Part III: Getting Ready for the Worse
In a dream he had that night, Walter saw an enormous tsunami rushing toward him, ripping up trees, piers, and throwing boats in all directions. People fled from their homes but were swept into the giant vortex of nature’s fury. He was running up a hill as fast as he could but the waves soon covered him and he couldn’t get his breath. At that moment he awoke, panting and flailing in his bed. These nightmares were becoming more and more common to the point he almost dreaded going to sleep.
Unexpectedly, one afternoon when Walter wasn’t at the shop, there was a telephone call at uncle Leopold’s home. When he answered, a female voice announced there was a call from a prisoner at the state penitentiary named Carleton MacClain. Would he accept the charges? For a split second, Walter hesitated. What would uncle Leopold do if he said okay to speak with his father? Would it be expensive? What did uncle Leopold think about his father’s calling from prison?
“Yes, operator. We’ll accept the charges.”
“Walter, how are you doing? It’s good to hear your voice.”
“We’re okay. I guess you heard about Mary Jean’s being assaulted. She still in the hospital with a bad cut on her face.”
“Yes. I saw that on the news here. It really upset me. Look, I’m sorry to be calling you at Leopold’s. I tried your mother’s number but she wasn’t at home.”
“She’s in the hospital with Mary Jean. I think she’ doing pretty well in spite of everything.”
“Well, the reason I’m calling is because I’ll be coming up before the parole board in a couple of months. The governor has decided to let prisoners who weren’t guilty of violent crimes be eligible for parole status. One requirement is that the parolees have a place to live and someone to guarantee their good conduct. The parolees also have to have sufficient income so they won’t be a burden on society.”
“Since we had to sell the house when I went to prison, your mother is living in an apartment downtown. I think she’s working as a waitress now. I would need her approval to give me a place to live. In addition, to all that, I would have to report to a parole officer once a week to demonstrate that I’m trying to find a job. She would have to appear before the parole board to guarantee that she can take me in. Otherwise, I don’t think I would be able to get parole. It’s really important. It’s been almost three years and I’ve been doing real good. I’ve gotten points for good behavior.”
“That sounds great, Daddy. I’ll get in touch with Momma and see if she can help you. What does she have to do? Call the parole board?”
“Yeah. If she agrees, I’ll send her information about the parole procedure. She will have to appear at the parole board hearing.”
“You have two minutes left in your allotted conversation,” a voice cut in to remind Carleton that he would soon have to hang up.
“I wish I can see you but Momma doesn’t think I should be in the prison visiting room.”
“I understand. I enjoy getting your letters. I hope you can forgive me for what I’ve done to my family. Please tell your mother what I’ve said. God bless you, Walter. You’re in my thoughts all the time.”
There was a click on the line. Walter held the receiver for a few minutes, trying to get himself together. He would have to let uncle Leopold know what happened; in addition, he would have to tell his mother but he wasn’t sure this was the time with everything else going on.
Walter knew his uncle would be at the shop and he needed to see Gregory about everything that had occurred. Suddenly there was another phone call that he answered. “Walter, it’s Brad. We just heard about Mary Jean. Is she doing okay?” Walter filled them in on what had taken place. They found it hard to believe a Smash and Grab took place at Goldboro’s Mall. That was an upscale shopping center. They were headed for basketball practice but they wanted to check on Mary Jean first.
“Tell everybody we’re doing pretty good here. I wish we could all be together again. That would be great.” Walter said he felt the same. Maybe something could be arranged for Christmas even if it would take a good bit of planning. He thanked them for calling.
Gregory looked angry when Walter told him about what had happened at the mall. “These bastards need to be shown who’s boss. If you let them do this, they’ll try again until someone is seriously hurt or killed. They’re savages. Little apes with weapons and no shame.”
Walter agreed but repeated what he had said before: he wanted to get revenge but he didn’t have a gun or knife to defend himself.
“Hello, little man. I told you that’s no problem. You need to learn how to use a weapon and some self-defense. The nigger, Jalen, is going for you next. He probably knows you’ve fingered him. They don’t want anyone to mess with their business or be a witness.”
“My father’s in prison now. He has a chance of getting out on parole. I don’t think I should do anything that might interfere with that.”
“You’re right, singing man. But you have to choose. Let’s get you armed and trained before the son-of-a-bitch can get to you or a member of your family. Can we arrange something this weekend? I think you know we have a survival unit that trains in Charley Johnson’s woods. It’ll take a few hours the first time around.”
Walter said fine, he would like to learn how to use a weapon and some martial arts from real professionals. Gregory said he would be in touch about details. He hoped Mary Jean would be okay.
“I don’t like the idea that your father called our number,” uncle Leopold said with a frown just before dinner. “You did the right thing, Walter, but I don’t want to be associated with his being a convict and a drug dealer. People find these things out and it creates problems for me and my customers.”
Walter thanked his uncle and related in detail what the conversation was about. Leopold pushed back from the table and stared at Walter. “Have you said anything about this to your mother?”
“Not yet. She’s got so much to worry about. I thought I could let her know when Mary Jean gets out of the hospital.”
“Well, I agree, but your father should be notified as soon as possible what to expect. Your mother will need to get in touch with him one way or another. This is serious.”
Walter nodded and said he would see his mother tomorrow. He would try to tell her about his father’s request but if she was really upset, then he might have to wait a while. The parole board hearing wasn’t scheduled for another two months.
Leopold patted Walter on the shoulder. “Be brave, young fellow. Just do what you think is best for our family.”
In bed that evening, Walter fought to stay calm. “Do what you think is best for our family.” He had no idea what was best for the family. He was only fifteen years old and couldn’t begin to make decisions about parole boards. He needed to worry about his own safety at school.
He was overwhelmed by what he was facing. He didn’t even know if his mother would want his father back staying with her in the apartment. What would happen if he found out how she had been living? How many Jim Bob’s were there? The neighbors would most likely tell him. What would he do then?
As usual, once he dropped off to sleep, the nightmares came out of their dark corners. He was surrounded in his math class by Jalen and his gang members who were shouting threats as he tried to work on an Algebra problem. In the background, the substitute math teacher was looking at her watch. The louder Jalen’s mob chanted their insults, the more confused he would get, trying to solve the problem…which was really very easy.
“You have twenty seconds left,” Mrs. Cartwright called out. Walter was going to get an “F” on the assignment if he didn’t finish on time. Jalen began to laugh and taunt him: “What a dumb cracker! He can’t even work a math problem. Maybe if I kicked him in the head, he’d understand better.” The mob gathered around Walter and slapped his body at will, even drawing lines on his test paper. “Whitie can’t jump, Whitie can’t think!” They repeated over and over.
Walter woke up in a sweat, breathing hard. The day stretched out before him and he felt that he had lost control of his life. He dreaded having to face Jalen at school.
As he was finishing breakfast, the phone rang. His aunt indicated it was for him. Walter’s hands trembled, hoping that it wasn’t bad news from the hospital.
“Walter, it’s Wallace. Sorry to call so early but I didn’t know when you were leaving for school. I called the hospital but I’m not a family member so they didn’t give me any information about Mary Jean. How is she doing?”
“Pretty good. They haven’t taken her bandages off yet. Mother’s been staying with her.”
“I would really like to see her. Just tell her I called. I’m okay myself. The arm is doing better, but I’m taking pain pills when I need them.”
“I’ve gotta run. Uncle Leopold is waving at me. Thanks for calling. Take care.”
Walter could tell from Wallace’s voice that he was probably not going to see Mary Jean any more. His parents, he had heard, thought Mary Jean was too young for him and he should look for a nice girl around his age. Mary Jean would really be upset if Wallace stopped dating her but she was only a junior in high school and she ought to be dating other boys closer to her age.
At school, he learned that Mr. Westland, his original math teacher, had been reassigned to another junior high school in the suburbs where he would be a better fit. Walter thought that, all in all, Mr. Westland was lucky. There would be fewer minorities to deal with and his classes wouldn’t be disrupted all the time by slum rats like Jalen.
In his history class, he saw Jalen lurking in the back of the room, chatting with his friends. He ignored Walter but would occasionally stare at him. Did he feel any sense of remorse for the bad things he had done? He was beyond reasoning with and Walter would be next on his list. He needed Gregory’s help as soon as possible.
Somehow he would get even. He had to avenge his sister who was nothing more than collateral damage for these gangsters.
After class, Jalen approached Walter. “Hey, Walter, my favorite cracker. How’s your sister doin’. I heard she was roughed up a few days ago.”
Walter froze as he saw the smirk on Jalen’s face. With a trembling voice, he answered, “My sister is a wonderful person. She wouldn’t hurt a fly. The people who put her in the hospital should be ashamed of themselves. Sooner or later their day will come.”
“Look, white man, you had your fun oppressing us black folks since 1619. Check your history book. It’s our time now. We’re gonna have the upper hand real soon. Get used to it, cracker!”
”What did I ever do to you, Jalen? My family never oppressed anyone.”
“You’re white, you’re not a brother. Your ancestors bought and sold my people. We’re getting what’s owed to us. Don’t feel sorrow for yourself, slave trader. Once a racist, always a racist.”
Jalen laughed and left the classroom with his friends who started to laugh as well, looking back at Walter.
Walter could barely control his emotions. It was hard for him to get through the school day.
At the hospital, Walter told Mary Jean that Wallace had called. She sat up in bed and asked if he was coming by to see her. Walter said he didn’t know but Wallace sounded concerned about her. His arm was healing so he was able to get around okay.
“Maybe I could give him a call,” Mary Jean suggested. Walter looked at his mother who didn’t respond. She had warned her stepdaughter about dating much older men at her age. She had started working again at the restaurant to earn some money. The hospital expenses were more than she could handle. The medical insurance she had was not going to cover everything. There was a small amount of insurance that she qualified for from the union insurance fund. What really mattered was to get Mary Jean the best care possible.
Looking at her expression, Walter decided not to tell her about his father’s telephone call yesterday. That could wait for the right moment.
Uncle Leopold had mentioned getting in touch with Mary Jean’s birth mother in California but Walter hoped he wouldn’t do that. Caroline, the biological mother, had gone to live in California after she had divorced his father. She had remarried and would see Mary Jean from time to time, even less now that she was a teenager and it was such a long trip to the West coast. Mary Jean had become a part of their household: Walter never thought of her as a stepsister.
When Mary Jean got home from the hospital, her grandmother had come down with a bad cold. Leopold offered to put her up until her face had healed and her grandmother felt better. Mary Jean reluctantly accepted Leopold’s invitation…just until the stitches were taken out. She preferred to stay with her grandmother or “Nana.” They had bonded during the short time they had been together.
Walter was secretly delighted to have Mary Jean nearby. He could confide in her more than any other relative. He desperately needed someone to talk to in his darkest moments. His aunt and uncle were fine people but they didn’t understand what he had to deal with on a daily basis.
A few days later at uncle Leopold’s body shop, Gregory stopped by to speak with Walter. “Hey there, Bing Crosby. How’re you doin’?” Walter chuckled. He wondered if Gregory had ever listened to Bing Crosby or even knew who he was.
“We’re going to get together this weekend to practice a simulated attack on America. We’re training as guerrillas not a part of the regular army. I want you to come with me and see how we do things. We can also get you started with using a weapon and a little hand-to-hand combat.”
“That’s sounds fine,” Walter answered with anticipation. He was finally going to learn something that would possibly save his life. “I need to start on self-protection.”
Gregory told him to wear old clothing that he could get dirty. They would provide the weapons and ammunition. It would be best not to tell anyone what he was doing. Leopold didn’t believe in paramilitary units.
The FBI and law enforcement agencies had a list of extremists who were involved in military resistance. The few militants Walter had heard about were now being prosecuted for the January 6 rioting. In his mind they were heroes who had the courage to defend the sanctity of the nation against liberal fanatics. Communists and weak-kneed politicians were letting America go astray from its true bearings. These zealots were not patriots but globalists who believed in a universal citizenry and not in America as an independent country with its laws and long-standing cultural history. The commentators of the podcast he listened to warned their listeners that a country without borders was an invitation to anarchy and subservience. As long as he was alive, Walter would defend his country as special, blessed by God, and not a dumping ground for illegal aliens like it was today.
One of Gregory’s friends, Oscar de la Porte, a Puerto Rican, would pick Walter up early on Saturday morning. If his uncle inquired, Walter could say he was going to hunt deer with Gregory and other people. Oscar would have colored protective clothing for Walter to simulate deer hunters’ apparel. If all went according to plan, Walter would be home around three or four o’clock, long before supper.
Saturday’s training session came and went very smoothly. There were about forty guerilla trainees from all walks of life. Walter was surprised to see some elderly men wearing camouflage shirts and pants, military issue, together with young men in their late teens and early twenties. Each participant had a name tag that displayed only their first name; some had even assumed a pseudonym. Gregory and the organizers, of course, knew the identity of each “minuteman.”
A tall, grey-haired former colonel in the Army was the “commandant” of the group. Walter was introduced as a patriot who was being trained in the use of weapons and self-defense. He was cheered by the others who gave him a round of applause. Oddly enough, Walter felt at home even with no prior military experience. It was obvious that each militant was infused with a purpose: to defend his nation in time of attack and extreme danger. If America were ever invaded by foreign troops, they would be ready to volunteer their services, possibly joining in with the National Guard. A good number of the “home guard” (their preferred term) had military experience; many of them had been in combat in the Middle East. They knew how to use sophisticated weaponry. There were several who had served as demolition experts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the thick woods behind Charley Johnson’s farm house there was an obstacle course that simulated what recruits had to go through in basic training. In the distance Walter could see a rifle range with targets and other structures that he couldn’t identify.
Gregory took him first to the rifle range for experienced infantrymen and paramilitary volunteers who needed to practice; nearby there was an indoor shooting range where Walter was introduced to several handguns that could be used to take out an attacker. Gregory emphasized that when you used a weapon such as a handgun, all you needed to do was to hit the mid-section of the assailant. The pain would be acute and he would probably stop in his tracks, if not fall to the ground. If you tried to do a “head shot,” there was the possibility you would miss and the bad guy would continue on toward you.
Walter picked up a 9mm black handgun and examined it from several angles. Gregory patiently explained to Walter how the weapon worked. In military terms a handgun was a weapon. As a former Special Forces combatant, Gregory used only military terminology on the compound.
Walter practiced loading a clip several times, how to disarm by ejecting the clip, and how to set the safety latch. Gregory held Walter’s arms to show him how to aim the weapon and not let it wobble. When the initial steps had been reviewed, Walter was taken to one of the firing stalls where he put on specialized goggles and headgear to protect his eyes and hearing. A target appeared and Gregory gave Walter instructions about how to hold the weapon, aim, and squeeze the trigger.
Typical of most beginners, Walter could barely hit the target itself, much less the designed area he was aiming at. He adjusted bit by bit to the handgun’s recoil after he pulled the trigger. Gregory lectured him about safety precautions, how to hold the weapon upright when not in use, and how to apply the safety switch at all times if carrying the weapon off the firing range. He also insisted that Walter hold the weapon with both hands in a special way to insure accuracy. After three or four attempts, Walter finally hit the target, but was not even close to its objective that Gregory had encircled in red ink. Gregory patted his back and said that most beginners took a long time before they could handle the weapon efficiently. Not to worry.
After his initial training in gun use and marksmanship, Gregory took him to the hand-to-hand combat area for trainees. A relatively young instructor in military gear, supervised by Gregory, taught Walter the basic moves of self-protection. Using a padded mat, the young ex-military specialist threw him down several times in demonstrating how to disable an attacker. After about forty minutes of self-defense maneuvering, Gregory suggested that they pause to let Walter get his breath and review what needed to be done.
“You’re doing pretty good,” Gregory said. “At your age and body size, you have to learn to fight dirty. We’ll show you the way to do this next time. You’re not a big guy so you’ll need to work out to gain more muscle and bulk.”
Walter was taken aback by what Gregory expected him to do. To defend himself against a larger opponent, he had to train like a martial arts athlete. Sadly, Walter was not a good subject; he only made average grades in physical education. “Walter, take a deep breath! It’s going to be okay,” Gregory advised seeing his reaction. “We’ve got a small gym near the back of the farm house with weights and other equipment for people who want to stay in shape.”
Walter checked his watch, and said, “I’ve got two more hours. Could I lift some weights before we leave?”
“That’s my guy! You’ve got the spirit,” Gregory exclaimed.
When he returned to Leopold’s house, Walter was dripping in perspiration; he felt almost purged of his emotional tension. Working out had done him a world of good. He felt much more in control of his body and thoughts. If he continued with Gregory and the training regime, he wouldn’t be so afraid of Jalen’s threats and being hurt in a skirmish.
Three weeks later
Almost against his will, Walter had given in to his uncle Leopold’s demands that he tell his mother about the parole board offer and the terms of his father’s release. He had asked if she could have dinner with him at the restaurant one day, that he had something he needed to discuss with her. She looked at him in a funny way, but agreed to his request. As an employee of the restaurant, she got a free meal; when the owner found out that she would be having dinner with her son, he generously said there would be no charge for him.
As they were finishing the meal, Walter reached across and touched her arm. She placed her hand over his and looked directly into his eyes. “Okay, what’s on your mind? You look serious. You’re not having more trouble at school are you?”
“No, thank God. The blacks seem to be interested in someone else for the time being.” Then he gathered his courage, and told her about the telephone call from his father, the governor’s leniency, and the conditions of his father’s release. His mother’s expression was at first blank with shock, and then she frowned, pursing her lips. She reached across the table and slapped his face as though she was disciplining a four-year child.
“How long have you known about this?” Walter lowered his eyes, not able to face her. “About two or three weeks,” he mumbled. “After what happened to Mary Jean, I didn’t think you could deal with this as well.”
She leaned forward and almost barked out her reply, “Young man, you let me decide what I can or cannot withstand. I needed to say something to Carleton right away. I guess he thinks we’ve turned him down.”
After a long pause, she said, “Let me think about this tonight. I’ll try to reach him at the penitentiary tomorrow. It’s not easy. You have to make an appointment for a call.”
“Momma, I’m sorry. I didn’t really know what to do. Uncle Leopold insisted I talk with you.”
“So the family knows about the parole issue…what did he say?”
“He was upset about Daddy using his phone number. But not much else. I don’t think he’s in favor of Daddy roaming around with nothing to do.”
“Well, when I have some information, I’ll get in touch with him and discuss what we should do if Carleton gets his parole.”
She now had a much softer expression on her face. She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. “My poor little Walter. You’re really done well with all this fuss and craziness. You’ve been a brave soldier.” As though a dam had broken, he started to cry. His mother stood up and gathered him in her arms like she did when he was having a bad dream and needed her love and protection. She herself began to cry softly. The owner and several customers were looking at them. She made a gesture that everything was fine. She walked outside with her son and took him back to Leopold’s house. She gave him a hug, waved goodbye, and watched him go through the front door. She was overwhelmed by her pity for him, all alone and struggling to be an adult.
After his fifth session at the training camp site, Walter told Gregory that he was ready to defend himself enough and he wouldn’t be continuing. He thanked him for his help and interest.
“Walter, let’s be honest. You’ve learned a good bit, but another month would make a big difference in being prepared for the worst.” Gregory continued, putting his hand on Walter’s shoulder. “If you feel really threatened, I can get you a weapon for personal defense. You have to be careful how you use it. It’s only in case your life is in danger.”
Just before he went to bed, Walter tried to imagine facing Jalen with a gun in his hand, pulling the trigger, and watching blood spurt from his body lying on the ground. He would possibly have avenged his sister, but Jalen’s gang members would hunt him down mercilessly and get their revenge. In addition, there would be a police inquiry and lots of publicity. He would probably be suspended from school, imprisoned during the pre-trial period (his mother could not raise enough money for his bail), and finally put on trial with all the public scrutiny of his past (son of a drug dealer in prison, member of a white supremacist military group, etc.), seeing his mother and relatives in court for a second time, and hearing a judge find him guilty of premeditated murder. He would be subject to a life sentence…in particular because his crime would be labeled a “hate” crime.
The black judge would not grant him any mercy although this would be a crime of passion and he was a first-time offender. Given his age, he would be tried as an adult because of the interracial nature of what he had done. The court-appointed lawyer would not defend him effectively; calling witnesses was expensive and Walter should have referred his harassment complaint to the police and not tried to be a vigilante.
The lawyer would attempt to negotiate with the prosecution for a lighter sentence, but the notoriety of a cold-blooded killing of a black youth by an enraged “white supremacist” teenager was not something an ambitious prosecutor could overlook. A conviction in this case would insure his or her promotion to a higher rank in the bureaucracy or political success in a coming election.
Outside the courtroom, the victim’s friends and family would stage television interviews. The mother would appeal to the courts for justice for her son who had been viciously executed at point blank range by a white supremacist. Pictures of a handsome young black in his grade school graduation gown would be shown. The black junior high coach would declare him to be an admired member of the baseball team and a future medical student whose ambitions had been tragically cut short by a deranged white supremacist whose father was serving prison time.
“Justice for Jalen” would be printed on signs that black supporters would wave at the cameras. Ambitious black reporters would interview the sobbing relatives of the victim. An atmosphere of racial injustice and abuse would infuse TV and print media’s coverage of Walter’s crime. An appeal of his sentencing would fall on deaf ears; he didn’t have the means and legal assistance to pursue his case to the appellate courts. At his age he would be abused by the older prisoners in juvenile detention.
As though by divine intervention one day, Walter saw in the newspaper that Jalen and his mob had been challenged by a shop owner and his sons during a Smash and Grab attack at a clothing store downtown. The shop owner and his family had pulled out their ax handles and a shotgun that was kept beneath the counter. Once they saw the shotgun, two of the masked blacks drew their revolvers and began to shoot. The owner was hit in the shoulder but managed to get off two blasts from his shotgun. The black intruders fell to the floor.
A tall masked black teenager with multiple tattoos on his arms picked up a revolver and began to fire at the owner. However, one of the sons swung his ax handle and hit the shooter on the arm, forcing him to drop his handgun. A second individual, also one of the owner’s sons, swung at the black teenager and cracked open his skull just above the ear. Screaming in pain, he fell to his knees and rolled over to one side. The other gang members either fled into the streets or were blocked by a son holding his father’s shotgun.
Within minutes the police arrived in battle gear, weapons drawn. Paramedics appeared soon thereafter and began to treat the owner and wounded intruders. TV camera footage showed Jalen’s unmasked face as medical personnel tried to staunch the flow of blood from his head. The other black looters were covered with blankets, indicating they had been killed by the shotgun blasts. Those who had been trapped inside were arrested and were sitting on the floor, handcuffed.
TV cameras swarmed around the store entrance and reporters were interviewing bystanders to get their story of what had taken place. The following day, headlines announced the capture of the “Smash and Grab” gang, with vivid pictures of the scene. The TV morning programs highlighted the arrest of teenage thieves by courageous store personnel. Security camera footage provided dramatic scenes with the faces of the intruders whited out for legal reasons. Reporters went out of their way to hide the race of the criminals, limiting themselves to statement such as “unruly teenagers who had attempted to rob a clothing store in a downtown shopping area.” No reference to the Smash and Grab gang was made.
“What a mess! Just look at this robbery at Manfred’s downtown store. I buy my clothes from him,” Leopold exclaimed as he held up the front page of the morning paper. “This is the mob of black teenagers who had been terrorizing merchants for months. Good riddance!”
Walter asked if he could see the newspaper. He immediately recognized Jalen’s body, lying on the ground with his arm tattoos clearly displayed. Blood soaked through the bandages on his head but the rest of his body was visible.
Walter felt an immediate sense of relief; an enormous weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He had to control himself and not yell out for joy at seeing his Nemesis headed for prison. The “woke” lawyers would find it hard to pass this off as a minor infraction by a black youth who was the victim of discrimination.
Walter had to resist the temptation to call his mother and explain that his harasser had been arrested and would most likely go to prison for his crimes.
At school, rumors were flying about the robbery and Jalen’s arrest. Several other classmates who were members of the gang had also been arrested. In their history class, Mrs. Wainwright, in her African headdress and vividly colored robes, said nothing about the arrests. Walter thought that if this had been done by “white supremacists,” she would have spent the entire class period lecturing her students on racial injustice, white guilt, and the need to atone for the abusive treatment of blacks from past generations. He wished he had the courage to ask her opinion of what had happened but he realized that progressive activists cannot admit error or guilt. She would view his questions as provocative and turn the situation around to her advantage.
At the body shop, the mechanics were talking about what had taken place and how the “niggers” had gotten their just deserts. Gregory knew from Walter’s expression, that he wouldn’t have to worry any more about being harassed. “So these were the dudes who were making your life miserable?” Walter nodded and then smiled. “This time, they can’t get off with a misdemeanor charge. They’ll be doing some hard time.”
Gregory added, “Most dangerous criminals who are underage are put in detention centers until they reach eighteen; then, they’re transferred to regular prisons where they’ll finish their sentence.”
“God, I hope so. If he gets out too early, he’ll come looking for me, I’m certain.” Walter’s voice expressed an element of doubt. “By then, I hope I’m living somewhere else. There’s not much of a future here for me. The mills are closing down and I don’t have any skills for coding or hi-tech firms.”
“You’ll find something, my man. Maybe you could get into musical production. You’re good at that.” Gregory patted him on the back. “If you need us for help or more training, just get in touch.”
Gregory had become a close friend in Walter’s opinion; he would take care of him if anything bad happened. In Walter’s eyes he was a protector or body guard of sorts. They had very little in common on many issues. Walter was a committed patriot: this was a quality that Gregory truly admired in a fifteen-year-old.
For some reason they had hit it off. To Walter’s knowledge, Gregory also told the truth, sometimes in a direct and harsh manner. Maybe that’s what he liked the most about him. Do what you think is right in spite of the consequences. Gregory always gave the impression of being “combat ready” in his personal and political life.
After leaving the hospital, Mary Jean had moved into an empty bedroom in uncle Leopold’s house. She would stay with them until her face had healed and she didn’t need additional treatment for her scar tissue. She got along with both Aunt Harriet and Uncle Leopold but they were very conservative and disapproved of young people who partied and didn’t go to church on a regular basis.
Mary Jean’s grandmother, Nana, was much more accepting in that she understood young people needed to find their own way in life. Sometimes they would make mistakes but in most cases these could be corrected. Setting a good example for them was important in her mind. It was also important to let them know they were loved and would be forgiven if they made bad choices. That went a long way toward teaching good behavior. Mary Jean would never do anything to embarrass her grandmother whom she deeply admired.
She was glad she could talk freely with Walter whose bedroom was right down the hall. Having someone close by to share her thoughts and hopes was very important. He had seemed so sad dealing with the black teenagers at school. He also missed seeing their father — so did she. She didn’t write him in prison as much as she should. It was hard to find something to say. How could she talk about Wallace with a father-prisoner and a drug dealer? Maybe he could offer her some advice, but she needed a woman’s point of view. Her stepmother was really nice but Mary Jean was embarrassed by the way she was living freely with men she had met at the restaurant.
Walter had taken his shower and from the doorway of his room he called out, “Good night, Mary Jean.” She was surprised to hear his voice, but she answered, “Good night, Walter.” A new life seemed to be opening its doors for both of them.
Walter’s mother had talked with her husband, Carleton, on the prison phone as soon as possible after hearing Walter’s story about the parole episode. She knew that their conversation would be recorded so she had to be careful what she said. She apologized for the delay but said Mary Jean needed her care and attention in the hospital. All of them had been traumatized by the assault and the black teenage mob.
She went through what Walter had said and asked if that was correct. Carleton changed a few minor items but confirmed the information. He would need her support to get a parole; she would of course have to come to his parole hearing to testify. If she wasn’t willing to do that, he would be stuck in prison for another ten years.
There was a pleading, urgent sound in his request, almost a supplication. Katherine (“Kate”), Walter’s mother and Carleton’s wife, said she would read the information he would be sending her about the parole procedures and requirements. However, there were a few things that needed to be clarified first before she could approve his parole.
Carleton’s tone became defensive and he assured her that he was a changed man. The chaplain had been giving him spiritual guidance for the last three years and he had accepted Christ as his savior. He was leading prayer vigils at worship services on Sunday for fellow prisoners who were in distress. He had put drugs and easy money behind him and he promised to lead a more responsible life towards his family and the community.
A voice intervened and reminded them that the call would be terminated in two minutes. She said goodbye and that she would be in touch after she received the parole material. He wished her well, said he missed her and the children; all of them were in his prayers every night.
Katherine, Walter’s mother, slumped onto her bed and put her arm across her forehead. All prisoners, she had heard, would use their conversion to Christ or a more sincere approach to faith as a negotiating device to get what they needed. She knew her husband well, but she didn’t know how he would be after three years in confinement. You had to be very tough and resistant to survive in prison, surrounded by criminals of all types. Some were very hostile to whites and dangerous; Carleton ran the risk of being assaulted physically and sexually. In certain prisons, survival was based on securing a “protector” in exchange for favors, normally homosexual in nature. What had he been through?
She had also heard that guards could be bribed to sell drugs illegally to prisoners. Would he be “clean” or was he still a user of black market opiates that many prisoners had access to?
Where would he be living? There were only two bedrooms in her apartment. She had been entertaining several men during Carleton’s prison stay; she needed money and physical intimacy at her age. She couldn’t confine him to the second bedroom if he returned. He would never agree to that. They were after all still married and he would demand they resume sexual relations.
What about the requirement of getting a job during his parole period? Unemployment was widespread in the area; she would have to continue being a waitress for them to survive. Jim Bob was her best “off duty” customer; he paid well and they had become very close over the last few years. He would not be willing to cut all ties with her and their intimacy just because her husband had been released from prison.
Maybe there would be a way she could continue being a waitress and Jim Bob’s mistress at the same time. People talk, she realized, and everyone was aware of the double life she had been leading. If her husband found out…it was really a question of when he would find out…he would be very angry if not revengeful. Her life and health would be at stake if he flew into a rage.
Carleton was also capable of attacking Jim Bob as the one who had seduced his wife. He would surely go back to prison and she would be fired from her job at the restaurant. Under these conditions, she would have to leave town and settle elsewhere to start a new life.
What about the children? Kate became more and more upset. One solution, of course, would be to deny her husband any lodging or financial support; if so, he would not receive parole. The children would not understand and would hold this decision against her. They wanted very much to see their father again. To have him at home with them was what they wanted the most.
The parole documents would be delivered in a few days. In the meanwhile, she needed to confide in someone she could trust. There was no one in the immediate family. She was viewed as a lady of dubious virtue who had broken up Carleton’s previous marriage by seducing him.
A long time ago Grace Finemore had been one of Kate’s closest companions; they had frequented bars gaudily dressed and picked up men on a regular basis. Grace had later married a construction worker who was a decent and caring man. They lived in a neighboring state and had two children. Grace was also working as a waitress. Now and then, Kate would get an e-mail from Grace, just to touch base and see how things were going. She needed to get in touch with her friend for advice. Grace, however, was not well versed in criminal affairs nor did she know anything about qualifying for parole from prison.
Kate wasted no time and sent her friend an e-mail about her dilemma. Would she mind discussing this matter with her? Within minutes, Kate received an answer from Grace, saying she would be glad to help.
A few minutes later, Kate was surprised to get a phone call from her friend. “Kate, baby doll. How are you? I hope this is a good time for you? Your e-mail sounded urgent.”
“Bless you, Grace. It’s so good to hear your voice. Thank you for calling me so quickly. Yes, it’s urgent and I do need some advice.”
Kate explained her situation and what choices she had, her voice rising and falling with emotion. Grace would occasionally break in with soothing words, lamenting how complicated her problem was. After a while, Kate paused and waited for Grace to reply. “Sweetheart, this is a ‘mell of a hess!’ Let me be honest, I’ve never had to face anything like this. The closest crisis I experienced was when a pissed-off wife threatened to sue me for ‘alienation of affection’ because I had an affair with her husband. I got out of that by saying goodbye to the spouse. End of story.”
“Do you think I should let Carleton come back home?”
“If you do, I don’t think he’ll be grateful. He’ll want his old life back and he’s not going to let you sleep around. No way.”
“We don’t have any money so I’ll keep on being a waitress. It’s hard work and that’s the only way I can provide for us. I need more in my life.” Kate’s voice was emphatic.
“Well, I’m okay with waiting tables because my husband has a good, solid job. Do you think Carleton can get something in the area?”
“Not if they find out he’s an ex-con and a drug dealer. I’m afraid he’ll go back to his bad habits and start dealing again if he gets desperate.” Kate expressed her deepest concern, almost breaking into tears.
“Look, why don’t you give this crap a few more days before you make a decision. If he has to stay in prison, can you live with that? Freedom requires a lot of self-control. Do you think he can be a good father and husband? If so, give it a chance. If he does anything bad, he knows he’ll go back to prison. That might keep him in line.”
“Thanks, Grace. I’m responsible for some of this mess and I’ll have to deal with it.”
“Gotta run now. Frank likes to get his supper on time. Good luck, dear friend. Let me know how it turns out.”
Out of nervous exhaustion, Kate fell asleep without washing her face or even getting out of her clothes. Grace had been a good echo chamber for her concerns and fears. It was obvious to Kate that she was slowly losing control of her options. She had the unnerving feeling that outside forces were pushing her in the wrong direction. What had been a quiet life as a waitress and a protective mother had degenerated into a day by day search for some degree of compromise between personal comfort and potential disorder.
Things, she sensed, would get worse before they got better.