The rest of the day was back to movie-style planning of our escape. Going back and forth to the class building Faith and I kept our eyes out making sure that the layout was as the girls described. It was. We didn’t get a chance to check for the hole in the fence cause they didn’t take us to the gym that day. But everything else checked out. So, we made our plans communicating with Samuel with notes on pieces of paper as we passed him in the cafeteria at lunch and dinner. The plan: don’t wait for shift change, that meant double the staff at one time. Instead, we’d head out at bedtime when the staff were in their office.
That night at bed, when we were handed our blankets, we laid them out on the floor figuring we’d be more noticeable if we suddenly disappeared out of the chairs. We made our move a few minutes after the staff went back into their office to continue their incessant gossiping talking about the residents. I’m pretty sure they knew the girls could hear what was being said and either genuinely didn’t give a damn or wanted to make sure they were loud enough for the kids to hear their shit talk to rub salt in the wounds of the dozens of orphans in their care.
For some reason, I remember us sneaking out of a window, but given my experiences the 2nd time I ended up at this place, I’m 90% sure we just walked out of the front door. Once out, we ran to the class area where we met up with Sam. Hugs kisses and the whatnot were exchanged and then we headed out to find the hole in the fence. We were yards away from the fence when we saw flashlights shining from behind us. It was a staff member, a few of the boys, and the mean girl trio from earlier. The main mean girl from before yelled “There they are!” I should have beat her ass when I had the chance.
Samuel yelled “RUN!” and the three of us bolted towards the fence. I still don’t know why we went forward with the plan after realizing we’d clearly being set up, but I guess we were desperate or just plain dumb. We made it to the fence and began frantically looking for the hole, which of course wasn’t there. The fence was like 10 feet tall but there was no razor wire or anything, so as the staff and kids began gaining on us, we had one choice. Jump it.
Faith scattered up first with a boost from Sam. He lifted me up onto it but my gimpy leg and swollen up foot made climbing it damn near impossible. Even if I did make it, the drop from the other side would have probably snapped my knee, or so I thought. I jumped back down giving up without even really trying. “I can’t, Sam.” Telling him to go on without me. “My leg…” Sam wasn’t taking ‘I give up’ for an answer.
“Look Baby Girl, I’m gonna climb up.. when I get to the other side I am goin to help you down. But you gotto climb up. Okay Baby Girl? You got to try. Nothin is going to happen to your leg… okay?”
“Okay, Pony Boy,” I said nodding my head as if sufficiently encouraged.
Samuel hoisted me back up and I began climbing. He of course made it to the top in the blink of an eye and waited for me. Faith was already climbing down the other side by the time I was halfway up. She yelled out “Zeda watch out” as she jumped down, I felt a dozen hands grabbing me, pulling me off. It was the shelter boys. They pulled me off the fence and threw me to the ground, pummeling me til I stopped struggling and let them hold me down.
The male staff member grabbed Samuel by the foot as he tried climbing over the top. Sam’s attempts to shake the staff off caused him to lose his balance and almost fall backwards off the fence. When he slipped, he sliced his leg open on the top twisted tips of the fence as he rolled over it. But Sam was superman. That wasn’t going to stop him. After Sam was over the fence, the staff member told the boys to let me up. “She ain’t going anywhere.” I ran to the fence, hoping to watch Faith and Sam make their escape. But that’s not what happened.
Sam’s leg was cut bad, he was limping, leaning on tiny little Faith for support. As they hobbled across the street they got swarmed by cop cars. The police jumped out and immediately snatched Faith away from Sam. Lifting her like a rag doll and throwing her to the ground. Sam yelled “get your hands off her,” which was enough I guess for the police to justify whipping out their clubs and beating the crap out of him. Relentlessly.
I watched as they hammered him to the ground swinging their batons with full force, not caring where their hits landed. Faith got up and tried running to Samuel, begging the police to stop hitting him…. so they hit her a couple of times before pushing her in the back of one of the cop cars. The beating on Samuel was still going, the cops were so brutal it would have made the Rodney King beating look like a minor disagreement between King and the LAPD officers.
I stood at the fence, helpless to help them screaming “Stop” and “They didn’t do anything!” It went on forever, but eventually, they stopped beating on Sam. I thought they killed him and was relieved when they and dragged him to a different cop car and shoved him in. He was limp, but police don’t arrest dead bodies.
I want to be clear, neither Faith nor Sam in any way attacked any of the cops. Sam’s beating was his punishment for running away from a shelter…where Samuel had been beaten…where we had been taken by that very same police force (APD) because they suspected Sam and Faith had been abused at a facility that we’d all been put in for being abused. I know it makes zero sense, but that’s just what happens to kids no one cares about.
I was taken to a small room with a staff desk, a blue chair, and a phone. The walls were bare and stained a dirty off-white yellowish color. I’m guessing in one of the intake buildings. The frustrated female staff member that escorted me there just told me to wait there. I’m assuming our runaway fiasco created a lot of paperwork for them. Seeing the phone, I asked if I could call my caseworker, a question I knew she couldn’t say no to.
‘Dial 9 to get out” she said as she left the room, closing and locking the door behind her. I sat there for a few moments, looking at the phone, listing to the clanking of the staff member’s heels as she walked away from the door. I knew damn well I wasn’t going to call Ms. Simms, but I wanted to call somebody, anybody who could make this nightmare end. I realized my life had come full circle since that first day in foster care, alone in an intake room with no one to call to come save me.
I started to cry. I couldn’t process what I was feeling in that moment other than feeling immensely helpless, hopeless, an inability to get the images of what I’d just seen out of my head, and on top of all that was the guilt. Faith and Samuel could have probably gotten away if it wasn’t for me holding them up. I hated myself. I hated my life and everything that had led me to this point. I thought about killing myself, but the only thing I had handy in that empty room was the phone chord and a stapler. I’m sure if I wanted it bad enough, I could have finagled something to make a valiant effort of it. But I didn’t want to die, I just wanted to go home.… but who do you call when you want to go home, but don’t have a home to go to?
I picked up the phone and called Crossroads. I had no clue what time it was. I knew it was late, but on the slim chance it was still second shift, I needed comfort and the only thing I could think of that could make me feel better was talking to Mr. Erik. He’d probably gotten fired for starting that riot, but it was worth a try. I lucked out. He hadn’t been fired and he was the person at the back desk who picked up the phone and when he heard it was me, he gave his usual ‘Tell me something good” hello.
I had nothing good to tell him. It took everything in me to hold back tears when I heard his voice. I guess he could hear the struggle in my voice cause he asked me what was wrong. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him.
“ I wanted to say thank you, for tryin to keep me out of trouble. I am sorry for being such a fuck up”
“You aren’t a fuck up… I am proud you tried to stay out of it… And sorry you got sucked into all that drama. I told them you stayed out of it”
I didn’t know what to say, so I just sat on the line, by this time I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing so I told Mr. Erik that I had to go. He told me everything was going to be okay, and to not worry. Everything was going to work out. I just had to stay positive.
I’d called him thinking talking to him would bring me comfort. I was wrong. His disgusting positivity was NOT what I needed in that moment. There was no way anything was going to work out. Not for Faith, Not for me, and damn sure not for my Pony Boy. I said I had to go again and hung up the phone before cursing him out for being positive about something he didn’t even know just happened.
Left alone in that room for what felt like hours, the struggle to process the emotions I was feeling continued until eventually, I caved. I took out a staple from the stapler and etched the word Helpless into my forearm, I guess trying to give myself some of the pain that I’d been spared by not being able to get over that fence.
I was eventually taken back to the girl’s dorm and ended up passing out asleep upright in the chair, more from mental exhaustion than actually being sleepy. I ended up having a nightmare that night. One of the few that didn’t involve Freddy Krueger or any supernatural force. It was just my brain rehashing the events of the day, me standing by helplessly watching as my friends were beaten to death.
I was awakened from the nightmare by a morning staff member touching me on the shoulder. I yelped out ‘Don’t touch me!” as I startled awake. A reaction she was probably used to cause she seemed unphased.
“Ms. Rory is here to take you back to your group home”
I wish I could say I was excited to see her, but I was pretty numb. I walked behind her to her on the way to her car, flashes of the night before still in my head. I couldn’t comprehend how I was even getting to go back and why the hell couldn’t she have come and GOTTEN US ALL the morning before. That last part ate at me until finally, in the car, I blurted out “I thought y’all said none of us could come back if we got shipped off.” Pretty sure Rory took that question the wrong way cause she seemed a little more than slightly irritated at the question.
“Mr. Erik made it clear you didn’t have anything to do with the riot…and so did the police report” Ms. Rory replied giving me the side-eye. She started the car and pulled off before adding “You won’t get another chance.”
Then we drove off down the path leading to the front entrance. The set up was kind of like the big cast-iron gate in front of Crossroads. Two big pillars on either side of the entrance, a little island of grass in the center of the road in front of it with a sign that said “Fulton County Children’s Shelter. There were arrows on each side indicating which way was for vehicles going in and out. The main difference between the Crossroads and Shelter entrance? There was no fucking gate.
We could have walked right out the goddamn front entrance at any time but instead were living out some fucked up foster kid version of Prison Break, trying to find hidden holes in fences and shit. We’d been locked away at Crossroads so long, we couldn’t even fathom the existence of a facility that wasn’t completely gated off from the rest of the world. We would have known this if we hadn’t been too busy goofing off with Officer Friendly when we arrived to pay attention to our surroundings. There was no fucking gate. None.
When I realized that, all I could do was mouth the words “Mother fucker” as Ms. Rory drove the car out of the campus. I have no clue why those girls went out of their way to set us up so elaborately. But I never felt so stupid in my life. I wanted so badly to burn that whole fucking place to the ground.