The prisoner sat up straight throughout the interview and
answered each panel member's questions without hesitation, looking at
each interviewer directly in the eyes.|
"Miss Kent," the fair-haired man on the left asked finally, "you've answered our questions very sufficiently, and it is clear you've taken well to your tolerance training. And we're here to evaluate the new program as well as your case. But what isn't clear is that you have any remorse for the two people you assaulted."
"People?" Miss Kent scrunched her face earnestly. "I never assaulted any people.
" The panel mumbled to themselves and the fair-haired man conferred the floor to the committee head in the middle, an expressionless woman who fiddled with a pen as she spoke. "Miss Kent, you pleaded guilty to assault. Do you now deny the charges?"
Miss Kent smiled faintly. "No, of course not. I didn't know you were referring to that."
"Could you tell us about 'that.' Perhaps, why you did it?"
Stealing her eyes away from the panel for the first time during the discussion, Miss Kent allowed a sigh. She stretched her neck from side to side and then resumed her upright position.
"I'd been home from work for about an hour. Watching television. Trying to relax in front of the TV, you know? Hadn't even thought about dinner yet. I hear a knock on the door and it's some guy who wants to sell me a damn encyclopedia."
The fair-haired man leaned forward toward his papers. "That would be Mr. Clarke?"
"Yeah," she said wryly. "That would be Mr. Clarke." She waited politely for other questions, then continued. "I told him a few times I didn't want no encyclopedia but he just kept yapping and yapping and finally I told him goodbye and closed the door."
"You closed the door?" asked the fair-haired man.
"Yeah," she repeated slowly, so there'd be no question. "I closed the door."
"And then what happened?"
"He stuck his foot in it."
"In the door?"
"In the door."
"And what did you do?"
Miss Kent shrugged. "Closed it a little harder."
"And then what?"
"Went back to the couch."
The expressionless woman in the middle looked over a paper. "It says here that a neighbor heard him screaming his foot was broken and jammed in the doorway. That's when they called the police. What did you do when you heard him screaming?"
Miss Kent yawned. "I turned up the television."
"I couldn't hear it over the screaming."
The panel mumbled among themselves again. "Miss Kent, in the light of your later tolerance training, do you feel any remorse for what you did to Mr. Clarke?"
"For assaulting him."
Miss Kent squinted her eyes at the panel and licked her lips before proceeding. "At home, at work, I get about six calls a day, you know? They're all trying to sell me something. I tell them no, they keep talking. I never bought nothing from a telemarketer in my life. I tell them to take me off their list, they keep calling. Did you know it's a federal offence to keep calling me after I ask you to take me off your list? I ask them that. They say sorry, we'll take you off the list. They call again in a week."
Miss Kent paused and leaned forward. Had she smoked, it would have been the perfect length of time for a drag on a cigarette. "So one of these, uh, people," she snorted the word, and it sounded as awkward to the panel as it did to her, "comes to my house. He wants to sell me these, these encyclopedias. I say no. He keeps yapping about how great they are. I say no. He tells me it's a great deal. I tell him no, not interested, goodbye. So then, without my permission or even my invitation, he puts his foot inside my house. What else should I do?"
"You are aware Mr. Clarke still can't walk without a cane?"
Miss Kent burst out laughing.
She shook her head, almost turning red.
A little louder. "Miss Kent?"
"I'm sorry," she said, still smiling and shaking happily. "I'm just picturing him carting his damn encyclopedias down the street with one hand and leaning on a little cane with the other."
The fair-haired panel member allowed a chuckle. Just one. The others turned quickly to him and he looked away, his happiness wiped cleanly from his face.
"Oooh." Miss Kent sighed cathartically, regaining her composure, but still smiling. "There is a God."
The panel mumbled together until the expressionless woman cleared her throat. "Miss Kent, your thoughts on Mr. Clarke are very evident to the panel." She spoke sternly, but not quite angrily. "Would you tell us about your involvement in the tolerance training program?"
She leaned back as though bracing herself for more boring exposition. "Because I pleaded guilty, they said I could either go to prison or take part in this program for six months. So I worked under a psychologist named Dr. Rind. I saw his patients for him, listened to their sob stories, then summarized the good stuff for him so he wouldn't have to waste his time sifting through all the whining."
"Dr. Rind says your performance was excellent up to that final day. How do you feel about it?"
"Fine. It was all fine. People can be annoying, you know? They complain about the stupidest crap and they go on about it like they're world's going to end. They tell you everything you never wanted to hear. Yap yap."
"Were you ever so annoyed that you wanted to attack any of your patients?"
Miss Kent shrugged. "I don't think so. It was a job. It was my job to listen. I understood that. If these people were my friends, I'd tell 'em to shut up and get on with life. But I was just supposed to listen and tell the doc what I heard. It got boring, even tedious, at times, but that's life."
"How did you feel about the patients?"
"What can I say? They were people. I knew I was seeing them at their worst, them whining and telling you more'n anybody ever wanted to know, more than they needed to say. But people aren't perfect. Nobody is. The more you learn about anyone, the more you're gonna find flaws. I might not even've liked what I heard, but I'm sure I could tell you some things you wouldn't like about me, right?"
There was an awkward pause.
"Miss Kent, could you tell us about Miss Jeffrey?"
"The patient you assaulted."
Miss Kent stared at them blankly.
"The last patient you saw before your removal from the program and your incarceration here."
Miss Kent put her head forward, smiling. She sighed deeply and amiably before looking at the panel again. "It's okay I talk about what she said here?"
The panel exchanged glances. "Yes," the committee head said finally, "the doctor-patient privilege need not apply, as Miss Jeffrey has released all information regarding her case for public record. We just want to hear your side of things."
"All right," Miss Kent was still smiling. "This is a funny story, I don't mind telling it. This girl comes in for visits about once a week and, boy, does she want attention. She yaps about how awful her life is, how her boyfriend is going to break up with her any minute, how she's ugly and fat, and how she hates her job. She's one of those patients who by all rights should be suicidal but isn't. And it's not like you're allowed to recommend something like that.
"So one day the whiny girl's going on about how her friends won't stop complaining to her and how, get this, she doesn't want to hear everyone else's problems. I perk up at that and I'm wondering if she's getting it that she talks too much, too. She doesn't get it, of course and keeps yapping.
"Suddenly she starts yapping about how she used to be a telemarketer and how, one day, she calls up some guy on her list and this old lady answers the phone. She asks for the guy, the old lady says he's dead. And she's this lonely old woman who never has anyone to talk to, so she starts telling my whiny patient about her life and about how much she misses her husband. "At this point, I couldn't help smiling. The whiner seems confused at my smiling so she tries to tell me the story again, repeating over and over, 'you don't understand! She wouldn't let me off the phone!', you know?" Miss Kent's imitation of Miss Jeffrey's voice was shrilly and annoying, and it was clear Miss Kent enjoyed doing it. "And I just couldn't help laughing about this telemarketer who couldn't get off the phone! I yelled out 'Justice!' and I laughed at her. I couldn't stop laughing at her."
Miss Kent was laughing now as well, and even the fair-haired man on the panel was smirking at her story.
"I love that story," Miss Kent added, finally coming down from her laughter.
The expressionless woman did not enjoy it as much. "You knocked out four of her teeth."
"With a chair."
Miss Kent's smile disappeared. "Oh yeah. I do remember that now." Her smile returned. "Justice."
As the panel rose to leave, the fair-haired man asked his committee head if he could have a word with the prisoner. She nodded, expressionless as ever.
The fair-haired man approached Miss Kent and asked her what she did on the outside.
"Youth ministry," she said.
A pause. "Requires a lot of patience."
"You'd probably have trouble getting that job back, wouldn't you?" the man prodded.
Miss Kent nodded soberly.
"Well, I admire your, uh, aggressiveness." He took a card from his pocket. "Listen, I run a small business and I think I can use someone like you. When you get out. Could I give you my card? I mean, am I allowed to give you my card?"
"Sure." She took the business card and watched him walk away before reading.
"Bud Walden," the card said. And underneath, in big, bold letters: "Walden Direct Marketing Services."
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