If I’ve been quiet here it’s because I’ve been trying to be quiet in my own soul.
It was Friday morning when three of us walked in to the front lobby together. The Shift Commander waited until we were all inside and squeezing through the metal detector before he explained, “I’m here right now [greeting everyone coming in for the 7:00AM shift] because—.” Here I lost his words, but I heard the words “missed class,” “hung,” and “B–.” I misunderstood how all these words connected, but I noted how everyone was suddenly quieter as we collected our keys, radio, and pepper spray for the day.
At roll call we saw the Shift Commander again as he read the reports and ended with the story of B– hanging himself in one of the isolation cells. It’s still unclear to me why he was there. A staff member fulfilling his rounds found him, and someone was able to successfully perform CPR. He was in the hospital, reportedly not doing well. Rumor has it that once family is notified we’ll know just how bad things are for him. [On Monday we were told he was dead.]
I felt myself falling apart.
It was two weeks ago when I asked the housing staff, “Does he get picked on?”
I nodded my head in his direction, “B–.”
“B–? Aww, he just keeps to himself.”
Seeing him joke around with some of his cellmates, I dropped it.
But Friday found me walking on my boss’s heels into his office. Could I keep it together? I was supposed to start class in fifteen minutes! “How? How am I supposed to think and feel about this one? Remember, Mr. C.? You had me tutor him. One on one. For nearly five weeks. This one is too close. How am I supposed to respond professionally and humanely?”
“This is the reality of the job,” he replied, learning forward in his chair in empathy. I want to shout that we spoke of the violence these impulsive young men could wreak; I could handle that. I could understand a shank suddenly appearing, or a lunge, or a fight. I couldn’t understand this. He continued, “This is going to happen. The hardest one for me will be Wrigley. We might hear a year from now that someone put a bullet through his head, but I’ll see him here saying, ‘What’s up an’ sh’?'” (So he was clearly expecting that call too, and already sad for that day.)
I went along with the sidetrack, “So he never did tell you ‘Good morning’?” My boss shook his head. I marveled at Wrigley’s resolve.
Mr. C. started again, “It could be your classroom next time. Or a closet. One of my earlier memories, I was teaching a class when I heard (here he demonstrated a thumping noise by bumping his palm on his desk) so I went to investigate. I found two guys going at it in the broom closet… I could tell you more.” Fortunately he did not, and I was left to think back on my time as a Resident Advisor in the college dorms. My stories were tame compared to those of a friend who seemed to have a sixth sense for the action. I assured myself that if I could survive a year as an RA, I could survive a broom closet. But how was this supposed to help me today?
My memories were interrupted as he concluded, “At the end of your time here, you’ll have your own stories.” I was starting to have some serious doubts whether I wanted any more stories to tell. “We’ll never know,” he added, “if this act has saved another victim down the road.” I was going to cling to that sick hope for all it was worth.
I tried writing and I tried writing again, but everything was all wrong. It still is. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to write about him because now, a week later, I know too much and too little all at once. For my own sake I’m going to remember the pimply, pinkish white boy with spiky blond hair who wanted nothing more than to go back to his home town and drive a limo.