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Beware the Ides of March

Sunday, March 15, 2020 1:08 PM MDT
It was a cold day in March in the Denver Women’s Rehabilitation Center. Most of the visitor tables were occupied with a prisoner and friend or relative, but one table had an elderly man sitting alone…waiting.

A large Hispanic prison guard escorted a woman in the adjacent hallway outside the visitor room along a Plexiglas window that ran almost the length of the room.  The guard stopped the woman and pointed to the waiting man.  She shrugged her shoulders and they continued to the door.  The woman turned her shoulders to walk past the guard holding open the door for her and crossed towards the table.

Liza McKay was a 23 year-old woman.  If you looked closely you might be able to see that at one time she was much more attractive than she appeared today.  Her face looked tired and worn as if she was beaten down, unworthy of even oxygen she breathed.  Her dirty blonde hair was carelessly brushed as if she made a half-hearted effort to groom herself.  Even the most casual observer could see that the light had gone out of her life.

As she approached the lone man at the table she wondered why she had agreed to meet with him.  He had contacted by email and told her that he wanted to meet with her before she was released from prison.  He only said that they had something in common and they could help each other.  He made it clear that his intentions were not romantic.  In the end she decided that she was not in a position to ignore someone who expressed an interest in her and who didn’t want to kill her.  Still, she was wondering why she was going through with this.

Liza was convicted of manslaughter on the death of her two children when she drove her car into Chatfield Reservoir.  The prosecution had built their case that she had intended a murder/suicide and that once the car hit the water her survival instinct took over and she swam to safety leaving her children to drown.  Unfortunately, there was no evidence to confirm the prosecution’s theory.  They had no suicide note and no witnesses.  They managed to bluff her into thinking that their offer of manslaughter was a gift and her court assigned lawyer neglected to tell her that if it went to court it was likely all charges would be dismissed.

She was serving a twelve-year sentence; however, after three years the Colorado Corrections Service had been ordered by the court to release ten percent of the female inmates because of overcrowding.  Elizabeth was selected for release because she was judged to be a low risk threat to society.  Her last evaluation suggested that if released she would likely not reintegrate back into society and would kill herself within six months.  As part of the conditions of her release she was ordered that she couldn’t have children for at least ten years, nor work in a job that cared for children.  Now she would be released sometime in the next two weeks and this man was her only contact she had with the outside in the last two years.

“Miss McKay,” the man said as he stood and held out his hand.  “Yes…Robert Pritchard?” she asked.  “Would you mind explaining what this is about,” she continued.  The man hesitated for a moment.  He knew that she was at a flash point and he needed an opportunity to be heard.  “As I said in note, we have something in common, Miss McKay.”  “And what would that be,” she said cynically.  Robert ignored the tone and continued, “I am an outcast that never was.”  Liza looked confused.  He continued, “It would be easier if they would cast you out…send you away…but they don’t.  They make you live, surrounded by your shame, never allowed to forget.”

Robert had gotten her attention.  Liza’s worst fears of life after prison had been validated.  She suspected that she would never have a normal life again and this man was confirming it.  He saw that she was really listening now.  He kept going, “I have done some bad things in my life and most people probably wish I was dead.  For a while I wished I was dead…but I don’t anymore.  I want to live and I want to help others like me….that’s why I’m here.”

Liza was still wary but some part of her wanted to believe there might be hope that her life might recover after prison.  “I don’t want to join a cult,” she warned him.  He smiled and said, “It’s not a cult.  We get together, …sometimes at a coffee shop, sometimes for a beer,…we talk, get our frustrations out, support each other, make suggestions, and we protect each other.”  She had almost stopped listening.  He noticed that her eyes lost focus and he waited for her to come back.  Still in almost a trance she said, “God, I miss Chai tea.”  He smiled and said, “We can put that at the top of the list.”  She smiled and then Liza’s mood changed, “I’m supposed to be making my release plans…I don’t know…,” her words stopped.  Robert knew what she needed.  “We can help with that.  I’ll check with the group and we’ll give you a couple of options of where to go after you’re released…you choose….and we’ll set it all up and make the arrangements for your transportation.”  This was the first person who had been nice to her in years and she didn’t know how to respond.  “Mr…I forgot your name, I’m so sorry!”  He again smiled and said, “Robert, Robert Pritchard, but please call me Robert.”  Before she could continue he said, “We also have a small fund for your living expenses when you get out.  It will help until you get a job.  Our group will also start looking for job possibilities for you.”

He had done what he came to do and now it was time to listen.  He waited.

Liza began to softly cry.  It was a foreign emotion to her.  She had protected herself from the endless punches of hate and anger around her and now someone was being compassionate and she didn’t understand why.  She had been afraid to go back to the real world for fear of the unexpected and now someone was helping her establish her life again.  She didn’t know what to say, but finally she said, “What do you get out of this?”  He responded, “Your support.  That’s what we do.  We support each other.  Eventually, maybe you won’t need our group, but until then we’ll take care of each other.”

“Please understand, before today I didn’t know what I was going to do and now you show up and give me the best future I could hope for..and I’ve learned to be suspicious.”  He looked her in the eye and said, “Keep that suspicious nature.  It may save your life.  Our group will work with you and your probation officer.  If at any point you or your probation officer feel we are not acting in your best interest we will walk away.”  She thought for a moment and said, “What do I do next?  He replied, “The group will meet this afternoon and will start working out the details.  Let the Warden’s office know that we’ll be contacting them on your behalf.  Then we go step by step.”

“Thank you…,” she wanted to say more, but didn’t know what to say.  They both stood and they shook hands.  Then it suddenly hit her, “Wait, what is the group’s name?”  He got a funny look on his face and then said, “Well, most of us call it F Squared, but our founder calls it Final Forgiveness.