“…For a maximum sentence of ten years.”
Oh God. This couldn’t be happening. I was told probation. Probably community service. My knees trembled so violently I was in danger of collapsing from my stance behind the table.
The Honorable Judge S. Sloane leaned forward and clasped his hands together. The S stood for Samuel, and he was a robust man around my father’s age. He’d been to our house for dinners over the years. The first time I’d met him, I was twelve. Thinning hair, wrinkled eyes, and only a hint of tenderness and remorse showed on his features before it vanished.
“Do you understand the sentence which this court has given?”
His words rang in my ears. These last months, all day, leading up to this moment, all of it was a haze.
But… ten years? I would be twenty-eight years old by the time I got out.
My knees buckled. My attorney made no move to catch me. I caught myself from collapsing and turned to glance at my parents.
My mother had tears running down her cheeks. I willed her to look my way, give me some acknowledgment other than her tears that she loved me.
My father. I caught his gaze before he looked to the judge behind my shoulder.
I waited. A moment. Two. Three.
Hoping he’d do something. That he’d stand and say this was all a mistake. That I wasn’t guilty because I wasn’t the driver.
He did nothing.
His silence hurt almost worse than the sentence.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. He could have done something, anything, to get his only remaining living child out of this mess and he’d washed his hands of me weeks ago.
“Miss Huntington. Due to your unique situation, you will serve your time at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville. Do you understand all that’s been told to you today?”
Iowa? But I lived in Illinois. I was raised here. Why in the hell would they send me to a different state?
I spun back to face him. From his perch on the raised bench, he appeared formidable.
“Iowa?” I croaked. Why was I stuck on the location when I was going to prison? And what did it matter? All my friends abandoned me as soon as word got out about the accident. And it wasn’t like my parents would come see me. I had no one.
Not anymore. Not now that Josh was dead. I fought back tears. They wouldn’t do any good now.
“Yes, sir,” my attorney replied and nudged my side. “Yes, Your Honor. We understand.”
“Yes, Your Honor,” I mumbled.
I spoke through a fog. The thick haze of fear and disbelief. It evaporated when two officers approached me and the cold steel I was becoming familiar with wrapped around my wrists.
I was turned around, and once again faced my parents.
My mom was now stoic. No hint of her silent tears, no smeared mascara, no sadness in her icy blue eyes that matched mine.
My father, cold as the shackles being placed around my ankles, blinked.
“I’m sorry.” I’d said it a hundred times. It didn’t matter. It didn’t even matter he wouldn’t listen to the truth.
“You ruined this family.”
“Go. Don’t contact us. We won’t visit.”
He took my mother’s hand and pulled her to her feet. It might have been a kindness from the officers, or additional torture, but they waited until my parents left the courtroom before turning me around again.
Reality set in like a Midwest thunderstorm, from cloudless blue skies to storm warnings in the blink of an eye.
“Can we appeal?” I asked my attorney. My voice had never sounded so small.
He tapped the files on the tabletop and closed his laptop.
“You pled guilty.”
He didn’t look at me. Not once. Sounded like he thought I was stupid, though. Who could blame him?
“Time to go. Get moving.” A tug at my shackles forced me to stumble forward.
I went with the officers.
For a crime I didn’t commit because my dad had always hated me.
Six Years Later
“Paroled. Out early. Better start getting your things together. Don’t know when you’ll be leaving. Could be any day.”
As the guard spoke, she pointed to the letter she’d already tossed on my minuscule desk, cluttered with the tiny television set and the even more outdated stereo I’d been able to purchase from working in the automotive garage for the last two years.
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