Every now and then, I would have an inmate that touched my heart. This particular inmate’s name was Kareem. Kareem was a lively young man, so full of vigor. He was facing a first degree murder charge, breaking and entering, and burglary charges, but you couldn’t tell it by his actions.
“Did you do it?” I asked, already knowing he would deny it.
“Nope, I did not,” he answered with much conviction.
Over the course of a year, his story was told to me: mostly shared by him. When I was told a good story, I always checked with the officers to find out what was truth and fiction. Being a small town, the officers usually knew the skinny, or at least some of it.
“Are you trying to tell me there wasn’t a murder victim?” I asked on one of Kareem’s visits to medical.
He answered with one of his infamous grins, “Oh there was a murder victim, but it wasn’t by my hand.”
“If you didn’t do it then who did?” I prompted.
“It was my girl’s cousins,” he answered. “See, in order to be charged with conspiracy, you have to have three people say they saw you do it, and her three cousins are saying that I shot the man’s brother and tried to rob them (the family). I wasn’t even there, Michelle.”
His story is that they were all hanging around one day and he needed to pick up a pack of cigarettes. The three cousins (also housed in the same jail on different cellblocks) offered to drop Kareem off at the store on the way over to their friend’s house. They were going to pick up something and then come back and pick up Kareem on the way back through.
“They never came back,” Kareem said of that fateful day. “I hitched a ride back to my girl’s place. Later, I heard what had happened. They went over to steal the weed and got into an altercation with the man and his brother, and next thing; they were all whipping out guns and shooting at each other. The one boy was shot dead.”
“What happened after that?”
“Two days later, the police show up at my door and arrested me.” Kareem paused to shake his head. “They said the other three told them I was with them when the crime took place. Even the man they went to see, and his daughter, said I was nowhere near the place. They didn’t even know who I was and insisted there were only three people…those three! The man at the convenience store confirmed I was there at the time of the crime buying cigarettes.”
Now I was shaking my head in disbelief. “So how did they arrest you?”
“I told you, they need three to confirm conspiracy and those three are sticking to their stories. They went over there to rob the man of his weed and ended up shooting the brother,” Kareem explained again. “Things just went from bad to worse and you know what they say…misery loves company. I’m pleading not guilty, Michelle. I will not go down for a crime I did not commit. If they say I did it, then they better show me the proof. That’s all I got to say, show me!”
As Kareem’s trial date inched forward, the other three went ahead of him. The first culprit made it all the way through trial and the jury found him guilty and gave him forty years. The other two, having heard about the fate of their cousin, pled guilty and each received a twenty-year sentence.
Kareem was walking by my cart on his way to court. He stopped to smile and say, “I’m going to walk out of here a free man, Michelle. You watch.”
His trial was three days. He was brought back to the jail to be processed out and refused to leave until he stopped by medical to speak to me.
“I told you I would walk out of here free,” Kareem said laughing.
“How did you do it?” I asked, completely amazed at this kid.
“I told the jury my story. My lawyer did not want me to testify, but I made him put me on the stand,” he said of his trial. “I told the jury the truth and I guess they believed me. They found me not guilty.”
“That is amazing,” I admitted.
“Well, it worked in my first murder trial, so I decided to tell the truth again and it worked in this one, too,” he confessed.
“Wait…first murder trial?”
Kareem laughed at my expression. “Yeah, the first time I was charged with five counts of first degree murder. These guys broke into my house at 4:00 in the morning to rob me of my weed and I shot and killed all five. The jury said I had a right to defend my home even if I was only protecting my drugs. Funny, how I was charged for doing the same thing the three cousins did, huh? I guess it’s true, what goes around comes around.”
I could not help but laugh at this kid’s audacity and asked, “Kareem, I hope now you’ve learned your lesson and are going to straighten up?”
As they were leading him out to be discharged he smiled that infectious smile and said, “I’m going to enroll in college when I go home. Then, I plan to move the hell away from this place. You won’t ever see me again.”
And, I didn’t, either. I do hope he made good on his promise to himself and went to college. Wherever Kareem is, I wish him all the luck in the world.