It was always the same. The officers’ words rang in Jake’s ears as he scuffed down the country road.
“Maybe five days.”
“Three at the most, I reckon.”
“Before the end of the week, anyway, that’s for sure.”
“Till next time then, you look after yourself in the meantime,” the boss sniggered, unlocking the door and letting him out. Jake hefted his small backpack on to his back and made off, not bothering to reply. He’d make their bets meaningless this time, he vowed, as always. Trouble was he knew his mates, and his own weakness, and the repetitive cycle of recent years. It was a hopeless goal really.
At the main road Jake boarded the bus in the familiar routine. He kept his head low so the other passengers couldn’t see ‘prisoner’ written all over his face, and thought about his upcoming appointment.
This time inside had been different, somehow. Finally he was sick of himself, and now here was Matt. He hadn’t taken much notice when he’d first met Matt, balding, friendly and always cheerful.
“I’m the social worker for New Hope Trust,” Matt said. “I want to tell you about how we help you guys when you come out, and see if we can help you.”
“Why you got no hair, then?” Jake was startled at his bold remark.
“Ha,” laughed Matt. “Dealing with all you blokes, tearing my hair out when people make wrong choices, that sort of thing.” Jake grinned in spite of himself; perhaps he could get along with this fellow.
When Jake thought later about the programs of New Hope that Matt told him about, for the first time in a long while he felt that perhaps there was hope for him after all. Wouldn’t do any harm to sign up, anything was worth a try, and if it didn’t work out, then he’d be no worse off than he was now. He met weekly with Matt to prepare for release. On Matt’s last visit he had a tall young man with him.
“This is your mentor, Andy. He’ll be with you all the way. You can call him any time and talk to him about anything you like. He will be your support person through the whole hard journey of staying out of prison.”
Jake looked Andy up and down. Who was he, and why would he want to help the likes of him?
“I want you to come and see me as soon as you get out,” Matt told him. “Our office is on the bus route, here are the details, and Andy and I will be there waiting for you.”
The only people usually waiting for him were his no-good friends, ready to go on looting sprees again. What would he choose?
The bus reached the outskirts of Berrytown, and Jake pushed the bell. It was worth it to see Matt’s smile when he walked into his office.
“I was expecting you,” he greeted. “Now here’s the deal. We’ve got you a place to stay and we can give you some part time work. We expect you to turn up, work hard, play by the rules, and be part of the team.”
Andy told Jake about the job they had lined up unloading containers for the city warehouses, and helped him fill in the paperwork.
“Andy will take you now to our Retreat in the country and pick you up at 10 am tomorrow for all the bits and pieces you need to do on your first day out. The following day he’ll pick you up at 7.30 am for work. What do you say?”
“Sure,” he said. It sounded daunting, but he could always skip out if it was too hard.
It was hard, and many times Jake was tempted to give up. Matt had even less hair than before. They came to call him their ‘miracle a day boy’.
“Take one day at a time, Jake,” Andy kept reminding him. “We’ve got great expectations for you, mate, and we’ve got a great team behind us praying for you. You’ve come a long way, and I don’t want to see you slip back now.”
It freaked Jake that someone actually cared about him, and expected him to do well. He thought of the guards expecting him to fail. I’ll show them, he thought. Hard as it may be to stay straight, I’m not going back there again, ever.
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