A Minor Misdemeanor

Chapter 12

Jenny was jerked from a none-too-sound sleep on the unpadded slab of wood that served her as a mattress by a sudden pounding on the door.

"Get up. Church Parade!" A warder yelled through the door.

Still shaking the sleep from her mind, she stiffly turned over, before her body protested in agony, nearly dropping her to the floor with savage cramps in dozens of muscles the length of the body.

She couldn't help screaming in sudden pain, and a sudden burst of terror.

To her surprise, the hatch swung open.

"Are you lazy or something?" The warder demanded. "If you're not out of there in the next minute, I'll come and drag you out by the hair."

Frustrated, she forced her body to its feet, staggering slightly as she was forced to adjust for the irons fastened around her ankles.

"Move it." The man hissed, before pushing her in the direction of the main room in the women's wing of the prison, which she hadn't visited before.

Throughout the building, she could see dozens of prisoners making their way towards the room, and hear the banging of doors and hatches as the remainder were chivvied in the direction of the hall.

Inside, there was a space about the size of the main concourse of one of the smaller London stations, mostly filled with benches and tables, crudely constructed out of heavy planks of oak and held together by gravity and friction. At one end of the room, there was a space, empty except for a large group of people, her fellow prisoners, being formed into rough ranks by several warders, occasionally using their batons on prisoners apparently as a corrective measure, rather than the casual brutality Jenny read from their stances.

Reluctantly, she fell in; keeping her eyes straight ahead, except for a brief check on the prisoners either side of her to ensure that she wouldn't be attracting any attention from the prowling thugs.

It took ten minutes before the guards were happy, and had marched all of the prisoners into the room. Then one of the men knocked on a heavy wooden door, on top of a stage, with a small lectern.

A few moments later, a man bustled through the door, carrying a bible under his arm, along with several folded sheets of paper. His face was swarthy, with a narrow, beaked nose, and eyes that brought her in mind of the sort of men who hired the services of girls barely old enough to consent, before subjecting them to acts that would outrage even a pimp. She and Vastra had… she put the set of memories firmly back in their box, refusing to even think about what they'd found.

"Today's reading," He announced in the voice of the orator only tolerated because those he speaks to have no choice, "Will be from the book of Exodus, chapter twenty, verses thirteen to seventeen."

"Orf Hats!" The leading warder yelled, the response being the immediate removal of all items of headgear.

"Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shall not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbour. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shall not covet thy neighbour's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is thy neighbours." The priest finally paused for a moment, before continuing. "These are the words of the Lord, to his chosen people, gifted to his chosen prophet, the blessed Moses. These are words that many of you have breached. You have all sinned in the eyes of the Lord. All mankind are sinners, in His merciful eyes. Each of us carries a portion of the original sin upon our souls from the moment of our birth. It is our duty to repay the Lord for this, by acting kindly towards our fellow man. Many of you have treated your fellow man with violence, or treated his good thus. The Lord knows that all men sin, but he requires that we work to redeem ourselves." He stopped speaking for a moment.

And what are your sins? Jenny wondered. That you allow your lusts to control your actions? That you treat young girls in a way that would sicken your bishop? That you willingly pay for carnal interactions? You are more of a criminal than anyone in this hall, but you stand in front of us, preaching about sin? How dare you! She didn't speak aloud any of her thoughts, and tried to keep them out of her posture.

"Despite our sins, the Lord loves all of us, as does any father. He only holds anger against those who harm their fellow children, in malice. Show him by your actions that you are remorseful, and he will grant you forgiveness. Work hard, and treat those placed over you with courtesy and respect." He paused again. "I will now read the Lord's prayer."

"Our father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen." He read; followed a moment later by a chorus of voices from the prisoners, who echoed the priest with little enthusiasm.

"Be seated." He announced, sending the prisoners filing onto their benches, each place set with a simple wooden bowl and a crude wooden spoon, deeply dished, and worn from long use. Once all of the prisoners were seated, a pair of guards went along each bench, using a small trolley, with a cauldron set into its surface, to serve each prisoner their porridge. Jenny held back from eating when she saw none of her fellow prisoner touch their spoons.

"Before we eat, we will say the grace." The priest announced, pompously. "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, now and evermore. Amen." Once the echoes of the unenthusiastic prayer had died away, and the ecclesiast had left the room, they began eating in silence.

The porridge was of a marginally better quality than her breakfast the previous morning, and appeared to have been made with oats freshly produced, rather than the week old, rat dropping infested sludge she'd been handed the previous day. Admittedly, the oats were ground far more finely than she would have accepted in the kitchen of Paternoster Row, and it appeared to have been made with water, rather than milk, but it tasted surprisingly good, for all that. She briefly raised her head from a servile, unthreatening bowed position, before glancing around.

Two along, other side; child robbing for gin money. Five down, my side; poisoning her husband, non-fatally. One across, fifth seat; robbery with violence. Next to her, assault with a bladed article, put three policemen in the Royal Free Hospital.

Overall, she decided, the company wasn't exactly worth considering.

Once they'd eaten, the warders came around and collected all of the bowls and spoons, carefully counting them, before leaving the prisoners briefly to their own devices. Most just sat there, their heads bowed, and waited to be taken to their daily tasks.

Once again, Jenny was led into the long, hot room that held the treadmill. A handful of other prisoners were already turning the wheel, and she was briefly instructed to mount the wheel by a warder, idly smoking his pipe, a loaded shotgun across his knees, before a second warder, armed with a revolver, entered her name and the time she started onto a chart painted onto a chalkboard behind the desk where the two men sat, before starting what appeared to be a stopwatch once she was underway.

She was left marching around the wheel for ten minutes, before being allowed to dismount for a five minute break, again, timed. Then she was put back onto the wheel, again for ten minutes, and the routine was continued another thirty-nine times, until she was totally exhausted. During what she thought had been her twentieth break, although she wasn't sure about any of the timings, she had been given a bowl of cold stew, containing a mixture of simple root vegetables and some form of meat product, although which meat wasn't something she was particularly tempted to enquire about.

Barely able to stand, she was led back through a maze of cells to the small, dank room in which she was to spend the night, and more or less pushed through the door, which was then slammed shut behind her, before she heard the click of the lock sealing her inside for the night.

She huddled on the wooden slab that passed for a bed, pulling a thin cotton rag over her body to try and retain what warmth she could, too exhausted to even turn on her Gameboy. She was asleep within minutes.

What seemed to her a few short moments later, she was jerked awake by a sudden, very distinctive noise, one that she'd heard several times before. Wearily, she lifted her head, before extracting her Gameboy from its case, and turning it one.

The light from the screen revealed a familiar oblong, seconds before she was pounced on.

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