STATE DEATH – Dorothy Maraglino

For 15 long years, he was held captive in a small concrete room. His bed was a hard steel slab covered with a thin mat. A sliver of a window barely let in the sunlight on a bright day. He was grateful for the steel toilet and sink.

Plumbing accounted for most of his physical comforts. Every other day he was offered a shower. Two guards escorted him in chains to a filthy stall about half the size of a closet to shower. The water temperature ranged from ice cold to scalding hot. Most days he preferred to birdbathe in the sink. There was a small polished metal plate in his room that served as a mirror. Looking into it, he took inventory of the image looking back at him.

He tried to remember the young man’s face he had when he first arrived. As he lifted his hand to touch his face, he saw those annoying discolored circles on his wrist. The friction of the metal restraints used everytime he left his cell had left marks. They looked like permanent bruises. A reminder even when he wasn’t in chains that he was a captive. His ankles had similar marks. His wrist often hurt from those days when his captors took out their bad day on him and adjusted the chains tight enough to dig into his skin and bones. His skin had thinned over the years of living indoors and never being in sunlight. He tried to come to terms with the paleness you expected to see in the elderly, yet he was only in his 40’s. He stood on the toilet to see his body. Gone was the muscular body he had taken pride in. He was thinner and his body looked weak. There was no motivation to take care of himself and it would take a lot of motivation and effort to workout in a tiny cell crowded with a bunk, desk and a toilet. He laughed internally at the thought of eating healthy.

A tray of cold and mushy food was slid through a portal in his door twice a day. The first meal of the day arrived while his window was still dark with twilight. He found it easier to eat if he did not try to identify what he was eating. There was no menu or identification to tell him what it was or what was in it. There was no way to know what if any nutritional value it had. He just ate and passed the tray back. He tried to fill the 12 hours until the next tray arrived.
Emotional and psychological abuse that was a daily struggle. From the callous nature of the guards to society’s dismissing his existence. Some guards took great pleasure in tormenting their captors. Referring to him as a dead man. Society came to him in the form of newspapers and television. Society offered no hope of redemption or salvation. There was so little hope to help him ensure his existence. He could listen to a radio or watch network television in the small appliance allowed in his cell. It was a calculated measure by his captors to prevent him from going insane. Insanity was a common consequence of captivity. Society’s message of anger, hate, and condemnation was loud and clear. Even those close to him could not provide much more than comfort. He could not really claim anyone in the world as “friend” and few family members still claimed him. Those few who stood by him were cherished.

He had a few precious pictures of his family members. His wife had abandoned him less than a year into his captivity. When his son became an adult, he had reached out. Those gap years were hard to overcome but they communicated. His son had sent a picture of a baby. It felt amazing and heartbreaking that he was a grandfather. He would never hold the child and never hear its voice call him grandfather. His son was a better man than he could hope for. He could only pray that his son would avoid the mistakes he himself had made. The pictures were a comfort but also a reminder that he was alone.

The isolation was hard. He knew there were others all around him, but he could not visit with them. They could send notes under the door or yell out of the door. A few times a week, he would be chained up and taken to what was considered “outside”. Usually he was placed in a concrete cage enclosure that he was allowed to walk around in, alone. Looking up he would see the sky through the chain link ceiling. His favorite “outside” cages were the chainlink ones that allowed the breeze to be felt. It reminded him of dys when he was free to walk free with the breeze blowing carefree. From his chain link cage, he could glimpse the other captives in their cages. Communication was discouraged but some risked it for the sake of human interaction. They would call out about how their sports team was doing that season, the plots of a TV show, and any progress in their hope of being saved. They avoided any conversation that might risk forming a friendship with someone they never knew they would see again. That simple exchange was a reminder of a life beyond their confinement. Some days these exchanges were a comfort but other days it would intensify the void he felt. Sitting back in his cell, he felt even more lonely.

Over the years, he and his family were allowed to occasionally communicate but every word was scrutinized and monitored by his captors. He was careful with his words to protect his family from the overwhelming conditions that he lived in or the fight to manage his hope and hopelessness. The rare visitors who braved sitting down to look him in the eye were separated from him by a thick plexiglass divider. They could see the deterioration captivity was causing. Every few years he and his family received false hope that he would be saved. Each time hope was snatched away. His captors took great efforts to ensure he could not give into the temptation to end his own life. Part of the mental torture was that even his death would be controlled by them.

The day finally came when they were through with him. He was bound and moved to a cold and cruel room. It was a glassed-in bubble within a room. Beyond the glass he could see a theater full of people in their seats. Within the bubble, a man in a doctor’s robe stood by an ominous machine and a tray of medical tools. It was ironic that a doctor sworn to protect life was about to take his. A man in a dark suite stood by a red phone directing the activities like a ringmaster of a circus. Guards walked him back onto a gurney and strapped him down.

He looked up to the people seated outside the window. He recognized some of the faces but not all. Some were sad and some cruel. He looked up with eyes silently begging but he knew no help would come. The needle gleamed bright on the medical table. He had shot up plenty in his life, but the past years of forced sobriety had cleared his head. He had a healthy fear of the needle he now saw. The tube that connected the needle to the death machine gave it an even more deadly look.

In his bound position, he was helpless to stop them from prepping his arm. He looked up into the faces of those who watched but would not save them. He noticed his mothers face and cringed at the pain of expression and the tears rolling down her cheeks. she mouthed “I love you.” And he replied the same. He had been good at reading lips and watched as his mom turned to their pastor. He read her lips saying, “These people spoke of the pain of their loss at the hands of my son. They said they would not wish their loss on their worst enemy. So why are they killing my son? Why are they giving me that same pain? It won’t bring anyone back. How can this be called justice?”

She was now sobbing as the pastor held her. All he could do was lie strapped to the gurney and watch his mom in agony. He felt guilt, anger, grief, and utter helplessness. He could not comfort his own mother in what must be the worst day of her life. He wanted to cry himself but wanted to be brave for her. He hoped their pastor had the right words and turned his head to distract himself.

He glanced at the doctor whose Hippocratic Oath was being disregarded in the name of false justice. The needle pierced his skin and the death machine gave off a low hum. His time was coming to an end. He looked back to see his mom and let that be the last image he saw. Soon, the burn of death flowed into his arm and through his veins.. With his usual sense of irony, he mumbled “This killing is brought to you by the State of California and sanctioned by you, the voters.”

A curtain was pulled to protect the people in the balcony from having to see his death any longer.

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