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George Pollock

State Kid
Issue 24
“Hey World, I'm Innocent!”

He had come out of Seg with steely resolutions:
Tell the world.
Make them listen.
Force them to act.
Analysis had been as follows:
Worst-case scenario: I die.
Best-case scenario: I walk.
Risk/Reward: Favorable.
Young Billy Stone was to put to the test the idea that justice can be discretionary for those
on the fringes of society -- the unfamilied, the weak, the crushed, and the accepting. He
was to seek victory over perfidy, falsehoods, bad fortune, apathy, artificial barriers,
human weakness, thoughtlessness, and inequality. And he would take the war to them.
Main strategy: Beat them over the head with a stiff cudgel of facts and reason until they
sink to their knees; and then, pry open their mouths and shove the truth down their
throats. If they pass out, stick an IV into them and let truth serum flow straight to the
mindset. The goal: to make the juvenile justice system wretch -- in a sort of Heimlich
Maneuver -- and spit him out.
These are not nice images. Neither is juvenile prison nice. Nor is what an innocent inmate
has to do to get out of juvenile prison nice. For everybody except Billy, his getting put in
juvenile prison had been nice. He had sat there like a cipher at one hurried hearing at
which the judge, a social worker, and police officers discussed his fate as if he were not
even present -- and they put him in juvenile prison, with lots of easy banter, like sending
out for coffee.
No, at this next hearing it was not going to be so nice for them. They would be sitting
there feeling pukey with tummies upset from having been force-fed big, acidy,
indigestible gobs of truths. And, with the whole world having the same facts, the juvenile
justice system would throw him up as fast as it had swallowed him.
That was Billy's thinking, anyway. Had Seg addled his brain? We will see. The campaign
begins ...
***
No one can tell the world anything without the media. Truth, like everything else, is
manufactured and merchanted. It is then funneled through the media to the public. Billy
Stone had firsthand experience with the power of the media to shape public opinion. He
had watched the Sentinel run a series of articles about him based almost entirely on
falsehoods. Despite being thin on facts and heavy on speculation and innuendo, the
articles had been accepted as truth.
Voila! -- an instant tabloid image and a new demon to fear and curse as well as, at least
among pubescent rebels, a new renegade folk hero. So intense and widespread had the
publicity been during Billy's spectacular flight from justice that months after his capture,
as Vera O'Toole said, name recognition clung to him like stardust.
Billy had also noted that while people believed Sentinel stories proclaiming his guilt, they
dismissed his own long letters giving his side; letters to the editor were ten to one against
him. This was instructive. The Sentinel was credible; he was not. His message had to
come from the media, not from him.
That would take some doing. Professional journalists like to think that they are
“objective” and serve up only the truth. But, of course, they are human. Billy would have
to convince the ladies and gentlemen of the press that, in his case, every one of them
forgot the first lesson of Journalism 101: get the facts right. They would not easily own
up to such a humiliating failure, especially in a major story like Billy's.
Debra Florsheim, who had a regular Sentinel column called, “I Was Just Thinking,” had
not been party to the “news” stories demonizing Billy Stone. However, she had written a
bare-knuckle column asking why city hall, the police department, and the Department of
Social Services seemed to be “over-matched by a juvenile fugitive who obviously has
more brains than all of them put together.” She had called for his “capture without further
excuses.”
Still, Billy liked her feisty willingness to make the powers-that-be squirm. He liked her
apparent affinity for the truth even more. He left a message at the Sentinel asking her to
call “if you are interested in a statement about Captain O'Toole's use of force in the
Caulfield incident from someone who was there.”
Ms. Florsheim promptly returned Billy's call. She took his statement over the phone(after
first checking with Director Carson who had been informed by Billy of the possible call
and its content). A few days later, in a column discussing police force, she quoted Billy
extensively. She wrote: “Here is a case where even the juvenile perpetrator involved
recognized that the commander on the scene, Captain O'Toole had no choice but to use
deadly force and had, in fact, done everything in his power to avoid doing so.”
Though, as usual, he had been referred to as a “perpetrator,” Billy was pleased. He had
successfully delivered a message through the media. He had established personal contact
with a Sentinel columnist. He had given her something of value while asking for nothing
and speaking only of higher purposes. Debra Florsheim had been prepared for when Billy
had a message of his own to send, which would be soon.
The column also induced Vera to call, with good news and bad. The good news was that
Captain O'Toole was pleased with Billy's public defense of him. The bad news was that
Vera, seeing an opening, had told her father about visiting Billy and that “there was a
strong possibility” that he had two rogue officers in his command. “He hit the roof,” Vera
said. “I'm sorry, Billy. I got to lie low for a while.”
“Did you tell him what's happening with Joy?”
“No, I was afraid to bring up anything else.”
“I understand. Obey your father -- don't get in trouble. Just tell him that any time he
wants he can have the names of the cops plus hard proof. Tell him the truth is going to
come out with or without his cooperation, and it's coming out soon. Also, ask Joy to call
me. I want to tell her that everything is going to be okay soon.”
“Don't try to break out of there. They'll kill you.”
“Tell you what, I won't try if you call me once in a while. I like you, Vera. Be nice to talk
to you. Your Dad didn't say you couldn't call, did he?”
“Yes, he did.”
“Well, Vera, it's a free country. Call me anyway!”
And he slammed down the phone. The angry outburst, so different from his usual
controlled behavior, felt good. He did have a temper. He wondered if he should let the
angry fellow out of his cage more often.
***
In a public relations campaign worthy of the name, one manages information. To this end,
Billy began work on a document entitled “Billy Stone: The Factual Record.” It would be
the case for the defense. Unlike the Sentinel writers, he would make no pretense of
objectivity. Facts for him would be in. Facts against him -- such as his trouble-plagued
DSS file -- would be out.
It had worked for them.
He wrote in longhand on long yellow pads that his guard friend Wally Witkowski had
gotten him. When lights went out at 10:00 pm, he kept writing, feverishly, like a
condemned convict to be shot at dawn. Night after night, he wrote to exhaustion. During
the day, he carried the thick yellow pad around with him, revising what he had written the
night before.
Wally took the revised pages to David Weatherall who had them retyped at the university.
In fourteen days and nights of punishing writing and rewriting, the document -- actually a
book that ran over 117 manuscript pages -- was done. Step-by-step, he had described
what happened at Stojak's on the day of his escape; the night of his second encounter
with Mr. Stojak; and during his and Joy's overnight at Mr. Caulfield's.
Everything supporting his innocence was there: dates, places, names, direct quotes from
Mr. Stojak and previous foster parents, straight-A report cards, writing and grammar
awards, the absence of drugs. He summed up all the reasons why he had to be innocent,
with the final one being “a total lack of evidence against him and three witnesses who
know the truth.”
David Weatherall had copies made at McArthur Library. Billy's whole reading class was
pressed into duty collating the pages and placing them within smart sturdy covers
complete with spines supplied by Weatherall out of Granite City's education budget.
“You wrote a book,” Weatherall said. “It ought to look like a book. Do you realize that
you just wrote a biography in two weeks?”
“I feel like I've been run over by an 18-wheeler. My brain hurts. I didn't think it would be
so hard.”
“I read it. First, I'm really sorry for what you have gone through. I can't imagine it.”
“Well, it's as common as dirt.”
Weatherall shook his head. “Also, where did you learn to write like that?”
“I read a lot, you know that. Reading is how you learn to write. Or as my teacher, Sister
Francis Helen, used to say, 'You don't read, you don't write, you don't think, you don't
know anything, you might as well be dead.'”
“I can't believe this was possible in this country.”
“Depends on who you are, David. It's impossible for somebody like you, and I mean no
disrespect by that. It's very possible for someone like me and ... ” He gestured at the other
inmates in the library where they were talking. “... and like them.”
“I'm willing to help-- that is, if you want my help.”
Billy took Weatherall's hand and pressed it within his two hands. “I want your help very,
very much, David. The truth is, I'm desperate for it. Since you offered, I have a request--
a shameless one.”
“What am I getting into?”
“I want you to pull strings until your hands are bloody.”
“As luck would have it, that's my specialty, learned on my old man's knee.”
“Then you'll stick a copy in his hands and make sure he reads it?”
“Yes. I'll take extra copies with me, too, to give out.”
“Thank you, David. I apologize to you for being pushy about this.” Then, solemnly, as if
making a blood oath, he said, “But they will not listen unless I make them. They will not
act unless I give them no other choice. Until they do, they must have no peace and no
place to hide.”
“Remind me never to get on your bad side.”
***
Billy asked to see Director Carson and he brought two copies of the Factual Record with
him. He had informed the Director that he was preparing a factual account of his past, but
he was shocked at what Billy handed him. “It's a book,” he said. “How ... who...”
“I wrote it and put it together in Mr. Weatherall's class. The rest of the class helped. Now
they're all excited about reading a book they helped create. Mr. Weatherall said it was the
perfect class project. Thank you for letting us use funds out of the education budget. As
you said, this really is a school, thank God.”
“A school, yes, of course,” Carson said, weighing the volume in his hands. “Heavy.” He
leafed through it. He read a few random pages. “You wrote this?”
“Yes. Everything you always wanted to know about ME!” He said “ME” with a smile
and a theatrical flourish.
“You wrote those letters to the Sentinel, not Caulfield.”
“Yes.”
“What do you want now, if you don't mind my asking?”
“I respectfully ask that you give the volume to Judge Salera at Juvenile Court for
inclusion in the court's official records. I also ask you to inform her that I request a
hearing as soon as possible. At this hearing, I would like to present evidence and
witnesses and question my accusers.”
“I hate to tell you, Billy, but you don't have that right. You're a juvenile, not an adult. The
rules are different.”
Billy pointed to the book in Carson's hands. “Read that, sir. I'm innocent and I can prove
it. Which is more important, rules or the truth?”
“Both are important, Billy. Procedures are important in the law.”
“I understand. But forgive me ... and I do not mean to be impertinent, sir, believe me.
Juvenile Court is going to get that book ... is going to get my request, one way or the
other. I want to follow procedures, too, which is why I'm here talking to you. But if the
procedures just keep me here, well ...”
“Well, what?”
“Well, then it's the same old stuff again, me in Seg and you with a big discipline problem.
This school doesn't have to go through that all over again.”
“No, it doesn't.”
“I also gave a copy to Debra Florsheim of the Sentinel.”
“You what?”
“Are going to tell me that because I am a juvenile that the First Amendment doesn't apply
to me?”
Director Carson looked up as if appealing to Almighty God.
“One other thing,” Billy said. “A girl is being abused every day in her own home by her
own father. Her name is Joy Stojak. I want to file an official complaint on her behalf.
Also, Captain O'Toole has two dirty cops in his command. One of them planted that
cocaine powder on me. I have people in the neighborhoods willing to give sworn
statements. I want to file formal charges.”
The Director closed his eyes. He pinched his forehead with two fingers as if trying to
make a severe headache go away. “Billy, Billy, you're out of control. You're going places
you shouldn't go.”
Billy smiled wickedly.“Look on the bright side. This could be your big chance to get rid
of me.”
Director Carson sent the premature autobiography of Billy Stone to Juvenile Court along
with Billy's request for a hearing. Billy called Debra Florsheim at the Sentinel. He said,
“I have hard information about two dirty cops and a girl who is being verbally and
physically abused every day in her own home by her own father. Interested?”
She was.
***
Debra Florsheim arrived at the Granite School for Boys the next Sunday with notepads
and pencils. For nearly two hours, she scribbled while Billy talked. When they were
done, Billy had Wally bring her out a copy of his Factual Account.
“For reference,” Billy said. “Match the names I gave you with the cops who took me into
custody that day. Should tell you something. Plus you have the names of people in the
neighborhoods who are willing to give statements about these two officers. Also the night
that Joy Stojak ran away after her father beat the daylights out of her -- the neighbors can
confirm it. With all the screaming and yelling, the neighborhood was lit up like a
Christmas tree.”
“Got it.”
“Joy Stojak probably won't talk. She wants to, but she's scared. From what I saw, I think
her father would kill her if he thought she was going to talk. She has to be protected. If
you can't find a way to protect her, do me a favor, don't write anything.”
Ms. Florsheim, a small woman in her 30's with schoolmarm-prim hair the color of wheat
and over-sized glasses, frowned. “I see what you're saying,” she said, the full import of
the story sinking in.
“One last thing. If you do write a story, and if you do mention me in passing, can I ask
you a favor?”
“You can ask, sure.”
“Please, pretty please, don't use that picture of me being paraded downtown in chains or
describe me as a perpetrator. I happen to be innocent.”
“Billy, you all say you're innocent -- don't you know that?”