“Forgive me, for I have offended.”

Darrell eased back into his seat in the booth. He couldn’t recognize the voice—it belonged to a cis-gendered female, probably of European descent—and he had long ceased looking carefully through the screen to find out.

“What have you done?” he asked.

“I was talking to a coworker a few hours ago about a project that we were assigned to do together. While we were chatting, I said something about how my advice to our senior manager on the project would likely fall on deaf ears. I didn’t think of it now, but then I realized how ableist it is for me to have said that. It was wrong, and I feel very bad.”

Darrell was quiet for a moment. He had held this position long enough to know few people at Intelecom came to confess to just one offense. Usually, they waited until they had accumulated enough to justify taking time out of their work schedule to see him. That helped explain why certain times of the day were the busiest.

“Anything else?” he inquired, studying the booth ceiling.

The person sighed. “I’ve been harboring sexist thoughts about another coworker.”


“I mean, it’s not what you think. He was just hired a few weeks ago. I don’t know him, but I can’t help finding him cute. He doesn’t seem to realize it, but I love his quirks.”

Darrell frowned. Is it considered offensive yet for a cis-gendered woman to find a man cute? He would have to consult the employee manual and code of conduct.

“Have you said or done something inappropriate?” he asked.

Another pause. “Well, I mean, I requested he be assigned to my project team. I mean, it’s not that he’s lazy or not a hard worker. He’s good. But that’s not why I asked him to be assigned to my team, if you know what I mean.”

As she spoke, Darrell was consulting his online account for the latest editions of the employee handbook and code of conduct. Both were deemed “living documents” that were under constant revision and updates by the human resources department in response to newly-discovered offenses.

He was fairly certain her behavior was not deemed harassment; she had said nothing and done nothing to him, and neither document mentioned anything about a woman aiding a man she was romantically attracted to in his career. According to the Duluth Protocol, transgendered and cis-gendered women were deemed incapable of committing sexual harassment against cis-gendered men in the workplace.

Then again, Darrell didn’t want to confuse her about anything. He had learned after listening to countless confessions that if a person came into the booth and admitted to something, even if it wasn’t wrong, he wouldn’t be able to change their mind about it. They weren’t looking for him to confirm that they had done wrong. What they sought from him was a way to redeem themselves.

Glancing at the work calendar for that week, he turned to the cis-gendered female on the other side of the screen. “Thank you for your confession. The company appreciate your honesty and will give you a chance to make amends. There is a political rally this weekend to fight for social justice, which Intelecom is participating in. Go to it and have them sign a form they will have, stating you attended.”

The female was ecstatic. “Oh, thank you! Thank you!”

“Remember, you need the form to be signed. Then bring it back to me and all this will be considered settled. Your offense will be forgotten.”

“Oh, I will!”

Her side of the booth opened as she flung out and eagerly headed back to her desk. Darrell wanted to feel happy for her, in a way, but his enthusiasm for listening to confessions had long since faded. She would know doubt attend the rally and return to work on Monday feeling like she had been saved, only to commit another offense in some manner that warranted a visit to his booth. It would never end, while those who he had long hoped to see in the booth never came.

Of course, there was his side of it to consider. He had worked the job for ten years, never complaining or arguing with his superiors about how it should be done. He simply did as he was instructed. Although a person of color, he was still a cis-gendered male, and it wasn’t quite clear how he landed the job; must have had something to do with his family background, or they maybe they had mistaken him for a transgendered male identifying as a cis-gendered male.

Not that it mattered. Their pyramid of the oppressed and victimized had never been completed. There had been too many heated disputes about which group belong at which level, with accusations flung back and forth whenever someone argued one group was less oppressed than another, only to be told that such a belief was merely a sign of one’s institutional privilege.

When he had taken the role, Darrell had regarded it as a vital path to help restore corporate integrity and promote equity among his colleagues. Of course, he was among those who felt disadvantaged and the victim of prejudices. The work group he had participated in had concluded that one of the reasons those responsible denied their privilege and guilt was because there was no stage beyond that, no clear hope for redemption.

However, if a clear path to restoration could be found, then they would be open about it and do something constructive.

At least that had been the intent. Things had turned out quite differently. Instead of those truly privileged, as Darrell as regarded them, he had seen waves and waves of employees entering his booth to confess to trivial offenses; a man committed a “sexist” act by offering to help a woman up off the floor after she had slipped; a woman had offended plus-size individuals by discussing a new diet she was on to lower her weight.

To be sure, they were “misdeeds” included in both the employee handbook and the code of conduct. But those who confessed seemed to do so in a way that almost craved it. It’s why he had stopped correcting them when they were actually incorrect in thinking they had done something wrong. They wanted to be wrong, or at least to have him tell them they had been wrong, and what to do to make up for it. In some strange way, it seemed almost fashionable to visit the confessional and confess, as though they were pride of it.

Still, he held onto his position in the belief that someday things would change. Yet, as the years went on, his hopes were not met. The wrong type of people came to him seeking forgiveness. So much so that he dared to wonder why. Was it now fashionable to perpetuate inequity, admit one’s guilt, and have it washed away with an small donation or a few hours volunteering?

Darrell winced, shaking his head. He had to fight hard to suppress such doubts. The temptations had increased significantly in the last year, along with the number of confessions.


“Is that it?”

Darrell sighed. “Yes, that is it.”

The confessing party, another young cis-gendered woman of color, was skeptical of his prescription. All he had for her to do was make a small donation to a social justice nonprofit that the company helped support. It seemed a sufficient act of penance for misgendering a colleague. To be sure, the person hadn’t fully undergone the transition and was technically still a “male,” yet zhe—his preferred gender pronoun—insisted on wearing traditional male clothing, arguing that it had nothing to do with a person’s gender identity.

In a sense, the misgendering was understandable and technically not a violation of the employee manual or code of conduct. Still, it was enough for the woman to pay Darrell a visit.

“That’s all you want me to do?” she asked.

“I suppose you could also volunteer there at the nonprofit’s office on the weekend.”

“But are you saying I need to do it?”

“It’d be more than what I’m telling you to do.”

The woman seemed frustrated. “But can’t you just tell me to do it?”

Darrell was irritated. Why couldn’t she just go and volunteer? It was as if she needed his permission.

He cleared his throat. “I guess you could donate a little more, if that helps.”

“Yes, that seems appropriate. I still feel very awful about misgendering Janice. I’ve already apologized to him, I mean zhe, but it didn’t seem like that was enough.”

“If you volunteer at the office, ask them to document it. I tell everyone to document their time or money spent as part of their penance.”

“I will!”

Darrell waited until the woman had left before he returned to his office and slumped into his chair. Sipping on cup of two-hour-cold coffee, he put his head in his hands. He was supposed to feel good about his work, how he was helping the employees come to terms with their privilege and how to address it. Unlike previous forms of restoration that provided no true absolution, he offered them a light at the end of the tunnel, if only they had the strength to reject their bigotry and renounce all institutional structures of oppression.

But none of it gave him peace. He felt as though he had gotten through to no one, that they failed to take the matter seriously. Even that woman who had just confessed to him seemed more interested in making it known to all her peers how contrite she was and how virtuous it was for her to so readily admit her guilt.

There was a knock at the confessional booth. Someone called out to Darrell in his office.

“Anyone here?” the person said nervously.

“Yes,” Darrell said as he rose from his desk. “Have you come to confess?”

“I have.” Their tone was solemn, grave.

“Have a seat inside. I’ll join you in a moment.”

Darrell hurried over to the booth just in time to see a glimpse of the confessor closing the door to their side. He gasped when he recognized the short, cropped hair and neatly-ironed shirt.

It was Seth. He had finally come.

Keeping this knowledge to himself, Darrell climbed into the booth and closed the door. He paused for a moment to reflect on what was to come. Seth had worked at Telecom for as long as Darrell, collaborating on the same team initially.

However, their similarities ended there. Seth was without question one of the most privileged people in the company, reflected in the sheer amount of success he had achieved. While Darrell had struggled to get any kind of recognition, Seth had climbed through the ranks faster than anyone else. Everything seemed to be going his way; he was good-looking for a cis-gendered male, tall, and exuded the kind of self-confidence that comes from a man who knows he’s going to get what he wants on a silver platter.

The entire idea of the booth was in part inspired by a personal mission of Darrell’s. He wanted to extract from Seth the confession he long wanted to hear: Everything he was and had accomplished was due to his privilege.

“What brings you here today?” Darrell asked as innocently as he could.

He watched as Seth’s silhouette shifted around. “I’m not sure,” Seth replied.

“Not sure?”

“Yeah. I’m just being honest.”

“Well, tell me what makes you feel like you should be here.”

There was a long pause. Darrell had his hands in his lap, eagerly waiting for Seth to break through his denial.

“I feel like I did something wrong, but I didn’t,” Seth said.

“What happened?”

“Well, there’s this colleague that works under me as part of my team. She tries, but she’s not able to get her work done on time. She’s not meeting the metrics.”

“And you made assumptions about why that is?” Darrell asked.

“Not at all. I never said anything about it. I’ve been very polite to her the entire time we’ve worked together. To be honest, I’m not sure what the problem is, exactly.”

“Have you tried asking her?”

“I’ve asked her if there is anything I can do to help her, but she never takes me up on the offer.”

Darrell frowned. This wasn’t going where he had intended. “Did you make assumptions about why she refused your help? Maybe you said something that offended her.”

“Not that I know of, and she’s never said she was offended at any point. I’ve been very careful not to say anything that might cause trouble.”

“Go on.”

“This has been going on for several months. The problem is, if her metrics don’t improve then she gets demoted to another position outside of my team.”

“Do you want her on your team?”

“I don’t like it when people on my team don’t do well. Part of my job is to make sure everybody is does their job, isn’t it?”

“But you are looking to transfer her to another team, right?”

“The opposite,” Seth replied. “The review board was going to give her the demotion last week. I spent over an hour convincing them to give her another chance to turn things around. I promised I would spend extra time with her and coach her as best I could.”

Darrell coughed. “You did that?”

“Yeah. I’ve done it for a lot of coworkers here. You’d be surprised how many of them would not be here if I hadn’t helped them. She’s the fourth person I’ve personally coached, though she doesn’t know it.”

“Perhaps it’s not as easy for others to do well here as it’s been for you. Might that be it?”

“I don’t know about that. It didn’t come easy for me at first. They about canned me the first week in.”

Darrell froze. “They did?”

“Yes. I was doing that badly.”

Darrell leaned closer to the screen between the two of them. “What happened?”

“One of the managers offered to coach me during his lunch hour. We worked together every day for a month on areas of the job I was failing at. That’s when things really started to improve for me. I loved working with him, and ended up spending a lot of extra hours at the office on projects to get more experience. That’s why I’ve offered to help a lot of people here whenever I see them trying to get ahead but not doing well. I’m reminded of myself and I think about where I would be today if someone hadn’t helped me.”

Looking at the ground, Darrell held his hands close to his chest. “What happened that made you feel like you should come here?”

Seth took a deep breath in. “I was working with the woman on my team yesterday and suddenly she got upset with me.”

“Did she say why?”

“Yeah, I was smiling in response to something she said, and she told me it bothered her.”

“Smiling? Why?”

Seth shrugged. “I don’t know. She wouldn’t say, except that it made her feel threatened or something. Maybe she used the word ‘insecure.’ I don’t really recall the exact words she said, to be honest. But she got up and left the room. At first, I wasn’t fully aware of what was happening. It was one of those moments where you’re wondering if it’s a joke, but then I realized she wasn’t coming back. Then I wondered if I had done something wrong. So here I am. What should I do?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what should I do to make up for it?”

Darrell gazed at Seth; from what little he could discern the man was truly distraught. However, Darrell finally enjoyed a great sense of relief. He already knew that neither the employee manual nor their code of conduct had any rules against smiling. But it didn’t matter. An anxious doubt that had long haunted him dissipated. For once, the booth would serve its purpose.

“I’m sorry,” Darrell declared.

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“It is I who needs to confess. I blamed others like you for my failures. Forgive me for my offense.”

There was a long period of silence.

“Now, I must make up for it,” Darrell declared. Stepping out of the booth, he approached Seth as he came out from the door.

Extending his hand, Darrell smiled. “It’d be a privilege to take that apparent open spot on your team, if you’ll have me.”