In the hall, we all had to wear one-piece jumpsuits. Most of us wore orange. Blue meant you had extra responsibilities and privileges. The first time I saw a red jumpsuit, I thought it was for Christmas. That was dumb. People wore red jumpsuits for a week after they’d done something so crazy that they had to be put in solitary to calm down.
I’d ruined the holiday for my whole family, getting locked up. Rose was worried that if they put up a stocking for me, Santa would skip our house. My parents put it up and found some coal to put in it, like the old stories about bad little children. They told me my lawyer’s fees were my Christmas present. At least Rose sent me a picture she’d drawn.
I didn’t want her to see me in the hall.
Aside from my being depressed, juvenile hall wasn’t all that bad. We had classes all but a few days around Christmas and New Year’s Day. It was like being back in grade school, but I didn’t say so because a lot of people were struggling with the work. Most of them were very angry people and I knew we’d be in classes together at court school when we got out.
There were gangs, but they had to put up with each other.
The really good thing about the hall was that the adults had almost total control, since we were there 24/7. Sometimes stuff happened behind their backs, and the wrong person would end up in trouble, but from what I heard people saying, the gangs ruled at court school. That made me wish they’d put me in the hall for six months with no court school. But at least I’d be living at home when I transferred.
They kept me in the hall exactly a month, even though that meant starting a week into the semester at court school. I guess the teachers were used to that, though, because most of them had handouts explaining all their rules and procedures. The classes were a little harder than they’d been in the hall, but a lot of my classmates could barely read. When I had to read aloud, I was careful not to let it seem too easy. Still, people started looking to me for help, at least the ones who cared about doing the work.
There were two rival gangs on the campus, with one of them definitely having the majority of the student body. From what I could see, they had a lot more in common with each other than different, but they chose to focus on the differences.
What they had in common: They didn’t have much positive going on with their parents or at school, and they didn’t see much positive in the future. Most of them had never considered as possible things I took for granted, like graduating from high school, getting a good job someday, having a nice home. They saw the people in their gangs as the ones to whom they owed loyalty, and everyone else was “them.”
I found most of them more likeable than Angelica or Natalie.
When I explained how all that went down, there were offers to “take care of them” for me. Fortunately, I’d never mentioned their names, so I didn’t have to worry about anyone doing me a favor I didn’t want.
I tried to keep clear of both groups, but they heard I was good at schoolwork. It got so I automatically printed out two extra copies of my work, so I could deliver a copy to each gang. At last being a nerd had a benefit. I gave help freely to all and wasn’t expected to pick sides.
All I asked was that they not let teachers know who was helping. Some of the teachers were too burned out to care that averages suddenly went up. Only one cornered me to ask about it. I shrugged as if I didn’t know anything and said I was keeping to myself, just trying not to get hurt before the semester ended and I could get out of there. I didn’t say anyone had threatened me, but I think that’s how the guy took it, because he didn’t hassle me about it anymore.
Meanwhile, I was living at home, looking at that mural of our backyard back in Colorado every day, wishing we’d never moved. The coal in my stocking, which I hadn’t been there to see, pretty much summed up how my parents were feeling about me. They didn’t trust me at all anymore. Mom drove me to school and picked me up after. Some of the kids got picked up by older gang members in cars with music on to make everything around them vibrate. Mom would give me this sad, disappointed look every time. She wouldn’t bring Rose with her.
They called the school and talked to my teachers when I told them I didn’t have any homework. That’s what it took to make them believe that the few assignments that were given were easy to finish before the end of class. They decided to try and get me into a private school for the next year, but my “legal issues” were an automatic no thank you at all the ones nearby. So they started looking at boarding schools. That would eat up the pay raise my dad had gotten and then some, but at least they wouldn’t have to see their disappointing child all the time. I’d probably have to repeat this year in any decent school, but I’d have a shot at a good college again if I was eighteen before I graduated and could get my records sealed.
Yeah, I picked up that bit of advice from my probation officer. I had to report to one of those every week, but he came to the school, so it was no hassle for my parents. He always said the same thing, that I was doing good so far, just stay out of trouble.
I never said much of anything.
The Incident is contemporary YA (Young Adult). Following time-honored tradition, I’m publishing it here in installments. To be alerted when the next segment goes online, “follow” this blog. The entire story will be published here. You are welcome to share this link with others, but please respect copyright by contacting me for permission if you want to publish the story elsewhere. Thank you.