Scene: A cell in a holding facility at Woodview Detention Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, the summer of 1961. The cubicle, cell or room, however one may want to see it, is furnished with an iron cot, and me, the occupant; I am 14-years old, and I am required to be in here for my first 24-hours at the facility before going to a larger cell with (perhaps) other kids (or as they call us, delinquents). The cell is clean, perhaps too clean, and not much in it. The floor shines, tile like substance, as are the walls, brick style. It is late in the evening, a breeze lingers, brings a chill, a ting of mist perhaps from the nearby Mississippi River.
I stand silent in my cell, a bit intoxicated, a little disorientated, fogy with a T-shirt on, a pair of worn jeans, my hair must be messy, I really can’t see it clear, though the little door window with a screen through it; I can see the other cells thought, and I seem satisfied with the way I look, my appearance. I am well toned, my muscles that is, from weightlifting, running track and gymnastics. No tattoos; I am considered to be a good-looking kid, for the most part.
–My brother, Mike, went to Redwing, a few steps up from where I am, in the incarceration field, likened to ‘Boys Town,’ I suppose (he is two years my senior).
In a few days I will go to court for under age drinking–the judge, he is the key here, my mother will be with me, notably the judge will want to give me mercy (my first offence), but I will say ‘No!’ to this offer of kindness (perhaps at this time I seen it as pity); this will be the only time see my mother cry in her life (I know she ((perchance)) has cried before, but I have not ever seen her do so.
“Why?” asks the judge “do you torture your mother like this, and slash at me with pride?”
I had told the judge to send me to jail, to Redwing, like my brother, who was presently there. Said the judge with difficulty trying to figure me out, “The police found you sitting on a case of beer in the playgrounds by Cayuga Street, next to your house, called ‘Indian’s Hill,” drunk, and all you had to say was: an old drunk bought the beer for you.”
Not sure if that was a question or a statement, but I didn’t say a word, I felt bad my mother was crying, and the judge was right, my pride had gotten in my way, so I left him no choice but to lock me up. And here I am standing in this cell looking right and left down and up the corridor.
Odd. Chick or Dennis, as I was called [ds]. Nobody gets much fresh air in a cell, so it seems, and its worse in the summer. I paced the floor, knowing there was no way out. Counted the bricks in the cell on each side of the walls, 245, that is when I stopped counting and listened to the sounds of the corridor. People snoring, talking, doors from the staff opening and shutting, flashlights checking on everyone, even me; all nightlong. I heard Pat Boones new song, “Moody River,” it fit this time and place, it was as if it was written and sung just for me. They must have been playing it in the office down the hall.
Morning. “Want some breakfast?” said a voice standing outside my door; I got up, “Yeah!” I said, and the door opened and he put the try on a steel gray looking desk across from my bed, and left.
I was surprised the morning came so quick. I got thinking: is there a warden to this place? Then I saw folks being taken to the back outside area, fenced in of course, for sports. I saw a bit envious, and yet I had another 18-hours to go in this cell before I could join the rest.
About this time of my incarceration I had asked myself ‘why,’ and left it at that. I didn’t know at the time but I’d spend two weeks here, a death sentence to me almost. And at the end of the two weeks, my attitude would change. I learned from this experience, if anything, you change, or there will be people willing to spend a lot of time trying to change you. But that of course would call for a readjustment of mind-set, and/or way of thinking.
I felt I was in an eggshell, with two windows, and I was witnessing the world go by. I knew I was in a holding area after a week, and the judge was going to come out and see me. I was hoping I’d not have to remain here two weeks, but I was wrong, the judge wanted to make a point, and he did.
The interesting thing I discovered was, I begged to be allowed the second day, to mop the whole building, facility, the floors, just to be out of the eggshell. And as the few Sunday’s came, I went to church, to get out of my cell, and on Saturday’s, I went to craft shop for the same reasons. When I was locked up, I felt like I needed to vomit, I was gasping for air. I said to myself, calm down, be cool, like everyone else, and I did, got to go to the big aquarium, the cell down the hall with the four teenagers in it, like me; I thought that was a great reward.
Written 5/18/2006, at the Café Angello, Lima, Peru