“Miss Baxter, you are frankly a disgrace.”
The judge’s words rang in Amelia’s ears. She could feel her face flushing and the dewy hint of tears forming in the corner of her eyes. But the adversary was undeterred. Women in authority always scared Amelia that little bit more. To overcome such a passively institutionalised patriarchy and rise to that rank implied a strength of will that quelled any thoughts of misbehaviour in her.
She shut her eyes tight as she prepared to hear her sentence. Images of getting caught shoplifting flooded back; that horrific moment of being led away, gently but firmly, by the police officers. The look on everyone's face. Even now, she could feel the eyes in the room boring into her. It was the worst thing she could think of, to be a spectacle, to be seen in an embarrassing predicament.
Amelia had never been a trouble maker in her school days, or in college. She was quiet, and an underachiever, but never got really bad grades or detention. It allowed her to slip under the radar, always malleable to authority, but never self motivated. Having turned 24 shortly after finishing her Masters, Amelia had found herself suddenly without someone to answer to; her parents had sadly passed away a number of years ago, her friends drifted off since school. Now with no teachers, lecturers and deadlines, she had no imperative. After taking a low paying office job, she went through her savings far too quickly trying to live a lifestyle she couldn’t afford; nothing horrifically ostentatious, but gourmet coffee and organic vegan lunches don’t come cheap. It was a hundred little lattes, not a lamborghini that ruined her credit.
So it was as the money withered away and the debt rose that Amelia found herself in that store with a rucksack of wine and premium Columbian roast that in that moment, she decided she wanted to have her cake and eat it too…
“Your reckless attitude regarding money and other people’s property is exactly what is wrong with you and your generation.”
The judge’s words snapped her back to the present. She lifted her head to meekly meet the stern glare.
“While this was a relatively minor crime, the fact it was for items you consume weekly suggests this was not a one off occurrence, either in the past or future. A standard sentence of 18 months will be sufficient.”
Amelia’s stomach dropped and the hairs on her neck prickled. She thought a substantial fine, or community service was on the way. The shame of appearing in court for her misdeeds was already punishment, but jail? She didn’t even think that was on the cards.
“However, this is a first offence. And as your current situation is brought about by a lack of character, I am inclined to believe that prison wouldn’t set you on the right path. As such, I present you with an alternative.”
“We have begun a programme of sending young adult offenders to a Reformatory Facility. There you shall be put on a regiment of discipline, education and character building to help you on your path to becoming a productive member of society. If you attain the grades required in the school, then you shall be released after 12 months without a criminal record. For the duration of your stay, your private residence will be taken by the court to use as rented accommodation reserved for recently released offenders from the same institution. Proceeds from this shall be used to pay off your debt.”
“But be warned, this is not a light alternative, and will be far more than a slap on the wrist.” At that last comment, a ghost of a smile seemed to appear on the judge’s lips. “You would sign a waiver to their disciplinary programme and while you may leave at any time, you will spend the remaining duration in prison plus the 6 months difference. The choice is yours, Miss Baxter.”
The notion of prison was too horrific for Amelia to even contemplate. This was her first time in real trouble, and for it to escalate immediately to incarceration was terrifying. Going back to a form of school sounded condescending, but it had to be the better choice, and for a shorter time too…
“Sorry, yes. I would prefer the Reformatory, please.”
“Very well. You will be allowed home for one week to get your affairs in order. Then you shall be escorted to the Reformatory by an appointed custodian. You will not need to take any personal effects with you. Is that understood, Miss Baxter?”
“You’re not back in school yet, Miss Baxter. ‘Your honour,’ will suffice.”
“Yes, . Sorry, ”
“You are dismissed, Miss Baxter.”
It was on a cloud of relief that Amelia floated back home. It could have gone far, far worse. On her way out, a court clerk handed over some paperwork while reciting instructions about leasing her home, waivers for the Reformatory and such. Amelia barely heard a word. She was in that happy haze where you can nod and say yes at all the right intervals while the words dissipate around you.
Back in her little apartment, Amelia regarded the surroundings with a mix of fondness and regret. She liked her place, but knew it was more than she could afford, and really she should have made the choice a while ago; eat expensive and rent modestly, or vice versa. After the events of the day, her stomach slowly unknotted and exhaustion washed over her. Amelia collapsed into bed and drifted off into the nether. She dreamt she was back in high school, a senior again. She sat in class at the front row, which she never did in reality. The back offered comfort and seclusion, especially as a non-troublemaker.
As usual, her subconscious mixed events of the day and popular culture with her memories into a bizarre menagerie that she knew at once didn’t fit, yet was, in that moment ‘real.’ That odd sensation where your train of thoughts and conclusions are all part of the dream, unaware that you’re not thinking rationally as it happened.
In this instance, Amelia wasn’t perturbed at all to see the teacher was the Judge from her Hearing.
The teacher’s voice said her name, but it was the voice of a former teacher who she couldn’t remember, though it came from the judge’s mouth.
“Amelia, this is the last time! You clearly need far more than a slap on the wrist.”
Amelia got up and walked towards the front of the class. As she rose, she was aware of what she was wearing form the first time; she was the adolescent fantasy of the catholic schoolgirl; short tartan skirt, white shirt and stockings. The other students were a sea of different faces and ages as people from her youth and present filled the spaces.She bent over the desk, keeping her elbows and palms flat and watched as the judge pulled a paddle from her desk drawer with fraternity symbols embossed on its surface.. She could hear, with crystal clarity, the quiet giggling of the other students and the sound of footsteps walking around behind her. A spectacle. Her ultimate fear.
The voices went still, the footsteps halted. Then a blistering sting erupted across her rear. She gasped, and another followed, then another, and another. Tears streamed down her face as with mechanical rhythm and strength the paddle came down again and again. The judge's scolding back at the hearing echoed in her ears as she was paddled mercilessly. There was a pause, and she looked behind her. The teacher rested her hand on Amelia’s bottom, then lifted her skirt. Amelia shrieked as her pantied bottom was exposed to the class, but a stern hand in the small of her back stopped her jumping up as the swats resumed, this time stinging more than ever. The skirt had provided a little protection, but that was gone as the blows rained down. She could feel her bare flesh at the side of her underwear becoming especially sore. As she squirmed to no avail, she heard the voice of her tormenter once more:
“That’s it, Amelia! I’ve had enough!” She heard the paddle get put on the desk with a solid thud and then the feeling of the judge’s fingers in the waistband of her underwear. She screamed as she felt them sliding down.
Amelia woke up with a racing heart and a cold sweat to the sound of her alarm going off. Even alone and knowing it wasn’t real, she felt a wave of embarrassment as the events of her dream came back to her. She would never have worn anything that silly or revealing, and neither her school or parents had ever disciplined her in that crude, barbaric fashion. It felt a little perverse, too. She’d never gone in for that kind of thing. On the skin of her behind she could feel the echo of pain as her nerves still “remembered” the nightmare, like the money you can feel clutched in your fist that evaporates as you wake. Amelia shuffled into the shower, still trying to shake off the bizarre, alien experience.
After she showered and dressed, Amelia spotted the paperwork she’d left sitting on the table. With a sigh, she sat down and started to fill it out. Yesterday was already a little cloudy and ethereal; the feeling of relief made it seem as if it was as unreal as her dream. But the paperwork was too solid to be mistaken.
There was an information sheet about when she would be picked up and 3 forms to fill out. 1 to hand her apartment over to the state, another to acknowledge her 12 months contract at the Reformatory and a last which was headlined “Disciplinary Consent Form”. The language was oblique, but a few phrases stood out to her:...’that the consenting party (the contractee) shall allow the Institution (referred to hereafter as Us, We or the Reformatory) to exact punishment as we see fit, including but not limited to chastisement and the removal of assumed privileges when deemed appropriate.’
She frowned at that last one. It sounded a little ominous, but then in prison you’re given clothes, set meals and can have basic privileges taken away. This read similar, as since it was a consensual alternative, it made sense she’d have to sign away those same rights.
Amelia called up her employer and awkwardly approached letting them know what was happening, but was pleasantly surprised when they responded that the Department of Justice had called them to let them know she’d being asked to take part in a 12 month Education programme and had provided a formal letter of resignation for her. They weren’t kidding about the no Criminal Record part of the arrangement.
Over the next week, she served a brief notice period at the office before packing up to go. Amelia tried to choose some modest or applicable clothing from her wardrobe, looking guiltily at the more luxurious apparel that had got her into this situation. She read the information sheet for the 50th time, knowing fine well she’d be picked up at 6 am. Nervous and restless, she slept in her bed for the last night for 12 months.
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