She was the first criminal I met
or rather the first with a conviction
trim, fair and pretty – so unexpected
perhaps it was the childhood images – villains always dark, huge, scary.
Memory would never yield the catalyst of disclosure
perhaps the straining colony of youth
was reminder of the republic she once yearned to be
or our unlikely intersection the right to warn.
Either or neither
retrospection has a tendency to personalize
truth can be far more proletariat.
It rained almost every day that summer
the only two who didn’t smoke
precious relief from monotonous assembling
spent sheltering from staffroom storms of tobacco
maybe small talk just ran out.
However it was precipitated
one day she told me
about her crime – and time in prison.
Do they know ? I asked
“they,” being the workplace management.
Thin laughter – brittle and knowing
the laugh of a parent
hearing a preposterous request of a department store Santa.
When you’ve been inside everybody knows she replied
announcing agencies on fingers as I studied my hands.
Cryptic wisdom no 17-year-old could ever understand
“ anyone can go in
only criminals leave.”
Jail wasn’t a problem it was the coming out.
Outside was everything and nothing
Everything looks the same. Nothing is familiar.
“ no one wants to know you kiddo.”
“Kiddo,” the one jarring chord in a jaunty sonata of admission.
She thought I might think differently
but getting the job here was a stroke of fortune.
Lady luck had smiled. She had been released early
reporting twice-weekly as a condition of parole
assigned by chance to a liberal section.
Her probation officer made some calls – the old boy network
someone he knew
who knew the boss of this place
a Christian known to practise and preach – he might take a chance.
He did. Offering a three-month trial two years ago
funny she said how she never thought much of church
and all that stuff about God and forgiveness
“but it wasn’t for the lay preacher….”
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