With Yellow Mama
On the drive to Kilby Prison for my last visit
with Jim, until we meet in Hell, the years cascaded back like bad scenes in a
horror movie. We lived the life of badge packers who take no shit from anybody.
Now, Jim lives in the devils' waiting room preparing for his dance with Yellow
Mama—Alabama’s electric chair. Bad dreams pop up at night, like shooting range targets.
I’ve counted the time in years, months, weeks, and days; now his time is down to
hours. Jim's subscription to life ran out. Tomorrow Jim will be on the wrong
side of the dirt. At Midnight Jim rides
Thank god for a blasting
hangover, or I would be riding the electric bolt to hell with him. I was off
sick when he murdered Jazzy Red, the slick-talking black drug dealer. Jim said
Jazzy argued with him and showed contempt. A trigger pull settled the argument.
Jim shot the bastard and threw down a knife. It was just another misdemeanor
murder where a cop kills a black dirtbag, and nobody gives a shit. No media
coverage. Black dirtbags get killed all the time. WRONG.
In the last eight months, this
killing, the fifth of a young black man by a Magic City cop stuck a stick in a
hornet's nest. The scared shitless rookie working in my place told the shooting
team what really happened. That fact hit the papers, and the civil rights
protesters hit the streets. The NAACP called for a boycott. Now the big mules that
owned the downtown businesses demanded action. Action came fast. The chief said
Jim was a rotten apple. Magic City cops don't do that. The new Mayor and a
crusading DA said they would hammer the rogue cop. They did.
A year later, I sat in the back
row, the only uniformed cop in the courtroom. Jim Miller, a disgraced ten-year
veteran of the Magic City Police Department, stood before the solemn judge who gave
his sentence, “The jury has found you
guilty of first-degree murder during the commission of a felony. You have
disgraced yourself and the police profession. Therefore, I sentence you to the prescribed
penalty. You will be taken to Kilby Prison and put to death at a time
designated by the Department of Corrections. May God have mercy on your soul.”
That was it. 10-4 over and out.
Three days later, I stood in the
shadows with Leroy, a jail trustee who helped bring the inmates to the train
platform. Leroy said that Boss Man Harry, the chief deputy, let trustees watch
when relatives or friends caught the Midnight train. He showed me where to
stand where we could not be seen.
As Leroy explained, every Friday
at Midnight, a black prison train backs into the dead-end siding and receives
its load of souls bound for retribution and revenge. Unlike the hustle and
bustle of passenger trains no one gets off until the Midnight Train vomits its
human cargo inside the high thick walls of the state's prison. No one stands in
queues at booking stations waiting to purchase tickets. No one waves at loved
ones as the train and its solitary caged car leaves the station.
An enforced eerie cemetery
silence lay like a funeral shroud over the platform as I looked down the track.
A lone flickering three-bulb metal light fixture dangled from the roof and cast
a dim light on the surreal scene. Nine shackled and chained men and two boys
sat with Jim on a concrete bench in the open-sided gunmetal platform staring
down the tracks. I caught a whiff of the sour smell of sweaty and unwashed men
mixed with the odor of feces and urine. Jim and another man wore red-scarlet
"Leroy, what's with the red
“Boss Man Harry says they are
Dead Men Walking. Them men gonna ride the lightning. He says they got a date
with Yellow Mama,” Mister Boss Man.
Holy Shit, my thoughts shot back to our
visit to Kilby and Yellow Mama.
Jim and I decided to attend one
execution to watch the success of our war on crime. We got the grand tour
escorted by a guard compliments of the warden.
We entered the chamber of death
with a tall powerful guard with a broad chest, long arms, wide shoulders, short
legs, buzz haircut, and a gravely smokers voice. I remember Jim saying, "I
bet that SOB could drag a fighting inmate into the death chamber." I can't remember
his name, but he was proud
of his job, and he had antifreeze for blood. He bounced around like he was
amped on Meth and gave us a history lesson in a voice three clicks above loud.
it is, " he said, pointing at the wooden garish yellow electric chair. "That's
Yellow Mama. Alabama’s efficient killing machine. This is the most efficient,
reliable way of killing evil sons-of- bitches known to man, You guys are
welcome to go sit in her lap,” he said with a used car salesman's.
degenerate asshole was electrocuted in 1927, I was told," he
blasted out at us.
“Since that date until now, there have been at least 153 men and women
that have ridden the lightning to hell sitting in Yellow Mama's lap."
He paused, smiled, and continued.
"I have only seen about twenty executions, and one of them was a mean
black bitch from Magic City, where you guys are from. Mildred Cato, you guys
know her?" He didn't wait for an answer. "She cried
and shit all over herself as I dragged her in here and strapped her in?"
man. Do they all do that?" Jim asked.
on themselves or have to be drug in?" He didn't wait for an
answer before roaring. "Well, they all shit and piss
when the electricity hits them. This
place smells awful when that shit smell is mixed with the fried smell of flesh
I grabbed my
mouth as the bile came up. The jerk wasn't finished.
make them guys on death row come in here and clean up the mess. What do you
think of that?” He said and
I still had my hand over my mouth, and Jim
stood silent as white as a ghost. Jim and I decided that we had seen and heard
enough, so we headed back to Magic City.
We didn't want to see an execution.
My thoughts were dragged back to
the platform when I heard the tall, powerful guard with a broad chest, long
arms, wide shoulders, short legs, and buzz haircut roar.
right, you shit heads stand up and
get in a line. No talking," he yelled as he racked one in the chamber of
his shotgun. The sad tune of shuffling feet and the jiggling tinkling of metal
ankle chains echoed on the dimly lit platform.
"Tighten the line up. Dick to
assholes," the guard roared and laughed as if he had told a private joke. Jim’s
heavy chains slid along the platform as he closed in on the man in front of
him. My lower lip trembled with the wailing sound of the Midnight Train
entering the terminal.