MiMi strolled into the stuffy visiting room of Najayo Prison in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic. She gave the female guard a quick smile. The woman stared back at her with a bored expression. MiMi almost had her usual upper-class hip swaying confident stride. Almost. She tugged at the green prison t-shirt she wore over borrowed cheap blue jeans. Her hair pulled back into a pony-tail against the heat, she got tearful when she spotted her friends. Willa and Jazz waited wearing twin anxious expressions. When MiMi glanced over her shoulder at the guard, the woman nodded and gestured. At the signal, a second male guard let Willa and Jazz enter the room. Once they were all seated, both guards wandered off.
“I’m so glad to see y’all,” MiMi blurted out. She leaned over and hugged Willa around the neck, and then Jazz. “Now tell me you’re going to get me out of here. Preferably today.”
“How are you holding up?” Willa grabbed MiMi’s right hand. Her maternal instinct turned up on high as she examined MiMi with a critical eye.
“Shit, girl. We ain’t visiting her at the hospital. How the hell you think she’s doin’? Foreign prison’s are like the worse place you can be and, ouch,” Jazz stopped abruptly and rubbed her shin. “Do that again, Willa, and they gonna lock me up for beating you.”
“I’ve been living this nightmare for three hellish weeks, so I don’t need a reminder,” MiMi said through tight lips. Then she swiped away tears as fast as they fell. “They don’t care if you’re innocent or guilty. It’s all the same to these people.”
“I told you not to chase after Jack’s stolen stash. Your late ‘fiancé’ would probably be in jail if somebody hadn’t killed him over that dirty cash,” Willa smoothly switched from concerned mama to “I told you so” mama.
“He was your ex-husband. What does that say about you?” MiMi shot back with heat.
“That I had the good sense to divorce him,” Willa replied mildly.
“Yeah, pretty sure they frown on laundered drug money over here as much as in the states,” Jazz said softly as she glanced around.
“Wonderful, Jazz. Give them another reason to give me a life sentence,” MiMi hissed back.
“Calm down. This place ain’t advanced enough to have listening devices around.” Jazz waved a hand as if she knew all about Caribbean prison facilities.
“How comforting.” MiMi lowered her head to the rough table top.
Willa glared at Jazz. “I’m starting to wish I’d left you at home.”
“Hey, I’m doin’ you a favor cause I speak Spanish. I’d just as soon be back in Baton Rouge runnin’ my business. Okay?” Jazz snapped her gum as she sat back in the chair.
“Mama Ruby and Aunt Ametrine are looking after your club just fine. You might even do better with them helping,” Willa said.
“For all I know your church lady aunt is having Bible study in my place by now,” Jazz snapped.
“You might show a little gratitude for all they’re doing for you. And by the way...”
MiMi sat straight. “Hey, stop working out your family issues. I’m stuck in a prison and you’re here to get me out. Focus!”
“How you gonna come here with your boo carrying weed anyway? That was stupid,” Jazz mumbled.
“I didn’t know he was going to buy drugs. Anyway, Roddy thought the authorities didn’t bother much about marijuana, just the hard stuff,” MiMi whispered. She checked to make sure the guards weren’t around.
“Yeah, Mr. Genius got that one real wrong. The local lawyer your parents hired said the Dominican Republic doesn’t have the same view as other Caribbean governments about marijuana,” Willa said.
“You’ve met with him already? Please tell me he’s close to getting me released.” MiMi squeezed Willa’s hand hard.
Willa winced as she worked her had free and rubbed it. “Mr. Columba is on it, but you know the police and courts are not happy when foreigners assume they can break the law. Those were his exact words.”
“But I didn’t break the law, and you know that.” MiMi pounded a fist on the table.
“Girl, you picked a high-classed loser. Again.” Jazz moved away sharply to avoid another kick or slap from Willa.
“No, she’s right. Who doesn’t know it’s dangerous to be caught with drugs in a foreign country?” MiMi groaned and rubbed her forehead to ward off another stress headache.
Roderick Jefferson worked in the family owned commercial real estate and construction company—when he wasn’t driving between Baton Rouge and other cities to parties or nightclubs that is. Still, at least MiMi’s parents approved of him. Well, they liked that at least four generations of his family had money.
MiMi snorted. “My only consolation is that his butt is sitting in the men’s prison.”
“Ahem.” Jazz snapped her gum loudly.
MiMi glanced at her. She put a hand over her heart when Jazz and Willa exchanged a look. “Did something happen to Roddy? Oh Lord, I’m sorry about what I said. I hope they haven’t hurt him.”
“Nah, he’s fine,” Jazz muttered.
“And uh, he out of prison and...” Willa glanced at Jazz. Her sister wouldn’t return her gaze, instead staring off in another direction.
“What?” MiMi demanded.
“Roderick’s father has local connections. He’s already had one court hearing.” Willa’s voice trailed off when MiMi hissed at her.
“Don’t tell me Roderick has been released. Do not tell me that!” MiMi sprang to her feet.
A guard appeared at the door to stare at them through the bars. He snapped a series of questions in Spanish and Jazz walked over to answer him. After a few seconds of conversation, Jazz came back to the table. She waved to the man who stood watching the three women. His expression showed they were testing the limits with him.
“I told him we’d brought some distressing news from home. I explained you had never been in jail before. He understands.” Jazz looked over her shoulder. She waved at him again and the man nodded.
“Look, don’t give them any excuses to make this worse. Breathe deep,” Willa whispered.
MiMi struggled to keep from screaming her response. Instead she took Willa’s advice, inhaled and exhaled several times. Then she sat down again. “What else?”
“The lawyer representing you said that was unusual, but not unheard of,” Willa winced under MiMi’s hard stare. “The good news is, that might help at your hearing. Plus the weed dealer has disappeared, so no witness.”
“Let’s hope so, cause these people don’t play when it comes to crime. See, for at least the last ten or fifteen years, the government has been determined to crack down on drugs especially.” Jazz nodded when MiMi and Jazz both gaped at her.
“Miss International Affairs,” Willa blurted out.
“Hey, I did some homework. Like you should have done before you sashayed your ass down here with Roddy boy,” Jazz retorted as she stabbed a forefinger at MiMi.
“We came for a relaxing, fun getaway. All I looked up was beaches and shopping,” MiMi protested.
“Riii-ght. Except you didn’t mention to him you were looking for your former man’s missing money. You could have easily gotten Roderick in big trouble. Which by the way could be what happened.” Jazz crossed her arms.
Willa turned to Jazz. “Damn, I hadn’t thought of that angle. If she was running around asking questions, somebody could have set them up.”
“Hell yeah, a perfect way to get rid of her. It’s not like MiMi can tell the authorities why she’s really here.” Jazz shrugged.
“Exactly, and send a strong message not to mess with these people,” Willa added.
“Okay, y’all are really stretching. There is no grand conspiracy. Roddy decided to get high and was careless. I’ll choke him when I get out of here, but my daddy is first on the list.”
“Mr. Landry paid for the lawyer, so you know.” Willa stopped talking.
“He took his sweet time.” MiMi swallowed against the acid sensation in her throat. Awkward silence hung between them for a few seconds. Her father had given them a choice, pay for the bond or the lawyer. Not both.
“At least you got a daddy with money. Me? I’d be rotting in here for years. Well, maybe I could get a friend to help me out.” Jazz gave a sultry chuckle.
Willa rolled her eyes at her sister. “Your sister is taking good care of Sage, one less thing you have to worry about.”
MiMi blinked as tears formed at the thought of her sweet two-year-old. Sage would be three in a few months. “How was she when you saw her?”
“Adrienne says she’s fine. She loves her cousin.” Willa’s expression brightened as it always did on the subject of kids.
“Brayden loves being the big brother, has since the minute he laid eyes on her.” MiMi smiled as she dabbed tears away with the tissue Willa handed her. “I hope Adrienne isn’t being too difficult. I know how she is.”
Willa cleared her throat. “No, it’s fine.”
MiMi nodded, but then realized Willa hadn’t answered her question. “When was the last time you saw Sage, Willa? And don’t tap dance.”
“Ha, she knows you,” Jazz put in. At the dark look Willa gave her, she pressed her lips closed.
“Adrienne’s been busy with the kids, and her husband has been out of town so everything is on her. Your mama was sick with the flu a couple of weeks ago, so she helped take care of her,” Willa said.
“She shouldn’t have exposed herself like that with my baby in the house,” MiMi said with a frown.
“Oh, no. She was careful to visit her once Mrs. Landry wasn’t contagious.” Willa fidgeted with her purse, realized MiMi was staring at her and stopped.
“Mother has a housekeeper. Adrienne didn’t need to take care of her.” MiMi crossed her arms. “Adrienne won’t let you see Sage.”
“Like I said, she’s been busy. Well so have I honestly. I mean with my two kids and the business. You know. But she’s a devoted aunt. I can tell,” Willa replied.
“In other words, Adrienne is being her usual snotty self. I’m going to get her on the phone and set her straight.” MiMi tapped a fist on her thigh.
Willa leaned forward. “If I even thought she wasn’t being good to Sage, nothing would keep me away from her house.”
“And I’d be with her,” Jazz added with an edge in her voice.
“Priority one is getting you out of here, which will happen soon,” Willa added, forcing sunshine into her tone.
“When?” MiMi’s voice trembled as more tears filled her eyes and finally spilled down her cheeks. She wiped her face again. “Damn, I have to stop being such a cry baby. I was doing good, but it’s been three whole weeks.”
Jazz sat up with an interested expression. “Find either the toughest or smartest woman on the cell block. Best if she’s both, but that’s rare. That way you won’t have to watch your back twenty-four seven.”
“I volunteered to help in what passes for a beauty salon. So I made some friends, if that’s possible in prison. Alliances are made and broken in here like crazy. Takes a lot of energy to keep up with who is with who.” MiMi heaved a deep sigh.
“You’re lucky you didn’t get sent to another prison,” Willa added quickly when MiMi snorted. “Najayo is considered a model prison not just here, but in the Caribbean.”
“I’m in a cell with two other women and a toilet. My bed is a mattress on a cement shelf attached to the wall. I don’t care about reforms or friends. I want out,” MiMi shouted. She didn’t care that the guard appeared again. She’d gone from tearful to angry.
“Sure, sure. I was just saying...” Willa glanced at her sister for help.
Jazz took over. “We’re meeting with the lawyer at two o’clock this afternoon. The warden says we can come back in the morning. We’ll have answers. Okay?”
MiMi appreciated Jazz’s no nonsense approach for once. Jazz had been in MiMi’s place a few times. So she knew sugarcoated hand holding didn’t go far, especially not in a foreign lock-up. Things could go bad real fast.
“Thank you. Now go make it be true.” MiMi raised both eyebrows as she stared at each of them in turn. “Wait a minute. Everything closes for siesta hours from noon until two o’clock. Are you just saying stuff to make me feel better? What’s really going on?”
“Prison has changed you, girl. All suspicious and stuff,” Jazz retorted.
“Anybody tried to jump you or anything?” Willa leaned across the table. She scanned MiMi like a nurse examining a patient.
“I’m okay. Thank God I know about make-up, fashion and job interview skills. I even co-led a couple of the classes.” MiMi sat straight and smoothed back her hair.
“You are wearing lip gloss,” Willa blurted out and turned to her sister. “Jazz, I told you she looked stylish to say she’s in prison.”
“I met one of the best hairdressers in lock-up one time. She stabbed a couple of people,” Jazz added and popped her gum. “Like I said, make friends with the baddest badass in here.”
“Luz and Diana have been nice to me. I give them tips on life in the states. They both want to go to New York or Los Angeles one day.” MiMi cocked her head to one side at the snort from Jazz. “Well?”
“Let me guess, they told you they want to be models. Girl, please. What they probably want is to run a game for their boyfriends. Don’t tell them your business.” Jazz pointed a forefinger at her.
“Y’all call me suspicious. They’re not even here for drugs or anything. I don’t think so I mean.” MiMi bit her lip.
Jazz slid her chair close to MiMi. “Tell me you didn’t try to play detective and ask these women about DR banking and transferring cash.”
“No. I mean, I asked some very general questions about crime, and you know, my father might send me money,” MiMi said and winced when Jazz groaned.
“We definitely got to get you outta here,” Jazz said.
“What? They know my boyfriend effed up and got me arrested. Most of the women are in here because of a man,” MiMi protested.
“Exactly, they’re all hooked up with thugs. One of those dudes could be hooked up with Felipe or some other American gangsta. They’ve got the money and they don’t want questions asked,” Jazz replied.
Jazz’s harsh whispered reality scraped over MiMi like hot barbed wire. “I wasn’t specific. I swear, very vague like I was curious about them and they’re experiences.”
“We’re pushing your lawyer into action. Your daddy better stop this tough love crap and use whatever influence he has.” Willa stood and slung her leather hobo purse over a shoulder. “You stay out of trouble.”
“I’m, I’m going to be okay.” MiMi tried to sound sure, but the crack in her voice betrayed her.
Willa gave her a hug. “Sure you will. Jazz was just laying out theories why you should...”
“Gee, this visit has me feeling so much better,” MiMi grumbled and folded her arms tight against her body.
“Hey, if your new buddies really like you then you’re gold. Keep your head up and your mouth closed.” Jazz planted both fists on her hips. Her purse swung from the crook of one elbow. “We got you on this. Right, sis?”
“We expect to get you out soon, and I’m not just saying that. Bye.” Willa went to the door and tapped. “Sir, ma’am, whoever, we’re ready.”
“Bye, girl. Look, I talked to Tomàs, the cute tall guard. He’s gonna look out for you, too. Him and me might have a date later.” Jazz winked at MiMi.
“Lord, give me strength,” Willa muttered.
The “cute” guard led them out. Jazz put a little extra sway in her hips as she walked behind Willa. She gave the guard a coy smile. MiMi nodded in approval and laughed. Jazz would never need coaching in the ways of handling men. The female guard appeared seconds later and motioned for MiMi to leave the small room. With a sigh, MiMi complied. This particular guard didn’t like MiMi one bit. No amount of charm had softened her. It was Tuesday and Officer Alvardo had just started her five day shift. The next few days would pass slowly.
That evening MiMi, Luz and Diana relaxed outside after dinner on a small concrete patio. MiMi and Diana sat in plastic chairs, while Luz leaned against the cinderblock wall. They watched other female inmates play a lazy game of soccer on the grass portion of the prison yard. Even at six o’clock in the evening, the warmth and humidity still hung on. MiMi used a hand towel as a fan.
“Ugh, I can’t wait to get out of here. A month seems so far away. Ah.” Luz sucked in smoke from her cigarette and blew it out.
“Yeah, well you better get some patience. Stop messing with Lola. One more fight and that month will turn into six.” Diana waved at another inmate.
“Tell her to leave me alone. She’s from your town, one of your old friends,” Luz retorted.
“Okay. Have it your way. Don’t cry to me when you end up with a longer sentence.” Diana shrugged and lit up her second cigarette. She offered a half smoked one to MiMi.
“Not even being in here makes me want to start that habit.” MiMi made a sour face.
“Uh-huh, in America they’re big on no smoking. I need to quit if I’m going to find a nice American husband.” Luz looked at her cigarette and then took another puff.
“Yeah, I can see you’re making a real effort,” MiMi joked. She ducked when Luz took a playful swing at her head.
Diana watched them for a few seconds. “You want to smell all fresh for that rich boyfriend of yours when you get out, huh chamaca?”
“I don’t even want to see that, that...” MiMi’s temper flared hot as the image of his smiling face flashed in her mind. Luz let loose with a string of derogatory names in Spanish. “Yeah, whatever you said.”
Luz laughed. “Ow, he should leave before you get out.”
“So, you figure he’s gonna take the money and run?” Diana’s tone was conversational as she gazed off at the soccer game.
MiMi looked at her. “What?”
“You were asking a lot of questions about hiding money and how to move money. Your boyfriend, he’s smart. They think he’s a tourist that just got stupid.” Diana shifted her gaze to MiMi.
“Roddy is exactly what he looks like, a stupid tourist who scored and got caught. I just asked because you both were talking about your old boyfriends and gang members.” MiMi hoped her voice didn’t reflect her sudden case of nerves.
“You seemed a little bit more interested than just making conversation.” Diana lifted a dark eyebrow. She pushed away from the wall and sat down next to MiMi. “I might be able to get a guy who can help, for a reasonable fee of course.”
“No way, you’re totally wrong. We’re not... you know,” MiMi whispered and glanced around. “Roderick wouldn’t know the first thing about that sort of stuff. And I definitely don’t.”
“Diana, I could tell she was green the second they pushed her into the cell,” Luz put in with a snort.
“Uh-huh.” Diana gazed at MiMi for a few seconds.
“Hey, your pal Lola is tryin’ ta get your attention,” Luz said and pointed to the other woman standing a few feet away. “Tell the bitch I said hello.”
Diana transferred her gaze to Luz. She gave a short laugh and shook her head. “You never learn. Three times inside and you never learn.”
“Yeah, yeah. Makes two of us,” Luz retorted and winked at her.
Diana threw down her cigarette, crushed it out and strolled off, still shaking her head. Moments later she joined a group of inmates. Soon they were engaged in conversation. Their exchange flew right over MiMi’s head. Once again she regretted not paying attention in her high school Spanish class. She listened for her name or any word she might understand. Soon the women moved away.
“I have to get away from this place,” MiMi mumbled.
Luz waved to a player on the field who raced along. “Watch what you say to Diana. Her man is big into one of the gangs.”
MiMi looked at her sharply. “She never said...”
“She wouldn’t. If he thinks you or your boyfriend are operating without his permission? That would be a sign of disrespect. Hey, score already,” Luz shouted. She kept up her pretense of concentrating on the game.
“Like I told her, Roddy is a dumb tourist. I’m dumb for even being interested in Roddy.” MiMi forced herself to laugh, hoping it sounded genuine.
Luz didn’t look at MiMi. Instead she waved at another clump of inmates seated on the grass watching the game. “I’ll keep close to you, so will my cousin over there, the one with the ball.”
“I thought you and Diana were good friends.” MiMi swallowed against the lump of terror in her throat.
“It’s smart for me to know what she’s doin’ and sayin’, okay? We get along, but I know to watch her. You should, too.” Luz glanced at MiMi briefly. Then she glanced at where Diana stood with a clump of other inmates.
“Why are you telling me this?” MiMi wiped beads of sweat from her forehead. Suddenly the heat came from inside her gut.
“Diana, Lola and some of their friends are getting way to cocky for their own good.” Luz wore a serious expression for an instant before she smiled. “Hey, let’s get a basketball game goin’ next time.”
The players finished the game when guards signaled they were to wrap it up. They called back to Luz playfully about what she could do with a basketball. Half of it was in English, half in Spanish. A few women yelled Creole. Luz let loose another string of Spanish as she stood up.
MiMi stood as well. She wore a smile, but whispered out of the side of her mouth. “I don’t want to get caught in some kind of gang war, Luz. I mean just because I was making conversation? I didn’t even bring up Diana’s past. She did!”
Luz looped an arm through one of MiMi’s. “Relax chica. You should be okay until your girlfriends get you out.”
“Lord, let that be real soon,” MiMi said. She repeated that prayer for the rest of the night.
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