Skip to main content



Inside These Walls

Most days, as I put on my special dancing socks and warm up before Afternoon Classics comes on, I listen to the brief news broadcast on NPR. I don't have a television, but like everyone else in this place I am fascinated by crime and follow the latest tales of others' mistakes out there in the world. For weeks I have been following the arrest of a young woman named Penelope Robbins, whose father, state Congressman Edwin Robbins, was shot in the back as he teed off at the country club. I can't quite picture Penelope, but details about her life abound on every news broadcast. Nineteen years old, educated at Sacred Heart Country Day School, a conservative family, a strained relationship with her father due to an interracial relationship. I wonder how she feels about that—the details of her private family traumas trotted out to the media, turned into fodder for the merciless drumbeat of news reporting. Her connection to the shooting is hazy, but she's been charged with obstruction of justice.

“I think she did it her own self,” my cellmate, Janny, declares as she sits on her bed, allowing me to plait her dark hair into a neat French braid.

I laugh a little. “I don’t think you could get away with that on a golf course. All that open space, remember? Too obvious.”

“Maybe.” She runs her hand softly down her braid. “Is it straight?”

“I think so.” She stands and I examine my handiwork. Janny is fifty-four years old and her eyesight would probably be failing her at this point regardless of circumstance, but in any case she’s already blind. Ten years ago a fight in the yard ended badly for her, and she has been like this ever since. For a while they kept her in Medical Segregation, but eventually they got the idea to put her with me and free up her spot there. It was a good move for both of us. I take care of her, and the Latina women stopped trying to kill me at regular intervals.

Soon the C.O. comes to collect us. Saturday evenings are always the same for me. Afternoon Classics, then dinner in the chow hall, followed by confession in the office wing.

Father Soriano has been here for five or six years, and I suspect he’s ready for a new assignment.

"Nice to see you, Clara," he says. He makes the sign of the cross.

I sit in the chair across from him and cross myself. "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been two weeks since my last confession." I wait out a clamor in the hallway—an inmate shouting indignantly as she is hauled toward Administrative Segregation. "I've thought ill thoughts of other people and took money under false pretenses."

He raises an eyebrow. "What false pretenses?"

"I let a man from North Carolina put twenty dollars into my canteen account. I didn't ask him to, but I accepted it. He thinks he's in love with me."

The priest purses his lips in a considering way. "Did you promise him anything in return? Or falsely claim to return his love?"


"Well, then, it sounds like it was a free-will gift."

He leans in, and I know what's coming. I straighten up.

"What have you done to try to make amends to your victims?" he asks.

"I can't do anything for them."

"You could pray for their souls."

 "I do. I have every day. That doesn't make amends. Nothing can."

“You could use a bit of a challenge, Clara,” he says. “You toe the line, on the inside and the outside. It’s a good time for you to think harder about how to reconcile some of those thorny issues from the past that you’ve set aside.”

“Well, as far as my victims go, I wrote a letter to Tommy Choi a year after I got here. I apologized for everything that happened, my role in it, all of it. I sent it to him through his lawyer. It came back unopened with a no-contact order stapled to it."

“I’m sure the pain was very fresh.”

“I don’t doubt it, but I can’t do much to atone for the wrong I did. I don’t have money. Or a time machine.”

“No.” His little bow of a mouth twists to the side. “As your penance, say a rosary each day for just one of them. Focus on that individual."

"Which one?" I ask.

He replies, "The youngest."


*  * *


At Mass the next morning, I don't take Communion.   

 The cellblock is quiet when I return. Many of the inmates are receiving visitors downstairs, or, like Janny, at the Spanish mass that follows the English one. There is no breakfast on Sundays because of budget cuts—we wait instead for an early lunch—and my stomach mumbles in protest as I offer my handcuffed wrists to the corrections officer through the slot in my door. I take out a packet of peanut butter crackers from my canteen stash and nibble on them. And then I see, at the bottom of the thin cardboard canteen box, a small folded square of paper. A note. Or, as we call it here, a kite.

I glance toward my window to check for C.O.s, then unfold the paper, smoothing it against my blanket.

You are Clara Mattingly. The Cathouse Murders. I saw the movie. I want to know your REAL story. I dont think you did it like they said. I think Ricky Rowan did all of it. I wont write my name here but I will give you a signal in chow hall. come sit with me and tell me. I am ON YOUR SIDE. from YOUR FAN

I tear the note into small pieces, drop it into my toilet and flush. Then I shake the next peanut butter cracker from the cellophane and bite into it as I open up a velvety and creased paperback from the library. I don't know who that girl is, but she's sadly misguided. I don't tell my story to anybody. And I don't need anybody on my side. I'm in here on four counts of murder in various degrees, no possibility of parole. If that's a story you want to be close to, then I don't want to know you at all.


Copyright © 2014 by Rebecca Coleman

Inside These Walls
by by Rebecca Coleman

  • Genres: Fiction
  • ebook: 225 pages
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
  • ISBN-10:
  • ISBN-13: 9781459239074