“Royce Jones, you've been found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death under the state of Louisiana laws,” the Shreveport, Louisiana judge said.
“Nooo!” I stood up to reach for my husband, Royce, but my knees buckled and I fell on the floor.
As soon as my body hit the floor, I woke up from my nightmare. I had fallen off the couch to the floor.
I guess I shouldn't have watched the news before drifting off to sleep. The media was having a field day with my husband’s upcoming trial. How quickly people turn on you when you're faced with some adversities. Prior to Royce’s arrest two months ago, people were singing Royce’s praises, but now people were acting like they believe he killed Jason Milton. Jason was Royce’s former best friend and according to news reports, he was also a prominent Shreveport businessman.
Royce had been the pillar of the community for the majority of his adult life, so I don’t know why they would think he wasn’t the same man they'd always known.
When Royce first got arrested for the murder of Jason, I wanted to crawl under the bed and not come out, but I couldn’t. Royce needed me. My kids needed me. I had to be strong for Charity, Hope and Lovie. We had to pull together because the road ahead of us was rocky.
I eyed myself in the mirror one last time. I used extra makeup, hoping to hide the bags under my eyes from crying and lack of sleep. When I visited Royce, he needed to see a woman of strength. He needed to see in spite of the drama, I was still holding up. I didn't want him to see the strain of the situation on my face.
I eased my hand over my designer dress. I clasped on the pearls he’d once given me for an anniversary. I slipped on my heels and headed straight to the Caddo Correctional Center on the other side of Shreveport to visit my husband.
I was on autopilot because I barely remembered the drive from our house to the jail. I still didn’t know why they couldn't have kept Royce at the city jail. I hated having to come here. I felt like I was having heart palpitations prior to each visit.
The officer at the front desk seemed to have an attitude every time I checked in at the visitors’ window to see Royce. If she didn’t like her job, she should’ve gotten another one. It was difficult enough to come see your loved one locked up; neither I nor any of the other people should’ve had to deal with her funky attitude.
I glanced around the room while I waited on Royce’s name to be called. The visitation waiting room was filled with people of all races and economic backgrounds. Patience wasn’t one of my strong points so I was glad when an officer called Royce’s name.
I did a few breathing exercises as I walked down the long hallway into cellblock C. I heard the clicks of the locks unlock and opened the door. There on the other side of the glass was my king, Royce, in a bright orange jumpsuit.
He watched me as I walked to the chair sitting opposite from his. Our hands went up to the glass. Unable to feel each other’s hand because of the glass separating us, he picked up the phone on his side and I did the same. I wiped the black handle on my pants; I didn't know who had their ear up to the phone before me.
“Lexi, Baby, I’m so glad to see you,” Royce said.
Something in the way he said it sent chills down my spine. I had to be strong.
“I’m glad to see you, too. I wish I could hug you.” I ran my hand through my hair. I normally wore my hair shorter, but since Royce’s arrest, I’d let my hair grow out.
“Me, too,” he said.
“Baby, you’re looking thin,” was the next thing that blurted out of my mouth.
Royce wasn’t a big man, but I was still used to seeing him with more weight on his six-foot-one frame.
“Lexi, the food isn’t the greatest in here. I’m fine. I needed to lose some weight anyway. How are you? How are the kids?”
“I’m fine. I’ve just been worried about you.”
“And the kids?” he asked again.
“They’re hanging in there. You would be proud of Lovie. He’s running things down at the funeral home so you don't have to worry about that.”
“What about you? I can tell you’re not sleeping.”
“Royce, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”
“Easier said than done.”
“The police are convinced that you murdered Jason. We know for a fact you didn’t.”
“Lexi, I’ve prayed about this. The truth will come out and then I will be a free man.”
“It hasn’t. You’re not hearing what I’m hearing. If we leave it up to the police, they will have you on death row.”
“It’s not going to get to that.”
Royce must have lost his mind while up in the prison. His delusional behavior about his situation was irking me.
“Royce, I’ve talked to our lawyers. They want you to plea bargain. They want you to admit to something you didn’t do and get the charges down to second degree. Do you really want to spend years in prison? And with your age, it might as well be a death sentence because with as much time they will give you, you’ll die in prison before you get out.” My voice shook as I spoke.
“Calm down, baby. I’m trying to be optimistic.”
“I understand that, but I have to be realistic. That’s why I’m going to do my own investigation. I’m going to find out what really happened to Jason because dear, right now, all evidence points toward you. Thinking about killing someone and actually doing it are two different things. And I refuse to have you spend the rest of your life in prison for a crime you did not do.”
Life is an illusion. One’s perception determines their reception of the truth. I chose to believe that my husband, Royce Jones, will be proven innocent of the crime he’s been accused of. With every breath I take, I will make sure of it.
Shelia M. Goss is the bestselling author of 10 contemporary fiction novels, including Delilah, Ruthless, My Invisible Husband, Savannah’s Curse and Montana’s Way. A speaker at literary conferences across the country, Goss also works closely with librarians supporting literacy and increasing awareness via workshops for adults and teens.