Speeding - part 4: on parole by thadeusz
My first move was to go and eat a real hamburger with real ketchup and a beer. Then I looked for a cheap room. When that was done, I started to look for a job. I first tried as teacher, but schools did not want to take an ex-con. Then I tried to work as assistant bookkeeper, since I was good in maths. But as soon as they heard where I had spent the previous year, they turned me down: they could not have confidence in an ex-con. I also tried to work as assistant shopkeeper, but they also turned me down. Finally, I went back to the work I had done as prisoner in the Hard Labor Camp: working for a contractor. All those I contacted turned me down: I was too expensive, more expensive than the prisoners they could hire in the Hard Labor Camp. Finally, after about two month I had to confess to my probation officer that I had no job and no money left. He decided that the only thing to do was to go back to the Judge and ask him to reduce my sentence.
When we arrived in court, the Judge asked me who I was. I raised my head and I answered :
"Your Honor, my name is Peter Rohmert. You sentenced me about a year ago to one year in Hard Labor Camp and one year on parole."
"I remember now. But that means that you are still a convict. Use only that identification."
I realised that I better used the way of speaking which was used in the camp. So I put my head down and said, submissively:
"Your Honor, this is Convict 9038971, Your Honor."
"In that case, I am not going to examine your case since you are not in the correct uniform. Guard, take this convict to the police station and present him here tomorrow in the proper uniform."
I was taken back to the Police station where Junior looked at me while I put on my striped prison uniform once again. He took great care to fix on me a Full Shackle and to lock me in a cell, awaiting my new judgment. I was again Convict 9038971 and nothing else !
The next day, I appeared in court in that dreadful uniform, wearing my chains. My probation officer explained the situation to the Judge. He added that it would be good for me if my sentence was reduced so that I could go to a University and study. The Judge simply said:
"I don’t want to reduce his sentence, he has been sentenced for a series of serious crimes and that’s it. I can only observe that this convict has not been able to respect all the conditions imposed for his parole. I thus send him immediately back to where he belongs: the Hard Labor Camp." BANG.
I was afraid that would occur, but I had forgotten that awful "BANG". Anyway, I was too tired to protest or to say anything to the Judge. But the dreadful man continued:
"Moreover, I sentence you, Convict 9038971, to one more year in Hard Labor Camp for lack of respect of your probation conditions." BANG.
"Of course, you will spend at least the first three months in FS to learn to behave in Hard Labor Camp." BANG.
And it was not finished:
"Finally I place you under 10 year probation in this county, to serve as simple workman and not as student. I instruct you, Convict 9038971, to behave in such a way that you will be able to prove that you have finally understood and adopted the plain way of life of the inhabitants of this county. NOW TAKE HIM AWAY."
Luckily for me, when I arrived, sentenced again, to the Police Station, John, the kind officer, was on duty. He took me to one of the special cells for Hard Labor Camp sentenced guys and attached my shackles to the chain in wall, but he did it without brutality. He also asked, in his words, if I needed to go to the toilet and needed his help. I said "Yes", but I added that with the Hard Labor Camp two pieces uniform, I would be able to manage alone. Finally I remained there alone, wondering which crime I had really committed to be punished that much.
The next day, while I was still waiting for transportation, John came to my cell with a clergyman with a grey beard who told me that he had been present at both my trials. He was the third man who was present at my parole hearing. He said:
"I consider that you have not been treated fairly, but also that you resisted well. Are you a religious man ?"
"No, sir" was my answer.
"Too bad. Jesus could have comforted you in your ordeal. Try to behave as if you were a religious man and you will feel better. In any case, when you will be freed and start your probation, come to me: I will help you."
The next day was transportation day, and I had to go back to the Hard Labor Camp. It was the same process as the first time, except that the other guys were still in filthy orange jumpsuit and that I taken care to keep my striped uniform as clean as possible. That was my last attempt at remaining a MAN among all these convicts. They had been sentenced for crimes they had really perpetrated, I had been sentenced because a guy I considered as a friend had lied, a very young police officer was nearly mad and a Judge was a beast. But there was nothing I could do, so I tried to take it as well as I could.
When we arrived to the barber, the guard functioning as barber recognized me and tried to speak with me, but I had already been drilled to speak as a submissive convict. So when the guard asked:
"Convict 9038971, you just left and now you are back. Did you miss my shaving."
I simply answered :"Chief, NO, Chief"
In fact I had let my hair and beard grow during my few weeks of semi-freedom. The hair was still very short, but the beard started nicely. I knew I was again going to lose it and I hated the idea. But the guard went on:
"Convict 9038971, what happened ?"
"Chief, I did not find a job, Chief."
"And then, you are not the only jobless guy."
"Chief, finding a job was a condition for remaining on parole, Chief"
"So you are back here for the end of your sentence ?"
"Chief, Yes Chief. Plus one year for violation of my probation condition. And after that ten years probation as workman in this county, Chief."
"All that ?"
"Chief, YES Chief"
"What was your crime and the cause of your first sentence, Convict 9038971 ?"
I could not resist and I told this guard my complete story, including Robert’s speeding, his lies and Junior’s false accusations.
"OK, Convict 9038971. I heard about this Junior you mention and I believe you since you were submissive."
He then started to shave my head but asked:
"While on parole, you wanted to have longer hair and a beard ?"
"Chief, YES Chief."
"I will arrange that especially for you since you were an excellent prisoner and what happens to you seems unfair."
"Chief, permission to speak, Chief ?"
"Permission granted Convict 9038971"
"Chief, this Convict tries to live with what’s happening to him. I don’t like it but I don’t know how to fight it except by trying to behave like a man. Chief, please don’t make my life more difficult and treat me like all the others. Chief."
"You are a brave kid, no a brave man. I will give you my special treat but I will also speak for you to the Captain. Now, keep quiet, you are after all a chained Convict."
I was treated like all the others and it was done by an expert who did not leave a hair on my head or face. But this time, I could feel that it was done in such a way that I would not be hurt. It was done slowly and finally, I felt comfortable while the barber did it, even when he shaved my eyebrows.
After that, I was led back to my cage and luckily it was the same as before. This meant that I already knew most of the inmates. There was a surprise there: during my absence, a new prisoner had arrived: Convict 9040165, also known as Robert, the guy who was responsible for the speeding and who had lied on me. Robert had arrived recently and was still, like me, in FS. The next morning, when "hiring" took place, we were both hired by a contractor who was building a new road and who could used handcuffed men to carry heavy rocks. This lasted 3 months for me. Robert had been freed of his FS before that. As soon as he could speak, he explained that he had been placed in a protected environment during 3 months, but he did not say what he had done for that. I carefully remained silent. Robert added that, being hungry, he stole a bread and that "a nasty Judge" took his 3 months confinement in account to aggravate the sentence: he then got 6 month in the jail. After that he tried to find work, but he did not find any, after a certain time, he tried to rob a supermarket since the people there did not need all that money. Unluckily for him, a guard arrested him and since Robert had a truncheon with him, the same "nasty Judge" sentenced him to 4 years of hard labor. My cell mates did not like this self indulging account. They were used to the blunt truth. They were not used to nice stories about a "nasty Judge", even if this Judge was really nasty.
I hated this situation, but I had to live with it. I head learned my lesson and I kept my head down and my lips sealed. When I reached 3 months of my second stay in Hard Labor Camp, and not a day later, I was ordered to to go "On the double" to the Captain’s office.
I entered the Captain’s office alone, which was most unusual. The Captain told me that he was sorry for me. He had heard about the story I told the barber and he had checked it: he was now convinced that I had told the truth, but he could not do anything against this Judge’s sentences. He mentioned the fact that I had behaved well during these 3 months "despite the presence in your cage of your accuser". He also told me that he had decided not to let the guards hire me to contractors requiring painful tasks. He then asked me an unexpected question:
"Convict 9038971, are you a religious man ?"
"Captain, NO, Captain"
"You should be. Attend the Sunday service and have no chores on Sunday."
"Captain, saying that I am not a religious man and accepting the consequences thereof remains my only freedom, Captain"
"You are correct, Convict 9038971, but is it really worth it ? You will have to spend here more than 18 months, without possibility of parole. At the end, you should be ready to find a job under the conditions of your 10 year probation. Are you ready for that ?"
"Captain, not yet, Captain. But I wish to keep my last freedom Captain."
"Alright. A clergyman came here a few days ago and explained me what happened with you, and what will happen if you don’t have a job while in probation. You will come back here ! For ten years ! This clergyman will help you. Therefore, Convict 9038971, I decide that you are a religious man. Go now and obey my orders."
The Captain called a guard and told him to take off my FS.
Once I was back in my cage, my companions asked me what had happened to me. I told them my complete story and mentioned that Robert, i.e. Convict 9040165 was the cause of all my problems, especially since he had lied on me. He had also taken a lawyer without telling me, which was unfair between "friends". My mates did not let Robert try to justify himself. Convict 9001432, our most ancient convict, decided that a "lesson must be taught to this nasty traitor" and they all started to hit him. I carefully remained out of the game, and the guards who saw this turned their head in the other direction: they knew that Robert was a vile traitor who had lied on his friend. Finally guards came in the cage, stopped this unequal fight and brought Robert to the Captain. Robert was accused of having started the fight and received 10 years of additional detention time, to be served in Hard Labor Camp, and the first year at least in FS. When Robert came back to our cage, we had been told about that by a guard. Robert had now an hyper submissive attitude and was ready to receive more blows … which did not come.
The next day, before hiring, I was shackled (feet only) with all my cage mates. I expected to be sent and work on that damned road. We were all silent and moved carefully our feet while receiving the day portion of bread and the metal bottle filled with water. But, when hiring took place, I was hired by a carpenter who needed only one help, a typical seasoned prisoner work, while Robert, in FS, was hired by the road maker who had hired me before: Robert was hired for 6 months, renewable, to move rocks the way I had done in my beginning.
The carpenter told me to get in the back of his van and he drove me to his workshop. As soon as we were there, he told me that his name was Joshua Carlisle and that he belonged to a reform Church. He had a long beard and kind blue eyes. He was old enough and could have been my father. He had in mind to take me, despite my chains, as apprentice and to teach me how to work with wood. Mr Carlisle asked me, as soon as we were in his workshop:
"I told you my name, but what is your name ?"
"Sir, Convict 9038971, Sir."
"That I know, now tell me your real name."
"Sir, convicts are not allowed to use their real name, they are only convicts, Sir"
"Convict 9038971, you are no longer in the camp. You are going to work with me and for me: I know why you are in prison, I want also to know your real name."
"Sir, I might be severely punished if I tell you that, Sir. It could cost me additional detention time, Sir."
Mr Carlisle kept quiet and put me to work, and it was hard work, very hard: moving big pieces of wood, placing them in the right position and many other painful things which had to be done if he wanted his job to go on. But this was no longer the monotonous "road making" work, it was different every day.
Despite my prison uniform, my life was changed.
After that, I was hired every day by Mister Carlisle, except on Sunday. When my first "unshackled" Sunday arrived, I had a great time at the barber: he really made an effort to shave my head in such a way that it was not painful for me, but that the result was acceptable by the authorities. After that I thought a bit, thinking that being a free man in my mind, I should refuse to attend the service. The Captain, of all guards, passed near me, as if by chance and said:
"Coming to the service with me, Convict 9038971 ?"
I did not want to object and I went. It was a moment of peace, of complete rest, even if I did not believe in God. After that, I had no chores to do. Life was great after all.
The next day, Mr Carlisle hired me again. He told me to sit next to him in his van, this was unusual for me: usually convicts travelled in the back of a truck, like the animals they were thought to be. I was no longer used to be treated like a human being. On our way, my boss asked me:
"How did you like the service yesterday ?"
"Sir, I am not a believer, Sir." Although I was seated next to my boss in his car, I carefully kept the way of speaking imposed in the Hard Labor Camp.
"I know, but you were at the service yesterday."
"Sir, yes, Sir."
"Stop using this robotic way of talking."
"Sir, it is a prison rule, Sir"
"Well, here you are not in prison. You are working with me and you will work in my workshop."
"Sir, yes, Sir. But I might be severely punished if I speak otherwise, Sir."
"Well, not if I tell them it is my order. And if you don’t stop this way of speaking, I’ll bring you back to the Hard Labor Camp."
I liked working with Mr Carlisle, so I decided to take the big risk and I replied: "Ok, then"
"Now, you can tell me your real name"
"My name is Peter Rohmert, Sir, and, at the beginning, I have been sentenced for speeding."
"Thanks for your confidence Peter. I know exactly why and how you have been sentenced. But now you are working here, for me. So I’ll call you Peter and you will call me Joshua. Understood ?"
I could not resist my now old habit and answered:
"Sir, YES, Sir."
"Peter, I don’t want to hear you speaking like that !"
After that, one main thing changed very rapidly. One day, at noon,when my boss stopped working to grab some food, I wanted to take my piece of dry bread and eat it as usually. His daughter, Ruth, came with food for her father and for me. I had not eaten real meat since I had been arrested, so I did not discuss about it and ate it voraciously. That went on: every day, I got the same meal as my boss and I started to give my dry bread to Kim, my cage mate Convict 9028745.
During all that time, I continued going to the Sunday service, not for religious reasons but for the additional rest I could have that way. I also went to the barber, always the same guard, and he kept shaving smoothly my head. It was no longer painful, but some stubbles escaped his shaving, either because he wanted to let me keep some hair or because he was not careful. Looking at other prisoners, I think that my guard-barber was VERY careful. Kim, my cage mate, started to receive a similar treatment and did not complain: he was due to be set free about 6 months after me. He had received a very hard sentence for an unarmed robbery: he was desperate and wanted to have enough money to send his mother to a good hospital. Unluckily, he was caught and his mother died because of the lack of medical help.
One day, Mr Carlisle told me that he did not like seeing my prisoner’s hat in his workshop. I agreed but I confessed that I had nothing else to protect my head. The next day, he gave me a nice cap, to be worn in his workshop but which I had to abandon there every evening. The next morning, Ruth told me, that my uniform was dirty and stinky. I explained that I got a clean uniform every Sunday after my shower. Ruth replied:
"It stinks. Give it now to me and I will clean it."
"Ruth," I had been told by Joshua to call her by her first name, "I can give you my vest if you want, but not my trousers since I am shackled for the day." And I smiled.
Joshua told his daughter:
"Let him work, we will adjust that.
The next day, when I arrived in the workshop, Joshua showed me a stool and told me to sit. He then took a key from his pocket, unlocked my shackles and said:
"Now you can go in the toilet, a better set of clothes is waiting for you."
"But, Joshua, I am not not allowed to do that. It’s the same as an evasion and I could get additional time for that."
"I know you will stay here and work for me. By the way, how do you think I got this key ? The Captain is my brother and knows about this."
It was too good, so I accepted to be temporary free. I put on the jeans and tee-shirt Joshua had prepared for me and started to work. When it was time to go back to the Camp, I changed back into prison uniform and got my shackles back. When I arrived in the Camp, I was told to go directly to the Captain’s office, still with my shackles. The Captain simply asked me, without any guard present:
"Did you enjoy your day, Convict 9038971 ?"
"Captain, Yes, Captain."
"Continue working like that, my brother told me you are an excellent workman and a good student carpenter. Go now, remain discreet about what happened with Joshua and let a guard take your shackles off."
I was again Convict 9038971 and went to my cage where all the others were wondering why I had to go to the Captain’s office. I simply told them that the Captain wanted to know if I had already plans for my future.
Life went on like that, except during a short period during which Joshua went with Ruth on holidays: I was then hired by the eternal road builder and I had to work next to Robert and Kim, with shackles on my feet. I nevertheless continued to attend the Sunday service.
Finally, it was time for me to be set free. I was brought back to the main Police station where Junior was waiting for me, promising that if I failed to work well during my 10 year probation, or if I tried to drive a car, he would arrest me again with pleasure and send me back to the Hard Labor Camp "where you belong for threatening me." He looked even more mad than the first time.