This Is My America

This Is My America by Kim Johnson

For those seeking justice and rehabilitation, keep fighting.

Friday, April 23

Stephen Jones, Esq.

Innocence X Headquarters

1111 Justice Road

Birmingham, Alabama 35005

Re: Death Penalty—Intake Department Dear Mr. Jones,

My dad has precisely 275 days before his execution. You’re the only hope we have because every lawyer we’ve used has failed us. In the last appeal, Judge Williams didn’t take more than five minutes to consider.

We mailed a renewed application since it’s now been seven years.

Please look into James Beaumont’s application (#1756). We have all the court and trial files boxed up and ready to go.

Thank you for your time.

Tracy Beaumont

P.S. Jamal’s going to college. Can you believe it? All that running added up to something. If you have those letters where I say he was wasting his time, please destroy them.

P.S.S. Next Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Jamal’s doing an interview on The Susan Touric Show. You should check it out.


Time runs my life. A constant measuring of what’s gone and what’s to come. Jamal’s hundred-meter dash is a blazing 10.06 seconds. That’s how my older brother got this monumental interview. I’m not thinking about Jamal’s record, though. I’m thinking about Daddy’s time. Seven years—2,532 days served, to be exact.

This running clock above my head’s been in place since his conviction. That moment branded me. Mama gripped the courtroom bench to keep from collapsing as each juror repeated guilty. I looked to Mama for an explanation. The empty look in her eye cried out the answer: death.

Since then, it’s ticktock.

Here at the TV station, Jamal rocks steadily in the guest chair, watching highlights of his track career with the producer during a commercial break. He glides his hands over his fresh barber cut, his mind more likely on the camera angles that’ll best show his waves.

We’re true opposites, despite our one-year difference.

He’s patient.





He’s everything on the outside I wish to be. Bringing people in, when nine out of ten, I’d rather push them out. That’s why I hate that my mission crosses paths with the biggest day of Jamal’s life.

Five minutes and thirty-seven seconds until showtime.

As the commercial nears its end, I don’t have to look up to know Mama’s leaving the makeup room. The click of her heels echoes past a crew of engineers and radiates as she circles around Jamal to the guest seating area on the side of the studio stage. She enters like only a proud Black mother can, hair all pressed and curled, with a sharp black skirt suit that fits her curvy figure.

Mama’s been name-dropping everywhere she can about the news anchor Susan Touric showcasing Jamal as a top athlete. I expected a live audience, but the set is a small studio and crew. I look out to Susan Touric’s interview desk with a backdrop image of Austin, the state capital. They’ve pulled out a white couch so there’s space for my family to join Jamal at the end.

Mama smiles at Jamal, then at my little sister, Corinne, but I swear she throws some silent shade my way. Her not-so-subtle warnings have been going on for the past month. She knows I want Daddy’s story to seep out, but Mama has made clear there is no room for Daddy on this occasion. Not because she don’t love Daddy, but because she wants Jamal to have a clean slate at college as Jamal, not “Jamal, the son of a murderer.”

If it was a few years ago, I’d understand, but Daddy’s got less than a year. No extensions. No money for more appeals. While time uncoils itself from Daddy’s lifeline, she’s forbidden Susan Touric from mentioning him, too. The show agreed not to talk about Daddy in exchange for Jamal showing up; and if Susan tries anything, Mama says we’ll straight up leave.

Mama stands by me and leans near my ear. “Tracy, ain’t it something to see your big brother’s hard work paying off?”

“Mmm-hmm,” I say, even though I’m still hoping the journalist in Susan can’t help but fling open Pandora’s box—on live television.

Mama won’t be able to stop it then.

Then our truth can breathe free.

The fight for Daddy’s appeal won’t be in vain. People will finally hear the truth. Wake up to the fact that Lady Liberty has failed us. Failed so many others.

Angela Herron floats into the room with a twinkle of excitement in her eye. Her long blond hair bounces with an unstoppable future. Angela’s a new production intern for The Susan Touric Show, even though she’s only a senior in high school, weeks away from graduating with Jamal’s class. It’s no coincidence that her dad owns Herron Media back in Galveston County, where Jamal’s worked the past two years. She’ll always have it easy. I’ve worked my ass off to be in the running for the school newspaper editor next year so just maybe I can get into college internships early. Meanwhile, she’s already advanced to a position most college grads can’t get.

“Nervous?” Angela asks Jamal.

“Nah.” Jamal’s foot taps as he tries to play it cool.

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