The verdict from the three-judge panel is in. Cecil Younger, bumbling criminal defense investigator and totally embarrassing father, has been sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for his involvement in . . . well, a number of things, ranging from destruction of private property to killing a guy. But compared to the original twenty-five-year sentence, it's not so bad. His success with getting his sentence reduced has attracted the attention of his fellow inmates, and one man, "Fourth Street," reaches out for advice for his upcoming parole hearing in exchange for protection and companionship.
When he isn't reading Adrienne Rich or James Baldwin with Fourth Street, Cecil spends his time filling up large yellow legal pads. He writes, mostly, about his teenage daughter, Blossom, who is on a Nancy Drew–like quest to help her friend, George, discover the truth about her biological parents, which turns out to be complicated. Shortly after submitting a mail-in genetics test, George learns she is the infamous "Baby Jane Doe" who was kidnapped from her Native mother shortly after she was born. A media and legal circus quickly ensues, and George's reunion with her birth family isn’t the heartwarming story the journalists hoped it would be. There is an even darker secret about the baby-snatching case, a secret threatens to destroy not just George’s family—but Cecil’s as well.
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
It’s not hard remembering how long you have been in prison. Days pass and your daughter’s birthdays, holidays without the usual food, then seasons go by: a fall where you need a wool cap but don’t have one, a winter where slush wets your socks in the exercise yard, and your feet may stay wet all day depending how many pairs of socks you have, and a spring where unseen songbirds titter from the rocky field beyond the coils of razor wire. I can remember how long I have been in. What bothers me is that as time goes on, I begin to forget when, if ever, I will be getting out.
There is a single time-accounting sergeant who is in charge of keeping the book on time. He or she keeps track of your time, down to the minute you were logged into jail when you were first booked in on your charges. The TA sergeant also calculates your “good time.” In Alaska, for every three days of time in prison that you don’t cause any trouble, you earn one day off your sentence; but not always. If you participate in certain rehabilitative services, that time within the program does not earn good time. It can be tricky to know how much time you have officially lost for certain infractions. Inmates are supposed to be informed of loss of good time, but often that information slips through the cracks. Infractions can be written up or not, and inmates are never sure if the report makes it into the hands of the probation officer and then to the TA sergeant. An inmate can ask for a TAA or a “time accounting audit,” but it’s a pretty big deal, and it’s generally believed that unless your attorney requests the audit with some justification by the court, the TA sergeant will simply add days or weeks, just for making them go through the extra work. The truth of it is no one ever likes the answer the TA sergeant gives, so most of us don’t ask. We wait.
I was originally sentenced to twenty-five years, but my lawyers and I went before the three-judge panel, and I gave the longest allocution in the history of Alaska, and they lowered my sentence to seven years. On the day I’m writing this, I have served four years. I’m close to what should have been my release date, but the events I am writing about occurred six months ago. It wasn’t too long after the decision of the three-judge panel, and I was still feeling the weight of the twenty-five lift off my back. I was floating. Sad still, and sick of being inside . . . but floating. Perhaps it was the floating that made me do some of the stupid things that resulted in my losing a chunk of good time, and set this whole horrific shitstorm roaring through every part of my life—my caged life and my free life too.
So I wait and I spend the time writing. I know I lost some good time, but I’m not sure how much and what for. It could be months or a year. My lawyer doesn’t want me writing anything down, of course, but I have to. I want to write it all down, not because I’m trapped inside prison but because I’m frightened of prison being trapped inside of me. During the years I have spent here, I have seen human beings so overwhelmed by rules, walls and changing protocols that they become pale with something I once thought was the result of insanity or inconsolable grief. They take in everything they ever used to enjoy as if it were now an insult to the very idea of pleasure. The food, the sex, the work, the books they read, the art they make—it is all meaningless without the freedom to enjoy it.
Just two weeks ago, a story made the rounds about a guy who made it out after being in prison for twelve and a half years. He had dreamed of rebuilding his motorcycle and riding it to the Arctic Circle with a big-breasted girl riding bitch on the back. Well, the “girl,” who was almost forty years old, bailed somewhere outside of Tok Junction not far up the highway because the bike’s hard suspension hurt her back so much she decided she would rather work in a roadhouse serving wildland firefighters than rattle her way up that bumpy road.
Once alone, our man became more and more obsessed with limitations—speed limits and traffic signs. He was in violation of his parole and screaming across the northern tundra, trying to eat up the horizon before his arms turned numb or the bugs and road dust sealed his eyes shut. But eventually even a straight road to the horizon seemed too limiting, too narrow.
Word came back to us that the RCMP found him wrapped around a bridge abutment somewhere in the Northwest Territories, his bike in pieces and his body having been consumed by scavengers.
A majority of the inmates, even the short-timers, envied him.
This is all a long way of saying that I am writing this story about my daughter to remind myself of a certain kind of freedom that I want to carry in my mind throughout this entire experience inside. It’s a freedom that I associate with my daughter’s goodness, and maybe, more broadly, with just the possibility of human goodness.
There were several investigations concerning the events that caused me to lose good time and will keep me in here until . . . I don’t know when. One was conducted by the Alaska State Troopers and the Department of Corrections; another by the office of Child Protective Services, which got involved, as you will soon learn. Obviously I wasn’t present to see anything that happened outside Lemon Creek Correctional Center, so in writing this, I wanted to double-check the facts from those investigations. My attorney was given those reports. I’ve also had the advantage of being able to talk with my daughter, Blossom Younger. She gave me her written reports, letters and diary, which you might think is a rare display of openness between a teenage girl and her incarcerated father. In truth, she gave me all her written materials in order to hide them from the other investigations, which turned out to be a well-reasoned ploy because my lawyer and the Department of Corrections threw up quite a few walls against the discovery of my personal possessions. No adult investigator thought there would be much of Blossom’s stuff in my possession.
Blossom spoke with me during her visits about what happened in the basement, and she cried like a baby, long after her bruises had healed and the cuts had sealed together and the stitches had come out. She wept without control, but she hadn’t cried when it first happened. Then she was a tough and smart-mouthed teenager who could handle all the troubles of the adult world, thank you very much. She thought she was a freedom fighter, and she thought she was fighting for my freedom, bless her soul, but once she learned I had that more or less covered, she started opening up to me and her mother, and her rage all spilled out “like the insides of a gutted fish.” Those were her words. She made me promise not to paint her as a wimp in this account, and as you will see, there is nothing wimpy about our daughter. But you might judge me harshly and miss my love for her if I didn’t clue you in to her tender nature.
I write now in pencil on a yellow pad—several yellow pads, actually. I usually work while I’m at my job in the library or when I’m alone in my bunk. I make two copies of everything I write, and I hide both copies: one in a safe place and the other with a person I trust. I write to keep from beating my head against the wall for whatever time I have left in here, and I write to remember how much I love my daughter; that love is the most civilizing force that remains in my life. Loving her and respecting her, eventually learning to let her go, will make me a valuable human being . . . at least that is the belief I cling to.
I’ll tell this story as if I were on the outside with Blossom. She is only seventeen, but she thinks of herself as my partner in our investigative business, which is not true, but there is nothing much I can do about that now. I enjoy writing as if I know what she is thinking and what happened to her. I also believe this account is accurate. For all the harm and what ultimately happened to her, I am deeply sorry, but again, there is nothing to be done about it now.
Blossom’s mother is Jane Marie DeAngelo. We were married in a small ceremony in Sitka on the beach out near the ferry dock. Blossom is our only child. Jane Marie was born and raised in Juneau; her sister and her family still live in the family home there. Jane Marie lives on her boat, The Winning Hand. Our friend and the man I’m supposed to take care of, Todd, now lives in Jane Marie’s sister’s house. Todd did not like living on the boat—Jane Marie takes it out at unexpected times—and he is now working at a nursing home downtown and takes his schedule very seriously. Even though there is a lot of noise in the house with people coming and going, it is near the nursing home, close to the capitol building, and Todd has a tiny room where he is comfortable. Blossom sees him every day and she takes him shopping whenever he needs anything. They also enjoy going to the movies in Juneau, where there are more choices than in Sitka, where we used to live.
Jane Marie is a research scientist and professor at the University of Alaska. She moors her boat, which doubles as a research vessel, in Aurora Harbor, which is close to Juneau-Douglas High School, where Blossom goes to school. I’m incarcerated at Lemon Creek Correctional Center, some eight miles down the road from the high school. Jane Marie also works out of a small office near St. Ann’s Rest Home downtown, where Todd is a custodian, and from there she can see the tourists walking up the hill from the cruise ships on summer days and the legislators trudging back toward the capitol in the rain during winter. I think of her stooped over her computer there, with her old-fashioned milk crates filled with notebooks and reports. I imagine framed pictures of Blossom as a child hanging on the white wall: smiling on the deck of a boat, her life jacket on and sun filling her eyes and dazzling her hair.
Blossom got her driver’s license in Juneau the day after her sixteenth birthday. Her uncle had a 1993 Renault Le Car that he dearly loved and preserved. It had only a few hundred miles on it, and it was kept dry and salt-free in his garage. He allowed Blossom free use of it under two strict conditions: one, she had to park it in the garage every night and lock the door; and two, she had to pressure wash every inch of the car, top to bottom, at a setting selected by Uncle Pete, and then she had to adequately dry it before putting it away. While most teenage girls would consider these rules draconian, Blossom was eager to follow them because she loved the car with the kind of devotion usually reserved for religious artifacts.
The Le Car was blue and had a nearly full-length sunroof. It was French, zippy, unique and yet somehow “uncool” among people who knew cars. It had a unibody construction, which meant that it would probably have the life span of James Dean out on the highway in the rainy climate of Juneau, Alaska, and was more than likely to crack in half on the few miles of freeway than it was to get into an accident. It had two small seats in front and two in the back. With the roof open it felt like a convertible on a sunny day. It had a stick shift, and learning to operate it made Blossom feel like a race-car driver. She doted on this car and would fight almost anyone who didn’t wholeheartedly admire it in a parking lot.
On the day that her adventure started, she drove to Lemon Creek at visiting hours, and the guard who checked her in kept making offers on the Le Car.
“I’m telling you, Stanley, it’s my uncle’s car and besides, I would never, ever in this world let him sell it. That car is my baby. I’m telling you, man.”
“Girl, you need yourself something bigger for all your boyfriends,” Stanley said, “and something safer. That little tin can is gonna crush up on you. You just better give that little go-cart to old Stanley to take care of.”
“Nice try. No way.” She smiled at him as the thick door buzzed, and he showed her through.
After months of trips and paperwork, we had been allowed “contact visits” in which we could sit in the same room. Despite this designation, though, we were careful not to touch each other because if we were seen touching, Blossom could be subject to a body search on the way out—anything from a light pat-down to a complete cavity search. Though the search would be conducted by a female officer, it could be traumatizing and sometimes punitive—that is, done in a way to discourage a visitor from ever coming back. Visitors had been known to be stripped and kept waiting in a cold holding room for hours while appropriate personnel was found to perform the search. There was no indication that the prison staff had anything against Blossom or me, but it was difficult to know what was going on in my jacket (or file) . . . or in hers, so it was best to be careful.
There were several cheap sofas, three vending machines for sodas and snacks and three tables with chairs. I sat at the table farthest from the door. A Black inmate and his wife and baby girl sat on the couch by the oldest candy machine. The baby girl sat on her daddy’s lap. She had a red bow in her hair and smiled like a crescent moon. The mom had tears in her eyes. As Blossom passed the small family, she cupped the baby’s head in her hand and stopped a moment to kiss her.
“Heya, Kiya, baby . . . you look so sweet today.”
“How you, darlin’?” the mom asked.
“You know . . . how ’bout you, Alicia?”
“Same. Thanks for asking, girl.”
“You take care. Promise to call me for babysitting?”
Then my daughter walked to our table and sat across from me.