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Chapter 32

“Reinventing Yourself?” The receptionist at the front desk of Suncoast News Channel Seven asked.

Kristin looked over her shoulder but didn’t see anyone else.

“Pardon…ah…pardon me. What did you say?”

Kristin was sure she looked as confused as she felt. Confused and upset. She’d told so many lies over the last few years. Could a total stranger call her bluff? What am I here for anyway?

“Reinventing Yourself,” the receptionist repeated. “The taping begins in twenty minutes. I assume that’s why you’re here.”

Kristin felt a strong hand on her shoulder before she could respond.

“This gal doesn’t need to reinvent herself,” Skip told the receptionist. “You’re looking at the best juvenile judge in Florida, Judge Kristin Dahlen. We should invent more like her. However, we’re here today to appear on a features program with your anchorwoman Jerrilynn Howell on the benefits of the Guardian Ad Litem program in Florida. We’re hoping to recruit more guardians and we thank Channel Seven for inviting us.” He flashed a smile.

“I’m Skip Walters, a guardian, and Judge Dahlen has been kind enough to give of her valuable time to get out the message. And of course we thank Ms. Howell and your station for their donation of time and talent.”

What a mouthful for the poor receptionist to absorb, Kristin thought.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” the receptionist said as she stood to greet them. “We have a taping before yours, squeezed in, called ‘Reinventing Yourself.’ Jerrilynn is interviewing three people who’ve reinvented their careers later in life. I just assumed you were one of them.”

Kristin let “later in life” pass. “No, maybe in the future. As Skip said, we’re here to promote the Guardian Ad Litem program. Jerrilynn invited us to appear live on her show, with replays for future programs.”

“Of course. Perhaps you’d like to sit in the studio for the Reinventing Yourself segment. It’s a lot more interesting than waiting out here with me.”

Kristin and Skip looked at each other and nodded. Five minutes later they found themselves sitting in canvas director’s chairs facing beautiful, slim, ash-blonde Jerrilynn Howell. She wore a slinky red dress and matching red lipstick on plump botoxed lips. She was interviewing her first guest on a sandalwood platform with an ocean-blue background. Three young men in jeans worked heavy cameras on long black jibs and overhead lights.

Jerrilynn’s first guest was a handsome former corporate executive with fashionably long grey hair who had retired to become a sculptor. He talked about the satisfaction of working with clay and showing his work at galleries. Her next guest was a slim, bejeweled woman wearing a stunning black hat who began a luncheon club for women who liked to wear hats; theme hats for every month of the year. Skip nudged Kristin, suggesting she sign up in her free time. The third guest was a former lawyer who became a coach for people seeking to reinvent themselves.

“Sounds perfect for you, Coach Skip,” Kristin teased. “Giving advice, running other people’s lives.” Finally, it was time for them. Jerrilynn was as gracious off stage as on. After refreshing her make-up, she went over the questions she was going to ask them both, and encouraged them to ad lib where needed. Enthusiasm, she said, was the key ingredient. Their segment would be live, before her first commercial break. The countdown was over. The cameras were rolling.

Jerrilynn began by asking Skip what is was like to be a guardian ad litem for a child, to appear in court and testify, and to go out to the child’s home, interviewing parents, relatives, friends and teachers. Skip was glib but convincing. Kristin thought that Jerrilynn herself might sign up to be a guardian after Skip’s persuasive pitch.

Jerrilynn then turned to Kristin, who validated everything that Skip had said about the need for and importance of these guardians for children, particularly foster children.

Then Kristin looked directly into the cameras, instead of facing Jerrilynn as she had been instructed.

“The abuse and exploitation of foster children, particularly foster girls, is a well-kept secret. I don’t think the state wants to admit the number of girls who run from group homes, who meet older men who target these homes by finding connections to the employees. Men who have sex with these girls in shabby motels or even truck stop parking lots where the girls are known as “lot lizards,” performing oral sex for a twenty-dollar bill.

“The agencies sweep this problem under the rug. They label the girls, who are sometimes as young as twelve, runaways or even ‘prostitutes’ who consent to the sex. Yet under the law they cannot consent. They are not old enough to consent. This is statutory rape. These are not your ordinary ‘Johns.’ They prey on minors. They are pedophiles. They must be stopped.”

Jerrilynn looked surprised and uncomfortable. She turned to Skip to dig her out of the conversation.

“The judge is right,” Skip said. “I know a girl who is in that exact situation right now. The police call her a runaway. Her group home is glad that she’s gone, less trouble. Her mom and dad are out of the picture. The pimp who exploits her has become a father figure. All this for a French manicure, a brand new cell phone and the freedom to act grown up, while getting sexually transmitted diseases or even pregnant. It’s a huge problem, Jerrilynn. We’re glad you and your station are bringing attention to it today.”

“We recently arrested a man for having sex with toddlers, videotaping it on his cell phone and distributing it to more than one hundred people. He got a life sentence. Everyone knows that’s a horrible crime. But when it comes to thirteen-year-old girls, who are still children, it’s treated differently and it shouldn’t be,” Kristin added.” A few weeks ago, an eleven year old gave birth to a baby girl. Now both are foster children,” she concluded.

Jerrilynn wiggled nervously in her seat. She kept her bright smile aimed at the cameras. “Well, folks, we’ve heard even more than we thought we would about the need for guardians ad litem for the special…ah…children...ah. On your screen you will find contact information so that you can call the guardian ad litem office and volunteer to take their training and serve. Meanwhile, I want to thank…”

“Oh, Jerrilynn,” Skip interrupted. “I understand that this program will air the next two Sundays at 11 a.m. before the football previews on Channel Seven. I want to let your viewers know that we are having a fundraiser for the guardian program at Hamburger Mary’s in Clearwater the second Wednesday of next month. It will be Drag Queen Bingo that night and half the proceeds go the guardian program. I hope a lot of your viewers come to the event. I plan to be there helping to run the raffle, so please encourage your viewers to come out and support the cause.”

Jerrilynn wilted a bit more. “Drag Queen Bingo…” she mumbled as the countdown began to end the filming.

Kristin put one hand over her mouth to smother her laughter and grabbed Skip’s hand, squeezing it tight.

Jerrilynn began walking off the set when she turned to them. “I’m sure the station will get a lot of comments about this show.”

One cameraman turned to the other. “What a gutsy move of Jerrilynn’s, to put this on live.”

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