Excerpt: Re-Entry Burn

I’m not saying I’m getting this all down perfect, but it’s pretty goddamn close. It’s hard not to go back and pretend I felt and did things different than I did, but if keeping that fucking journal taught me one thing, it was that changing the words after the fact changes the point. I didn’t want to do it, but I can’t remember the last time I wanted to do anything like I was told.

I’ll try and not get ahead of myself, but this shit is new to me. Not like anyone’s reading it anyhow. Whatever, fuck it.

*~*~*

My first few days on the outside were surreal. I didn’t have to go to a halfway house, on account of letting myself be a guinea pig for this new re-entry program in Northern Virginia—Arlington, to be specific, which is about as posh as the old commonwealth gets without going back to antebellum fuckery. I landed in a charity crash pad sort of place, with instructions to visit my parole officer tomorrow at nine a.m. sharp and find an apartment and a job ASAP or face immediate boot-in-the-ass right back to Noland.

Which, for the record, is the federal pen in which I spent the two and a half years before this little story happened.

I dragged my tired ass off the lumpy mattress and stumbled out into the sunlight that first morning. I remember turning up my face, staring at the sky, and thinking Jesus Christ, it’s just so fuckin’ big. I’d seen the sky a few times while I was inside, more than most people in the Adshu, but it had always been with that goddamn inhibiting bracelet thing around me and a cart of library books in front of me and twelve sniper rifles pointed at my head. Not exactly a situation where you were noticing how the clouds looked like bunny rabbits.

And then some yuppie in a power suit and heels hit me with her shoulder, obviously on her way to somewhere very important, and I thought I was the biggest fucking idiot ever created. A whole flood of them rushed around me while I stood there staring up between the shiny steel buildings, the scaffolding for the ones still under construction, the malls and the garages and the office towers of Ballston.

My new outdoor prison. The one where everyone had somewhere to fucking be.

Even me.

*~*~*

The first thing they did was pat me down. A big, burly dude put my hands against the wall and gave me the treatment, and I gritted my teeth and blanked my face and stilled my muscles. I was pretty used to big guys grabbing me and shoving me here and there, thanks to certain correctional officers, but this was a lot of hands-on.

Also, it was the first time anyone had touched me anywhere but my arm or shoulder in over two years without getting punched for their trouble.

But when he finished, he just chucked his thumb over his shoulder. “Vasquez is the third door on the right.”

I straightened my shirt, patted my pocket to check on my wallet, and went, heart hammering in my throat.

Some of the guys inside told me not to bring my wallet to our first meeting, in case she tried to slap me with fees, but I didn’t have any money, and no bank card to get at what little was still in my account. Officer Vasquez didn’t ask for any of that shit, though, just went through the paces with the questions and rules, gave me a list of places that might be willing to hire a felon, and then sat there looking at me across the table.

She had golden-brown eyes like a hawk. Probably would’ve been good-looking, in a stern-schoolteacher-fantasy kind of way, if I had been in a position to notice. I shifted, all uncomfortable.

Finally she said, “Well, Claremont. Group therapy starts tomorrow. You looking forward to it?”

I did my anger management inside like a lamb, and I’d do this group bullshit in the same orderly, compliant fashion. But no, I was not fucking looking forward to talking about my feelings with a whole group of ex-offenders at all, thanks.

I nodded and bit my tongue.

She smiled tightly, but little wrinkles formed at the corners of her eyes. “A couple of men from Noland refused this program. A real tough bunch.”

I nodded again. Opened my mouth. Then shut it.

“I won’t take any shit from you, but I’m not as bad as you think.” She cocked her head. “You can talk in here.”

I said, “I don’t think it was the therapy that scared them, ma’am.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Oh?”

“I think it was the freedom. A lot of guys have done the revolving door before.”

What was it? Seventy percent of all ex-offenders ended up right back inside by the end of their first year of parole?

Yeah. Well, prisons are big business, and someone’s getting rich, that’s for sure. No one cares if it fuels itself with criminals, since we cashed in our human card at the door.

She grimaced. “And you? Am I going to have to watch you get stuck in it too?”

“From the bottom of my charred, black heart, I sure fucking hope not.” I flushed after it was out, realizing it wasn’t the most respectful way to talk to a PO. But she was in plainclothes, and I couldn’t see her gun. What the fuck, right?

She snorted out a laugh and leaned back in her chair so it squeaked. “Then we’ll get along fine. The group leader is Misty. She’s good. Do everything she says—and bring me your journal too.”

“Journal.”

“She’ll ask you to keep one. A record of your re-entry. For yourself—don’t worry; we won’t read it.”

My re-entry. Like I’d spent the last two years orbiting earth in a space capsule.

Then again, not much difference.

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