For once I was lucky, or so I thought: the late afternoon’s outdoor training had been cancelled. My group was due for its “initial evaluation”, whatever that meant. It couldn’t be nearly as painful, degrading and generally mind-searingly mistreating as pulling a sulky plus whip-happy driver through the woods (the term “outdoor” always referred to activities outside the camp’s perimeter).
When we gathered in front of our barrack, I already saw myself under bridle again. Then Miss Cuntling made one of her upbeat announcements.
“We make a trip to the main building, where you’ll be undergoing your initial evaluation. It’s a standard procedure, and I want to see spotless behaviour.”
Now I saw myself back in the Lady Doc’s office with cold steel instruments probing my orifices. But better than pony training, my honest opinion. To no surprise, the first thing I was bid to do upon arriving at the main building was waiting. Why couldn’t they process us in descending order for once? I would walk in, suffer through whatever they had in mind for me, and be done with it. Instead I kicked my heels standing in some corridor again, trapped between anxiety and boredom.
I followed the guard into an anteroom, where he cuffed my hands in front of me. A necessary evil, I supposed. The handcuffs were hinged, so that they allowed a bit of movement yet not much usage. He knocked at the inner door, only one knock. Whoever was in there knew about me, of course.
The guard opened the door to let me in, but remained in the frame.
He closed the door from the outside, thus ending his part of the questionable ritual for the seventeenth and last time today. Though it couldn’t be later than half past five the room was gloomy. On the single table a woman was writing in the light of a desk lamp. She didn’t show any further reaction to my presence, be it putting her pen down or even glancing at me. So I waited next to the free chair on my site of the table. I hadn’t the slightest idea regarding that broad’s status or function. She wasn’t wearing a DACC uniform, just a black waist coat over a plain white blouse. What I did know was that this room wasn’t her or anybody else’s office. Everything looked unused and under-furnished. The table was just a table, not a desk in any sense. Beneath its top I had a free view at her black skirt and patent leather court shoes, the heels of which a tat too high for office anyway.
Ignoring me was part of the show, I was aware of that. Participant 1317 had to wait until the important woman could be bothered to direct her attention away from her notes. I pondered whether to undermine her in some way, maybe whistle a merry tune. But I saw the chance that a benevolent evaluation would be a first step of getting out of here. So I decided to humour her.
“Please sit down, Miss Wert,” the woman finally said without looking up. She didn’t introduced herself nor did she pause in her scribbling.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
I sat down, and she ticked a box on some form. Instantly I knew I had been tricked: Participant has reacted to her former name – demerit no.1.
That was going to be good…
“The handcuffs are a precaution. I understand that you are not inclined to violent behaviour.”
At last she stopped writing and examined me through her narrow black-rimmed glasses with a neutral expression.
“This interview will be recorded.”
She didn’t even pretend that I had any say in this.
“I understand, ma’am.”
“Why didn’t you stop at once?”
I stared at her dumbfounded. If she’d wanted to rattle me by throwing a question out of context at me, she’d been utterly successful.
“I beg your pardon?”
“After you had stolen the car, why did you not stop as soon as the patrol car demanded it?”
A good question, I granted her that. I’d fucked up, I suppose. I never thought for the coppers to be shaken off by me, Maserati or not. But it had been oh so tempting to try. I simply hadn’t been capable of looking beyond the point of stomping the accelerator down. The consequences, although known to me, had not seemed to apply to me.
“Some reality check went wrong, I reckon, ma’am.”
“Reality check, huh?”
She appeared amused by my using that term. Bringing some order into her papers and rearming herself with her pen, she continued:
“The aim of this evaluation is to determine your status quo and your potential for reform. There will be two follow-ups to document your progress, one in the middle of your time here and a final one at the end. First we are going to discuss your place within the programme.”
I was expecting the same song and dance warden Navier had given us at our first day: zero tolerance, society doesn’t like us anymore, etc. Instead, my Evaluatress chose a more interactive approach, a question-and-answer game to break the ice.
“Why are you here?”
Where to start? With my exquisite taste in automobiles? With my epic 45 second car chase? With the judge, who in my memories had long since turned into a foaming zealot, hell-bent to purge the land of the evil that is adolescent folly, if it pleases Your Honour?
“Because I decided so, ma’am.”
“You could have accepted the prison stay, though.”
And I was now kicking myself for not doing that, even though I was positive the degree of penalty had been announced that high to push me into choosing the DACC. Who knew whom Warden Navier was bribing or blackmailing or screwing to ensure fresh supply for her pet project.
“I was afraid of being locked away for so long, ma’am. And I hoped to avoid the stigmatisation that comes with having been imprisoned.”
“You strike me as a free-spirited young woman. Imprisonment is known to have unwelcomed effects on such personalities indeed.”
“Most likely, ma’am.”
She made some notes on her pad.
“And how do you experience your stay so far, 1317?”
“As a punishment, ma’am.”
I imagined this was what she wanted to hear, but incidentally it was also the truth.
“What are you punished for?”
“My criminal offence, ma’am.”
That answer caused the Evaluatress to clarify some points.
“The concept behind this institution puts rehabilitation over punishment. The acts of penalisation you may have experienced here are results not of your original offence, but of transgressions during your stay.”
The ponification I was subjected to in the most demeaning manners wasn’t penalisation for some single “transgression”, it was concept-immanent! And how could being whipped bloody in front of the whole camp not be a punishment?
“I see ma’am. I was unaware of the amount of transgressions I have committed so far, ma’am.”
She ticked another box on that extra form. Participant has put the programme into question – demerit no. 2.
“I trust your group leader keeps count. You expect to be punished for your criminal offence. Please expand on this.”
I had to act more carefully not to be cornered by the suggestive, almost inquisitorial interviewing technique of hers.
“I’m not entirely sure whether I understand your question, ma’am.”
“Reflect on your wrongdoing; what part of it demands punishment in particular?”
My wrongdoing? No part of it demanded punishment, at least not he kind I was made to endure at the DACC. But let’s reflect on it for the fun of it:
I did steal some flash motor for a little trip, we’ve already established that. But I didn’t break into it, and I didn’t hotwire it either. I just got in, turned the key waiting in the ignition lock and drove away. The whole thing wasn’t even planned. I literally stumbled across the car, for its owner had parked it right on the pavement, sparing himself the inconvenience of walking the twenty metres from the next free parking space.
It should be mentioned at this point that the place in question is a hot spot for pavement parkers due to the nearby pavement café. Some sensibly switch on their warning lights when stopping for a quick espresso, which in fact is an insult in itself (“Can’t you see this is an emergency?!”). Others don’t bother with that, either. They are in no hurry. Which leave selfishness, thoughtlessness and laziness as possible explanations. Or the ever-popular “I am better than you” attitude.
I used to walk along that street twice a day, and every single afternoon the footpath was blocked. I was forced to squeeze myself through between cars and respective buildings. Or I had to step on the lane, where I was honked at from all sides or get attacked by militant bicycle riders in ridiculously colourful spandex thighs.
More than once I’d told a culprit off. But being either ignored or called names, the results had been less than spectacular. Needless to say I’ve had it when I came across that particular four-wheeled barricade obviously bound to compensate its owner’s penile shortcoming. And that prick really took the biscuit. Not only did he utilise the entire width of the pavement and then some, he also had left the windows down and doors unlocked. If not deserving pedagogical correction for his parking skills, then certainly for his stupid-as-fuck-idity to leave a ready to go V8 Maserati unattended. I could have scratched it with my keys, but that would have left me being just as asbo as its owner. Plus, it wasn’t the car’s fault. So I decided to help myself to some compensation and him to a lesson learnt and took off with spinning rear wheels. I do hope that was expansive enough.
And what part of it demanded punishment now?
“The part most harmful to society, I reckon, ma’am.”
Taking her hipster-headmistress glasses off, she gave me knowing smile.
“Was there even such a part?”
“Not really, ma’am. Just a citizen who had to pick up his conveyance from a proper car park.”
She put her glasses back on and ticked a third box.
Participant trivialises and excuses her actions – demerit no. 3.
“Are there any difficulties with the guards, the handlers or your group leader?”
“Not at all, ma’am.”
If I’d said “yes”, my interrogatress would have imputed a problem with authority to me.
“Where do you see yourself within your group?”
“It’s still too early to form an opinion on that matter, ma’am.”
“Let me rephrase: Where do you see yourself within your group at this early stage?”
I wasn’t sure where she was aiming at. The last facility I had a forced holiday at had had trustees. If you’d been a good girl, you had been given the chance to act as an arbitrator in return for privileges and a gold star in your criminal record. Somehow this career path had remained blocked for me.
“I came to find myself in the role of a supportive observer.”
“We often experience persons who describe themselves as free-spirited to be unwilling to integrate themselves in the group, putting their personal needs above those of their fellow participants. You are not getting on with everybody, or am I ill-informed?”
How could I answer to this without buggering myself?
“I suppose our unique situation abets certain psychological effects which interfere with social interactions.”
The Evaluatress gave me a disapproving look that put her even higher on my get fucked list.
“And what effects would that be in your professional opinion?”
“Cabin fever, ma’am.”
“After three days?”
“Must be that free-spiritedness I’ve heard so much about.”
Participant still hasn’t learnt when to keep her trap shut – demerit no. 4.
“You seem to find your situation quite amusing, 1317.”
“Not in the least, ma’am. But a cheerful mind-set helps me to cope with the steep learning curve I am encountering at this institution.”
“Your mind-set might be the reason for said encounter in the first place. What have you learnt so far?”
“That my actions have consequences.”
For a moment the Evaluatress appeared to be caught on the wrong foot by my answer, but got back on track quickly.
“Thank you, participant 1317. You may return to your duties.”
She called the guard from the anteroom to march me out. In the hallway he removed my handcuffs. I sighted and rubbed the blood back into my wrists.
“That went well…”