Convictions - Installment #5
. . .
She exited the creaking elevator on the tenth floor. The tiny lobby was paneled in badly scarred wood and barely covered by a threadbare gray carpet. The door marked Redemption House was locked. Beth pushed an intercom button and a voice asked for her name. In a minute, she was greeted by a tall thin woman.
“I am Lord's Servant Margaret. Pastor Bob will meet with you first. Please follow me.”
Without waiting for a response, she headed down a long hallway. Beth followed, relieved at not having to return a greeting. Was “Lord's Servant” a description or a title? Margaret had certainly made it sound like a title, but she couldn't quite imagine herself saying “Pleased to meet you, Lord's Servant Margaret.” She stifled a nervous giggle and quietly followed. They passed a number of closed doors and stopped outside one near the end of the hall. Margaret pointed at a narrow wooden bench.
“Please wait here for Pastor Bob.”
She headed back down the hall without another word. Beth sat and checked her surroundings. Beyond Pastor Bob's office, the hall opened into a large room. Several short rows of metal chairs faced left. Long folding tables rested against the far wall. Not much more was visible from the bench, but the smells of cooking food wafted through the opening. Another room was visible at the opposite end of the hall. Occasionally, Beth could see people walking past the opening, but the distance prevented her from hearing anything. Time passed. Nervousness and boredom alternated. Much like waiting for a parole board hearing. Sitting on the benches outside the hearing room. Watching other inmates go in and come back out. Many in tears, although they would not receive the hearing results for several weeks.
Beth had received an indeterminate sentence of 10 to 25 years. Both inmates and guards had told her that she was likely to serve the maximum. Parole was not frequently granted to those convicted of violent crimes. Still she had hoped. The hearing was a devastating experience. Given little opportunity to speak, she'd sensed that the meeting was a formality. An opportunity to berate her for “the heinous nature” of her crime. A decision had been reached before she walked in the door. When the denial letter arrived, it cited lack of remorse for her crime and deemed her a danger to the community. She watched the opportunity for a normal life slipping past her. Career, marriage, children. Each passing year lessened the likelihood of experiencing them. Months of depression followed the first rejection. Occasionally, she wondered if there was a way to overcome the odds. But the depression had created inertia and she did nothing.
She was fully prepared for the rejection when she faced the board two years later. Still, it hurt. Hope did not die easily. This time, however, despair was replaced with determination. She searched for a pattern in the board's decisions. Good behavior, public opinion and acceptance to a halfway house appeared to be major factors in an inmate's release. Her behavior had always been exemplary. No letters had been filed objecting to her release. That left acceptance to a halfway house. She submitted several applications, but was rejected based on “the nature of the crime.” Another inmate suggested that she check out a couple of church-sponsored houses that occasionally accepted those with violent crimes. Church had played no role in her early life. Later she had attended some services with Gran, but the parts she enjoyed were social, not religious. A number of religious sects offered weekly services for the prisoners. Many inmates attended regularly. Some from religious belief, others for diversion from prison tedium. Beth had never attended a single service. It seemed highly unlikely that any religious-based house would consider her. But driven by the hope of freedom, she began attending services on Sundays and joined a Wednesday evening prayer group. She knew that many people found great comfort in their religious beliefs. Even wondered if the regular attendance would help her understand. But after several months, she knew she would never be a believer. Still, she took the next step and made a public acceptance of Jesus as her savior. On visiting days, she met with church missionaries for Bible instruction and prayer. Inside, she felt like a hypocrite. But years of surviving in prison had taught her how to control her emotions. The outside appearance was believable.
Shortly before her fourteenth year review, she received acceptance to Redemption House, a home run by a small religious sect, the Redemptarians. The board commended her progress, but denied release. She would be reviewed again in one year instead of two. It was the only positive note. She read and reread the denial notice. “Failure to accept responsibility for this crime.” Although it was a standard phrase used in many denials, it touched a deep wound. Beth had always felt responsible. She should never have left the house that night. She had been haunted for years by that thought. At the next review, tears ran down her cheeks as she told the review board with unmistakable sincerity, “I'd give anything if I could change my actions on that night.” After 15 years, she was released from prison.
“No. I didn't. I swear to you I didn't. Just give me another chance.” The pleading voice came from inside Pastor Bob's office. A man's voice made a reply, but Beth couldn't make out what he was saying. Suddenly, two armed officers were standing next to her. One held cuffs in her hands. Shaking, Beth forced herself to remain seated. The second officer knocked on the door and they were quickly admitted. The woman's wails intensified. Only a few minutes passed before the door opened again and the officers escorted the dejected woman back down the hall, hands cuffed behind her back
A man appeared in the doorway. His deeply authoritative voice provided a startling contrast to his small stature.
“Bethany Hollister.” It was more a command than a question.
“You may come in now.”
She rose on shaking legs. Pastor Bob directed her to sit in one of the two metal chairs that faced the front of his desk. Although his office chair was far more upholstered, he sat with a military rigidity and his face remained expressionless.
“I'm glad you got to see that. It's important for you to realize that we will not tolerate any violation of your parole requirements. Any infraction will be immediately reported to your parole officer. Tomorrow morning after services, you will be escorted to the parole office to check in. For the next thirty days, you will only leave Redemption House for your parole appointments and you will always be escorted. As you know, all parolees are required to work. For the next month, you will be employed by Redemption House. You will assist with cleaning and meal preparation. In exchange, your room and board fee for the month will be waived. Upon satisfactory completion of this month, you will be allowed to seek outside employment.”
“If you last that long. Our committee was divided over your acceptance. You did not have my vote. I don't trust those who find Our Savior as they approach the possibility of parole. Some argued that you have shown faithfulness for three years, a long time to keep up a pretense. That may be true, but your crime demonstrates your capacity for deceit. The Lord allows me to see through such deceit. Don't think you can hide the truth from me.”
He picked up the phone and pushed a button. “Please send Lord's Servant Cassandra now.”
“Lord's Servant Cassandra is one of our finest examples of God's saving powers. You'll be assigned to her room and she will orient you to life at Redemption House.”
Cassandra appeared at the door. It occurred to Beth that she hadn't uttered a single word since entering the pastor's office. He stood and motioned towards the door.
“May Jesus go with you.”
Not likely, she thought irreverently, as she followed the plump black girl down the hall. Why would Jesus want to hang out here?
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