The inmate is Debra Trice. We became best friends 34 years ago while attending elementary school on the South Side.
When I enter the room, Debra and I embrace. "I am just really nervous," she says. I assure her she's going to be fine. Though we've kept in touch via telephone and letters, this is the first time I've seen her in nearly five years, and she knows this time I am coming to interview her.
To look at Debra now you'd never guess that she once nursed an addiction to crack cocaine, danced in strip clubs to feed her addiction and attempted suicide several times before the night of July 20, 1998, when she was arrested for murder.
She is serving a 50-year sentence in Indiana's Rockville Correctional Facility.
Long ago, it seems, we were on the same path. She was the pretty little girl who was so self-possessed, even in the 3rd grade. I remember an almost instant attraction to her laughter, her wit and her daring -- a daring that ultimately would lead to her undoing.
What draws me to her still is that I can't help but see a part of me in her, and I am haunted by her path and her choices.
It is possible that two people can start out in nearly the same spot and wind up in such different worlds. But what I didn't realize until recently is that their paths can come back together again, in the most unlikely of places.
- - -
Debra Rochelle Trice and I became friends in 1973 when we were at Doolittle Elementary. We were seated alphabetically, which is why we sat facing one another -- Turner across from Trice. (I would later marry a man, unrelated to Debra, with the last name Trice.)
She was among the smartest students in our class and definitely the prettiest. Her exotic, hazel-colored eyes and reddish-brown skin is what you noticed first. Then, there was her kaleidoscopic array of facial expressions and a laugh that seemed too big for a little girl.
Our 3rd-grade teacher allowed us to break the rules and eat fruit at our desks. Most of us brought bananas, apples and oranges. Not Debra. She brought pomegranates. We became friends when she saw me gawking at her fruit and decided to share.
On the playground, we learned we had many things in common. We both had one sibling, a sister. Mine was younger; hers was older. We both were devout followers of Pippi Longstocking books, about the red-haired tomboy who collected odd things and odd people.
What made our friendship seem, at least to two little girls, the stuff of fate is that we not only lived in the same 24-story apartment building a few blocks from the school, but her apartment, her bedroom, was directly above mine.
At night, she would tap on her bedroom floor, or I would tap on my bedroom ceiling, and we would talk across the divide. We shared secrets. I confided that my parents' divorce would soon be final.
Once, when my homework included me having to write, "I will not talk in class" 200 times, she tapped on her floor to tell me that she had completed several pages for me. I was a bit of a novice at such things. She was an expert and knew that our teacher wouldn't examine all the pages, and notice the ones with Debra's slanted handwriting with its fanciful loops, which was so unlike mine.
As the years passed, our Saturday bike rides took us to places we weren't supposed to be: the cheaper, second-run movie theater a few blocks down King Drive; the abandoned buildings across the alley where we found rusted treasures.
But as we approached adolescence, our lives changed. Debra switched elementary schools, we made new friends and the map of our worlds ceased to overlap. Soon the tapping ended.