The courts were lenient on Esme because she was still a minor. But she was still sentenced to three years and 4months behind bars increased from 18 months because she refused to reveal who her accomplice was. The whole Starr family were devastated.
They watched on helplessly as Emse was led away from the court house by two prison guards. She refused to share a tear in front of her family, she would save them for herself later.
The first night was the hardest. They marched Esme into her cell, skin still burning from the cold shower and delousing powder that every prisoner had thrown on them when they first arrived. The metal hall ways smelt of disinfectant and Esme could hear the other inmates clattering around in their cells.
When the doors slammed shut, that’s was when she knew it was for real! Her old life blown away in the blink of an eye and nothing left but all the time in the world to think about it! Finally, the tears came.
“Will you cut it out, I’m sleeping over here,” came a voice from the top bunk. Esme’s new cell-mate. She peered up at the sleeping girl and stifled her tears.
“Sorry,” she muttered crawling into her own bed. It was small hard and the blanket itched her skin. But Esme was exhausted from the events of the day so she let sleep take her and hide her from her reality – even if it was just for a few hours. That night she aged up – alone!
The first few months went by in a blur. Prison life consisted of routine and then more routine. And that’s how it went for Esme. During the day she walked the yard, ate her food on her own in silence and worked in woodwork making chairs and other items for the local church. She hated it but at least it kept her mind busy.
Then there was the other side of things. The other inmates did not like Esme, they found her snobby and accused her of thinking she was better than everyone else.
“Say it! Say you’re no better than any of us,” they would scream at her, getting her in a head lock and beating her black and blue. She always fought the good fight but in the end there were just too many of them.
Those few months were the worst for her and if things had carried on this way, Emse knew that the prison would have gotten the best of her. She walked the halls like a zombie, consumed by fear and loneliness. But then in the summer of her first year things finally changed. Esme got a new cell-mate.
“Hey I’m Sam,” the new girl chirped enthusiastically. It was the first time anyone had actually spoken to her since she had arrived.
Esme watched Sam hang her photos and valuables around their cell chatting away like they were old friends. “So last time I was in here, I was in cell 5,” Sam nattered. “It was much smaller than this one so I am so excited to finally get one of the big ones. We are going to have so much fun together you and me!” Esme liked her instantly.
Because Sam had been in and out of the slammer since she was thirteen, she seemed to know most of the other inmate. She flitted around the prison like a social butterfly reacquainted herself with her old friends and enemies alike. Esme stuck close to her side, and found that no one dared to go near her again. Although that did not stop them from letting her know that they still hated her!
Within weeks, the two girls were thick as thieves (excuse the pun). Sam helped train Esme get back into shape after moping around for months and Esme taught Sam how to play chess. They swapped stories of boyfriend woes and were often found huddled in a corner putting the world to rights. “So has Jace ever come to visit you,” Sam asked after Esme had told her all about the night she was caught.
“Err no,” Esme sheepishly replied. “But I am sure he would if he could. I guess he can’t take the risk or something.”
“How about letters? Has he ever even written to you since you’ve been in here?”
“No. But Jace was never very good at stuff like that.”
“Esme stop defending him. He set you up and then he has deserted you when you needed him the most. If he loved you he would have found a way to get to you.”
“I know,” Esme replied tears filling her eyes. She still thought about Jace and wondered where he was. Had he left her on purpose? Would he be waiting for her when she came out? Should she have given him up and reduced her sentence?
At night time when all inmates were locked in their cells, Sam would regale Esme with stories of her escapades. Breaking into Bridgeport City Bank when she was just 17 and then just recently clearing out celebrity Niles Blake’s home – though she got caught for that one which was how she ended up back in the slammer!
“I tell you what, when we get out of this join how’s about you and I team up on a job,” Sam asked Esme one night.
“Err I don’t think so,” Esme replied. This was just the sort of thing she was trying to avoid. “When I get out of here, I’m going clean. I can’t do that to my family again.”
“Yeah but this is fool-proof plan, we won’t get caught. I promise!”
“No sorry Sam I’m just not going to do that stuff anymore.”
“Ok but you’re the one missing out!”
Esme rubbished Sam’s offer. There was no way in hell she was going back that life. Never!
But Sam did not let it drop. Every so often she would bring it up again. “So I have this mate who launders items abroad. For priceless relics like the stuff you’ll find in Bridgeport Art Gallery, she will give us 60% and take the rest herself. It’s such a good deal. It will make us rich Esme!”
“Still not interested,” Esme would reply. And she truly believed it too. She was determined to go clean when she got out of the joint and make her parents proud for once. Those days were far behind her!
Esme was finally released two years, eight months and three days after she was convicted. “I can’t believe I have to be in here without you,” Sam cried as she walked Esme to the prison gates. She still had nine months left until her parole.
“You’ll be out of here in no time,” Esme replied trying to cheer her friend up.
“Yeah but that seems like forever!”
“I’ll come and visit you.”
“Of course.” But Esme knew she wouldn’t. She had to leave this life behind and seeing Sam again would have been too big of a temptation. She vowed that this was her final goodbye to someone who had saved her. She pulled Sam into hug and squeezed her tightly.
“You take care of you,” she said before turning around and walking out of the gates. She could smell the freedom the moment she stepped through the gates and waiting on the other side was her parents, hand in hand.
Cater and Anna seemed to have aged so much since Esme had last seen them. She fell into their arms and cried with happiness. She was free and she vowed she would never come back to Bridgeport Prison ever again!
Institutionalised. It was a word Esme had never heard before she went into prison but one that suddenly became apparent once she got home. It was not that she missed prison or even wanted to go back. It was more that being away from home for so long had changed her and she suddenly felt out of place. Her old room felt strange and the people she used to call her friends were no longer the same people. She scrubbed herself clean the moment she got home, but still the smell of the prison lingered on her skin, forever engraved onto her.
She had trouble sleeping at night. The bed was too big and she would have bad dreams like she was falling. She would wake up scarred and sometimes it would take her while to remember where she was. She found herself pacing her floor night after night missing the sounds of the guards laughing outside her cell or the screams of new inmates on their first nights.
She tried to get back into her old life. She even let Kara and Kasey take her out one night. “Come and dance with us Esme,” they called over while gyrating on the dance floor.
Esme remembered a time when all she wanted to do was party with her friends. But those days were long gone. She was a different person now, changed by captivity. The hustle and bustle of life outside the prison walls soon became too much for her and she let her old friendships die once again.
Carter and Anna became very worried about their daughter. They saw her struggling with life on the outside and tried to reach out to her whenever possible. But the harder they tried, the more Esme pulled back. No one seemed to understand what she was going through. Farah came round often with her husband Curtis to try to help. She was pregnant with her first child and seeing Farah so peaceful and happy only reminded Esme of what she had lost. But she still smiled for her sister and made all the right noises about the baby.
“How you holding up,” Farah would ask.
“I’m fine,” Esme always replied. There was no point bringing her sister down too.
“Are you sure because you know I am always here if you want to talk.”
“I’m fine honestly. Stop fussing.” Esme forced her brightest smile on her face which seemed to satisfy her sister.
But the minute no one was looking, she dropped her guard once again. She watched as her family conversed with each other. Discussing baby names and reminiscing about the wedding that Esme missed while she was incarcerated.
She wanted to fit in so much that it hurt. But she couldn’t lie to herself anymore. So instead she counted down the days until Sam was to be released from prison. Only she could understand!