Letters to Mamma
By Martini Harkert
February 4, 2002
Do you recall the first time we stood together on the steps to the courthouse? I do. It was raining and dreary. The clouds were heavy, but not as heavy as our hearts. The huge concrete steps smelled wet and moldy. The bottom seemed a million miles away from the huge double glass doors at the top. I asked you what those large gray archways were. You said they were metal detectors. There were a lot of men in brown suits with gun belts on their waists. When they took Rodney away in that orange jumpsuit, handcuffed and shackled, we both wept. I was twelve.
Time went by, and things went bad. You cried all the time, at least until the booze came around. Then, you only cried until the first bottle was empty. I used to sit in my room waiting for the tears to stop. I learned a lot on those Saturday afternoon visits we took up state to Joliet. I learned even more on those long lonely nights, while you lay passed out on the worn brown tweed sofa. I learned to cook. I learned to clean, but most of all I learned the streets.
I heard that pot was a gateway drug, but I never believed it. I do now. I smoked it; I sold it; I even stole for it. Mamma, I know you tried to stay away from the liquor. And you tried to keep me from doing the things Rodney had done, but… At sixteen, I met Marla, at seventeen, I became a daddy; at eighteen, I caught a case of my own, armed robbery. At nineteen, I was another Rodney.
Mamma, I was scared coming into this place. Two tiers of gray and white metal. Railings wrapped around the entire top floor. The stairs seemed to reach the sky, something I wouldn't be seeing for a long time. It felt like I had just walked into the monkey house at the zoo. The noise from the other inmates whooping and hollering--- "New meat on the block…" --- A giant green ball of spit and snot landed on my left cheek. Trash flew from every direction. I was terrified. My throat had gone as dry as the desert, and my legs had gone weak. I was afraid they would give out at any time and I would fall flat on my face.
I finally reached my cell. It's an eight by twelve concrete room with two metal bunks, a stainless steel sink, and a toilet to match. There are no windows to the outside. There are no windows anywhere except for on the heavy steel door that locks me off from the rest of the world. The sound of it when it slides closed and the lock settles into place is chilling. Mamma, as bad as it had been, home was not as cold and uncaring as this place. My cellie is twice my size. I want to come home. I want… Well, I guess it's too late for what I want; six bullets; one dead cop, and a life sentence too late. That moment it hit me, I no longer had a life.
Mamma, it was hard on me when you wept at my hearing, as you had for Rodney. And when lil D looked up at me with those innocent brown eyes, as if to ask, "Where are you going daddy?" I couldn't explain. I just walked away with a tear stinging at the corner of my eye. I didn't want you, my girl, or my son to see me like this, in this place. I hooked up with a few of my homies on the block that I had known out on the streets.
You remember Keenan? He's in for merking a dude over a drug deal gone wrong, and Calvin Jones, he's a short- timer in on a domestic. He had beat up his girl. From what I heard, he did it in a real good way too, she barely survived. It was sort of nice to see them again, at least I felt a little less alone. Locked in a cell sixteen hours a day gives time for a lot of serious thought and self-reflection. Though I did not intend to mail them, I began writing these letters. And, if you happen to be reading them, it means something bad has happened to me in here and I no longer have to worry about hurting you with my words.
Please forgive me, your loving son Dante
April 16, 2002
I know you didn't have a choice. You did what you thought was best. If you hadn't been the one to make that call, I would already be dead on the streets. They would have shot me down right at your doorstep. Things weren't so bad before Rodney went away, and I am sorry that I could not fill the hole he had left in your heart. I tried mamma. I really tried. Things aren't so bad here. I have a few homies to talk to, and keep even with. The food stinks, and it doesn't look fit for an animal, but I get three hots a day. As much as I would like to, I can't cry myself to sleep. Something like that could get me merked, or worse. I miss you mamma, and I wish things were different. I wish I could take it all back. I even wish I could bring Rodney back so that you wouldn't need to drink away your pain.
All my love, Dante.
June 21, 2003
It has been a while since I wrote you. This past year has been the longest of my life. It smells like ass in this place. The weather has been hot as hell, but I would give anything to see the sun outside these walls. I have had a lot of time to think, and guess what? I blame you for everything. You made the call that put me in here, and yeah I know I said it was the right thing to do, but what kind of mamma puts her own blood in a place like this? If you hadn't forgotten about me when Rodney went away, I would never had to turn to the streets for love and belonging. I was just a small boy when Rodney went away, and you left me too. Why? I guess that question may never get answered.
I'm sorry mamma. I'm sorry I'm bad. I wish I could take back all the things I done to you and said to you over the years. Tell lil D all about the bad in my life; try to keep him out of this place. I know it won't be easy, but please mamma… please don't let this shit continue. Yeah, I blame you. Yet, the longer I sit here staring into this blank lifeless space, the more my blame turns to shame and I feel the guilt I have left you with. Don't cry for me mamma. I have done enough of that for both of us.
Your son, Dante
June 6, 2006
It's the day of the devil. I know, because I'm in hell. Lil D must be getting big by now. Does he look like me mamma? He's nearly half the age I was when Rodney went away. Time goes by slow in the joint, but not out in the real world, right mamma? A fight broke out in the lower tier last night. The dude had been a snitch trying to beat a murder rap. It was something. It was like a pack of starving wolves coming in on a wounded animal. He didn't have a chance. I stayed in my cell for most of it. The sound of flesh hitting flesh is a horrible sound. It's something heard every damn day here. His screams could be heard echoing throughout the cellblock. By the time the CO's got to him, it was too late. He was laying face up, his eyes rolled into the back of his bleeding skull. He was dead in a pool of his own blood. I pray every night for that not to happen to me.
Last week, a Nations come eyeballing me. I felt like a piece of meat dangling on a pole waiting to be eaten. I'm frightened mamma. I wish I could come home. Please tell lil D I love him, and tell Marla to go on with her life, tell her to find someone else, someone who will be good to her. Things here are bad. There's more murder and rape inside these walls than I ever known out there on the streets mamma. I don't feel so well.
Thanks for listening, Dante
September 10, 2007
I have done so many things in here that I am ashamed of. Things I would never have done outside these walls. This is no place for a man my age. Every time a batch of newbie's come through, I feel like it was just yesterday when I was in their position. I fear for them. I hope lil D never comes walking down that tiled corridor. It turns you into something you don't recognize when you look in the mirror. I went to the infirmary last week; the doc says there is nothing he can do for me now. I never thought that I would end up this way. I am not sure how long I have. It seems ironic that I actually got my life sentence before I ever came here. I knew sharing needles was bad, but I wasn't thinking about the future, just the present. The good news is that now, I am not the only one going to die. I guess the pain of what they did to me in the showers was better than the pain they will have to endure now.
Take care of lil D for me mamma. I love you. Thanks for giving me what you could. Things don't seem so bad. The days are getting shorter, and the nights are no longer frightening. Take care of yourself mamma, and don't worry. I no longer blame you for any of this. My own stupidity sent me here, to this dark place. I am getting weaker as each day passes, so this may be my last letter. There should be more, many, many more, but there won't be. I know you may never read these, but it made me feel better to get things off my chest. Sorry mamma, I'm sorry I was bad, I'm sorry for Rodney. Please forgive me mamma. I hope God will.
Goodbye mamma, Dante
February 4, 2008
All is forgiven, and may God take better care of you than I did.
Forever in my heart, mamma.
About Martini Harkert