Bad Prison Cell Alcatraz

I pace the floor. Not for the first time. One, two, three, four and a half. The metal green door is cold to my touch. My head swivels round and captures the photo on the wall. Holding its gaze I walk methodically back. One, two, three, four and a half. The edges of the photo are frayed and its colours dulled; the past ten years have not only taken their toll on me. The photo was taken with my camera, one that used actual film. I hear those don’t exist anymore. Everything is digital they say.

Joe’s tiny face smiles back at me. He was only six months at the time and how he loved bouncing in that blue baby rocker. His red romper suit covered in white yogurt after he’d knocked my hand feeding. We’d laughed so.

Those days all my photos were of Joe. Joe smiling, sleeping, playing with his cuddly lion, eating, swimming, on holiday at Centreparcs. We were inseparable. Until his death. Three months later.

“Turner! Turner!”

The prison officer fills the door, her hair pulled tight into a functional bun, the khaki-coloured uniform bulging at her waist and arms. Hard to believe that had been me; squeezing into clothes. Now a size 10 hangs like a sack on my tall frame.


Standing still, I gaze ahead. Carol, that’s my name. They took that from me in here; my self. Sometimes I repeat it to myself, just to make sure I don’t forget. “Carol. Carol.”  Daughter, wife, mother. Then child-murderer. Or so they claimed.

“The warden wants to see you. Now!”

I nod curtly and glance at the space above my table. The light green cement wall is covered with study notes, magazine photos and a calendar. A big red circle pulsates around tomorrow, marking my appeal hearing. My final hope.

The daily clamour of prison life continues around me unabated. After the silence all those years ago the constant barrage of noise is a balm for me. The silence of Joe and the day he stopped breathing.

The relentless rain had whipped around the car on the journey home from the nursery that day. Joe had cried non-stop. This in itself was unusual as was the pitch of his scream; twenty minutes of fractured tortured crying. Not that of hunger or exhaustion. Slowly it dwindled to a whimper and I hate myself even now for being relieved at the peace.

I stopped by the front door and rushed Joe, who was in his car seat, inside along with the shopping, before driving to park around the corner. On entering the house his stillness struck me immediately. Then I spotted his lips, tinged light blue. Panicked, I released the seat belt, opened his jacket and held him. I tried to get him to breathe. Those minutes turned into a lifetime. I must have called an ambulance. They took him away, lights flashing and sirens blasting. I sat in the corner of the ambulance, helpless. Watching the paramedics fighting to save my son’s life. In vain.

The hail had hammered upon my face as the police arrested me soon after Joe’s death. I wasn’t even allowed to see him again. Nor was I permitted to attend his funeral.

At least Liam had been able to go. Liam, Joe’s father, my husband, who knew me better than anyone. We’d been close friends since our teens and he always trusted me, when many doubted. Many times since we’d sat across the visitor table, surreptitiously clasping each other’s hands for comfort.

“It will sort, love,” he’d promised. With his dark hair straggling across his face he insisted, “It’s all a big mistake”. He’d been right, only we never guessed it would take ten years to prove it.

Salt, such a small innocuous condiment. The police and doctors said I had been feeding Joe teaspoons of this over time to kill him. My beloved Joe. My incredulity at the accusation turned to total disbelief, then resignation as expert after expert testified to the high sodium levels in Joe. The only possible reason given for its presence was poisoning.

I could never have harmed him but nobody listened. He’d been tired, lethargic even. Joe’s low weight had always concerned me. I’d asked for help but was told not to worry.

My raw anger and desperation at the trial hadn’t helped. I realise that now. Neither had my appearance with unruly frizzy hair which had long since been tamed into a short smart bob. Exercise, an anathema to me previously, became my new religion and I trained at the prison gym like a fanatic. Its bright green walls especially gaudy under the fluorescent lighting.

Once my body was in shape, I turned to my mind. Unused since school where I gained a couple of qualifications, I studied like one possessed and only last year achieved a degree in law. I’d almost laughed as I held the certificate. A degree! Me?! A care home child, no known parents and already convictions for petty theft. I’d had no chance at the trial. No chance afterward either. Until five years ago and the death of a baby girl. Then two more babies. All from salt poisoning.

“Expect the best, prepare for the worst.”

The warden’s words reverberated in my head.

The worst had already happened. Couldn’t he see that? I knew what he meant though, losing the appeal, being trapped a lifetime within the green cage.

For the best I reread Liam’s letter, which I’d received the day before. He’d prepared the house for my possible home-coming and redecorated Joe’s nursery as a study for me. I swear I could smell the fragrances from the flowers in the garden through his description and closing my eyes I glimpsed the bright sunflowers against the back wall.

“I found him in Joe’s nursery at the weekend,” Liam’s mum said to me on a visit early on. “Asleep on the fur rug, clutching Joe’s clothes, teddies strewn around him. The charity bag lay empty in the corner of the room.”

I’d covered my eyes.

“Carol, dear. Liam can’t sort it all out. Shall I help?”

Her offer was the first of many that Liam and I came to rely upon. Now she too was gone and we only had each other.

The warden gave me a box and with trepidation I began to pack. Law books, spiritual books even, such as my well-thumbed copy of “Stillness Speaks”.  I would never have believed it. Then reams upon reams of notes and finally the file of newspaper cuttings.

On top was the story of the two now discredited expert witnesses who had testified against me. Their omission to mention a possible medical cause for the sodium poisoning had sentenced not only me but also three other women to jail for child murder.

Finally I placed the photo album Liam had made for me into the box. Its blue spine long since broken and the silver heart frame on the front no longer shone. I opened it carefully.

There we were on our wedding at the local registry office, then at the pub meal afterward. So simple but perfect.

There I was pregnant, looking blooming and blooming huge as well. For that big bump Joe was born tiny, a light bundle with black hair streaked across his head.

Then the last photo ever taken of Joe.

Liam gently bouncing him on his knee, Joe’s face half-hidden behind the hood of the yellow giraffe dressing gown, his hands tucked inside the long sleeves, Joe’s sweet giggles audible from the photo.

In shock I dropped the album and started shaking.

Not for the first time, I cried; sobbed until my body heaved with grief. Angry clanging on the doors followed as my cacophony of tears refused to be silenced. Before long darkness enveloped the cell and by the light of a torch the green forest of night closed around me.

“You’re free to go,” my lawyer said the next day in court. “You’re free.”

The appeal had passed in a blur, too shaken, too frightened of the outcome to absorb much detail.

“Free?” I questioned and looked around for permission to leave.

“Carol!” Liam was suddenly in front of me and unrestricted we moved towards each other. Then stopped. An invisible barrier. Liam took the final strides towards me and he reached out and pulled me in. Saving me. I rocked back and forth in his arms before we headed out into the blinding sunshine. To face the press together.

Two hours later I was home. The butterflies fluttered erratically around the flowering buddleia; more calmly the bees buzzed over the red roses. Our garden was a firework display of colours. Golds, reds, pinks, purples. I gingerly stepped over the petunias which had spread over the path, wanting to preserve their beauty.

Inside, the house gleamed and his mother’s redecoration years earlier was evident in the modern minimalist style. So tidy. No toys on the floor, stairs, furniture.

Liam took my arm and gently guided me towards Joe’s nursery. Apprehensively I opened the door.

It was stunning. The sun beamed upon the large pine desk in front the window and light dazzled me, reflecting from the crystal framed mirror. A bookcase stood empty. In the corner was a white armchair and Joe’s cuddly lion rested on the soft seat. The whole room teemed with sweet peas, the multicolours a feast for the eyes as I spotted them on the desk, windowsill and coffee table. Their scent a crashing reminder of that first and only spring with Joe.

“”I love it, Liam. It’s just perfect. Thank you,” I whispered quietly in awe.

“The colour?” he questioned cautiously. “Do you like it?”

I hadn’t spotted the light green walls at first, now I moaned to myself.

“They say green is calming and restful. Creates harmony,” Liam reassured me. “I thought it would help you settle back home.”

“That’s kind of you. Very thoughtful,” I replied. However, deep inside my emotions swirled. Liam meant so well.

I still didn’t think it was the right colour.

The End

©Annika Perry

104 thoughts on “A GREEN CAGE

  1. Whenever I feel the rush to read a story that doesn’t leave me even when it says ‘The End’, a story that engages from its very first line- I head to your place.
    This story, yet again, mesmerized me. I loved the story-telling. I loved every bit of it. ❤
    Sometimes what we feel is the best for our loved one turns out to be the worst.

    1. Wow! Thank you so much for your fantastic and encouraging comment, Aditi! 😀 I can’t stop smiling reading this and knowing you head to my blog for these kind of stories…it’s just great that they stay with you long after you’ve finished reading – just the feeling I so hope to achieve and that a story stays with the reader. Many thanks and I do hope you’ll visit soon again. 😀😀

  2. Pablo Cuzco

    Tremendously insightful. The anguish reaches out, even in the light green of the remodeled room that refuses to let her leave her inner prison.

  3. Hello Annika, how lovely to read you again after so long. I am so sorry I haven’t been able to visit more often, as you know I have struggled greatly with blogging for some time now. And I will be disappearing again with our house move fast approaching. But I so much wanted to visit you first and thank you for sticking with me all this time and not giving up on me 🙂 I absolutely loved your story, you had me captivated from start to finish, the tension pulling tight throughout until the twist at the very end with the green walls. A tragic story, yet one that is for some all too real. But also a love story between husband and wife, one that endures through through the worst of times with a promise of the healing to come and their new life that awaits; always with the memory of sweet Joe alive in their hearts. Great writing my friend. I look forward to catching up with you after the summer…until then, this comes with love and hugs 🙂 ❤ xxx

    1. Sherri, it’s a delight to read your lovely comment. Thank you for reading and commenting so beautifully on the story – it’s always with trepidation that I post my stories on my blog but the comments, including yours, have given me such a boost and lift in spirits! So often marriages fail under a strain such as this in The Green Cage – even I’m overjoyed they’re surviving this terrible tragedy and miscarriage of justice and I love how you see that Joe is alive in their hearts.

      I totally understand that you’re off WP for the time being and we are all at this stage sometimes…just take care of yourself through this great stress of moving and hope life settles for you soon. hugs xx❤️😀

      1. I’m so glad all your lovely comments gave you such a boost dear Annika, you deserve it for your fine and captivating writing 🙂 The stress continues as our buyer’s are threatening to pull out…we want to sell fast and might end up living in our camper van for a few weeks as we don’t want to lose our sale while the purchase gets sorted out. Arrrgggg…..So I will disappear now but we will keep in touch so long as I can keep online while all this gets sorted out. I hope you’re having a lovely summer my friend….take care, keep writing and I’ll see you as soon as I can 🙂 ❤ xxx

  4. I apologise for my late arrival. . . I loved your way of unraveling this mystery and unfolding the emotions of this precious mother and father who truly did nothing wrong but loved and trusted each other, Annika. The end was a bit of irony but sunflowers! Against a light green background. . . Who would think of the prison walls? 🌻🌻🌻🌻 xo 💐

    1. Robin, no apology needed at all! It’s great to see you here and read your lovely comment. I think it’s easy for the father of the child to be forgotten in cases like this, so I’m glad Liam comes across well and that their love and care endured this tragedy. Short stories have to be tightly controlled, unravelling the mystery and details and I’m so glad you felt this story succeeds here! 😀 I love your flowers…to Carol, I feel! 💐

      1. Yes, I left flowers for you, the author who composed this tensely taut tale, to parents Carol, Liam and to lay upon Joe’s gravesite.
        The loving trust of Liam believing in his wife touched me throughout your story. His gesture of painting the room was innocent, his sweet attention to sweetpeas in Joe’s room and the garden thriving outdoors brought me to tears. . .
        They may need to change the room to light blue or sunny yellow. This story based on truth was perfectly and gently told, Annika.

    1. Andrea, many thanks for your great comment – it means a lot to me! 😀 Some news stories are so unusual and sad they stick in the mind and refuse to leave…this was one of them and resulted in the story!

  5. Oh my goodness, Annika, I truly enjoyed this tightly-woven, enthralling story! I truly felt her pain at the death of little Joe. So unfair! I had never heard about salt poisoning, and to read above and discover the story about the faulty baby formula was just so disturbing and made me think about things we consume that could be harmful to all of us. I really liked the relationship between the husband and wife, as a lot of times the death of a child will drive people apart, I was so glad that he was there for her. I loved also your use of colors in the story, and the incredible irony at the end. Outstanding writing, Annika!

    1. Wow! Lana, thank you so much for your wonderful & effusive comment – I can’t stop smiling! 😀😀 Right from the start, I wanted to show the grief of Liam and portray him and his sorrow within Carol’s own story. There has to be some light in the tragedy. I’m so glad you like the irony of the colours at the end which brings the story to that satisfying full circle. I know, yikes, it is frightening what is ending up in food these days…I’m reading a lot about how plastics are entering the food chain.

  6. Wow, this is powerful writing Annika. The story grabbed my heart, and undoubtedly, I’m sure the last thing Carol would have wanted to look at were green walls upon her return.
    A very sad story that has happened to many wrongfully jailed. I’ve read about a few cases. You did a wonderful job with the story, capturing emotion. 🙂

    1. I know…you have to feel for poor Carol and those newly, proudly, walls of her study!😀 It’s as if you want to rush in and repaint them for her straight away! This was an emotional subject and I hoped to capture it well without becoming mawkish. Debby, I’m so glad my story caught hold of your attention and heart – thanks for your heartfelt comment. 😀❤️

  7. Wow, a powerful story in so few words! Well done, Annika! Carol’s emotions come through vividly, and the ending, with the tie-in to the green walls of the cell, prevents the story from being too much a “happily ever after”. The sense of futility and being a prisoner in the beginning, and the sense of hope, relief, and freedom at the end (I especially love the sweet peas) gives the story a wonderful arc. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Julie, I just love how you notice the sweet peas in this story!😃 Story arcs are key to any form of fiction I feel and even more in such a tight and restricted format of the short story. The ending brings a certain resolution…but with prison and the reason she was there never far away. Many thanks for your terrific comment, Julie. It’s been a joy to share this story here and I’m overwhelmed with everyone’s comment (including yours) here…feeling humbled but very happy! 😃❤️

  8. What an amazing ability you have to tell a story, Annika! And what a heart breaker. I could picture that little boy and his poor distraught mum. So easy to get it wrong.

    1. Jo, thank you so much for your kind words! 😃 It is such a tragic course of events based on a true story – even more heartbreaking when you realise that the child could have been saved if his symptoms had been picked up and treated early on.

    1. Thank you, Barbara!😃 I think this is the kind of story that tends to stay in people’s minds…Oh, I’m sure she’ll have the courage to ask for a repaint in a few months…or perhaps even do the work herself!! I imagine that would be very therapeutic! 😃

  9. Anonymous

    Excellent piece of writing Annika, which had me hooked from the start. Neat twist at the end too (although not the one I was expecting I must admit – but I’m not saying what it was!).I will never look at the colour green in the same way again. Keep up the good work.


    1. Mike, that’s not fair! 😃 Now I’ll be wondering what you had imagined for the end! I’m glad you liked the story and the twist…I know what you mean about green – I haven’t been able to look at the colour quite the same either! 😃

  10. Such a touching account of a mother’s tragedy at losing her child. It has to be awful when a child dies before a parent. And to be jailed wrongfully as well. So much to read between the lines in this story too. I will never look at green the same. We refer to it as hospital green because many walls were painted thusly. Great descriptions and the story had me reading furiously to find out the ending. Great writing, Annika. I enjoyed the pieces. ^__^

    1. Oh no, I seem to have ruined the colour green for many!! Even I can’t look at it the same way! Mary Ann, I’m so glad this story had you hooked and ‘reading furiously’, praise indeed and now I’m smiling away! 😊 The story is tragic and I feel heartbroken for Carol and real mothers in reality who never even got to attend the child’s funeral – so cruel.

      1. Agree and there is no closure for this mother. Sometimes there is compassionate leave for prisoners to attend family funerals. Shame on the officials who denied her that right. Great story nonetheless. ^__^

  11. Sukanya Dev

    Wow. I am glad I found you. This story was so subtle, and the same time so deep. No wonder you are a great writer. I admire your work. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Lovely that you came across my blog and so glad you enjoyed the story and found it moving. Thank you so much for your lovely comment about the story and my writing (although not sure I’d ever say great!) – that’s made my day! 😃

    1. Ahh….thank you so much…now I’m smiling so at your most wonderful, kind and effusive comment! 😊😊 I must admit that once I’ve written a piece and left it for a while, I’m often surprised how it all comes together once I look at the story again! It feels like magic to me!😃❤️

        1. I love her books and have read her books. ‘Eat Love Pray’ got so much flak but the style was so open and free.Then there was the totally different ‘The Signature of All Things’ – an amazing novel and treatise almost. Many thanks for forwarding the link – deeply thought-provoking.

    1. Thank you so much, Carol! 😀 As with all stories, it’s a matter of keeping the suspense whilst still developing the characters and achieving the desired emotional outcome. I’m so glad you enjoyed this short story.

    1. Glynis, thank you so much for your kind words – I’m so glad the story kept you hooked and you enjoyed it! That feels great to know. Many thanks for your lovely comment. 😀

  12. Annika, this is a great read, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it until I knew the ending.. I so wanted to peak at the end, but didn’t. Let’s just say that I’m so relieved that you are not in prison. I don’t like sad endings. Thanks for the wonderful story.

    1. JC, I’m like that with some stories and books, desperate to know the outcome but just managing to refrain from reading ahead!😃 I wasn’t even sure of the end until I was writing it, but this seemed realistic and balanced…so glad you enjoyed the story.

  13. This is an incredible story, Annika. You’ve presented a lifetime in a few words. I was totally absorbed by what happened to Joe, Carol, and Liam as a result of the injustice of a terrible system. It reminded me, long before I got the end of the story, about a baby formula in which the salt had been removed, leaving thousands of infants brain damaged. Then the company, forbidden from marketing the formula in the US, wanted to send it to Africa to sell! Such callous disregard for life, and you brought it front and center in this story. I felt the hairs on my body tingling in warning as I read. You are really good at these short stories.

    1. Sharon, I had to read your comment twice to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood it! They were actively trying to sell milk formula abroad which they knew could have fatal consequences. Where is humanity? The law? It beggars belief. Salt is not something most of us consider until its excess or lack of becomes apparent. Thank you so much for your great comment, I’m glad the story had you hooked – you’re right, I really do enjoy writing short stories and sketching out a life in just a few words!😀❤️

  14. WOW!!!!! You had me hoping with all my might she was going to be let free. This story is so intoxicating and gripping. Honestly, just wow! You are so incredibly talented and this is masterful writing. Well done, Annika. Wow.

    1. Wow!! I’m bowled over by your wonderfully enthusiastic and effusive comment, Tanya! Thank you so much! 😀😃 It’s just great to know that the story captured you totally and thank you for your kind words about my writing – this gives me a real boost! ❤️😃

      1. So glad my comment gave you a boost and I hope it helps you realize just how talented you are! I have thought about your story several times since I read it – that is how brilliant it is! Please never, ever stop writing! 😘

    1. I know, green walls! 😀😀 Even though I like our pale green walls in the dining room I started to doubt the colour for a while after writing this! I’m so glad this caught and held your attention to the very end…and appreciate it’s not always easy reading short stories on blog posts!

  15. I have to say ‘wow’ too! What a story – wonderfully written and captured me from the get-go. Totally captured me – including the calming, green walls 🙂 Well done, Annika!

    1. Tiny, thank you so very much! 😀😀 This is a terrific comment and it means a lot to me…sometimes you start to doubt a story and to know you like the way it is written and that you were hooked from the start has me smiling and feeling more confident in the story and my abilities! 😀😀

  16. This is so powerful Annika. You dump me right there – in that cell with Turner – Carol. Feeling with her, crying with her. I can see every detail of that photo, feel the cold from the metal door.
    So it goes, relentlessly as I hold my breath and feel the heart racing.

    Every sentence is filled with suspense, grief, hope. The positive things she learnt seems unreal in the face of her loss and grief.
    Homecoming, the stunningly beautiful study her husband prepared……..perfect except the colour green. Poor Liam……but colours can be changed.

    I agree with Michael, this is a winner.

    1. Wow! Many thanks for your wonderful comment, Miriam! 😀❤️ I like that, colours can be changed…I can imagine this happening after a few weeks! I’m overwhelmed and overjoyed that Carol’s story touched you to the core and all the details played a part. I know, the grief and harrowing death of her son is all-consuming it’s hard to imagine how she moves on. I’m not sure about it being a winner, but your words (along with so many others here) have given me a real boost and confidence to think of entering this in a competition. Thank you! 😀

  17. Wow, Annika! This was a tough read, not because of your writing (it is so well penned!) but because of the child’s death and the talk of prison. I’m thankful she was released, although saddened that it took 10 years to get her there. And to read that her husband awaits her, wow, not many partners would have done so. Look how lifelike these characters are! Excellent writing.

    1. Christy, wow! 😀 Deepest thanks for your fantastic comment about the story, my writing and characterisations! I’m so glad they came across as lifelike, just what I wanted and that you were caught up in Carol’s story. It is a dreadfully tough and sad topic but I hoped to add just enough light and ‘happy’ ending without becoming saccharine.

    1. Wow! With such strong and positive words from you about the impact of the story I definitely will look out for a competition, Jill! 😀😃 I’ve generally given up on them otherwise but my confidence has been given such a boost reading yours and other comments today. Thank you so much! 😀❤️ It is a dreadfully tragic true story which I just had to capture and share in some format.

  18. Wonderful story, Annika. Phew. I think I held my breath through the whole reading. You pulled at the heartstrings, pulled me right into the emotion and the tragedy. The suspense was palpable and I’m love the way you ended it. Well done, my friend ❤

    1. I had no idea of the ending when I started this story but luckily thought of this as I was writing – a memory came back to me. When we were newly married I was often away on business and coming home after one trip my husband seemed particularly nervous and before he let me into the house he ‘warned’ me he’d painted the hall. Without consulting on colour first, so he was a brave man! Luckily it looked lovely and fresh but there was always the chance it could have gone the other way. Hence the conclusion which I’m glad works so well here. The very facts of these events are sad and depressing and I’m pleased I could convey a sense of suspense within the story. Many thanks for your comment, Diana – it means a lot me. ❤️

      1. I liked that the end was hopeful, but not fairytale perfection. Her relationship is strong, but the tragedy will ever be part of her soul. Lots of gray and that felt relatable and real to me. Once again, beautifully done, my friend.

    1. I know, ten years wrongly imprisoned will have changed her inordinately and furthermore, she will have to face her grief anew now she’s home. The ending worried me as I started this but luckily this came to me whilst writing (please see my full explanation in response to Diana’s comment)…it feels like being rescued when this happens! My heart goes out to all these women in real life and I’m pleased I managed to convey this heart-wrenching story here.

  19. I had to hold my breath while reading this and I read it too fast Annika…As I breathed and returned to the beginning to read it again, my heart felt very heavy but I could appreciate the beauty of words, I could feel the pain and panic and a tear for the innocent mother fell out of my eye. Packed with raw emotions, this story wrenches the heart out and many questions loom before me…isn’t that what makes a wonderful story? Gripping and poignant!
    I hope this is fiction and no mother ever gets indicted like this.

    1. Alas, Balroop, this is based on fact after I read about a number of women who had been charged of this type of ‘murder’ only for one woman to be exonerated many years later following intense research by her family and friends. Gradually appeals by other women charged with the same crime were heard and most released. The heart wrenching story of these women wouldn’t leave me and I couldn’t help but try and imagine their grief. I was hoping this short story would do some justice to their harrowing life changing events and from your kind words I feel reassured it does have an impact. Many thanks for your detailed and considered comment, Balroop.

    1. I know I know! They do try so hard and in some cases it’s just best not to tell them they got it a little bit wrong! 😀 I’m glad you were drawn in to the story , Kathy and many thanks for your comment.

  20. PeterR

    Let me be the first to say “Wow”. You’ve done it again. Not a word, not even a letter, wasted. Tight, compact, and bringing every emotion to the fore as they are needed. “Green is calming and restful” I look at the walls around me, called “buttermilk”, and I wonder. Then I think “no, I couldn’t write like you do” Keep it up, Annika.

    1. Thank you so much, Peter! 😀 At times I wondered if this was too tight and compact but it fitted the piece ultimately and her sense of being mentally, physically and emotionally trapped. It was fun reading up about colours and their supposed properties…my dining room is a lovely shade of light pale green and I do find that room soothing and calm!

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