Excerpt - With Good Behavior by Jennifer Lane

With Good Behavior by Jennifer Lane

Copyright ©2010 Jennifer Lane
All rights reserved - An Omnific Publishing publication

Chapter 1


Jerry Stone sighed wearily as he reviewed the list of parolees on his schedule. Tossing the printout onto his metal desk, he leaned back in his squeaky chair and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

It was Wednesday, and the Department of Corrections always stuck it to him on Wednesdays. Two newbies in a row, right off the bat. Two inmates freshly released, about to give him the old song and dance about how they would never return to prison, they were now on the straight and narrow, they were rehabilitated. What a joke. If they weren’t cons by the time they entered the Illinois corrections system, they surely were cons by the time they left. They should call it reconvictation.

A knock brought him out of his reverie, and the fifty-four-year-old parole officer gruffly called out, “Enter!”

The door creaked open, and his first parolee of the day tentatively entered the office. Jerry arched his eyebrows. She was not the typical bottom-dweller inmate, reeking of unwashed clothes, hostility, and despair. She was tall and thin, with strawberry-blond hair, and she carried herself with an almost regal air as she floated into his office. He bet they had eaten her up at Downer’s Grove Women’s Penitentiary.

She swallowed hard, accentuating a defined jaw line. “Mr. Stone?”

“Yeah, who are you?”

“Sophie Taylor, sir.”

“Back number?”

She announced the digits robotically. She had used them daily for the last year. “72634.”

“Take a seat,” he gestured toward the metal chair facing his desk as he opened her file. There must be one hell of an intriguing back story leading this gorgeous chick into criminal activity, and his curiosity got the best of him.

Sophie dutifully folded her lean body into the chair and looked around her, taking in the dirty cornflower-blue walls, the steel desk piled with uneven, wobbly stacks of papers, and the moldy white blinds covering the only window in the grungy office.

She was to report here weekly for an entire year, and the décor of this government office was uncomfortably similar to that of the administrator’s office at Downer’s Grove Women’s Prison. She crossed her legs and hugged her shabby handbag in her lap, studying the parole officer’s salt-and-pepper hair and stern face as he read her paperwork.

After a few moments, Jerry looked up from the file with surprise. “You were a psychologist?”

She managed a tight smile. “Yes, sir.”

“Should I call you Dr. Taylor, then?”

Hearing her former title caused a squeezing sensation in Sophie’s chest, and she looked down, embarrassed. It had been over a year since anyone addressed her that way. She thought back to her last therapy client to use those words, Dr. Taylor. His smooth, deep voice reverberated in her mind. She had been enthralled by his rich, slowly enunciated baritone as it caressed and possessed her name with loving care. Well, with what she thought was loving care, but turned out to be something else entirely.

Jerry noticed her blush as she lifted her head and responded, “No, I’m not a psychologist anymore. The Illinois Board of Psychology revoked my license once I entered prison.”

“I see.” He continued to scan her file. “I’m not finding any reports in here from your sessions with a prison psychologist.”

Sophie cleared her throat nervously. “That’s because I never met with one.”

He raised his bushy gray eyebrows again. “You didn’t attend therapy in prison? I thought with your prior vocation you’d be all over that.”

“I, uh, I didn’t want to be anywhere near a psychologist after what happened. Frankly, I don’t think I believe in therapy anymore.”

Jerry sat back in his chair, studying her carefully. “You went to prison because of a massive lapse of judgment, right, Ms. Taylor?”

She nodded.

“And now after one year in prison, you’re trying to get your life back, right?” When she nodded automatically, he ordered, “And don’t just tell me what I want to hear, young lady.”

“No, sir. I really do want to start my life over. I have to.”

“So if you were still a psychologist, and you knew of a woman in these circumstances—needing to figure out what led to a huge mistake in order to prevent it from happening again, reeling from a year in prison despite a perfectly clean record before that mistake, hoping to move forward—in your professional opinion, would you say this woman made a good candidate for therapy?”

Sophie realized where he was going and tried to head him off at the pass. “There are lots of ways to get one’s life back on track,” she said. “Therapy doesn’t always lead to rehabilitation. Not everyone believes in therapy.”

“You spent, what, six or seven years after college training to become a psychologist? And now you don’t believe in it?”

Sophie crossed her arms and pursed her lips, remaining silent.

“Because I think you’re a perfect candidate for therapy. And I’m making that a condition of your parole: weekly counseling.”

“Court-ordered counseling doesn’t work!” Sophie’s chestnut-brown eyes flared with anger.

Jerry felt the tension in the room rising. “What are you afraid of?”

“I’m—I’m not afraid,” she lied. Therapy was about reliving the past, uncov­ering hidden motivations, discussing family. She was not about to delve into those painful memories. She searched for an excuse. “How am I supposed to afford therapy? I don’t have a job yet.”

“The DOC will pay for it,” he assured her.

He had thwarted her every objection. “What if I refuse?”

Jerry had heard enough stalling. “Do you want to return to prison?” he thundered.

Sophie closed her eyes. “No, sir.”

Jerry rose from his chair, incensed, and marched around the desk. “You don’t get it, do you? You’re out of prison, with good behavior, but you have an entire year left of your sentence. I could throw your ass back inside so easily your head would spin.”

Her eyes widened as he towered over her, and she glanced at the handcuffs dangling from his belt. One wrong move and they would be coldly clasped around her delicate wrists once again. 

“I’m sorry, Mr. Stone.” She watched his anger begin to dissipate. “I don’t want to go back. I—I’ll do whatever you say.”

He peered at her, wondering how genuinely contrite she felt and how willing she was to do whatever it took to stay out of prison. Newbies. He hated his first session with parolees, having to sniff out their true intentions after knowing them for mere minutes. He hated the little cat-and-mouse game: the lies, the deception, the empty promises.

With thirty years in the DOC under his belt, Jerry had become a sharply accurate observer of human intention. He could sort through all kinds of bullshit to discern the truth. But this one made him nervous: a woman with a doctorate, a shrink nonetheless. She could fool and manipulate. She could play people like cards if she so desired. Jerry hated to be played.

Returning to his chair behind his desk, he stared at her for a moment, then advised, “Doing whatever I tell you to do—that is precisely the attitude you need to stay out of prison.”

“Yes, sir. I—I don’t want to start off on the wrong foot with you, Mr. Stone. I know you must have all kinds of cons giving you a hard time, and I don’t want to be one of them.”

“I’m glad to hear that, but we’ll see if your word means anything.” He reached into his filing cabinet and handed a typed sheet to Sophie. “Here’s a list of therapists who work with the correctional system. You are to schedule an appointment with one of them before we meet again. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.” She nodded, glancing at the list of names and exhaling when she did not recognize any colleagues.

While she folded the paper and placed it in her handbag, Jerry continued. “I expect you to report here every Wednesday at nine a.m. If you miss one meeting, you will return to prison. There will be random drug tests, and if you fail even one, you will return to prison. I expect you to secure employment in the next two weeks. If you do not find a job, you will return to prison. Are the terms of your parole clear, Ms. Taylor?”

She gulped, thinking this parole thing didn’t sound all that much better than prison. “Yes, sir.”

He clicked a pen and prepared to write notes in her file. “Where are you living?”

“With a friend.”

“I need an address.”

“Um, 900 North Lake Shore Drive, Unit 10.” 

Recognizing the downtown Chicago address, he asked, “Zip code?”

“It’s 60611.”

“What is your friend’s name?”

“Kirsten Holland.”

“What does Ms. Holland do for a living?”

“She’s a therapist.” When he continued staring at her expectantly, Sophie added, “We went to grad school together.”

“But she’s not a psychologist?”

“Um, no, she’s ABD, um, All But Dissertation? She hasn’t finished her degree, so she can’t call herself a psychologist yet.”

“Does Ms. Holland have any criminal background?”

Sophie chuckled. Kirsten was as straight-laced as they came. “No, sir. She offered to have me live with her as long as I kick her butt to get her dissertation done.”

Jerry stifled a smile. This had to be the first time he’d discussed doctorates and dissertations with a parolee. “Very well. Do you have any questions for me, Ms. Taylor?”

Sophie thought for a moment, wondering if her question would be all right to ask. “How long have you been a parole officer?”

“Thirty years,” he responded, shaking his head slowly. “And I think that’s the first time I’ve been asked a personal question like that.”

“Sorry.” She winced. “I don’t mean to pry. I just wondered, Mr. Stone, in those thirty years … what percentage of people violated their parole and had to return to prison?”

He looked up to his right. “I’d say, ballpark, about sixty percent.”


“It’s serious business, Ms. Taylor. We’re not messing around here.”

“I get that. Well, I want you to know that I will definitely be in that other forty percent. I’m not going back to prison.”

“I hope that’s the case.” There was something about the twenty-nine-year-old woman that made him like her immediately. A keen warmth and intelligence shone through, despite the circumstances of their meeting. He stuffed down those fond feelings quickly, however, knowing never to trust the convicts walking through his door.

Jerry glanced at his watch. “It’s time for my next appointment,” he said brusquely. “See you next Wednesday at nine, Ms. Taylor.”

“Thank you, Officer Stone.” She rose from her chair, extending her arm. He grasped her slender hand in his and they shook their goodbyes. 

Exiting his office, Sophie exhaled deeply, feeling the stress of her first parole meeting dissolve. That relief was short-lived, however, once she opened the door and found herself eye to eye with a man whose black, buzzed hair and golden-brown skin highlighted eyes that held crystal-blue, bottomless depths. The next parolee on the docket? His nose was slightly crooked and his lips were full. His penetrating gaze bore a hole in her. She stood frozen, staring for several moments before regaining her bearings and muttering, “Excuse me.”

She ducked out the door and strode down the hallway, daring to glance behind her to see the man watching her leave. A faint smile crossed his lips, and her cheeks burned.

Scurrying away from the building, the stranger’s intriguing eyes seared into her memory, Sophie decided maybe being on parole wasn’t all that bad. At the moment, parole definitely seemed better than women’s prison.

 With Good Behavior by Jennifer Lane

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