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Woodview Detention Center [1961/Grandpa’s House]

Part I

Scene: A cell in a detention center at Woodview Detention Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, summer 1961. The cubicle, cell, or room, however one may look at it, is furnished with iron beds, and I, the occupant; I am 14 years old and I have to spend my first 24 hours here in the institution before I go to a bigger cell (maybe) with other kids (or as they call us, delinquents). The cell is clean, maybe too clean, and there isn’t much to it. The floor is a shiny, tile-like material, as are the walls, in a brick style. It’s late in the evening, the wind is blowing, it’s cold, maybe a patch of fog from the nearby Mississippi River.

I stand quietly in my cell, a little drunk, a little bewildered, in a T-shirt, worn jeans, my hair must be messy, I can’t see clearly, even though the small door window has a screen on it; I see the thoughts of the other cells and I am satisfied with the way I look, with my appearance. I’m toned, meaning my muscles are from lifting weights, running track and gymnastics. No tattoos; I’m mostly considered a handsome kid.

— My brother Mike went to Redwing, a few steps up from where I am in the incarceration area, likened to “Boys Town” I guess (he’s two years older than me).

I’m going to court in a few days for underage drinking – the judge, he’s the key here, my mother will be with me, namely the judge will want to grant clemency (my first offense), but I say ‘No!’ to this offering of kindness (perhaps at this time I saw it as pity); this will be the only time I see my mother cry in her life (I know she has (maybe) cried before, but I’ve never seen her before.

“Why?” he asks the judge: “You torture your mother like this and you are proud of me?”

I told the judge to send me to prison, to Redwing, like my brother, who was just there. The judge had a hard time figuring it out, the judge said, the police found him in the playgrounds on Cayuga Street, by your house, sitting drunk on a beer. an old drunk bought you the beer.”

Not sure if that was a question or a statement but I didn’t say a word, I felt bad that my mom was crying and the judge was right, my pride got in the way so I left him no choice but to shut me up. And here I stand in this cell, looking left and right down and up the corridor.

part II

Peerless. Chick or Dennis as I was called [ds]. Nobody gets much fresh air in a cell, it seems, and it’s even worse in the summer. I paced the floor knowing there was no way out. I counted the bricks in the cell on both sides of the walls, 245, then I stopped counting and listened to the sounds of the corridor. People snoring, talking, doors opening and closing from staff, flashlights checking everyone, even me; all night. I heard Pat Boones new song “Moody River” it was right for this time and place, it was like it was written and sung just for me. It must have been played in the office down the hall.

Morning. “Would you like breakfast?” said a voice at my door; I got up: “Yes!” I said and the door opened and he placed the test on a steel gray looking desk across from my bed and left.

I was surprised that morning came so quickly. I wondered: does this place have a guardian? Then I saw people being taken to the back outer area, fenced of course for sports. I was a little jealous, but I still had 18 hours in this cell before I could join the others.

Regarding the time of my incarceration, I asked myself “why” and left it at that. I didn’t know it then, but I was spending two weeks here, which was almost a death sentence for me. And at the end of the two weeks, my attitude changes. What I learned from this experience is that if anything, you will change, or there will be people willing to spend a lot of time trying to change you. But this would of course require a change in mindset and/or mindset.

Eggshell

I felt like I was in an eggshell with two windows, witnessing the world go by. I knew that after a week I was in jail and the judge would come out and visit me. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to stay here for two weeks, but I was wrong, the judge wanted to make a point and he did.

The interesting thing I discovered was that I begged to be allowed to mop the entire building, facility, the floor on the second day to get out of the eggshell. And as the few Sundays came, I went to church to get out of my cell, and on Saturdays to the craft store for the same reasons. When I was locked in, I felt like throwing up, gasping for air. I said to myself, calm down, be good like everyone else, and I did, I have to go to the big aquarium, the cell at the end of the corridor, with the four teenagers like me; I thought that was a great reward.

Written on 05/18/2006 at Café Angello, Lima, Peru

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