Authors: Walter Dean Myers
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Social Issues, #Drugs; Alcohol; Substance Abuse, #Violence, #People & Places, #United States, #African American
To Phoebe Yeh, editor and friend
“I hope you mess this up! I hope you blow…
When I got back from Evergreen Mr. Cintron asked me how…
Six o’clock in the morning and everybody was up. I…
Out of lockdown. The light hurting my eyes. Me feeling…
We got up in the morning and it was lightning…
I’ve felt bad in my life, but never so bad…
“You sweet on Toon?” Mr. Pugh had me in a Ripp…
At Progress you could get visitors any day between 10…
Her name tag read Karen Williams, but all the guys were…
The dentist was white with dark hair and big eyes…
So what happened is that Mr. Pugh brought me a candy…
It was raining when I got to Evergreen. I had…
Simi led me back to Mr. Hooft’s room. He had covered…
The stuff that Mr. Hooft said was scary. For some reason…
Saturday. Miss Dodson from ACS—Administration for Children’s Services—and Miss Rossetti…
“So why do you think I put the chairs in…
Our cook, Griffin, gave us broiled franks, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes,…
When I got to Evergreen Mr. Hooft was sitting in his…
Mr. Pugh gave me my letter from K-Man after he searched…
Mr. Pugh and Mr. Wilson brought King Kong, Toon, and me into the…
The detention cell is a little smaller than the rest…
Another morning, another cold breakfast. I dreamed about Toon. In…
“Where’s your beard, man?”
When I watched television, it never seemed real, because on…
Mr. Cintron called me to the office and pointed toward a…
“So you got funded?”
Saturday morning I got a call from the precinct. Detective…
Sunday. Mr. Cintron called and said he wasn’t coming in after…
Mr. Wilson was getting on everybody’s case on Monday during inspection.
Icy didn’t deal with stuff the way I did. She…
We cleaned 318 with the woman standing in the doorway…
The word was out that Toon got a release date.
“So I’m going to be having my hearing this afternoon,”…
“I know this is a disappointment.” Mr. Cintron had called me…
“I hope you mess this up! I hope you blow it big-time! You’re supposed to be smart. You think you’re smart, right?”
“Shut up, worm!” Mr. Pugh looked over his shoulder at me. “If you had any smarts, you’d be out on the streets. But you’re in jail, ain’t you? Ain’t you?”
“And you know this work program is bullshit. Just more work for me and the staff. But I’m counting on you, worm. All you got to do is walk away when nobody’s looking. When they catch you, I’m going to put you in a hole so deep, you won’t even remember what daylight looks like.”
The van stopped. I could see Mr. Pugh looking out the window. Then he got out and came around the back. I was handcuffed to the rail, and he climbed in and unhooked me.
I hated having my hands cuffed behind me—all the kids did—but I twisted around in the van like he said. He cuffed me, then pulled me out of the van by my sleeve. I stumbled a little but I didn’t fall. I stood behind the van with my head down like I was supposed to as he locked it up. Then he took me by the arm and led me to a side door.
He stopped just inside the door while he looked around; then he took me over to a woman sitting behind a desk. She was small, Spanishy looking, with dark eyes that went quickly from me to Mr. Pugh.
“I’m here to see a Father Santora,” Mr. Pugh said. “This is the inmate.”
The receptionist smiled at me, then picked up the phone on her desk and made a call.
“The people from Progress are here, Father,” she said into the phone.
Mr. Pugh was a big man, as wide as he was tall,
but the thing that got to you was that he didn’t have any eyebrows. His skin was really white and he was bald, so it looked like his face ran all the way up his head. I knew he didn’t want to have to drive me to the nursing home, but I didn’t care.
Mr. Pugh didn’t uncuff me until the man from the hospital had signed the papers.
“I’ll be back to pick him up at four,” Mr. Pugh said. “I’ll leave a pair of cuffs in case you need them.”
I watched as Mr. Pugh headed for the door. I used to think I couldn’t hate anyone as much as I hated my father, but Mr. Pugh was coming close.
“Well, welcome to Evergreen,” the man said. “I’m Father Santora and I run the facility. This is Sonya, and your name is…” He looked at the paper. “Maurice Anderson. Do you mind if we call you Maurice?”
“Most people I know call me Reese,” I said.
“Okay, then we’ll call you Reese,” Father Santora said. “You’ll be coming here ten days a month for the next eight weeks in your work-release program. We think you’ll like it here.”
He left the handcuffs with Sonya and took me into the elevator. He looked okay, but a lot of people looked okay.
“Evergreen is basically a facility for senior citizens,” Father Santora said. “It’s not a hospital so much as a refuge. People reach a stage in their lives where they need to have assistance from day to day.”
“What am I going to be doing here?” I asked.
“You’ll be working under Mrs. Silvey,” he said. “She sees to the comfort of the residents. It’ll probably be cleaning the hallways or running errands for the seniors. But she’ll let you know. How old are you?”
“Fourteen. I’ll be fifteen next month.”
“You play basketball?” he asked, smiling.
“No, not really,” I said.
Father Santora asked me if I minded sitting down on a bench in one of the hallways and said he was going to look for Mrs. Silvey. I said it was fine with me.
The place smelled like a hospital. I saw two old guys walking down toward the end of the hall holding hands. They were really old looking and one of them was stooped over, so I figured he was sick.
I sat there for a while and then Father Santora came back with a woman. I stood up and kind of nodded.
She looked me up and down and asked me how tall I was.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe about five five.”
“You’re five seven,” she said. “Maybe five six and a half. You have family in the city?”
“Well, welcome to Evergreen. Come with me.”
Father Santora was smiling as I left with the lady. She took me down the hallway and up a flight of stairs to the next floor. It was like a big dayroom, and people were sitting around playing cards or watching television. She took me to a closet and opened it. Inside there was a small plastic bucket and a kind of stick with a grabber on it to pick up paper off the ground.
“There’s a lot of paper and trash on the floor,” she said. “Sometimes the residents get careless. I want you to go around and pick up anything you recognize as trash. If someone argues with you, says that something isn’t trash, then you either put it back where you found it or offer it to them. You understand that?”
“And I don’t want you touching anything nasty with your hands,” she said. “And I need you to wash
your hands at least twice a day and keep your hands out of your face and especially away from your eyes. I don’t want you getting sick.
“Never argue with anyone here,” she went on. “Do you understand that?”
“Father Santora said they call you Reese, is that right?”
“Okay, Reese. So, you’ll be working here from ten to four. At twelve, after the residents have eaten, you’ll eat with the staff. It’s a very informal, catch-as-catch-can kind of meal. At three thirty you’ll clean up and get ready to go back to Progress. How long have you been there?”
She looked at me like she was surprised, but she didn’t say anything.
“My office is on this floor. It’s room 307. If you can’t remember that, Simi or Nancy—they’re on our staff and will work directly with you—will tell you. If you have a problem you’ll come to me, right?”
“And Reese.” She stopped and took a deep breath. “Many of the residents here are on medication.
You’re not to touch any of the medications for any reason. Even if you see a bottle on the floor, you’ll tell Simi or Nancy. Do you understand that?”
She left me, and I took the bucket and grabber out of the closet. I noticed there were some hooks in the closet so I could hang my clothes if it was raining. I hoped it didn’t rain on the days I was coming to Evergreen, because I didn’t want them seeing me in my orange rain hood.
I walked around the dayroom most of the morning picking up little pieces of paper. Most of the people sitting around were white and they were all real old. I heard some of them talking and it wasn’t in English, so I thought they might have been talking about me. I didn’t care. It was better than being at the Progress Center.
A tiny little woman saw me coming near her and she took an orange off the tray she was sitting near and put it behind her back. I wanted to smile but I didn’t. One man looked big and he had something wrong with the skin on his face. I thought maybe he was in some pain or something.
“Hey, what’s your name?” another woman asked me.
I was about to tell her but she looked away.
I started walking away, but then she yelled at me and asked me my name again.
“Reese,” I said.
“What kind of name is that?”
“And he’s only got one name,” another woman said. “Maybe his family couldn’t afford two names.”
“It’s really Maurice,” I said. “Maurice Anderson.”
The day went by fast. I kept the floor clear, which was easy. I met two more people from the Evergreen staff at lunchtime. One was a short, heavy black girl with an African-sounding name. She talked on her cell phone all the while we were in the staff room, which was a little room on the second floor with a coffeepot, a microwave, and a small refrigerator.
The other one was a Puerto Rican guy. He said he did the maintenance work, but he looked like he couldn’t see too good out of his thick glasses. There were sandwiches and soup for lunch. It was good. Or at least better than what we had at Progress.
Three thirty and I put the bucket and pickup thing back in the closet and washed up. Mrs. Silvey told me to wait on the first floor for the van. When I got there, a delivery guy was bringing packages and
kidding around with the receptionist. I thought I would like to do that, have a regular job and kid around with people I met.
Mr. Pugh showed up at five minutes to four and made a motion for me to turn around. Sucker didn’t have to do that and he knew it.
I turned around and he handcuffed me with the receptionist looking. That made me feel bad, but I knew he wanted me to feel bad.
He didn’t say nothing on the way back to Progress, but I knew what he was waiting for. He took me into the reception room right away and closed the door.
“You know the routine,” he said.
I stripped down and bent over while he searched me.
It was almost not worth it. I hated being searched, having Pugh or anybody putting their hands all up in me. But I knew if I got through the two months working at Evergreen and didn’t mess up, I had a chance for an early out when my hearing came up. That’s all I thought about as Pugh messed with me. Getting back out on the street again.
When I got back from Evergreen Mr. Cintron asked me how I liked it and I said I thought it was okay.
“Just okay?” he asked.
“They treated me okay,” I said. “I wasn’t locked in my room or nothing, so I guess it was okay.”
“Well, that’s your choice, Reese,” he said. “You can spend the rest of your life in some kind of institution like this or you can be out there in the world. And what you got to keep in your head—what you got to focus on—is that ‘okay’ is a lot better than being in a place like this.”
That was all good and everything, and I knew he was right, but I didn’t know what was going down with me. Mr. Cintron talked about it like it was something easy. You go this way or you go that way.
Maybe for him it was easy.
He was cool, though. He was tall, about thirty-something or maybe even forty. He looked Spanish but he sounded pure white. He was the only one at Progress who I believed most of the time.
There were only twelve of us in Section A, and in the morning Mr. Pugh marched us to breakfast. When Mr. Wilson marched us to breakfast we could have our hands down by our sides, but when Mr. Pugh took us anywhere we had to have our hands behind our backs with our wrists crossed like we were handcuffed, even though we weren’t. The breakfast was the same old stuff. Scrambled eggs, oatmeal, juice, and bologna. It was okay. I liked it when the bologna was burned sometimes. When I was home and Icy made breakfast, she burned everything. She liked to see the food cooking. It was burned but I didn’t mind.
The word was that something was going to happen after dinner. When we finished breakfast and took the trays to the window for the dishwashers, I asked Play what was happening.
“Diego wants to jump Toon into the 3-5-7s,” Play said.
“Toon?” I asked. “He ain’t nothing but twelve!”
“And what’s he going to do in the 3-5-7s?” Play said.
“Shut up!” Mr. Pugh hollered from across the room.
We lined up and went back to our quarters. I checked everything real quick because I didn’t want any trouble. The floor was swept, the bed made, and the sink clean. I knew that as long as everything went down correct, I would stay on level one and in the early-release program. If I started getting demerits and fell into level three or four, then I wouldn’t have any privileges and would have a harder time getting out early.
Eight o’clock and we went to school. Me, Leon, Diego, and this white girl named Kat were in the same class. They said she’d cut up a guy who was trying to mess with her and drank a soda while the guy was lying on the floor bleeding.
Play was fifteen and a nice guy, but he was facing juvy life for shooting a guy. His lawyer was still working on his case. Diego was fifteen and was doing a year for breaking and entering. Leon was fourteen and was in for shoplifting and punching a security guard. Toon was in because he wouldn’t go to school or listen to nobody. He said his parents had
been accountants in Mumbai before they came to the States. His real name was Deepak but he didn’t look like a regular kid—he had this round face and big glasses like a cartoon character, so we all called him Toon. He liked that.
But jumping him into the 3-5-7 was just stupid. The 3-5-7 was a prison gang, and I couldn’t see Toon being in no gang. I knew if they tried to jump him in, he would just fall and get beat up.
We did school, which was bull because we weren’t learning anything. Play was too messed around with his case to even think about what was going on in the Revolutionary War, and nobody else really cared. I listened because I just wanted to do better than the others. That’s how bad I wanted to be out in the world.
Mr. Wilson had us for lunch, and we knew we could talk if we weren’t too loud. I asked Diego why he wanted to jump Toon into the 3-5-7.
“Why you want to know?” Diego came back.
“I just asked you a question, fool,” I said.
“If I kick your ass will I still be a fool?” Diego looked at me across the table. “Don’t be calling me no fool.”
“If I stab you about forty-five times can I call you
a fool?” I asked him.
He sucked his teeth and looked away.
“I think he wants to jump in Toon because Toon’s the only one in our section he can beat,” Play said.
We all cracked on that but I thought it was true. Diego kept on talking about being in the 3-5-7 crew but I didn’t believe him. They didn’t do the light stuff he was always talking about. He was about my height but he had a mustache that made him look older. I knew what was going down with him, though. Mr. Pugh said that a guy from the 3-5-7 was scheduled to come to Progress Center. Diego knew the kid, and the way he was talking about him, it was like he was scared of him or something. So I figured he was going to try to punk somebody out to make his reputation.
I hoped he didn’t mess with Toon, because I liked the little guy. I couldn’t stand up for him and risk getting disciplined, though.
I can do some business with my hands if I got to. Willis, my brother, used to do some boxing and we used to spar around in the gym. Then he got shot and didn’t have any more interest in fighting. I didn’t like to fight in a ring or anything like that. It just didn’t appeal to me, but when my father started
hitting me all the time, I was glad I knew a little something. At least how to cover up so you won’t get your face all messed up. Luther, that’s my father’s name, is the kind of dude who gets to drinking and telling himself he’s doing you a favor by beating you up. That’s why I hate him so much. You ain’t supposed to be beating up your kids. Even if you are half drunk.
After lunch we had school from 12:15 to 2:15, which was more of the same. Some of the kids are smart, but they be having other things on their mind. Toon acted like he wanted to go to school. I don’t know why he didn’t want to go to school when he was out in the world, but I know this: He had a reason.
We had group 2:30 to 4:30, and they brought in a black guy who told us we could be something special if we tried. Same old, same old. He said he used to be a drug dealer. Play asked him what kind of watch he was wearing, and as soon as he had to look down at it, we knew he didn’t have anything going on.
After group we went back to our section, and the guy who was supposed to be in the 3-5-7 was there. Diego called him Cobo. He was wearing a gray jumpsuit instead of an orange one, which meant he
wasn’t going to be at Progress very long. You could see Diego sucking up to the new guy and the new guy strutting around like he was bad.
“You got five days, maybe four, to be here before you go upstate to Replacement Center,” Pugh said to Cobo. “You’d better behave yourself every minute of every day. You listening to me? You listening to me?”
Cobo tried to play it off but we all knew about the Replacement Center. It was for young guys on their way to adult prisons. Dudes got shanked up there all the time.
After dinner, which was creamed corn, corned-beef hash, rice, and lemonade, we had recreation and personal time. Mr. Cintron came over and said he got a letter for me, but the name of the writer wasn’t on the list of people I could receive mail from.
“You don’t have much of a list anyway,” he said.
“All I got down was my moms,” I said. “I had my friend Kenneth down, but they made me take him off. I had my brother Willis down, but they made me take him off because he was in here before and he ran with the Convent Avenue posse. That’s all I got.”
“You know somebody who spells their name
?” Mr. Cintron asked.
“Yo, man, that’s Icy! Oh, man.” I had to turn away because just mentioning her made me want to cry.
Mr. Cintron looked at me and told me to get up and follow him. I didn’t want anybody to see me crying because they might think I was weak or something. I went into the office with Mr. Cintron and he told me to sit down.
“Who’s this person?” he asked again.
“Her real name is Isis, but we call her Icy,” I said. “When she was born my moms was just getting out of rehab and was doing a lot of reading on black stuff. You know, Egypt and Africa and stuff like that. And she named my sister Isis. She’s nine and she’s my heart, really. You know, Mr. Cintron, I really didn’t think about her writing to me. But that’s the kind of girl she is. Man, she’s real good people.”
“You want to add her name to your list?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“So what’s her last name?”
“Anderson. We all got the same last name.”
“Okay, she’s officially on your list. I can put the others back on, too. Here’s the letter from her.”
I put the letter in my pocket so I could read it later.