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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.

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Seductive Musings

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Marc's Christmas in prison — web exclusive



One of the most moving experiences of my life was the 24 hours I spent as an inmate in the women's unit of the county jail. "Arrested" as part of a deal with the county sheriff, I went in as a felony arrest, which meant enduring a strip search. I hoped to reveal to my newspaper readers what life was like in the overcrowded jail. Kind of an extreme way of doing it, I know, but if you know anything about my journalism career, you know I rarely take the easy way out of a story. Whether that's a good thing or whether it means I'm crazy, I'll leave for you to decide.

Most of us give little thought to people who are locked behind bars. We tend to dismiss them because, well, they're criminals. They've broken the law. Their lives are a mess. And we just don't care. I find that sad. No matter how messed up a person's life has become, all human beings are entitled to compassion. Having seen exactly how desperate, lonely, miserable, violent and frightening life behind bars can be, I made it one of my missions to write about inmates, in particular women in prison.

The novel Unlawful Contact grew out of my experiences covering prison issues as a reporter. And I know that today, Christmas Day, there are tens of thousands of inmates who are serving their time, completely forgotten by the rest of the world.

That's part of the reason for what I'm posting today.

The other reason is that Marc won't leave me alone! And as I thought about inmates in prison this Christmas, I thought of my beloved Marc, and I realized that this is another Christmas in prison for him. (It's his last Christmas in prison, but he doesn't know that...)

I tapped into Marc, and this scene popped into my head. It's not in the novel. It fits in between the Prologue and Chapter 1. And it's my Christmas present to you, my dear friends. Thanks so much for your support!

Merry Christmas, and enjoy!

Christmas Day, 2007



Marc forced out one more sit-up, then leaned back on his arms, breathing hard, the strain taking only the slightest edge off his black mood. After six years of living in a nine-by-nine concrete box you’d think he’d be used to this. But maybe that was part of the punishment—you never got used to it.

He stood, threw himself down for a set of push-ups, the pain a kind of anesthetic, a way to focus on something besides the nothingness that was his life.

Seventy-five, seventy-six, seventy-seven.

He pushed past 100, then sat back against the wall to catch his breath.

Other men read their kids bedtime stories or made love to their wives before they went to sleep. He kicked his own ass. And he rarely slept. Not deeply, anyway.

From down the cell block came the muffled sound of crying. The new kid. Only sixteen, he’d been drunk and fucking around with daddy’s gun when it had shocked the hell out of him and slam-fired into his best friend. The judge had been in a kick-ass mood and decided to make an example of him. He’d been sentenced to sixteen years.

Helluva thing to happen.

Still, someone needed to tell the kid to shut up. Show too much vulnerability in this place, and you’d find yourself on bitch duty. Marc would have a talk with him tomorrow.

Tomorrow—Christmas Day.

He’d forgotten about it completely until Cormack had wished him a Merry Christmas during evening count an hour ago. It would be like any other damned day, except the kitchen would turn out some dry fucking shit that was supposed to be turkey together with blobs of canned cranberry sauce. The luckier inmates would get photographs or Christmas cards or maybe even cash for their commissary accounts. Everyone else would watch those lucky few—and think about the families they left behind on the outside, families that no longer gave a damn about them.

Marc reached for the photo of Megan holding little Emily, let his gaze travel over the familiar image. Megan, her hair drawn back in a pony tail, exhaustion on her face, her ankle cuffed to the bedrail. She looked exhausted but happy, her gaze fixed on her baby girl, a look of wonder in her eyes.

Emily was almost six months old now and thriving with her Mennonite foster family. As unexpected Megan's pregnancy had been, Marc was grateful that his niece had come along when she had. Megan had quit using drugs the moment she’d realized she was pregnant. If she stayed clean, she’d be out of prison and in a halfway house in a little more than a month — and she’d be able to see Emily again.

If Marc had still believed in prayers, he’d have prayed for that — that his sister would be reunited with her baby and live a long and happy life. The two of them still had a chance at a normal life, and he would do anything — anything — to make sure they got that chance.

Of course, there wasn’t much he could do, given that he was locked in this place and would be for the rest of his life.

L.W.O.P.

Life without parole.

He set the photo down and reached for the newspaper article on the shelf beneath, his gaze seeking the byline.

By Sophie Alton

He ran a fingertip over the ink, ran her name through his mind.

Strange that she of all people should end up writing articles about his sister’s struggle. Compassionate, smart, a damned good writer—Sophie had made her dream of becoming a top-notch journalist a reality. And Marc respected her all the more for it.

If he closed his eyes, he could picture her clearly even though twelve long years had gone by since the last time he’d seen her. Straight strawberry blonde hair. Beautiful blue eyes. Delicate features.

Fairy sprite.

That’s what he’d called her that night so long ago—the night he’d taken her virginity and
spent the night with her beneath the stars. It was a dumb nickname, really. But then he’d been only eighteen.

Sophie was the best thing that had ever happened to him. He’d spent one night with her, and somehow she’d changed his life—at least for a little while. He’d give whatever little bit of his soul he had left to see her again, except that he didn’t want her to see the man he’d become.

Did she regret that night? Did she remember him the way he remembered her?

He began to read through the article, when the lights went out.

Eleven P.M. Another day done.

He set the clipping back on his shelf, then stretched out on his bunk and stared into the darkness. Down the hall, the kid was still crying.

And then he heard it—someone singing.

“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.”

How long had it been, how many years, since Marc had heard the carol? His throat grew tight as the song went on, the words with their hope so out of place in this godforsaken hellhole. Nights were never silent in prison, and nothing even close to holy ever happened here.

"Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”

He didn’t even know what peace was any longer, and he wished whoever was singing would shut the fuck up.

But another voice took up the words. And another. And another.

”Silent night, holy night, shepherds quake at the sight. Glories stream from heaven afar. Heavenly hosts sing hallelujah. Christ the savior is born. Christ the savior is born.”

And Marc found himself singing along, the lyrics coming to him out of some forgotten memory.

“Silent night, holy night, son of God, love’s pure light. Radiant beams from they holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace.”

But the last words died on his tongue. There would be no redemption for him, no second chance.

“Jesus lord at thy birth, Jesus lord at thy birth.”

The song finished, leaving a bittersweet silence in its wake.

And then Marc heard.

The kid down the cell block had quit crying.

And for the first time in years, Marc closed his eyes and prayed—for Megan, for Emily.

And for Sophie.

10 comments:

J said...

That touched me, it really did. I am a teary. I suppose I am guilty as charged. I give very little thought to the real people behind the label "criminal", not in any more than a superficial, pc kinda way, anyways.

I will always remember one time I was in a big dept store in Perth, looking at cosmetics when three Aboriginal girls came in and within two minutes three big security guards arrived and just shadowed them.

It was done so blatantly, so quietly aggressively that I was amazed. I mean, if you are going to be treated as a criminal just for walking in the door, well why wouldn't you steal something? You are getting the grief anyway.

Later I was ashamed that I didn't speak up, I still am, 15 years later, I am still ashamed that I didn't front up to these security personnel that silently harassed these girls out of the shop.

Wonder what happened to those girls? I mean, everyone is someone's son or daughter aren't they?
We all start out clean and fresh and unfortunately we aren't all treated the same and that treatment can become a self fulfilling prophecy.

Ok, I am rambling now, but that really got me thinking.

Six weeks or so and we can stay up all weekend chatting about this kinda stuff and pondering the world while eating Tim Tams and drinking!
Can't wait!

J xx

Ah, Joanie, I'm so glad you were touched by it. One of my missions in life is to be a voice for the truly voiceless. And some of those with no voice aren't very nice people. But they are human beings.

Here's what I believe: how we treat others has nothing to do with what kind of people they are, whether they're gay, mentally ill, in prison or poor or whatever. How we treat others is all about who we are. It says everything about us, and nothing about them.

This is obvious when you look at people who are mistreated because of race. The bad treatment they receive says nothing about them as human beings (like those aboriginal girls), but it does tell you quite a lot about the person who's mistreating them.

I really want to share more about my experience in jail with all of you (Joanie, you'll be hearin' about it in my kitchen soon!) and also about the prejudices I found in the journalism world against people in prison. It really woke me up and sickened me. But that's the topic of another post.

(((HUGS))), Jones. Got a bottle of Irish Creme waiting on my countertop for us to open it and you and me and Aims and LibBAY to drink up!

P.S. And Joanie, don't be hard on yourself. In the situation you described it's really difficult to know how to react. When you first see it, it's kind of hard to believe. It's called delayed reaction, and it's very human. Besides, I'm not sure what you could have done against security guards, other than complain to the company and write a letter to the editor, naming the store. You can do that next time. Sadly, I'm certain such behavior continues.

P.C.

Debbie H said...

Wow, poor Marc and the real life people in prison. I know they are sometimes the worst of the human race, but they are human and they do have deep down inside, a soft spot. Most times they have pushed it so deep, it's hard to find. I really think the justice system needs a major overhaul. There should be set sentences for offenses, not the whim of the judge on a bad day.

Thanks PC, I hope you are having a wonderful day!

Sue Z said...

Wow, PC! What a nice Christmas treat and that was so very touching. My heart really goes out to Marc and his sister.

I have watched a few documentories about life in a maximum secruity prison. The sad thing that I see is that prison simlpy becomes a way of life with no thought to rehabilitation or much of anything else. Just like Marc, it is a game of "make it to the next day"

One of my favorite programs is when they bring in dogs for the inmates to work with & train. The program seems to have had great success for both the inmates and the dogs that they work with. They have this program in a prison system here in Ohio.

About 8 years ago the newly elected Governor in Ohio went about cutting as many things as he could from the state budget. One of the first things that he did was to close down a bunch of state prisons. One of them was not too far from where I live. I could not help but wonder what happen to all the inmates. Where did they go?

I did not get to see the prison that you stayed at (It was not part of the PC Reality Tour '07). I bet that must have been quite an experience for you. I have so much respect for you as a journalist (get the f*ck out of the way, Lisa Ling!!)

Thanks for listening to what Marc wanted to tell you and for sharing it with us.

JennJ said...

Wow all I can say is wow and wipe the tears from my eyes. That was really touching I like everyone here am guilty of forgetting that they are people in prison and the hardships they suffer while there as I go about my "normal" life.
No matter how hardened the criminal at one time they were an innocent child with hopes and dreams before something in this sinful and wicked world got in the way and twisted it all around to where they ended up where they were, for whatever reason. I pray that something will come into their lives even in those tiny concrete walls and awaken that innocent child that was once housed there and bring it back to life. EVERYONE can change if they trully want to badly enough. And for the ones that want to, I hope they get the chance. Even if they don't ever see the outside of the prison walls it matters how they live each day. It matters to all of us no matter where we are. God sees us no matter where we are behind the walls of our homes or inside the razor wired fences of a maxium security prison.

Merry Christmas Pamela and terrific writing and very moving.

Ronlyn said...

Merry Christmas dearie!
It just took me about 20 min. to read that since I'm at the office and the phone kept interrupting me. (Darn people anyway trying to make me work!) *G*
Thank you for the wonderful gift. Very moving.

Aimee said...

Made me tear up Hon, thank you so much for sharing that. Like Jones said, I can't wait to sit in person and talk & talk until the wee hours of the morning.

THANK YOU AGAIN, I love you1

Cheryle said...

Hope you had a wonderful Christmas Pamela!

That was wonderful, I have to say I usually don't give any thought to people in prison at Christmas either. My father-in-law is a good man though and he makes sure his nephew knows that he still has someone who cares. He makes trips up when he can to see him in prison. I never thought much about it until this moment.

Thank you!

Bo said...

Awesome writing,thank you!!!

I have to admit,I have mixed feelings about people in prison.The ones that have committed theft & stuff like that is one thing.I feel pity for them,for what drove them to it.

The murderers,well,it depends on the situation.By no means do I excuse what they did,but if it was a cheating spouse kind of thing,well,then I could understand the why of it.

The creatures I feel zero compassion,zero tolerance for,the ones that I feel don't deserve to breathe the same air as the rest of us,are the ones who have harmed children,whether the child died from it or not.Molesters,baby-killers,that sort of thing.I have a special hatred for that sort of creature.I would go to prison for murder if someone ever dared to hurt my kids like that.

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