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George Pollock

State Kid
Issue 39
The Curtain Rises

They did the gladiator walk.

Inmate guards front and rear, Billy Stone, prisoner, and William Carson, prison director,
walked side by side down the long corridor leading to the dining hall. Billy's fancy Italian
suit and the rich old-leather briefcase he carried, given to him by David Weatherall,
cloaked his woundedness and desperation. Carson, his face drained of expression,
masked a profound fear of public humiliation.
“I've been rough on you,” Billy said. “I'm sorry. But I can't take no for an answer any
more. I hope you understand. I don't belong here and neither do you. Help me get out and
so help me God, you'll be Governor of Massachusetts.”
Carson, on the verge of a trip to the vomitorium, stared straight ahead and said nothing.
“Do nothing and say nothing until I give you the signal.”
They entered the dining hall to a scene out of a Hollywood movie. The cavernous space
was set up like a courtroom. At the head table, where the judge's bench would be, sat a
smiling Congressman Waters, a fidgeting Captain O'Toole, a composed Dr. Sam Bridges,
a nervous Father Colahan and an assured Dr. Allan Kurlan, who was in his element.
A petulant Dr. Kurlan had invited himself after hearing from Fairview students that a
“symposium” was being held at Granite City School. As an authority on juvenile
criminals, Dr. Kurlan couldn't imagine such a symposium without him. Also, viewing the
school as a trove of original material for his professional papers and books, he liked to
keep a proprietary eye on developments.
To one side of the head table, where the jury would be, was a roped-off section holding a
gaggle of reporters. Facing the head table was a row of tables where, in a courtroom,
lawyers would sit with their clients. Billy headed there while Director Carson took a seat
at the center of the head table, safely between Dr. Bridges and Father Colahan. A half
dozen still photographers crouched on the floor in front of the lawyer's table. Positioned
around the hall were TV reporters holding mikes, some talking into cameras.
“Why wasn't I told about this sooner?” Dr. Kurlan complained to Carson as soon as the
Director sat down.
“Sorry. It was put together quickly to fit the Congressman's schedule.”
“Good thing I have my ear to the ground.”
The large hall was packed tightly with improbable table-mates. All mixed in together
were: inmates and Fairview University students, both groups in white shirts and ties; East
Side mothers sitting with their inmate sons; and a few Granite City School teaching staff,
among them David Weatherall. At the rear of the hall, SWAT troopers in black assault
outfits and riot gear gathered tentatively around their commander, Captain James Morrill.
In the front, directly behind Billy, a group of uniformed officers from the Fairview Police
department sat together searching Captain O'Toole's expression for a clue as to why they
were there and what they should do next.
“Good idea beefing up the police presence,” Dr. Kurlan said, leaning over to Captain
O'Toole. “Give this lot too much leeway and you're asking for trouble.”
“Yea, thanks,” Captain O'Toole said.
The guards on duty this morning were unlikely, to say the least. Real school guards in
blue shirts with American flag shoulder patches and black ties were paired off with
inmate guards in the white shirts and ties. Carson's guards, fresh from a jail cell and a
crash course on the merits of not trying to be a hero, were loaded to the gills with
incentives to keep a low profile. Inmate guards, weapons concealed under their shirts,
reveled in the unfamiliar upper hand. These odd couples, stationed around the hall as
“ushers,” kept a mordant eye on each other.
Debra Florsheim was not at the lawyer's table where Billy had asked her to be. Billy
looked around for her and spotted her in the reporter's section, waving demurely and
mouthing, “I can't. Sorry.”
Okay, he had to sit alone.
He took his seat at the lawyer's table in a setting that, though of his own making, had
certainly fallen off the edge of the world. Carson studied him, looking for a way out of
his box of torment.
Billy shuddered, hit by a rush of cold fear. He felt a powerful urge to run out of there,
find a far corner somewhere and curl up.
This whole thing is insane! It'll never work! It can't work!
The noisy hall settled down. Soon the only sound was the clicking of cameras, most
aimed at the smartly-attired Billy Stone. Still, Billy made no move. His breaths came
quicker, shallower. Details of an intricate choreography raced through his mind.
How could he remember everything he had to say? Why wouldn't the inmates just start
fighting each other the way they always do when given the slightest chance? How could
he expect dumb felons who had never been responsible in their lives to act with discipline
now? How could it all go right? Carson's not going to go along with this! His guards
won't just stand there doing nothing! The police are going to make their move any
second! What was he thinking?

Premonitions of disaster rang in his head like mission bells. His head ached. Thoughts
flew in a jumbled mess. He moved his head side to side. He rotated it. His mouth felt
parched, sticky. With nothing happening, people began looking around.
Seeing Billy's distress, Carson thought: a chance. He was weighing moves to blow this
circus sky-high and take his school back when Vera entered the hall -- or, rather, strode in
like a Latin guerrilla fighter, wearing a white shirt and a black tie and a blood-red flag
tied defiantly at the knee of her jet-black slacks. She had on a war face lacking only a
knife between the teeth.
A murmer went up, word of her running having gone around. Vera's eyes flashed like
warning lights, first at her father and then at Director Carson. With a defiant toss of the
head, she lifted her chin high and went to Billy. She slid beside him.
“Hi,” she said in a breathy whisper.

“I'm so thirsty,” Billy said.

She called for a pitcher of water and an inmate brought it. She poured a glass and put
Billy's hand around it and gently guided the rim to his lips. Her hand on his, she tipped
the water down his throat and he took every drop.
“You look soooooo sexy,” she said in a low, smoky voice. “Feel better?”
“Yes, thank you,” Billy said, managing a weak smile.
“I will stay with you -- if you want me to.”
“Yes. I can't think. I'm so ... so ....”
“Afraid? If you weren't, you couldn't be brave, could you? Now I want you to do
“Start.” She squeezed his hand. “You're not alone any more.”
Billy drew a deep breath, letting the air out slowly. He shook his shoulders and squared
them. Then, as if a heavenly hand had been placed on his tempested head, fear rose up
from him and floated away and a calmness descended over him. He fixed a flint eye on
Carson and, like a director on a movie set, fired an index finger at him.
Carson rose. He looked out over the incongruent assemblage, clicking cameras, TV
cameras with their little red lights on and TV reporters and producers scurrying about. He
cleared his throat. He looked at Billy. He glanced at Billy's lieutenants, who put right
hands meaningfully under their shirts. He swallowed. From the paper Billy had given
him, Carson read:
“Distinguished head table guests, parents of students, police officers, school staff, and
students of Granite City School and Fairview University. I am pleased to welcome you
this morning to Community Dialogue Day here at the school. To those of you expecting
some kind of student uprising, I'm sorry. I hope you are not too disappointed.”
As planned, the inmates, the East Side Moms and Fairview students laughed as if it was
the funniest thing they had ever heard. After nudging by inmate guards, Carson's guards
joined the mirthful appreciation of the Director's quickly addressing -- and lightly
dismissing -- thoughts of anything amiss at Granite City School.
“Uprising?” Dr. Kurlan said to Dr. Bridges. “I didn't hear anything about an uprising.”
“A rumor,” Dr. Bridges said.
With laughter, the hall breathed easily.
A precarious mood stabilized into ... into what? Into what you would expect at a
Community Dialogue Day: normalcy. Three sentences crafted by Billy Stone, and backed
up by noisy theatricality, had fabricated an appropriate mood for the occasion.
The TV cameras rolled.
As they did, simple options like “take them” disappeared for Director Carson and
Captains O'Toole and Morrill. Carson had a thicket of guns to his head. Captain Morrill's
assault force had been turned into mush. Captain O'Toole stared down the barrel of the
most fearsome gun of all: his own daughter sitting there hugging the enemy and giving
him water. There was also enough weaponry in the place to guarantee a bloodbath should
a shot be fired.
That would be just a swell sight on TV, especially against inmates in white shirts and ties
hovering over guests like attentive waiters, bringing the police coffee refills, addressing
them as “Sir” and appearing indistinguishable as targets from university students; and
against a lawyerly, impeccably-tailored facilitator, not to mention mothers.
Moreover, the police saw nothing to indicate that Community Dialogue Day was
anything but what it seemed, a legitimate -- though highly unusual -- event. The
commander of the assault force, Captain Morrill, had pumped Captain O'Toole for
information and had gotten nothing different from what he saw with his own eyes.
Hearing Carson, seeing their own Captain O'Toole sitting at the head table along with
respected community leaders, looking around at super-polite inmates in white shirts and
ties, embarrassed police wondered how their leaders' information could have been so
Carson's guards-- though cowed, confused, fearful-- saw their leader up there exhibiting
calm lightheartedness; and they too succumbed to appearances, though
uncomprehendingly. So ringingly authentic was the scene that flashes of doubt struck
even inmates who actually pulled off the uprising:
Maybe it didn't happen. Maybe I been high. Maybe I'm still high. Hell, who cares? This
Community Dialogue Day is a good idea, man.
Something mystical had happened. What should have been by all rights a transparent
farce to all present had instead been turned into a triumph of transcendentalism. An
inmate uprising had been turned into a joke. A Billy Stone mise-en-scene had
metamorphosed into an apparently upstanding public event. Dissemblance had become
The human mind can be fragile in grasping what is real and what is not real. On this
particular morning in the dining hall at Granite City School, the prisoner Billy Stone had
authored a play in real life causing a mass walkout of empirical common sense. He had
created, well, theatre.
We are now in the realm of magicians, actors and comedians.
The curtain rises ...
Director Carson and Captain O'Toole have an unhappy choice: Challenge the farce and
risk a bloody gun battle, certain to hurt innocents and cause themselves to appear on
national television as brute incompetents and criminals; or go along and be exposed by
Billy Stone on national television as brute incompetents and criminals. Their best option,
it seems, is to make the best possible use of the television time.
Before a packed house and a vast TV audience, they have been entrapped in a war of wits
with an inmate who has seized the initiative and given them only choices they cannot
take. In this corner -- Billy Stone; state kid, indigent, juvenile offender, prisoner,
litterateur, dramaturge (with the present play being his first), rhetorician, officially
troubled, desperate, determined to live free or die.
His opponent -- the forces of law and order; powerful, vast financial resources, masters
and keepers of the law, deliverers of violent retribution, arbiters of right and wrong, high
priests of the sacred cultural flame, determined to prevail over criminals and all other
scourges of good, God-fearing, patriotic, hard-working, tax-paying, family people.
At first glance, the contest may seem to be lopsided against the kid. In the past, it has
been -- which is why Billy Stone is in juvenile prison. But today young Billy Stone is
taking pages from the book they have been throwing at him. He is hand-feeding the
ravenous media beast, thereby creating custom images and information and controlling
their flow. He is altering appearances, thereby altering perceptions and therefore reality.
He is doing one thing and acting as if he were doing another, thereby sowing confusion.
He is flirting with violence, though, thus far, without resorting to it, thereby instilling
fear. He is denying cover or retreat, thereby forcing his enemies to stand and fight on his
terms, with weapons of his choice. Having learned that truth and overwhelming argument
can repeatedly fail to prevail, he will skip the persuasion step -- and render the truth self-
evident to all.
He signals for Carson to continue. The Director, apparently having caught a political
fever, speaks Billy's words with what seems like genuine conviction:
“Why Community Dialogue Day? Why now? We recently had a tragic incident resulting
in the death of an inmate, Julio de Cruz. Julio's mother is here today. I know we all join
in offering Mrs. de Cruz our most heartfelt condolences. Madam, I know that even in
your grief and understandable anger, you have many questions about how this tragedy
could have happened. We at the school, law enforcement authorities and others in the
community also have questions. We are all here to seek answers to these questions in an
open, respectful and cooperative way. That is what Community Dialogue Day is all
about. Without further ado, I now invite today's facilitator, Billy Stone, to rise and
commence the proceedings. The floor is yours, Mr. Stone.”
Vera squeezes Billy's hand. He stands, walks through the photographers, to the head table
and shakes hands with Director Carson.
“Congratulations,” Billy whispers, “Governor.”
Billy turns and looks around the hall. He takes plenty of time. The huge hall is expectant
and, with even throat-clearers and coughers now quiet, eerily silent. He has never seen so
many faces looking at him at once.
So this is what it is like to to be famous. The audience sits there eagerly like a dog
waiting to be fed. As a foster child, he would have been deliriously happy for an audience
of one; now he has an audience of hundreds, plus photographers jostling to take his
picture, plus TV cameras beaming his picture to who knows how many thousands.
Mr. Caulfield had been right: Everybody deserves an audience. The sheer exhilaration of
it all brings an involuntary smile to Billy's face -- sweeping away fears, infusing him with
Without consulting his notes, he speaks in a loud, sure voice: “On behalf of Director
Carson, I welcome you all to Community Dialogue Day at Granite City School. First, I
would like to thank Director Carson for all his support and encouragement in making this
day possible. Let's give him a nice round of applause.”
As planned, the inmates whoop and holler and clap and whistle. The rest of the hall is
drawn in. The result is a reception for, well, a popular candidate for Governor of
Massachusetts. While he himself claps, Billy asks Carson to stand and he does, beaming
and mugging for the cameras like a natural-born politician.
“Next, I'd like to introduce the head table. Kindly hold your applause until all have been
introduced. I would ask each head table guest to stand when introduced” Billy goes to the
end of the head table and stands before the Congressman. “Congressman Bruce Waters. A
graduate of Fairview University and a Congressman for this district in Washington D.C.
for the past seven years, Congressman Waters has worked hard to improve the juvenile
justice system. His door is always open to constituents.”
Then Billy moves down the panel, introducing each member in turn.
“Dr. Allan Kurlan, Professor of Psychology at Fairview University. He's an outstanding
teacher and scholar and an acknowledged authority on the criminal mind. He knows what
you're thinking, guys. I recently found out myself just how good Professor Kurlan is. He
gave me some psychological tests and, sure enough, they showed that I was very
distoibed. Seriously, we are honored to have Professor Kurlan with us today.”
“Dr. Sam Bridges is a surgeon and head of the Department of Emergency Medicine at
Fairview Memorial Hospital. Dr. Bridges is also a graduate of Fairview University where
he was the first recipient of the Caulfield Scholarship which is given each year to
outstanding students who might otherwise not have the opportunity for higher education.
The Caulfield Scholarship Fund has never made a better investment. Thank you, Dr.
Bridges, for taking the time to be here today.”
“Mr. William Carson, Director of Granite City School for the past five years. He has had
a record here distinguished by his devotion to and education, especially in the area of
vocational training. Thanks to Director Carson, this is a real school where the students
can learn and make positive change.”
“Father Thom Colahan is a much-loved and respected parish priest at St. Sebastian's. His
devotion to his parishioners knows no bounds. He has been known to leave the rectory
late at night to follow up on a lead about the whereabouts of a young runaway. Father,
this panel is surely elevated by your presence. Thank you.”
“Captain O'Toole is a veteran police officer with the Fairview Police department. In
fourteen years with the department, Captain O'Toole has worked his way up from
walking a beat to his present position as a ranking commander. He has a reputation for
the highest standards of integrity and professionalism. Among his many responsibilities,
he is commander of the Special Drug Unit. We thank you, Captain, for being with us
With the entire head table introduced and standing, Billy turns to the audience and says
with a sweep of the arm,“ Let's hear it for our distinguished panel!”
The applause is loud and enthusiastic.
“Now, with your permission, Director Carson,” Billy said, nodding deferentially toward
Carson, “we'll begin. I would like to invite Mrs. Serafina de Cruz to come forward.”
Mrs. de Cruz gets up and makes her way to the front where Billy brings her a chair and
seats her to one end of the panel, near Congressman Waters, facing the press across the
room and with the audience to her right. An inmate brings a little table and places it
beside her. A second inmate brings a pitcher of water and pours her a glass.
Billy walks over to her, smiles warmly, and says, “Good morning, Mrs. de Cruz.”
“Good morning, Billy. You look like a movie star!”
Laughs ripple through the hall. At the head table, however, only Congressman Waters
“Why, thank you, Mrs. de Cruz.”
Billy looks directly into the Channel Nine TV Camera. “All you movie directors out there
-- you heard the lady. I also happen to be available for the right role!”
Laughter and whistles fill the assembly. At the head table, Dr. Bridges, Dr. Kurlan and
Congressman Waters produce small smiles. Flashing a million-watt smile, Billy waits for
quiet, then says, “Now, Mrs. de Cruz, I sincerely apologize for intruding upon your grief.
I know this is very difficult for you, but what you tell us will honor Julio's memory and
help others just like him.”
“Thank you for the good things you say about my Julio,” Mrs. de Cruz said, fighting
tears. “He was a good boy.” She takes out a handkerchief and dabs her eyes.
“Now, Mrs. de Cruz, when you are ready, could you please tell us why your son, Julio de
Cruz, was sent to Granite City School.”