Chapter 1: Abandoned

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"It's confirmed," the tall guard tells my cellmate Vicenta. "The eruption will occur between 24th and 26th of this month."

"What?" Vicenta says, her mouth twisting. "That's only two weeks from now."

I put my right hand around her. Her little body is shaking so hard I'm afraid she'll fall.

"Yes," The guard continues. "All the civilians in the red zone have been evacuated. You don't have to worry about your family. I'm sure they'll be safe."

"I don't have a family here. I come from Colombia."

"Are they really going to leave us here to die?" I ask, even though I know the answer.

"I'm sorry but I have to get back to work," the guard says and walks away. I withdraw my hand and hold onto the metallic bars for support as tears well in my eyes. In less than a minute tears are rolling down my cheeks and I go to sit on the bed. Vicenta joins me and holds my hand, saying nothing.

The Vesuvius Prison for Death Row Inmates (VPDRI) which is a few kilometres away from one of the most dangerous volcanoes on earth has been my home for five months. It was built five years ago after Volcanologists estimated that Mount Vesuvius would erupt this year. At the beginning of the year, death row inmates from all countries were brought here so they'd be wiped out during the eruption. Two years have passed since I was sentenced to death in my country Uganda but I haven't accepted that I'm going to die at the age of twenty two because of a crime I didn't commit. I still hope that I'll get justice.

"Let's go out for a while," Vicenta suggests. She stands up and opens the door. As I follow, I'm thankful that we're not in the Supermax section of the prison where doors are electronically controlled by prison staff. It must be terrible to live under constant surveillance with no windows. Ever since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was revised in 2023, the world has gone downhill. The most dangerous inmates are in the Supermax section. The rest of us are mostly political prisoners dumped here by our dictatorial governments because we stood up against unfair policies. We stay with criminals who aren't deemed extremely dangerous or high profile.

While we're still in the hallway, the ground starts shaking. The earthquake starts off slowly but keeps gaining strength. We sprint along the hallway and into the yard. Some inmates are gathered in small groups and some are on their own. There are a few who look calm but most inmates are staring at the mountain, fear written in their faces. Looking past the barricade, I notice that the men are agitated and restless.

A helicopter arrives and lands on the tallest building when the earthquake subsides. As the inmates yell all sorts of obscenities, the top prison staff get into it and it flies away. Guards appear on top of the building and that's when we realize that there are no guards with us. Commotion erupts as the inmates run towards the building. Two other helicopters arrive and whisk away the remaining staff including the guards.

"We have to escape," Vicenta grabs my hand, taking me inside. "Let's get our stuff and find a way out of this hellhole."

It seems all the inmates are thinking the same thing as they run towards their rooms. I look back and see a group heading to the kitchen, probably to find food. At this point, everyone is running. I grab my notebook and we head towards the exit. There are about fifty inmates standing there and I wonder why the door is not opening.

"What's going on?" I ask an Indian girl.
"The system is on emergency lockdown and no one knows the code than can deactivate it."

"Curse this stupid technology," Basetsana, a friend of mine appears. She's an elderly woman charged with treason in South Africa where she came from. "We need to find another way out."

"What are you all doing here?" a voice says from behind. Even before turning, I know exactly who it is. I've heard that voice so many times on television during his trial.

Gabo Palacios Martinez, a Colombian drug lord also known as El Monstruo stands in front of us with a handgun. He is flanked by Michael Eyck, a notorious American serial killer and Manuel Bozzo, a racist Italian who bombed 56 immigrants from North Africa. I can't comprehend how they could have escaped from the special units.

"Nobody is leaving this place without my permission," he says, staring at Vicenta whose face is white as a sheet. I hold her around the waist and she looks down. I know he's recognized her. How could he not? She killed seven of his best men.

Right now I'm more scared of El Monstruo than the volcano.

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