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The Benefits of Southern Hospitality

This selection is paired with “Human Remains” by Clive Barker. Get NonBinary Review #20 from Zoetic Press.


Dear Judge Marigold,

It is with most shock and outrage that I learn, twenty years after Arthur Wallace savagely murdered his mother in cold blood, he is being considered for release and reintroduction into society.  Not only is this an unethical act, but we – as good, law abiding citizens – fear a most dangerous turning point in American history.  Evil must not be tolerated.

This case still gives me nightmares.  The crime scene photos of Judy Wallace are forever burned into the back of my eyelids and I fear I may never truly sleep again.  But this is the price we pay to make sure that evil people are handled swiftly and justly.  There was no question of his guilt.  Not a single one.  Arthur himself has gone on record to talk about his mother’s death.  What does this tell us?  That he is proud of his actions, that he needs only a listening ear to expound on the tragic event that rocked Silverton Bridge, South Dakota to its very core.

Now, I’m not one to tell a Judge how to do their job.  The choice and ultimate consequence falls on the court and for that I am grateful. I am only a State Prosecutor working in conjunction with Social Services.  I will caution, however, the dire nature of this crime.  If we consider letting him go, what’s next?  Shall rapists who find God be let out?  Should sex traffickers who took up painting be allowed to sell their work for tens of thousands of dollars?  Should the man that beat his wife be given a license to box in a televised event, thus creating a crooked path to success?  Be wise, Judge Marigold, this is not just the life of Arthur Wallace that hangs in the balance.  It is an idea that must be snuffed out like the life that he took.  No mercy for the wicked, Judge.  None.

When I was a boy, I ate my vegetables, said my prayers, and did my homework.  That is the American dream.  I played baseball and went to law school.  That is the American dream.  I married my wife and had two beautiful daughters who go to private school.  That is the American dream.  The American dream has always been about working hard and reaping the rewards.  I would hate to see this dream turn into a nightmare where murder is accepted and it is society who must change for the deviant.  I will not stand for that, and I urge you Judge Marigold to not stand for it as well.  Our eyes are on you.  They watch with admiration.

Don’t let that change.

Sincerely,
Harvey Devereaux
Assistant District Attorney

*     *     *

Dear Judge Marigold,

My name is Dr. Isaiah Young.  I am the psychologist that has been working with Arthur for the past twenty years, and I am advocating for his release.  This is not, nor will it ever be, a matter of good versus evil.  Such ideas are human constructs to justify our behavior.  Instead, what must look at the facts, at what we know, at Arthur himself to make our best determinations.

He was four years old when he stabbed his mother.  This fact is not up for debate, nor has it ever been contested.  What the prosecution missed was whether or not young Arthur understood the gravity of his actions.  Does a boy only a few years into life truly grasp the meaning and finality of death?  It is only as a society that we look at his actions as inexcusable.  Perhaps.

I have three children at home, each learning about the world through trial and error.  My eldest used to throw temper tantrums to get what he wanted.  It almost never worked, but sometimes we gave in, which taught him to keep trying until his vocabulary was rich enough to describe his thoughts, feelings, and wants.  When he learned to better communicate, the tantrums disappeared.

My daughter, the middle child, found that she could get attention by pushing our (my wife and I’s) proverbial buttons.  She would say outrageous and horrible things, not because she meant them, but rather because it put the spotlight on her.  Even through scolding, she enjoyed our focus.  It wasn’t until she was in third grade – only a few years older than Arthur was – that she said something mean to a classmate, and the classmate burst into tears.  During her teenage years, she recalled that moment as one of immense growth and clarity.  She learned that words can hurt, and that hurt is a potential with any interaction.  For this, she learned to employ the grace and wisdom that she still carries with her as an adult.

My youngest son recently went through a breakup and was beside himself with confusion and loneliness.  Night after night he made desperate attempts to understand why he felt the way he did after she left.  During the relationship, he described himself as unhappy and stifled.  Yet, after she was gone, he described himself as empty and hollow.  In his grasp was young love, and then it slipped away.  Through it all, he learned what made him happy and how to sustain happiness.  These lessons are invaluable.

My point is that every child needs to make mistakes because it is inside of those mistakes that we grow the most.  Arthur Wallace was four years old when he stabbed his mother.  Imagine that something you yourself did as a four year old that had to hang over your head forever without any chance at redemption.

In my professional experience, there is no such thing as a born evil.  He is not spawn of satan.  He is not out for the blood of the innocent, like the media would have us believe.  Now, before his 25st birthday, after a lifetime of being heavily medicated, sedated, and has been to therapy more than most people ever will.  He shows immense remorse, incredible self-awareness, and a drive to put something positive back out into the world.

I implore the courts to look within themselves and consider the circumstance.  He was a neglected child who often went without meals, clothes, or affection.  While his mother was rushed to the hospital after a fist-fight with her live in partner, Arthur met a very kind nurse who stayed with him in the waiting room.  They colored in a coloring book (a page that he still has framed over his bed).  He asked if she could be his mother.  She told him no because he already had a mother.  That night, when he went home, he made it so that he didn’t have a mother.  Inside of a four year-old’s brain, this course of action not only made sense, but could potentially grant him a better life. 

I’m not saying that the murder was an act of courage.  I’m not saying it was justified.  All I’m saying is that if we pigeon hole ideas of good and evil onto everything we do, then we fail to see the full picture.  We have the unique opportunity to see if redemption is truly possible, if the system works, if we learn from our missteps to go on and find success.

When is a debt to society paid in full?  Is it ever?  We can find out.  Arthur Wallace is our key. 

By no means am I arguing for his release into the outside world with no questions asked.  Instead, I am asking for leniency.  I am asking for implementation of a halfway house, a slow immersion.  For twenty-years he has been inside of our facility the same way an animal at the zoo looks out from behind the bars of their cage and knows something else is beyond the stone walkways and herds of people.  However, like an animal that has only known captivity, the shock of freedom could prove to be overwhelming and he could drown in the choices of modern adult life.

Consider Arthur Wallace.  See yourself inside of him. Ask yourself how much longer you might be able to last having a single choice from your fourth year be picked apart and analyzed for the next twenty years.  Give him the reassurance that life is sacred, and not something that is easily tossed away.

With regards,
Dr. Isaiah Young

With regards,
Dr. Isaiah Young

*     *     *

Dear Judge Marigold,

I am a clerk at the Forsythe County Inpatient Facility, Psychiatric Ward.  I have no opinion on the holding or release of one Arthur Wallace.  My superiors have asked me to put together Mr. Wallace’s record over the twenty years with us.  Normally, I don’t do such a thing, but I grew up in Fayetteville Arkansas and my superiors know that because of my southern hospitality, I would not say no.

Mr. Wallace wet the bed until he was eleven (11) years old.

Mr. Wallace was friendly with the orderlies, especially women of mixed descent with dark hair that reached their shoulders.

Mr. Wallace did not make friends until he was seventeen (17) years old.  This is not because he was anti-social, but because he was kept isolated from others his age.  When introduced, he overcame his shyness.

His first three friends killed themselves during their stay with us.  Two by overdose, one by hanging.  Mr. Wallace wept at their remembrance sessions.  He was not allowed to attend their funerals.

Mr. Wallace has only been in two (2) altercations.  Once during puberty, he was caught masturbating in the women’s room and when an orderly tried to sedate him, he broke the orderly’s nose.  After counseling with Dr. Young, the incident was never repeated.  The second was during a string of robberies that had been occurring over several months.  A patient was sneaking into other patient’s rooms and taking their personal belongings.  Mr. Wallace had a cactus succulent by his window and woke up while the accused was trying to take it.  Mr. Wallace screamed for the orderlies and held the accused down.  Though it was never confirmed, the accused claimed Mr. Wallace had tried to stab him with the succulent.

Mr. Wallace has been polite and courteous to all staff when approached. 

Mr. Wallace has expressed interest in getting a GED, and attending an online university.

Mr. Wallace keeps a journal that is monitored nightly by staff.  Nothing in it thus far has raised an alarm.

Mr. Wallace exudes great happiness when Shep, the Golden Retriever therapy dog, comes to visit on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  He has expressed interest in one day adopting a dog and naming it Shep.

Mr. Wallace has a slight speech impediment that prevents him from properly pronouncing his “R’s”.  Instead, they come out like soft “W’s”.

May you find this information useful.

Amber Lynn McFarley
Forsythe County Psychiatric Clerk

*     *     *

Dear Judge Marigold,

My name is Arthur Wallace.  I will be turning twenty-five (25) in May.  I’ve been under the custody of the state, specifically Dr. Young, for over twenty years.

I am good. 

In my spare time, I enjoy reading.  Did you know coyotes have different barks and howls for different situations?  I read a lot about nature.

My favorite movie is The Lion King.  I understand Simba because I had to grow up without parents, too.  The only part I don’t like is the fight with Scar at the end, because fighting doesn’t solve things.

I know that there is a life outside of this facility.  I love it here and they treat me nice, but sometimes I watch the birds fly in the yard and wonder where they’re going.  I want to ask them, but they can’t answer me because they’re birds, silly!

My favorite job right now is to lead by example.  When new patients come in, I help show them how well things can go by listening to their problems, helping them problem solve, and being creative. 

If I got a dog, I would walk him every day and call him a good-boy, even if the dog was a girl, because they like being called good-boy.  I would pet him on the head and tummy whenever he wanted.

Sometimes I dream of my mother and I wake up crying.  Once, I got a bloody nose and when I looked into the mirror, it made me sad.  I looked like her.

The Beatles are really fun!  We like to dance and flash the lights to their albums and even people in wheelchairs like to spin around.  See?  I’m just a regular kid.

The only thing I want for my birthday, it can even be my Christmas present too, is to live in the world again.  Is that so much to ask?  I don’t remember what it is like, and I really want to know what it is like.

I like your name, Judge Marigold.  Did you know that for years, farmers included the open-pollinated African marigold ‘Crackerjack’ in chicken feed to make egg yolks a darker yellow?

Take care, and Hakuna Matata.

Arthur Wallace

*     *     *

Dear Judge Marigold/To Whom it may concern,

I’ve never done this before and don’t know what the proper format is.  My name is Suzi Florentine and I was named in the Arthur Wallace trial as the nurse who sat with him on the eve of his mother’s death.

Do not let him out, I beg of you.  He’s been sending me letters over the past few years talking about how he’s going to come and see me.  I don’t know how he gets them into the mail, or how he found my address, but I’ve alerted the authorities.  They told me to simply throw the letters away and pay no mind.

They talk of how he can be a good son again, of how he can finally be with me.  They talk about holding hands near ferris wheels, licking ice cream off my fingers when it drips from the cone, and sleeping in the same bed so that we can be there for each other if we have nightmares where “the ocean rises and we can’t grow angel wings”.

This whole ordeal has me so shaken that I can’t function.  Already medicated, I’m falling into fits at work where, in my profession, people can die.  I’m not eating, not sleeping, and every sound I hear is him coming to collect. 

It took me over a decade to get past it mentally.  I’ll never fully be over it.  I’m the cause of murder, an unknowing accomplice.  How does one live with that burden?  How does one ever recover?

The answer is simple: they don’t.  This is why Arthur Wallace will never be rehabilitated.  He’s crafty.  He was born with something that we don’t understand in that human life means nothing.  In my world, human life means everything.

I’ve tried to kill myself twice already because of the guilt.  Though I’ve been told I’m not directly responsible for any of the events that transpired, I will always feel like I am.  If I had not said those words, if I had been slightly less caring, maybe none of this would have happened.

If he gets let out, I’ll kill myself.  I’m fully prepared.  This time, I’m not mincing my words to sound kind.  I’m being direct.

Proceed with caution and wisdom, Judge.  My life hangs in your blind balance.

Suzi Florentine

*     *     *

Dear Dr.’s Amanda Pothanos and Henry Schill,

It has come to my attention that a nurse in your residency has been experiencing an alarming amount of mental duress.  One Suzi Florentine wrote me a letter expressing suicidal intent, and so I sent local law enforcement to collect her.  It appeared that she was upset about the idea that one Arthur Wallace might be released into society, which he will not.

Suzi has been formally checked in to the Forsythe County Inpatient Facility, Psychiatric Ward.  Her stay is indefinite.  She will be working with Dr. Isaiah Young if you so need to get in touch with her.

Please contact our office for any further questions or clarifications.  We are happy to work alongside our hospital’s chief of staff to generate the most suitable resolution.

Best,

Hon. Judge Deborah Marigold
PS – Tennis soon?  The weather is becoming most perfect for a doubles match.


W. T. Paterson wrote the novels Dark Satellites and WOTNA. His work has appeared in Fiction Magazine, The Gateway Review, and several anthologies. He is a current MFA candidate at the University of New Hampshire.