Keith Sanders was awarded First Place in Drama in the 2016 Prison Writing Contest.
The setting is a deathwatch cell that contains only a bunk, sink, and toilet. A door with a small opening is stage left.
(Note on dialogue: A slash (/) indicates overlapping dialogue; an em dash (—) indicates interrupted dialogue.)
ACT I, Scene 1
Lights come up on Roy, a condemned man in his 30s, lying on his back on the bunk. The sound of keys jangle outside and the door opens. A middle-aged priest, Silva, enters. Pause. Silva clears his throat, but Roy stares at the ceiling, ignoring him.
Silva: Hello, Roy. I hope I didn’t wake you. I’m Father Silva, your facilitator. If there’s anything you need, spiritual or otherwise, please don’t hesitate to ask. (Pause; he looks around the cell) Every time I come in here I’m reminded of how our souls must feel. Being confined in our bodies and waiting, yearning to be set free. How unbearable and insufferable it can all seem to be. I imagine that it’s enough to sometimes make us forget the liberating power of God’s grace and mercy. (Pause) Would you like for me to leave?
Roy sits up and looks at Silva, then gets off the bunk. Roy paces the cell.
Roy: What do you want?
Silva: Nothing. Except to help you through this. My job is to ease this burden of yours as best I can and—
Roy: What if I don’t need your help.
Silva sits down on the edge of the bunk.
Silva: I could just sit here with you then. I can be still and quiet if need be.
Roy: I want you to leave.
Silva: Alright, Roy. (He gets up) May I ask why?
Roy: Because I’m not going to make very good company, okay?
Silva: They tell me you refused the last meal.
Roy: (As he stops pacing) So that’s why you’re here. They sent / you down here to—
Silva: What? No. No, I’m not here to—I only mentioned it because I thought—well, it struck me as rather unusual. I’ve been a facilitator here for over six years and I don’t recall anyone ever doing that. Most look forward to it. It’s only a small gesture, I know, but—well, in my experience, I’ve found that sometimes the smallest of things can be the most comforting, / especially during times of—
Roy: (As he crosses to the bunk and sits down) Leave. Go on. Get out of here.
Silva: So you’re refusing me, too?
Roy: I’m not refusing you, Father.
Silva: (Crossing to Roy) Then why do you want me to leave?
Roy: (Getting up and crossing past Silva) Because I want you to stay here with me. That’s why.
Silva: I don’t understand. How can you—
Roy: I don’t deserve your— (Short pause; more calmly and with effort to explain himself) I don’t deserve to be in your presence, Father. Or the comfort you’re offering me. I desperately need you right now, but I can’t—Father, I cannot allow myself to accept your help. I don’t deserve you, or a last meal, or anything except what’s coming to me for what I did. That’s the only thing I deserve. And nothing else.
Silva: You deserve forgiveness and—
Roy: I took another person’s life. Forgiveness won’t bring her back.
Silva: And your death will?
Roy: So you don’t think I should be punished for what I did?
Silva: I didn’t say that, Roy. But I don’t believe that punishment should be the end of things, especially when the lives, and souls, of people are at stake.
Roy: What should happen to me then? Tell me, Father.
Silva: Ask me what will happen to your soul, and I can answer that with confidence. But not—all I can say is that whatever the answer is, I know that taking your life isn’t it.
Roy: She’s gone because of me.
Silva: From my understanding of what happened, you didn’t mean to take her life. And that makes all the difference in how—
Roy: But I took it all the same. And nothing’s going to change the fact that I am a horrible human being for what I did.
Roy sits down and Silva joins him.
Silva: Let me ask you something. If you could go back in time and—if there’s some way to go back and put yourself in that situation again, would you do the same thing? Would you still do it, Roy?
Roy: No, I wouldn’t.
Silva: You’d think of some way to avoid it? To do something, anything else, to prevent what happened?
Silva: Then you must understand that—don’t you see, Roy? That means there is good in you / and that—
Roy: (Getting up) Don’t say that. There’s nothing good about me at all.
Silva: (Getting up) A decent person wouldn’t go back and do the same terrible thing again, Roy. You must know that.
Roy: (Not looking at Silva) I want you to go now. You’re making things—just get out of here. (Pause; pleading) You said that you’d leave if I wanted you to.
Silva: Alright, Roy. I’ll go. But if you want to talk again later, or anything else, tell the guard outside. He’ll know where to find me.
Pause. Silva crosses to the door and speaks through the opening. The door opens. Silva looks back at Roy, then exits. The door closes. Fade to black.
ACT I, Scene 2
Lights come up on Roy lying on the bunk. The door opens and a guard enters with Silva following.
Guard: It’s time, chief. (Roy gets off the bunk; Silva crosses to Roy and extends his hand; short pause) The warden’s got us on a tight schedule, Padre. So if you don’t mind—
Roy finally shakes Silva’s hand. The guard steps up and takes Roy by the arm, leading him out of the cell. Silva follows and exits. There is a short interval, then the lights go out, quickly and with finality. Curtain.
ACT II, Scene 1
Curtain comes up. There are two chairs beside the bunk, along with several pieces of medical equipment with wires attached to Roy, who lies on the bunk with a sheet pulled over him, exposing his head and arms. The door opens and a nurse enters. She busies herself with checking Roy, then carefully removes all the wires from Roy. As she does this, a much older Silva enters.
Silva: How is he?
Nurse: Stable. (Silva crosses to them; short pause) Did you know him, Father? From before, I mean.
Silva: Yes. In a way. I was his facilitator. (Short pause) He actually welcomed his—well, his sentence at the time.
Nurse: The guilty ones usually do in the end. Pardon me, Father. / I didn’t mean to—
Silva: No, no. It’s quite alright. This can be a rather difficult place to—well, it’s hard to see the brighter side of things in here. All the silver linings are so tarnished and gray. But I believe that if you scratch deep enough, you’ll still find some silver underneath.
Nurse: I suppose it’s your job to find the good in things.
Silva: I like to think it’s all of our jobs. When do you think I’ll be able to speak with him?
Nurse: In about an hour. Maybe two. (As she pushes the medical equipment to the exit) Are you staying?
Silva: Yes, I believe that I will. For a moment. (As he pulls up a chair and sits down next to Roy) What do you think he’ll—what’s he going to think when he opens his eyes and sees us? He’s not going to be prepared for any of this. But who would be?
Nurse: I guess that depends on when you were born, Father.
The nurse exits. Silva contemplates Roy for a long moment, then takes his hand and bows his head, praying. Silva finishes and gets up, lingering near Roy before crossing to exit. Fade to black.
ACT II, Scene 2
Lights come up on Roy lying on the bunk. His eyes open suddenly and he looks around wildly. Awkwardly, he swings his legs over the bunk, stands up, and crumbles to the floor. Roy drags himself to the wall stage right and sits up. Once he feels strong enough, Roy struggles back up. With extreme effort, he shuffle-walks across the cell to the door. He stands in front of the door a moment before trying to open it; it is locked. Roy puts his back to the door and slides down to sit on the floor. Long pause.
Roy: So this is what hell is like. (Looking around the cell) I shouldn’t be surprised. One prison cell’s just as good as another, even down here. (As he struggles to stand up) No wonder they have them back in the land of the living. Their very own hell on earth. (He shuffle-walks back across the cell) How did he—what was his name? (Thinking) Silva. Father Silva. He said that this is how your soul must feel. Being trapped inside the body and— (He sits down on the bunk, exhausted) he was right. My soul’s trapped here. In hell’s version of—hell’s nothing but a prison for the soul then. (As he lies down) So be it.
Fade to black.
ACT II, Scene 3
Lights come up on Roy walking around the cell, trying to re-learn how to use his legs.
Roy: I’m hungry, but not hungry—like I’m somewhere in between. Another way to torment me? I can’t remember the last time I ate anyway, so—oh. There’s something else for you, Roy: time. Does it even exist here? So far, I can’t say that one day is the same as any other because it hasn’t been a day yet. Or has it? Time, no time; hungry, not hungry; alive, not alive. (He stops) This is how I felt. Before. (Thinking) If I couldn’t hear myself think, I’d doubt my own existence, or whatever this is— (Keys jangle outside the door, then it opens and Silva enters; pause as they both look at each other) Who—what are you doing here? (Noticing Silva’s collar) They let you wear that down here? Did you—what did you do? It had to be bad or else— (He stares at Silva, who crosses to a chair and sits down) Are you even real?
Silva: (Chuckling) Well, I suppose I am. Forgive me, Roy. I had anticipated many questions, / but not—
Roy: Who are you? How do you know my name?
Silva: You don’t recognize me? Perhaps I’m not as real as—I’m Father Silva, Roy. I was your facilitator when—well, before all this. And I’m your facilitator now.
Roy: (After thinking for a moment) You’re here as part of my punishment.
Silva: In a manner of speaking. But not—no, wait. I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. I need to explain some things first / before we—
Roy: You’re here with me in hell. To torment me.
Silva: I am not here to torment you. And you’re not in—this is the same holding cell. Do you remember it? / Right before your sentence was carried out.
Roy: No, wait. Hold on a—stop. My sentence? What’re you saying? You mean that something went wrong with / the—you mean that I’m still alive?
Silva: No, not with—well, yes. I’m sorry, Roy, / but this is—
Roy: I’m still alive?!
Silva: Still, no. Alive, yes.
Roy: So this isn’t—I didn’t— (He sits down in a chair, thinks for a moment, and gets up) When is the next one scheduled?
Silva: Pardon? Oh, no. That’s—there isn’t going to be a next one, Roy.
Roy: What are you talking about? They messed up my execution somehow and—and that’s why I’m still here. So there has to be another date set. When is it?
Silva: The death penalty was abolished over twenty-five years ago.
Roy: So you are here to torment me then.
Silva: Your sentence was carried out on June 7, 2014 and you were—well, transitioned is how they say it, two days ago. February 3, 2051.
Roy: The year 2051?!
Silva: You’re going to have to try to understand that everything is different now. The world has moved on quite a bit since you were last with us. I know this is going to be difficult for you at first, but you must listen to me carefully and find some way to / understand what I’m—
Roy: Hold on a sec. Just—stop, okay? Stop talking and let me— (He paces the cell, thinking; at one point, he pushes against the cell door, then resumes pacing) The execution went—they didn’t botch it. It happened and I—what you’re saying is that I was executed and—and I died. But I’m alive. And that means I came back to—no. I was brought back to life. Somehow. In the year 2051.
Silva: That is correct.
Roy: (As he stops in front of Silva) How do I know that I’m not imagining all this? That I really am dead and in some kind of hell and you’re just here to punish and torment me for what I did? How do I know if this is even real?
Silva: Because I wouldn’t lie to you, Roy.
Roy: You wouldn’t lie to—I don’t even know who you are. I’ve never met you before.
Silva: You do know me. I am Father Silva. I was here with / you when—
Roy: You’re not the same Father Silva who—you can’t be.
Silva: I’ve aged quite a bit since you saw me last. It’s been almost thirty-seven years, Roy, and I wasn’t a young man when we first met, either. But I am the same person. Remember? I asked you why you refused your last meal and you said that you didn’t deserve it. Or my presence, if I recall correctly. (Pause; Roy reaches out uncertainly and Silva takes his hand, then guides Roy to sit down on the bunk) You can do this.
Roy: (As he sits down) This can’t be happening. I don’t—but why are you here?
Silva: Because they want the same facilitator for both processes, if at all possible. The familiarity is supposed to ease the transition. But if you ask me, I think this is why the good Lord saw fit to keep me alive all these years. To help you through this.
Roy: But I don’t know what this is, Father.
Silva: You’re going to have to bear with me. I haven’t done this before and—well, I’m a man of God, not science. Religion is my home and the technology that made this possible is like a foreign country to me. So I won’t be able to explain everything in detail. What I can tell you is that there have been some remarkable advances since you left us. For instance, meat doesn’t—I mean, things like chicken and beef, they don’t come from animals anymore. It’s grown, I think, and—I don’t know all the particulars, but it does taste the same. You can’t tell the difference at all and—forgive me, Roy. The older I get, the looser my tongue gets. To the matter at hand. People can be—they can be transitioned now. Not like—well, Jesus. But I think it all has something to do with cloning. I do recall that there was quite a bit of argument about it in the beginning. Quite contentious and not very pleasant, especially during the riots and—
Roy: You’re telling me that I’ve been resurrected.
Silva: That’s the long and short of it. Yes.
Roy: Why? You said they don’t have the death penalty anymore. So why was I brought back? To serve out a life sentence? And then—are you telling me that I’m going to grow old in prison and die and then—like what? Be brought back again and again?
Silva: No, Roy. Though there were some people in favor of that a few years back as a more humane way of punishment.
Roy: They wanted it to continue—you mean they didn’t want the punishment to ever stop?
Silva: That was the idea. Unfortunately, some things in this world haven’t changed.
Roy: Then why did the State resurrect me?
Silva: It wasn’t the State, Roy.
Roy: (Getting up) Then who? I don’t understand. I’m still in a prison cell, right?
Silva: Several years ago—I want to say about twenty—the Supreme Court ruled that victims have the right to an intervention with those who committed crimes against them. Back then, the victims’ rights advocates had an enormous influence on the criminal justice system and—well, that’s neither here nor there. What’s important is that once you’ve recovered from your transition, you will be required to participate in a victim’s intervention program. There are three phases. The first phase includes an interview with your victim to discuss her / intervention plan. Then—
Roy: Wait. Stop—back up. Did you say the—my victim? I’m going to meet with my—you can’t be serious.
Silva: Well, when the technology was finally approved for use, it was decided—by whom I’m not quite sure—that the first people to be transitioned would be the victims of violent crime. The ones who lost their lives, I mean. They’ve since expanded it to other groups and—well, I’m not sure who all exactly. It does seem that more and more people are coming back these days. Anyway, to answer your question—yes. Carmen was transitioned, I want to say—eighteen, nineteen years ago. You’ll have to ask her. But I do know that when she turned twenty-four and became eligible for the victims’ intervention program, she applied and was granted one. Now, interventions consist of the victim interacting with their perpetrator with the goal of providing closure for the victim. The victim—well, Carmen, I mean—she gets the opportunity to confront you and begin the process of healing. Also, she can interact with you in any way that helps her achieve closure—short of physical violence, that is—which means that Carmen will be asking questions about you, the crime, your feelings, whether you’re remorseful, things of that nature. Carmen told me how she wants the intervention process to proceed, but I’m not at liberty to disclose that. And—well, here we are. You’ll be informed of the protocols soon enough when Carmen conducts the interview.
Roy paces the cell. Pause.
Silva: Yes. A very nice woman. Pleasant and—no, I’m not supposed to divulge that either. What I can tell you, though, is that she’s looking forward to finally meeting you.
Roy: And if I don’t want to meet her What if I don’t want to participate in this intervention or whatever?
Silva: Well, you cannot opt out. I’m afraid that’s not an option—so I was informed. But—I mean, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to participate, Roy. This is your chance / to redeem yourself and—
Roy: If you’re really the Father Silva from before, then you know that I don’t deserve redemption or—I don’t even deserve to be alive right now.
Silva: I know that’s what you said, but—
Roy: Nothing’s changed, Father. No matter how much the world has—or how many times they bring me back.
Silva: You don’t believe that Carmen deserves closure then?
Roy: I didn’t—I am glad that she’s alive, Father. I’m very happy that they’ve found some way to give back what I took from her. I hope that she has a wonderful life. But giving her life back won’t undo what I did.
Silva: No, it won’t. (He gets up) But you need to understand that this isn’t about you, Roy. At least not entirely. As a victim, the intervention serves Carmen and her need for closure. And if you don’t cooperate, then you’ll be taking that away from her, too. She needs closure as much as you do, Roy. This is your chance to find true closure for yourself, not just another death. It’s your chance to show her that you didn’t mean to take her life—to show her who you really are: the good, decent person I know you to be.
Roy: I’m not good nor decent, Father. Not after what I did to her. It doesn’t / matter how you—
Silva: Not for what you did, but for what you can do, my son. From this day forward. For Carmen. For yourself. (Roy crosses to the bunk and sits down; pause) I’m sorry that you don’t think you’re a good person, Roy, and that you don’t deserve this chance at redemption and closure. You can make the intervention as difficult for yourself as you want, but please remember that you’ll only be hurting Carmen if you do so. But I know that you don’t want to do that. (As he crosses to the door) You still have a couple of days left to recover from your transition. I sincerely hope that you will look into your heart and consider how your actions in all this will affect Carmen. Pray, Roy, and think hard about what is in front of you. Think about Carmen.
Silva speaks into the door’s opening. The door opens and Silva exits. The door closes. Long pause. Roy gets off the bunk, kneels down in front of it, and begins praying, as a child would do with his hands and head on the bunk. Fade to black.
ACT II, Scene 4
Lights come up on Roy pacing the cell nervously. When he hears keys jangle at the door outside, Roy crosses to the bunk and sits down as the door opens. Silva enters and Roy stands up.
Roy: Where is she? I thought today / was—
Silva: Yes, yes. She’ll be here shortly. So you’re excited about finally meeting her. I’m happy / to see that you—
Roy: I—no, Father. I just want to get this over with.
Silva: (As Roy sits down on the bunk) We’ve gone over this, Roy. You said that you weren’t going to make this difficult for Carmen.
Roy: I’m not, okay? I want this to go as smoothly as everyone else.
Roy: But the quicker we get through with this, the quicker she can get on with her life and forget about me. Forget that I even exist.
Silva: (As he sits down in a chair) Didn’t I explain to you that interventions can sometimes take years to process? Did I fail to discuss how—
Roy: No, Father. You’ve been talking my ears off for the last two days about the intervention process and—I know what to expect. Sort of. But—I really don’t think she’s going to want to drag this out too long. I don’t know how anyone would.
Silva: Carmen knows what she’s doing. The screening process / is rigorous and—
Roy: (Getting up to pace) I know, I know. It’s just that—
Roy stops as Carmen, a young woman in her twenties, enters. Pause. Silva stands up.
Carmen: Hello, Roy. Awkward, right? If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t know what to expect either. Father Silva prepared me as best he could, but there’s nothing like the actual moment. (Short pause; to Silva) Should I—
Silva: (Crossing to Roy, who has been staring at Carmen) No, no, my dear.(As he guides Roy to the bunk) I think he might be rather a bit overwhelmed. (To Roy, as Roy sits down on the bunk) Take your time, Roy. (Carmen crosses and takes a chair, as does Silva.)
Carmen: (To Roy) We can begin whenever you are ready. I don’t want to pressure / you into—
Roy: (Blurting out) Why are you doing this?
Carmen: You haven’t told him?
Silva: Only about you wanting closure.
Roy: I mean, why are you being so—so nice to me?
Carmen: (With good-natured humor) Why do you think I am, Roy?
Roy: I don’t know.
Carmen: I think you do. The question you are really struggling with is why should I be treating you this way. Correct?
Roy: Nobody in their right mind would.
Carmen: (Happily, to Silva) See? Everyone thinks that. (To Roy) The good Father here has explained your reluctance to participate in my intervention. So let me begin by telling you why I made the decision to initiate this intervention with you. I’m doing it because— (She looks at Silva, who nods; to Roy) Because I forgive you, Roy.
Carmen: Because I’m alive. You’re alive. For whatever reason, we both have been given another chance to live and do things we never have been able to do before. I didn’t ask to be transitioned, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be grateful for having my life back. We get to live again!
Roy: I don’t deserve a second chance. (Getting up) Or your forgiveness.
Carmen: (To Silva) You weren’t exaggerating.
Silva: (As Carmen gets up and crosses to Roy) He’s focused too much on the past.
Carmen: Okay, Roy. Tell me why you think you don’t deserve my forgiveness.
Roy: Because I took your life.
Carmen: But that’s what I’m forgiving you for.
Roy: So that just makes everything right then? People can take the lives of others, receive forgiveness, and then everyone can go their separate ways? Live happily / ever after?
Silva clears his throat but Carmen motions to him that it is okay.
Carmen: This is good for him, Father. (To Roy) Do I think what you did to me was right? No. Of course not. But you can’t define your entire life by one bad, horrible act, Roy. Tell me something. How many other lives have you taken? (Short pause) How many?
Carmen: You think it’s wrong to destroy a life. Correct?
Carmen: Then how can you destroy another life then? Where’s the good in answering the destruction of one life with the destruction of another?
Roy: But I haven’t taken another—
Carmen: Yes, you have, Roy. Yours. (Short pause) If you truly believe that destroying life is wrong, then you must think of your own as well. That’s why forgiveness is so important. To limit the destruction. To ensure that more lives aren’t destroyed.
Roy: (As he crosses to the bunk and sits down) Then closure is impossible.
Carmen: Forgiveness is closure, Roy.
Roy: And punishment?
Carmen: (re: the cell) And this isn’t? Punishment isn’t closure. It can’t be because it continues the cycle of destruction. Closure, by definition, stops this cycle.
Silva: Carmen is trying to save your life, Roy.
Roy: It’s not worth saving.
Silva: But you of all people should understand the value of life. You wouldn’t believe that you don’t deserve forgiveness and a second chance otherwise. If you didn’t you wouldn’t want to be punished. (Pause. Carmen gets up and motions to Silva.)
Carmen: (As she helps Silva out of his chair) We can finish the interview tomorrow. (To Roy) Or the next day. You can take all the time you need. There’s no reason to rush this.
Roy: Can I ask you something?
Carmen: Of course.
Roy: What happens afterwards? Once the intervention is finished.
Carmen: That depends.
Roy: On what?
Carmen looks at Silva, who shrugs as if to say, “It’s up to you.”
Carmen: Whether or not I apply for your release.
Roy: My release?
Carmen: That’s one possibility.
Carmen: Don’t say anything now. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
Silva: There’s still a long road ahead of you. Ahead of all of us.
Short pause. Carmen leads Silva towards the door.
Carmen: We’ll see you tomorrow. Are you comfortable with that?
Roy nods. Silva speaks through the door’s opening and the door opens. Roy gets up.
Roy: Carmen. (Carmen stops) I— (Short pause) Thank you.
Carmen: No, Roy. Thank you.
Carmen exits. Silva turns back to Roy.
Silva: Sleep well.
Silva exits. Roy sits down on the bunk.