Study Guide

The Rules of Survival Justice and Judgment

By Nancy Werlin

Justice and Judgment

"She did," I said. The word came spitting out, and then I couldn't stop talking. "That was her last night. Did you realize that? That was her. My mother. That guy, she brought him home. She wanted him to beat you up. His name's Rob. She did it. She did it all." (25.6)

Nikki has a pretty sick idea of justice. Instead of talking to Murdoch about how he's hurt her feelings, she opts to send over a random beefy dude to beat him up. Makes sense, right?

"Oh," said Aunt Bobbie. "Oh, my." She bit her lip. Then she sighed. "Oh, that does sound like my sister."

I stared at my aunt. She seemed entirely willing to believe me. (27.44-45)

Aunt Bobbie finally believes Matthew when he says that Nikki probably lied about Murdoch beating her up, and this is a total game changer. Finally, someone is hearing the kids out.

But I was wrong. The Massachusetts system of police and courts wasn't going to bother seriously with someone like Nikki. She just wasn't bad enough… except to me. Except to us. (28.3)

The state is pretty much failing the kids when it comes to Nikki. Instead of immediately taking them away from her after she's been found guilty of stalking, the state just ignores the problem. That's disheartening.

When it was over, Rob got five days in jail, and Nikki got a lecture from the judge and some kind of probation involving anger management counseling.

Privately, I had gotten some counseling too, from Officer Brooks. He took me aside. "Kid." Again, he was not unkind, just blunt. "What were you thinking, hanging out with your mother's ex-boyfriend? There's no reason to do that. Just let your mom know you love her. Okay?" (28.12-13)

Well, that's just about the worst advice ever. Nikki doesn't need to know that the kids love her—that's not going to solve the glaring problem of her emotional instability. No wonder Matthew has little faith in adults. They all downplay his problems.

"I wondered what she would do if she got even angrier at me. I wondered if she would make a mistake. The police weren't going to care if she violated the restraining order in small ways. If we were going to get you kids away from her, she had to be worse than that." (32.10)

Murdoch isn't scared of what Nikki will do to him. Instead, he wants her to do something really bad so that the state will have no choice but to intervene. He's willing to put himself in danger so that the kids can get out of that house.

Ben didn't flinch. "It could work out. I'm hoping it will. Murdoch feels we can assemble enough evidence against Nikki for me to get custody." (33.47)

At a certain point, the Walsh kids and their adult protectors need to get savvy about the Massachusetts justice system. They need to figure out a way to make it so that the state has no choice but to take away Nikki's custody.

At one point, after Nikki had strayed twice—and provably—inside the hundred yards' distance that she was supposed to keep way from Murdoch, Officer Brooks and Coughlin picked her up and she ended up spending two nights in jail. (35.2)

Oh goodie, Nikki gets put in jail just in time for the holidays, thereby giving the kids a chance to have a real Christmas instead of one where they're constantly terrified and on edge. They really need the break.

I filled my arms with Ben's presents and thought, Right now, at this very second, our mother is in jail. And meanwhile, her kids are running around her house, happy, while her ex-husband and her sister plan a family part.

I thought: I hope she senses it, somehow. (35.18-19)

Nikki being in jail while her whole family is having a grand old time feels like sweet justice to Matthew. She should be missing out because her kids have missed out on so much of their childhoods while living with her.

But she testified against Nikki, who went to jail again. It was only a short stay because, incredibly, Nikki had committed only a minor crime called "reckless endangerment." But that didn't matter. Ben and Aunt Bobbie moved into action. They sued for joint custody of the three of us […]. (38.17)

Although she doesn't get the full punishment that she deserves for paralyzing Julie, Nikki's kids get the justice that they've wanted. They no longer have to live with her, which is a huge win.

"If I were you, Nikki, I'd leave this state and never come back. This time you won't get out of jail quickly. This time it'll be years." (51.24)

Nikki is pretty much screwed if she ever wants to come back to the state of Massachusetts. She may have gotten off easy for hurting Julie and defying her restraining order, but she's not going to escape punishment for kidnapping.