Excerpt from Driftwood. Chapter 14. Tales of the Fallen. Age 14
Context: My second time in juvenile hall (first and only time I deserved to go), I was facing down a 90 day sentence at a boot camp facility, thanks to a judge who handed out boot camp sentences to kids like they were candy.
The girls back on the cellblock weren’t all that shocked about the way he acted. In addition to his heavy-handed sentencing, the common theme about the guy was that he was a complete asshole and possibly racist. Even some of the staff members chimed in with stories they heard from previous girls about him “calling people out ‘they name” and agreeing that the white girls who came through the jail never stayed got less time in boot camp…he sent everybody to boot camp.
A couple of the girls mentally prepared me for what to expect at YDC, the key theme was that it sucked, but I’d come out on the other side of it hot…well, at least skinny. It was like military basic training. Waking up at 5 am, marching around from place to place like child soldiers, calling out rhymes and shit. The girls started singing out some of the rhymes as they reminisced, but I don’t remember it. They then started talking about the food… they were barely fed at YDC. They’d get like a bowl of grits for breakfast, a bologna sandwich for lunch, and some inedible gruel for dinner.
“It’s hard at first, you be hungry like all day every day till your body get used to it.” – one of the girls.
The staff at the camps made the kids do monotonous back-breaking labor like digging ditches and scrubbing floors. Punishment for even compliant behavior was physical exercise and was issued out by the staff at whim. One girl had a story that the girls in her bunk were made to line up and do this torture push up exercise. The first girl would count 1 Sir and do one push up, the next girl would count 2 and do two push-ups and on down the line then back to the beginning until they got to 100.
If anyone messed up or didn’t do their push-ups in perfect formation, everyone would have to start over. Then afterward, the staff would leave and any girl who messed up the line would get their asses kicked…usually that meant girls beating the shit out of someone using tube socks that’d been filled with bars of soap. You figured this would have scared the bajebus out of me…. But, I stopped caring after “you’ll come out hot.” Again, I was 14. So, anything that could take the weight off that I’d gained since foster care would be a godsend.
I ended up staying in jail for about a month waiting for my next court date, waiting for my chance to get into the best fitness program ever. At first, I continued hanging out with the rest of the girls, but that got old pretty quick. There’s only so many times you can tell the same people that you weren’t interested in talking to their “daddies.” I started to miss Mr. Erik, bad. I missed all my friends at crossroads actually. I would sometimes use my phone time to call Mr. Erik, he’d pick up and talk to me for like a minute or two, he couldn’t legally update me on how my friends were doing.
Mr. Erik would end every convo by telling me to be good. And was for the most part. It was pretty easy to. I mean, other than constantly being asked where I was from, why I talked white, why I didn’t act black” by the staff, there wasn’t really anything to rebel against. I was in jail and being treated as such. I think the worst thing I did was respond to those stupid talk white/act black questions was saying I wasn’t black. That I was an Aboriginal. My parents were from Australia. Then, in a thick butchered crocodile Dundee accent, I said, “The world is a lot bigger than America; you shouldn’t just assume everyone with dark skin is African”
I laughed to myself at the confused looks I got. I ended up running with that bullshit, even going as far as responding to someone that asked me about my mangled leg– after seeing it in the shower– by telling her I got bit by a shark when I was surfing in Sydney with my dad…who was tragically eaten. I know no one believed anything I was saying, but it was just enough crazy to get them to leave me alone and stop asking dumbass questions. It worked. As a result, I got to spend the rest of my time there in my cell, alone.
In the morning, I would look out the tiny window of my cell which had an awesome view of where most of the highways in Atlanta intersected. I would pretend I was Leslie Fram, my favorite local radio DJ who did the morning show on 99x. Actually, I’d pretend I was the whole show, first up was some witty banter with my cohosts… using with slightly different manly voices. Then I’d toss on a tv-announcer esque voice and do the traffic report on what I thought was spaghetti junction (it was the 75/85 split +the “Grady curve” ). After that was the piece de resistance, live concerts featuring all the greatest hits of 90s alternative music as sang by me imitating the voices of whatever singer didn’t make my throat hurt….mostly Pearl Jam & Matchbox 20.
After I’d either get bored with singing (or more likely told to shut up by staff), I’d spend the rest of the days devouring all the books that the jail had to offer…which wasn’t much. I think the only book that I didn’t finish in record time was some dirty book by Danielle Steel. Ever the prude, I put it back the second it got my girly bits tingling, wondering why the hell they had books like that in a facility for kids. After that experience, I stuck with John Grisham. I think I read the Rainmaker like 3 times before I got called back to court for my day of judgment.
This time, court was different. Mr. Dre and another case manager from Crossroads, Ms. Laurel were sitting on the defendant’s side of the courtroom. I didn’t know how to interpret the swapped seating arrangements when I sat down with the rest of the girls who had court that day. Then Mr. Dre patted me on the shoulder and suddenly I realized they were on my side. I guess Stonewall’s ruling didn’t sit right with Mr. Dre the last-go-round.
Then the judge came in, it was someone new. A black lady. She was short, pretty, and had the go-to 90s high cropped tightly curled pixie cut. Her name…Judge Hatchette. That’s right, The Judge Hatchette, TV’s Judge Hatchette… but back then she was just the new stranger who held my fate in her hands. She read through the file on her bench. Said hmmm and then recited my charges and the previous judge’s sentence. Then she did something completely unexpected… she started asking questions.
“This placement, is a treatment facility?”
Mr. Dre replied “Yes Your honor”
“And she was there how long?”
“About 6 months your honor” – Mr. Dre, again.
“And the facility is willing to take her back?”
“Yes your honor,” Ms. Laurel said as she stood up. “Only on a probationary period.”
Judge Hatchett flipped through the paperwork again, rereading the previous judge’s statement. She said she didn’t understand why he was recommending 90 days in boot camp, “she doesn’t even have a record.” They must not have gotten the paperwork from DeKalb. She repeated a couple of times that it “didn’t make any sense” as she looked through the papers before finally saying “everybody has setbacks in their treatment.”
Then Judge Hatchett looked down from her bench, directly at me and said, “You’re being given a chance here; you should be thankful.” I immediately said, “Thank you, your honor.” Judge Hatchett replied, “You need to be thanking them, they didn’t have to take you back.” I turned to Dre and Laurel and said thank you, finally grasping what was happening. I was being sent back to Crossroads. Judge Hatchett said 30 days probation, banged her gavel, and sent me on my way.
On the car ride to Crossroads, Laurel and Dre gave me a lecture that I didn’t actually listen to… something about changes and last chances and blah blah blah. Nothing they could have said would have mattered anyway. I was going back. Back to time outs and movie nights, and those stupid stain-plastic figures and loading cups of Earl Gray tea with powdered creamer pretending it was coffee. I was going back to my friends, to Mr. Erik….to Reed and his beautiful eyes. For the first time, it actually felt like I was going home. I was only slightly disappointed that I wouldn’t get that 90-day slimdown.