10AM Sunday, I reported to the third floor study room across the hall from my dorm room. The desks were all pushed against the wall and chairs were collected into a circle around the center of the room. I stood behind an empty chair, like the other twenty-four girls in the room. Jocelyn had explained the process to me, in excruciating detail and at such a speed I had been forced to ask her to repeat herself on a couple of the details that sounded important.
A bald man in a tan suit with a white shirt and no tie entered the room and stepped into the center of the circle. The chair closest to the door had been left open for him. He pushed his round glasses into place on his nose and looked around the room while pinching his mustache. His gaze stopped on me. His hand dropped to his side and he smiled. I felt like running.
His voice was unusually deep. “Margaret Lange?”
I breathed deeply, suppressing panic. “Y-yes, Sir.”
“Welcome to our group,” he said. “I’m Mr. Boggs.” He looked around the rest of the circle. “Take your seat ladies.”
I moved forward, circling toward the front of the chair I had selected.
Mr. Boggs turned sharply in my direction. “Not you, Margaret. It’s customary for the speaker in our group to stand and we’re going to start off today with you introducing yourself and telling us all why you are here.”
I grabbed hold of the back of the chair. My hands were perspiring. I stared at Mr. Boggs’ open collar. “My name is Margaret Lange and I’m here because I don’t have any choice.”
Several girls snickered.
Mr. Boggs said, “While that answer is truthful, it’s not exactly honest, is it Margaret?”
I bit on my lip. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand what he wanted me to say, it was simply that I had a problem saying the words. The irony, that no one else understood or believed, was that the answer he wanted contained no honesty at all.
Mr. Boggs sat in his chair and leaned forward, staring at me with his elbows resting in his lap. “I know it’s difficult, Margaret, but you’re not alone here. All the girls in this room have made serious mistakes, just like you. Now, you can share your story with us or you can take off that uniform and bend over the back of the chair, because if you can’t admit to what you’ve done, you haven’t earned the right to wear the Institute’s uniform.”
I sighed. It was no different when the lawyers brought the paperwork on the plea deal. Nobody cared what really happened. They all wanted the story the prosecutor developed. There was no innocence, only varying degrees of guilt. Brian had died and I couldn’t remember, but the prosecutor’s story didn’t make sense. “I went out to some clubs with Brian, my boyfriend.”
Some of the girls nodded. A couple groaned.
Mr. Boggs said, “Go on.”
I took a deep breath. It steadied my nerves. “We were drinking, more than we should have been. I blacked out and woke up jail. The police told me we robbed a liquor store and Brian killed the clerk. I resisted arrest and Brian shot a police officer. Another police officer shot and killed Brian. I’m here because I made the choice of being with Brian when he did these things.”
Tears streamed down my cheeks. It still hurt talking about it and even more to tell it like the police did, like the prosecutor did. Brian hated guns. We never went to liquor stores. The only time we drank was at clubs and that was mostly because you had to pay for them anyway just to get in the door. I had only had two drinks on the night it happened and it was the only time in my entire life I had blacked out and couldn’t remember. Something happened that night, I know it, but the story isn’t the one I told. I don’t know the truth, but I absolutely know the lie.
Mr. Boggs said, “Thank you, Margaret. I’m sure that was very painful for you. Please sit down and join us.”