Monday, March 8, 2010

BettyJo Jenkins

BettyJo Jenkins is led into the visitor’s area where an officer removes her handcuffs. She sits at an empty table and waits for her attorney – the only visitor she’s had since she started her prison term seven years ago.

A woman dressed in a tailored suit sits down across from BettyJo.

“You’re not my attorney,” she states. Her eyes narrow with suspicion.

“I work for the Department of Corrections,” the woman says. “Now let’s see here…” She flips open BettyJo’s folder and skims down the first page, quickly moving on to the next.

BettyJo chews on the skin around her already gnawed down nails.

The woman looks up at BettyJo. Her brown eyes meet piercing blue ones, only briefly, as BettyJo is quick to break eye contact.

“You have quite the record. Multiple possession charges, breaking and entering, homicide…”

“Yeah, so. Everyone in here has a sheet like mine.” She doesn’t like her history being repeated back to her. She knows what she’s done.

The woman silently regards BettyJo. She takes in her agitated appearance; the quick jerks and nervous tapping of her feet.

“If you could go back in time, is there one moment in particular that you would change?”

BettyJo stops fidgeting and leaning forward, reestablishes eye contact with the woman.

“I am who I am. Nothin’ can change that.”

“But, what if you could?” She gives BettyJo a conspiratorial wink.

BettyJo sees the woman’s eyes are kind and do not judge. She thinks back over her life. What moment would she change? It doesn’t take her long to figure it out.

It was a memorable day because she and her mom had gone shopping for her first bra. The white cotton undergarment fit snugly over her budding breasts. She was thrilled about this rite of passage, a sign that the little girl with scabby knees would soon be just a memory. Her excitement didn’t wear off and she fell asleep still wearing the bra. This isn’t what made this day memorable though, it was later, after the house grew still. BettyJo woke suddenly. At first she thought a dream had crossed the threshold into reality – how she wished that was the case. Her stepfather had joined her in the twin bed. She felt his calloused hand around her tiny breast and smelled his beer breath as it steamed up her neck.

Terrified and desperately confused, she let him touch her in places where no one ever had. When he was done, the threat, although just a whisper, was very clear.

BettyJo feels the shame creep up from her stomach and flush across her cheeks. She hangs her head to hide the tears that threaten to spill.

The woman recognizes this moment.

“Look at me.”

BettyJo slowly raises her head.

“I don’t work for the Department of Corrections,” she pauses and surveys the room to make sure their conversation isn’t being overheard and then leans in closer. “I can take you back, but you have to tell me what it is.”

BettyJo sits back, disbelief washing over her features. However, the woman’s eyes convey the truth. She considers this and decides it can’t hurt. She’s in prison for the next fifteen years and doesn’t have anything to lose.

“If I could go back...I would never let him touch me.”


The sun filtering through the window wakes BettyJo. Something’s different though, the bed she’s lying in is soft and the sheets smell freshly laundered. She sits up in surprise and finds herself in an unfamiliar bedroom.

There is movement beside her and she wills herself to look. A handsome man slumbers on the other side of the bed. He isn’t the source of the activity though. A little girl peeks up from under the down comforter. Her face, a mirror image of BettyJo’s, lights up in a gap toothed grin.

“Morning Momma!”

Stunned, BettyJo pinches her arm. She looks down and sees the red impressions her fingers left and also sees that the scars from years of heroin use are gone, as if erased overnight. She reaches up and touches her hair. It is no longer dry and limp, but thick and healthy.

“Did you have a bad dream Momma?” The little girl throws her arms around BettyJo’s neck, triggering a flood of emotion.

“Yes, a very bad dream.” She hugs her daughter back, embracing her innocence. Right then and there BettyJo silently vows to protect her daughter and never let anything bad happen to her.

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