before, his lips
mouthed the words. "So, what does all this bullshit mean?" he asked.
"That you won," I explained. "If you don't want to say the Pledge of
Allegiance, you don't have to."
"What about Karshank?"
His homeroom teacher, a Korean War veteran, had sent Topher to detention
every time he refused to say the Pledge. It had led to a letterwriting
campaign by my office (well, me) and then we'd gone to court to
protect his civil liberties.
Topher handed me back the decision. "Sweet," he said. "Any chance
you can get pot legalized?"
"Uh, not my area of expertise. Sorry." I shook Topher's hand, congratulated
him, and headed out of the school.
It was a day for celebration—I unrolled the windows of the Prius,
even though it was cold outside, and turned up Aretha on the CD player.
Mostly, my cases got shot down by the courts; I spent more time fighting
than I did getting a response. As one of three ACLU attorneys in New
Hampshire, I was a champion of the First Amendment—freedom of
speech, freedom of religion, freedom to organize. In other words, I
looked really great on paper, but in reality, it meant I had become an
expert letter writer. I wrote on behalf of the teenagers who wanted to
wear their Hooters shirts to school, or the gay kid who wanted to bring
his boyfriend to the prom; I wrote to take the cops to task for enforcing
DWB—driving while black—when statistics showed they corralled more
minorities than whites for routine traffic stops. I spent countless hours at
community meetings, negotiating with local agencies, the AG's office, the
police departments, the schools. I was the splinter they couldn't get rid
of, the thorn in their side, their conscience.
I took out my cell phone and dialed my mother's number at the spa.
"Guess what," I said when she picked up. "I won."
"Maggie, that's fantastic. I'm so proud of you." There was the slightest
beat. "What did you win?"
"My case! The one I was telling you about last weekend at dinner?"
"The one against the community college whose mascot is an
"Native American. And no," I said. "I lost that one, actually. I was
talking about the Pledge case. And"—I pulled out my trump card—"I
think I'm going to be on the news tonight. There were cameras all over
I listened to my mother drop the phone, yelling to her staff about her
famous daughter. Grinning, I hung up, only to have the cell ring against
my palm again. "What were you wearing?" my mother asked.
"My Jones New York suit."
My mother hesitated. "Not the pin-striped one?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm just asking."
"Yes, the pin-striped one," I said. "What's wrong with it?"
"Did I say there was anything wrong with it?"
"You didn't have to." I swerved to avoid a slowing car. "I have to go,"
I said, and I hung up, tears stinging.
It rang again. "Your mothers crying," my father said.
"Well, that makes two of us. Why can't she just be happy for me?"
"She is, honey. She thinks you're too critical."
Tin too critical? Are you kidding?"
"I bet Marcia Clark's mother asked her what she was wearing to the
O.J. trial," my father said.
"I bet Marcia Clark's mother doesn't get her daughter exercise videos
"I bet Marcia Clark's mother doesn't get her anything for Chanukah,"
my father said, laughing. "Her Christmas stocking, though . . . I hear it's
full of The Firm DVDs."
A smile twitched at the corners of my mouth. In the background, I
could hear the rising strains of a crying baby. "Where are you?"
"At a bris," my father said. "And I'd better go, because the mohel's
giving me dirty looks, and believe me, I don't want to upset him before
he does a circumcision. Call me later and tell me every last detail. Your
mothers going to TiVo the news for us."
I hung up and tossed my phone into the passenger seat. My father,
who had made a living out of studying Jewish law, was always good at
seeing the gray areas between the black-and-white letters. My mother, on
the other hand, had a remarkable talent for taking a celebratory day and
ruining it. I pulled into my driveway and headed into my house, where
Oliver met me at the front door. "I need a drink," I told him, and he
cocked an ear, because after all it was only 11:45 a.m. I went straight to
the refrigerator—in spite of what my mother likely imagined, the only
food inside of it was ketchup, a jar of pimientos, Ollies carrots, and
yogurt with an expiration date from Bill Clinton's administration—and
poured myself a glass of Yellow Tail chardonnay I wanted to be pleasantly
buzzed before I turned on the television set, where no doubt my fifteen
minutes of fame was now going to be marred by a suit with stripes
that made my already plus-size butt look positively planetary.
Oliver and I settled onto the couch just as the theme song for the
midday news spilled into my living room. The anchor, a woman with a
blond helmet head, smiled into the camera. Behind her was a graphic of
an American flag with a line through it, and the caption NO PLEDGE? "In today's
top story, a winning decision was handed down in the case of the
high school student who refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance." The
screen filled with a video of the courthouse steps, where you could see
my face with a bouquet of microphones thrust under my nose.
Dammit, I did look fat in this suit.
"In a stunning victory for individual civil liberties," I began onscreen,
and then a bright blue BREAKING NEWS banner obliterated my face. The picture
switched to a live feed in front of the state prison, where there were
squatters with tents and people holding placards and . . . was that a
chorus line of wheelchairs?
The reporter's hair was being whipped into a frenzy by the wind. "I'm
Janice Lee, reporting live from the New Hampshire State Prison for Men
in Concord, which houses the man other inmates are calling the Death
I picked up Oliver and sat down, cross-legged, in front of the television.
Behind the reporter were dozens of people—I couldn't tell if they
were picketing or protesting. Some stuck out from the crowd: the man
with the sandwich board that read JOHN 3:16, the mother clutching a
limp child, the small knot of nuns praying the rosary.
"This is a follow-up to our initial report," the reporter said, "in which
we chronicled the inexplicable events that have occurred since inmate
Shay Bourne—New Hampshire's only death row inhabitant—expressed
his desire to donate his organs post-execution. Today there might be scientific
proof that these incidents aren't magic . . . but something more."
The screen filled with a uniformed officer's face—Correctional Officer
Rick Whitaker, according to the caption beneath him. "The first one
was the tap water," he said. "One night, when I was on duty, the inmates
got intoxicated, and sure enough the pipes tested positive for alcohol residue
one day, although the water source tested perfectly normal. Some of
the inmates have mentioned a bird being brought back to life, although I
didn't witness that myself. But I'd have to say the most dramatic change
involved Inmate DuFresne."
The reporter again: "According to sources, inmate Lucius DuFresne—
an AIDS patient in the final stages of the disease—has been miraculously
cured. On tonight's six o'clock report, we'll talk to physicians at
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center about whether this can be explained
medically . . . but for the newly converted followers of this Death
Row Messiah," the reporter said, gesturing to the crowds behind her,
"anything's possible. This is Janice Lee, reporting from Concord."
Then I saw a familiar face in the crowd behind the reporter—DeeDee,
the spa technician who'd given me my body wrap. I remembered telling
her that I'd look into Shay Bourne's case.
I picked up the phone and dialed my boss at the office. "Are you
watching the news?"
Rufus Urqhart, the head of the ACLU in New Hampshire, had two televisions
on his desk that he kept tuned to different channels so that he didn't
miss a thing. "Yeah," he said. "I thought you were supposed to be on."
"I got preempted by the Death Row Messiah."
"Can't beat divinity," Rufus said.
"Exactly," I replied. "Rufus, I want to work on his behalf.".
"Wake up, sweetheart, you already are. At least, you were supposed to
be filing amicus briefs," Rufus said.
"No—I mean, I want to take him on as a client. Give me a week," I
"Listen, Maggie, this guy's already been through the state court, the
first circuit of the federal court, and the Supreme Court. If I remember
correctly, they punted last year and denied cert. Bourne's exhausted all
his appeals . . . I don't really see how we can reopen the door."
"If he thinks he's the Messiah," I said, "he just gave us a crowbar."
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 didn't
actually come into play until five years later, when the Supreme Court
upheld the decision in the case of Cutter v. Wilkinson, where a bunch of
Ohio prisoners who were Satanists sued the state for not accommodating
their religious needs. As long as a prison guaranteed the right to practice
religion—without forcing religion on those who didn't want to practice
it—the law was constitutional.
"Satanists?" my mother said, putting down her knife and fork. "That's
what this guy is?"
I was at their house, having dinner, like I did every Friday night
before they went to Shabbat services. My mother would invite me on
Monday, and I'd tell her I'd have to wait and see whether anything came
up—like a date, or Armageddon, both of which had the same likelihood
of occurring in my life. And then, of course, by Friday, I'd find myself
passing the roasted potatoes and listening to my father say the kiddush
over the wine.
"I have no idea," I told her. "I haven't met with him."
"Do Satanists have messiahs?" my father asked.
"You're missing the point, both of you. Legally, there's a statute that
says that even prisoners have a right to practice their religion as long as it
doesn't interfere with the running of the prison." I shrugged. "Besides,
what if he is the Messiah? Aren't we morally obligated to save his life if
he's here to save the world?"
My father cut a slice of his brisket. "He's not the Messiah."
"And you know this because . . . ?"
"He isn't a warrior. He hasn't maintained the sovereign state of Israel.
He hasn't ushered in world peace. And okay, so maybe he's brought
something dead back to life, but if he was the Messiah he would have
resurrected everyone. And if that was the case, your grandparents would
be here right now asking if there was more gravy."
"There's a difference between a Jewish messiah, Dad, and . . . well. . .
the other one."
"What makes you think that there might be more than one?" he
"What makes you think there might not?" I shot back.
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