How could you not tell me you had cancer?” I demanded. I figured she’d feel guilty, but Mommy wasn’t having it.

“It’s not your business,” she said firmly. “You were all the way in Memphis. There’s nothing you could have done. I wanted to get through it and tell you after I was cancer-free.”

“But what if you didn’t make it?” I cried. I could barely choke out the words. “What if all the sudden you were just gone. Do you know what that would’ve done to me?”

“Toia, I wasn’t trying to hurt you.” Mommy’s voice was gentle now. “All I wanted was to protect you. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

I hung up the phone that day with a new resolve. I didn’t care how easy life was in Memphis. The idea that I wanted to stay here just to keep on doing nothing seemed laughable to me now. Somehow, I would get back to Nashville. I would finish my degree, make Mommy proud, and fight with everything in me to get back home to her. I had come too close to living without her too many times. There was no way I could let that happen without trying everything in my power to be free and reunited with her. I couldn’t spend the rest of my life clinging to moments with her in the visitation gallery. I didn’t want my mother to leave this earth thinking she had failed me. More than anything, I wanted to look her in the eyes and see that she knew, for once, that I was going to be okay.

When you’re an inmate, you don’t just get to demand a transfer to another facility. You can try, but you should prepare yourself to be laughed out of the room. I was far from the only person to swear I would return to Nashville after being moved to Memphis. For most people, that wasn’t even a remote possibility. But I was confident I wasn’t most people.

Within days of learning about Mommy’s cancer, one of the assistant commissioners just happened to visit the Memphis prison. He was also one of the men who met with Preston months earlier. He could have toured any unit at the prison, but somehow, he ended up performing a cell inspection on every room in my unit.

I about jumped out of my skin when he stuck his head in my cell. This was my opportunity. I was not about to let it slip away.

“Excuse me, sir,” I began. “A few months ago, you were in a meeting with a man named Preston Shipp. He talked to you about how they sent me to Memphis even though I was a student at Lipscomb University.”

The man nodded. I could tell my words were ringing a bell. I kept going in the most professional voice I could muster. “It’s very important for me to finish school and earn my degree. Could you please send me back to Nashville so I can finish college?”

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