With exams at the end of the school year and Troy’s lawyers busily preparing for the hearing, I hadn’t talked to Troy on the phone in over a month.


Gautam: “Once you’re free, what’s the first thing you’re going to do?”

Troy: “Thank God for my freedom, embrace my mother, Martina, and the rest of my family. For me, and this might sound shallow, but I want to finally take a hot bath. Not a shower, but a hot bath. The first night I get out, I’m going to sleep in my mother’s room, at the foot of her bed, so when she goes to sleep she can see me there. And when she wakes up, she can see that this is not just a dream, that I’m still right there with her.”

Gautam: “Then we’ll go fishing, right? You fish and I watch?”

Troy: “That’s right, and I’ll sing a duet with Priya. And when I get out I want to go to church with my family and give my testimony of faith and let people know about my life experiences.”

Gautam: “I’m sure many universities and high schools will invite you to speak.”

Troy: “I want to speak, but most important is to spend a couple of weeks with my family, just inside the house. I’ll be reintroducing myself to them because I never knew them as adults. Seeing my mother age, seeing her develop arthritis and hip problems . . . It hurts. When I saw her at visitation, I thought, ‘God, help me get out. Don’t let my mother die before I get out. Let me spend some time with her once I’m free. Please, God, help Martina so that she’ll not only be cancer free, but also live long enough to have grandkids and enjoy the fruits of her labor with her son.’ I ain’t gonna lie, it hurts being away from my family.”

Gautam: “Are you going to travel once you get out?”

Troy: “When I got up here, all the violence made me paranoid. You’d think that when I get out I’d want to move around and see the world, but honestly I think I’d be a homebody. My biggest problem is going to be learning all these computers and cell phones. I might take accounting classes since I like numbers so much.”

Gautam: “Were you planning on going to college before you were arrested?”

Troy: “No.”

Gautam: “How come?”

Troy: “Early on I wanted to be an engineer. I just lost focus and got so caught up in working because I loved to work, I loved to create with my hands. Many people wanted me to go to college, but I had plans on joining the military . . . well, I did have plans until they got ruined. College was going to be something I would have done a bit later. I wanted to try to get a life for myself, try to get me a home first and the better things before I went back to school.”

Gautam: “I never knew you were going to join the military.”

Troy: “I was supposed to join the Marine Corps. I had already sworn in about a year before I was arrested. I was going to go into warehouse management, which is supposed to be one of the best jobs in the armed forces. I was the only person in Savannah that year who passed the entrance test. I had my job papers ready, but my staff sergeant abruptly left, and that ruined everything. But I’ve learned that in life, no matter what the situation, if you put God first you’ll be able to shine. You’ll be the star. Maybe if I had stayed in the streets, I wouldn’t be alive. Maybe I would’ve been killed in the military. God didn’t put me on death row. He allowed me to live to experience all this. And look how many more people now know about all the injustices in the legal system. Look how many people are praying and fighting on my behalf!”

Gautam: “So if you could go back, would you do the same thing?”

Troy: “No, I deeply regret not going to college. There’s so much to learn. It keeps you grounded, it helps you understand how important education is and find something you’re passionate about. Many people want me to go to college when I get out.”

Gautam: “Will you do it?”

Troy: “I’m thinking about it, but I don’t know . . . I still don’t have that confidence in myself. I really want to help other people, especially kids. I want to show them that there is someone out there who cares, somebody who can identify with their teenage traumas, someone who can give them guidance and instruction to help them reach their true goals in life. One thing I know about kids who act up: if you get them away from the crowd and talk to them one-on-one, you find out what they are really passionate about. I really want to speak at juvenile facilities and schools, not just about the death penalty but about religion, about life, about struggles so people can see that I’ve overcome everything I’ve been through because of my faith in God because I’m seeking to help so many others. My dream is for someone going down the wrong path to sit back and think, ‘If Troy can do it, I know I can.’”

Gautam: “That’s why you should write a book.”

Troy: “Yeah, there you go, along with everybody else! I’ve been thinking about it. I have been writing things down in a journal and sending some of it out. I’m going to sit back and try to write some more.”

My mother, who had been listening from a distance to Troy on the speakerphone, walked over.

Kavita: “We’d love to help you write a book, even if we have to self-publish it and promote it on the internet. People need to know about what goes on here—all of the things that you’ve told us. There must be so much more. I told Martina we should go through those boxes of letters that you’ve been sent and maybe put together a book of that.”

Troy: “I used to write more, but then they started a new cell search policy. Now they force us to keep our backs turned while they do the sweep. Last time they took away all of my writings.”

Gautam: “Couldn’t you mail them to Martina?”

Troy: “They read all the mail that goes through here. If I say anything they don’t like, they won’t send it out.”

Gautam: “But the envelopes on your letter have a stamp saying that the Department of Corrections has processed the letter but has not opened or read it.”

Troy: “Gautam, you can’t take what they say at face value. They’re lying. Last month I sent a letter to a family friend. I talked to her on the phone a few weeks later, and she told me she couldn’t understand the letter since I had scratched out many of the words. I never did that. I sent another letter with no words scratched out and the same thing happened again. The prison censors my letters.”

Gautam: “But you should still try. Do whatever you can to let people know about life here before you forget.” Before it’s too late.

Troy: “We’ll see.”

Gautam: “I hope you do. I spoke at Thanksgiving dinner about how grateful I am for having you in my life, and a book would help you be part of more lives.”

Troy: “You don’t know how much it means to hear that. I’ve always wanted to help people strive to be the best they can be, and to know that I’ve been able to touch you and your family that way makes me feel real good. If I can’t inspire nobody else, at least I can say I inspired you. I’m proud you’re in my life.”

Gautam: “Just make sure you write that book, okay?”

Troy: “I’ll try, Gautam.” Troy chuckled mischievously, but my heart sank. I recognized that same tone I’d used many times before, the tone of promising to eat my vegetables and clean my room and finish my homework before bed. The tone of a promise never fulfilled. “But I’m already so far behind in answering all the letters I get. I guess somebody will have to write my story for me.”

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