Pierce County Criminal Court, Tacoma, WA
Monday, December 24, 2017
The parties in the courtroom stand as the judge exits a wooden-paneled door camouflaged against a uniformly-designed backdrop and takes her seat back on the bench. Strands of grey-streaked red hair bob over her face as she stares down her thin-rimmed glasses at a computer screen to her left.
JUDGE: “Please be seated.”
Nova sits down in his chair next to his defense attorney, adjusting his position to accommodate the shifting of the handcuffs that connect to his waist-chains and ankle bracelets. He’s wearing a grey linen suit his lawyer picked out for him. He looks over to her – she puts a hand on his shoulder and gives him a smile and a nod, but her eyes are sad.
JUDGE: “The Court has taken a recess to consider the arguments of counsel. The facts are not in dispute – the parties filed a stipulation regarding the factual basis for Mr. Vega’s pleas, and the Court appreciates the efforts of counsel to streamline this proceeding.”
The prosecutors seated at the table to Nova’s right nod their heads in acknowledgment, and Nova’s lawyer gives him a quick glance before doing the same.
JUDGE: “The Court notes the concerns advanced by the State in this case, the arguments advanced by defense counsel, and Mr. Vega’s own allocution. Mr. Vega…”
The judge looks away from the notes on her screen to Nova and their eyes connect.
JUDGE: “The Court acknowledges the circumstances of your upbringing that presented challenges to the development of healthy coping mechanisms and other protective factors that would have benefited you as a young person. The Court acknowledges the environment of chaotic violence, substance abuse, and frankly, physical and emotional trauma of professional wrestling that has enveloped your entire adult life. The Court acknowledges your loss with the passing of your wife in 2006 and the profound impact that had on the course of your life.”
Nova takes a deep breath.
JUDGE: “The Court acknowledges the efforts you’ve undertaken during your period of pretrial incarceration to engage with available programming opportunities, limited though they may be. The Court acknowledges the absence of disciplinary reports or infractions during that time, and recognizes that pretrial incarceration is itself, in fact, punishment.”
Nova looks to his attorney. Her eyes are focused on the judge, whose eyes have drifted over to the notes on her screen.
JUDGE: “The Court acknowledges the other mitigating factors identified by defense counsel in your plea for what the Court believes could fairly be described as leniency given the nature of the charges, your prolonged period of pretrial incarceration notwithstanding.”
The judge pushes her glasses back up her nose and looks back to Nova.
Nova’s breath catches in his chest.
JUDGE: “…the Court simply views the circumstances that surround the facts of your convictions differently than as framed by defense counsel. Mr. Vega…” (Taking a deep breath) “…there are many people in this world doing everything in their power to serve as mentors and leaders, to model prosocial behavior, to improve the health and vibrancy of their communities. For so many of them the only setback – to the degree it could be called one – is the challenge of visibility, of access, such that their efforts, profound though they may be, are constrained by the limitations of their individual profiles.”
The judge points a knobby finger at him.
JUDGE: “But you…you aren’t one of those people. You weren’t one of those people. Your natural gifts allowed you to excel – indeed, for ‘Your Star to Rise’ – within a renowned organization and broader sports entertainment community literally designed to shove microphones into the faces of its premier players. You were given a tremendous platform…and you abused the public trust.”
Her eyes drift back to her computer screen, and Nova feels the world around him slowing to a crawl. His lawyer’s feverish scribblings in her notepad sound like someone pushing an ice scraper across a frozen windshield. The judge’s voice is distant.
“Your personal circumstances do not remove from the ambit of this Court its obligation to pursue the ends of justice in determining an appropriate sentence…”
In his mind, Nova searches for Ariel’s face.
“…into account the arguments of counsel, the statements of Mr. Vega, and the information and recommendations of the Department of Corrections, the Court has determined that a to-serve sentence going forward is the appropriate outcome…”
If he can see her, even for a moment, maybe he can process what’s happening.
“…primary sentencing goal in reaching this decision is punishment, but the Court does hope Mr. Vega does continue to utilize available programming options…”
DEFENSE LAWYER: (Whispering) “Chris!”
Startled, Nova looks over to his lawyer, who jerks her head towards the judge. Nova looks up at the judge.
JUDGE: “Mr. Vega, I said please rise for the imposition of sentence.”
For a moment, Nova earnestly wonders if he’ll be able to do it. He feels his lawyer’s hand on his shoulder, and then forces his way to his feet, a task somehow more difficult than any pin he can remember ever kicking out of – though his memory is shit now.
JUDGE: “As to Count One, possession of marijuana with intent to deliver-more than two kilograms, the Court imposes a sentence of sixteen to twenty-four months to serve, and a fine of ten thousand dollars, consecutive to Counts Two and Three.”
The judge pauses to review notes.
JUDGE: “As to Count Two, possession of psilocybin with intent to deliver-more than two kilograms, the Court imposes a sentence of sixteen to twenty-four months to serve, and a fine of ten thousand dollars, consecutive to Counts One and Three.”
She pushes up her glasses one more.
JUDGE: “As to Count Three, possession of cocaine with intent to deliver-more than two kilograms, the Court imposes a sentence of sixteen to twenty-four months to serve, and a fine of one hundred thousand dollars, consecutive to Counts One and Two.”
Nova’s lawyer is whispering something to him, but he can’t hear.
JUDGE: “It is the intent of the Court that the overall sentence imposed today be one of four to six years to serve, with fines totaling one hundred twenty thousand dollars. The to-serve sentence shall execute from this point forward…”
Nova’s lawyers puts both hands down on the table, leaning towards the microphone.
DEFENSE LAWYER: “Your Honor, Mr. Vega has already served more than a year of pretrial incarc-
JUDGE: “I’m aware of Mr. Vega’s current accumulated credit, counselor.”
The judge leans forward, clasping her hands and resting her forearms on the bench.
JUDGE: “It is the intent of the Court that the to-serve sentence of four to six years execute from this point forward. That is the order of the Court. This hearing is adjourned.”
Nova collapses into his chair, eyes staring ahead at nothing.
He doesn’t bother looking behind him.
He knows there’s no one there.
Monroe Correctional Complex, Monroe, WA
Monday, March 23, 2020
A cook on the other side of the stainless steel counter that separates a bustling kitchen from the chow hall slides Nova a tray with spaghetti, salad, and a piece of garlic bread. Nova walks his tray over to a nearby table with several occupants and takes a seat. He turns to the man seated to his right, a smaller middle-aged guy with a bit of a hunch and salt-and-pepper stubble blanketing his face.
NOVA: “How we doing today, Mitch?”
Mitch blinks rapidly and jerks his head slightly to one side, some type of tic Nova figures is connected to his stutter.
MITCH: “Hey N-Nova! Doing okay.” (Shrugging) “It’s Sp-spaghetti Day, how am I gonna com-complain and who would listen anyway?”
NOVA: (Grinning) “Who would listen?”
Nova’s eyes scan the room, a learned behavior in the correctional setting, and stop on the wall-mounted TV broadcasting local news.
NOVA: (Shouting over to another table) “Hey, can we turn that up just a little bit?”
Someone at the table nods and stands up to adjust the volume.
NEWS ANCHOR: “…couple of months after the first case in the United States of the coronavirus known as COVID-19 was confirmed in a Seattle-area resident, more and more cases are being identified. State and local officials are urging residents to practice what’s being called ‘social distancing,’ avoid gathering in congregate settings and even indoor gatherings in general of more than…”
NOVA: “This sounds like it’s getting really bad.”
MITCH: “Yeah, g-good thing we can really stay on top of so-social distancing in this fucking place.”
Nova looks around the crowded chow hall.
NOVA: “Fuck. Do you think they’ll do anything about it here? Like, change anything?”
MITCH: (Chuckling) “C-c’mon, Nova…they don’t give a shit abou-”
The doors to the chow hall swing open and masked guards flood in. Inmates back away from their tables. Nova sets down his fork and knife and stands up, turning to Mitch.
NOVA: “What’s going on? Did you hear about anything?”
Mitch shakes his head. One of the guards steps forward.
GUARD: “EVERYONE BACK TO THE UNIT! FACILITY IS ON LOCKDOWN!”
MITCH: “At l-least they get f-fucking masks…”
GUARD: “LET’S GO, NOW! BACK TO THE UNIT! WHEN YOU GET THERE, YOU LOCK IN!”
A guard grabs Nova by the elbow and pulls him to his feet. He’s pushed into a group of inmates and jostles to create space. The inmates are funneled in messy lines towards the entrance to the chow hall. Nova peers over the crowd looking for Mitch, but doesn’t see him.
Monroe Correctional Complex, Monroe, WA – A Block, Cell 41
Sometime in late April, probably?
Nova doesn’t know how much time has passed. MCC reported 36 cases of COVID-19 on March 23, and went into full lockdown immediately. That was Nova’s 41st birthday, which felt (and still feels) even more meaningless than he imagines other people’s 41st birthdays to feel.
He stares around at the walls. He’s been completely isolated since being herded out of the chow hall and practically heaved into his cell. He doesn’t have a cellmate. He did have one, an old man he called Mr. Reynolds, but about a week before COVID lockdown, Mr. Reynolds came down with some type of respiratory infection and they moved him to the medical unit. Looking back on it now, Nova can’t help but wonder, but if Mr. Reynolds had COVID at the time, he must have guarded it pretty jealously, because Nova feels well enough.
NOVA: (Raising a small metal cup) “And here’s to you, Mr. Reynolds, sir, Jesus loved you more than you will know, whoa, whoa, whoa…”
Well enough physically, anyway.
The slot in the door to his cell scrapes open quickly and a tray is shoved through onto the small raised platform on the cell-side intended to prevent it from clattering to the floor. Nova stopped trying to talk to whoever delivered his meals weeks – or what feels like weeks – ago.
The slot in the door to Nova’s cell scrapes open and he springs out of bed, rushing towards the opening.
The slot slams shut, and Nova sinks to his knees, pressing his forehead against the door.
He walks over to the food tray, and sits down in front of it. The hamburger mac begins traveling in clockwise circles that slowly elevate like the formulation of a funnel cloud. Nova blinks, and the pasta settles flatly into the tray.
NOVA: “I’m…this is…” (sighs) “…oh, boy.”
He climbs to his feet, turns around to face the interior wall of his cell, and feels the air whoosh out of his lungs.
She stands in front of him next to his bed, in front of the toilet. Nova drops to his knees, his jaw hanging open. He can’t speak. Tears well up in his eyes.
He clears his throat.
NOVA: “I…couldn’t see your face. I haven’t seen your face, in so long. I didn’t know where you had gone.”
Nova smiles back at her, tears rolling down his cheeks.
The MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas, NV
Saturday, March 11, 2022
Nova sits in a lounge chair on the balcony of his hotel suite, smoking a cigarette. The colors in the sky are the sun’s entrance package. David Foster stands behind a video camera and gives Nova a thumbs-up.
NOVA: (Taking a drag) “I remember how I felt when I joined PRIME in 2004. Before that, I ran in what would at the time have probably been called ‘The Indies,’ and man, I tore it up. I had an identity as a winner, and I carried myself that way. I got to PRIME, and all of a sudden I looked around and people didn’t know me from a fucking janitor.”
He ashes his cigarette.
NOVA: “No, that’s not right. People knew who the janitors were.” (Taking a drag) “It was a bit of an existential crisis, we’ve all been there. PRIME was polished, even before the talent boom of 2005 took the place to new heights, and I was drawn there because I felt like it was the next level and I was ready, but upon arrival, not gonna lie, for a minute I thought maybe I’d made a mistake.”
Daylight breaks over the mountains.
NOVA: “Then the ref hoisted my hand at ReVolution 50 and handed me the 5-Star Title, and I knew I was home.” (Taking a drag) “The 5-Star Title gave me an identity. I wasn’t headlining the shows or consuming the spotlight, but I had something that was mine and I was going to fucking white-knuckle the straps of that belt and see where it took me.”
He pauses and grins, shaking his head.
NOVA: “Funny how things come full-circle, huh? Now I’m back here, in this place, and I look around, I don’t know hardly anybody, I actually look like a janitor, and I’m presented with this opportunity in the form of the 5-Star Scramble to carve something out for myself.”
He takes another drag.
NOVA: “I mean, I get there are some differences, it’s not a complete analogy. I arrived this time, albeit via a jail release program I had no idea about and with the Almasy Tournament fanfare I did not ask for, as a ‘legend.’ A Hall of Famer. ‘Here’s your Lisieux Bracket One Seed, folks! He’ll show you how we did it back in the day!’”
Nova laughs, takes a drag, and snuffs his cigarette in the ashtray.
NOVA: “One kick to the face and an uninspired tight-grab later, and I’m headed to the bar.” (Shrug) “So it goes. Hats off to Jiles. Those folks move on, and the rest of us figure out where to go from here. But maybe…maybe the 5-Star Title can help me out again. Maybe it can help me forge a new identity. Cyrus, Rezin, you guys missed the trapeze on getting your Universal Title shots, too, so I get you’re motivated to figure your shit out, too. Good luck. I’m hoping my old friend will show me a path forward.”
He lights another cigarette and takes a long drag.
NOVA: “If not…fuck it, there’s always Survivor.”