This time, the story came up because the sophomores were asked to write a horror story after reading “The Pit and the Pendulum.” There are a lot of really hard boys in that class. Such boys always seem to think that they are “tough” and that their problems are unique.

One of the boys in the English class said he knew what his story should be, but he didn’t think it would be school appropriate. He said his biggest fear was going to prison and being attacked.

Now I know that you would think the correct way to handle that situation would be to stay out of prison, but sometimes, for some reason, that really just doesn’t occur to them. Which is why I got Junior’s story out, dusted it off, and told it. Again.

I have noticed that the high school boys seem to think that they are blazing new trails. And some of them are. Some in good ways, and some in bad. But mostly, what they are doing is repeating the mistakes of the generations that have gone before them. Somehow, though, they always listen–quietly–to Junior’s story. And they seem to come away with something. I think Junior would like that.

Junior must be twenty-eight now. He went to school with my son. He was little, but he was mean. He dressed in the Goth manner with dog collars and the whole bit well before it was the big thing it is now. He was pretty much always in trouble, and his was one of the names the teachers looked hopefully for on the absence list.

I had Junior one day when he was a sophomore, and for some reason it occurred to me to ask whether he and one of his cohorts had eaten breakfast. They had not, so I asked what Junior’s favorite cereal was. He asked for Corn Pops. I was subbing at the time, but I knew that I would be in his classroom the next day, so I assured him that I would come equipped with Corn Pops and milk. Not the best breakfast, I know. But it would be better than nothing.

I actually did remember the cereal the next day, but Junior didn’t show. I asked around and found out that he had done something stupid the night before. He was “playing around” and pulled a gun in a “fake” robbery. For which he was sent at first to the juvenile detention center, which really served as his second home. From there, though, because of his record and because he was sixteen, he was sent to an adult male prison for a year.

I was subbing again when Junior came back. He was a changed man. And comparatively, as I looked at him, a man is what I saw. His hair was neatly trimmed. The Goth clothes were gone. In their place was a white polo shirt and a trim pair of jeans. And to top that off, Junior settled right down to do his assignment!

You can learn a lot as you listen to kids, and that day I was just listening. One of the “preppy” girls told Junior that she wasn’t afraid of him anymore.

“But I don’t get it,” she said. “Why did you change?”

What Junior started talking about was the juvenile detention center. He talked about how he had to give up his shoes and his jewelry every time he went there. He talked about having written his name in every room there because he had been there so many times. He talked about how much he hated it.

The preppy girl said what I had often thought, which was, “So why did you keep going there?”

Junior ignored her and kept on talking. But now he was looking at me.

“You know, Mrs. C.,” he said. “I’m a little guy.”

I nodded, not seeing at all where he was going with that.

Junior continued. “I thought I had this town under my thumb, so I wasn’t even afraid when they told me that I had to go to real prison. And I should have been. Like I said, I’m a little guy, and the first two weeks I was in prison, the guards looked the other way no matter what happened. I’m NEVER going back there!”

Now what do you say to that? I told Junior I was glad he had made that decision. And I was glad.

I have a picture of Junior on his graduation day because he graduated the same day my son did. It’s a picture of him with his family. And they are all smiling. Who knew he had a family? For quite a while, the speculation in the teachers’ lounge was that he had crawled out from under a rock somewhere!  He had come a long way, back to where he should have been.

I am so sad that Junior had to go to prison in order to decide to change his life, but at the same time, I am glad he got the message. I haven’t seen him since we moved from Ohio almost eight years ago, but the last I knew, his nose was still clean.

That’s exactly the way I tell the story when I need to, in this case in the sophomore English class. And the boys are always quiet after I tell it. I never know if the story will make a difference. But I always pray that it will. And each time that it does I think that, if Junior only knew, that it would make him smile.

4 Responses to “Junior”

  1. 1 writeathome January 18, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    It’s tough when you see kids that have to learn things the hard way. You never know what prayer and sharing this story about Junior could do though. 🙂

  2. 2 Becky January 18, 2007 at 9:03 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Carol. I like to think Junior would approve of my sharing if he thought his story could help.

  3. 3 The Nephew January 18, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    Wise old women so totally rock!

  4. 4 iluv2prshim January 20, 2007 at 4:52 am

    Hopefully, Junior will come across your blog one day and read his story. I think he would be happy too if he thought it helped someone else.

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January 2007
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