PAROLE OUT THE BARREL
By Nora Salisbury
Martin Crane sat staring into his coffee, waiting until another parole hearing for the man who had shot him would begin. He felt distinctly uncomfortable, as usual. His feelings were always a jumble at these things. On one hand, he felt anger still, for what had been done to him ... but he also felt sorry to see a young life being wasted. He thought of Joanne Hicks, and how he might feel if one of his boys couldn't be a part of his life except at visiting time. As if summoned by telepathy, Joanne approached his table.
"Hi," she said tentatively, "mind if I sit down?"
"Please," he said, indicating the chair next to him, "how are you, Joanne?"
"Oh, not bad, I guess," the younger woman answered, looking weary. She had come to every one of her son's hearings, hoping to take him home and help him get his life back on track, but each time she drove home alone in tears. She looked at Martin and smiled a bit. "How are you, Martin?" she asked.
"Oh, can't complain, you know ... " Martin was never sure what to say to her.
"I saw the announcement of you're son's engagement in the paper," she said, "congratulations. Won't be long 'til you're a grandpa, huh?" Martin grinned.
"Well, actually I am already, my other son has a son by his second marriage," he explained. "You never think about that when you have kids, but nature happens." He suddenly felt badly, her son wasn't going to be presenting her with any grandkids while locked away.
"How nice," she said, truthfully, "it's good that you're so close with your family." Martin thought about that for a moment.
"Yeah," he sighed, "I'm sorry that you don't have the same luxury," he told her sadly.
"It's not your fault," she said firmly, "David did something stupid, and he knows it. When we talk about you, he tells me how badly he feels about listening to his friends dare him into that robbery, to prove himself. He's so sorry for all he's cost you ... your career, your independence ... he says you have every right to be bitter, and he's really surprised you've never said anything against him at these hearings."
"Yeah, but I've never said anything for him, either," Martin said guiltily.
"No one expected you to," she said calmly, "you're entitled to stay out of it. We understand, really."
"You know, I used to be mad at this kid ... felt sorry for myself, cheated out of bein' a cop, and like I was old and infirm before my time," he admitted, "but, when I look back on the last 10 years, I'm not unhappy with the way my life has turned out. I have a meaningful relationship with my sons, better that we'd ever had. Because of my injury, we had to hire a physical therapist who was good for all of us Crane men, especially Niles," he smiled proudly, "now I'm going to have a great daughter-in-law, and I swear ... if I had the chance to change things, I wouldn't. I think your son gave me more than he took," he said, his voice breaking. The woman smiled, close to tears.
"I'll have to tell him that next time we talk ... it'll make him feel a lot better," she said weakly.
At that, the doors to the hearing chamber opened and the guard told them it was time. Martin had dredged up a lot to think about, and decided that this time, he would not remain silent. The board members were seated, and the guard brought David Hicks into the room. When he was seated, the review began, outlining his progress in the programs designed to rehabilitate him. When the board members asked him what thought he had given to his crime, he showed he had been doing a lot of thinking of his own.
"Well, every day I know I deserve to be here," the prisoner stated clearly, "because of the difficult changes I've caused Martin Crane, all out of youthful bravado. I hope that one day, when I'm a productive citizen, I'll be able to do something for him to try and reverse the negative effect I've had on his life." Martin was touched.
"Has the victim anything to say?" the head of the board asked, expecting nothing.
"Yeah, I'd like to speak," Martin answered, startling everyone, and stood. "I'm not saying that what this boy did was right," he began, "but kids do dumb things, and I really believe that he just panicked, I don't think he had any malice toward me. That's why I think incarceration has done all it can for him, he's gone through the programs, all he can learn now is stuff from worse criminals. He should be back home, working to regain his self-worth, settling down to start a family, that'll do more for society than keeping him here sitting on his thumbs." He looked at his attacker, who was smiling back, moved by his unexpected defense, "Whatever happens, I just want you to know ... I forgive you." Martin stopped, cleared his throat, said "Thank you," and sat down. As he did, he noticed Joanne, tears in her eyes, mouth "thank you," to him. He only nodded.
The board looked at each other, amazed. This was a far cry from the former policeman's usual input. They studied a few papers from their files, and then faced the man whose future lay in the balance.
"As you know, we always take the feelings of the victim into consideration, and since Mr. Crane seems to think you have paid your debt to society," the official intoned, "we are prepared to give extra weight to his opinion. You have fulfilled all requirements and been a model prisoner, so we are releasing you in the hope that you will use your freedom to contribute positively to the world. Parole is granted, this hearing is adjourned." She instructed the guard to accompany the man to pick up his personal effects.
David was overjoyed. He turned to meet a frantic bear hug from his mother. Martin looked on, feeling like he'd done the right thing. David walked over to him, and smiled solemnly.
"Thank you, Mr. Crane ... I want you to know, I'm going to do my darnedest to live up to your faith in me," he said gratefully. "Please, I want to give you my phone number, and if I can ever do anything for you, don't hesitate to ask. You've given me my life back, and I can never repay that, but I'd like to try."
"Okay, David," Martin said, "I just may take you up on that. Just take care of your mom, and stay on the right side of the law, or I'll have to kick your butt," he warned. David grinned.
"You bet, sir!" he agreed. They shook hands and Martin watched as the Hicks' walked away with the guard, ready to start life anew. Martin thanked fate for turning tragic circumstances around in his life and went home to have dinner with his beloved family.
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