by Michael Elliott
Second place winner, Nonfiction/Arlington County Detention Facility/Heard/ writing contest, August 2022
“Mr. Elliott, Good Morning, My name is Ryan such and such, from the Philadelphia Public Defender’s Office. My job is to come and present to you the smart room numbers as to the sentencing guidelines, as well as an offer from the District Attorney’s office concerning your case, …excuse me,…cases. It is my understanding you have been charged with several armed robberies involving SBI… and a home invasion.”
“Sir, what is an SBI?” I ask him, very detached from the meeting, already preparing myself to hear some off the wall stuff. Knowing the current situation to be, sorry but there’s no other way to put it….F***ED.
“Serious bodily injury.,” he says as he’s rffling through court papers a tone as detached as my demeanor.
“Here it is,” he says… “Mr. Elliott the smart room sheet says that each of the armed robberies with your prior drug convictions is: 30-60 years….each. The DA, at this point is willing to give you 4, 15-30 year sentences, ran concurrent…if you decide to sign it today.
“Mr. Elliott I’ve looked at the discovery of your cases, and my advice to you sir…is to take this deal, it will only be offered to you once and after today it is off the table,.. And the DA will be pushing for the max on each case.”
When he said he looked at the discovery I damn near laughed in this man’s face. I didn’t even have a preliminary hearing yet. what discovery could this…gentleman…have? He doesn’t have the slightest clue of any detail of this case, let alone any idea that I know enough, that his “advice”, almost made for [a] very unexpected right hook from yours truly.
How dare this man come to me at 9:00 AM on a beautiful Monday morning, and advise me to sign my life away knowing nothing but was said in an arrest report. And here is the biggest fact of it all…I was innocent.
The story didn’t start here, this from when what I can remember, is the day the fight started,…the fight…for my life.
I kept having this horrible dream that I was in an orange jumpsuit, and in a cell from what it looks like. It was exactly like a cell in Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility…CFCF…or if you’re from Philadelphia and have had the pleasure of making through those sliding gates… Most of us know it simply as THE “F.”
But it was just like that. And I kept sayin to myself “this dream sucks, why can’t I be on a jet ski somewhere?”
Then for some reason the cell door opens and I heard my name “Elliott…21 cell…social worker” I kept saying to myself “this dream is too vivid, I don’t like this.”
And then I began to realize as I got out of my boat (a bed on the floor due to overcrowding, 3 men in a 2 man cell) this was no dream… it was truly a nightmare…. I was in prison…AGAIN.
I was taking a lethal amount of Xanax, most days at that time, and days consisted of becoming conscious or waking up, smoking a cigarette, thinking about my children, my wife, how they were gone, and how they were never coming back, me trying to make some money to at least try to develop some kind of existence and move on. I would make a respectable dollar then my addiction to escaping would kick in, I’d end up with least 10 Xanax in my hand, then mouth and hello darkness my old friend….rinse, repeat.
God only knows what happens to me and I didn’t care what happened. I woke up the next day and I wasn’t banged up, bruised, or bloody, I’m sure I had a good time. But now I’m in jail, and have no idea how I got there. And what made it super trippy, I don’t remember cops, the precinct, going through intake (which takes no less than a whole two days, at that time…), I was completely baffled, not to mention, still high.
So I float on down to the social worker and the first question she asks me, is the money question: “Mr. Elliott, do you know why your here, and do you know where here is?”
I tell her her I know I’m in the “F” but have[n’t] the slightest idea why. She says “I’m gonna give you all of the info I can.” So I’m assuming I caught another possession with intent to distribute (PWID). That’s what I go to jail for anymore…. Selling dope (not proud in saying that) please don’t misunderstand that.
As she continues to look at her monitor, her demon demeanor begins to change with every arrow down. She looks, at me, the screen, me, the screen. I’m thinking to myself, open paren well damn, how far down does she have to go? Close paren, when finally she says
Open paren there must be some kind of mistake and they might of duplicated the record of putting this in the system twice. Because it says here, you’ve been charged with “1… Period two period. No…. 3…. Oh wow…. 4 armed robberies”… “and a home invasion”… “Mr Elliot, your bail is set at $800,000 cash, no 10%.
I couldn’t believe it, I don’t rob people, but I honestly had to consider the possibility… I was underlined on xanax. I call them “I hate life” pills. They truly make you disappear, but for me, I also have zero inhibition on them as well, they are dangerous.
She sees the color in my face disappear, as well as any kind of connection to reality in my eyes. Of course, she asked me if I was OK… I think I nodded or said something. I don’t remember much after that, walking back to my unit and such.new paragraph One thing I do remember…. For the first time in my whole life I knew what being hopeless was. The only vision, image of a future, the only thing left and life for me was me swan diving off the top tier of my unit, and my brain matter bouncing around the day room and my spine bent and broken into a “Z”.
There was nothing left for me. My life was over, last to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The city of brotherly love. Not to mention the six detainers I had. I knew I was gonna sit in jail fighting 36 charges 10 felonies: numerous gun charges assault of a Philadelphia detective, two shooting victims, it was more than a hopeless situation. I just sat numerous years on detainers under the presumption of innocence, I last ten years on location of the county jails state road, for being a drug addicted pain riddled man just trying to provide some kind of life for his family that he can only dream about anymore.
I was done. I’m tapping out. I am sorry babies…. Joan…. I just wish I was a little stronger…. Hopefully this dog makes it to heaven
My life literally flashes before my eyes, all of my hopes, dreams, memories, of a childhood that seemed as if that was only a dream I would never return to but wanted to so desperately., if only to hug my mother again. You want talk about emotions? I can’t even begin to find the words 2 Fay and express, in the void, that has manifested in my soul, or try and count the number of pieces my spirit was broken into.
All of this happened to me…. In a single moment. I can’t help but try to see clearly enough to write this… The tears still come uncontrollably seven years later. That moment can’t be acquired at a university, that moment can’t be bought, that moment is the realization that your life is now…. Over.
It still takes my breath away as I try to articulate… What it is… To be… Hopeless alone… Broken… And hopeless… But still breaking… Barely.
When I got back to B-12, my housing unit in the F it is a quarantine block which is significant to mention. Every quarantine unit has a caged off top tier open perens specifically designed for hopeless, but suicidally ambitious inmates such as myself close paren. Apparently I am not the first with an idea a permanent solution, but either way. A minor obstacle. An obstacle minor enough for me to say to myself “I’ll wait until the whole block is out for rec, and I can get far enough out on the ledge without bothersome correctional officers finding themselves not wanting to do all that paperwork. This is where things actually become “spooky” in my life. Spooky, but…. Just downright ironically, I don’t know how else to put it.
So, here I am 33 years old, 60 Tanners equaling a combined 43 years of probation, if you run them consecutively. Charged with four armed robberies, two people shot, a detective assaulted… All allegedly.. Multiple gun charges 36 charges all together ten of which are felonies, the Commonwealth needing only to convict me on just one, for me to say bye bye to streets, haven’t seen any of my children in five years, and believe me… No lack of effort on my part open paren that’s a whole other book close paren.
addicted to drugs…all of them. With absolutely no support: family or friend. Just waiting for my cell door to open to lay down until rec. The officer buzzes my gate, I go in, gate shuts…BOOM!!
As I’m standing there, I notice that this isn’t my cell, I start yelling “CO…CO… I’m in the wrong cell, this ain’t my cell!!”
“Yes it is Elliott, 21…Elliott’s in 21…” she says on the PA system.
“It can’t be my cell….” I’m saying to myself. “That boo was not there.” I glance over ot the table, see MY paperwork, this IS my cell….
Let me try and pain this picture a little better. My mat is in a plastic “bota” on the floor. I’ve been on this particular floor for a couple days, bottomline, my eyes have perused this entire cell at least 95 times. That book, on the floor under the other bunk was NOT THERE when I left.
It is now here not only here but dusty as if it’s been there for quite some time. I’m trippin’ now. I’m trying to figure out rationally how this can be. There is nothing written on the back of this book cover, it’s just white and dusty, pages a yellow that only happens to books that are old.
I can’t help myself. I grab this little dusty, unknown, wipe it off with the back of my hand, flip it over, and the two words that titled it were “HERE’S HOPE”…well, let’s just say…I damn near pissed myself laughing mad. That was so funny to me in the darkest most sarcastic mockingingly way.
At that current juncture the plan was still the same: the sweetest swan dive CFCF has ever cleaned up when that gate cracked, but now, at least I had something to read, in the meanwhile. Something to kill, really, pun intended. I hoe that’s how you use that.
I never in my life has read the Bible, actually sat down and read any one book, let alone all the books, in it’s entirety. I know nothing of Jesus, other than Christmas is His alleged birthday (I hope I used that right) and I got the presents (sweet deal). And He was murdered by a mob of Jews, but made it look like the Romans did it.
This was the extent of my theological section, and had no idea dear ol’ Captain Noah, with his boat of animals, send him pics, the mad man Moses the fugitive, who was rainin’ frogs on the Pharoah on his pyramids. On Easter Weekend, having to eat pizza on Good Friday (yes Freiday was always pizza, and always good) had anything to do with each other.
Other than they all had really cool ….BEARDS. Kind of went to left field with that, or as they say sophisticating, on a tangent! (Did it again) oops. I will not continue on that one…lol…BRITNEY SPEARS!! Kelly Clarkson. Like Steve Carrell in [the movie] 40 Year Old Virgin, who actually played in Evan Almighty…where he portrays NOAH…Boom. I took off all the tangents…(Darth Vader voice) “The circle is now complete.”
All that say basically I knew absolutely NOTHING ABOUT GOD. And at that point, in that cell, one door from ending my life. T me …(for the child who might read these adult words) F*** GOD!!
But I was bored and tired of thinking, so I read this New Testament ,and was just patiently waiting for my cell to open. I don’t even want to tell you that it was a Friday when I talked with the social worker xxxx and how I read that New Testament 7 times during the course of the weekend from what I was told, because when my bell finally opened it was Sunday during dinner.
I don’t remember my cell opening all day Saturday or Sunday for meals or medication. I read the Gospels and Epistles like a novel.
I had a hard time “seeing” what was happening but I read it enough to get an image of Jesus. But it wasn’t Jesus that made an impression that developed an itch that had to be scratched. It was a particular verse that grabbed my spiritual eyeball and shook it like a pitbull on a chew toy….
1 JOHN 4:8
Typist note: 1 JOHN 4:8: “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (NKJV)