The man rose from the waiting room chair and placed the People magazine back on the small side table in precisely the spot where he'd found it. He arched his back and winced as he stood. Though he was only fifty-four years old, his glasses, graying hair, and posture suggested he was much older. The creases and wrinkles, the fatigue around his eyes, suggested a man nearing the end of his life rather than navigating the middle.
“It's Phil,” he said, finally able to stand up straight.
“Oh, I'm so sorry,” the young woman said.
“Yeah, they said they were sorry last time, too. They said they would change it in the system.”
“Oh, I'm very sorry we didn't get it updated for you.”
“People say a lot of things.”
“Well, I'm Angie, Phil, and I'm going to have them change your information in the system right now. How does that sound?”
She didn't wait for his answer. Angie turned to the woman behind the reception desk and asked her to update Mr. Carson's file. Angie told her he goes by Phil, and asked her to change his records to reflect this. The woman replied that she could. “Sure thing,” she said.
“Awesome, thank you, Kelly. There, Mr. Carson, from now on, in this office, you will be known by and referred to as 'Phil.' Problem solved.”
“I prefer Mr. Carson,” he said.
Angie inhaled and froze.
Kelly turned in her chair. Working in a dental office meant she interacted with a lot of very stressed out, and often angry, people. Anxiety, the physical pain of dental problems and dental solutions, and the often high costs associated with them, brought out some of the more undesirable human behaviors. She'd been sworn at, shoved, had pens, pencils, and toothbrushes thrown at her, and a great grandmother had once dragged a shaky, wrinkled old hand into the bottom of a purse and thrown what she had retrieved at Kelly's head. Her computer, phone, and desk had been pelted by butterscotch hard candies, pen caps, an old lipstick case, a collection of rolled up threads and lint balls, and seventy-six cents in change. There were two quarters, a dime, two nickels and six pennies. One of the pennies hit Kelly in the neck, and as the caretaker was escorting the old woman away from the desk and toward the front door, the old woman yelled that she wanted her money back.
Kelly understood that she didn't work in an amusement park. She understood people were coming to see her because something bad had happened or was going to happen and it was most likely going to cost a lot of money.
But Mr. Carson's attitude was special, even for a dentist's office. They hadn't started care of any kind, and already this was his attitude?
She wanted to say something. At 2:00, in the middle of an already long and stressful day, she was ready to say something. But the man was saved by a call on the office phone. Kelly turned back toward her work station and answered it.
“Well,” Angie said, reapplying her courteous smile, “Mr. Carson if you would follow me, we can begin.”
Angie lead him down the short hallway toward one of the five dental stations. She stopped and again cranked up the smile that was expected of her before turning back to face him. She stretched out her arm.
“We'll be right in here.”
Before he could slip by the divider wall into his section, a mother and a little girl appeared from the section before his. They were suddenly in the hallway, together, blocking it, still speaking with the dentist, Dr. Fensworth. Mr. Carson stopped suddenly. His eyes widened, as if he'd been lost in thought and was genuinely alarmed by the sudden appearance of the mother and daughter.
“Thank you, Dr. Fensworth, thank you so much. Ella, can you say 'thank you' to Dr. Fensworth?”
The little girl would have if she'd not seen Mr. Carson, his eyes wide with fright, staring down at her. She grabbed her mother's leg and pulled herself in, burying most of her face in her mother's upper thigh and hip. She pressed her face entirely into the faded blue denim of her mother's jeans.
The mother turned, feeling the sudden fear in her daughter's grip.
“Ella, what are you... oh, I'm so sorry, we're in your way. Come on, Ella, let's move over and let the nice man pass.”
Mr. Carson's face changed. His eyes narrowed and his awkward attempt at keeping good posture seemed to relax. He smiled, and Angie watched the seemingly seventy-year-old man morph into what looked more like a man in his fifties. Mr. Carson pressed his back against the wall, sucking in his gut and spreading his arms out to each side to make himself as narrow as possible.
“Not to worry, madam, by all means... ladies first.”
As he said this, he let his left hand swing in a low arc from the right side of his body to the left, beckoning them to pass down the narrow hallway before him.
“I'll try to make myself very small, but I'm not sure how long I can hold it.”
He sucked in his gut again, taking a long, loud breath. He held it, letting his cheeks and his eyes puff out. He held the pose until he noticed the little girl craning her head around the side of her mother's thigh to see what he was doing. When he knew the little girl was looking at his face, he turned slightly toward her, his cheeks huge and red, his hands pressing harder and harder into the wall behind him.
“Hurry,” he said, catching the little girl's eye, “I can't hold it much longer.”
The girl smiled and stepped slightly away from her mother's leg. She let a few giggles bounce out as her mother struggled with whether to sneak by him or back away and let him pass, first.
“Please... hurry!” he said, his cheeks and forehead now nearing tomato level red.
“Oh, okay,” the mother said, taking the little girl's hand. “Thank you, sorry.” As they passed Mr. Carson, she added, “Please excuse us.”
“No problem,” he chirped, quickly shutting his mouth and puffing out his cheeks again.
The little girl was transfixed. Her mother tried to rush her along, but she stared back at the strange man making strange sounds and strange faces and wanted to see what he might do next. For now, he was still pressing himself into the wall and staring, eyes wide and wild, straight ahead. As the girl and her mother reached the end of the hallway and were about to disappear from his view, Mr. Carson blew his full lungs' worth of air out and dropped slightly, his hands pressing into his knees to hold him up. He huffed and puffed, waving weakly for the little girl to continue on, not to worry about him.
The little girl giggled again, waved, then disappeared into the lobby.
When Mr. Carson turned around again, Angie was smiling.
“That was very cute, Mr. Carson.”
He blew a puff of air from his nose and winced again as he straightened up. The smile faded from his mouth, replaced by his previous flared nostril scowl. The shine in his eyes dimmed again, pulling him back into his late fifties, then early sixties. But he kept his rosy cheeks, and with the scowl and dark, squinted eyes to go with them, he eclipsed his previous look and soared, as Angie saw it, into a crotchety mid-seventies.
“Through here?” he croaked, pointing to the reclined chair behind Angie. She nodded, and Mr. Carson stepped by her, his shoulder bumping into hers.
“Have a seat on the chair, here. The first thing we'll do is take some new images of your teeth. Have you been having any trouble, any pain or sensitivity you'd like the doctor to know about?”
“I'll let the doctor know about it myself.”
Angie secured Mr. Carson's bib and raised the chair to keep him more upright. She pulled the first set of bite wings from their drawer and glanced at his chart. Most of his molars had crowns now. He'd had over a dozen cavities filled and refilled, even between some of his lower and upper incisors. It had been almost a year since he was last in. Angie knew he would be having some issues. His gruffness might be because of the throbbing pain of some infected root. It might be time to have one or more of the crowns replaced, and possibly consider root canals.
It would have been hard to see it, even sitting in the chair next to her and looking into her face at that exact moment. A joy was bubbling up, dancing, from inside, but on the outside, Angie's lips sharpened at their corners ever so slightly, a barely perceptible smile.
Without looking at the date of his last appointment, she knew: October 17th, 2015. He'd come in at 2:00pm that day. He'd come in at 2:00pm today, too. The appointment before that had been a 2:00pm appointment, as well.
This showed a rhythm of some sort, at least in appointment scheduling. Maybe he was free on Tuesdays at 2:00pm, so consistent appointments were a matter of necessity. Maybe scheduling early afternoon appointments allowed him to leave work early and have a good excuse to not come back in for the rest of the day. Maybe he liked to use the excuse to steal a few extra hours of evening freedom.
Or maybe this habit was simply one of his many habits.
Are you a creature of habit, Mr. Carson?
“I'm going to place the bite wings now. Can I have you open your mouth a little?”
Mr. Carson opened his mouth with a grunt. Angie laid the heavy lead vest across his chest and secured the straps.
“Not quite that wide. A little less. There, good, go ahead and bite down for me.”
Angie swiveled the imaging machine, a plastic box with a long, silver tube at one end. Every time she maneuvered the machine into position, it felt like a canon. It pivoted on its metal arm, like a turret, and she aimed the canon down range – toward Mr. Carson's face.
Angie stepped behind the protective wall at the back of the station.
“Just hold still for a moment, and...”
A click and a beep sounded. Angie returned to his side, sliding the canon around the front of Mr. Carson's head, imagining laser beams and machine gun fire and tiny rockets blasting into his face, taking off his nose, blowing off his ears, all ordinance hitting their mark and leaving nothing but a smoldering bare skull hanging limply from its neck.
“Now the other side.”
She repeated her steps, placing the wings, positioning the canon, and stepping back behind the wall. Another click and a beep.
“And done!” she exclaimed, separating the velcro straps and removing the lead vest.
“Has anything else changed since you were in last?” Angie asked. She knew what his response would be, so she kept the question vague enough to draw him into the trap. If he simply offered the information she asked for, she would note it in his chart and move on. But she knew he wouldn't do that. She assumed he would, once again, let her know he would only be speaking to the doctor.
“Just send the doctor in,” he said, adjusting the bib on his chest.
Oh Mr. Carson, we're going to have fun today.
“Well Mr. Carson, Dr. Fensworth is very busy in the afternoon, and he is very particular about our jobs as his assistants. He would prefer to discuss your medical changes and needs, and he would prefer that we get any accessory information for your file updated. You can understand that, right?”
Mr. Carson's face changed. Now, to defy her would mean defying the doctor's wishes. He grumbled a quick acquiescence, “Yes, I suppose that makes sense.”
“Plus, I can't leave yet, because I'm doing your cleaning.”
He sighed as she started lowering his chair to horizontal.
“It looks like it's been a little while since we've seen you, but today we're not doing anything out of the ordinary. The last time you were in, you would've received the same treatments. I'm going to use an ultrasonic water tool to clean any plaque off of your teeth. Some people feel some sensitivity when having this done, so you can let me know if it is too much for you, or if you need a break, okay?”
The chair clicked into place. Mr. Carson was staring up into the overhead lamp. He flinched when she placed the protective sunglasses over his eyes and one of the earpieces scraped along the hair and scalp just over his left ear.
“Sorry, just your protective shades. We want you to look cool while you're getting your teeth cleaned.”
“It's fine,” he said, squirming to find a comfortable position.
Angie donned her face mask and eye shield. She clicked on the overhead lamp.
“That was pretty cute what you did with that little girl in the hallway.”
Even through the shades, Angie could see Mr. Carson's eyes change. They widened with recognition, like he was seeing an old friend again for the first time in a long time. As soon as the look washed over his face, he changed it. He blinked hard three times and made a noise like it was nothing, no big deal, like he didn't even really know what Angie was talking about.
A creature of habit.
“Do you have kids?” she asked.
“No, no kids.”
“Do you work with kids?”
Another flash in the eyes, quickly extinguished.
“I'm a teacher,” he said.
“Aw, that's nice. And you teach kids that age?”
Mr. Carson nodded.
“You know,” Angie said, beginning the cleaning, “since you walked in, I've had this weird feeling that I know you from somewhere. You look so familiar. Do you teach here in town?”
She didn't expect a verbal reply, not with the water tool and suction device in his mouth. Mr. Carson nodded.
“Do you teach at Booker Elementary?”
He nodded again, flinching slightly as Angie sprayed an obviously sensitive area.
She didn't stop.
“Oh, okay, maybe that's where I know you from. I went to Booker. That seems like a lifetime ago. I don't remember a lot from those days, but I do remember stealing peaches from the peach tree at the back fence. Have you seen that peach tree, the one beyond the baseball field? I think the Heathers family lived there. We used to eat the peaches and then plant the pits. They never sprouted, not one, but every time we ate a peach we planted the pit and would run out the next day fully expecting to see the tiny tendrils reaching up from the dirt. We probably planted hundreds in the ground out there.”
Another flinch, this time with an added groan after.
“Oh, sorry. A little sensitive there, huh?”
Mr. Carson let out a harsh breath and nodded, enunciating his complaint as best he could with all of the equipment in his mouth.
“Hey, look at me. There's nothing to be scared of, okay? It's perfectly natural. Don't worry, I'll go slow. It won't even hurt.”
Mr. Carson flinched again, without Angie having done anything. She saw his eyes widen but put the water tool back in his mouth.
“Can you open a little wider for me?”
She pulled his jaw open wider and held it there. She could feel him squirming under the pressure, feel him realizing the danger he might be in. He wanted to sit up, he wanted out of the chair, he wanted out of the office. He wanted to leave and drive to his house and pack the things he needed and go, tonight, and never come back. Like a dog ready to run, Angie could feel him quivering.
Like a dog ready to run, Angie held him down by the neck.
She leaned over so she could be millimeters from his ear as she whispered:
“You leave now, all that kiddie porn on the laptop under your bed goes straight to Agent James Kotaki at the FBI.”
A rush of breath left his nose. Her grip on his jaw tightened.
“Now, I can feel your fear. I can feel you thinking about jumping out of this chair and running from this office and trying to escape all that you've done.”
Mr. Carson felt a single point of contact on his neck. Something pushed against the skin over his carotid artery. Something small and hard was holding there, his heartbeat thumping against it. Above him, in the reflection from the overhead lamp, he could see it.
Angie was holding the silver hook of her explorer tool against his throat.
“Not only will that kiddie porn go to the FBI, but if you try to get up, if you cry out, if you so much as squirm in a manner that isn't to my liking, I will plunge this probe into your neck and tear your fucking throat out. Now, please nod if you understand me.”
Kelly called out from the hallway. She popped her head into Angie's section.
“Hi, sorry to interrupt, but you don't have to do the 2:30, Ellie's got it.”
“Thanks, Kelly,” Angie said, smiling.
She could feel Mr. Carson straining to choose: stay still so this woman doesn't kill you, or make your move now, jump to your feet and scream for help? She could feel his twisting in the chair, his hands squeezing the armrests a little harder. Like a quail lying low in a hide, he was trying to stay still. He was holding his breath. He was trying to think, trying to control his pulsing nerves. With the fox this close, he wasn't sure whether to stay still or fly.
He made his decision. He took a breath and relaxed his hands. Once Kelly was on her way back to the front desk, Angie smiled down on him.
“Good work, you didn't even try to run or scream or anything.” She patted his head. Sweat was beginning to soak his gray hair. “Now, again, please nod if you understand my rules.”
Mr. Carson nodded.
“You know, I thought we would get a little further in this conversation before you started catching on. Bravo, sir, bravo to you for paying attention. I'm kind of surprised you remember the little phrase you used to say before all of our recess and after school... meetings. But now I realize I wasn't the only student you said those kinds of things to, right? It probably hasn't been that long since you last said it.”
He managed two words before the hook dug a little deeper into his neck. He winced away from it now, feeling that Angie was applying enough pressure to break the skin. He felt the prick, felt the heat around the area, and felt the hook slide around in the blood it had drawn.
“Mr. Carson, you promised. Remember, T is for truthfulness. Isn't that what you told us?”
He nodded his head against her grip.
“Please try to be a better listener. If we don't listen, we don't learn, right?”
He closed his eyes against the words. She was pelting him with the little maxims from his classroom. They were words from another time, another place. They were words from another him. He wasn't Mr. Carson, second grade teacher, right now. He put it on every morning when he entered his classroom, and he took it off every evening when he left. He didn't want to have to hear about the classroom now, without his mask on. He didn't want to have to pretend. He'd said those words hundreds, maybe thousands of times in his years as a teacher, every one of them a lie. To have them rain down on him here, without his mask, naked and exposed, was too much.
He gripped the arms of the chair and tried to be as still as he could. He wondered how she could know all of these things? How she could know about the laptop? How she could remember what he said before he...
He closed his eyes against the images, tried to close his ears and shield his mind from them. But the insides of his eyelids became mirrors. The harder he shut them, the more clearly he saw who he was without the mask.
“Now, you're probably wondering a lot of things right now, huh? Well, I have you here for the next twenty-five minutes or so, before people will start wondering what is going on, so we have plenty of time to answer all of those scary questions zipping around inside that stupid head of yours. First things first, as you're probably trying to deny, this is real. This is really happening right now. I need you to keep reminding yourself of that, and I will try to help remind you, too.”
The ultrasonic tool was back in his mouth and spraying away. Angie went from tooth to tooth, ignoring his spasms, ignoring his winces and shudders of pain. Whenever his eyes closed against the pain, Angie would stay there for a bit, and whisper for him to try to keep his eyes open. As she reached one tooth in particular, Mr. Carson groaned and one of his legs kicked up and off of his chair, then rebounded with a thud, squeaking the chair and its metal base.
She stopped, and a second later he again felt the gentle prick of the sharp hook at his neck. Her voice didn't change.
“When I was a little girl, I remember doing exactly what you're doing now. I remember watching the other kids file out of the classroom toward the playground, toward recess. Toward freedom. I watched them go and I wanted to scream: scream what you were doing, scream for them to stay, for them to help me. I remember standing at your desk trying to understand what was happening.”
She went back to work in his mouth and he groaned again. A single tear formed in the corner of his right eye, and when he shut his eyes against the pain, it rolled its way across his cheek and into his ear. Angie wondered if, at this point, he was flinching away from the pain of her work or the pain of her words.
“After, I remember trying to ignore it, trying to pretend it hadn't happened. But I watched you smile at me, watched you welcome the other kids back into the classroom the way you always did, watched you walk to the black board and continue on like everything was normal. I saw you look at other girls in the class and then look at me and I knew. I was different. It did happen. I couldn't keep trying to tell myself it didn't.”
The water tool stopped and Angie suctioned out the excess water and saliva build up.
“You know, Mr. Carson, it looks like we have some excessive plaque build up here. Not to worry.”
The metal hook dug its trail, along the gum line between tooth and tongue. She made long, slow strokes, and continued even when the blood started flowing.
“You doing okay with the pain, Mr. Carson? I'm giving you the special treatment, so don't tell anyone, okay? It's our little secret? You don't want me to get in trouble, do you?”
His feet kicked and scraped along the base of the chair, and more tears streamed down the sides of his face.
“I've been wondering something. For years after I was in your class, I had nightmares. I woke up screaming, I wet the bed, and it didn't really change in third grade. Or fourth grade. Or fifth. I did get better at convincing mom and dad that nothing was wrong. I used towels to control the pee. I washed my own sheets. And now, even now, there are nights when I sleep soundly through the night and don't piss myself. But those nights are pretty rare, and so I ask you: how have you been sleeping? From what I've seen, you don't sleep very soundly, either. You tend to sleep best between two and four in the morning, but even that is rarely sound sleep. I can't tell if you're dreaming, or what you're thinking as you toss and turn, but it doesn't seem like good, quality, rejuvenating sleep, you know? So I'll ask again: have you been sleeping alright?”
Mr. Carson was panting now, driven nearly to hysteria by the pain and the shock of what was happening to him. He was losing it, and he was going to cry out for help. Angie felt it coming on, but before he could yell for help, she lifted the sharp metal hook into the roof of his mouth. She stared down at him, down into his red, wet eyes, until his panting stopped.
“Me either. Man, the weeks and months and years get lo-lo-lo-long when you don't sleep well, right? It can feel too long, like if you can't sleep and you can't get away from the pain for even a second you should probably kill yourself. That's what I thought, at first. If there is no escape from the pain and the only thing that might help is sleep but you can't sleep, well, then... what do you do? For me, I tried to help myself sleep. I tried sleeping pills. I stole them from my mom. When they didn't work I tried booze. Then I tried them together. That worked a little bit for a little while, but pills and booze bring with them their own problems, don't they? When their benefits started waning I tried something a little... stronger. I got over my fear of needles really quickly and found that heroin can be a very sympathetic friend. H and I shared many sad, lonely stories and consoled each other, night after night, for almost a year. But again, like booze and pills, heroin started to turn on me, too. But in our last days together, in those last few bouts of vengeful give and take, heroin showed me something about myself. When the last syringe emptied its venom into the vein on the top of my foot, a voice appeared. It rose up from beneath the angry shouts and the wailing self hatred. It rose up from beneath the voice begging me to kill myself. The small voice grew louder, still barely audible amid the sounds of whiskey glugging down my throat and pill bottles popping open and rubber bands tightening while veins were being slapped to attention. A small voice, screaming in the depths, screaming from a dusty box I'd bolted and chained and buried.”
Angie stopped scraping and for a few seconds, Mr. Carson had some peace. She wanted him to breathe for a moment, to feel a small rush of adrenaline and brief endorphin relief. She offered a momentary stop to the pain. Then she pulled one of her sleeves up nearly to the elbow and held it out for him to see. His eyes followed the path of gray scars, back and forth, crossing and crossing again along every inch of skin on the underside of her forearm. The jagged patchwork had been woven from the palm of her hand up to her elbow and, it seemed, beyond.
She bent down to whisper again.
“There are more, Mr. Carson. A lot more.”
She pulled the sleeve down and pried his jaw open again.
Back to work.
“I'd been trying to convince myself that it didn't happen, that you didn't do those things to me. That voice had been screaming so loud for so long I'd forgotten the other voice existed. It came back to me like a stranger. A strength, a force, a determination I'd forgotten I owned. When I couldn't convince myself it hadn't happened, I tried to convince myself that I'd wanted it, that I'd enjoyed it. That's when I cut myself. The pain became my new friend. The pain helped me sleep. At least for a little while. But it was only more noise trying to drown out the other voice, and I just couldn't drown it out forever.”
Angie pulled his head to the right. She slapped his cheeks twice, hard.
“You still with me, teach? Any of this make sense, any of this resonating with you? I feel like maybe part of why you do what you do is because you don't understand what it's like to be helpless like that. You don't know what it's like to be at someone's mercy. Not anymore, though, right? Now you know,” she laughed, “now you know, big time. So tell me, how does it feel? Do you like it?”
He shook his head. He was starting to sob.
“Are you crying, Mr. Carson? That's surprising, because I seem to remember you telling me something when I cried at your desk. When your hand went under my dress the first time, I think I cried. You said something. Do you remember?”
Another sob, harder now, wracked his body. It was loud enough that Angie slammed her palm down over his mouth and pressed him deep into the cushioned chair.
“You said, 'Oh don't cry, little angel. Little angels don't cry.' Angela, your little angel, right?”
Angie held the hook over Mr. Carson's face. She brought it down slowly, made sure he was watching it glint in the lamp light, just before it touched his cheek. She ran the long rounded edge of the hook across the corner of one of his eyes, wiping the tears down toward his ear. She let the metal trace the tears' path three times before moving to the other side. On the other side, she turned the hook so the sharp tip pierced one of the tears as it left his eye. She dragged the point along his cheek, tracking a series of diminishing spirals down to his jawline and all the way to the tip of his chin.
“Don't cry, little angel,” she whispered, “angels don't cry.”
She'd dragged the hook hard enough to create a series of red spirals in his skin. She followed them back up to their origin and held the point of the hook directly over his pupil.
“Don't cry, little angel.”
Mr. Carson closed his eyes. He blurted out a plea for her to stop without trying, without thinking, and started to sob again. He closed his eyes and she let the hook's tip touch his eyelid and rest there.
“I need you to know something,” she whispered, “something you taught me. I need you to hear it and really think about it and never forget. I need it to go deep into your mind, into your bones, into your soul. Are you ready? I need you to know that life... isn't fair. Did you hear me, Mr. Carson? Life isn't fair. And that's okay, as long as we're honest about it. It is what you taught me. It is what that little voice in my head wanted to tell me. Through the noise of me telling myself I deserved what happened to me, through the noise of pretending I wanted it, that I asked for it, the little voice pushed through all of that to tell me that life... isn't... fair.”
Angie got down low again, right next to Mr. Carson's ear, and held his head with both hands. She got down to his ear so he could feel her breath, so he could smell her, so he could remember this moment forever.
“Life isn't fair, Mr. Carson. You're going to know that, soon. You're going to know it truly, deeply, for the first time, and it is going to change who you are. My advice to you is... let it. Let it change you.”
Her hands left his head.
“Let it change you.”
Mr. Carson bit his lip against the rising flood of mental debris. His fingers dug deeper into the chair's armrests and his legs trembled. The rush of emotion overtook him and a groan started deep in his belly and squeezed its way, like bile, up into his mouth. He vomited it into the air above him, then into the entire office. Before he knew what he was doing, he was up from the chair spitting blood onto the floor and wiping his mouth madly and screaming. He was punching out in all directions. He tripped on the instrument table and matched the noise of crashing tools with even louder screams. He formed no phrases, no words, only grinding, ghoulish vowels in random sequences at random pitches and tones. When Kelly met him in the hallway, he pawed wildly at her face like she were a monster ready to devour him. When Dr. Fensworth seized him by the arms, Mr. Carson swung an elbow back into the doctor's face. The doctor went down, his nose bloody, and Mr. Carson pushed past Kelly and made his way to the front door.
As he pushed out into the sunshine, more hands seized him. This time, there would be no elbows thrown, no pushing aside, and he would be taken into custody by special agent James Kotaki of the FBI, who'd received detailed information about a Mr. Philip Carson's possession and distribution of child pornography, as well as information about his position and influence as a teacher at Booker Elementary School over the last twenty-nine years.
The information provided would be enough for the Federal prosecutor to force Mr. Carson's attorney to seek a plea deal of five years in prison followed by probation, mental health treatment, and placement on the national sex offender registry. The prosecutor denied this plea and on May 1st, 2017, Philip Carson was convicted of twelve counts of possession and distribution of child pornography and sentenced to sixty-five years in federal prison.
He received many letters once in prison, but he only ever read one. The rest, he crushed angrily in his hands and threw away without opening. But the first one, return-addressed from his mother's house, was short:
Dear Mr. Carson,
Perhaps now you can understand what we all felt in your classroom. Perhaps now, trembling under the violence of the men around you, you can understand the helplessness and fear. Don't push it away, that small voice rising inside you. Let it in. Listen to that voice and let it change you, Mr. Carson. Let it change you.
And then kill yourself.
Love, the little angel