08-04-2005, 03:06 AM
There are few human interest stories presently in the criminal justice system more fascinating than that of Nick Braiden.
28 years old, a star player on his baseball league's most popular team, with three batting titles, two MVP awards, and two World Series rings to his credit, it seemed as though the world were Nick's oyster and all that stood between him and a call to the Hall of Fame was time.
But then, something happened. Somewhere along the way his play started declining, and rapidly. Changes in his personality were noticed by teammates and coaches alike. Nobody could figure out what was going on.
And then the news hit. Nick Braiden, the league's most prominent player and its face, arrested for murder.
He was arraigned, indicted, tried, and found guilty. Presently he sits on death row and is scheduled to be executed within the next year or two, unless some miracle appeal or pardon should come along to stay the Reaper's hand.
No one knows precisely just what happened. Nick has refused all requests for interviews and would not testify during the trial, as is well-known.
But now the story will be told.
My name is Francis Goldthwaite and I am to be Mr. Braiden's biographer. He has agreed to meet with me and tell me, little by little, the full and complete story.
I fear this will not be a tale for the faint or the pure at heart. It is my suspicion that I will hear things that will shock, disturb, and sadden me.
Yet, I hope when all is said and done that I will be able to do the poor man justice and put him in the light that he deserves, whether it be kind and soft, or critical and harsh.
08-08-2005, 03:18 PM
The door of my car rattles when I slam it shut. Normally this would be nothing, just another sign that I drive an aging automobile that needs to be replaced soon.
But out here, in the eerie stillness of the Arizona desert, it is an ominious sound. In that noisy reverbration, I hear the coming of death.
It isn't the desert alone that conjures this connotation, for standing across from me as I pause with my fingers still gripping the handle, is Ravenswood Federal Penitentiary.
The complex is smaller than I'd imagined it. No wide-flung, roaming monolith of iron, glass, and barbed wire, but instead a simple, orderly assembly of concrete buildings, the wire the lone agreement with my expectations as a long fence circles the perimeter.
As I stand there, I close my eyes. My youngest son Tom, who is very much into New Age, advised me once that whenever I was someplace by myself, I should close my eyes and connect with the spirits of the past that linger there. He said that it would help me when I wrote.
I consider the whole spirits bit to be utter nonsense, but he is partially correct, I've found. When I let myself imagine the people who must have come before me -- what they looked like, how they dressed, and what they felt, it helps me to concentrate and focus on the subject I am writing about.
This time, as I sit in my mind's-eye theatre, the lone occupant in a dark room of red velvet chairs, I see an endless train of people moving across the gleaming silver screen. Mothers crying as their sons are taken away, girlfriends and wives sobbing as their men march those last lonely steps into this miserable prison, their freedom forever gone.
If I seem stereotypical in my thoughts, it is because I am old. I am seventy and with an unblemished record of fifty-two years of Republican votes, I am not about to change my ways now.
But then the women fade away and the saddest sights of all make their slow trek across the frame. Here are the men and women who no one weeps for. Unloved, uncared for, and forgotten, they are our lost citizens. There is no hope for them and it can be seen in their dead eyes and listless expressions. These are the criminals who have ceased to become human and are little more than empty shells where vibrant and active creatures may once have lived.
Feeling a great weight pressing down on my back, I heave a sigh and clear my mind. Now is not the time to dwell on such gloomy things. I have a job to do after all, and it is a very important one. And so I make the same walk that so many before me have, trudging across the yellow sand towards the inhospitable and bland jail. Only I walk this path as a free man.
After I am cleared by security, a guard leads me down a series of dusty grey corridors, each indistinguishable from the last. In my profession, it is necessary to talk many people and so I practice the art whenever I can.
"This seems like a pretty depressing place", I offer as we turn the corner into another hallway.
"It damn sure is" glumly replies my guide, a squat man in his middle thirties with a scraggly black moustache, "People bitch about how much we get paid but they don't realize that working here takes a real toll on you. Most times when I get off shift, I'm so depressed and exhausted that I don't even have the energy to have fun with my wife when she gets home. It's the same for a lot of us that work here. We see these people without any hope, without any future, and it just kills us."
"I imagine the worst part of it must be working in the death row section", I answer. Up ahead I can see the interview rooms where they bring prisoners for special visits with police, lawyers, or people like me. People who can get their story out.
"Actually, death row's sometimes the easiest. The people there know they aren't ever leaving, so they spend their days making their appeals through the system and preparing themselves for the day they die. It's not like the others, who still have that illusion they're gonna make something of themselves some day." The guard signals the end of our conversation by opening the door and ushering me inside, "Nick's already in there. Good luck."
The first thing I notice upon entering the room is how barren it is. A cheap, plastic table with a faux wood top, two metal chairs, and a few bare lights hanging from the ceiling. That's all the furniture there is. At first, it surprises me, as I'd thought prisons were becoming a little more accomodating these days, but then I relax and remind myself to go with the flow.
I nod to the new guard, a husky black man, before at last turning my eyes to the table. I do it slowly, so as to let myself gradually know the man I'm going to be spending a lot of time with over the coming weeks and months.
The first thing I see is the stubbled chin and cheeks, as if he hadn't shaved in a few days. Then his lips, thin and chapped. Before I can reach his eyes, he speaks.
"Hello, Francis. Take a seat."
As I follow his directions and sit down in the cold metal chair opposite Nick Braiden, I reflect on how remarkably different he sounded from the glory days. Back then, his voice was rich, smooth, and mellow, like honey almost. Now it is raspy and rough on the edges, as if he'd been quiet for a very long time and was no longer used to speaking.
I greet him and shake his hand firmly. His grip, too, is but a shadow of its former self, lukewarm and mild, whereas before, when I interviewed him for Time after his first World Series championship and MVP award, it had been strong, powerful, like an iron vise as it crushed my fingers.
He pulls out a Lucky Strike from a crumpled pack in front of him and asks if I have a light. I don't, but the guard does, and after a flick of a wheel, Nick is leaned back in his chair, exhaling the first stream of smoke.
"Look, if you don't mind, I'd rather not waste time with small talk. I don't know how much longer I have left. My appeals aren't going very well and I'm not holding out hope for a pardon. That means every second counts. Understand?"
I nod my agreement as I take out my small spiral notepad and pen, flipping open the former to the first crisp, clean, white page that waits to be written on.
His eyes stare into mine for a moment. They are not bright and clear as they once were. Now they are sunken deep into his sockets, drowned blue pools symbolic of his washed out life. There is something else new there, a jaded wisdom deep within his pupils, the kind of knowledge that is only acquired through great, intense personal tragedy.
Finally he takes another drag of his cigarette, exhales, and starts to speak.
"It all began on the night of June 10, 1997..."
08-08-2005, 03:27 PM
That's cruel. Unusual. And the constiution says you can't do that. ;)
09-24-2005, 07:19 AM
"...I'd been out for a month after screwing up my shoulder diving for a ball in center field. I made the out, but with me on the DL for the next month and a half, we went from three and a half games in front to two and a half back, so I was feeling pretty depressed about the whole thing. There wasn't a damn thing I could do about it and I wasn't scheduled to return for at least another couple weeks.
So Frankie Gutherson calls me up that night, the 10th, and says, "Hey Nick, we're going out to Larry's tonight. This stripper named Jadessa is going to be making her monthly appearance and she's dynamite! Great tits, great body, and great moves on the floor. You gotta come with us and get your gimp ass out of the house."
I didn't really want to go, but I said I would anyway. I figured maybe it'd cheer the guys up and help them to start playing better, because we'd been playing like shit since I'd first gone down.
Larry's turned out to be your basic small low-budget strip club. A bunch of tables scattered everywhere with their tops gouged in about twenty places a piece and the usual customers you get in those kinds of places. The fat guys, the old perverts, and the general losers who a strip club is the closest they're ever going to get to a naked woman.
The lighting was cheap, too. This crappy pink neon light that was made in China or one of those Asian places where the workers don't get paid anything and it shows in the end product... It ran all along the perimeter of the one dance stage and was busted in at least three sections. A real dump.
And yet, it was crowded that night. Every seat was full, along with half the wall space. I told Frankie as we were guided to a table near the front, "This Jadessa girl better be worth it. This place sucks." Frankie told me to shut up and just enjoy the VIP treatment we were getting for being major leaguers. Yeah, some VIP treatment. Kicking a couple of old farts out of their chairs so we can sit down was my idea of high-class service all right.
Anyway, after we sat down, the show started with the usual opening girls. You know, the ones who are either new, really bad, really ugly, or some combination of the three. To be honest, I don't like strip clubs in general. I never have. It's all a bunch of bad acting and bad dancing that doesn't get me raring to go at all. So the girls show their tits and their cunts. So what? Half the time the lighting's so bad you can't really see anyway and even when you can see, it's like they're just dolls dancing on the stage, no more real than a group of puppets or love dolls or some shit like that.
So I start amusing myself the way I always do in these kinds of places. I rated the dancers in my head, occasionally making snide comments to the teammates I was with to make them laugh. They all went up and did the whole dollar thing with whatever girl caught their interest. Not me, though. I was bored with the whole thing and didn't want to go through the hassle of shoving my way to the stage and doing that stupid game where you try and make her work for the sweaty, stinking single. That's just not my idea of fun."
Nick stops his rambling tirade here and takes a sip of water from the glass sitting next to him, the amused scorn in his lips and eyes falling away into something much more somber and serious.
"Little did I know what the rest of the night would hold in store for me."
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