Tell A Tale in 500 Words

Three Strikes By Janet Nixon

“But do you think it’s fair?” the wife asked. It was the question they all asked. All the relatives who visited his office, hoping that after four decades in the law, Chris Childs could save their loved one from the inevitable prison sentence.

Childs replied in his carefully modulated court voice, “It is not relevant whether I think it is fair. It is the law. I am a mere cog in the process.” Childs waited. The relatives never left it there.

“But twenty-five years in prison for one offence? That can’t be justice!”

“It’s not twenty-five years for this crime, Mrs Graham: it’s his third strike. Your husband was given two chances and threw them away. The time when society could afford further indulgence is gone.” He could have said more. He could have said that justice died on the day the first bomb came. Or maybe it expired after the destruction of what used to be called the Global Economy.

Childs remembered when defence and prosecution were separate functions. Then he prosecuted only. The concerns of the accused’s family members were nothing to him. Now he prepared the case for both the prosecution and the defence. Impartiality was preserved by all verdicts and sentences being passed by the Judge, but Childs came face to face with the fears of family members.

“Your husband’s already pled guilty to stealing the drugs.”

“Drugs! They were ante-natal vitamins. Something we apparently don’t need.”

Childs said nothing. He knew the state provided for the unemployed everything that was considered essential and nothing categorised as non-essential.

“So he’ll get twenty-five years?”

“I’m sorry, yes.”

“Do you know what those other “offences” were? He pinched some chocolates for his dying mum. Some stupid chocolates that she hadn’t tasted for years. And he hit a state officer who thought I was fair game. Please…” she trailed off.

“There’s nothing I can do.”

“You could tell the Judge that it’s his first offence.”

“You want me to risk my livelihood, my liberty? There are no second chances for lying to the court. It would mean prison.” He paused. “When the Judge asks me about previous convictions, I shall consult the record in front of me and, without hesitation, tell him the number of offences shown.”

When the wife had left, his assistant entered the room and saw Childs tapping at his computer keyboard.

“Uppdating my records for court” said Childs. The assistant hesitated – this was normally his task – then left.

On the day of the sentencing, Childs stood in the courtroom as justice was quickly despatched: a community order for a first offender, two years for a second offender, twenty-five years for a third offender. When Graham’s case was called, Childs gave the standard explanation, “Accused has pled guilty to theft.” The Judge sought no details about the offence, asking only “Previous convictions?”

If Childs hesitated for a moment as he read from the screen, no one in the court noticed: “No previous convictions.”

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