Master of Freedom - Cherise Sinclair

Chapter One

“You fucking…” As the inmate on the other side of her office desk alternated spitting and swearing, Virginia Cunningham fought to keep the expression from her face. Her years as a social worker had given her a fair amount of experience, but the past two months of working in a prison were sorely testing her skills.

She flattened her trembling hands on the desktop and glanced around her claustrophobia-inducing cement box of an office. Since the sole window was in the door, she’d tried to create a more spacious feeling by hanging vibrant posters of the nearby Yosemite mountains. Her favorite was of a man climbing El Capitan. She could almost feel the strain in his muscles as he moved upward toward the peak.

If only she could give him a boost. But the determination on his face told her he’d make the summit all on his own.

Now, if she could only transmit some of his resolve to the inmates she counseled. So many had given up hope. Or, like Mr. Jorgensen, were so filled with anger there was room for nothing else.

“Mr. Jorgensen,” she said quietly. “When you––”

His voice rose to drown her out. “And those mother-fucking, cock-suckers…”

Lordy. Sometimes her job was simply to listen, however they chose to speak. Sometimes inmates would talk to her goldfish, Chuck, who lived in a small bowl on the filing cabinet. After they relaxed, she could move into active therapy.

Unfortunately, Mr. Jorgensen’s ranting hadn’t helped him one bit, and she had a feeling he wouldn’t depart politely.

Although he had no history of violence, she’d been warned not to take chances—as if seeing unrestrained inmates without a guard present wasn’t already risky. But it was what it was. She pressed the intercom summoning the correctional officer.

When the CO entered her room, she rose. “Mr. Jorgenson, our time is up now.”

The prisoner spat at her. “And those fucking bastards…”

“Please escort him out,” she told the officer.

“C’mon, let’s go, Jorgensen,” he said.

The inmate jerked around and saw the CO. Obediently and quietly, he stomped from the room.

As the door closed behind them, Gin sank back, turning her chair to avoid seeing the puddles of spittle. Thankfully, her desk was quite wide.

In the past when working with children and families, she’d been cussed out, yelled at, insulted. Teenagers especially were adept at the scathing put-downs.

But never had anyone spit at her.

She pulled in slow, calming breaths, although each inhalation brought the stink of Mr. Jorgensen’s sweat mixed with the harsh cleansers used by the inmate workers.

Dear heavens, she was not cut out to work as a prison social worker. She should have looked before leaping into the position. Desperation surely did sorry things to a body—and she’d been so frantic to get away from her ex-fiancé that she’d taken the most distant job she could find.

Well, mistakes happened. And, so she’d carry on—and do the very best she could for the souls entrusted to her.

“The day is over. And I’m so out of here.” Penelope’s voice drifted in from the reception area.

What an excellent idea.

Jorgenson’s had been Gin’s last session of the day. She pushed to her feet, ignored her wobbly knees, and shrugged into her black jacket. The garment was loose fitting, as were her baggy pants and oversized, button-up, white shirt. The last thing she wanted was for an inmate to see her as a female, although her ugly attire didn’t seem to affect the number of catcalls and whistles.

After a quick pat to ensure she had her body alarm and keys, she walked out of her office into the gray reception area. Two other counselors