A blustery, wet November afternoon buffeted us as we entered the stark, quiet confines of death row. A foreign place in so very many ways.
The air heavy with a miasma of despair blended with the stench of body waste, clung to us as if it were a second skin.
Ghosts of previous inmates screamed Munch-like, “Too late”. Not listened to then, not heard now.
Each cell identical. A white box with no individual lighting save a small window high up on the back wall. A rectangular reminder that Heaven was patiently waiting.
The silence was broken by the agonizing cries of this doomed population as they realized we were approaching.
Each occupant had their own story to tell. Some were obviously fighters. Scars graphically depicting past battles, won or lost. Fighters who angrily railed against their incarceration and imminent demise.
Others, more fatalistic stared into space, seemingly making peace with their maker.
The more vociferous trying desperately to make eye contact to convince us, or themselves, that they did not deserve this fate. Their counterparts wishing their limited time away. Hoping to exit through the square window…Heavenʼs still patiently waiting.
Peripheral vision informed us that each inhabitant was situated on one side, the same side, of their chamber. The left.
The other side, was soiled.
A product of the lack of exercise? A lack of discipline? Or maybe a futile silent protest?
Onward we walked, the same sad images being burned into our memories forever. That is until we came across the one female detainee within this establishment.
A vision of serenity. Her pride intact, fear cast aside, stoic beauty.
Immediately we stopped walking. The young lady sat bolt upright on the ‘wrongʼ side of her lockup. There was no soiling. No protest. No need.
All was pristine. However humble or claustrophobic, this was ‘her placeʼ, at least until Heaven whispered here name through the window above.
We felt her jet black eyes searing into our psyches. Eyes that knew her fate did not lie there. Even though as we learned, her execution date was just two days away, she knew she was not destined to die in that hellhole of a slaughterhouse.
What heinous crime was perpetrated for this sentence? “She ran away….Most probably abuse”, was the curt response. “Donʼt worry. Sheʼs gone in 48 hours. Be in a better place”. The callousness was palpable.
A deep scar on her forehead served to reinforce the abuse theory. My mind racing with so many unanswered questions. I fought the impulse to scream, the primal instinct to destroy anything, everything and anyone responsible. Although physically contained, controlled, my brain still required validation. No jury of her peers, no judge to preside, no closing statement. Just incarceration, preordained sentence, then…death.
Barbed thoughts fired from cerebral cannon, almost induced a cranial explosion.
The officer noticed our chagrin. “At this time, in this society this is what happens”.
Distraught. Distressed. Now overcome with panic. Time was of the essence. A request to speak with her, removed from this madness. Will she be amenable? Will she be able to understand us?
The main doors opened, heralding the arrival of senior officials. Breath bated…Request approved.
The group transferred en masse to an open area behind the building. The wind and rain abated.
The condemned restrained by a rope around her neck, held tightly by the official in charge.
The fresh air seemed to raise her spirits. Communication in low, encouraging tones engendered confidence. Her eyes never left mine.
When asked to sit, she demurely sat. When offered to accompany us on a short walk, she readily complied, joyous in her faux freedom, a spirit not to be tamed, not to be broken.
Too soon our sojourn was over. We found ourselves back at the cell where an uncomfortable tension suffused the atmosphere.
Eyes avoided contact, some surreptitious, some blatant, apart from two pair. A tacit plea, nay not a plea, more a telepathic demand, from one being to another….”Do it! Do it now! Do it for me!”
A general question, nonchalantly tossed into the air, “What price freedom?” focussed attention.
The conversation was brief. A sum proffered and accepted. Bureaucracy appeased with the completion of documents. Signatures in designated places, iʼs dotted, tʼs crossed.
With some medical prerequisites arranged for the following day, we could collect our new family member two days hence. A time for restrained rejoicing.
Forty eight hours felt like a lifetime, until the moment we were united with our charge and left that den of death forever!
To know that you have saved a life is very gratifying. However, nothing compares to the love and loyalty our rescue pup Chantelle gives us.