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Letters from the Inside the Belly: Clean Water from a Dirty Cup

Antwan Byrd, inmate #220707, lives in the Cheshire Correctional Institute. Mr. Byrd, now 36, was convicted of the January 17, 2008 murder of 31-year-old Lavias Phillips.  Byrd claimed he acted in self-defense during a street fight near Phillips’ family’s home at the corner of Goffe Terrace and Bellevue Roa in New Haven, but a jury found Byrd guilty of murder for shooting Phillips in the back.

Byrd, a Hartford native, is serving a 45-year sentence. He is concurrently serving a 15-year sentence for armed robbery, committed less than a week after the murder. At the sentencing for Phillips’ murder on February 10, 2010, superior court judge John Alander was incredulous about the robbery, and criticized Mr. Byrd’s life’s choices. The New Haven Register quoted Judge Alander as saying: “Your vocation seems to be to steal, rob and assault people — and you do it with guns.”

 We must remember that for all his failings, Mr. Byrd is human, and loved. Mr. Byrd’s grandfather is the Reverend Albert Bell, who lives in the apartments at 10 Marshall Street in Asylum Hill. We hope to have a story in the future detailing the problems the residents 10 Marshall Street face regarding getting access to a community meeting room, among others.

 A few days ago, Rev. Bell, a loyal reader of the 40-Year Plan, gave me a five-page handwritten essay from Mr. Byrd.  And so, we proudly present another installment of the 40-Year Plan’s ongoing series of communications from prisoners, Letters from the Inside the Belly of the Beast.

 After the recent contentious debate on the death penalty and rights of murder victims, some may take this as an affront, that we grant Mr. Byrd space to express himself yet Mr. Phillips will never speak again. For those, we can look to the words of the Dr. Martin Luther King, who said our charge is to give voice to the voiceless. I also think about the words I wrote a few weeks ago (April 12) from the Rev. Walter Everett, who forgave his son’s murderer: “The anger was destroying me,” Rev. Everett said.

 For anyone who would like to communicate with Mr. Byrd, his address is Antwan Byrd, Inmate 220707, 900 Highland Avenue, Cheshire CI, Cheshire, CT 06410.  Prison is a lonely existence, and I am sure he would love a letter. Next week, we will present a second excerpt from Mr. Byrd.

Excerpt #1

It’s a little past 6:30 am, here I sit on my bunk peering through a cell window, if it can even be called a window. It’s 30 inches high, 12 inches wide with a four inch metal slab running from top to bottom in the center, obstructing my view.  Looking directly ahead, all I can see is a weather beaten red brick wall.

The obstruction forces me to look towards heaven. Another reminder of where salvation lies.  This window does not open, allowing me to indulge in what most people take for granted.  How I pine to inhale just one breach of air. Instead I inhale the recycled air supplied to this tiny confinement I share with a stranger whom I do not know beyond playing poker.

His mind is another besides my own that I must vigilantly watch and assess. I’m looking for any signs of instability, mainly because I cannot avoid the inevitable sleep.  I wouldn’t want to be asleep when his mind releases its grip on sanity. I may get more sleep than bargained for or awake to the horror of a human chandelier.

Let’s face reality: only the individual knows what he or she is thinking.  The observer can only discern what the other is thinking by what he or she says or does. I can only imagine the thoughts others entertain.

There’s a circus in my head in which I am ringmaster.  There’s acrobats, clowns, audiences and lions I have to crack the whip at to tame. However, as I breathe in an unhealthy mix of recycled air, mixed with the carbon dioxide my celly and I expel 21 hours of each day that we’re locked in this cell together, I gaze out the window imagining I am inhaling, savoring, the invisible force that just blew a dead leaf by.

The irony is the deceased leaf is living out my desires.  It’s on the other side of this miserable window, riding a current, the one I wish I could hold captive in my lungs, stripping it of its elemental composition, releasing it into the atmosphere – a fresh breath for the trees. As the leaf escapes my range of vision, my mind’s eye watches its flight path. It’s headed for the razor wire coiled atop the chain link fence, like a boa around its unlucky prey, caught in a death grip, crushing the ribcage, forcing the life out of it.

I can’t allow it, the razor, to tear the leaf to pieces and cause the prison’s grounds to become its final resting place. I increase the force of the wind. The leaf, driven by my will, leapt over the razor. I let go of the vision.  Wherever the leaf lands is fine by me, as long as it did not become trapped here. I will not be torn to pieces nor will I accept these prison grounds as my final destination.






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