Early Release

“Oh, my God! No!”

Tom Borden grabbed the remote and thumbed the OFF button. The news anchor’s face shrunk to a point and disappeared.

“What's wrong, honey?”

Judith Borden stood up and strode to his chair. Wordlessly, she thrust the newspaper at him. The headline seemed to leap off the page.


Capitol City, June 2. Federal District Court Judge Oliver Woods today ruled that the state's prisons were overcrowded. “This overcrowding is a violation of the Constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment,” the judge stated. Under Judge Woods's order, all prisoners who have served more than half their sentences, except those who have records of violence within the prison, are to be released immediately to eliminate overcrowding.

A spokesman for the governor's office later met with reporters. “We disagree with the ruling, but there is no point in appealing”, he said. “The State Attorney General has pointed out that all the legal precedents support the judge's ruling. Moreover, it would be nearly impossible to get a stay of the ruling while we appealed. Accordingly, we will begin to release the prisoners tomorrow. It is unfortunate that during the last session the legislature refused to appropriate the additional funds for prison construction that the governor had requested. The governor sees no point in calling the legislature back into emergency session to reconsider the matter, since new prisons could not be constructed in time to satisfy the judge’s order. The governor plans to renew his request for additional prison construction early in the next session.”

The Majority Leader of the House denied that the problem lay with the legislature. “We tried to accommodate the governor, but he wouldn't budge on an increase in the sales tax to pay for prison construction. He insisted the money come from cuts somewhere else in the budget. We tried to compromise by taking it out of funds for highway construction, but he refused. Maybe next year he'll be more reasonable.”

There was more, but Tom paid it no attention. He lowered the paper as his wife began to speak. Her voice was icy and flat, as though she didn't dare trust it to carry any emotion.

“You know what this means, don't you? Harry Grubbs will be turned loose. He's ten days past the midpoint of his sentence.”

Both he and Judith had been dreading Grubbs's eventual release. He knew her emotional scars went deep. He should have known that she'd been counting down the days.

The images of that night came flooding back to him, tumbling over one another.

The thunderous pounding at the door.

The door bursting open as he approached it.

The burly man charging at him like a quarterback.

The half-seen blow to his head.

Judith’s screams that dragged him back to consciousness.

The pain in his wrists as he strained at the telephone cord that bound his arms tightly behind his back.

The horror he felt as the intruder pinned Judith to the floor, his body rising and falling.

Judith’s sobs as the intruder left.

Then the aftermath.

The cold, unfeeling police officers as they asked their probing questions.

Judith's pain as the police doctor scraped samples from her for evidence.

The hatred on Grubbs’s face as they identified him in the police lineup.

Then the question of AIDS. Tom had asked that Grubbs be tested. The prosecutor told Tom that under state law it was illegal to provide information about an AIDS test to anyone but the person tested. Telling others was a violation of the individual's privacy. Tom had demanded, hadn't Grubbs violated Judith's privacy? His protests did no good. The law allowed for no exceptions.

Then the trial. Tom cringed once more at the memories.

Judith on the witness stand, being forced to answer the most intimate questions.

Grubbs's sleazy lawyer, who tried to blacken Judith's character and discredit her virtue.

The assistant prosecutor, whose blunder nearly lost the case despite the DNA evidence.

The numbness he felt even when the jury returned a guilty verdict. Somehow it wasn’t enough.

His utter incomprehension when the judge decided to impose only the minimum possible sentence.

The discovery that at the time of the attack, Grubbs had been out on parole from another rape conviction.

Grubbs's shouted threat, accompanied by a shaken fist, as he was led out to begin his sentence: “When I get out, I'll get you!”

And ever since then, Tom’s humiliation, his deep burning shame that he'd been unable to protect Judith.

Tom stood up and hugged Judith. The muscles in her back were like taut cords. Her arms were like steel pipes. He touched his cheek to hers, then brushed his lips across her neck. She gave no response.

Defeated, he finally stepped back, holding only her arms in his hands. He looked her over. Externally, she appeared the same as she had on their wedding day. Shoulder-length brown hair. Heart-shaped face. Brown eyes. Upturned nose. A light dusting of freckles across her face. Forehead that came just to his eye level.

But the smile he’d loved was gone. Outside she was the same. Inside she was in deep freeze.

He shook his head and released her. One more time he’d failed to break through what he'd come to think of as the shell she'd crawled into.

“Judy, honey, listen to me”, he said. “It won't happen again. I swear it. This time I'll protect you.”

But even as he spoke them, the words sounded hollow. What could he do that he hadn’t already done? And why should he think he could do any better the next time?

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Copyright © 2004, Joseph P. Martino
Revised: 04:03:12