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Teddy Bear Chapter 13- The Flying Nun

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When all that shit was over, they took every one of us to Mt. Meigs Prison – I think it’s called Kilby Prison now – to await trial. We were appointed lawyers, and it didn’t take much for them to put us all away. TG got forty years. Garrison got fifty years. Jenkins threw a fit and they put his trial off. I went in and God bless my lawyer, he tried the best he could.  He was about to starve, just out of law school, and they had their top guns up against him. You have to remember at the time Bradford owned a factory that employed half the damn town.  So we’d basically tried to rob a town hero. You know what else? That duffel bag of money never surfaced in the evidence. I believe they gave it all back to him. He was a dirty son of a bitch and it wasn’t three months after we got arrested that he’d closed the factory down, liquidated his assets, and moved out of the country. Most thought he was about to be arrested for tax evasion, but that didn’t happen before I was tried. He was still a town hero when I stood before the judge and got ninety years.

When the judge asked me if I had anything to say, I turned the table over in the courtroom and got the shit kicked out of me by deputies.

“Bring him into my chambers,” I could hear the judge’s voice even with my head pinned down on the floor.

The deputies wrestled me in there and calmed me down enough for him to talk to me. I’ll never forget what he said.

“Listen here, son. I know you probably thought you could come to Alabama and drink our whiskey and fuck our women and steal our money, but now, for the next ninety years of your life, you are going to be picking our fucking cotton. If you don’t think you can do all that time, I’d suggest you get on the installment plan pretty soon.”

I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about until I walked into Holman Correctional Facility and saw some of the biggest cotton fields I’d ever laid eyes on surrounding it.

On day one, with the sun barely rising over an endless stretch of white, the field boss asked me how much I weighed.

“Oh, about 215, boss.”

“Well, that’s how much cotton you’re expected to pick every day here. And every day you don’t, you’ll sleep on the ground in the hole.”

215 pounds of cotton, to anyone who has ever picked it by hand, is a lot of damn cotton.   And you were expected to pick that clean.  No bolls, no dirt, nothing that could mess that gin up.  But hell, a pack of Prince Albert Tobacco could buy off the guard charged with checking the cotton on the way back in, and I didn’t have to sleep in the hole much once I figured out how to take a piss in the bag and fill it up with dirt and rocks.  Once a con, always a con.

When I did get some time off, and there wasn’t much of it, I befriended a fellow named T-Bird.  He was famous for the paintings he did in prison, and he’d been the subject of a documentary before I’d gotten there.   We became pretty quick friends, and we’d sit out on the yard together and think about how to get the hell out of there.

Death Row was adjacent to our cell block, and we noticed that every Sunday a group of nuns wearing full habits would come through the gates, spend a few hours inside talking to the condemned, come back out, and be let out with no trouble.

“Teddy, we ought to get us some of those nun habits and just walk right out of here,” T-Bird jokingly told me one afternoon while we watched them leave.

“Shit, T-Bird, you know I’m game.”

What was initially a joke, after several months, became all we ever talked about. We got ahold of some carbon that they put in between paper to make copies of receipts and things and we made us some dark ink.  We dyed some sheets black and had the schedule of the nuns coming in and out on Sunday memorized.  Our plan was to let the nuns go into Death Row, and about ten minutes before they usually left, we were going to put on our man made habits and walk up to the gates with our heads down.  We had Bibles ready and everything.

The next Sunday came, and we had our habits on underneath our clothes, ready to give this a try.  I gave us about a thirty percent chance of succeeding, and this plan was so crazy I half though the guards might just laugh us back to our cells and not even charge us, but we’d talked it up enough that I had to go through with it.

About fifteen minutes after the nuns went into Death Row, and about a half an hour before we were going to give it a go, I heard my name over the intercom, telling me to come to the Warden’s office.

“T-Bird, looks like this shit ain’t happening today, buddy, I’ve got to report to the warden.’

“The hell it ain’t!” He looked as determined as an old bulldog.

“Listen man, just wait, another week here ain’t going to kill us.”

“I ain’t making no promises, man, but go see what the warden wants.”

I walked off, looking over my shoulder, half expecting T-Bird to already be gone.

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