Whenever I arrived at the prison, my immediate responsibilities included picking up, from the security checkpoint, my "package" — the two memos listing my day's interviewees and my "Visitor" badge. If the memos were not there, usually a parole agent handed them to me when he or she ushered the first interviewee into the day room. My final task, prior to interviewing a ward for the first time, was to go over with the ward the "informed consent" form I designed. It explained the purpose of the interviews — to provide information to teachers, parents and others who work with children — and informed wards that they had the right to terminate interviews at any time, for any reason or for no reason. Their desire not to participate would not be held against them and was purely voluntary. However, they would receive no "points" or "credits." In other words, these interviews could not be used as "good behavior evidence" to show the parole board. Lastly, I stated my desire to interview them several times, over a number of years, to check, re-check, and verify information they gave me, and to get as accurate and complete a picture of their life as possible.
"Mr. Shaw?" The voice behind me sounded tentative. I turned around from the window through which I had been watching the rain hammering down. I had not heard any footsteps behind me, so engrossed was I in my thoughts and watching the downpour. "Good morning, Charity," I said. She smiled shyly. We shook hands. I gestured toward the table and we walked over to it. The parole agent gave me my "package" showing five more interviews that day; then she left.
"I'm awful sorry I'm late," Charity began. "Uh, something happened, and they needed to question me. I mean, I'm not like in trouble or anything. They just needed to question me about some things." I told Charity that was okay, that I understood, that "things come up sometimes, just like the rain comes down." She glanced toward the window and we both laughed. She said, "I know we only have about a half hour." I told her we could still begin the interview, if she wanted to do so. She nodded her head enthusiastically. So, we began. The story I got from her persuaded me of the value in returning, time and again, to these children and repeatedly interviewing the same ones for better and more information. Charity, in our previous four interviews, was usually taciturn and given to only a few words. Sometimes I had the impression she was there to put in the hour and be gone. Today, though, she gave me the story of her life.
"You overslept and missed breakfast and your medicine," Charity said with exasperation as she worked at the dishes. "Mom and Dad left for work hours ago."
"Watch your tone, please," Monica said. "You know I'm sick. Depression is sickness. Most people know that." The insult burrowed into Charity's patience. "Some sister you turned out to be."
"Listen, Monica —"
Just then, the doorbell rang. Charity dried her hands on her apron and went for the door.
"I'll get it!" announced Monica, who lunged at Charity and knocked her to one side.
"Are you sick or are you sick?!" Charity shouted.
Monica turned around, mid-stride, "Don't you ever, ever say that to me again. I've got enough people thinking I'm a head case. I don't need my sister joining the team. Do you hear me, slut?"
The doorbell rang again. Monica turned briskly toward the door.