Life in prison only means a life sentence for the victims.
Savannah Ga Winter 2013
“The Coldest Beer and Hottest Juke Box in Town.”
Sounds like my kind of place. The Warehouse on River Street in historic Savannah Ga. Savannah is a port city with converted and re-converted buildings along the docks on River Street. Once they were home to King Cotton, tobacco and goods from around the South. They are brick and mortar structures standing on a cobblestone street, glimpses into history. A look into tales of war and piracy, love, lust, riches to ruin and now a cold beer and a really hot juke box. Progress.
This night it would turn out to be more enlighten and sobering than most nights spent at such establishments. The beginning, innocent enough, as usual, a bar with two empty seats close to mine. Then the fortunate turn of events as two ladies came in and sat down for what I thought was a girl’s night out.
Time passed, a couple of glances, some quiet conversation between us and the other patrons and then the ice breaker from one of the ladies.
“Let’s do shots!”
A sure winner in getting the crowd and conversation going.
She smiled to her companion and then at me, with an empty hand raised in the air.
“What are we toasting?” I asked.
“We just came from a parole hearing.” Donna said.
Donna and Meriell where passing through Savannah on there way back to Gainesville Florida. Meriell was Donna’s sister in law married to her younger brother. Both looked to be in there late thirties early forties, with generous smiles and a relax demeanor. They had spent the day in South Carolina and decided that Savannah would be a good layover for a couple of days of fun and relaxation.
“Who’s parole hearing?” I asked.
“My sister’s murderer.” Donna replied as she held up her glass to drink the shot.
The statement didn’t immediately register, sister, parole, murder. Then it sunk in. Their sister was murdered.
I was still absorbing this info, when the shots arrived. We all held are hands aloft and the Meriell said.
“Another year in jail.”
“Well this a first for me, toasting to an unsuccessful parole.” I counter.
“Salute. My sympathies I know this can’t be easy.”
Donna sighed and put down her shot glass empty and ran her finger around the top of it make sure not to miss a drop.
“I am just soooo glad to have it over for another year. For weeks my stomach gets tied up in knots knowing I have to go before the board. It is over for now. Well until maybe next Christmas when I have to show up again.”
Then with a tear in her eye she lifted her cup turned it over and place it on the bar, indicating it was drained or maybe showing she was.
Not sure what we were drinking, a bonzi orgasm or something like that. I am not a big shot drinker but this was one of those three part fruit drinks one part lighter fluid type drinks. But it served its purpose, she wiped away a tear, I too was a little watery eyed as the implications of what they had been through sunk in deeper. The shot sharpen my awareness of their pain as it numbed theirs.
Then she continued.
“Every 11 months a family member has to show up and provide a victims impact statement. Been doing this for this for the past 14 years. The son of a bitch spends another year in jail. The fucker’s only hope is I won’t show up. Dream on!”
Even though he was given a life sentence for the murder he was eligible for parole after 14 years in prison. Then every 11 months he becomes re-eligible. Someone has to show up for the victim to plead their case as to why he should not be released. The date for the hearing is ever changing. Next year it will be around Christmas time when he is eligible again. In two years it will be Thanksgiving time if he doesn’t make parole next year.
I could see tears welling up in Donna’s eyes again and her sister-in-law looked down at the floor, tough day I thought. But no good could come out of remembering now. Their task at hand done, they needed to smile, if not for just a day.
“Hey, here’s to partying in Savannah, you’ve done your duty for a year. Another round starbender on me.” I said.
James the barkeep knew none of us were driving anywhere so the night was ours.
“How long you staying in Savannah?” I asked.
“A couple of days to take it easy. What’s going on in town, anything exciting?”
“We figured that.” They both said in unison and then smiled.
The conversation took a pleasant turn their trauma showed up in looks, a quick sentence about an anniversary, or a remembrance of a little sister taken so early in life. We finally talked about what happen. The victim, was16 years old, and wanted to go get her drivers license. A family acquaintance took her. She was not seen again for two weeks. The exact facts are uncertain, but what is known was that she was murder that night by the acquaintance and possible two others. Her body was dragged across a field and buried under a barge where it would have stayed for years but for torrential rains in the weeks to come. The barge lifted and her body floated out from underneath. The Police thought she might have been raped but time and weather destroyed any evidence. The family acquaintance was convicted of murder and sentence to life in prison.
But life ain’t life.
“After ten years he is up FOR PAROLE!” Donna said in absolute astonishment. “If he sold drugs to school kids he would have gotten more time. It is better to kill a child then sell them drugs.”
“I can’t imagine what you all go through, I have no bases for anything close to what you all must be feeling.” I guarded my words as I don’t know what they are feeling and I don’t want to bring up pains that have been put away long and deep ago.
“It was worse on my mom, I know it took years off her life, she died at the age of 62, the emotional stress of everything killed her. That night he took more than just my sister’s life he took her family.”
The evening came to an end with hugs and promises to keep in touch. In any small way that I could help I would. There were laughs, and they made plans for their free day in Savannah which I am sure would mean more bonzi orgasms or what ever the hell that drink was.
Tragedy comes in many forms. One of the most hideous is for the people that the murder victim leaves behind. They must now live with the loss along with the constant reminder the court system impales upon them, a system which will not let the victim rest in peace. Nor put the guilty away and gone out of their lives.
Family and assailant are now connected in a morbid scenario that must be played out every 11 months. A time and place they must go back to, to convince strangers that the murderer of their love one does not deserve freedom, birthday celebrations, family milestones. To have anything he took from them. Each year they are faced with possible freedom for the murder but it will always be a life sentence for the victims’ family. Then one day he will be freed, the end of his life sentence just another year in their’s. That is just the way it is.