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George Pollock

State Kid
Issue 17
Nothing to Lose

Billy lay on his bunk alone in his cell -- Angel having disappeared as a roommate --
pondering his appointment that night with Kali Muhammad. He thought, What a
difference a day makes.
Yesterday at this time he was at Mr. Caulfield's place showing Joy Stojak through the
castle after an unlikely trio's carefree evening of inspired madness. Now Mr. Caulfield
was dead, Joy was God-knows-where, and he was finally caged -- and fighting to stay
The Stojak place was not bottom after all; it was not even close. This was bottom, an
upside-down world in which keepers control the locks and keys, but inmates decide who
gets toweled and who gets respect -- the currency of choice, more valuable than money.
Bottom was Kali Muhammad and Angel Santiago and Durk Coogan intimidating
everybody around them, dispensing protection and an array of petty privileges, from
bigger portions in the chow line to reserved seats in the dining hall to access to sweets,
cigarettes, and drugs. Granite School for Boys was a jungle following the rule of the
jungle: the strong feed off the weak.
Inmates swagger like gunslingers, arms out, nostrils flaring. They squint and glower like
Clint Eastwood. Billy attributed his survival thus far to luck, with perhaps a
psychological edge thrown in that no one would aspire to, not even the Granite City
condemned: He had nothing to lose.
He had been able to leverage it with Angel Santiago. But what about tonight when Kali
Muhammad comes calling? All at once, Billy felt worn out. He had hardly slept his first
night in the place between keeping one eye on Angel and tormenting images of Mr.
Caulfield lying grotesquely twisted in no-man's land. He closed his eyes.
It was early afternoon, barely twenty-four hours since he had arrived.
A nightstick banged on the bars. Billy jumped up, fists at ready.
“Relax,” a guard said, unlocking the cell.
Two guards came in, patted him down, and fitted Billy with handcuffs and leg chains as
casually as if they were helping him on with his coat.
“You're coming with us. The Director wants to see you.”
“Are these necessary?”
“No talking.”
In an automatic drill, the two guards put Billy between them and, holding him firmly at
the elbows, marched him down bare, sickly-yellow corridors. They went through two sets
of dungeon-like doors that the guards unlocked and locked behind them, before reaching
the door to the Director's office. A guard gave the door a respectful tap.
“Enter,” came a voice from inside.
They went in. The office was large, with a high ceiling, and big windows that flooded the
room with natural light. Potted plants taller than Billy and a long gleaming oval
conference table gave the office the feel of a corporate board room. The guards placed
Billy in a small chair in front of a carved, dark mahogany desk with not a paper on it, and
at which Director William Carson sat inspecting the latest placement to Granite City
School for Boys.
The Director sat swathed in authority and light. He wore a serious gray suit and maroon
tie. He looked like a Marine Corps Drill Instructor on temporary duty, who was not
completely comfortable in his civvies. He was a big bass drum of a man, square-jawed,
mouth turned down, large chin thrust out. He had sparse brush-cut reddish hair and small,
deep-set green eyes -- and a bead on Billy.
Billy's attention went right past the Director to the big bay window. It framed a bright,
color-splashed fall afternoon. The great branches of a massive maple just outside the
window creaked and swayed in a rowdy north wind. Its curled, crispy leaves rattled and
some broke off and helicoptered to the ground. Billy imagined himself out there lounging
on the grass, looking up lazily at the leafy show, dreaming about girls and billowing
buffets, before returning home to a family that loved him.
Why wasn't he out there? Why wasn't that his life?
“I'm sorry about the restraints,” the Director said. “Just a precaution that we have to take
with every new student, at least until we come to, uh, shall we say, an understanding.”
Billy's attention was still on the window.
“I'm talking to you.”
“Yes, sorry. I was just admiring your view. Very nice.”
“Thank you. Well ...” The Director cleared his throat. “I have read your files. You have a
sorry record.” The Director took out a manila folder and opened it. “In addition to
previous charges of assault, willful destruction of private property, and unlawful flight,
you've added the following new charges: assault of Mr. Frank P. Stojak, forceful
abduction of Miss Joy Stojak, resisting arrest, attempted homicide of police officers,
discharging an unregistered weapon, willful destruction of city and state property, and
abuse and sale of drugs.”
“High-grade cocaine powder was found in your pockets.”
“That's ridiculous. I never go near drugs.”
“Of course you don't.”
“It's a set-up.”
“I understand -- you're a victim.”
“Yes, I am. I also have a right to make a phone call.”
“Making a phone call is a privilege, given as a reward for good behavior. I feel sure that
you will earn a phone call soon, maybe even this month.” Displaying his handcuffs, Billy
said, “What about these?”
“They go when we feel that you are no longer a danger to others. In time, I hope you will
be able to join the general population. You will have plenty of chance to show us your ...
your willingness to cooperate. This is a school. You'll go to regular classes. We have
mandatory anger-management programs, life-skills classes, vocation classes, and sports.
We also have a drug-abuse program. Your first session is tomorrow.”
“Maybe I'll finally be able to kick my drug habit.”
“I hope you will. It will be up to you. By the way, you made the front page of the
He held up the paper. The front page had a picture of Billy being escorted from Juvenile
Court while being jeered by onlookers, with the headline:
“Front-page treatment. Impressive notoriety. This was real good news to folks around
here. You ticked off lots of people with those phony letters to the Sentinel.” Billy reached
for the paper. The Director pulled it away. “Oh, I don't think so. Newspapers are a
privilege. Tell me who wrote those letters for you and maybe I'll let you look at the
“Mr. Caulfield.”
“Exactly what I thought.”
He handed Billy the paper. Billy took in the front page story at a glance. He turned the
pages to the rest of the story, which he speed-read. He handed the paper back.
“Aren't you going to read it?”
“I did. All those quotes from Stojak are garbage.”
“Well, write a letter to the editor. It's a shame old man Caulfield isn't here to write it for
you. But, since he's not, there's not much you can do about it, is there?”
“That kid in my cell last night. Why was he there?”
“Your room. It's your room. Yes, Angel Santiago. He's on the orientation committee. I
hear the two of you got on nicely.”
“We did, but only after I told him I'd kill him if he made a move on me.” Billy said it
“You've got a sense of humor. That's good.”
“Yeah, Angel thought it was funny, too. It sort of broke the ice. Kali Muhammad is
coming to my cell, er, room, tonight. Is he on the orientation committee, too?”
“You know, I think I'm oriented enough. Angel gave me a good overview. He described
the cottage system, the programs, the rules, how things work. I got it. I appreciate the
attention, but Kali doesn't have to bother.”
“No bother. I know Kali doesn't mind.”
“Er, warden ...”
“Director. This is a school, not a jail.”
“Sorry, Director. You know, I'd just as soon not have Kali in my room. I think we have a
bit of a personality conflict, nothing serious. But why ask for hurt feelings?”
“I'll tell him that. Be good feedback for him. We all need feedback in order to improve.
Okay, that's it.”
Director Carson motioned to the guards who grabbed Billy and pulled him to his feet.
The Director got up, walked around the desk and, drawing himself up to full military
bearing, stood in front of Billy. “It's this way. Clean up your act and you can do okay
here. Don't and, well, it would be better for you if you did. It's all in your own hands.”
“That's very good to know. Thank you.”
“Take him back.”
The guards turned Billy around and they started out. “Oh, one more thing,” the Director
said. “Don't try to run. Many have tried. No one has ever made it.”
“I have an offer for you,” Billy said, oblivious to his laughably weak bargaining position
clamped between two guards.
The Director chuckled. “You're in no position to offer deals, son.”
“Things go on here that you don't know about.”
“Take him back.”

Within an hour, Billy was back in the Director's office.

The Director said, “You have something to tell me?”
Billy looked at the guards. The Director dismissed them.
“You have a gang problem. I can help.”
“There is no gang problem.”
“Call off Kali tonight. If he comes, my guess is at least one corpse, maybe two -- and then
lots of people around here asking questions.”
“Is that all?”
“No. There is more, a lot more.”
“Call off Kali and I give you an earful.”
That night, Kali did not show up. Billy slept undisturbed in his private cell, er, room.