The prison cell looked like no other in the world. It had a strange antiseptic look about it. The fluorescent lights remained on at all times, and shone brightly and cheerfully in the 10 by 12 foot cell. The cinder block walls were painted a flat white, reflecting the fluorescent light into the entire room. Furniture for the room consisted of a simple cot, a sink and a toilet. The only other additions to the room were two doors with no handles on them, two smaller hatches in the wall, also with no way of opening them, and a video camera hung high in one corner that took in everything that happened in that cell.
It had been the same way, day after day, night after night for 12 years. A prisoner who awoke in the cell would have absolutely no way of telling what time it was, what day it was, or what year. That, at least, was the plan.
What they didn’t count on were the extraordinary survival skills of Harris Borden, aka Elijah Brown. As Vice President Peter Annaway, Attorney General Miriam Case-Hudson, and Supreme Court Justice Aaron McBride met in Annaway’s office, discussing the status of Harris Borden, Harris was asleep. In response to the constant light bombarding from the fluorescent lamps in the high ceiling, Harris had resorted to sleeping on the cold floor beneath the cot. It wasn’t totally dark, but it was shaded from the harsh light above. Whether it was a small indication of mercy on the part of his guards, or just the fact that they strictly followed orders, which made no reference to where Harris slept, they left him alone. And that made all the difference to Harris.
A click came from one of the smaller doors next to the sink, waking Harris. It was breakfast, he knew, and the start of another day. He lay in the shade of the cot and mentally calculated. It had been 4,115 days since he had come to this facility. Add that to the 37 days he had survived at the first prison, and he had been imprisoned 4,152 days, or 12 years, three months and four days. Since the Super Bowl had been on February 4, that made today’s date May 8. He smiled at that fact, still disturbed that somewhere along the line he had lost track of the day of the week. No matter. He was a strict believer in observing one day a week as God’s Sabbath, but here, he worshipped God every day.
Once he knew what day it was, he patted the slip of paper on the bottom of the cot and slid out onto the open floor, in full view of the camera. He looked up and waved to the camera.
“Good morning,” he said quietly, smiling slightly. Then he turned in the opposite direction and looked at the ceiling, waving again.
“Good morning, Lord,” he said. “Thank you for another day of life.” He knelt against the side of the bed, folded his hands in front of him and bowed his head.
“Gracious God, it is a privilege to serve you, no matter in which vineyard you put me. The harvest here is unknown, but I will continue to sow as well as I can, and reap when I have the opportunity. Yours is all power and glory. In all things you are Master. I love you, Lord, and praise your name….”
His prayer was said aloud and went on for close to 30 minutes. In the meantime, the black lens of the video camera recorded every word he said and every action he made.
Harris finished his prayer and then promptly fell to the floor, his hands catching his upper body as he lay with prone, facing the floor. He began doing push ups, and counted them off to himself as he did them. When he got to 100, he stopped. His body had lost much of its massive musculature, and where a clean-shaven young man with broad shoulders and powerful thighs had entered the cell 12 years before, now an older man with long beard and streaks of grey with the build of a marathon runner lived out each day. Harris ate what they gave him, exercised when he could, and did everything he could to keep himself healthy and sane. But more than a decade in solitary confinement and without seeing the sun had taken its toll on him.
He stood again and did deep knee bends, inhaling and exhaling regularly. After that, he spent time doing yoga, then running through a variety of katas he remembered from his martial arts training that the first Elijah Brown had given him. After an hour of exercise, he finally gave himself permission to eat.
He went to the small door and opened it slowly. The food had been sitting there for 90 minutes, and had gotten cold, but he didn’t care. The psychology of prison was built around taking control away from the prisoners, and Harris was determined to follow his own daily regimen, regardless of what rewards he might miss or sacrifices he might have to make. He looked at the scrambled eggs, hashed browns, cold brown toast and canned pears loaded onto the rectangular plastic tray. Again, his captors expected him to eat his food without any utensils. Harris had become so used to the notion that he smiled when he realized that he probably wouldn’t know how to use a knife and fork anymore.
Fifteen minutes later, Harris had finished his breakfast. He loaded the tray into the compartment, which closed after he dropped it in. Then he went to the toilet for his morning constitutional. Finally, he went to the sink. There was no mirror above the stainless steel sink, but the sink did have a built-in stopper. Harris washed his face, then pulled his white T-shirt off and splashed water on his chest and under his arms.
One of the things Harris missed most of all was a toothbrush. He was not allowed any writing instruments, any eating utensils, and no personal items, including soap or a toothbrush. Once a week, the door next to his cot clicked open. Harris took off all of his clothes, and was provided the luxury of a cold shower with soap. The shower was automated, and he was allowed ten minutes to rinse, lather up, then rise again. He tried to be meticulous in cleaning his face and hair, but the shower clicked off twice in the first few months when he had taken too long. He spent the next week itching from the residual soap that he was unable to rinse off in time.
Once a month, Harris was somehow drugged while he was asleep. He suspected that they gassed him so he would not wake up. He woke up later, with fresh clothes, trimmed hair and beard, and his teeth cleaned. As much as he had always hated the dentist, he now longed for the personal contact that had come in the past. As it was, he had not seen another living person in more than 12 years.
But Harris realized early on that he was not alone. Although his captors didn’t want him in contact with other human beings, they had made one mistake. He did not have the luxury of hearing another person’s voice or seeing their face. But he knew that other people saw his face and heard his voice. He saw the unblinking camera in the corner of the room, and knew that he had an audience. And for 12 years, he had played to that captive audience.
Harris paused after washing and bowed his head over the sink. His captors probably thought that he was praying again; heaven knows he did that enough each day. But what he was doing was giving himself the luxury of looking in the only mirror that he had. He looked down into the water of the sink. Looking back at him was an old, grey man who was only a shadow of the man who had led a church as a pastor, who had challenged an international corporation, who had saved hundreds from wasted lives as homeless, gang bangers, or prostitutes, and who had stood as God’s champion before the mighty of hell itself.
He stared for a long minute, then shook his head.
“Enough self pity,” he whispered to himself. He knew that he had no privacy, that he was always watched. But he embraced the constant surveillance for what it was; a chance to be a 24 hour a day witness to those who observed him.
“Where did we leave off?” he said aloud, looking directly at the camera. “Ah yes, we were talking about Elijah.
“In case you missed our sermon yesterday, Elijah was a righteous man called by God to speak to the king and queen of that time. They were wicked and God told them that he would withhold his blessing of rain. Seven years went by without rain, and the land suffered. Finally, God told him to meet the king and his wicked priests on the top of Mount Carmel. There God demonstrated that all power was his, by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice and altar than had been erected there, while Baal’s forces were unable to do the same.
“You would think that after seven years of God taking care of Elijah, keeping him safe and fed, while others died from lack of water and food, that he would trust God. You would think that after Elijah challenged the king and all the powerful priests of Baal that he would depend on God. You’d think that after Elijah saw fire fall down from heaven, sent from God himself that he would know that the Master would take care of things.
“But get your Bibles out. Take a look at First Kings, chapter 19.” Harris stood as if he held a Bible in his hand, held out in front of him. In his mind, he could see the Bible there, the old black NIV version that he always used to preach from. And as he saw it, he was able to quote from it, word for word:
“Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, ‘May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.’ Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.”
Harris paused and lowered his invisible Bible.
“Have you ever been afraid, truly afraid?” he asked the camera in the corner of the room. “I know I have. And the funny thing about fear is that it isn’t logical, it isn’t rational, it’s not even predictable. A man who has survived hurricanes and great battles without a whimper can be brought to his knees simply by having the lights go out. We all have our weakness, and we often fall victim to that weakness. Trust me, I have my own weaknesses, and they are many.”
His voice trailed off as Harris was caught in memories of things he had done and wished that he had done. Then he realized that he had an audience and continued.
“And so Elijah ran, and he ran, and he ran. And God came to him and told him, verse 11:
The LORD said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’
“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
“Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”
Harris paused and looked up, again remembering.
“Years ago, I was impressed to ask God to use me in a special way. In my own ignorance, I didn’t realize that He was already using me. I just didn’t see it. It wasn’t until two things happened that I came to realize what God wanted me to do.
“First, I was called by God. Not in a powerful wind that tore mountains apart. Not in an earthquake or a fire. But in a gentle whisper. God came to me—He continues to come to me—in a gentle whisper.”
Harris’ mind went back to his first prison experience when he was thrown in The Hole for 47 days. It was there that he first really heard God’s voice, and he learned that it was only through complete dependence on Him that he would be able to stand as God’s Champion.
“Second, it was there in prison that I became Elijah Brown. I helped someone else, and in return, he helped me. My new name came with an identity. I was no longer Harris Borden, pastor who couldn’t preach, didn’t believe, and was filled with doubt. I was Elijah—Elijah Brown. And by taking that name, I took the responsibility that comes with it.
“God doesn’t come to all of us the same way. But He does come to us. And whether He blows us over like a mighty wind, shakes us up like an earthquake, fills us with fire or just whispers to us in a very personal way, He will talk to us. All we have to listen. No, that’s not all we have to do. But that’s a good start.”
The sermon went on for hours. Harris Borden continued to preach to his invisible congregation, just as he had done for the past 12 years. And he was no longer filled with doubt, pulled by responsibilities, or distracted by other duties. His sermon was all he had, and he put all of himself into it.
Finally, spent, Harris stopped. The hatch clicked, signaling that lunch had arrived. Harris looked again at the camera.
“Let’s end this service with a rousing version of “Amazing Grace,” then I will close with prayer.”
Harris finished the service and ate his lunch, once again praying over it. The plastic tray held mashed potatoes, a nondescript meat patty of some sort, and green beans. He ate it with gusto, then put the tray back into the door, which clicked closed after him. Then Harris went through his physical exercises again. Finally it was time for a nap. Harris would return to his preaching in the afternoon, but the physical exercise and the preaching called for him to take a rest before he began his next service.
He lay flat on the floor and slid his thin body under the cot. The camera lens recorded that he followed the routine that he had followed every day of his life for the past 12 years. What they couldn’t see—or know—was what was happening under the safety of the cot.
For Harris didn’t have the luxury of a toothbrush, a pencil or even a fork to eat with. But he did have one treasure that his captors didn’t know about. Had they known, he was sure he would lose it.
On the bottom of the mattress, tucked between the wires that supported it, was a photograph of a young boy. It was Harris Borden Jr. He had never met his son, at least not in person. But he spent every private moment looking into his eyes, following the curve of his chin and his ears, and wondering at his curly hair.
It was the last gift anyone had ever given him. It was a present from his wife, Katya. It was all he had of a life that existed long ago and far away.
Above him, the black lens of the video camera recorded an empty cell, with only the outline of a lone, thin prisoner quietly lying beneath his single cot.