George Pollock State Kid Issue 16 Granite City School At the police station, Billy's old bad posture

returned worse than ever. Bent over like an old man, he mumbled answers to questions. He let an officer maneuver his hand freely over the fingerprinting pad as if he didn't care what was done with it. Then it was “perp-walk” time. Hands cuffed in front of him, in leg chains, head drooped, and with an officer at each elbow, he was led from the station to a prisoner transport van for transfer to a hearing before Judge Joyce Salera, the chief juvenile judge. It was mid day. The happy news of his capture had spread through the city. A crowd of citizens out on their lunch break had gathered to get a look at the notorious Billy Stone. The crowd was vocal. “Hey, low-life, wouldn't you rather be in California?” “Put him away for life” “Let's see you wriggle out of this, sicko!” It was the same entering and leaving Juvenile Court, where Judge Salera quickly remanded Billy to Granite School for Boys “pending a hearing at a time to be determined” If he had not been a foster kid, his parents would have picked him up at the police station and taken him home. But he was a foster kid and arrested foster kids go straight to juvenile prison. On the way out of Juvenile Court, leg chains clanking and able to take only shuffling baby steps, tears rolled down his face. “Oh, the poor baby, he's so sad,” said an onlooker. “How about a tear for your victims, crybaby?” said another. A chant went up. “He's so sad... the poor boy ... he's so sad... the poor boy.” But one onlooker watched in silent amazement. It was Miss Vamp herself from the mall, who had failed twice to get noticed by the great looking guy walking around like he owned the place. My God, she thought, it's him! The cool guy at the mall was the famous Billy Stone! That word spread, too. *** Granite City School for Boys, where the city sent its most dangerous juvenile offenders, didn't look like a maximum-security institution. It was a cluster of red-brick buildings on the edge of a residential area, adjacent to a prestigious liberal arts college, Fairview University. Without walls or guard towers, and with campus-like shade trees and neat walks and grassy expanses, it looked more like an exclusive prep school. You had to look hard to see the bars on the windows. Inmates, officially called “students,” were nevertheless kept securely inside. The last time an inmate escaped had

been five years before, when a 17-year-old under psychiatric care got out and stabbed to death a six-year-old girl in downtown Fairview. Dozens of horrified citizens had witnessed the stabbing. The subsequent public outcry had led to a tightening of security and a new director, William Carson, a career corrections officer. He had been steadily promoted up the ladder as his tough approach to criminals had coincided with a political trend toward cracking down on crime. Surprised by the benign outside appearance of Granite City School for Boys, Billy wondered if it might not be so bad. Once inside, however, he was disabused of all such fantasies -- by an outsized display entitled GRANITE CITY RULES. The first rule was “No disrespecting staff.” The second was “No fighting.” The third was “No using drugs.” The fourth was “No obscenity.” The fifth was “No gang colors.” All the rest of the rules in the long list were a variation of the very rules that Billy had heard from Mr. Stojak, some almost word for word. Great minds work alike, Billy thought. A uniformed guard with a huge pot belly told Billy to read the rules “if you can.” The guard said, “If you can't read them, we'll read them to you. If you don't understand them, we'll explain them now.” “I read them. I understand them. Very, uh, open-minded, especially the one about one outgoing five-minute phone call a month.” Guards whisked him into a furnitureless room with bright institutional fluorescent lighting. Two guards uncuffed and unshackled him and ordered him to remove his bloodspattered clothing. They strip-searched him, thoroughly. One officer absentmindedly hacked off his tawny mane while commiserating with another officer about the heartbreaking Red Sox loss the night before. Next came a supervised shower and stateregulation orange jumpsuit and soft, stringless slippers. Recuffed and reshackled, Billy shuffled between two guards down a corridor, past steel doors and pale yellow cinderblock walls, and into a cellblock that was a racket of shouting and banging on walls. The guards took off his cuffs and leg chains, and shoved him into a cell. The potbellied guard said,”Don't try nothin', kid. Crap don't work here, understand?” Billy made like he didn't hear a thing. *** Angel Santiago sat on the edge of his bunk sizing up his new cell-mate. Billy gave him a cursory look, then sat on the opposite bunk and buried his head in his hands. Santiago, a couple of years older than Billy and outweighing him by twenty or twenty-five pounds, and wearing a red head bandanna, said, “We don't like sex creeps here.” “I'm not. She's a liar.” “Don't mess with me, boy,” Santiago said, standing up. Billy got up. Hands on his hips, he said, “Look, you're thinking to teach me a little respect, right?” No reply.

“Right?” Still no reply. “Okay. You figure you can take me down, no sweat. But ... but you would get dead, not me.” Angel made ready to pounce. “Wait,” Billy said, putting a hand up. “I don't want to kill you. But if I have to, I will.” Angel blinked rapidly. “It's easy if you know how. I know how. It takes a second. Ready?” Seeing a flicker of fear, Billy said, “Or ...we could be smart.” They stood in the middle of the cell, inches apart, breathing into each other's face, running calculations. Having that morning been with Death up close, actually close enough to have heard the faint hiss of Mr. Caulfield's last breath and to have felt with his own hand the last beat of his heart, and having found it surprisingly calm, almost mundane, the immediate prospect of his own death held no terror for him; it might even be preferable to this unholy cage. When Angel did not attack, Billy held out his hand. “I'm Billy Stone.” Angel jumped back as if Billy had pulled a knife. “Fine. Change your mind, let me know.” Billy backed off ever so slowly. He stretched out on his bunk, but without taking his eyes off Angel, who also took to his bunk, shaken, wondering what to make of this coldblooded new guy with no fear. A guard banged his nightstick on the bars. “Chowtime, you two. Reward for gettin' on so good.” *** Billy and Angel followed two guards down the corridor past several empty cells and through a couple of heavy doors to the dining hall. The hall, the size of a basketball court, could seat all the inmates at once. It was even louder than the cellblocks; pots clanged, inmates scraped plastic plates, and voices carried in the large area. When Billy entered, inmate heads lifted. A grand entrance, he thought. Great. Anything to make it easier for the slashers. One glance around the dining room and Billy knew that he'd better choose his seat carefully. This was a tribal jungle bristling with aggression. Blacks sat in one section, Hispanics in another, and whites in another. The white section was tiny, the Hispanic only slightly larger, and the black section the largest by far. Sliding his tray along the cafeteria-style counter as kitchen workers slapped food on it, Billy did a quick risk analysis. In which section would he live the longest? With his white-skinned brothers, many of whom sported skinheads, tattoos, and bulging bellies? With the quieter, more earnest Hispanics huddled together not so much aggressively as protectively? With the jivving blacks with their chatter and earrings and in-your-face unruliness? He immediately ruled out sitting alone as virtual suicide. This was a hall organized around the principles of tribal unity and protection in numbers. A prisoner alone was

asking to be taken and eaten. Angel went to the Hispanic table and sat down. Billy paused at the white table. Its honcho, Durk Coogan, gave him a rotten-toothed smile and motioned for him to sit down. Billy smiled weakly and walked on. A murmur of disapproval went through the white section. He approached the Hispanic table where everybody was hunched over, busily scooping at plastic plates. The Hispanics were more interested in eating than in Billy. He kept walking. Reaching the black section, he paused. Like a flint-eyed Wall Street investment banker, he went straight to the bottom line. The blacks had the numbers. And, judging by the way attention at the table flowed toward one person, they also had a leader. He was Kali Muhammad. “Mind if I join you?” Billy asked him politely. “Say what?” “I'd like to sit in your section.” Kali looked around at the others in disbelief. “This here white boy thinks he's a bro. Only trouble is, correck me if I'm _______, this section is jus' for us bros.” He eyed Billy. “And you ain't no bro. Go sit with the peckerwoods.” Billy leaned forward and whispered in Kali's ear, “Can I tell you something, bossman, just between you and me? Ah'm more bro than you is, baby.” Then he broke into an exaggerated street swagger. He paraded up and down the black section. “I walk like a bro. This is a bro walk, ain't it? I talk like a bro. This is bro talk, ain't it? Eyes here, ain't I?” The dining hall gasped. Kali's eyes flashed. The whites stared. The Hispanics looked up from their trays. Except for some clanging in the kitchen, the dining hall din stopped -replaced by a nervous quiet. Then a tiny smile crept onto Kali's face at the new white meat's death-defying originality. He let out a belly laugh that resounded through the hall. The black section started laughing. Thinking that Billy had insulted the blacks and gotten away with it, the whites joined in. The Hispanics, relieved, went back to eating. Guards stationed around the hall looked dumbfounded. A fight they knew. A fight they could handle. But what was this? “Sit down, my man,” Kali said, motioning for the table to make room. “Right here, beside me.” “Thank you.” He sat down beside Kali Muhammad and finished his meal-- fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn -- without incident. And he received not only an overview of how things worked at Granite School, but also the tacit protection of the school's biggest and most powerful gang: the Black Knights. Within hours of his arrival, the kid had stared down Death in the form of Angel Santiago; and, by entertaining the most powerful inmate at Granite City School, Kali Muhammad, he had become politically connected -- or so he thought. *** The next morning, after hours of sleeplessness because of keeping one eye on Santiago,

Billy found out just how important connections are in a maximum security juvenile detention center. In the showers, Durk Coogan and members of his merry band surrounded him. They pushed him into a corner of the showers out of the guard's view. Durk dropped a bar of soap. “OOPS -- pick it up, boy.” “Leave it,” came a sharp voice. It was Kali Muhammad, flanked by several Black Knights twirling towels. CRACK! Kali snapped his towel against the shower wall. “He's mine. Guess nobody told you. You cool with that, Durk?” Durk looked at Billy. He looked at Kali. He made a quick mental count of white naked bodies and black naked bodies. The Black Knights had his White Aryans handily outnumbered. “Cool,” Durk said. The white gang drifted away. Billy reached down and picked up the soap and flipped it to Durk. “Forgot your soap,” he said. Kali looked Billy over head to toe -- and, at that moment, Billy realized what was going on. The gangs were fighting over him! “You sure are put together, ain't you my man?” “Ah ... uh ... Kali, I have something to tell you. I ain't no chicken, you know baby.” This time the act didn't fly. Twirling the towel, Kali placed himself in Billy's face. He snapped the towel sideways. Cra-a-a-ck! “You is what I say you is. Got that white boy?” “No.” “Say what?” “No.” “You ain't got no respect, boy.” Kali stretched out his towel and circled Billy. The Black Knights gathered around. Billy did a rapid-fire risk/reward calculation. It left him lying naked and dead on the shower room floor. “Okay, okay.” “Tonight, your place,” Kali said. He broke into a big smile. “Unless you're goin' out somewhere.” The Black Knights left, laughing.