If you’ve read any of my books, you’ve probably noticed my love for sports. Not that any story spotlights a specific athlete or team, but there are references in every novel. Breadcrumbs, as Amity Davenport would call them.
Consider the Dragonfly has a prosthetic leg baseball game that takes place in the terminal unit of a prison hospital where one of the characters, Smoke, is a diehard Atlanta Braves fan. The villain in With Arms Unbound, Lance Broxson, a brutal and corrupt guard at a Panhandle correctional facility, was a former small-town high school quarterback. Izzy, one of the protagonists in On the Shoulders of Giants, played basketball as a teenager before being sent to the notorious Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.
There are other references in my other books as well. Some were intentional, others were Freudian slips that bubbled up out of my subconscious; a product of sitting in prison dayrooms watching Sunday NFL triple headers for most of my life. A major example of this is in my fourth novel, Sticks & Stones. It wasn’t until after the book was published that I realized the lead character shared his name with a middle linebacker for a professional football team. Oops.
Even the Miranda Rights series, which closely examines the female journey through the Florida Department of Corrections, is not immune. Miranda’s bipolar father, who is also a compulsive gambler, once worked on a pit crew at Pensacola’s own Snowball Derby auto race. The crafty character of Daphne “Throkkie” Throckmorton shares a similar name with a New Orleans Saints offensive lineman.
These are just a few examples. There are other nods, both subtle and overt, that I’ve forgotten over the last twelve years of my incarcerated writing life. But there is one in particular that stands out. It is in my latest novel, The Weight of Entanglement. It occurs in an exchange between Miranda McGuire and the character Tasha Pitts. It takes place in the caged dog-run that serves as the recreational area for the disciplinary confinement unit at Lowell Women’s Annex. This scene pays homage to one of the most dominate—and most fascinating—Escambia County sports teams of all time: the Pensacola Power.
“Your name’s Miranda, ain’t it?”
She turned back to Tasha. “Mm hmm.”
“My old bunkie had a lot to say about you before she left.”
“She got out?”
“Yesterday,” said Tasha. “But I’m not surprised she didn’t stop by your flap to say goodbye.”
Miranda shrugged. “I think she was mad at me because I didn’t want to move into her cell.”
“I think she had a thing for you.”
Tasha laughed. “Where are you from, girl?”
“Shut the fuck up!” Tasha screamed.
The napping guard opened her eyes. “Hey Pitts. Watch your mouth. Unless you want to go back to your cell.”
“My bad.” She held up her hands. Then, low enough for only Miranda to hear, “I forgot we’re in preschool.”
Crazy Train passed again, mumbling to herself. It occurred to Miranda that the only difference between her own inner narrator and the rambling dialogue of the woman with sores on her face was the fact that she confined those conversations to her head and called it thinking. Crazy Train either lacked the ability or the desire to do the same.
“What side of town are you from?” said Tasha.
“Ferry Pass.” Miranda scratched her nose. “Olive Road.”
“I’m from Ensley!” She slapped the fence. “Born and raised. Tasha Prime Time Pitts? You ain’t ever heard of me?”
“Should I?” said Miranda.
“How old are you?”
“I just turned twenty last month.”
“Twenty? Shit, I got a son older than you.”
“I have a son too,” Miranda said quietly.
“Well, way back in 2001, two years after I had Cedric, I heard on the radio that they were holding tryouts for an all-women’s football team. The Pensacola Power. Remember that?”
Miranda shook her head. “Flag football?”
“Hell nah! We were hittin’ out there. Shoulder pads, helmets, cleats. Just like on TV.”
“I’ve never heard of it. The Pensacola Power?”
“Yeah, they’re called the Riptide now, or some shit like that, but back when I was playing, it was the Power. And we ran shit. Our first season, we went to the championship after going undefeated. Thousands of people were showing up at our games. Dan Shugart was talkin’ about us on Channel 3 News. I can’t believe you don’t remember.”
“My dad might,” said Miranda.
If he’s still alive, said her inner narrator.
“I was only a baby in 2001.”
“Well, we were kickin’ ass all the way up to 2008, the year I came to prison. We didn’t even lose a regular season game until 2006. We just couldn’t win the big one, couldn’t get past Detroit. They beat us once in the semis and twice in the championship. Those were some tough bitches. I gotta give it to them. Mean as hell too. Every single one of them looked like Dixie.” She looked beyond Miranda and shouted, “Yeah, I’m talking about your big ass! You’re lucky we ain’t got a chessboard out here.”
“That’s strike two, Pitts,” said the guard.
“What’d I say? Ass?” Tasha was incredulous. “Ass ain’t no bad word. It’s in the Bible.”
Tasha rolled her eyes. “Anyway, I was starting left cornerback for all those teams. I had 37 interceptions in my career, 9 returned for touchdowns. Most in the NWFA. Those records probably still stand.”
For some reason she thought of Nebraska Jackson, her fellow news junkie from the county jail who peed standing up. She would have made a good football player. “What’s the NWFA? Northwest Florida . . .”
“Ain’t no Northwest Florida,” Tasha quickly corrected. “National . . . National Women’s Football Association.”
“Impressive,” said Miranda.
“Yeah, I was pretty good.” Her eyes went middle distance, somewhere over the razor wire. “But my son, Cedric? That boy is next level. Strong enough to jam wide receivers at the line, can flip his hips and bail as quick as any corner in college football, ball hawk instincts, perfect technique, and unlike his momma, he can hit. I was a lazy tackler. Ced has been layin’ wood since he played for the Salvation Army on Q Street. As a junior at Auburn, PFW’s draft guide ranked him as the number two corner in the nation. Mel Kiper called him a generational talent.”
“I have no idea what you just said.”
Tasha blinked, grinned, came back. “Huh? Oh, my bad. I always get carried away when I talk about my son.”
“I know how you feel.” Miranda thought of Cameron. She wondered what potential was waiting to be maximized in her little boy. The oak sleeps in the acorn. “And you should be proud. Auburn University. That’s a massive accomplishment.”
“Yeah, well, he’s fuckin’ up now. Back-to-back dirty urines for weed, then he punched a teammate in the face on the sideline during the spring game. Got kicked off the team. Now they talkin’ about cancelling the rest of the season because of Covid.”
“I’m sorry,” said Miranda.
She looked up at the white sky. “He’ll be all right. Ced’s a survivor. His agent said he could still go as high as the third round in next year’s draft. But he was gonna be a top twenty pick. Maybe top ten. His knucklehead decisions are costing us millions of dollars. The plan was for him to use his signing bonus to get me a real attorney.”
“You’ve got a lot of time?”
“Life.” Her face hardened. “For killing his no-good daddy. It should have been a stand your ground case. I got railroaded.”
It was strange how these conversations were now commonplace in her world. A year ago the idea of meeting a murderer would have been terrifying, but at this point every cellmate she had and most of the friends she made were lifers. She thought of Nebraska again, and the stories about her mother being abused.
“Do you know Nebraska Jackson?”
The smooth skin of her brow knotted as she searched Miranda’s face. “Yeah, I know Brass. Everybody in Pensacola knows that bull dagger. Poisonous ass.”
“Poisonous? What do you mean?”
“She’s jumping on all those people’s cases in the county. Bianca Bradshaw, Kim Robinson. Now they’re saying she’s gonna testify against that little girl on the sixth floor who killed her baby. What’s her name? She’s always in the newspaper. Amity something.”
“Davenport,” Miranda said softly.
“Yeah, that’s it.” Tasha shook her head in disgust. “Amity Davenport.”