Authors: Keisha Orphey
“The state’s going to use her as bait. Take down Amos Jones, piss off the cartel, and they will come running.”
¤ ¤ ¤
When Dawn entered the cell block, an inmate way lying in a fetal position on the bare cement floor, her hands were hidden between clenched thighs, and her whole body was shaking like she was freezing or worst, convulsing. “What’s wrong with her, Ruthie?”
“That bitch strung out on that her’on. She came in while you were gone. I recognize her dirty ass from Wilks and Byrd.” Dawn gave a bewildered look.
“She’s a prostitute. She’s strung out on he-ro-in. Do I have to spell everything out for your ass?”
“Look at those holes on her legs – “Dawn moved closer. “Damn! Her flesh is rotting on her left arm!”
Ruthie moved in to take a closer look. “Fuck! That’s that Croc’! She on the good shit. No wonder she spazzin’ so hard. “Guard! That chic need to go to the doctor before she bleeds to death.”
The officer on duty had her head in a magazine. She stuck her middle finger in the air.
“That’s fucked up.” Ruthie said. “Man, we like rats in a cage in this motherfucker. These bitches don’t give a fuck about us.”
Dawn lied on her cot, hands behind her head, staring at the ceiling.
“They’re asking you to testify, huh?” Ruthie asked, entering Dawn’s cell.
“Why you say that?”
“You got that look in your eyes. You can either testify and go home, or you can take your case to trial and go to jail for the rest of your life. Remember, Judge Pope is the last face you see before
. He's been a judge for thirty years, and has dismissed four cases. In thirty years, bitch! The worst part is you fucked with the wrong people. I know Rondell. I’d never tell Cassandra funky ass that. Been knowing that motherfucker since grade school. Watched him go from a street punk to the big time. He's into some heavy shit with the worst people you ever want to meet. If you
testify, your pretty ass’ll get killed in prison just for considering the plea. The people he works for will see to it. Take the deal and go home. In the pen, you’re facing a death sentence any fucking way. Guards get paid to get rid of people like you.”
“Don't say anything, okay? To Cass' and the others?”
“Don't worry. I wanna see you walk the hell up outta here. And you better not bring your ass back, either.”
Dawn spoke to Ruthie about a lot of things, but never did she once mention the voice she heard before the cops arrived. She could hear it now.
. Take the deal and get out of here.
And that’s just what she did.
The trial was set to start at 9am and Edward, being the tight wad he was, insisted they drive to Houston the morning of, so they'd left Lafayette at four thirty. Dawn wore her hair down, stylish and curled. She put on the diamond studs her mother'd loaned her, puffed her cheeks with blush and a light nutmeg tone on her lids. She took a pair of low heels along. She'd change into them once they'd arrived.
Big corporate jobs, corner offices, skyscrapers, and shopping malls are just a few of the attractions the average person expects in Houston.
Not Dawn. She associated this place with cellblocks, courtrooms, and drug busts. The tan brick sky rise towering ahead reminded her of the fifty-two days she’d spent locked up with convicted murders, drug traffickers and armed robbers. Remembered her mother’s tear-stained eyes and her father’s grimace as she was led into Judge Pope’s courtroom in faded orange wearing handcuffs and shackles. Recalled the grim look on the faces of cellmates returning to the cellblock
: Guilty. I got twenty years. Guilty. I got life.
She summoned the emptiness she felt learning the possibility of her own fate.
Ninety-nine years. You’ll be lucky if you get out in thirty.
She thought about her impromptu trip with Amos Jones the past summer, on a hot day in May that ended with her spending the night in a holding cell at Harris County Jail. For Dawn, Houston had absolutely nothing to do with opportunity and happiness; it was where her life, as she knew, ended.
Dark skies and low hanging clouds threatened severe weather as Edward Miles drove west on Interstate 10 with his wife Sylvia Miles in the passenger seat and Dawn seated quietly in the back. Even though she was wrapped snug in an afghan the entire four-hour trip, Sylvia was cold and hoped the courtroom offered warmth. Louisiana’s summer months dried her skin, January’s wintry chill ached her bones and Dawn’s foolishness broke her heart. New tears swelled her eyes as Sylvia gazed out the passenger side window of the Lincoln Town car, getting a wayward glance of the green overhead sign that read
610 NORTH – LEFT / 610 SOUTH – RIGHT
. The same sign her daughter observed on that fateful day in May. She wondered what’d motivated Dawn to travel so far away from home. So far away from the security she and Edward worked so hard to build for their children. What was she
? Have we not provided her with all she needed? What have
done to make her hurt us so deeply? What have
done to make my baby girl stray to such an evil place?
A place just as dark and horrible as the emptiness she was feeling now.
According to Lydia’s directions, Edward followed interstate 10 West to Providence street. Turning left on San Jacinto and traveling beneath aging overpasses chilled him. He thought of it as driving through a maze of boulders. Following orders. Heeding directions from an outsider. He’d always been the one in control. The one who’d executed the rules. A high school administrator who’d raised two children with his wife of twenty-four years was taking orders from a defense attorney.
Make sure she gets a good night’s sleep. She’s facing the best criminal defense attorney money can buy. She’ll be reliving that day all over again.
He’d wondered what this infamous attorney would look like. Was he short? Tall? Young and dashing? Or was he old and hunched over like George? Anxious to retire? And all of his questions were answered as they entered behind Lydia and George. The courtroom was crowded and noisy, but all talking seemed to lower to a whisper when they arrived.
Bernard Delacroix sat at the defense table beside Amos Jones watching the cavalry enter as if his gaze would intimidate either of them. He locked eyes with Edward for a brief moment, and then turned around as Amos whispered on his shoulder.
Amos Jones glanced over his shoulder and saw Dawn and her parents enter the courtroom. He snorted derisively. She'd agreed to testify. The gall of her. The nerve of that bitch.
The state assured her protection. But for how long? Had she inquired? She has no idea who she was dealing with, he thought.
Amos turned his attention to Bernard Delacroix. Despite his hatred for Dawn, he accepted the fact her presence made him uncomfortable, the way all witnesses bothered a guilty man.
Dawn heard the word
slither from someone’s lips. She searched the crowd, but didn’t recognize anyone. No one in this room knew her. Except for Amos’ goons seated in the audience behind him, but at Amos’ direction, they hadn’t looked at her. Maybe this was all a dream. A nightmare. But the heaviness on her shoulders, that was real. The feeling of her knees buckling beneath her. That was real. As if her legs had turned to jelly. The room seemed to spin and she felt her blood pressure rise. How was she going to sit on the witness stand? She’d made a mistake.
But the real mistake was made back in May.
The prosecutor took Dawn in the judge’s chambers, gave her a pair of fading gold button earrings.
Last thing you want to do is stand out. And pull all of that hair back into a ponytail. Remove your makeup.
What next? Change back into the orange jumpsuit?
Sylvia felt a surge of anxiety rise in her stomach. She imagined the first time she saw Dawn enter the courtroom in handcuffs and the orange state-issued jumpsuit, the clanging of the chains around her daughter’s ankles …. the idea that her only daughter could be on trial for drug trafficking …. spend the rest of her life in prison. Feeling dizzy as if she were about to faint, she sat in the nearest seat behind the prosecutor’s table.
Edward regarded his wife’s look of distress and offered to get a bottle of water from the vending machine in the corridor. She’d nodded and as he wandered out of the courtroom, he wondered which one of the couples seated in the audience were Amos’ parents. Were they even present? He glared at other men his age, searching for a hint of disappointment in their responsive gazes:
You’re not alone. I’ve spent my retirement on my child’s defense too.
He quickly slipped a dollar in the machine, selected a water, and returned to the courtroom as
he bailiff entered the courtroom from the judge’s chambers.
"All rise! Drug court is now in session! Honorable Theodore Pope presiding!
Wearing the exclusive black robe of a judge, Theodore Pope entered the courtroom and sat behind the bench. “Be seated. Court is now in session. State of Texas versus Amos Jones. Mr. Jones and his counsel Bernard Delacroix are present. Connie Nguyen is serving as prosecutor for the state –“he looked at the jury. “Ms. Miles is a witness for the state and is not on trial, ladies and gentlemen.
The prosecutor gave her opening statements, followed by Bernard Delacroix, and then it was the moment Dawn had been dreading. It was time to testify. No one was going to like what Dawn had to say, especially Edward and Sylvia.
Even more so, Lydia Hall.
Dawn focused all of her attention on the prosecutor as she answered every question. She found the interrogation less intimidating if she gazed on Connie’s face than regard the grizzly looks aimed at her from Amos Jones and Bernard Delacroix. Several of Jones’ goons sat in the courtroom, too.
Amos Jones was a brown skinned African-American with nappy hair with a short build and a stocky frame. Dawn could feel his gaze upon her cheeks, hot as burning coal. She knew what he was thinking, but at that moment, she could care less. He’d left her to rot in that jail. It was his turn to be tormented.
The prosecutor had advised Dawn of all of the questions she was going to ask and instructed her exactly how to answer them. Every detail had been carefully calculated and rehearsed.
“Ms. Miles, were you romantically involved with Amos Jones?” Connie asked calmly and stood with a fixed gazed that said:
Look directly at me and answer yes or no. Ignore Amos Jones and Bernard Delacroix.
“No.” Dawn answered and shifted in her chair.
Amos leaned over and whispered in Bernard Delacroix’s ear.
“You testified that you saw Mr. Jones over the Crawfish Festival weekend Girard Park in Lafayette. Is that when he asked you to drive to Winnie, Texas?”
“Yes. My girlfriends and I were sitting on my car in the park. Amos walked by with a huge yellow snake wrapped around his shoulders. One of my friends started screaming. She was scared out of her mind,” she paused. “That's when he noticed me— “she was clearly nervous, but yet continued to avoid looking at Amos Jones and Bernard Delacroix.
“Objection, Your Honor!” Bernard Delacroix rose from his chair. “Where is this going?”
“Sustained. I want to hear this, Counselor. Objection overruled. Please continue, Ms. Miles.”
“One of his friends took the huge snake off of his shoulders, so that he could come to talk to me. We made small talk and that was it. Days later, I was getting dressed for work and talking to a friend on the phone when my mom walked in my room. She said someone named Kevin had just called on her number asking for me and that he was disguising his voice.”
“A few minutes later, another call beeped in.”
“Someone else was trying to call you…”
“Was it Amos Jones?”
“What did he say?”
“He asked if I would be interested in riding with him to Winnie, Texas. I told him that I had to go to work. He laughed and said he’d pay me five-hundred-dollars to drive him and he'd bet that was ten times more than what I made at work. And it was true. I only made six-fifty an hour. I was behind on my car payments and I was afraid to tell my dad. I knew if I told him, he'd make me sell it. All I could think about was my car.”
“So? What'd you do then?”
“He told me to meet him at McDonald's in an hour. We hung up and called my boss at work and told her that I was sick. She was furious because two other people had just called in sick. An hour later I drove to McDonald's and waited.”
“Did you ever think to yourself, ‘something's not right,’ or perhaps, ‘I should go to work’?”
“I did and when I was about to leave, he showed up. He and one of his friends everyone called "Fat". They pulled up next to me in a green Toyota Tercel.”
“Is that when you got on the highway heading for Texas?”
“No. He asked me to stop at a transmission shop right next to the hotel where I worked and then we headed for Texas.”
“Do you have any idea how bad this looks on your part? How guilty you might look to some people in this courtroom?”
“The only thing I’m guilty of, Ms. Nguyen, is lying to my parents. I don’t remember what I told mom, but I know I didn’t say I was going to Texas—“
“Can you tell the court what you know about Emilio Sal Chávez?”
“He is the leader of a drug cartel in Mexico. Amos Jones works for him—“
“Objection, your honor! The state is leading the witness!”
“Ms. Miles is the state’s witness, Mr. Delacroix. I’ll allow it. Objection overruled. Continue, Ms. Nguyen.”
“Thank you, your honor,” Connie Nguyen pushed herself off of the edge of the prosecutor’s table and placed four clear packages of a white powdery substance on the edge of the judge’s bench. “Ms. Miles, did you know anything or had you ever heard of Emilio Sal Chávez before I met with you and your attorneys last Thursday?”
“Yes. Some of the girls in my cellblock told me that Amos and Rondell worked for him. One of my cell mates is the mother of Rondell’s children.”
“State exhibit one, two, three, and four,” she pointed at the four clear packages of white substance. “—are kilos of cocaine with a street value of three hundred and twenty thousand dollars. Have you ever seen these packages before today, Ms. Miles?”
“These four kilos of cocaine were confiscated from X-Communications on Tuesday, May 9, 1995. The same location where Ms. Miles has testified before this court she was with Mr. Jones,” she glanced at the jury and then back at Dawn. “Do you remember the man in the beeper shop that was referred to as Big John?”
“Yes. He was the man that Amos was looking for on interstate ten. His truck was broken down.”