Time Served

Submitted for Contest #74 in response to: Write a story in the form of a top-ten list.... view prompt


Dec 29, 2020

Contemporary Speculative Fiction

“How many commandments do we have?”

“Ten, last I checked.”

“How many amendments to our Constitution are there?”

“I don’t rightly know; twenty, thirty…why?”

There are times when we find ourselves entrenched in a physical or mental activity, when we become so overwhelmed by repetitiveness, that we become essentially comatose. Incapable of mental and or physical function. Jail will do that to you. 

“How come we have only Ten commandments, and twenty-seven Amendments to our Constitution.”

“Hey man, you is asking the wrong Dude. I not only don’t know but don’t care.”

“How can you not care, when not only our entire structure of government and religion, which entails moral direction, each structurally defined by civil and spiritual law, are in jeopardy.  Our societal foundation is based on them. Those laws determine what we as a society accept and what we reject, for the good of all. 

The rub as I see it though, comes in with the, "for the good of all," piece.

It’s like rain. Some welcome it, farmers, crops for instance. Some hate it, attendees to weddings, outdoor parties, and the like. So, while we can agree that life cannot continue as we know it without rain, at times it is inconvenient.”

“Sure, man, whatever.”

Amendments are defined as minor changes to improve a text, or legislation. My hope is that Amendments become intertwined with the religious aspects of the Commandments, to create laws that more genuinely reflect their intent.    

“There is a difference between what a law is intended to do, and what it does. Laws although restricting some, give unbridled permission to others. Kind of like the rain, sometimes good, sometimes bad. It’s also a lot like justice. There is justice, and then there is a, system of justice.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about half the time, and I ain’t sure I want to. We are in this predicament because of laws and justice? So you are saying, we have to pay a price, because that is what we deserve, and also pay the price for what we don’t deserve.”

“When you put it like that, I can understand why you're confused.”

Sometimes we find ourselves in the right place at the wrong time. Something to do with mythological time. The time when a God looks at who we are, what we are doing, and realizes the mistake. Not that what happened was a mistake, but what didn’t happen. Noah’s Ark, starting over, that kind of thing. Erasing a past to better understand a future. 

Laws are made by those who already have power, or money. Of course if you have money, you can buy power, and if you have power, usually money buys you. Either way, no matter how well intentioned the law makers are, they are people who have a history of being human, and humans have a tendency to provide for themselves before they provide for you. 

A well-intentioned law, depending on how it is administered, can be successful in its intended goal, or it can be prejudiced, because it is being interpreted by someone knowing only one side of a story. One experience used as a gauge in determining what is right or wrong, can be working unintentionally above its grade.

The guy who steals a loaf of bread to feed himself and family is a thief, but the reasoning for the crime can be and often is, interpreted in different ways, by different people. If you grew up in a household where the abundance of food is never considered, there is always plenty, the very idea that someone would break the law for food, is a preposterous notion. If however, you grew in a home where food was scarce, you will more than likely see the justice in stealing food to provide for yourself and family. So the law, no matter the intention, is left to the arbitrary interpretation of those enforcing it.

And if you consider you rarely get the same amount of corrective measure for stealing a loaf of bread as for stealing ten-million dollars, you can see where power and money become a beneficial adjunct to your predicament.

Then, bring religion into the mix. Religion has laws that are intentionally vague because they allow for interpretation by every individual, free will, which causes an entirely different set of problems. Moral and ethical issues are solely reliant on the experiences of those interpreting and administering the rules. Because the rules are of a spiritual nature, they may have an entirely different intent than the civil laws that have been installed to regulate a social activity. 

A spiritual amendment will provide a general understanding of a rule, based on the Commandments, and why it needs be enforced with spiritual understanding. Morality allows more leeway in interpreting the rules. Thus a conundrum evolves where, what is moral may be and often is, at odds with civil law.

Justice is the interpretation of the two concepts.  In theory, it is to determine the intent of the transgression, whether it be civil or spiritual, and attempt to filter it with the background or history of the accused, in an attempt to find justice. All laws are not just, and all justice does not adhere to the law.

And so as I sit here in this cell waiting for justice to be satisfied, because of a civil law that I was the victim of.  I have no recourse but to think about time spent, and time yet to come. I no longer have the need of a pardon, short time, wrong side of the political spectrum anyway. My legal requirement has nearly run its course. I began a few days ago, for some reason, to think about the Ten Commandments, and how they relate to my future. Not much to do in prison but think.

Are the Commandments in the order they were intended, or more like a shopping list we compile before going to the store. Has one Commandment more significance, meaning, weight, than perhaps the others that precede or follow it?

I found a copy of the list in the prison library, and although I’d been taught what they are, and the story of how they came to be; I never really paid much attention to their specific order. When revisiting the proclamation I observed one thing I found to be extraordinary, compartmentalization.  It had previously escaped my attention.

We know the story of how the Commandments came into being. Gods hand, Moses receiving the Word, him coming down from the mountain to find his people having reverted back to what they knew best, maniacal skepticism.  An attempt to convert fear into something not only tangible but visible.  Similar to the feeling of comfort one gets from a prison cell. 

Moses of course was upset, he had just received the truth, and then finds his people reading the National Enquirer, so to speak. Calamity occurred as Moses’s temper got the better of him. But then who could blame him. Carrying stones down a mountain only to find your followers had melted down all the designer jewelry into a formidable calf, fashioned no doubt after the calves of the Hindu empire, can be disconcerting. I remember only too well carrying a forty-pound tent on a mountain trail. I can only imagine several hundred pounds of rock. I too would have been excitable. 

Anyway, I realized that the first four Commandments deal primarily with God and having to do with honoring the Author of the Work. The remaining six deal primarily with the fallibility of mankind. 

I understand Moses. If someone were to give you a trillion dollars, before taxes of course, and you were to find that when you went to the bank, inflation had run rampant, and your wealth now had the value of say, $1.99, you’d be upset too. I can imagine the Egyptian warden didn’t take to kindly to the mass exodus either. Probably closed the banks to keep them from being overrun.

I can only assume the remaining civically induced rules came from observing the social customs of the followers, and God realizing things had gone too far, could no longer depend solely upon an individuals ability to apply free will correctly, and apparently not discreetly either. Being turned into salt will get your attention I'd expect.

I realized having gone down the list of the top ten, that there had probably been more, but Moses in his anger, having thrown down the tablets according to scripture, broke some, so we got what was left. I also assumed, like the desert, my leaving after years of basic monkish inactivity into a new world, would be a challenge. But although the uncertainty about a future weighed heavily on me, I knew, like Moses, I’d be OK.

I, along with my brethren, had watched the Shawshank Redemption movie one hundred and eighteen times, and knew pretty much what to expect.

I have decided to keep the top ten list with me just in case I should stumble and feel myself falling back into the ways of the calf. I will skip the halfway houses, the clerk jobs, and head straight for Mexico where the beaches are white and the water, swimming pool green. 

No need to worry about me. I got my Commandments, a working knowledge of the law, and my gun of course, right by my side. An old folk song tells me that some folks will rob you with a six gun, and some with a fountain pen. I think I’ll apt for the latter. Seems more in keeping with the moral juxtaposition between the civil and spiritual direction of both God, and the law.         

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Joe Swanson
19:37 Jan 04, 2021

Glad you found the humor in this rediculousity we call governance.


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Elliott Laurence
01:28 Jan 04, 2021

Well written, Joe. Very informative/enlightening. I felt I had picked up Cornel West's "Democracy Matters". Now not exactly like West's book but along the lines of life, politics and spirituality. I had to chuckle at the following statement. "Moses of course was upset, he had just received the truth, and then finds his people reading the National Enquirer, so to speak. Calamity occurred as Moses’s temper got the better of him."


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