Prophets and Angels Weeping
Minutes earlier, I’d robbed Rusty’s Stop-n-Go. Heart pounding, mind racing, suffering from a chemical imbalance, my feet slapping the pavement, I ran from Rusty’s, hoping to escape the night. On the run from a double homicide, my goal was to take the stolen money and buy a pound of marijuana to support myself when I relocated in Memphis.
Somewhere a dog was barking, aroused by the smell of fear.
Bright headlights hit me and it had to be Pooh Loc and Blue Jay. Suddenly, I exhaled in hope. The angry dog, still barking, bounded toward me. I aimed my Larson 9mm. The dog was the only thing that stood between me and freedom.
The door on the driver’s side opened.
“Freeze! This is the police. Get on the ground!”
I threw my Larson to the ground along with the sack of cash. Pressed my face and body hard to the ground. Other cops showed up to assist and they were all over me, knees and elbows. A hard combat boot pressed into the center of my back.
“One more move and I’ll blow your motherfucking brains out!”
I didn’t move. I didn’t even want to.
They put me in the back of the police car. When the officer got settled, he looked back at me, eyes wide, sweating, trembling.
“Somebody in heaven must really love you ‘cause I pulled the trigger a long time ago; my intent was to kill you.”
I was sixteen years old.
Imagine yourself as a little child being raised in a living nightmare, who sees what nobody else sees, sensing what nobody else can, not knowing the hand that protects him, would soon withdraw and he would become what he so long feared.
I was this child. What made God seek after me? Why did the devil try to destroy me, mentally, physically, and spiritually? In an early vision, a great red dragon soared across the sky screaming to God that it would soon defeat my purpose.
Coleman Luckett, Sr., my Bubba. The hand that protected me from dreams and dragons. Bubba drank Budweiser and chewed tobacco and had plenty of friends. Sang solos at the Woodbridge Church and brought home junk food from his job at Helena Host Sale. When everybody else was asleep or outdoors, I’d run to the freezer and gorge myself with candy bars and jello. Bubba looked for occasions to be good to us, and he was always nice to my mom.
He sat in the living room with my ten brothers and sisters playing on the floor around him. My baby brother Steven was five, then Kary; I was next at seven years old, all the way up to Coleman Luckett, Jr. who was fourteen. Late one night, an elderly woman drove her small car off the road and got stuck in a ditch. My dad was called to help, and wanting to show off in front of his friends, he grabbed the car by the bumper, with a lot of groaning and straining, pulled the car back on to the street. Did he know how much he hurt his back?
He came home and ran a hot bath. When he closed the bathroom door behind him, it was the last time we saw him alive. His back went out while he lay there, and he sank under the water and couldn’t raise himself. He drowned in the bathtub.
About five of us kids were home from school one day: Michael, my little sister, Nicole, and my two little brothers, Kary and Steven. We were all piled up in a queen-sized bed and they were all asleep. I was playing with a box of incense and a little blue Smurf toy and decided to act out a scene from the Smurf cartoon we watched five days a week. The incense would be my torch and under the bed, a cave. Lighting the torch on the kitchen stove, I placed it in the hand of Papa Smurf and walked him into his cave.
Immediately the bed caught on fire.
Running to the kitchen for water, the more I tried to put out the fire, the bigger it became. Finally, I ran for my mom. Incoherently, I danced and screamed in front of her until she realized something was wrong. She dashed into the bedroom and pulled all of her kids out of the bed. Someone called the fire department. The only damage was to the bed and the plastic light fixture hanging from the ceiling.
Mama had gotten engaged to a man named Sylvester she met at Powerhouse Church. She asked him to come over that day and whip me but he refused. She had me take off my clothes and whipped me naked. When the landlord saw the damage to his property, he made us move.
Despite that modest introduction, Sylvester believed that the thing that my mother’s children needed more than anything was discipline.
Mama walked down the aisle at Powerhouse Church a year after my dad died wearing a wedding dress borrowed from her sister. There was envy in every feminine eye for my mother and sympathy from the men for Sylvester. Dislike or disgust from the other children for mama’s poorly dressed kids. Sylvester was popular here. His big smile earned him the nickname “Smiley Joe.” He dressed neatly and made a good impression on the women, and they were about to lose him to a woman with eleven snotty nosed kids.
I always felt a spiritual connection to church life. There was something pulling me to the altar even as a boy. Though Sylvester’s discipline was already in high gear, I remember this: I sat alone on the third bench. A new member of the church showed up that morning, bright and shining. Her pretty eight year old daughter, wearing a white dress and white gloves, came over and sat next to me, and before I could say anything, she slipped her hand in mine. Maybe she was too new to notice that I was an outcast. Before the service ended, we fell asleep like that, holding hands. The adults thought we looked cute and Sylvester couldn’t bring himself to whip me for falling asleep in church. The little girl’s name was Jessica.
Sylvester had other ways to punish us. Like boiling water and making us stand on one foot and placing the hot water under the other leg so that if we let that foot down, it would fall into the scalding water.
The kids in the street were having fun so I put church behind me. Nothing that happened in church kept Sylvester from hitting on us so what did it matter anyway? I wanted some of what the other kids had. One in particular.
I’d always looked up to Five Deuce. He took my side against others and defended me from the neighborhood bullies. For reasons I didn’t understand, he always had my back.
He was three or four years older than me. A player. All the females loved him. He was a pretty boy who knew how to handle himself on the battlefield when the Crips collided with other gangs. Dark skinned, two gold front teeth, ready with a smile, clean haircut. He could get money by any means.
He introduced me to marijuana and drinking forty ounces. It wasn’t long before I would do anything to gain his approval. I ran the streets. I robbed, stole and sold drugs. I got lost for so long that I couldn’t find my way back to civilization. Crippin’ became my thang and I wore the orange and blue bandana like homage to a king.
Midday on May 21, 1999. Gravel road. Nowhere.
Our target weighed well over two-hundred pounds, a brown skinned Negro with a small Afro, mid-twenties. He was important in his own rival organization and intimidating, but I was not afraid. His girlfriend sat beside him in the front seat of the white, patched up Chevy Impala. Five Deuce and I rode in the back. We told them we had stolen goods for sale and that was how we got them out on that forsaken gravel road. They had won big at the casino and had winnings we planned to steal.
Deuce gave the signal. I raised the Glock 45.
Later, America’s Most Wanted flashed Deuce’s picture on the screen and that was how he got captured. When they caught me after robbing Rusty’s, I was sentenced to sixty years for the two murders and two counts of aggravated robbery.
At Varner Super Max, around 2005, I stood in my cell. Whispers surrounded me. Every guard and every convict hissed my name and whispered to each other that this would be a mean demonstration. They were planning my assassination.
“We need to get rid of him. He’s the brains behind the convict Mafia.” I was a Mafia superpower, and the president wanted me dead or out of the country to prevent a war. Mafia alliances would blow Arkansas off the map if I wasn’t released by a set date.
I was afraid and extremely dangerous. It was good that I was locked away in a one man cell. My only plan was to die killing one of them.
Other thoughts began to disturb me. I had never known anyone so important that the world would come together to assassinate. I had no knowledge of their accusations. I was poor; I was powerless. When I looked through the small window in my cell door, the guards’ shoulders were down; they were relaxed. Their mouth movement and their body language didn’t match the whispers floating around my cell. I realized I had lost my mind.
Falling to my knees on that concrete floor, I begged God for my sanity.
It wasn’t God who answered.
“John, we didn’t know that you believed in God! You’re going to curse him before we’re finished with you!” My skin crawled. I cursed God in the darkness. A war raged within me. Before 2005 was over, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
My early incarceration contained a lot of fighting and trying to make older prisoners respect me. My code of survival was to hurt someone to keep him from hurting me. I killed a man who tried to rape me. They gave me thirty more years under the Habitual Offenders Act.
After a suicide attempt, I began to take my life seriously and sought the cross every day. I wrote Sylvester a letter and told him I’d forgiven him. He came to visit me the very next day. Later he died when he fell into a grain silo and suffocated. I heard about it on the news.
After I got my GED at Tucker Max, I worked in the prison library: checking books in and out, processing new materials, shelving books. It was something I’d come to enjoy.
I have not been fortunate enough to gain attention from the outside, like the West Memphis Three. I am not innocent and no one is coming to write a book about me or make a documentary about my life. But when I picked up this pen and paper, there was my voice. I’ve gone inside myself in desperate measures to bring this to you.
JOHN LUCKETT was born in West Helena, Arkansas, in 1982, one of fourteen children. He joined a gang which eventually resulted in imprisonment at age sixteen. He is humbled by the opportunity to share his work. He writes poetry and is working on a memoir. Currently, John is incarcerated at Tucker Maximum Security Prison in Arkansas.