Evans D. Hopkins

       A friend from Richmond pays a birthday visit, and we go to Danville’s No. 1 regional attraction–its only mall. (Actually, Danville also has a recently erected monument to the Confederate flag, and claims “status” as “The Last Capital of the Confederacy”; but that’s a long story, and I don’t want to go there today.)
       It is difficult not to marvel at the array of wares offered in the various stores. With the development of this mini-mecca of the service economy, in the heart of a sleepy mill-town (now grown to a population of 50,000), one would think the place to be thriving. But just last month Dan River Mills announced the closure of one of its main plants, and the most vibrant commerce I’ve seen in the town is the trade in Lotto tickets. Microcosmic America …
       With the day off, I drive with my friend to Petersburg, in order to personally thank one of the persons most instrumental in my release. The road we take goes past Nottoway Correctional Center, the prison where I spent the last nine years. On impulse, I turn off the highway and circle the prison, thinking of the 1,100 souls still trapped there. In my thoughts especially are the four innocent men whose cases I’ve written about, without success in getting their stories published.
       My friend remains silent until I get back on the highway. Then she says, “Don’t you think you’re tormenting yourself a bit? I mean, I know you’ve left friends there and all … “
       No, I tell her, you learn early on that it’s best not to have very many friends in prison. I try to explain to her how, since I’ve been out, I’m realizing all the more just what a waste it is to keep building these places–even though I know hundreds of men have to be in prisons of some sort.
       “Plus,” I say, “I’ve got a book to finish on the subject–and there’s no need in having freedom, if you’re afraid of using it.”