SJF – Chapter 5

This entry is part 5 of 25 in the series SJF Chapters

background-tile3.jpgThe detectives and Captain Freedom left Darius alone in the interrogation room with Edith O’Malley. She sat silently watching him as he ate the fast food that had been brought to him. Not much of last meal for a condemned man, Darius thought as he chewed the cold, greasy hamburger.

“There’s nothing I can do for you this time,” said Edith, her voice sounding tired and sad.

Darius wanted to apologize to Edith. He knew that she cared about him, maybe even more than most social workers care about their clients. And for whatever reason, he felt like he’d let her down. He couldn’t think of anything to say—at least not anything that would have mattered—so he just offered her some of his food.

“No thanks,” she said with a faint smile.

Of all the clients Edith O’Malley had—more than she could adequately take care of—Darius was one of her favorites. Despite his troubles, she knew that he was a good person. And considering all that he’d experienced over the years, Edith was often amazed at how well he had managed to keep himself together. She had nearly two-dozen other clients, all of them strung out on drugs, drowning in booze, and in and out of jail. She was pretty sure Darius had never done drugs, and even when he went to juvenile detention on assault charges, part of her knew that he was justified in what he’d done.

“It’s cool if you don’t visit me in prison,” Darius said.

“What are you talking about?” Edith asked.

“Could you just send me letters or something? Not all the time—one or two a year would be fine. Just something to remind me that I was once somebody who had someone that cared.”

Edith reached out and took Darius’s hand. They both sat in silence, angry and sad at the cruel world that brought them together. In a better world, Darius and Edith would have never met. And though neither said it to the other, they both wished their lives had been different. Darius wished his life had never fallen apart. Edith wished she didn’t have to spend her life holding together the broken pieces of kids like Darius.

The door to the interrogation room opened, and a uniformed officer led Darius out of the room and down the hall. Edith began to cry, wondering if she would ever see him again.

The police officer escorted Darius to a different room—a larger conference room, with better lighting, more comfortable chairs, and no stale scent of cigarette smoke. Captain Freedom sat waiting with two other people Darius didn’t know. They’re not cops, he thought. Probably lawyers.

“Sit,” said Captain Freedom, pointing to a chair.

I’m not a dog, Darius thought as he sat in the chair next to the one Captain Freedom pointed to.

“This is Oliver Porter with the Public Defender’s office and this Adalyne Oldham with the District Attorney’s office,” said Captain Freedom.

A pudgy black man with a shaved head, Oliver Porter looked like a darker version of Elmer Fudd from those old Bugs Bunny cartoons. He wore a suit that looked less than new, and a tie with little green cartoon frogs that looked like a Father’s Day gift. His briefcase sat in front of him, a disorganized pile of papers overflowing onto the table.

“You can call me Ollie. I’ll be representing you,” he said, extending his hand.

Ollie Porter looked like a soft man. But his handshake was surprisingly strong, and his voice was probably an octave lower than his looks would have indicated.

Sitting across from Ollie, with a pile of papers slightly more organized, sat Adalyne Oldham, an older white woman with dark circles under her eyes and glasses about to slide off her nose. “You can call me Ms. Oldham,” she said in far less friendly tone.

Aside from the brief introductions, neither lawyer wasted any time getting to the heart of the matter. Ollie shuffled through his stacks of papers, looking for something that didn’t seem to be there. “You’re a ward of the state,” he said in more of a statement than a question.

Darius assumed that Ollie was talking to him and nodded his head. “Yes.”

“And you turn seventeen later this month?” asked Ollie, shuffling through the papers.

Darius nodded again. “On Wednesday,” he said.

Ms. Oldham cleared her throat as if she had something to say. Everyone turned to look at her, except for Captain Freedom, who never took his eyes off Darius.

“Mr. Logan, given your past record, and the nature of the crimes you’ve been charged with, it is the belief of the District Attorney’s office that despite your age, you be charged as an adult,” said Oldham, pushing her glasses back further up to the bridge of her nose. Her voice rasped from too much smoking, and her lips barely moved when she talked.

The world around Darius began to crumble, while he felt like he was collapsing in on himself.

“Do you know what that means?” asked Ollie.

“Serious time,” answered Darius.

“I’m afraid so,” said Ollie. “If you’d been in possession of cocaine, it might have been different. But possession of Adrenaccelerate is a federal offense, and the amount you were carrying bumps the charges up to possession with intent to sell. And then you throw in resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. That’s very serious time.”

“We’ll need to confer with the federal prosecutor’s office, but the D.A.’s office will be looking for the maximum sentence,” said Oldham. Her voice sounded tired, like the last thing she wanted to talk about was how much of Darius’s life would be spent in prison. “Fifteen years, minimum, is what we’re going to ask for.”

Fifteen years? Darius felt like he had just been hit in the face with a brick.

“Would you excuse us for a few minutes?” asked Captain Freedom.

Both Ollie and Ms. Oldham mumbled something, and then left Darius and Captain Freedom sitting across from each other at the large conference table. Except for the sound of the clock ticking, the room was uncomfortably silent.

“Congratulations, Darius,” said Captain Freedom, breaking the awkward silence. “You have officially become both a stereotype and a statistic. You’re a three-time loser headed to a life in prison. Not much of a way to honor the memory of your parents, is it?”

Alone with the superhero he worshipped in his childhood, Darius no longer felt scared or ashamed or confused. He simply felt angry. Darius burned with anger over Captain Freedom’s words and what they said about him and his life.

Even though he stood only five-feet, seven inches tall, and weighed only 135 pounds, Darius wanted to fight. Captain Freedom pissed him off, and it didn’t matter that the superhero had single-handedly defeated supercriminals like Doc Kaos and the Masters of D.E.A.T.H., or that he led Super Justice Force in defending Earth against the forces of the Ad-Ahlen Empire. It didn’t matter that Captain Freedom could bend steel with his bare hands, or that he could fly, or that a copy of the first issue of his comic book had sold on eBay for over $10,000. All that mattered was that Darius wanted to tear his head off.

Darius quickly glanced around the room looking for some sort of weapon. I wonder how much damage it would do if I hit him over the head with one of these chairs, Darius thought. Probably not much. Bullets bounce off him.

“I can tell you’re pissed off,” said Captain Freeman, a slight smile on his face. “And you know what?”

Darius stared directly into the eyes of Captain Freedom. He might not be able to go toe to toe with him, but Darius wasn’t going to back down. “What?”

“I don’t care. I really don’t,” said Captain Freedom staring right back at Darius. “All I want to know is what are you going to do?”

And with that, Captain Freedom got up from the table, leaving Darius alone in the conference room.

Darius stared at the clock on the wall as the seconds ticked away, turning into minutes, and he thought about the minutes turning into years. Fifteen years is a long time. I won’t get out of prison until I’m almost thirty-two. Maybe I can get time off for good behavior, he thought, trying to be optimistic.

After what felt like hours alone, with only the ticking of the clock to distract him from thinking about his inevitable fate, the door opened. Ollie Porter and Ms. Oldham came back in, followed by two other men Darius didn’t recognize. One of the men looked to be in his mid-forties, the other, maybe twenty years older than that. Both men carried briefcases, and neither introduced himself.

Darius’s head started to pound in pain—feeling like his brain would explode at any moment. He just wanted to get it all over with.

Captain Freedom entered the room. He sat directly across from Darius. “I’m going to make this very simple,” he said. “You can either become a better person, or you can go to jail.”

Simple? Nothing is simple. What the hell is he talking about?

“What Captain Freedom is trying to say is that you are being given a choice—a choice you need to make before any of us leaves this room—that will very likely determine the rest of your life,” said Ollie Porter.

Reaching into his briefcase, the older of the two men pulled out a large folder and slid it across the table. Darius picked up the folder and examined the contents, but he had no clue what he was reading.

“Darius, my name is Dr. Samson Omatete, but you can call me Dr. Sam,” said the older man. “My colleague is Chuck Maslon.”

Darius glanced at both men, not saying a word. Dr. Sam looked gruff, more like an ex-Marine drill sergeant or a retired boxer than a doctor. When he talked it sounded like an angry growl of an old grizzly bear. He reminded Darius of Jim Brown, a football player his father used to talk about.

Maslon, the younger of the two, was the opposite of Dr. Sam. His suit fit better than Dr. Sam’s, and he carried himself with more of a sense of importance. But something about the way he looked at Darius—almost glaring at him—didn’t sit well.

Watch out for this one, Darius thought.

“I work for Super Justice Force,” said Dr. Sam, “heading up a special rehabilitation program for select offenders called Second Chance. After discussing your case with your lawyer, Ms. Oldham and Captain Freedom, we’ve decided that you are an excellent candidate for the program.”

Darius studied the papers in the folder. Pages and pages and more pages—so many pages there was no way he could read them all right there. Nothing made sense. He had a terrible headache, making it especially difficult to concentrate. It almost sounded like he might be able to keep from going to prison. “I’m not sure I understand,” Darius said.

“There’s a lot of information in the packet, and I know it can get confusing, so I’ll try to explain it as simply as possible,” said Dr. Sam, trying to sound compassionate. It didn’t work. He simply wasn’t the type who made you feel comfortable with his presence, no matter how hard he tried. “Super Justice Force believes that locking criminals up is not enough. We believe that the best way to prevent future crimes is to provide rehabilitation opportunities to key offenders. That’s what Second Chance is. We provide jobs and career training for convicted felons, hoping that these opportunities will lead them away from a life of crime and to a more productive role in society.”

“And you want me to be part of Second Chance?” asked Darius.

“I want you in Second Chance,” said Captain Freedom.

“Okay, I’ll do it,” said Darius without a second thought. He really had no clue what Second Chance was about, and frankly he didn’t care. If it meant staying out of prison, he was all for it.

“Well, here’s where it gets a bit complicated,” started Dr. Sam. “Until now, every person who has gone into Second Chance came out of prison, already having done time.”

“But you haven’t done any time,” said Maslon. The tone in his voice made Darius uncomfortable. “That makes you an exceptionally difficult case.”

“Exceptional, yes,” said Dr. Sam, “but not necessarily difficult.”

Maslon shook his head as he looked at Darius. “We’re not set up to be a viable alternative to incarceration. Sam, I get where you want to take the program, but this punk kid is too young, and he’s not the way to take the program to a new level.”

Darius clenched his fists under the table.

“Let’s start helping people before they become hardened criminals,” said Dr. Sam.

While Dr. Sam and Maslon continued to argue, so too did Ollie and Ms. Oldham. The lawyers could not agree on what a reasonable amount of time served in Second Chance would be, as opposed to time served in prison. Ms. Oldham felt that because the D.A.’s office wanted fifteen years, fifteen years in Second Chance would be a reasonable amount of time served. Ollie wanted three years and probation.

The arguing went on and on and on. Finally, everyone came to an agreement. Or at least it was something close to an agreement. Dr. Sam and Ollie were happy; while Ms. Oldham was relieved the conversation had ended. Maslon was the only one not pleased. If he had it his way, Darius would not be going into Second Chance at all, period. But that’s not how it was going to be.

It didn’t matter how Chuck Maslon felt about the issue. Darius Logan was going to work for Super Justice Force, the world’s most powerful team of superheroes.

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