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George Pollock

State Kid
Issue 41
An Abandoned Prisoner

With some difficulty, guards strapped the prisoner introduced as Jean Valjean into a chair,
while everybody in the dining hall stared at the creature. Just as Billy opened his mouth
to speak, sounds of commotion came from outside.
“What's that? Go find out.”
An inmate hurried out of the hall and was quickly back. “There's an army out there..”
“I don't think they'll attack. There are cops in here. They don't kill their own kind. What is
it, staties or national guard or both?”
“You don't understand. They're people..”
“Hundreds. From the East Side. They got signs. They're chanting.”
Billy had hoped for support from the East Side, but had not counted on it.
“We have a chance,” he whispered to Vera. To the inmate, he said, “Open the doors. Let
in as many as we can fit.” Then, too softly for anybody to hear and to no one in particular,
he said, “The more people in here, the safer we are.”
“What if they start ...?”
“Lock'em up.”
The inmate hesitated.
“Look, we have a prison to run. Now go. Wait. Don't seat anybody if I'm talking. Go.”
Billy rose and motioned for quiet.
“It seems that concerned citizens from the East Side are outside exercising the rights of
assembly and free speech. Director Carson has invited in as many of them as fire codes
will permit. Ah, I see some are coming in now. Welcome. Sit wherever you like. Help
yourself to coffee and pastries.”
As the people from outside filed in and found seats, Billy noted the discomfiture around
the head table. Community Dialogue Day had become an open forum and Carson and his
fellow head-tableists now had little room for maneuver. For the first time since the
uprising began, Billy felt, if not safe, at least not on a road to certain doom. A place
packed with innocents is as good as a fortress. Plus, he had picked up additional
firepower -- some East Side men had guns.
Billy approached the head table with a livelier step.
With a sweep of a hand toward “Jean Valjean,” Billy said, “No, this is not Jean Valjean.
He is Emiliano Cervantes. But when I see him, I think of Jean Valjean, the convict in
Victor Hugo's novel, Les Miserables. I was finishing the last pages of the novel in the
day-room about the same time that Julio de Cruz was killed. That's why I didn't see the
murderous act. Emiliano Cervantes and Jean Valjean have much in common, as you will
“Let me tell you a little bit about Emiliano. He is 17 and has been in Granite City for
three years. He has spent all but a few months of this time in the shoe, which is short for
Secured Housing Unit. That's the maximum-security section where boys are kept who are
considered too dangerous to be in the general population. When he first came here,
Emiliano broke every rule in this institution. He got into fights. He destroyed things. He
threw chairs and trays at staff and other students. He had bookings this thick. He was put
in the shoe where he has been since.
“What is his life like in the shoe? He's locked up twenty-three and a half hours a day. He
spends a half hour a day in the rec yard by himself. He takes medications for anxiety and
depression. All medications, food and other necessities are brought to his cell and shoved
through a slot. He eats with his fingers because, if given a spoon, he would use it as a
weapon. He's given a supervised shower twice a week. His hair is long and matted
because cutting it would be dangerous for staff. For the safety of others, he does not
attend classes or recreational activities. His main amusement is cussing the staff, taunting
them and playing head games with them. He tries to pull them closer so he can throw
food, urine, and his own solid waste at them.
“This is Emiliano's life all day every day. To be leading such a life, one would naturally
assume that Emiliano Cervantes must have committed some awful crimes. One would be
mistaken. However, he did commit extremely bad judgment in picking a father who
would be murdered when he was an infant and a mother who would be too poor and too
afraid of life to care for a baby. And so baby Emiliano became a ward of the state of
Massachusetts, beginning an odyssey of living with strangers in exactly 26 different
homes before running away at age 14.
“He never had a mother to love him, or a father, or anyone else. Emiliano went through
babyhood, toddlerhood, childhood and early adolescence with strangers who took him in
for money and who cared more about the family dog. And now he faces adulthood alone
and caged like an animal. After being caught, he was sent straight to Granite City School.
Why? The short answer is because he was without family, alone, and powerless. But there
was another reason -- sinister and outrageous -- about which we will hear shortly.
Billy walked over to Emiliano and stood beside him.
“Emiliano Cervantes is not a worm ... or a goat ... or a tree; he is the same as each of us --
a thinking and feeling human being with a beating heart pumping warm blood through his
veins. He is a child of God with an eternal soul. To me, he is also family because I have
taken Emiliano Cervantes as my brother.“
Not used to such selfless sentiments, all at the head table took on various expressions of
pain and embarrassment, except for Dr. Bridges, whose bystander expression did not
change. Skepticism swept through the press. People of all loyalties looked around,
wondering openly what to make of Billy's overdone gesture.
Not the inmate guards, however. Spontaneously, they shouted, “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!”
while pumping fists in the air. TV cameras panned to them. Prodded by their captors,
Carson's guards added their approval of Billy's expressions of brotherhood toward one
sorry sight of a prisoner.
Emiliano struggled to talk through his gag.
“You want to say something, Emiliano?”
He nodded his head yes.
“Can you behave?”
He nodded.
“If not, the gag goes back on. Understand?”
He nodded again.
Billy motioned for a guard to remove the gag. Emiliano cleared his throat. He coughed.
He motioned for Billy to come closer. As soon as Billy did, he spat in his face and
laughed hysterically.
The assembly groaned en masse.
My God! Did you see that?
Vera shrieked and rushed to Billy. The inmate guards slapped the gag back on Emiliano.
Vera untied her red flag and wiped Billy's face with it.
“Thank you, Vera. Pleasant fellow, isn't he?”
Vera went over to Emiliano, gave him a look to slice flesh to the bone, and slapped his
face with every ounce of her body weight behind the blow. CRACK! The slap
reverberated throughout the hall.
The motley audience gasped as one. Hand on his face, Emiliano sat bug-eyed with
disbelief. Captain O'Toole's right index finger went to the side of his nose. Mouths at the
head table hung open.
“Vera!” Billy said.
“He deserved it.”
Billy whispered, “Yes, but we're on TV, you know.”
“I don't care.”
“Look, no more of that, okay?”
“Okay, but he deserved it.”
Billy returned to addressing the assembly at large.
“Now, should I spit in Emiliano's face? Give him payback, as we say here? Teach him
consequences as they say in behavior-mod class? Good idea -- if I want to legitimize such
behavior ...if I want to degrade myself and further victimize Emiliano ... if I want to
demonstrate beyond a doubt that we both belong here. No, I'll just say that we have both
been victims long enough.
“Now, to continue. As I said earlier, Emiliano Cervantes and Jean Valjean have much in
common. First, Jean Valjean was not a criminal and neither is Emiliano Cervantes. Jean
Valjean stole a loaf of bread for his starving family and went to the galleys for 19 years.
But it was not he who had committed a crime. The true criminals were the blind
worshippers of the law who permitted and condoned cruelty and injustice against Jean
Valjean. Today, nearly two hundred years later, we should know better but Emiliano
Cervantes is living proof that we do not.”
Billy picked up a folder and flipped through it.
“Thanks to files from Director Carson's office and research by Debra Florsheim of the
Sentinel, I have here a document trail of Emiliano Cervantes' journey to where he is
today. Now, I am fully aware that because of his age -- only 17 --and privacy rights,
Granite City School may not lawfully make such information public. Director Carson
expressly does not do so. I do. I take full responsibility for waiving these rights in the
case of my brother Emiliano Cervantes. It is the only way he will receive justice.
Therefore, copies are being provided to the press and the head table.
“Looking at this record, I find repeated references to things like 'picks fights with natural
children'... 'disobedient and disruptive when he can't get his own way'... 'refuses to follow
household rules'... 'quick to anger and use abusive language'... 'tends to act out as a means
of getting attention.'”
Billy closed the folder.
“The picture I get is of a kid who was so desperate for love that he became a royal pain in
the neck trying to get it. I think there is no question he got into fights. He was disruptive.
He told people off in language that nice people do not use. He was not an easy or likeable
kid, as we have just seen. I also think it is fair to say that nearly three years in the shoe
have not done much for him in the way of improvement.
“But in studying this documentation, do you know what I found most remarkable? When
he was caught after running away, he was found with a bag of cocaine and a gun. No
suggestion of previous involvement with guns or drugs, and then, BAM! -- he's into
Billy walked up and down in front of the head table.
“In the context of what we have seen this morning, is that believable? I think not. Like
Julio de Cruz, like my eight brothers sitting here, Emiliano Cervantes was set up. He had
nobody to defend him and there he sits. He doesn't look innocent, doesn't act innocent,
but he is innocent.”
He put a sheath of papers before Captain O'Toole.
“Here is information that I believe will establish the actual circumstances of Emiliano's
incarceration. Copies are being distributed to the press and appropriate authorities.”
Billy walked over to Emiliano. In booming voice, he said, “Justice demands the
immediate release of Emiliano Cervantes! Judge Salera of Juvenile Court has the
authority and the moral obligation to issue the order of release.”
He returned to where eight other inmates and Vera sat. “Let me now introduce other
innocents who must be let out of this place forthwith.” In turn, he placed his hand on the
shoulder of each of them as he called out their names: “Roberto De Jesus, Booker T.
James, Julius Cardoso, Horacio Gonzalez, Hector Ramirez, John Jones, Philip E. Tyler,
Thomas Gurney and myself, Billy Stone. Judge Salera, exercise the responsibilities of
your great office -- and release us.”
Looking into the TV cameras, Billy said, “Your Honor, let a standard of justice go forth
from this city to humble hallowed halls and writ. Put on notice all who would use law to
club the poor and the powerless. Let the banner of justice raised here today be seen
waving across this dear land. Take up your pen and strike! Set us free with a mighty