Overlord X “14 Days in May”
 Mozart “The Marriage of Figaro”
 Thomas Newman “Stoic Theme”
Chapter One: Mile
A life sentence is some stretch let me tell you. For one who has been wrongly incarcerated, it is like a never-ending nightmare. I know what you’re thinking; every convict protests their innocence. However, in my case, it really is the truth. Anybody who knows me would concur that cold-blooded murder isn’t an act I’m capable of; you won’t meet a more mild-mannered and docile guy. Unfortunately for me, I have been a victim of circumstance; framed for the murders of my duplicitous wife and her lover. If I’m honest, the thought did cross my mind after I came home early from work to find them in an uncompromising position in our family bed. But I decided to be the bigger person and, after a small confrontation, left broken-hearted and scurried off to lick my considerable wounds. Some of the neighbors heard the commotion and, when they turned up dead later on that afternoon, the whole thing was pinned on me.
I’m a simple man; a banker with large dreams and an even larger heart. Not the kind of guy built to survive a lengthy stint in America’s most infamous maximum security penitentiary. Shawshank State Prison is no picnic; filled to overflowing with all manner of unscrupulous felons and equally ominous guards. When I arrived and was bundled into my cell like a filthy dog, I cried. For three weeks I sobbed my heart out; wondering how things ever got to be this hopeless. No friends, no shoulder to cry on other than my own, and no chance of an appeal as the evidence was deemed conclusive. Case shut; an innocent man imprisoned and a stranger in an alien environment where newcomers aren’t welcomed but instead victimized. I just wanted to die after spending my first night in conditions barely fit for a rabid hound. But I knew that feeling sorry for myself wasn’t going to keep me alive; I would need my wits, sturdy perseverance, and a small miracle to finally feel the outside air in my hair once more.
When you are thrown to the wolves like I have been, you are required to learn some fairly harsh lessons. Firstly, it’s a little like school. Within a couple of days, folk have formed their opinions and decided what your fate shall be, and you spend the remainder of your term looking over your shoulder and clutching the soap-on-a-rope for dear life so as not to become someone’s personal plaything or, worse still, take a home-made shank to the spleen. The shower room made me very nervous indeed; to the point where I considered taking a dirty protest. The thing is, I’m not the type; I was raised not to complain and to accept my circumstances with a smile and not cause trouble should things not be to my liking. I do have one thing in my favor and that is that I am well-educated and great with figures. Thus it didn’t take long to deduce that my odds would be considerably longer of seeing the light of day if I didn’t keep my head down.
It also wasn’t too long before I realized that the threat lay not solely with the inmates, but also some of the staff. Captain Hadley appeared to have some involvement with any illicit dealings and, to him, I was nothing more than a disillusioned do-gooder who expected superior treatment based on my social standing. I didn’t believe that one iota but his made was mind up immediately after reading my file. In here, your position on the outside couldn’t be less relevant; your standing relied on whether or not you could take it as a man and Hadley was a firm believer that mental toughness was less of an art form than physical swagger. Every night he would run his baton across my bars and snigger; usually making some acidic observation about my character which was entirely unfounded I might add. He had it in for me basically; thus I knew full well that I would need to become indispensable to survive.
The prison warden was a gentleman by the name of Norton; I say gentleman when, in truth, he had his fingers in some fairly conspicuous pies. Corruption reigned supreme and, being a lover not a fighter, all I could do was turn a blind eye to any wrong-doings. Crusading wasn’t my thing but surviving most definitely was; crunching numbers was my greatest fortitude so I put that to good use. He was suitably impressed and, given the fact that half of the officials here were clearly corrupt, decided that I was the perfect candidate to become his on personal accountant. In return for cooking his books I would be granted relative immunity and afforded certain bonuses. I didn’t want charity; that wasn’t why I agreed to become devil’s advocate in the first place and I had no intention of sticking out for being some kind of warden’s pet but I considered this would help with my parole hearing and like to feel useful as there’s precious little else to aspire to within these walls.
One aspiration I did hang onto was that I would make form allegiances whilst inside; by that I mean fellow prisoners. It was admittedly slim pickings as many of the lifers had no reason to practice kindness of humility. The dogs ate the dogs and I just sat back while spotting any other potential kittens like myself. What did I get for my troubles? Well, I did meet a man with a mouse. He was known as Mile by his affiliates on account of him being somewhat gargantuan. However, appearances can be downright deceiving as there wasn’t a more placid fellow in the entire lock-up than he. Poor Mr Jingles was the rodent in question; cursed by being born within prison boundaries, he spent his days scurrying about in search of scraps, until which time as John Coffey offered him a halfway house. The two were inseparable and it was actually somewhat heartwarming watching the pair bonding night after night.
As much as John’s unbreakable bond with mice and the like was endearing, there was something else about this great man that warmed my cockles further still. He had an immense capacity for healing; by simply touching an afflicted area, this gentle giant could absorb one’s malady and turn that disease into tiny insects, which he would proceed to spew forth from his mouth. I kid you not; one of the more approachable guards was suffering from a rather disquieting urinary infection and Coffey healed him with the briefest of touches. I think he may well be a divine being; my arthritic left hand has given me no trouble whatsoever after one round of rock, paper, scissors. It was quite deliberate on my part, I simply played as paper until which time as he produced rock then held on for Alabama. By the next day I felt a thousand bucks and my persistent aching had subsided completely. If that’s not the work of a force higher than our own, then I haven’t the faintest idea what is.
Alas, the prison lost one of its largest of life characters when he finally met with his appointment with Old Sparky. That’s the nickname lifers have for the electric chair; those who are already condemned know this device only too well as the rendezvous is only ever a one-way date. I believe he was innocent but he never complained in the slightest of being given a raw deal. A man so tranquil could surely never have committed the crime for which he was charged but sadly his fate had been sealed long before I slid on my prison garments. The 14th of May 1946 is a day I will remember for as long as I live; unfortunately for reasons far less than celebratory. It was the day when John Coffey had his wondrous light extinguished and the same day that the shooting cramps returned to my left hand. Sometimes life can be harsh and I know as much as I was the victim of one such dash of cruelty, but my problems paled into insignificance considering I still possessed my health and air in my lungs. I may have been trapped in my own personal hell for the foreseeable but I thanked the lord for at least being alive.
Chapter 2: Red
There was another person who has touched my heart while I have served time at Shawshank. His name was Red and the friendship we forged kept me hopeful through the darkest of times. Red, like myself, had a position of great responsibility within the prison although it was his fellow lifers who held him in high regard. He could procure and smuggle in anything their hearts desired, within reason of course, and was known as the prison “fixer.” It proved a reasonably lucrative sideline for him and, more critically, made him a commodity amongst his associates. I spent my stash mostly on Swiss Cheddar as I knew Mr Jangles would require a midnight snack after Mile had taken his final walk. Red never once let me down and, over time, we began to form a bond which was to prove vital to both of us. He was far more guarded than I, seasoned already by countless years doing his bird, and not about to lower his defenses readily. However, he had sufficient insight to suss me out pretty speedily and, once he was convinced that I did not pose a threat, he began to soften.
He was black and I was white; which, to some, seemed like a bizarre pairing. Their kind and our kind didn’t mix although neither of us saw that a reason to terminate our affiliation. Prejudice always seemed such a wasteful pursuit as we are all just flesh and bone when you cut us open. I think he respected me for that; color was never an obstruction and I treated him precisely the same way I did everyone; with reverence and kindness. Sometimes we would chat for hours and talk about what we would do if we ever walked free; he only had a few years remaining so, for him, it seemed like a distinct possibility whereas I just clung on for hope. Norton promised me he would harry things along if I carried on supplying him with my service in return although I hadn’t seen any proof that such was forthcoming to this point and was questioning it more each day that passed. Red being more of a realist than I, he kept me grounded, and I was forbidden from getting too excitable. As bad as things were in Shawshank, and often it was an asphyxiating environment, I had made a friend for life in Red.
As time passed I became roped into running the tuck shop and that helped pass the time. But I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t living up to my potential and considered those around me could do with a little empowerment themselves. You may not be able to force a thoroughbred into drinking water from the riverside but you can lead it there; being literate I felt that the other could benefit from learning to read and write and felt I had the tools to teach them to use their kit also. That was my ultimate goal; to assist others in aspiring for greatness, even when their current situation appeared to be robbing them of their birthright for knowledge. It saddened me that prison life stripped men of their dignity and identity, when a little higher learning could help them to reach happier conclusions. Red supported my vision and together we spread the word which, in as confined a space as this, took no time whatsoever.
Suddenly, our library comprised of renowned literature and prose began to outweigh illustration. It left me feeling truly content although that wasn’t my reasoning for going the extra mile. It was no more than an act of human kindness as it appeared to me as though paying it forward would allow such to breed throughout numbers and create an environment where belief wasn’t considered unobtainable. My duties for Norton would see me good in the eyes of the panel but this just prepared me for my pre-ordained tryst with the almighty. I may have seen men die before my very eyes and witnessed the meanness of spirit on numerous occasions but I still maintained that life was a gift, no matter its trajectory. I had every reason to become embittered by the wrongful verdict cast upon me but honing in on such just made for a lifetime of inner torment. Inside I remained at great peace; my friendship with Red convinced me as much. If I could be the man I was intended to be in a place governed with an iron fist then that showed true strength of character, a wonderful gift which deserved to be shared candidly.
One of the topics we discussed was the governor’s money laundering antics; Red was already fully aware that he was using my services for his own underhanded gain. He kept his head down but happily discussed his theory with me as he knew he could trust me with his life and vice versa. We joked about it on occasion and Red got a kick out of me explaining that I had to go some time before I could learn to become a criminal. I justified my actions by helping my comrades to get their high school diplomas and managed to secure funds to renovate the library so it appeared as though karma was acting with graciousness. We were donated $200 as well as a smorgasbord of literature and vinyl records; including Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro which takes me to a better place every time I listen to it. For five minutes, I was without charge; no longer a detainee of the state and instead a kestrel, soaring free through wide open canyons.
Then it all changed in a heartbeat; suddenly my personal cell was snatched away and I was thrown into solitary confinement for a month with contempt for a heated conversation with Norton which escalated beyond my control. I spent thirty days accepting that things weren’t likely to change; my hearing would inevitably always be denied as the warden had no intention of ever letting my voice be heard. This was a most painful realization, even more so, as I couldn’t share my concerns with Red. I missed him; missed laughing and philosophizing together. It was clear to me at that juncture that I had to find another way to grant myself the freedom so callously snatched from me. Shawshank would kill me before too much longer and Norton wasn’t about to throw me a life jacket. Indeed, it was his finger pressed down on my crown as the other applied pressure against my lips. Suffering in silence seemed so inhumane but that was what was expected of me from thereon in. I simply had to escape.
Chapter 3: Redemption
I had to plan my escape painstakingly as I knew there would only be one chance afforded and failure would scupper any chances of early parole. I confided with Red; explaining that I never killed my wife, while remaining truthful over the reason why she chose infidelity. When you are gifted with nothing but reflective time you are forced to face up to certain home-truths and I understood that my flaws encouraged her into being unfaithful. Not that that was any excuse for her actions but my hands most certainly weren’t clean. As always, Red didn’t judge me and I think it was at that moment that I decided that whatever happened I intended to show my appreciation for all his unconditional love and support. Brotherhood, true brotherhood, should not be determined by blood group. I may not have told Red about my planned escape but I did discuss with him what my aspirations were for the time when I was finally granted my freedom.
I intended on a return to the Pacific coast of Mexico, specifically to a large oak tree at the end of a stone wall in a farm in Buxton. This is where I proposed to my wife and, should he ever be released , then I requested that he track the spot down and dig beneath the volcanic rock which stuck out like a sore thumb. There he would unearth a box, the contents of which would be a reward for years of cherished friendship. I knew the contents of the box but Red had absolutely no idea; it would be required for him to take a leap of faith and I had every confidence that he would do so without question as he was perhaps the truest friend I had ever had. I could see by his facial expression that he had every intention of honoring my wish, not out of greed, but because he too felt the unique bond we had shared.
That evening, at lights out, I decided to take my own leap of faith. In my cell was a large poster of One Million Years BC with the glorious Raquel Welch , one of my childhood sweethearts. I peeled it back and burrowed through the opening I had prepared in advance of my escape plan. My first issue was how in heavens I was going to secure it back in place after I had scarpered and that took some doing; but afterwards there was only one direction left to head in. It was my last hope of having a life on the outside and, considering my case had long since been closed, the only way in which I could clear my name. I had no real clue as to where the crawlspace would lead and it was probably best that way as, had I known I would have to wade through the prison sewage network, then I may well have stayed with Raquel. As you would expect from the one place where all the impurities are pumped, it was somewhat unsavory and, after my third mouthful of murky mouthwash, I felt like I could take no more.
In situations such as that you bank on adrenaline kicking in and thankfully mine did; the first thing I invested in on the outside would be a toothbrush but I had to complete my objective at all costs. After possibly the most gut-wrenching two hours of my entire life, I climbed through a ventilation shaft towards the light and surfaced just shy of the grounds, in the adjoining marshlands. I knew that it wouldn’t be long before the guards would discover my absence but that didn’t stop me standing there for a few minutes, arms outstretched, and relishing the rain on my face. Occasionally in life it can appear that there is no conceivable way of avoiding your fate but I had disproved this theory and couldn’t have done that without Red’s unswerving brotherhood.
The following morning I paid a visit to Maine National Bank in Portland and withdrew nearly $400,000 using my assumed identity Randall Stephens. I also decided it was necessary to call time on Warden Norton’s wrongdoings and asked for a package containing his accounting books to be sent straight to the Daily Bugle Newspaper, informing them of every discrepancy and leading them straight back to the source. They stormed the penitentiary, apprehending Captain Hadley amongst others, and I’m assured he blubbed like a baby after realizing his number was up. I almost felt bad for him but then I remembered how many times he made already broken men feel less than worthless and it seemed like just desserts for his villainous acts. He was supposed to be there to assure our safe keeping but instead used his uniform as a license to do whatever the hell he saw fit. Karma is a word he may well have been unfamiliar with up until then but he would have the rest of his life getting to know it more intimately behind bars.
Obviously I needed to lay low but it is that much easier a proposition when your back pocket is bulging with a banker’s cheque to the tune of almost half a million dollars. In 1967, and with Shawshank under different government, Red was finally granted his parole. it can be incredibly difficult readjusting to life on the outside when you’re an ex-con and his honorable skill set was unlikely to convince potential employers to take a chance and hire him. Within six months, one of his advanced years may well have passed away as he had spent so much of his life institutionalized that the outside world could appear to offer him nothing but rejection and solitude. However, this man’s character was such that he instantly made a trip down to Zihuatanejo and I was ready for him when he arrived. My gift to him was simple; the offer of a future which had looked unlikely alongside his dearest friend. He graciously accepted of course.
I stand here now on our personal fishing yacht, surrounded by tranquility and open expanses. It seemed fitting after spending such a protracted period confined. I always believed in lessons learned; even in the most unforgiving environment, it was something I simply couldn’t stop endorsing. The triumph of human spirit can be vast and intoxicating but, in order to stimulate such, one is required to keep hope alive. Sometimes life can deal you a harsh blow and it would be effortless to let that beat you but one of the many things Red taught me was never to stop believing. I trust that, in some way I repaid his kindness; I couldn’t remove the pain he had felt or the sadness which would always exist inside of him. But I could grant an old man a rather special wish. We sailed away into the Pacific free men where, in truth, we were already that way in our hearts.