Madeine Ward
Madeleine Ward
Ilinois
Theft and Exploitation of an Elderly Person (Over $100,000)
Exonerated

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My Best Friends are Murders

Spread um’, your lips, and I don’t mean the ones attached to your mouth!” barked an officer who resembled a heavier Halle Barrie, rather than the expected modern day direct descendent of Attila the Hun. What you noticed first though, wasn’t her face but her attitude in her stance; it was like a linebacker for the Chicago Bears, daring anyone to break through.
Why was she screaming? How did I end up in this line? I hate lines and this wasn’t even for that ‘just out and must see’ movie, or even the checkout lane at Jewel. I was naked and shivering, in a room with 30 other naked women, all shapes but mostly young, too young with vacant stares. Am I the only one who is embarrassed? The stink, the smell is everywhere! Didn’t anyone take a shower? And the filthy floor, it is cement why couldn’t they clean this floor? All they would have to do is hose it down? My feet are filthy from the scum on the cement floor; and it’s cold. Haven’t these people heard of disease? Athletes Foot? Fungi? Nobody is paying any attention, don’t they care? Why am I here? I hadn’t done anything!
How did I get here? It seems we drove for hours, more than the two it actually was, over flat strips of concrete highways and then this building had appeared out of nowhere, not a real structure but rather one a child had placed it in the middle of an empty room almost invisible from dull grey carpet that surrounded it. Its dull not quite red, exterior resembled a plain faded LEGO building; the wire fencing encircling and topped by barbed wire as if a built for an old World War II prison movie and left behind. This was Dwight, Illinois’ maximum security female prison. How could the system fail especially for someone that had believed in it so strongly for over 60 years? Maybe the values I had were a vacant mirror of true reality.

Why did my sister and her husband do this to me and what they did to our parents? What had any of us done? How could one human being intentionally cause this to happen, let alone my only sister, their daughter? It is not as if we grew up deprived of anything or that our parents favored one over the other. We were both loved and spoiled and if anything she was the favorite. Mom and Dad, when we first moved into our new home, did give her the first choice of bedrooms and she did pick the largest bedroom, even though I was the oldest and should have been able to pick first, but I never held a grudge.
She obviously did. Maybe she was jealous of the carpet in my room. Because I had the smaller room, by a whole 12 square feet, I was allowed to pick out my own room décor first. I wanted it to be perfect, just like Sleeping Beauty’s was as she dreamed of her future prince. The carpet had to be purple, not just carpet but the new shag styles and the walls pink, the furniture white with gold accents, ‘French provincial’. The ceiling painted blue with stars, just like the picture in my story book. How my Mother must have shuddered at my taste. My room was in such sharp contrast to her antiques and interior decorator chosen furniture. My sister had to ‘make do’ with the carpet my Mother had chosen to cover the hardwood floors in our new home. We did have to share an adjoining bath, but it did have a large sunken tub and two vanities, so our fighting over bathroom space was minimal. We were sisters and close in age so some sibling fighting is normal, but she loved to taunt me. I remember one time she put a pillow over my face when I was sleeping and as I woke up and screamed she pushed harder. Thank God mom came in the room, but when I tried to tell her what happened Linda convinced her we were just playing.
We even had our own pony, a Welsh named Star. He was larger than a Shetland and his lines were like a miniature thoroughbred. Linda did not like to ride so he was mine by default, but, because my parents did not want to be accused of playing favorites and to make it even she got a sailboat. Linda, my sister and I had everything a child could want and more than a child needs.
Life did get harder as we became adults. Linda became a lawyer but refused to take just any job; only one that did not require overtime. I married and had two children. Linda however was never happy; even in law school she didn’t like her living accommodations so Mom and Dad brought her a condo at the Hancock Center in Chicago, but it was only a studio as she so often complained, and the XKE Jag they had brought her was used. She had it so tough in school. She felt I had it easy, after all I was married and lived in a large apartment on the North Side, I did not have to study and with two infants could spend my days eating bon-bons and shopping, or so she thought...
“I said spread um’...Bend over...” snarls the Officer who is beginning to more and more resemble a pro linebacker than a hefty Halle Berry. Her voice is the same tone used someone would use to warn the ants crawling on the floor before they would stomp on them.
Surviving was not going to be easy, just staying alive was going to be a challenge. My children, I hope they are going to be okay.
I had survived other, what I had thought, were life defining challenges, but nothing in my past 60 years had prepared me for this. Some would have even considered me successful. Three husbands, one divorce, one buried another one we would rather not mention, three ‘perfect’ children. Various business successes, and I admit, some failures, but on the whole a favored life in this universe.
After all if you do what is right, work hard, take care of your family, give back to the community, you don’t have to worry; all will come to you. That is if the world was just and fate’s habit of intervening would be overcome if you did the right thing. Were the values and lessons I had believed and taught my children just a vacant mirror of reality? To have the system make a mistake is one thing, but to have your own sister instigate it and allowed, even sanctioned to hurt others including separating her parents who had been married for over 60 years, where is the right in that?
“Move it! Get going!”
The tone one I had rarely heard in a human voice but the women who surrounded me did not even flinch at her tone, they move instinctively as if they are robots. The resentment and hatred in the officer’s voice, sounds as if it is coming from speakers, as though barking directions for extra’s in an updated remake of “Schindler’s List”. Are we; am I just an extra in a movie? Because that is the only excuse that would allow using that tone of voice, certainly not in real life…not to other human beings.
When or am I going to wake up and realize this was just a very bad dream?
If I was going to be a character in a novel or show, I rather pictured myself in Patrick Dennis’ “Auntie Mame” ,Sally Fields’ in “Brothers and Sisters “or better still Angela Landsberry as Jessica Fletcher in “Murder She Wrote”. How did I become the female Kafka protagonist where the only question is which of his novels am I trapped. The feeling of dread, of not knowing what to expect, or am I inside “Jurassic Park” only instead of dinosaurs there are guards and instead of the tropical jungle a frigid cornfield?
Try as I might I knew I would not wake-up and find myself on my patio, or in my living room, sipping wine, glancing out the window, enjoying friends’ conversations. My greatest worries being my son’s grades in college and if they would ever find the right combination of drugs to help my daughter, Lara, fight her schizophrenia. Not trivial, but not anything that could not handle or resolved with time, patience and prayer.
I’d been a suburban, self-employed, mother of three, who lived in a middle-class suburban neighborhood, on a block where ‘Leave it to Beaver’ could have been set. This doesn’t mean there weren’t struggles. My daughter, Lara, suffered from adult onset of schizophrenia and was attending a day program. Michael, my youngest, was attending college full time and always seemed to need more money. Just six weeks after I married my second husband, he was told he had an enlarged heart and had months to live. He died 3 years later, leaving us $250,000.00 in debt and five months behind on our mortgage. I went to work and two years later I was out of debt, and had my own business.
So how did I end up here? With murderers and drug dealers, people shouting at each other, speaking a language I do not understand? How did I get here? Help me! Please!!
Do you remember the 1984 Macintosh commercial? The people all around looking the same, marching to a drummer while Big Brother watched. I am in that commercial, a George Orwell nightmare my fellow inmates as unanimated as the actors in the commercial. Where is Apple to save the day?
I feel as if I am posing for a sequel to Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. That picture, so vivid, a person on a bridge holding their head, mouth open in a voiceless cry. I am inside that picture.
Where are Steve Jobs or Sir Galahad, or even a kindly stranger, anybody? Where are they? Is anybody out there? Is anybody listening?

Maybe I should begin at the beginning.

It is the Fourth of July 2000 and the annual town’s ‘Rib Fest” is winding down. The Rib Fest is an annual food fair and rib judging local event with concerts and booths culminating in a large concert and fireworks. I had long since found it too crowded, but it is great fun for teenagers and families who enjoy the crowds and eating on their feet. The kids had decided to attend with their friends and were going to stay for the concert and fireworks. A few friends are over and we are just finishing a very satisfying repast. It is quiet. The fountain in the corner is just barely heard above the cacophony of music and voices. A little too large for the patio, but it is my concession to not having enough room for a pool-; it is little garish but I love its music. The comfortable silence that occurs, after a good meal with friends, just before new topics begin, like settling in a comfortable nightgown.
The table is covered with what remains of the barbeque, some corn cobs, a few drippings from the steaks and glasses of wine in various stages of consumption. The phone rings, but no one rushes to answer, the machine will pick up. Why interrupt such a wonderful evening?
Jim and Susan were discussing their recent trip to Italy and the wonderful sights they had seen, when Tom raised his glass for a toast. “Italy might be gorgeous but all I can say is ‘here is to my great grandparents... I am glad they caught the boat otherwise I could be stomping grapes and worried about my next meal rather than lesson plans for next semester.” The night was as close to perfect as life on this earth can be.
The phone rings but I don’t bother to answer. If it is for Michael, his friends will call his cell, anyone else can leave a message and I’ll return the call later. Why break this spell?
The last guest is Wanda, Aunt Rosemary’s daughter, who has recently moved from New Orleans. She had moved partly for employment and partly, though we would never admit it, to get away from the family. Our family in New Orleans could be overwhelming at times and employment opportunities, especially in her field, health and safety, were better in Illinois. She had brought a condo here in town and our conversation was centered on her decorating plans. “I think I will paint the kitchen a light coral, but want you to check out the color first.”
“Sure. Happy too,” I remark as the phone rings, ‘Answer that, please, it is probably one of our mothers calling to wish us a happy fourth. I’ll get these dishes.””
As the saying goes “If only…”
No premonition, not like in books, not even a chill, not even a hint of impending disaster, nothing to spoil the contentment after a evening with good friends.
My mother was in the hospital. She had been disoriented and suffering from dehydration, the result of the flu and disorientated. My mother who was never sick and very intelligent, anything but disoriented; it was my father that recently had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, not my Mother who ever got sick.
Aunt Rosemary had called my sister first and asked her to fly down to help with my Dad and the cat. “Let’s not forget Pumpkin, your mother would never forgive us if something happened to Pumpkin.” Aunt Rosemary intoned, “Your father will never clean the litter box.”
“Why her?” She is the least likely person to be caring, and she has never liked Dad.” “Why did you call her?’’ admittedly I was slightly hurt as always thought I was the one to be depended on in a crisis, Linda did not even have children because ‘dirty diapers? “Defining myself because I have a uterus? How utterly plebian?” She would often snicker; as I would talk about my children and their latest antics.
“You didn’t answer your phone earlier and after all you have Michael and a business, your sister does not have any children and she doesn’t work, so she is able to get away, she said she would come…”
“Your mom will be fine in a couple of days. Here is the number of the hospital and her room number. She is sleeping now, call her in the morning. Don’t worry she will be fine.”
“What size shoes?” the women officer, barking her demands, interrupting my daydreaming, or escaping from what is happening, “sixes, sevens will have to do” as she hands me a pair of shoes that resemble a style last seen in Victorian pictures, a semi boot, black, laces high tops, with soles that still resemble the tire treads that were used in their manufacture. The shoes were made out of recycled tires in China, not even the US government believes in buying at home ‘Glad they are at least concerned about the environment if nothing else’ I think.
How will I survive? Please Lord let me wake up and find this is a horrible dream. Murderers? Drug dealers? People I believed belonged behind bars for life. How can I be one of them?”
As I approached the intake building at Dwight its stark isolation and desolation echoed inside my head. There was nothing close to the building to distract from its austere composition and its rectangular mass. It was a large and impersonal a horizontal cinderblock perfectly aligned with the flat empty field it abuts. It is not a separate entity but an appendage of the landscape. My first reaction was it wouldn’t be too bad, better than the building where we all stripped and received our miserly allotment of clothing and supplies. My feet hurt and I was tired, after all I had only been out of the hospital for two months since my last heart attack, I needed to lie down and I needed my medicine.
Prior to my incarceration I had had a few heart attacks and had a six stents in my heart. I suffer from a heart failure, a disease that had already taken the life of my grandfather, two of my cousins and innumerable other relatives. I was lucky, our family often kids about the curse of 55. It was the age, that if obtained, we all felt we had survived the worst threat, would die from something other than heart disease. I had been lucky, but had not had my meds and the system was not going to issue any until we finished the intake process, a week at least. I was determined not to die, Linda was not going to win, and I had no doubt she wanted to be the first to dance on my grave I was not going to gratify her wish. I just hope Lara takes her medicine and Michael continues in school.
All I wanted was to lie down and get off my feet, my chest felt tight and I was having trouble catching my breath; I was tired. I had read and seen in movies that the realization of being in prison does not really hit you until the door clangs shut. I thought I had been through the mill; and believed I was prepared for that moment when they lock you in your cell.