Friday Night Story

A Fullton Life

“I’m the district attorney.” He put out his hand for me to shake, and I stared at it like something dead on a stick. After an uneasy pause I took, still watching him from the corner of my eye.

“But you’re black.” He smiled; it was obviously a question he was used to, even from other black people.

“Things change,” he said, gently. “The world is not so fueled by prejudice as the one you remember.”

“I thought,” I said, restraining my tongue as best I could, “we just found new folks to be prejudiced to, folks the sort that left to themselves devise ways to blow up buildings, and kill innocent people.” He smiled, understanding, but his eyes were tired; he’d expected I didn’t read the paper in here. Then he swallowed, and the politician machinery inside him started up, and I fought the urge to ignore him the way I ignored his asinine television ads that had played on the cable TV in the lounge.

“Our great state uses an independent crime lab, and unlike state crime labs, they felt they had no right or inclination to destroy evidence that was no longer being used at trial. We’ve finally made headway on the backlog of DNA evidence, and found one in three convictions of African Americans were overturned using modern forensics. I find that number unacceptable, and I can only apologize to you that it’s taken us so long to find out the truth.” He put his hand on my shoulder, softly, but firm, like the pastor at my church growing up. “It’s justice, son, long-delayed, but justice, all the same.”

My lawyer walked me to his car, all the while telling me how much he always knew I was innocent, how I had gotten my life back, all the while unable to hide how excited he was by the idea of getting a cash settlement from the government. And at the passenger door I stopped; it’d been fifteen years since I saw myself in a car window, and outside, in the real world, I didn’t recognize me anymore. The droop of my face, the wrinkles, the tight coal in my eyes; and I remembered my son got married while I was inside, my daddy died from prostate cancer, and my mother, bless her, hadn’t been able to care for herself since. I wasn’t getting anything back- not the way I left it. I don’t know if this would be justice for somebody else, but it sure as hell wasn’t justice for me.

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