The Flip Side of Sin

The Flip Side of Sin

by Rosalyn McMillan

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780671034351
Publisher: Pocket Books
Publication date: 04/28/2001
Pages: 432
Product dimensions: 6.80(w) x 4.22(h) x 0.81(d)

First Chapter

Chapter One: The Destruction of Detroit

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Let all their wickedness come before thee; and do unto them, as thou hast done unto me for all my transgressions: for my sighs are many, and my heart is faint.

— Lam. 1:22

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Isaac went eight years without a kiss. To him, the sheer reverence of such a simple expression of love was like strange star-pulses throbbing through space. It felt as if an eternity had passed since he'd felt the tenderness of such pleasure.

The thought of his wife's last kiss made his heart ache — it throbbed now like a new wound. Isaac hoped that the woman who once, with a simple touch, could make his bones ache would be waiting, so that he could once again feel the ecstasy of her lips touching his.

In the twelve years he'd been incarcerated, he'd learned that the natural flight of the human mind was not from pleasure to pleasure but from hope to hope. If he didn't hope, he believed that he wouldn't find what was beyond his hopes.

With his eyes still closed, he pressed rewind, then turned up the volume on his Walkman, and waited to hear Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss" one more time. Lying on his back, his took a long drag on a cigarette.

"Say, man. You woke in there?" said a voice from the doorway.

Isaac opened his eyes and waved Wide-eyed Willy inside. "I'm up, Willy," Isaac said, accepting the newspaper that Willy handed him.

Today, like every day, all cell doors were open for breakfast at 6:00 a.m. Inmates were free to walk around during that hour period, as well as at exercise and dinner times. The master head count, where the guards actually have to put their eyes on you, began at 11:30 A.M. Three additional counts that occur in every prison in the United States at the same time every day are conducted at 3:30 P.M., 5:50 P.M., and lockdown at 9:30 P.M. This morning, Isaac elected to skip breakfast and remain in his cell.

With his free hand, Isaac reached for the ashtray crammed with butts and tamped out the cigarette. "You want something, Wide-eyed Willy?" Isaac asked when the man took a seat on his bed.

Wide-eyed Willy opened his mouth, then closed it again. A sad expression came over his face when he finally spoke. "I'm gonna miss you, man," he said. He patted Isaac's knee affectionately, then left. Isaac knew the potent scent of alcohol would linger for hours. Wide-eyed Willy was past the midpoint of a nomadic drunk, moving from place to place in search of a drink. He didn't stagger, didn't slur one word. But it showed in the dazzling white glimmer in his eyes. Isaac shook his head. What a waste; Wide-eyed Willy was a decent man.

His happy mood deteriorated even more when he picked up the paper. Pictures of politicians covered the front page of The Detroit News. It was election time. For once, the politicians were getting more press than the criminals. From word one, he didn't like the article that a reporter wrote after interviewing Governor Loren Lake.

The Michigan Department of Corrections has only two goals: providing humane treatment for all offenders the courts send them and providing these services at as minimal a cost as possible. And now, in 1998, the costs are so high, they have become unacceptable to the American public.

For the first time in Michigan history, a privatized prison is being built. According to Governor Loren Lake, this new youth facility in Bad Axe, Michigan, will save the taxpayers at least forty million dollars over the span of a few years. Supposedly, the prison will provide two hundred new jobs and generate millions of tax dollars for the city. Theoretically, these new employees would, in turn, purchase homes and send their kids to college, thereby creating a larger tax base for the community. The private prison is hailed as a win-win situation for all.

Bullshit! Isaac thought. He knew the savings were inflated to make the governor look good. There was no way the establishment could cut costs that much. Isaac, along with the other inmates at Jefferson State Penitentiary, was already eating slop, and their living conditions were worse than those of the homeless.

Most inmates kept cans of chili, green beans, and spaghetti in their cells. In the winter they heated the cans on top of the radiators. In the summer some made illegal stingers to heat their meals. After dropping twenty dollars at the commissary in one month, Isaac calculated how much the prison made off what the inmates spent just buying food — $2,372,500.00. He guessed that they made millions from the furniture factory that made office furniture for the state of Michigan and the cigarette factory that sold knock-off brands to dozens of businesses. He was certain that the biggest moneymaker was in the billions — the license-plate factory, which provided plates for Illinois, Colorado, Ohio, and Michigan. I bet those figures aren't mentioned in any of their reports.

Even with the problems of food, sanitation, and low self-esteem, the inmates these days were well informed; they had access to every law that was passed about the prison system. They knew the real truth, unlike the Alcatraz prisoners of the sixties, who were deprived of information about what was happening in the outside world and knew only what the officials wanted them to know.

As Isaac continued to read, the lies became more personal.

"We believe that every criminal who is behind bars is a danger to society. These individuals have failed to realize the love of God or mankind. Therefore, the Michigan Department of Corrections cannot comply with the same laws as society, because the population is not the same. However, we do try and ensure that any inmate can practice any religion they want to," Governor Loren Lake said.

Now, a portion of that statement was true, he thought. Out of the fifty-five hundred inmates in Jefferson, only ten or twelve went to church on Sunday. Going to church was the only time you would get to see inmates from the opposite side of the prison. Isaac had gone a few times himself. Unlike his sister, he didn't believe that going to church on a regular basis defined your spirituality. When he was a teenager, some of the biggest hypocrites he knew sat in the front pew and didn't miss a Sunday. For Isaac, religion was a private matter.

However, living in such a huge complex as Jefferson was anything but private. Isaac believed that few people knew how self-sufficient Jefferson was. The prisoners grew enough vegetables to feed the entire complex, raised their own beef, sewed and cleaned their clothing, and even operated their own utilities. It was like a city within a city, and it took three wardens to run it — some inmates called the wardens "mayors."

"Number 823497," the guard hollered over the intercom, "you've got a visitor." Checking his watch, Isaac smiled. His sister was right on time, as usual, for their bimonthly visit. Lord, I can hardly wait to be checking out of hotel happiness, Isaac thought. Tossing the paper in the trash, he left his cell, then paused by Wide-eyed Willy's open door and heard him snoring heavily. He knew Wide-eyed Willy's number by heart — B811444. The B prefix meant this was Willy's second tour in prison. There were a few men on his tier that even had F prefixes.

He wanted to tell the governor that the F men were the individuals who were a danger to society — he wasn't. And certainly not Wide-eyed Willy, who was a harmless, gentle human being. Wide-eyed Willy needed help, not a prison cell.

As he was being led down from D Block to the visitor's area, he began to count — 177 steps. The exact number of steps it took to reach the front gate and freedom. But in six more days those steps would mean nothing. All the counting, waiting, dreaming would end.

Most of the men inside Jefferson Penitentiary would probably agree that the temptation of sin is very powerful. Like Al Capone, they could walk into sin one step at a time, but the longer the step, the deeper the sin. Sooner or later, reparations would have to be made, punishable by either death or incarceration.

Others now hoped that one day the Lord would touch them and help them to begin a better life out in the world again. At least, Isaac thought, with his sister Rosemary's prayers, he had a chance.

As he waited for the final door to be unlocked, Isaac glanced out the grimy, barred window. He saw the same familiar scene: razor wire coiled around the top of the sixteen-foot chain-link fence outside; armed guards posted at four forty-foot-high observation towers, watching the actions of the men below. Just before Isaac arrived at Jefferson Penitentiary in 1994, the prison population had gotten so large, they had to break it up into three prisons, with three wardens to run it. For the past four and a half years, he had resided in the middle section.

"Hey, Coltrane," the security guard on the other side of the gate said as he unlocked the door in D Block and let Isaac pass through. Shortly after Isaac's arrival, his music had become so popular among the inmates, they had dubbed him "Coltrane" after the exalted saxophonist John Coltrane. Isaac nodded hello and continued toward his sister, who was already grinning in her same usual manner, as if it were the first time she'd seen him in years.

Isaac dutifully hugged his sister and kissed her on the cheek. "Hi. It's good to see you. Especially when you're looking so pretty."

Rosemary blushed and smoothed the collar of her celery green linen jacket. She was fifteen years older than Isaac, and had always acted more like his mother than his sister. For as long as he could remember, she had worn her hair parted in the middle with a thick French roll in the back. With a full round face and broad forehead, the style still became her. The gentle look in her eyes and the ever-present smile on her full lips said that she was a Christian woman who loved the Lord. Isaac couldn't have been more proud of her.

The crowded room was full of inmates' families chattering away, touching, kissing, and cherishing the short moments they had to spend with their husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, and lovers.

"Morning, Isaac. I heard you're leaving us this week," one of the guards stationed in the visiting area commented.

Before he could respond, Rosemary, with her Bible pressed against her chest, spoke up. "Yes, indeed," she said, smiling. "Seven days from today. That's May second, isn't it?" she asked Isaac, turning back to him.

"I guess so." Isaac avoided her spirited eyes. He couldn't bear to lie to her. With a wide smile pasted on his lips, he took her by the hand and led her to two empty chairs near the window.

So many lives had been changed because he had failed to put his family before his music. He hadn't realized how selfish he'd been back then. This time things would be different.

"We need to talk," he said after she sat down. He dropped down into the hard seat and stretched out his legs. He stuck his hands in his pockets and drew them out again, keeping his eyes aimed at the floor. "I've got some very definite plans made when I get out of here." My number-one priority is to never be incarcerated again. "I never claimed to be a saint. So don't be expecting me to go to church every Sunday. I promise you that I will go — just don't pressure me."

After a moment, she said, "Okay."

When she closed her eyes, Isaac knew she was praying. He didn't know that she was reciting to herself Jer. 31:3 when she quietly said, "'The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.'"

"What'd you say?"

She opened her eyes. "Oh, it's nothing," she said, smiling serenely. "Do you mind if I pray for you?"

"No." For a brief moment he was confused. He was so sure she would disagree with him. The awkward moment passed when he heard her chuckle.

"I thought you were going to cut this off," Rosemary said, grabbing the end of his long mane and giving it a firm tug.

"I changed my mind," he said with a smile that wasn't replicated in his saddened eyes. How could he tell his sister that beneath this façade of youthful jet-black hair were patches of roots the color of deep iron gray? Thirty-nine years old and he felt fifty-nine. No, church would have to wait a while. He had other things that needed to be taken care of first. Reaching inside his pocket, he pulled out a rubber band, then threaded his fingers through his thick-cropped top hair until he felt the longer length. Isaac cocked his head toward his sister and forced a smile. "I know what you're thinking. How am I going to get a decent job with my hair this long?" He shrugged his shoulders and swept his straightened hair, as smooth as his late shave, into a neat ponytail. "I'll manage. Remember, being clean-cut in prison is not a prerequisite for getting a job."

"Jesse told me to remind you about his job offer."

Irritation flickered in his eyes, but Isaac merely nodded. "No offense intended, Rosemary. And I hope you know that I don't want to hurt my brother-in-law's feelings. But I ain't the type of man that can work in a funeral home. Uh-huh." His voice emitted sarcasm. "I've spent the last twelve years of my life coexisting with the living dead. I don't want to be working with the actual dead."

"I'm sorry, Isaac. We won't discuss anything so serious right now." She slid her eyes up to his and smiled. "Regardless of where you work, Jesse is anxious to meet you. He's been such a dear helping me to get your room ready."

Shoving both hands in his pockets, Isaac sank down lower in his chair, then lazily crossed his ankles. "That's just till I get on my feet, Rosemary. I'm too old to be living in your basement." Isaac caught himself in time. "I'm sorry, Sis. I know how crowded y'all are and I really do appreciate the offer to let me bunk there." He kissed her cheeks and placed her hands in his.

A woman giggled. Isaac turned to see the woman intimately embraced with an inmate. When he turned back, he noticed the startled look on Rosemary's face. Until she turned around the woman had resembled someone they both knew extremely well — Kennedy.

A year after Isaac was incarcerated he had received divorce papers. "I don't want you to ever mention Kennedy's name to me again!" he had told Rosemary after he'd been officially served. He didn't tell his sister how guilty he felt for abandoning his family. It was his fault. Just like it was his father's fault for leaving him and Rosemary alone when he was three years old. Except for the pictures that Rosemary kept on the fireplace, Isaac couldn't remember what their father looked like. Therefore, his father remained a mere stranger to him, captured in a time warp. Isaac hoped that his son's proclivity toward him wasn't as keen.

"It's okay, Isaac. And I know what's on your mind. You're blaming Kennedy again. That's not fair. It's not her fault, and you know it."

"We don't need to debate this, Rosemary," he seethed. "You and I don't agree about what happened between Kennedy and me, and there's no use in you trying to smooth things out. It's over. I guess I should be thankful that you have any respect left for either one of us considering the way we acted in the past."

Isaac recalled the soul-shattering argument between him and Kennedy. It was late at night. Peyton was barely two years old and somehow had managed to lift the latch and get out the side door. Their neighbors found him on their front porch, half-clothed and crying. They called the police. Someone else called Rosemary. She was so mad at them, she took Peyton home with her for an entire week, until Kennedy and Isaac cooled off.

"Kennedy's done a good job with Peyton and that's what really counts. I can't wait till you see him. He's you all over again. Just seeing him, listening to him talk, brings joy to this old soul of mine."

Isaac's face filled with pride, then, like a black shadow had passed by, was quickly replaced with a frown. "Then you tell me why Kennedy wouldn't let my son come and see me."

That statement stung Rosemary. She turned away from him like a roach does to Raid.

"Rosemary? What's wrong?"

"I can't speak for her, Isaac. I just know in the eyes of the Lord you are the boy's father, and I hope you'll take care of your responsibilities as soon as you get out of here."

"You mean child support." Isaac laughed. "My God. I'm not even out yet and already half my check is tapped." His smile was wry. "Oh, I'll get a job and give Kennedy money every week, just like I should be doing."

Rosemary chose her words carefully. "That's not what I mean, Isaac. Child support will be the least of your concerns. A lot has changed since you've been gone. I'm sure you know the old saying, Isaac, 'Time waits for no man.' Nor does it wait for a woman. I don't want you to get the idea that everything, and everybody, is the same as it was twelve years ago."

"You've told me a thousand times, Rosemary, about things changing." His eyes roved the visitation room continuously, finally settling on the set of glass doors that led to freedom. "I can handle it. I'll work two jobs if I have to."

Her eyes softened when she looked at him. "Even with your degree, it might not be that easy to find work, Isaac. No one's going to forget what you did. Because of all the press, your release is going to bring back a lot of unpleasant memories for many people."

"I realize that, Rosemary. But I've paid my debt to society. I deserve a second chance. Marion Barry got a second chance and he's making the most of it."

"Isaac, a child is dead because of a mistake you made. Some people might not think you're so deserving of that second chance." Rosemary wasn't smiling. They both knew whom she meant — Governor Loren Lake.

Just then, Paps Bowenstein came ambling down the hall. He gave Rosemary a big hug. "How's my Christian sister doing today?" asked Paps, his long salt-and-pepper hair shining like Lake Michigan reflecting the moon at twilight.

Isaac's dark eyes glinted with jealousy when Rosemary mussed Paps's hair as he bent down to hug her.

"You need a haircut," Rosemary told Paps, smiling. "I didn't realize that you were such a bad influence on my brother. The both of you need a good shearing."

Paps smiled and winked at Isaac. "I tried to get him to cut his hair this morning." He coaxed Isaac to move over and let the elders sit down, and took his seat. "I knew what you'd say."

"Stop lying, Paps." Isaac felt relieved. His friend couldn't have timed his entrance better. He had been certain that he and Rosemary would soon get into one of their nice arguments.

Again, Isaac was envious. He couldn't understand it. Nearly five years ago, when Isaac first introduced Rosemary to Paps, Rosemary had coldly extended a hand of fellowship. Isaac had attributed it to their different faiths, Paps being a very religious Jew who welcomed an argument with a dedicated Christian. But over the course of time, Rosemary and Paps seemed to get more comfortable with one another. Still, Isaac never understood how or when they'd called a truce. To this day, their religious beliefs were still as wide apart as the Nile River.

Did it matter now? he thought.

"I am just thankful both of you are able to grow hair." She smoothed down a loose strand from her impeccable French twist. "I'm afraid mine is getting a bit thin." She reached inside her purse and withdrew the June edition of The B'nai B'rith International Jewish Monthly. "Hot off the presses, Paps. Enjoy."

"Are you forgetting your manners, Isaac? Go get your sister a cold soda from the vending machine." Paps's tone was brisk. "It's warm for April and I'm sure her mouth is parched."

Isaac kept silent. He knew Paps was merely showing off for Rosemary. Once they were back in their cells, they'd both laugh about the entire visit.

"A Diet Coke, please," Rosemary added.

He quickly looked away before she caught him laughing. "Coming right up, Sis." You'd think, Isaac thought to himself, that she would have learned by now that Diet Coke only increased her appetite. Living with his sister and her husband was going to be like watching Louise and George in the old Jeffersons television series.

He dropped the coins in the machine and smiled to himself, savoring his secret.

Later, as Isaac was led back to his cell, he thought about the amusing visit that he had had with his sister. Soon he would have to face the outside world and deal with some unpleasant situations.

Once inside his cell, he took a seat at the small desk and began composing a letter to Kennedy. From the moment he entered the prison system in 1986 he had written Kennedy faithfully every week. She answered, but, little by little, her letters became scarce. By week fifty-seven, he understood why. Divorce papers requiring his signature were enclosed in one of her letters. He refused to sign. Kennedy said that she would get the divorce anyway. Michigan was a no-fault state.

Afterward, Isaac had been so despondent he couldn't eat or sleep. He lost so much weight that Rosemary was concerned about his health. With a heavy heart, he told her about the divorce and asked her never to mention Kennedy's name again. He wrote Kennedy daily, begging her to change her mind. She never answered. Neither daily prayers nor playing his music helped. He was in a state of depression and nothing could shake it. Contemplating suicide was never far from his thoughts. As the years passed, he was moved from one facility to another. He worked like a madman in one factory after another and kept to himself. He finally ended up at Jefferson Penitentiary and was told he'd finish his time there.

Less than a week later, in the winter of 1994, he overheard someone he remembered from his hometown laughing about Kennedy dating his cousin — a police officer. He got into a fight with that mouthy inmate and was put into the hole for ninety days. It was during those lonely moments that his thoughts of suicide resurfaced.

When he was let out, a guard told him that he'd lost his job in the license-plate factory as he carried his belongings to his new home — cell number 80. There were fifty-three additional single cells, filled nearly to capacity. As time passed he learned that he'd been placed in a cell next to Paps Bowenstein, a religious fanatic who never received any visitors, was neater than a nun's habit, and treated people like breathing corpses.

The cell on his right was empty. He would later learn why.

With each passing day, he kept more to himself, rarely leaving his cell. The heat had been unbearable for the entire month of May. The warden's office and visitor's room were the only rooms in the complex that were air-conditioned. It seemed like eons since he'd seen his only visitor, Rosemary.

Throughout 1994, Rosemary had held the position of vice-president of the national and international foreign mission board. Isaac had hid his disappointment the previous month when she had told him that she'd be in Trinidad for the entire month of May.

By the first of June the heat had cooled, but Isaac was still suffering. He slipped further into depression. Why hadn't Rosemary come to see him? He tried praying, but lost faith. He tried exercise, but lost the energy. He tried prayer one last time and began to feel a slight relief.

He experienced a small setback when he received a letter from Rosemary saying how excited she was — the Outreach Ministry of the foreign mission had been asked to build a church in Trinidad. He wasn't exactly excited about the two additional weeks that would delay her coming home.

Sleep was Isaac's only consolation. He had no idea that he was sleeping more than sixteen hours a day. Only through his dreams could he find Kennedy and peace of mind.

Through sleepy eyes one Friday night he watched the men getting their hair braided, shaving, and sharpening the creases in their jeans in preparation for their morning's visitation. He didn't have the will to press on. He no longer felt the desire to play his sax. This was one of many moments in his life when he prayed for his father to discuss his problems with. He needed someone to talk him out of the evil thoughts that pervaded his conscience.

Feeling the need for absolute peace, he made up his mind about what he'd do. Before breakfast began, his pain would end. He decided to write Kennedy — not a letter, as he usually did, but a poem. He titled it what she'd always labeled his current habitat, "That Place":

In the calm of Summer's night, I sleep. My head bowed low. My eyes shut tight, closing out rays of blue moonlight. And I drift into an endless space, and find a realm, a different place. Where there's no race or creed or face. And I long to be part of that place. In the peace of a Springtime day, I rise. My head held high. My body upright — bathed in gleaming rays of light. And I drift into an endless space, and find a realm, a different place. Where there's no race or creed or face. And I long to be part of that place. In the still of Autumn's eve, I wish. My mind soars high. With the colors of my imagination — and thoughts of beauty of the creation. And I drift into an endless space, and find a realm, a different place. Where there's no race or creed or face. And I long to be part of that place. In the early years of my life, I love. My love flows freely. My heart beats gallantly. Driving me on, lovingly. And I drift into an endless space, and find a realm, a different place. Where there's no race or creed or face. And I long to be part of that place. In the setting of my sun, in the dawn of my final hour, I smile. Boldly. And praise God, and greet him proudly. And I drift into an endless space, and find a realm, a different place. Where there's no race or creed or face. And I long to be part of that place. In the eternity of my passing, in the realms I seek beyond, I see all things that created me. As I drift into the endless space, I find a realm, a different place. Where there's no race or creed or face, and become part of my resting place.

At precisely six A.M. the following morning, the guards pulled the switch that unlocked all the cell doors. Trustees came down the corridor with mops so that the inmates could clean their floors. In trancelike movements, Isaac headed directly for the rail. Growing numb from the feet up, like someone stepping deeper and deeper into a stream of ice water, he proceeded to climb over the rail.

"Hey!" someone yelled.

Just as quickly, he felt strong hands snatching his shirt, yanking him back to safety. Isaac shuddered. He felt a coldness so strange inside him, it was as if his soul had left his body.

"Heaven help you, son," Paps whispered to Isaac. It wasn't uncommon for inmates to jump from the second and third galleries, falling nearly forty feet to their deaths. Few survived. Usually no one tried to stop them — most felt it was none of their business. Fortunately, today, for Isaac, someone had.

Isaac was taken to the infirmary and put on antidepressants. When Paps came to see him, Isaac was ashamed. "Has anyone contacted my sister?"

"No." He cleared his throat. "Under the circumstances, I thought it was better not to. I'm told that your sister is a very religious woman."

"She is. And suicide..."

"Is an unpardonable sin, Isaac." His tone turned even more serious. "Life can be heaven here on earth if only you'll fight for it. The only way a man like you can win is through education. Without that, society will feel that you're just another body taking up space."

It didn't take long for Isaac to digest the meaning behind Paps's words less than a month after their initial introduction: "You speak of hope, Isaac. But is hope only a more gentle name for fear?"

Isaac felt crushed. This man had managed to get a quick glimpse of his soul. "What are your strengths, Isaac? What are your weaknesses?" He paused and looked directly into Isaac's iron eyes. "Always have a contingency plan. The way to assure a secure future is through education."

Paps's words sunk in in no time and Isaac quickly enrolled in a community college that held satellite classes less than ten miles from Jefferson Prison. After two weeks, he felt like a new man. That night, after Paps had begun to snore, Isaac got on his knees and said, "I realize now that as long as I'm alive, there is hope, and as long as there is hope, there is the possibility of change."

Four short years later, Isaac's friendship with Paps had grown. When he received his B.A. in journalism, he knew it was the most important accomplishment he'd made in his life — even more than any feeling he'd ever gotten from his music.

During Isaac's progression back to normalcy, he was startled one day by the erotic scent of musk perfume. "Hey, there, handsome," the female guard said to Isaac.

"Hey," he answered, though she was a sight for sore eyes. Funny, he thought, he hadn't paid too much attention to the guards until now. He felt as if the deep sleep he'd been in was a bad dream and he was finally able to wake up.

Standing before him was a warm-blooded woman. It didn't matter that she looked like Wesley Snipes with breasts; she was still a woman.

She took her time easing by his cell, until she felt sure that she'd gotten his attention. The woman, fortunately, had a great body. At this point, though, it really didn't matter.

"Hi. I'm Allison." Her second-skin blouse and seductive smile left little to the imagination.

"Hey. Folks around here call me Coltrane."

"I know," she said matter-of-factly.

Within days, Allison had set up a phony shakedown of his cell.

Isaac finally felt his first kiss. Throughout the twenty-second encounter, Kennedy's face remained as clear as the wind.

One day Allison whispered, "I've got a plan. I know how we can meet."

The following week she put the plan into effect. The empty cell beside him would serve as a rendezvous for their weekly sexual encounters.

He learned later that as the guards were rotated every day through the thirteen blocks, Allison had other lovers, as most female guards did, in each one.

Still, he'd been kissed.

It didn't matter that she had other lovers. It didn't matter that he knew he didn't care about her.

This was prison. Nothing was for keeps.

As Paps said, only your mind could set you free. He envisioned Kennedy's face as he made love to this faceless creature.

When he had filled out the mounds of paperwork needed for a Pell Grant, he had also pictured Kennedy's smile. It had kept him focused. It had given him hope.

Allison called him "Alex Haley" because he wrote all the time. She never knew that he called her "Kennedy" each time he had an orgasm.

Thinking back on that now, Isaac lit a Cruise cigarette, inhaled, then slipped a clean sheet into the typewriter. Allison had gotten pregnant and gone back to the welfare rolls she was on before she became a guard. No matter how deep in passion, Isaac had taken precautions not to impregnate her. Even though he cared about Allison, he knew the child wasn't his and was thankful that the relationship had finally ended. It was time to think about home — about love.


Even though his ex-wife hadn't answered his letters in the past, he felt certain that she did read them.

As he typed, he saw himself sitting at a journalist's desk with a shirt and tie on. He was earning a decent salary and providing a comfortable living for his wife and son. Taking a long drag on the Cruise, it tasted as good as it smelled.

He estimated that it would take about three months to get his plan into action. He felt that he would be reunited with his family by summer's end. But he also realized, with sadness, that he'd be leaving behind the best friend he'd ever known.

The words to Kennedy came easily for him. But how could he ever find the right words to say good-bye to Paps after they had been living together for four years? After he had helped him turn his anger and depression into accomplishments? He wouldn't try, because every con lives for the day when he's leaving or saying good-bye to someone else who's leaving. He was sure that Paps would understand if he was at a loss for words. Isaac was giving Paps his books, typewriter, and twelve-inch color television set.

Upon hearing the sounds of the guards shouting "Lights out in five minutes," Isaac crumpled the paper in his hands and tossed the letter in the trash. He would speak to Kennedy face-to-face. Letters were a coward's mode of communication.

Like the feeling one gets when stepping deeper and deeper into a stream of ice, on his last night of being locked up, the actual realization of finally being released from prison left Isaac feeling temporarily numb.

At three in the morning, Isaac was startled by the sound of a man's screams.

"Please don't do it, man. I'm begging you!"

Less than thirty feet away, Isaac heard the hollow sound of an empty can falling on the cement floor, followed by the unmistakable scent of lighter fluid.

"I thought you was my bitch!" another man hollered. "My main bitch."

Isaac removed the "hawk" from his desk and extended it through the bars. Angling the four-inch-square glass object to the right, then the left, he spotted a small yellow coin envelope lying on the floor in front of one cell. The envelope was nearly flat, with a cartoon character emblazoned on front. As the arguing became more and more heated, Isaac wanted a cigarette, badly. But he couldn't bring himself to light a match. While he continued to watch and listen, he knew what was about to happen.

Apparently the weaker of the two had snitched to one of the guards the source of his lover's drugs that were coming in from the outside.

"Please, Marv, I didn't mean it. I'm sorry, baby," he cried. "I'll make it — "

"Fuck you! Punks like you are a nickel a dozen."

Hoarse cries, then silence. Isaac could smell the sulfur. The man screamed and screamed as flames engulfed his cell. Isaac removed the hawk. He couldn't bear to watch.

Sure, the guards would come eventually, but not now, they knew better. The cons ran the prison and everybody knew it.

Back on his bunk, he covered his ears with his pillow, trying to drown out the screams that he prayed would end soon.

At some point that night the numbness disappeared and was abruptly replaced with fear. Was he afraid of freedom now that it had finally arrived? He couldn't find the words to define his thoughts, and he felt frustrated.

Seconds later, the smell of burning flesh and fresh spud juice replaced his frustration. He thought he would vomit.

Nearby, Wide-eyed Willy was making up a fresh brew. Spud juice was made in a five-gallon bucket with two large cans of tomato juice, four pounds of sugar, one tablespoon of yeast shaken up in a small container of hot water, and roughly three gallons of water. A lifetime alcoholic, Wide-eyed Willy was never out of spirits. Unlike the old James Cagney movies, in which the concoction called spud juice took ten to fourteen days to ferment, these days the inmate didn't have time to hide the brew for nearly two weeks. The new spud juice took merely forty-eight hours and was 90 proof. It was just like imbibing vodka and tomato juice.

Hearing the man being burned was a horrible experience. But the smell of alcohol made Isaac remember the reasons why he was here. Why a part of him feared going home.


If he hadn't made the decision to have one more beer and had brought the bread, bacon, and eggs back instead, he might be home with his family today. His entire life had been changed because of his decision to have one more drink.

"Hey, Wide-eyed Willy!" Paps hollered. "I'm getting a contact high over here."

"Shut up, Paps," Wide-eyed Willy yelled. "I'm mixing up a big batch. Me and Tim here thought Coltrane could celebrate with us tonight."

Isaac spoke up. "No, thanks, man. I'll pass. But I appreciate the thought."

"Just like I thought," Tim mumbled. "He thinks he's too good for our shit, man! You shouldn't have offered him a fuckin' thang."

"Isaac?" Paps strong voice came from his cell. "Don't pay them no mind. You need to stay positive. You're leaving in the morning. This stuff tonight don't mean nothing. Remember that the corrections facility is only a prognosis. The powers that be believe that you'll be okay once you get out. Your mind can adapt to anything. Even your environment. Put this stuff behind you. Otherwise, your prognosis for being successful will be just like Dumb and Dumbsheba down the aisle from us."

"Thanks for the advice, old fella."

When he heard Paps shuffle back to his bunk, Isaac turned to his side and removed his framed degree from the wall. He cherished the document — seeing his full name inscribed in the center. It angered him that he'd received his degree in prison and not in the outside world. Seventy-four other inmates had graduated with him. Fortunately, there wasn't a hint that he'd received the document from a prison facility. He closed his eyes and paraphrased a prayer from Hebrews: "God, free me from the bitterness I feel and help me to live this day in gratitude for all the good that has happened in my life." Within seconds, he felt a tremendous chill of fear returning. He wondered if society would give him a chance or condemn him, as if he would always be like the violent characters on the television show Oz.

Isaac removed his flashlight from beneath his mattress and took this unorthodox moment to look through all the pictures he'd accumulated over the years�pictures showing his son's growth from age two and a half to age fifteen, and his new brother-in-law, whom he'd spoken to on the phone but never met. There was even a picture or two of Kennedy that Rosemary had sent him — something else that he couldn't leave with Paps.

By six that morning Isaac still hadn't been able to sleep. He remembered a Scripture from the Bible (Phil. 4:7) that Rosemary often cited: "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Tired and decidedly excited about going home, he listened to the easy snores of Paps in the cell beside him — a man who'd sounded so placid when he told Isaac that he would never be free. Paps's sentence was for natural life. Though they had never discussed his crime, Isaac believed that Paps had acted out of poor judgment. Like himself, Isaac felt that Paps was a victim of circumstance. He didn't want to gloat about his freedom in Paps's face and was thankful that the old man was finally able to find solace and was sleeping peacefully. Since Paps was nearly seventy years old, Isaac knew that he needed at least seven hours of sleep. He probably wouldn't wake until eleven or twelve.

At ten minutes after seven, when Isaac returned to his cell after shaving and showering, to his astonishment, Paps was awake and brushing his teeth. Possibly it was for the best, Isaac thought.

They exchanged hugs and best wishes, then silently shook hands. They both wanted to keep it short. Just moments before the bureaucracy began at eight A.M., Isaac promised Paps that he would write him when he was settled.

By eleven that morning, Isaac still hadn't been cleared through the system. It seemed that there was another Isaac Coleman incarcerated in Jefferson. It didn't matter that the man wasn't black. Every precaution had to be made, they told him, to make sure the proper man was released. The paperwork had to be completely reworked, and new signatures acquired.

Isaac waited.

He relived the cries of last night.

He relived Becky's cries (the child he accidentally killed twelve years ago).

As a cloud filled with fire, tears of shame filled his heart. He could barely breathe. He thought about Peyton. He thought about Kennedy. But Rosemary's prayers were the blinding force that helped him to pray for patience.

Even though he felt as humiliated as he ever had in his life, he sat there. Silent. Fuming. He felt the bitterness rising like bile in the pit of his stomach. Within seconds he felt torturous sweat build between his toes, inside the waistband on his briefs, between each vein along his inner wrist, in the crevice on the back of his neck, around his collar, and, finally, around the corners of his eyes, and he prayed that they weren't tears. Trying to keep from watching the precious seconds tick by on the clock, he turned to look outside. He told himself that he had to be patient, quiet — and not give them one more reason not to set him free.

Isaac turned around when he heard the turnkey unlocking the barred door. "You're good to go, Coltrane," the man said. "Follow me."

His knees felt as if they would buckle beneath him when he stood up. Finally, he thought, tugging on his shirttail to try and still his trembling hands — it was over. He received his release papers and all of his personal items, including the hundred dollars in cash that the state provided to every inmate once he was released.

By eleven-thirty A.M. a taxicab was called to take him to downtown Jefferson six miles away to catch the bus. Then he was led to the front gate by a guard named Vinnie.

"I'm sure you've heard, Mr. Coleman, that most inmates come back within the first ninety days. If you can make it past that, chances are you'll stay out for life." He extended his hand and shook Isaac's. "I believe you can do it. Take care, man."

Once outside the gate, the cool wind touched his cheeks. Lively birds dove into the heart of the sky. The small faces of flowers floated out of the ground. It was odd, he thought, he hadn't felt this alive in years. Inhaling the freshness, he set down his baggage. It was unbelievable. His first breath of free air actually smelled better than it did in the outside exercise area. It was like it wasn't the same air. He turned around to look back at the building where rats, roaches, bats, and birds also made their homes. It was known as the nation's largest birdcage. Isaac was relieved to finally be set free from Jefferson.

He removed the sax, which was poking out the top of his bag. Turning the instrument over in his hands, he realized that it felt odd to him now. It no longer held the power that he'd felt from it years earlier.

While he was incarcerated, he felt that his music never sounded quite right inside there, bouncing off cinder-block walls. Paps loved to hear him play. He talked about what great talent and potential he had.

It was nearly noon and cloudy out when the taxi arrived, but Isaac still felt a renewed source of energy. He hesitated before getting inside and asked the driver to wait a second. Going over to the trash bin, he reached inside his large bag and tossed every piece of clothing that had his six-digit identification number on it, and decided to chuck the sax as well. He felt as if he'd just rid himself of the devil and the weapons he'd used to hold him hostage.

Alex Haley. Coltrane. Ha! His name was Isaac Coleman. He wanted to shout it out loud. "I'm finally free!"

Ten minutes later, as he was stepping up onto the Greyhound bus, he stifled a laugh. It was the first time he'd ever rode one. He handed the driver his ticket and found a seat near the back.

And he thought once more about Kennedy. A kiss. A long, long kiss — the kiss of youth and love. He realized that it was the passion that was in a kiss that gave it its sweetness — the affection in the kiss that sanctified it.

Two hours and seventy-five miles later, he'd be home and a heartbeat away from his true love.

Copyright © 2000 by Rosalyn McMillan

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The Flip Side of Sin 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not a very good book. Took toooooo long for the drama to happen. When it did, I really did not care. Only read if you are desperate.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have been trying to finish this book for some time now and I am happy to say that I am finally finish. This book didn't hold my attention like some other books I have read in the past. To put it lightly I just wanted to finish the book. Ms. McMillan did make me want to know what was to happen with Rosemary and Isaac. But over all I just wanted to get to the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Rosalyn McMillan did it again. This book took a while to get into, but it took off once you did get into it. I liked this book. It is a GOOD read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a disappointment in comparison to her previous novels. All the political stuff was not interesting at all! She is a talented writer, but she got too involved with issues that made me loose interest. I couldn't wait for it to end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished this one and I must admit not her best work. It jumps around alot and leaves you hanging on some issues, and the ending is just weak. But in truth none of her endings are great. But it's worth the read if you have the time, granted it may take a minute to get into the flow, but the middle to just before the end really picks up. I have read all of her work and I will soon read her latest, after I finish another two books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'The Flip Side of Sin' was a good read but I wanted more on the following: *** When Peyton was sentenced to jail, there should have been some sort of soul-searching where Peyton finally realized what his father, Isaac, was saying was very true. *** More on the police/political scandal. Very vague. *** More on Paps dealing with his paternity of Isaac. I would have wanted a some type of communication between the two on this subject. However, I loved the repoire between Rose and Jessie. Their relationship portrayed a realistic twist on marriage and church. Love the struggle between father and son, Isaac and Peyton. Also, loved the budding relationship between Isaac and Miracell. Loved how they took their relationship from a platonic level to a romantic level. 4 stars for this book!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A Flip Side of Sin shows how people try desperately to protect the ones they love only to be hurt in the end. Issac Coleman has served his time not realizing that his outside has been filled with lies and deception. His wife Kennedy has lied to their troubled son about his whereabouts for the past twelve years only for their son to seek paternal love through a neighborhood. And his sister Rosemary tries to keep the family her personal life with her husband through her work with the church. Luckily, the truth about Issac's hidden past comes to full view and in fact brings the family closer together and good financial fortune for Issac.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Throughout this novel, secrets is the virus that plague these unforgettable characters. The Flip Side is one of the best books I've read in quite awhile. Although some of the storylines are not thoroughly conveyed like Kennedy's murder, Paps paternity, and the political/police corruption scandal, this book does contain substance, especially the biblical scriptures that McMillan skillfully envelopes throughout this novel. This novel is laced w/twists. The Flip Side will keep you flipping the pages to find out what's really goin' on. Great effort!