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On Davis Row
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Nearing the end of a suspended jail sentence should unlock a brighter future for CJ Davis, only the chip on his shoulder is as hard to shift as his bad reputation. Born into a family of career criminals who live down Davis Road, an address the cops have dubbed Davis Row, his name alone is like a rap sheet that makes optimism impossible.
Brand-new parole officer Noah Huxley is determined to see the good in men like CJ. After all, he knows firsthand that bad things can happen to good people. His colleagues mock his doe-eyed optimism, but Noah soon sees CJ’s bad attitude and bravado are weapons he uses to keep people at a distance.
Both men know one simple mistake can change a life forever. At first glance, they might seem to be polar opposites. Yet underneath, they’re not that different at all.
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I was early. Yet to be jaded by the system and endless files on society’s forgotten and forlorn, I was keen to make an impression. I sat in my car, sipped my coffee and waited for the Hunter Correctional Services office to open. I’d moved from Newcastle to Maitland for this job. Not too far, geographically, but enough emotional distance between me and what I left behind. It also wasn’t where I saw myself headed, but the salary was incentive enough. The desire to help those less fortunate still burned in me, and if that was admirable or naïve, only time would tell.
I was really hoping for admirable.
I was also possibly too young to be a parole officer. I’d interviewed well, even though the woman interviewer found my age and doe-eyed optimism amusing. She’d wished me well like it was funny, pursed her wrinkled lips, and mumbled something about the system eating me up and spitting me out. If she thought her words would deter me, then she was sorely mistaken. People like her, attitudes like hers, fuelled me. The fire to prove them wrong burned a little bit brighter.
I knew most other parole officers were older and probably wiser, but most of them were just biding their time until they could claim a government pension.
I wanted to make a difference.
I was twenty-four years old, and today was my first day as a government employee—a Community Corrections Officer was the official title, though most people knew it as a parole officer. With a quick glance in my rear-view mirror, a flash of blue-eyed determination stared back at me, and at five minutes to nine o’clock, I got out of my car and walked into the office.
A middle-aged woman with a severe black bob haircut was dumping her handbag on the reception desk with her mobile phone pressed between her shoulder and her ear, coffee in one hand, files in another. She wore a navy cardigan and a frown as she spoke into her phone. It sounded like she was having a conversation with a teenager who’d left something on a school bus.
She mouthed an apology to me and continued her lecture about responsibility and learning hard lessons. I looked around the small waiting room just as a man down the hall spotted me and started toward me.
“You must be Noah Huxley,” he said, extending his hand. He reminded me of the boss of the Daily Bugle from Spiderman, minus the cigar and plus forty kilos. His handshake was soft but his smile was warm.
“I am,” I replied, pleased someone was expecting me.
“Dave Baird,” he introduced himself. “Come through this way.”
I followed him through the office. He showed me where the break room was, told me to label any food I might put in the fridge, and to wash and dry my own coffee cup. “Believe me, you’d rather hear that coming from me than Sheryl. She was the one on the phone out the front. She’s got four kids and doesn’t take any crap, runs this place with military precision. Makes a mean coconut slice, though.”
I got the feeling Dave liked to chat.
“Here’s your office,” he said, opening a door off the hall. “But we’ll make a cuppa first and do the rounds of introductions. Then Sheryl can get you set up with passwords and whatnot.”
By the time we had coffees made, all the other staff had arrived and I’d been introduced to the other corrections officers and office staff. I soon learned my position was replacing a man named Wayne and that I was the youngest on the corrections officer’s team by at least two decades.
Still, my enthusiasm couldn’t be swayed.
For the rest of the morning, Sheryl sat with me in my office, showing me the government computer programs we used for reporting and accounting. I was given passwords and a security pass for the car park and my photo ID badge. I filled in work uniform request forms, sorted out employment forms, tax forms, and about another dozen different government forms for everything they did and didn’t need to know.
After lunch, Terrell knocked on my open door. “I’m making some work-placement calls this afternoon. Dave thought you might wanna come.”
I grinned. “Sure!”
Out of all the other officers, Terrell was probably the youngest. At a rough guess, he looked maybe forty, but it was hard to tell. Those forty years looked like they’d been hard, and whether his bent nose and the scar through his eyebrow were from football or fighting, I didn’t know.
Keen to get out into the field, I grabbed my ID badge from my desk, and as soon as I got to the door, Terrell handed me a dozen manila folders. Okay, so ‘some’ work-placement calls looked more like twelve. I grinned at him and Terrell shook his head at me.