More Money for Good
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The Night Before
For good reason Tavious Bell is mentally exhausted. Exactly twenty years have passed and now in a matter of hours he will be free. For the past year, simply sitting in a holding cell waiting for release from Jesup Federal Correctional Institute just outside Savannah, Georgia, has only been a dream, but now reality.
Inside the cell there is a shower, single toilet, a window looking out to nowhere, and private access to a phone free for calling. Tavious sits still, close to shock, as his new clothes sent from his grandmother from Atlanta are on his bunk staring back at him. He hasn't decided to change just yet because his emotions are all over the place, because 7,300 days of being behind bars under someone's control is a hell of a calculation to endure for any manâeven if he has two million waiting for him on the outside.
It's difficult for Tavious to control his emotions. He is a nervous wreck and promised himself for weeks that he wouldn't let this moment be this way. Freakin' sitting down and thinking about leaving this place for the last time in his mind is definitely worse than having ten years left on the books. He continuously struggles to gather his composure and relax, seeing that being on the outside is no longer the same as two decades ago. So, just like so many times before during his 175,200 hours inside, he decides to make a call to help him get through his troublesome anxieties of becoming an unbound man of the State of Georgia.
“Hey,” he says softly. Whispering into the phone is going to be one of many inside habits he's going to have to break.
“Hey, you!” the lady's voice squeals with anticipation on the other end. “Are you out already?”
He exhales at the thought. “No, no . . . I'm in holding 'til morning.”
“Man, you know it wouldn't have been a problem to drive down and pick you up,” her sweet voice echoes. “I would have drove and sat outside in my car all night, for you.”
He smiles at the thought. “No, that would have been too much. Plus, I'm going to need the time to focusâget my equilibrium of being out together.”
“And how are you going to do that? Tavious, it's a process, right?”
“Yeah, I gotta walk around some, hear, smell, and see how it is out there before I see you.”
“I understand,” she tells him.
“I mean, I don't want to spook you out when you first lay eyes on me.”
She sighs in anticipation. “Just don't take forever to get here, okay? I miss you. . . .”
“I miss you too.” Tavious notices a faint giggle on the other end. “What's so funny?”
“I just realized this is the first time in twenty years you haven't called me collect . . . that's all.”
Tavious glances around his cell. Even though he is still locked up, the cell is much better than the place he has been calling home. The State of Georgia Corrections hadn't quite gotten it right. There could have been a few more amenities; more fresh towels, a better color TV with cable to watchâthat news station stays on all hours of the nightâand upgraded sheets to help him with his transition to the outside, he thinks, but his new digs will definitely do, at least for the night.
“Yeah, it's crazy,” he lets her know. “Before I called, I sat with the phone on my ear for at least twenty minutes waiting for the operator before I realized I could just dial out. I guess there's going to be a lot of things I will have to get used to,” he confirms.
“Don't worry, I'll walk you through.”
“Yeah, I promise.”
There is silence on the phone now. The never-wavering connection of the two who have been linked together unconditionally as friends for the entire 630,720,000 seconds of reform are realizing they have conquered and endured the imposed time placed on Tavious Bell by the State of Georgia.
After a few minutes she calls out, “Tavious?”
“Remember when I told you I wouldn't cry twenty years ago when they walked you out of the courtroom?” she reflects. “Well, I didn't. Nor did I during or after any of our thousands of phone calls we've had. Not even on my one and only visit when you were halfway through this. I swear to you, I haven't the entire time and it's been hard not to.”
“And I appreciate it,” Tavious lets her know. “You've been so strong and I needed that.”
She starts talking before Tavious finishes. “But this time, I can't hold it,” she barely lets out and tears are already rolling down her face. “You're finally coming home.”
There's absolutely no way Tavious can ask his friend to hold her emotions in. It has happened before because hearing her cry would make him lose the focus it required for him to do his time. But now his time is done and it takes everything inside of him not to join her as she begins to shed tears and he finally lets her have her day.
The last words Tavious Bell ever heard as a free man over twenty years ago came from the mouths of hard-boiled DEA agents screaming for him to freeze or they'd blow his freakin' head off. In 1991 that was how it was done because back then nobody cared; at least, they didn't act like they did, and, to make matters worse, cameras and phones didn't saturate the streets to record the daily brutality being handed out to headstrong, money-hungry, fatherless seventeen-year-old dope-pushing black boys.
Now thirty-eight-year-old Tavious Bell was two hours fresh out of prison and stood in the exact spot where his freedom had been taken. He thought by going back to a familiar corner it would help him to get acclimated to the outside again. But consequently things were not going as planned, especially after the terrifying cab ride from prison with a cab driver who seemed to be going over a hundred miles an hour, swearing all the way he wasn't going a tick over thirty-five.
Once the car finally stopped its high-speed, Indy-500 jaunt, Tavious finally had his feet back on the ground. He buckled over and spewed out decades of repulsive prison food that had been encrusted into his system. This had lasted at least thirty minutes.
Bell promised he wouldn't let it happen but already being locked up twenty years had taken its toll. His entire symmetry was off in the streets that he would once roam at all hours of the night. Anyone could understand his confusion with his release into a world twenty years older. He had questions, just like those living on the outside who had been screaming at their politicians on a daily basis.
Why were there so many homeless people? The streets and atmosphere had become darker, harder, ugly, in fact.
The busy streets he once knewâwith pretty young things walking and talking, strutting their stuff along with trafficâwere bare. There were so many brothers standing around the same way they did back at the yard with the same exact lifeless expressions. He knew those faces all too well. Not faces of happy men. On the inside if guards noticed the same sort of solemn look of despair and tension, the entire prison would be locked down for at least two weeks to prevent a riot or rebellion. This reunion was nothing like the happening days when Tavious supplied the whole damn city with Mary Jane to smoke.
Damn. What happened to the city?
Tavious realized that he needed to battle through his memories of the streets and deal with the reality at hand. Fight through the fact that when the Feds got him with the dope . . . It was one hell of a celebrated case. Perp walk for the cameras. News conference with the drugs sprawled out on the table. Finally, they celebrated and cheered that their long hours of surveillance had paid off. They got everything they thought. Everything but the money.
That was why the twenty years in the pen was doable. His stashed money on the outside waiting for him kept him going in prison all the way to the point where he had the next twenty years of his life on a blueprint. And, now, he was free, without any of the worries most just-released ex-cons had to deal with. His main concern was fighting desperately to get his bearings and get back to a life as he never had known as a rich man.
The first order of business was to make a phone call. Tavious wanted to call Amara to let her know he was okay. While in prison he never could imagine as stories and tales from the streets filtered in with every new batch of convicts brought in. But it was true: all the phones on corners, the ones he called his connects for re-up supplies, were no more. He needed a TracFone: the same kind that were smuggled inside the prison.
With a portion of the $500 balance he was given from his account in prison, Tavious purchased a twenty-dollar phone with a hundred minutes of usage. A downtown corner sandwich shop played host for setting up his charge while he ordered up and down the menu of the undeniable specialty sandwiches for his depleted stomach. In the time that it took his phone to charge a few bars, and to the amazement of his waitress, he ordered three sandwiches. A double hamburger with fries, corn beef with fries, and an Italian sub with fries. Before he devoured each sandwich he studied them like pieces of art before enjoying their essence of smell and taste.
With his phone now charged enough to make his calls Tavious opened his black address book. It was the only item he kept from the inside. He scanned the numbers, closed it, and began to call Amara, not because he forgot the number but because
and there was no one who could tell him that
Amara's digits he would never forget. Everyone who knew Tavious when he ran the streets was aware that Amara had been his right hand back in the day when they were young bucks making a name for themselves. They had traveled to and from Miami together when he was busted. She had been the reason no money was found with the drugs the Feds confiscated. They didn't ride the same bus on the way back and all the money was in her possession when he was hoisted off to prison. All on the word of a snitch who offered the info to the Feds because he wanted more product and Tavious didn't think he was ready.
It was odd for Tavious using the phone as a free man. From habit he looked around a few times to see if anyone was trying to listen to what he was about to say. He looked at the phone and kind of chuckled. He was free. He dialed and placed it on his ear. He wanted to pull a cord. Subconsciously he waited for the operator to appear again to connect his call. There were no recording beeps like in prison. Immediately during the first ring the phone was picked up.
“Hello?” Amara was on the receiving end. She can't even hide she'd been sitting by the phone waiting his call since they spoke the night before.
Tavious cleared his voice. “Amara? It's Tavious.”
She shrieked. “It better be you . . . I can't believe this,” she said.
“Believe it, baby. I'm back,” Tavious said, looking around the diner, getting energy from his freedom and stuffing another fry into his mouth just because he could again.
“So where are you?” Amara needed to know.
She could hear him smacking on his fries and she pushed like she really wanted to. “You want me to come for you?”
Tavious smiled at her eagerness. “No, no. I'm on my way over about an hour or so. I just needed to take a little more in. It's different out here, Amaraâso fast.”
“Baby steps, Tavious,” she encouraged.
“I'm good,” he let her know. “Hey, I see those pad things you were telling me about.”
“An iPad.” She giggled.
“Yeah, those. Seems like everybody up in here has one. I'm going to get one.”
Tavious looked into the phone at the sound of Amara laughing, getting close to hysterically. She finally stopped. “Hold on, man, we can do all that later. You need to get your butt over here. Let's just sit down, talk, count thisâ”
Tavious interrupted. “No, Amara. Not on the phone . . . even though I'm out, never on the phone. We can catch up when I get there okay?”
“Well, I've made the reservations for our vacation. I'm just waiting on you to get here.”
“How'd you do that so fast? We just spoke about getting away.”
“The computer, Tavious . . . it's so easy to do.”
Tavious was close to hitting the wall. It was becoming overwhelming. Poor people on the streets in overwhelming numbers and technology that made it seem like he was now on another planet.
“You okay, Tavious? Tavious?” Amara repeated.
“Oh yeah, I'm fine. I'll see you soon.”