How prison can define you in the test of time
The Test Of Time
Facing the judge was the hardest thing Chantal ever had to do. It had been four months since she was denied bail and put into the holding cell. It was cold, overcrowded and held the smell of faint sewage. That whole time Chantal couldn't imagine having to stay in such a place until her hearing. Her heart was crushed at the very thought her own parents would not bail her out was beyond her comprehension The system was no where near understanding in her situation. She was barely 21 and her first year of college ended in a prison sentence. Sentenced to one day less of a two year sentence, her lawyer was able to give her a two for one deal; whatever that meant.
“What the hell is that?”
“Listen, Chantal. The judge is giving you a break here. Due to the circumstances of our holding facilities, he is going to cut four months off of your original sentence. This is a good thing.”
“Oh-so I live like a committed murderer for four months and my time is less. Yeah-what a deal.”
There was nothing more to say. She couldn't fight what was written in stone. One last night and she would be off to another prison, her new home behind bars.
Chained and now in an orange one piece suit, she was placed on a bus that held twenty other women of all ages. It was a four hour drive to Kitchener Ontario and nobody said a word. Some were so harsh looking and others so afraid. Chantal promised herself she wouldn't be afraid. She was going to make it out of this place in one piece and move on with her life. She was not expecting the body search once they reached this new dwelling of misfits. Frankly, she was horrified that humans are treated like animals. So when she was settled in her new surroundings, her room mate sat straight on the edge of her bunk, arms folded and eyes glued to Chantal, intending intimidation.
“Listen up! First of all I have been in this system far too long and won't put up with tears. You chose to do what ever you did and ended up here. It makes you no different than the rest of us. Keep your nose clean and don't meddle in anything your not asked to be involved in. Understood?”
Chantel couldn't respond, her mind was focused on getting out. Surviving in here wouldn't be a problem because she would mind her business. She wanted no problems, just to serve her time. The fact that she committed fraud left her feeling a bit misunderstood. There should be a different system for something as small as fraud. She wasn't a criminal as far as drugs or violence, she simply misused her rights to her parents accounts. They didn't even want to hear her side of the story. The fact that they hadn't even reached out to her enraged her and she had to contain that rage while she served her time. She was different than these women. She had an education and came from a good family. Well, she thought it was a good family. Who leaves their daughter in jail for something as small as this?
It wasn't long before the lunch room started to fill with the heaviness of accusations of someone stealing items such as shampoo, books, or any other personal belongings. It was that one day when the guards called a drill code. The women all had to leave their cells while they searched for any paraphernalia linked to drugs being brought into the facility. That was the day that Chantal's life really changed. The reality of her position became clear. The guards found what they were looking for and even though it wasn't hers, she couldn't say where it came from.
After days in seclusion and back out in the yard, Chantal could feel the stares from a group of women. They were laughing and calling her names. In a school yard you could walk away and ignore the hurtful words, but in here it was different. It was a calling card to make a move and prove yourself. Chantal decided to wait until her time would be perfected. Let them think they were gaining stride on her innocence. They have no idea what they are up against. Chantal felt as long as she had to be in this forsaken place she was going to be respected. She wasn't sure what her plan would be but she knew they wouldn't get away with what they have done. Two strikes against her already and it had only been a week. Between the shower drill and lunch drill, she held her composure but she knew herself, it wouldn't last. She could feel herself changing day by day and becoming more angry, hurt and betrayed.
One afternoon on some free time in the library, Chantal settled in a chair off in the corner and hoped to be left alone. She felt anxious about something but had no idea what it was. The day felt long and heavy. Before she went to sleep that night she laid awake for hours in hopes that the sun would come up before she closed her eyes. Early to rise, by 5am she gathered her shower shoes and a towel, tooth brush and shampoo. In the line up to the shower stall she heard whispers that someone would be getting what was coming to them that day. She kept to herself and hoped to shower and get out quickly.
That was all she could remember just before she felt the jabbing pain go through her rib cage. She watched the blood pool and swirl around the drain on the bottom of the shower stall. She must have grabbed the curtain to support herself as that was how they found her. Laying in the still running water with the curtain across her naked body.
Chantal wasn't sure just how long she was in the hospital ward and what exactly happened to her, but she knew it was bad.
“Well honey, this is your last day here with us. Tomorrow you will be going back to your cell. You're lucky there was no permanent damage.”
“Well, who did this to me and why? I want to know who did this?” She was firm in her question while squeezing her side where the wound lay.
“Hey, I am just the nurse here. You will have to talk to the warder. He wants to see you first thing in the morning.”
Chantal lay on her side and thought about that day. She couldn't think of anything she could have done to have this happen to her. Certainly they would find out and lay charges, maybe send them to federal pen. She knew now she had to call her parents even if she hated them for doing this to her.
The next morning Chantal sat in the office of the Warder. Mr. Kane and nervously waited for him to open the door. She thought there would be some sort of compassion and he would understand her position. That wasn't the case.
“Good morning Miss Lanch. Glad to see you up and back on your feet. I'm not sure if you remember details of that day but let's get the incident report filled so it's on record.”
“An incident report? Is this high school? I am behind bars here and at the mercy of some crazy ass bitches. They stabbed me! Shouldn't there be an investigation?” Her hands squeezed together turning her knuckles white.
“Calm down. I assure you there will be an investigation but if you don't know who did it we can't press charges. You have to be sure, very sure. Our cameras were not working in the shower that day so we have nothing to go by. Your memory and word is all we have and if I were you I would be very wise and let it sit. We do have counsellors that are willing to talk with you. I realize this was a trauma for you. Maybe it would help?”
Chantal raised her hand and held her forehead, feeling a migraine about to start, in disbelief of how the system worked.
“This is jail sir, not a play ground! I shouldn't even be here for what I was accused of.”
“Miss, you were charged with assault and fraud against your parents and not the first time. You are lucky this is what you are getting and not sitting in the Federal system. Your best bet is to let this go and lay low. You aren't special and you don't get special treatment for who you are. Everyone in here believes they deserve better but that isn't the way the law works. You need to take ownership for what you did and use this time to better yourself. Going back out there is not going to be easy if you aren't prepared.”
“How can I do my time peacefully while there are women in here so irate and irrational? I haven't done anything to deserve a stabbing.” She put her head down and couldn't help but cry. She felt lost and so alone.
“Listen, I am going to investigate this matter but for now I want you to talk with a counselor and just keep to yourself. I will be watching.”
Chantal signed the incident report to the best of her knowledge and was guided back to her cell. Everyone in cell block C watched her, knowing darn well who hurt her, but nobody would talk.
It had been a couple of weeks before everything settled and it was hard for Chantal to stay in control, but she had to prove the system wrong. She was going to do her time and leave never to return. Her friends stopped coming to visit and her parents never did come at all or take her calls. She now realized what her actions had cost her: University, work, family, friends and her own self worth.
Two days later in the court yard there was a new girl. She seemed shy but who really knew?. Chantal chose to keep her distance but keep an eye out for her. It wasn't long before the others started to test her strength and will to survive. A fight broke out and the victim, being the new girl, lay on the ground taking the hits from head to toe. Guards came from all directions breaking things up, took the gang related beater and put her in lock down. The new girl ended up in the hospital ward.
When she came out she kept to herself. Chantal knew she was struggling from right and wrong. She wanted so badly to talk with her but had to back off. Chantal wasn't in the lime light any longer, which was a good thing but at what cost? The new girl's name was Virginia and she seemed tough enough but Chantal doubted she had been in the system before. She seemed much younger though she was an adult.
Time went forward and Chantal slipped into her own routine and found that she only had a couple of months left before her parole. Virginia was sitting in the social room watching television when the brutes surrounded her and started in on her again. Chantal didn't take time to think. She got up and jumped the biggest bully of the bunch. She blacked out in a fit of rage, not knowing her own strength and put the other to the ground. She kept punching her but didn't realize that she was already out cold from the blow to the ground. The other girls ran off in different directions, even Virginia.
Guards had her on her face and in cuffs before she could snap out of her blank stare. She still didn't know that this girl was hurt badly-badly enough that blood trickled and pooled around her head.
“She was hitting Virginia. She was going to hurt her! I had to help her!” She kept screaming and staring at the other girls who, in return, pretended nothing had happened.
Two weeks in a holding maximum cell went by before Chantal was being brought to the Federal Prison for dangerous murderers. She murdered a woman and had no idea how it happened. It was the test of time and it failed her. The system failed her, and now she would watch her life through bars.
Prompt~picture behind bars