Vernon – Ep. 1

INTRODUCTION: Those who know me well know that I have a fascination with the prison system. So it’s only fitting that the first series features someone that is a product of that system.

VERNON is serving a death sentence for a double homicide. He’s been vehement about his innocence and has lost several appeals. When I met Vernon he was awaiting word of the judge’s ruling on his most recent appeal. Prior to his arrest, Vernon pastored a church of about 400 members. He attended seminary and has a B.A. in sociology.

Here’s Vernon in his own words…


DAY 1: I’ve been staring at this blank piece of paper for a long time… or maybe it hasn’t been that long but it certainly feels like an eternity. I don’t have a watch and have no idea what time it is. It’s remarkable how serene life becomes when your life isn’t defined by the parameters of a 24hr clock. You realize the futility of being caught up in the hustle and bustle of a routine. There’s no rushing to the grocery store. There’s no hurrying to make an appointment. No scrambling to get to work on time. None of it matters… Anyway the point is I’m not sure what to write…

DAY 2:  I fell asleep last night trying to think of what to write.  Another day gone by, no different from the last one or the one before that. That’s my hamster wheel.

I thought about Tara… even the idea of her name makes me want to scream and choke something. I think about how much I hate her more than I even think about how much I love my kids. Is that twisted?

I can pinpoint the exact moment in time when my life fell apart then I start thinking what if I changed jobs like I planned, what if I didn’t have my jumper cables in my car that night, what if I turned down her dinner invitation. Everything could have been different, then my mind starts going down these tunnels of scenarios and the deeper I descend into this soul sucking quagmire the more I feel like I’m losing myself. Sometimes I don’t even recognize my own thoughts anymore. I’m twisted in knots and feel angst. The doubts in my head torture me…. What if, what if, what if, what if, what if, what if….. AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH…….

… I have to remind myself to take deeps breaths….. EXHALE…..

I remember reading a Reader’s Digest in high school… or maybe it was the New Yorker… it was one of those high-browed intellectual publications. Whatever it was, the writer said everyone in prison is either crazy or a philosopher because those are the only two directions the mind can go when given 23 hours of solitude. That always stuck with me.

I took a Philosophy class in college and we used to ponder all these concepts about what it means to live. My roommate, Riley, who was also in the class argued that life is the ability to express yourself freely while experiencing all the world has to offer. The professor countered with ‘what about slaves of the past or convicts today that can’t do either?’ Riley didn’t have a response. The concept of being a slave or locked up seemed so extraterrestrial to us. At that point I’d never met anyone that had ever had a run-in with the law. Now I ponder that question considering my circumstances and I’m pretty sure I’m not living, I’m just existing in this surreal space, not dissimilar to purgatory… assuming that even exists. If purgatory exists then it further convinces me that a cruel God created heaven and earth… but that’s a discussion for another time.

When I was thinking about Tara last night it took me back to the hearing, sitting at the defense table and thinking about how I ended up there. My mind would go into hyperdrive to the point where I’d get severe migraines.

The prison has these therapy programs you can sign up for. Most guys do it just so they can get more time out of their cell. I haven’t done it yet but my closest friend in here has. Chris, but everyone calls him Magnum. He said the therapist told him it’s good to retrace your steps because the mind needs closure and it shows growth because it’s a form of self awareness.

I should start from the beginning…

I was the singles ministry pastor at the local church that I attended. We did stuff like bowling night, putt-putt golf, movie night– By far my favorite night. I’m a big fan of movies. Comedies, dramas, westerns, even chick flicks believe it or not. I remember Jim Carrey’s Me, Myself & Irene came out and I convinced everyone we should go see it. So we did. I had no idea how filthy the movie was (at least for church folk)– I thought it was hilarious though. My sensibilities were different from the average Christian I guess. It just takes too much effort to be offended all the time and I think that’s part of why Christianity is becoming irrelevant today. Christians don’t know how to interact with the rest of society that’s leaving them behind.

Anyway if you haven’t seen the movie, Jim Carrey plays this guy that has a split personality. A timid hometown police officer on one side and this wild crazy womanizer with no filters on the other. They both had a crush on Rene Zelwegger’s character (not sure how to spell her name).

There’s this scene where bad Jim Carrey sees a woman breastfeeding her baby and bad Jim Carrey pushes the baby out of the way and gets some breast milk from the woman.  I just about fell out of my chair laughing so hard. Some of the girls in the group didn’t think it was funny and walked out. Oops. I had to do some explaining to our lead pastor after that. He made me apologize in front of the entire church and ask for forgiveness. That was the most humiliating thing to ever happen to me up to that point in my life. I really thought they would kick me out from being the singles pastor but they didn’t. After that, movie night never happened again.

That was a tangent. The point of the story is I met Missy through our singles ministry. Long story short we fell in love. We dated on and off for two years but everyone knew we were supposed to be together. It was just one of those things. We were the perfect combination. I don’t want to say she completed me because that’s the cliche to win the day but we really did complete each other if I’m going to be honest, at least at first. I was the first guy she’d ever dated and the only guy she’d ever been with… at the time anyway.

We got married, started a family right away. Missy used to joke that she was pregnant the first five years of our marriage. We have four kids. Three girls and a boy… Ruth, Lizzy, Sarah and Aaron (the youngest). I wanted to name Aaron after me. Vernon’s a family name that’s been in our family for generations but Missy refused. Apparently she wasn’t fond of my name. In hindsight I’m glad we didn’t name him Vernon. That’s a black mark he would have to carry the rest of his life.

I love my kids. I miss them. I have their baby pictures on my wall and I’ve been trying to get newer ones. I sent letters to Missy pestering her to send me updated pictures but she never did. Last letter I sent came back undelivered because she was no longer at that address.

If I saw my kids in the street I wouldn’t even recognize them. Robbie’s looking into trying to track them down. At this point I have no legal standing with her but I just want to see my kids. Talk to them on the phone. Hear their laugh. I’m trying to be positive but anytime I think of Missy disappearing it’s like this darkness grows inside me. It’s like the anger is this living organism and I can feel it moving around in my body and spreading. In science class you would put a drop of red food coloring in a glass of water and you’d watch the red swirl and completely change the water. That’s how I feel. This anger reaches through every part of my being to the point where I start to shake and sweat. I’m thinking of maybe doing one of the therapy programs they have here but I don’t know… What’s the point.

Missy and I both made mistakes in our marriage but now she acts like it was all my fault. To her, I’m the devil and I know that’s what she’s telling the kids. They’ll never know my side of the story. They’ll never believe me. They’ll only be told that their father is an adulterer and a murderer. I’m guilty of only one of those sins and I’ve lost everything because of it.

When you have a family there are complications, things that come up and if you’re not careful it will eat everything away. With four kids, busy work and life schedules Missy and I hardly saw each other and barely talked. The few discussions we had felt like business transactions. We stopped having sex, there was zero romance and even less effort. Looking back our relationship was at its lowest most fragile point and that’s when a woman came to work at our church as a secretary. Tara.

She was spunky, funny, just a ball of energy. Missy never liked her. Maybe she knew, maybe she felt it. But looking back meeting Tara was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. She’s the reason why I’ve been condemned to exist within these drab walls that judge me at every waking moment. I wish I never met her. She destroyed my life.


~ by Ahmadu Garba on July 13, 2015.

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