Freedom: Released from Jail, Day One


An excerpt from Desperado’s Wife: A Memoir by Amy Friedman


I can still feel the churning pleasure I felt as I anticipated the day of Elton’s release. The idea of leading someone out, of driving someone to his freedom was the first real pleasure I’d felt in years, the first day after too many years when the possibility of a real life with Will, outside, seemed real again.

I left home extra early and drove west on Highway 2, along the river, past farmhouses and cottages and fields of wheat, then north on two-lane Maynard Road, cutting across farmland and more fields thick with grazing cattle. Early summer in Ontario is exquisite—the lilacs in bloom, alfalfa bright. Ontario light is hard, and the land is flat, so vistas are open and wide, and still whenever I think of freedom, I think of those vistas—the opposite of closed, dark space—nothing looming like those guard towers in prison yards, nothing stony or mean, just oceans of quiet.

Elton and I had never met. When I was at Maynard as a columnist, he was staying in his cell playing guitar. He wasn’t political. He just wanted to “do his time.” So I had no idea what he looked like—Will had had no pictures of him. I only knew he would be the only guy standing at the Sally Port not wearing a uniform.

Elton’s hair gleamed black as patent leather. His muscles bulged beneath a freshly pressed shirt. I could see his street clothes felt awkward on him; he shifted from foot to foot, a suitcase in one hand, guitar case in the other.

“Hi,” I said.

The guards scowled, angry at watching a convict leave prison. I understood then for the first time, it was they who had no release date.

I hugged Elton and whispered, “Let’s get out of here,” and like runaway kids, we made for the door, raced under the gun towers, charged across the wide gravel lot. We both thought they might try to stop us.

My tires squealed as I pulled out, and in my rearview mirror I watched Maynard recede into the distance. Elton stared out the window. “Man, oh man,” he said as we sped past fields of ripening alfalfa. “Man oh man, will you look at alla this?”

When we pulled up our drive, Elton gasped. “You live right on the water,” he said, leaping out of the car. He jogged to the riverfront, stood on the bank and stared out towards the islands a few miles away. The sun reflected off the river, my dog Kell was rolling in the scraggly grass, daisies were flowering.

“Think I could swim?” Elton asked shyly.

“Of course. I’ll show you where to change.”

Minutes later he was dressed in shorts, his legs jailhouse pale, his ink black hair a stark contrast to his pasty white skin. He raced down to the water. It was shallow, waist deep for a dozen yards. He waded out, wobbling on the stones under his feet.

And then he found the fall-off point. And he dived.

I stood watching the swirling water above him, waiting. When he splashed to the surface I felt—even from a distance of 20 feet—the sigh of his release, his relief, exhaling with pleasure. Inhaling—water, air, sky, grass, sun. Space. Life outside.

“God,” I heard him breathe.

Again he dived.

I could not take my eyes off the whirlpool above him. Tears began to fall, but at first I didn’t notice them. I felt transported, breathless at seeing something new and innocent entering the world. I remembered how I felt when I helped to birth lambs on the farm—wonder, the heat of the ewes’ womb. New birth is unspeakably good, and that is what I felt as I watched Elton emerge again and walk out of the water, a different man.

“My God,” he said again as he searched the sky, the earth, the water, looking for words. Dripping wet, he glowed, more beautiful than anyone I had ever seen.

And so there it was—that small thing that offered all that big hope, that moment when the world expands. It was what I dreamed I’d see again when Will came home.

We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Desperado’s Wife: A Memoir by Amy Friedman. She is a judge for our INDEPENDENCE TRAVEL WRITING CONTEST. We hope you will choose to send your stories to us for our Independence Travel Writing Contest. It is free to enter. Contest closes July 4, 2013. $1,000usd in CASH prizes.

Where do you find FREEDOM?

Amy Friedman

Amy is an author and creative writing teacher whose books include Desperado's Wife: A Memoir, Kick the Dog and Shoot the Cat, and Nothing Sacred: A Conversation with Feminism. She also works as a ghostwriter and editor, and her articles, essays and stories have appeared in magazines, newspapers and numerous anthologies. Since 1992 Amy has written the internationally syndicated newspaper feature Tell Me A Story for Universal UClick, a column that has spawned two book collections and three audiobooks. Amy lives in Los Angeles with her husband, the teacher and writer Dennis Danziger.

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