Excerpt from Driftwood Chapter 14. Tales of the Fallen. Age 14
Context: Six months into my stay at a much-coveted group home that turned out to be just a locked-down facility, my friends and I were raising hell. We were protesting against being force-fed medications, demanding the right to “feel our own feelings.” My participation in the “protests” left me separated from my best friend, Kalyssa, who was the “model resident” at the facility. When a girl named Kate tried to swoop in and take my place as her bestie… I threw a boot at her smug ugly face. True, she was a racist instigator trying to horn in on my best friend, but I did it mostly cause I was bored and felt like doing it. Not my best moment.
I was in jail. Again. All the running away and crazy play I did to avoid being sent back to the DeKalb County Jail, I just ended up in a different one. The Fulton County Juvenile Detention Center. This time, I couldn’t even blame corrupt staff members lying and setting me up. I did this to myself. So as I stood there getting sprayed down with what felt like a power hose, deloused, and made to squat and cough naked in front of strangers… all I could think was that I was getting what I deserved. There was a weird resolve in knowing that.
I mentioned earlier that there were a few differences between the Dekalb and Fulton county juvenile jails. The first difference that I noticed when I walked on the unit and was issued my Bob Barker Special, was a designated bathroom and shower area. I’m not sure if this was a good or a bad thing, cause as disgusting as the combi toilet-sink combos-water fountain combos were, not having one in your cell meant having to bang on the doors for what felt like an eternity to get the staff’s attention for an unscheduled bathroom break.
This could be murder at night. I wasn’t at the Dekalb jail long enough to really remember what the shower situation was like, but here… having to shower naked with a handful of other girls without even shower curtains separating us was embarrassing, if not completely dehumanizing. At least they issued us shower shoes, there was so much mold. Everywhere.
The second difference was that there was only one of us to a cell. I am not sure if this was because there were just fewer kids or because the facility was so massive that they had plenty of space for all the children that were funneled into it. They also left the doors to these cells unlocked for most of the day, we actually had to leave them open or at least cracked when we were in them and were only locked down at headcount (morning, before/ after meals, and at night).
The rest of the day we were free to roam around the unit which was about the size of a large classroom. This is where the magic took place, and I don’t mean the sex-trafficking recruitment. Though, there was a lot of that and to be honest, these girls were much more successful than the ones in DeKalb at convincing other girls to join the game when they got out. We had access to phones on the block, and this meant girls calling their pimps and introducing other girls to them. I guess that was the deciding factor, hearing “daddy gonna take care of you” from daddy himself. But whatever.
The real magic was that the jail had TV. I’m pretty sure it was cable tv because just about all day everyday music videos were playing. Then again since it was all music videos it may have been one of the off-brand channels like Fuse and Much Music. The vast majority of the day was spent with the girls all sitting around the main room playing cards and board games, hanging out, recruiting each other for their pimps, and watching music videos.
I honestly don’t remember going to school while I was there, but it’s possible we did and that my memories of the relationships by way of hidden notes and stolen glances between the boys and girls at DeKalb County jail was actually Fulton County. I’m not sure.
I hung out with the girls the first few days. Getting caught up on the outside world. So much had changed in just the few months I was at Crossroads, and I think this was the first time it actually hit me how cut-off we were from the rest of the world. I wasn’t all that surprised to find out most of them were also in foster care.
The highlight of the days for me was when the Backstreet Boys “Everybody” video would come on and all the girls would line up doing the dance and singing along. As “hood” as these girls acted, this was the real shocker of life in jail. I couldn’t imagine anyone at the shelter doing that. By that, I mean openly admitting to liking Backstreet Boys, not dancing like idiots to music video choreography. I think that’s a given for teen girls. But the love these girls had for the Backstreet boys was fiercely strong and unapologetic, especially Kevin and AJ. Pretty sure they’d fight anyone that said Nick was the hottest one.
This stint in jail wasn’t nearly as isolating or traumatizing as my previous one. Probably because I was a bit more hardened and not crying like a little bitch like I’d done in DeKalb RYDC. I was older now. 14. Hardcore. I knew how to play this. When asked what I was in for I proudly said I beat a racist bitch with a boot, an exaggeration but not technically a lie. The girls gave me the inside scoop on the judges and what my sentence might look like. Odds were that I’d probably be looking at a couple of weeks probably would get out with time served since it was my first offense…that is, unless I got “that white dude who send everybody to bootcamp.”
A Tale of Two Judges
After a week, I was called down for court. Ms. Simms was notably absent but Mr. Dre, my case manager at Crossroads, was there. When I was brought in, he was talking with a few other adults in suits. I had no clue who was who or what they were there for. I assumed one was my lawyer. I watched them from my seat on the pew with the other girls, wondering which one would come over and talk to me. Tell me what was going on, advise me on what to say or do like the lawyers in the court shows.
No one came over. Other than Mr. Dre giving me a nod before taking his seat on the opposite side of the courtroom, no one acknowledged me before my “trial.” The legal knowledge I’d obtained from TV and the movies told me that Mr. Dre taking his seat on the opposite side of the court meant that he was on the prosecution side, there to speak on behalf of Kate…who also wasn’t there.
When it was time for my case, the judge called me to stand up. He was an older white guy with a bit of a red bulbous nose. He sat up there on the bench looking at me like he was just disgusted. The way he spoke at me, so angrily; it was like I’d done something personally wrong to him. Maybe he realized I was staring at his weird red nose. He lit into me. “You kids think you can just do anything to anyone. You hit that girl unprovoked with a weapon. That’s not simple assault. That’s aggravated battery and I’m prepared to sentence you as such. 90 days in YDC.”
Mr. Dre stood up, gasping “But your honor,” the judge told him to sit down. Then one of the adults in the suits stood up and asked to address the court, he was given permission. I don’t remember everything he said, most of it went over my head, but it was something about extenuating circumstances and my DFACS caseworker/legal guardian not being present.”
I am guessing that was a loophole, the judge shuffled his papers and announced to his clerk or whatever to put me back on his calendar. Then said something along the lines of “don’t think this means you’re getting off with a slap on the wrist” and that the best I could hope for was him lowering my sentence to 30 days in YDC and that he was ‘sick of kids like me.”
I’d gotten the “white dude that sent everybody to boot camp.” Fuck. I can’t remember his name, let’s call him Stonewall Jackson, because if what the other girls were saying was true, he was definitely lining his pockets on the blood sweat, and tears of the black kids he condemned.