Marlene and the other guards who had left in outrage the day before entered the prison a bit stunned. They had all seen the reports on the stereovision about the riot the night before. Some were embarrassed, a few were grinning at the Warden's suspension, and some were terrified that this was some cruel joke.
They had been told over the phone that their resignations had been 'lost' and could they please return to work tomorrow at 9 AM? It seems the place was a bit unorganized since the Warden's removal.
Marlene had been the most stunned, when the Governor himself called and asked her to fill in temporarily for the Warden. She had asked why the assistant Warden hadn't been asked to fill the spot and told he was still on vacation and unreachable. The Governor didn't tell her that he too was under investigation.
Agreeing to fill in, Marlene reported to Personnel and spoke with Mary. She was ushered into an office down the corridor and given limited access codes, keys, and written instructions that would help answer any questions she might have. Mary promised to help her any way she could. Southerland's former secretary was also reinstated, knowing the job well. Josephine Dietrich had been fired for expressing her views to the Warden.
She asked Jim to fill in as head supervisor and to ask everyone to follow the schedule that had been made before the riot. Then Marlene asked Jim to quietly find out where Duster was and bring her to the office once Dr. Williams came to work. Jim winked and left. Picking up the phone, she asked Mary to call in all the civilian personnel. The inmates couldn't be locked up forever with nothing to eat.
The cell door opened and Duster looked up with tear swollen eyes. Jim and Gomez were standing there, their eyes kind.
"C'mon, Marlene wants to see you in her office."
"What's going on guys?"
Jim answered quietly, not wanting the other inmates in Solitary to hear him.
"Southerland was suspended and Marlene took over. She'll tell you the rest." They escorted her to the office and knocked on the open door. Marlene looked up and smiled. Janice Williams was sitting there, smiling as well.
"Come in Duster," Marlene said. Duster was surprised by the friendly tone. She and Marlene had never been very civil with one another. She entered the room and sat down.
"I thought since this entire mess started because of you that you ought to hear the whole thing," Marlene began. "If you don't already know, Southland has been put on suspension. More than that I can't discuss, however, I personally doubt he'll return. They asked me to fill in for a while. Doctor Williams also wanted to talk to you."
"Yes, I know that he told you about the request I made in your behalf and I wanted to explain it since I didn't discuss it with you beforehand."
Duster stiffened, still doubting her very stability.
"Debra, look at me. I never once thought you was crazy. Far from it. I had been watching your interactions with the other inmates and listened to you explain your conflicts with them. I thought a new environment would help you deal with your stress. You wouldn't have to deal with it all anymore and could continue your sessions with me there and still take classes inside the health center. I still think it's a good idea, but if you want to remain here, I won't force the issue."
Her heart was pounding hard during the explanation, but a huge weight lifted from her shoulders. Janice didn't think she went off the deep end. She let out a sigh and leaned back. Her mind was still swirling and she needed time to think.
"Could I think about it?" she asked.
"Of course. It would be better to wait anyhow. Maybe with Southerland gone, things will ease up for you. Why don't we give it a few weeks?" the therapist suggested. Duster nodded.
"Could I see Sandra?" she asked, her eyes pleading.
"Yes, she's about due to arrive in about ten minutes. Southerland fired her last night you know, but I called her back in this morning," Marlene told her.
Sandra entered the security gate a few minutes later and was surprised to see Debra standing there. Happy to see her, Sandra rushed forward and threw herself into the prisoner's arms. Both women began weeping as they held each other tightly.
Marlene nudged the guard next to her and urged him from the door.
"But the rules-"
"The prisoner isn't going anywhere. She's where she wants to be," the new Warden hissed, a sappy tear escaping.
The embrace continues well beyond the time the tears faded, neither of them wanting it to end.
A chime sounded, letting Sandra know she was late clocking in. "I have to get to work," she said sadly. Duster's arms tightened. "Shh, its okay. Here," she pulled away from the warm hug and reached down for her canvas bag. "I brought goodies. I was so excited about coming back that I had to keep busy or wear out my carpet pacing. I brought a lot and I want you to share them with your girls. I heard about last night and I think they deserve a little something for doing what you told them," she smiled.
"Okay," Duster spoke softly with a grin, taking the heavy bag. They walked to the office so Sandra could clock in, then they continued to the security door where another would escort Duster to her cell block.
Her gang saw her enter the gate and waited until it closed behind her before rushing up to her. Happy to see her out of Solitary, they walked with her until she sat down on one of the benches.
She waved away their excited questions and told them to sit down, putting the bag on the seat next to her.
"Sandra brought me a bunch of stuff and said to share with all of you. See? There's rewards that come along with good behavior," she grinned and pulled out packets of foil wrapped food and some containers. Digging deeper into the bag, she found paper plates and plastic forks.
Squeaker opened one package and found fried chicken. The aroma hit them and the girls grabbed more bundles, eager to see what was in them. Inside were real whipped potatoes and gravy, buttered corn bread, coleslaw, and tropical ambrosia, made with real whipped cream, fruit, and coconut. Plates were quickly passed around.
The inmates devoured the meal in record time, enjoying food that hadn't been processed within an inch of its life.
"Man, if we promised to be real good, will she let us move in with her? I always loved down home cooking," Joanne moaned, full.
The women chuckled and sat back, their bellies happy.
The days passed and things settled down to a peaceful routine. Strangely enough, the stern Marlene turned out to be a fair and compassionate Warden now that she was in command. No one had been thrown into Solitary for their participation in the riot and an unspoken truce between the gangs was in effect, at least for now.
She had been offered the position as Warden until the end of Southerland's contract, which for another 15 months. Marlene accepted humbly.
The newscasts finally offered an explanation for the former Warden's behavior towards Duster when their own investigations turned up the fact that Southerland and the Councilman Duster had beaten up had been lovers. Hooting at the news, everyone made raunchy comments as Duster felt another weight lift from her. At least now she knew why he acted as he did.
Janice had adjusted her medication so she wasn't fuzzy all the time and they continued their twice weekly sessions. After a few weeks, Marlene called her to her office and spoke with her. Surprisingly enough, the new Warden made Duster an offer.
If she would give up her role as leader of the White gang to Squeaker and give her word to follow all rules and restrictions, she would be given trustee status.
"You're kidding, right?" Duster asked in shock.
"No, I'm not. If I understand things correctly, you're getting grief from other inmates because of your position as gang leader. The doctor says if you can leave that role behind, you have a good chance at parole this next time. I want you to have that chance," Marlene said sincerely.
Duster felt the animosity for the former guard fade away.
"I know we didn't get along before, but now I'm no longer dealing with that rat bastard Southerland anymore, I'm not frustrated as much. I know I sometimes took it out on the prisoners," she confessed. "Look, I know you're sincere in wanting to change. Most of the women here will be back again if they get out. They're lifers even if they don't realize it yet. If I can keep even one woman from repeating that cycle, I will consider myself a success. So, do us both a favor and quit the gang. I'll have the guards keep an extra look out to make sure no one jumps you again. I'm going to keep peace in here even if I have to personally bang heads together," she grinned.
Duster passed on the leadership to Squeaker that afternoon. The other members protested weakly but listened to her reasons. They didn't say anything but they would also keep an eye open. She may leave their group but she was still part of them. They wished her the best, giving her hugs and pats on the back, letting the other inmates know there weren't hard feelings between them.
True to her word, Marlene allowed her privileges only given to a few inmates. She was given instructions not only on the forklift but even given driving lessons outside the prison walls. She had been in prison since 15 and never learned to drive. With learning new skills, her self confidence increased.
As she proved her trustee status was well founded, she was given more freedom, even allowing to pass through the security gates between cell blocks without an escort when she went to her classes and appointments with Doctor Williams.
Occasionally, she would join Sandra and other guards in their breakroom, sitting down for coffee and chitchat. Sandra however, wasn't allowed to join Duster inside the cellblock. It would be considered unseemly to do so.
Only one thing frustrated the prisoner. She and Sandra had yet found enough privacy to even kiss. Duster longed for it. The few touches they shared were under the watchful eyes of other guards and Duster felt too uncomfortable to do more in front of them. She wondered if Sandra felt the same way.
She found out her answer to the question a week later when another guard opened the door. "Jim? You have a call from your wife." Jim left to answer the phone, leaving the two women alone.
"God bless Betty and her pregnancy," Sandra muttered and looked towards Duster with a smile. "I've been itching to do this for ages," she said, leaning forward and urging Duster's face down to her. The prisoner didn't fight her at all. Warm lips found her own and melted her bones. It was all that she had dreamed of and more. It started off wild and just got more intense as the seconds passed by. Neither woman could think at all as the sensations cloaked them in the expression of long denied desires.
Ahem! neither heard the sound. "Ladies? I hate to interrupt but the smoke alarm went off," a loud voice teased, breaking them apart. Duster blinked as Sandra sheepishly crawled off of her lap, her cheeks pink. Jim stood in the doorway and grinned. "Sorry," he added, his grin refusing to fade.
"Sorry Jim, we just…" Sandra blushed more, unable to continue.
"It's okay. I won't tell," he winked.
'Sanders' put in his two week notice and told his supervisor that he would be finished with his investigation soon. Later that month, he walked into the office and gave his full report, along with a recommendation that made McCormick look up in surprise.
"Really? Hmm, maybe I can pull a few strings."
Jim found Duster and told her that her name had been submitted for early parole. Surprised, she looked at the calendar. She still lacked three months before she was due another board. She was still in mild shock when her appointment in town arrived later that week.
The escort there had been free of tension, the guards relaxed with the prisoner. When her name was called, she stood and walked into the board room. The same board as before greeted her, their faces friendly.
After the formalities were finished, the Parole Director leaned back.
"Tell us Ms. Michaels, why you should be considered for parole?" he asked, his eyes twinkling.
Duster opened her mouth but nothing came out at first. "I…" her voice faltered as tears came to her eyes. The Board sat patiently as she got hold of herself.
"I don't know if I'm ready. Right now, I'm scared spitless," she confessed, wiping away her tears with a trembling hand. The members nodded in sympathy, their faces compassionate.
"Well, we have before us affidavits from the current Warden Marlene King, your therapist Janice Williams, 19 prison guards, two teachers, and one from a member of the IIB all testifying that you would be a good candidate for early parole. I have never seen more support for an inmate in my entire career. You've earned your GED and have a promise of employment once you leave prison," he said, pointing to Doug Wilson, who smiled brightly and nodded.
"We've already made our decision even before you came in Ms. Michaels. We are recommending you for early parole. Once the petition is approved, you will be given the terms of parole to sign and released. It normally takes 2-4 weeks to process. We wish you the best Ms. Michaels."
Duster stood up, the tears preventing her from speaking. All she could do was nod her thanks to the Board.
To be continued
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