Authors: John Grisham
The white guard is telling me that he has flatlined three times in the past two hours. Folks came running from all directions. The black guard confirms this and adds that it’s just a matter of time, at least in his opinion.
Our small talk quickly runs out of gas. These boys don’t know if they are supposed to sleep on the floor, find a motel room, or go back to the prison. The office is closed there and they can’t find their boss. I offer the shrewd observation that the prisoner is going nowhere.
One of the doctors happens by and notices my collar. We step away for a quiet word. I try to quickly explain that the patient has no family, that he has been in prison for almost twenty-three years for someone else’s crime, and that as his lawyer I’m sort of in charge. He’s in a hurry and doesn’t need all this. He says the patient received multiple injuries, the most serious of which is severe trauma to the brain. Using pentobarbital, they put him in a medically induced coma to relieve pressure on the brain. If he survives, he faces a lot of surgery. The upper left jaw, collarbones, and left shoulder will be rebuilt. Maybe his nose. One knife wound pierced a lung. His right eye could be badly damaged. At this early moment, there is no way to predict the level of permanent brain impairment, though it will probably be “substantial—if he makes it.”
I get the uneducated impression that the doctor is clicking through a mental checklist of Quincy’s injuries, and since he’ll die anyway, why name them all?
I ask about his chances, and the doctor shrugs and says, “One in a hundred.” Like a gambler in Vegas.
After dark, my two buddies in uniform have had enough. They are tired of doing nothing, tired of getting in the way, tired of the frowns from the nurses, and tired of guarding a prisoner who couldn’t possibly make a run for it. They’re also hungry, and judging by their bulging waistlines their dinner hour is not to be trifled with. I convince them that I plan to spend the night in the visitors’ lounge down the hall, and if anything happens to Quincy I’ll call their cell phones. I say goodbye with the promise that their prisoner is locked away for the night.
There are no seats or chairs near the beds in ICU. Visitors are not welcome. It’s okay to stop by for a look, or a word if the loved one is able to talk, but the nurses are fairly aggressive about keeping the place as dark and quiet as possible.
I make a nest in the lounge around the corner and try to read. Dinner is machine food, which is seriously underrated. I nap, unload a barrage of e-mails, read some more. At midnight, I tiptoe back to Quincy’s room. His ECG is causing concern and there is a team around his bed.
Could this be the end? In some ways, I hope so. I don’t want Quincy to die, but then I don’t want him living like a vegetable either. I purge these thoughts and say a prayer for him and his medical team. I back into a corner and watch through the glass wall as heroic doctors and nurses work frantically to save the life of a man Florida tried its best to kill. An innocent man robbed of his freedom by a crooked system.
I struggle with my emotions as I ask myself: Is Guardian responsible for this? Would Quincy be here if we had declined to take his case? No, he would not. His dream of freedom, as well as our desire to help him, made him a target.
I bury my face in my hands and weep.
There are two sofas in the ICU lounge, neither designed to be slept on by an adult. Across the room, one is being used by a mother whose teenaged son was gruesomely injured in a motorcycle accident. I have prayed with her twice. The other sofa is where I wrestle with a hard pillow and nap fitfully until about 3:00 a.m., when I think of something that should have been obvious earlier. I sit up in the dimly lit room and say to myself: “Great. Dumbass. Why have you just now thought of this?”
Assuming the attack on Quincy was ordered from someone on the outside, then isn’t he in more danger now than he was in prison? Anyone can walk into the hospital, take the elevator to the second floor, breeze past the ICU nurses at the front desk with a plausible story, and gain immediate access to Quincy’s room.
I calm down and admit my paranoia. There are no assassins on the way, because “they” believe “they” have already taken care of Quincy. And rightfully so.
Sleep is impossible. Around 5:30 a doctor and a nurse enter the lounge and huddle with the mother. Her son died twenty minutes ago. Since I am the nearest minister I get dragged into this drama. They leave me holding her hand and calling relatives.
Quincy hangs on. The morning rounds start early and I meet with another doctor. There is no change and little hope. I explain to him that I think my client could be in danger. He was attacked by some people who obviously want him dead—it wasn’t a routine prison brawl—and the hospital needs to know this. I ask him to notify the staff and those in charge of security. He seems to understand but makes no promises.
At 7:00, I call Susan Ashley of the Central Florida Innocence Project and tell her about Quincy. We brainstorm for half an hour and agree that the FBI should be notified. She knows who to call. We also discuss the strategy of running to federal court and suing Florida and its Department of Corrections. We would seek an immediate injunction ordering the warden at Garvin to investigate the attack and open his files. I call Mazy and we have a similar conversation. As usual, she’s cautious but never shy about filing suit in federal court. An hour later, Mazy, Susan Ashley, and I have a conference call and decide to do nothing for a few hours. All strategies will change if Quincy dies.
I’m in the hallway on the phone when a doctor sees me and approaches. I end the call and ask what’s going on.
He says gravely, “The EEG is showing a steady decrease in brain activity. His heart rate is down, twenty beats a minute. We’re getting down to the end and we need someone to talk to.”
“About pulling the plug?”
“That’s not really a medical term but it’ll do. You say he has no family.”
“He has a brother who’s trying to get here. It’s his decision, I guess.”
“Mr. Miller is a ward of the state, correct?”
“He’s an inmate in a state prison, has been for over twenty years. Please don’t tell me the warden gets to make the decision.”
“Absent a family member, yes.”
“Shit! If the prison gets to pull the plug then no inmate is safe. Let’s wait for the brother, okay? I’m hoping he’ll be here by noon.”
“Okay. You may want to think about last rites.”
“I’m Episcopalian, not Catholic. We don’t do last rites.”
“Well, then do whatever you’re supposed to do just before death.”
As he walks away, I see the same two prison guards emerge from the elevator, and I greet them like old friends. They’re back for another day with nothing to do but sit. Yesterday I thought they were totally worthless, but now I’m glad to see them. We need more uniforms around here.
I offer to buy them breakfast in the basement cafeteria and suspect they’ve never declined food. Over waffles and sausage they manage to laugh about their problems. The warden called them in first thing this morning for an ass-chewing. He was angry because they left the prisoner without authority to do so. They are now on thirty days’ probation with demerits on file.
They’ve heard no gossip about the attack, and as long as they’re sitting around the hospital doing little they will continue to hear nothing. However, the place where Quincy was jumped is known to be one of the few areas of the prison yard unmonitored by surveillance cameras. There have been other assaults there. The black guard, Mosby, says he knew of Quincy many years back before he was assigned to another unit. The white guard, Crabtree, never heard of him, but then there are almost two thousand inmates at Garvin.
Though they know very little, they are enjoying the importance of being vaguely connected to such an exciting event. I confide in them that I believe the attack was ordered from the outside and that Quincy is now an even easier target. He must be protected.
When we return to ICU there are two uniformed hospital security guards milling about, frowning at everyone as if the President was back there on life support. There are now four young men with weapons on duty, and while none of them could sprint to first base without collapsing, their presence is comforting. I chat with a doctor who says nothing has changed, and I leave the hospital before anyone can ask me if Quincy’s machines should be turned off.
I find a cheap motel, shower, brush my teeth, do a partial change of clothing, then race away toward Garvin. Susan Ashley has been hounding the warden’s secretary without success. My plans to barge into his office and demand answers are blocked at the check-in office where I am denied entry to the prison. I hang around for an hour and threaten everyone who will listen, but it’s futile. Prisons are secure for many reasons.
Back at the hospital, I chat with a nurse I’ve been flirting with and she says his vitals have improved slightly. His brother, Marvis, can’t leave his job in Miami. No one from the prison will take or return calls.
For lunch I flip a coin and Mosby wins. Crabtree orders a ham-on-rye and stays behind to protect Quincy. Mosby and I stroll down to the cafeteria and load our trays with leftover lasagna and vegetables straight from the can. There’s a crowd and we squeeze into the last table, one that presses against his stomach. He’s only thirty, grossly overweight, and I want to ask him how large he plans to be in ten years. Or twenty? Does he realize that at the rate he’s expanding he’ll be diabetic by the age of forty? But, as always, I keep these questions to myself.
He is intrigued by our work and keeps looking at the collar. So I regale him with slightly embellished stories of the men we’ve walked out of prison. I talk about Quincy and make the case for his innocence. Mosby seems to believe me, though he really doesn’t care. He’s just a kid from the country working for twelve bucks an hour because he needs the job. He hates it—hates the fact that he works behind fencing and razor wire; hates the danger of herding criminals who constantly scheme of ways to escape; hates the bureaucracy and endless rules; hates the violence; hates the warden; hates the constant stress and pressure. All for twelve bucks an hour. His wife cleans offices while her mother keeps their three kids.
Vicki has found three newspaper stories about corrupt guards at Garvin. Two years ago, eight were fired for selling drugs, vodka, porn, and the favorite—cell phones. One inmate was caught with four phones and was retailing them to his customers. He confessed that his cousin stole them on the outside and bribed a guard to sneak them in. One of the sacked guards was quoted: “We can’t live on twelve dollars an hour so we gotta do something.”
Over dessert—chocolate pie for him, coffee for me—I say, “Look, Mosby, I’ve been inside about a hundred prisons, so I’ve learned a few things. And I know that someone saw Quincy get jumped. Right?”
He nods and says, “More than likely.”
“For something really bad, a rape or a knifing, you have to find the right guard who’ll look the other way, right?”
He smiles and keeps nodding. I push on, “Last year there were two murders at Garvin. Either on your watch?”
“They catch the guys?”
“First one they did. Second guy got his throat cut while he was asleep. Still unsolved, probably stay that way.”
“Look, Mosby, it’s important for me to find out who jumped Quincy. You and I know damned well that there’s a guard or two involved. I’ll bet one was looking out during the attack. Right?”
“Probably.” He takes a bite of pie and looks away. After he swallows he says, “Everything’s for sale in prison, Post. You know that.”
“I want names, Mosby. The names of the men who beat Quincy. How much will it cost?”
He leans in lower and tries to adjust his stomach. “I don’t have the names, I swear. So I’ll have to get them and I’ll have to pay the guy. He might have to pay another guy. See what I mean. I’d like a few bucks too.”
“Sure, but can I please remind you that we’re a nonprofit with no money?”
“You got five thousand dollars?”
I frown as if he’s asked for a million, but five is the right figure. Some of the men in the gossip chain are prisoners who think in terms of the basics: better food, drugs, a new color television, some condoms, softer toilet paper. Some are guards who need a thousand dollars for auto repairs.
“Maybe,” I say. “This needs to happen fast.”
“What will you do with the names?” he asks as he shovels in the last chunk of pie.
“Why do you care? It’s probably a couple of lifers who’ll just get more time.”
“Probably so,” he says with his mouth full.
“So, we have a deal? You start digging and I’ll find some money.”
“And let’s keep it quiet, Mosby. I don’t want Crabtree poking around. Besides, he’ll probably want some of the fee, right?”
“Right. Not sure I trust him.”
“I’m not sure I do either.”
We return to ICU and give Crabtree his sandwich. He’s sitting with an Orlando city policeman, a big talker who tells us that he has been ordered to hang around for a few days. There are plenty of uniforms milling around, and I begin to feel better about Quincy’s safety.
Twenty-eight hours have passed since the beating, and after five or six flatlining episodes, Quincy’s monitors have begun to stabilize. Though he certainly doesn’t know it, there is slightly more activity in his brain, and his heart is a bit stronger. However, this does not inspire optimism among his doctors.