Pack it up!

Laying in bed, eyes wide open I’d been awake all night. People are beginning to wake up and move about around me. I see people travelling back and forth going back to their beds and to the bathroom area. Lighting in the building is still very dim and low. It is almost breakfast time, I can tell by the faint light from the sun rising providing additional light in the building. “T 8 1 6 4 pack it up” is announced over the intercom without warning. That is the announcement that has kept me awake all night long. I’ve waited literally an entire decade for that particular announcement. I raised up, sliding my feet to the floor and men from all over the building were coming towards me. Men were reaching out their hands to shake mine in congratulatory fashion. The entire building was up, alive and moving about with excitement. You see, just the fact of  one man being called for release to go home was an injection of hope to the entire prison. Some men knew they would never leave alive and still were happy to see me go. I floated off the rack (bed) to my feet, stuff already packed and laying next to me on the floor. I began greeting the men who had presented themselves to say their last goodbyes to me. We shook hands and hugged, others presented torn pieces of paper with their Department of Corrections number and name on it for me to write. Most men just stood at the end of their racks savoring every move I made as if to create a movie for themselves as me reliving this moment. I grabbed the knotted sheet which was tied at the top with all the personal belongings I owned and wanted to keep. It was very light because in anticipation of this event I’d given most of what I owned to those closest to me the night before. In my sheet I carried the most prized possessions an inmate could call his own. The sheet contained letters, cards, and pictures accumulated over 10 years from my wife. My wife is an entire chapter alone for this book. 

I headed towards the front of the building and it appeared the entire building was up to see me out. As I approached the metal door I could see through the glass to the other building. What I saw in the other building was men crowding the door to get one last glimpse of me before leaving prison. I saw my cousin in the crowd of men at the door in the other building. The clanking of metal from the front door is heard and a guard appears in view. The officer in the tower opens the door in front of me and as I walk toward the guard waiting to escort me I ask if I can speak to my cousin at the door in the other building. The guard says yes and I approach the door and offer some encouraging words to my cousin about doing time. Walking towards the front door of the building I stopped, turned and took one last look at the faces peered to the glass door at both buildings. More metal clanking as the front door opened to let the guard and I out. The walk began and I really could not fathom what was happening. We walked towards the main administration building which could be seen off in the distance. As we approached the gate I heard it automatically click to unlock.  I could hear the guard’s walkie talkie with codes and calls sounding off as this had become a normal part of everyday life for me. We walked another yard approaching another gate “click” the gate opened and I’d switch hands carrying my sheet full of stuff because one hand and arm were tiring out. 

After walking three yards, through three gates and another metal door clanking, we reached the Administrative building. I moved, (by habit) to walk alongside the wall, mainly keeping my head down. Leaving the majority of the hallway walkway open to guards passing by. Entering another locked metal door area I was instructed to put my sheet of letters, pictures, and cards on the floor in front of an empty counter top. Then I was ushered and locked into the same cell I was put in upon entering prison 10 year prior. In the waiting cell was nothing but gray concrete floor, an open exposed metal toilet in the corner and a brass drain in the center of the floor. There were no seats, benches, just flooring. More than two hours had passed when the door popped and I was called out and looked at the clock on the wall. I knew minutes before the door popped that I would be called due to hearing an all but familiar sound. After being locked up for more than 10 years, I’d heard and became very accustomed to the sounds of chains being carried and dropped on the floor.  Any movement and transportation of prisoners came with jewelry (chains). Without sight, you could hear the officer coming because of the chains rustling together. Then, all of a sudden the sound would stop and all the chains dropped hitting a cement floor at one time. Again, without sight, you can picture what’s happening as you hear noise of chains moving, you know it’s the officer bending over separating, and untangling the chains. Then you can hear them placing sets of ankle shackles and waist – chains with handcuffs individually on the floor at different equally spaced places. Laying on the floor in the cell hearing this I knew that it was almost time. The door popped and I was called out and positioned in front of my jewelry.  Legs spread about should distance apart a guard locked shackles on my feet and locked a master lock chain around my waist tight as if it was a belt. Both my hands were placed in handcuffs attached to the waist chain. Lastly, the guard would lock the hand-cuffs in place with a small pin like key so they would not get any tighter around my wrist. Grabbing my sheet while hand-cuffed and shackled was a little difficult, but I managed to bounce it off my legs as I walked out to the van. Still in total shock and disbelief about this whole event, I refused to allow myself to become one with it because I was afraid of the disappointment. I think after spending an entire decade in the prison I was institutionalized in, I really had no concept of freedom. I had arrived in Hattiesburg MS, was released from my shackles and handcuffs, driving away from the van in the car with my wife, and as I veered back at the guards I was still in disbelief that this had actually happened. I was thinking this can’t be real.

One thought on “Pack it up!

  1. Sidney,
    Certainly not the man I know today, quite a remarkable journey that only came true due to your faith and commitment to change. I hope your life story changes other mens lives for the better and the sale of the book and speaking engagements allow you to travel the world spreading the word of Christ to all who will listen. 🙏😇

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