I have just realized that I have been writing on this final chapter for a year and nothing ever seemed fitting. I still don't think that the below is fitting, but it comes as close as I like it to be.
I have enjoyed writing this story so very much and I can't seem to let go.
Thank you all for everything; the encouragement and help along the way. Special Thanks goes to Cara245 and jenio1 on fanfiction and Angie Williams on Fictionpad. Without you guys, I wouldn't have made it this far.
I hope you all enjoy the final chapter of Innocent. As always please let me know what you think.
"Thank you for coming" They all shake Andrews hand, while I set doughnuts and cookies onto the table along with coffee for all of us.
"Not a Problem" Andrew nods and we all sit down. "Steph has already explained the basics on the phone and I will need to request all the files from Mrs O'Hara in order to get a clear picture, but I'd say your chances are good to be rewarded the money…."
"Andrew...we wouldn't be able to pay you much. Probably not even a fifth of what you are used to." Tank instantly interjects.
"Don't worry about the money. Pro Bono, just like before" Andrew informs us.
There is a moment of stunned silence before Carlos speaks up. "Thank you, but we want to pay you something. We cannot let you do the work for three years and not get paid."
"Doughnuts will suffice" Andrew smirks and snatches one from the platter. "Defence lawyers are a poor breed of people anyways..." He shrugs "Thanks to you guys, I remembered why I became a lawyer in the first place, so this one's on me."
"Has Steph told you what we intend to do with the money?" Tank questions and Andrew shakes his head. "Let us explain then…"
One Year and six months later
"You want to help me?" Angus Mayer looks a little confused at Tank and me through the security glass of the prison's visiting room. "I don't understand."
Angus, African American, 30 years old, spent the last 15 years in prison for aggravated assault/ battery and has quite the rap sheet.
He was known for having a temper in school and being a bully. When he was 12 years old he was arrested for threatening to kill his Stepfather, but because he was a minor, Angus only got probation. Probably also due to the fact that his State appointed lawyer actually gave a shit and did is job.
But just three years later the step-father beat his mother into a pulp and Angus got even. Unfortunately for Angus his Stepfather is former cop with a great track record, which carried a lot of weight in court with an almost white jury. The man testified in favour for a lighter sentence and painted Angus as a violent and disobedient kid.
He could have gotten out on good behaviour long time ago, had he not gotten into fights in prison and when he was 18 they transferred him to Adult prison.
"Yes" Tank nods. "We heard through your state appointed lawyer that you are getting out in a couple of weeks. Ms Palmer advised us that you do not have any family to rely on, so we thought we would reach out...Help you get on your feet when you get out."
Ms Palmer, Angus's public defender, is a friend of my father's and has been pointing people out to us who are due to be released and who will have nothing once they get out. Angus is the most recent one. His mother is dead, due to the injuries suffered from the beating, there are no siblings to speak of and apart from his prison buddies, no other friends.
"How?" Angus questions.
"We would set you up with a Job, if you don't mind doing shitty work for a low wage" I shrug and continue "We would also help you find a place to stay."
"I don't know what to say" Angus says, obviously he didn't expect this.
"Just think about it. We left our card with the warden." I tell him. "If you want to reach out, you can do so 24/7."
"Thank you" Angus nods with a grateful look on his face and maybe even a bit of hope in his eyes.
I cannot believe it has only been a year and a half since we sat down with Andrew to discuss suing the State for compensation. That was also the day RiPiLeBoHe was born. We didn't know what to name the Charity, so we took the first two initials of our first names and combined them. Steph's was supposed to be on there as well, but she flat out refused. Our Charity Organisation mainly focuses on released prisoners who have nothing and no family, but if families or friends seek assistance, we do not turn them away either.
The first few months were hard and tiring. Trying to convince prisoners that we were serious about helping them. Trying to convince Wardens to let us come in and speak to the men and women and trying to convince the government that we need and are entitled to funding.
But the most trouble we had, was finding companies who wanted to employ ex-cons and landlords who were happy to take them in and let them stay. Steph, Bobby and Les always took people in at their respective work places, but in the end, there aren't enough work places to go around in Jersey and we have to come up with another solution.
"Hey, what's up?" I look up and stand when Andrew knocks on the door and walk around my desk to greet him.
"I have some news, that may be of interest to you" He smiles and sits down on the couch, which is placed on the right side of my office. I also cannot believe that I got my own office.
Andrew has been fighting for us for a long time now and we still haven't won yet. Since he is still refusing to accept payment from us, we are able to repay him by giving him many more cases due to the work we are doing. For a public defender he is quite busy and successful. And unofficially he has also become RiPiLeBoHe's lawyer. On top of all of that Steph invites him around regularly for dinner.
"You want some coffee or something stronger?" I ask.
"No, I am good, I have to be in court in an hour." He waves off and glances at his watch. "Ever heard of Blaine Securities?"
"Yeah, they are over on the west coast, aren't they?" I answer and sit down in the couch chair opposite of him, while wondering where he is going to go with that.
"Well Thomas Blaine just hired me to get help one of his guys out of some legal trouble he didn't commit. The kid is an ex-con, who was hired by Blaine thanks to a specific skill set of his and that gave me an idea."
"Where are you going with this Jackson?" I ask and lean forward in my chair, impatient as ever.
"Open a Security company" He simply answers. "Someone broke into my neighbour's house the other day and the response team came from Philly, which took them two hours, by then the home was fully robbed and the police couldn't do crap. I have asked around in the upper circles too and they are all complaining that they cannot find a security company in the area. There is a niche here, which I think you could fill."
"Don't want to state the obvious here, but I don't know anything about the security business." I retort, but he sure as hell caught my interest.
"Obviously there is a tonne of research to be done, but I think you could pull it off. Did you know that your boy Hector knows a tonne of people in the hacking world, through online gaming?"
"Did you run a background search on him?" I raise an eyebrow in question, not sure if I should be mad or not.
"I was your lawyer, I have access to certain files." He shrugs nonchalantly. "Or did you know that my sister's brother in law, Hal, is just fresh out of the military with no job prospects? He would be a great candidate to teach you anything you need to know and then you can give him a place in your company."
"You have already thought this through very well." I remark with an amused smile.
"It was a long flight back from LA." Andrew shrugs again. "I can get you in touch with Blaine, see if he is willing to give you a few tips. He may even take some of the reformed prisoners of your hands."
"The core team has a meeting on Friday at 10 am, why don't you join us?" I ask and stand when he does.
"I will be there" He nods, shakes my hand and leaves my office. "Don't forget about dinner tomorrow night!" I shout after him and he only waives his hand in acknowledgement. I am equally as hesitant as I am excited about this idea. If this could work out, we would have a new way of employing these people who need it. But it also means more work.
"She is here" Tank says without bothering to knock.
"Perfect. Afterwards I have something to discuss with you." I follow him out of my office and into the conference room, where Rachel Nose is sitting with her parole officer. Her story is just as devastating as most of them and as much as we all are trying not to get invested, it is hard.
"Ms Nose, I am happy to see you." I greet her with a smile and then turn to her Parole officer "I am Ricardo Manoso."
"Yvonne Thompson" the other woman nods, without cracking a smile. We have seen many parole officers come in here for the first time, unsure of what to expect. Ms Thompson is no different. Ms Thompson looks to be in her 50's and I suspect she has done this job for far too many years and has probably seen way too many likes of us promising her parolees a better future, which then ended in the same disastrous ending as it always does. Back in prison.
"Ms Plum not here?" Rachel looks around. She is only twenty years young and has had her fair share of shit happen to her. She is vary of men and it doesn't surprise me that she is asking for Babe, the two of them clicked when they met.
We take Steph with us whenever we visit the women's prison. We think that it may make them feel more at ease with a woman present and when they come and find us once they get out, I asked her to sit in on the meetings as well. I tried paying her, but she refuses.
"I am here" the woman in question comes barrelling through the door and drops into the seat next to me with an exhausted look on her face. "I am so sorry I am late...there was a dead body on the freeway, which I was informed came from a coroner who left their back door open while driving" Babe shudders and I barely suppress smile. This shit only happens to her.
"That sounds disgusting...especially in this heat" Ms Thompson shudders as well. "Oh that smell."
"I left the windows close, that is for sure" Babe replies with a smile. "How are you Rachel?"
"Okay I guess" the young woman shrugs.
"Since your sister called us a couple of weeks ago, we have found a job for you. Like I said on the phone, it will be minimum wage for now, but since she said that you can live with her, I don't imagine that being a problem." I start. Rachel's sister reached out to us in hopes to get Rachel out of the shitty life she has been leading, which the sister tried to do on her own before Rachel went back into the joint a few months back.
"It isn't" Rachel nods.
"What she will be doing?" The parole officer asks.
"She will be answering the phone for the Taxi Hotline here in Trenton. Tim, the current operator, is retiring, but will show you the robes of the job before he does. He said you have two weeks of training to do, for which you will be paid of course." Tank continues. We were lucky to find this job for her. Steph's Dad, who works for the company, pointed it out for us. "I know it is not what you imagined and that you would prefer a mechanical job, but unfortunately that is all we have for now."
"It is fine" Rachel nods again. I spoke to the owner on Rachel's behalf and asked her to let Rachel work alongside one of her mechanics from time to time. Rachel apprenticed as a mechanic for about six months before her drug addicted mother brought Rachel into her shitty life.
"Okay" Steph smiles. "These two" she points her thumb over to Tank and me "We will go with you Monday morning to introduce and to make sure you are okay there. Same as your parole officer, we will check up on you...well not check up...more like come by and say hello, to ensure that you are comfortable there. If you have any issues, you can always call the charity's hotline and someone will help you."
"But we want you to know, that we do not tolerate criminal activities of any kind. We want to help you, but you need to want it." I state in no uncertain terms, as I do with every single one of the people we help.
"I want it, I cannot go back there."
"I really need to start paying you" I grumble on our way home. I moved into Steph's Apartment shortly after we decided to open the charity and so far we have only managed to bite each other's heads off twice.
"Ranger...pullover" Steph clamps a hand over her mouth and once I pull up on the curb, she practically jumps out of the car towards the bushes and empties her stomach.
"Alright...that is it" I state, get out of the car and join her. "I want to know what is going on...you have been having this bug for a few days now."
"I..am...pregnant" She manages to say between the retching.
I open my mouth, but no words come out. Pregnant? As in a Baby? Holy shit...this is not good. I am not father material...at least not yet. The apartment is too small and we don't have money to buy a house yet. We will have to Baby proof the apartment then. Shit her father is going to kill me if she has this baby out of wedlock. "Marry me" I blurt out. What? It is not like I haven't thought about this before.
"No" Babe shakes her head. "I will be damned if we get married just because I am pregnant. If you still want to marry me when I have grown three times my seize and my vagina is all flappy because I pushed a human being out of there, then we can talk about this again."
"Marry me" I say again, with much more conviction. While she was talking, something shifted in me and I finally feel...whole. This is what I wanted with her eventually before I went to prison. "Marry me! Not for the Baby. Marry me because I love you, because I want your last name to read Manoso, because I want to grow old with you and because I can't think of a better way to show you that I am in this forever. You and me...it was always meant to be."
"Did that just rhyme? Oh my god you totally just rhymed." A happy smile breaks out on Babe's face and her eyes sparkle. "Forever seems like a long time" She states and I pull her towards me.
"Don't let me grow old alone and miserable" I plead with a teasing smile.
"Fine…" She huffs out. "I will marry you."