The clock was barely visible through the bars of my cell, but I knew in half an hour everything I’d worked for would be put to the test.
I drop my head and try to focus. Time trickles by and my mind is filled with the painful memories of the last month . . .
The judges words hit me like a freight train. They bounce of the walls of my skull threatening to tip me over the edge . . .
“Tyson Lloyd, I hereby sentence you to death”.
The gavel reverberates through my core.
The gate unclicks behind me and I turn to face the man who is responsible for this. His smug smile flashes before my very eyes, his pale features an American symbol of innocence . . .
My eyes are drawn to the clock once again; ten minutes to go and my thoughts are now with my son . . .
“I know what they're doing, dad. I won’t let you die in here.”
I try to hide the fresh bruise on my left cheek, but I’m distracted by the pain and the torment in his eyes.
“I know what I’m doing, son.”
“Then let me help you. I HAVE TO KNOW!”
The last time I saw my son, being dragged away before my eyes . . .
The dull ear-splitting sound of the klaxon fills my ears. I stand and tear my badge from my chest. I’m not a number, I’m a human being.
I step slowly out of my cell and automatically turn my head to the left. My bruise throbs with the movement. It faded many months ago, but the true pain will never leave me.
My son is next to me willing me on; he’s finally getting his wish.
“Now or never,” I croak.
I grab for the prison guard in front of me, and with all my force, I slam him over the bars, sending him plunging to his death.
The effect of what happened next was instantaneous. An animalistic roar bellowed from the heart of the prison and all hell broke loose.
Acting on pure adrenaline, I ran like a beast possessed, driven by my determination to get as far away from that cell as possible.
I headed towards the nearest set of double doors, sprinting down the corridor like Jesse Owens.
A pair of guards appear in front of me, barring my way. Without any time to react, I simply barrel into them, my momentum sending them flying backwards into the walls with a sickening thud.
The sirens blare and the roar continues, but it all seems so distant. I’m still running on pure adrenaline, focused on freedom . . . not just for me, but for my family.
Barging another set of guards out of the way, I take a sharp left diving through the heavy steel doors that lead to the basement. I leap down the stairs and charge through the dust and gloom of my penultimate obstacle in my bid for freedom.
I pause, taking a moment to find my bearings. The passage lies directly ahead of me, a narrow beam of light piercing the darkness in the room.
Taking a deep breath, I compose myself for the final hurdle. The planks come loose with ease.
I rush up the tunnel and burst out into the night, dust gathering in my wake.
“Look, I see one!”
I turn and look over my shoulder. My heart sinks.
It’s him. It’s 428.
I fumble reluctantly for my gun, hoping that this is all a terrible nightmare.
Then I come to my senses. This is reality.
“Take the shot!”
The gun shakes in my hand, my finger trembling over the trigger.
“Martinez, take the fucking shot!”
My focus hardens.
My hand steadies.
A blinding pain strikes my left leg and I stumble, crashing into the dust.
Seconds pass and I’m suddenly overcome by the coldness of the night. I’ve never felt so cold.
I notice a presence and hear footsteps gradually getting closer.
A shadowy figure appears out of the dust before me, silhouetted against the glare of the searchlights.
In a stifled sob, the prison guard I know as Martinez whispers, “I have to do this. I have no choice”
The searchlight alters its gaze and floods my face with light. My bruise throbs with a newfound prominence.
“You always have a choice . . . ”
20 years later
“This is it, Junior”
The cell is exactly how my father described it in the letters.
As I drink in my surroundings, a frayed scrap of orange fabric catches my eye. Reaching under the bed, I grope for the badge.
Looking carefully, I can just about decipher the numbers stamped into the metal: 428.
Fighting back tears, I hold it to my chest and my eyes are drawn to the wall above the bed.
Etched untidily, yet undeniably clear, are five words I shall never forget.
You always have a choice.