This Is My America(7)

“The editor position is a lock.” Tasha gives a wicked smile because she was just messing with me.

“Better be. I put in as many hours as the editor this year.” I glance at my watch. I want a lot of time with Daddy.

“You got this, Tracy,” Daddy Greg says. “Speak your truth.”

“So, whose fault is it you broke parole again?” Tasha rolls her eyes at Daddy Greg.

“Don’t you start.” Her mom’s tone is icy.

“It ain’t easy getting out and finding work. I’m lucky I did this time. You don’t know what serving six years can do. I was out early, thinking about who’s protecting my peeps. Are they gon’ feel some type a way I’m out?”

“That’s your problem,” Tasha says. “You were thinking about them and not us.”

“Tasha.” I touch her hand. We can’t understand what that life is like. Every moment of your day controlled. The people in there were his family for six years.

“The last three years I was thinking about what kind of man I was gonna be when I got out. An end date became real after messing up. I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my life in there. I was caught up on that before.”

I gulp hard, look away. He’s talking about people like my daddy who aren’t ever getting out.

“I’m sorry, Tracy. I didn’t mean it like that,” Daddy Greg says. “I feel your daddy coming home. I didn’t mean to put you out like that. I’m just saying, I was gonna be ready this time.”

Ms. Candice hands a glass of sweet tea to Daddy Greg. I look at them with envy that they’re back together, but Tasha’s not looking like she’s happy. She’s looking at them like she’s lost. Been betrayed.

“We gotta go.” Tasha spins, grimace on her face. Not even realizing while she’s mad at her dad, mine’s still in a cell block.

Tasha storms off without me.

“All right, I’ll be seeing ya.” I lean back awkwardly with my hands shoved in my shorts pockets.

“Don’t worry about all this,” Daddy Greg says. “I gotta prove myself. She’ll come around.”

We look at each other, nodding. But Tasha’s gone hard; her walls have climbed so high that I don’t know if she can break them down and let anyone in.

* * *

The car is silent, so I pull out my notepad and start a letter to Innocence X.

“Damn, you stay writing letters.” Tasha breaks the silence. “I’ve only written letters to Daddy Greg. Never even knew what to say then.”

“Gotta reach them somehow.”

“Why don’t you call them?” Tasha says, backing up her car. “Just call until they answer. Email.”

“They don’t take email or phone calls for cases. Only letters and applications to their intake department.”

“It sucks your dad’s locked up, but at least he’s still a good dad. Hell, he could trade places with Daddy Greg. I wouldn’t mind.”

“Tasha.” I put my pen down. Jokes about death row I don’t take lightly.

“Sorry.” Tasha taps my leg. “I didn’t mean you better off than me. Just having Daddy Greg home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. He’s trying to fold into our lives, and he just don’t fit, you know.”

“He’s been gone,” I say, then pause. “Time stopped for him but kept moving for y’all. You guys will figure it out. Even if he was here all that time, you’re seventeen—you were gonna give him hell anyways.” I bump her shoulder and she only gives me a sliver of a smile.

I bite my tongue to keep from saying how easy it is for her to think that. She had a clock to work with. Mine is different. Mine is a countdown.

“Can’t change the past, Tasha.” My voice is strained from irritation.

Tasha huffs but keeps her thoughts to herself.

We keep our chitchat light for the next hour, knowing we’ve touched nerves. I count down signs until we reach Livingston, a small town where Polunsky Prison is located.

Silence completely takes us over again. Everything else washes away except the fast beat of my heart as we take the long road past acres filled with grass and farmland. Then we see the fenced-in wall of the maximum-security prison. It’s twenty feet tall along rows of cinder-block towers with razor wire atop it. From a distance, you can see the guards standing on top and the surveillance cameras lined up around the perimeter. As usual, an uneasy feeling swirls in my stomach. But this time is different—I defied Mama during Jamal’s interview. Lied about new suspects, and I’m certain Daddy’s heard all about it by now.


We turn into the prison’s parking lot. A roar of laughter escapes a group of boys perched outside. They circle around one guy who’s trying to play it low-key. His eyes shift, watching the parking lot. A black garbage bag is sprawled on the ground in front of his feet, confirming he’s the one just released. Also by how his boys are all hype. They punch playful fists at each other, rapidly spitting out catch-up stories to him. I think they might be so into themselves they’ll ignore us parking, but the second we drive toward the visitor lot, I hear their chatter.

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