As a new volunteer CASA guardian ad Litem one of my CASA children (12 years old) walked over thirty miles on a ten degree night in a t shirt. He had been cast outside as punishment by a low paid and poorly trained staff member. At the time, this young boy was on several psychotropic medications for the traumas he had suffered from four to seven years of age at the hands of a violent and mentally unstable caregiver (he had been tied to a bed, sexually abused, beaten and starved for four years).
I do not think there was malice by the poorly educated staff member that did this to him, just lack of training, poor skills and little or no understanding of the mental health issues facing the children he was overseeing.
That this child did not die or suffer permanent physical damage that night was a miracle.
This article and the piece below bring to light the barbaric terrors of for profit youth prisons and the greed, meanness and poor management that combine to further damage the lives of America’s youth.
Reading the Class Action lawsuits is moving, and deserves to be made known to a larger public audience. That we the people support this state sanctioned, broad and intense abuse to youth in for profit prisons goes a very long way in explaining unsafe neighborhoods, prison rates (13 million prison and jail releases and recidivism reaching 80% in some states) and our nation’s failing schools.
From the Better Mississippi Report:
JACKSON, Miss. (Monday, Dec. 20, 2010) – A recent class-action lawsuit filed in federal court could finally end years of abuse to teenage prisoners – by fellow inmates and prison staff – at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility.
Sheila Bedi, the deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, filed the lawsuit Nov. 16, 2010, in federal court in Jackson. Bedi said the lawsuit is needed to send years of serious abuse that has seen teenage prisoners tied, beaten and raped.
“In many ways the crisis at Walnut Grove is a re-tread of the crisis that plagued the training schools for so many years,” Bedi said in a recent interview. “Children were shackled, hogtied, beaten, sexually abused, forced to exercise until they vomited and then forced to eat their own vomit.”
You can download a copy of the federal lawsuit by clicking here.
Bedi said part of the problem is that the Walnut Grove youth prison was managed by a for-profit prison company, the GEO Group — the second largest for-profit prison company in the country. She said the company has a long track record of abusing the people in its custody.
The Walnut Grove prison opened in 2001 with 500 beds and was authorized to house “juvenile offenders” ages 13–19. Since then, approximately every two years, the Mississippi Legislature has amended the prison’s authorizing legislation to increase its bed capacity and to raise the maximum age of those who are eligible to be housed in the facility.
Abuse has been a problem at the prison for years. Bedi discussed the lawsuit and the problems at the Walnut Grove prison in an in-depth interview with the Better Mississippi Report. Here is the complete interview:
Better Mississippi Report: As a longtime advocate of juvenile justice, you and others made the decision to sue those involved in the running of the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility. What do you hope to achieve with this lawsuit?
Sheila Bedi: A for-profit youth prison, like Walnut Grove, has a strong financial incentive to imprison as many young people as possible on the cheap – cutting essential safety, health and educational services in order to increase profits. In Mississippi, youth as young as 13 can be tried and convicted in the adult criminal justice system – and eventually thrown away into abusive prisons. This combination of a profit-hungry private prison and a bad law that allows too many teenagers to enter the adult justice system has created a public safety crisis in Mississippi. This is a crisis that destroys young lives and has wasted more than $100 million in taxpayer dollars over the past 9 years.
But this crisis can be resolved. Over the past several years, juvenile justice officials, Commissioner Epps, legislators and the governor’s office have all collaborated to develop significant reforms to Mississippi’s criminal and juvenile justice systems. Hopefully, these officials will now turn their full attention to the youth imprisoned at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility.
Better Mississippi Report: How is the Walnut Grove lawsuit different from the suits involving the Oakley and Columbia Training Schools?
Bedi: In many ways the crisis at Walnut Grove is a re-tread of the crisis that plagued the training schools for so many years. In 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice uncovered unspeakable abuses at the Oakley and Columbia training schools. Children were shackled, hogtied, beaten, sexually abused, forced to exercise until they vomited and then forced to eat their own vomit. The George W. Bush Department of Justice called these facilities the worst juvenile prisons the Justice Department had investigated in decades.
The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Mississippi Center for Justice filed multiple lawsuits over conditions in the training schools. Additionally, we had incredibly strong leadership on juvenile justice issues from state legislators—including Sen. Gray Tollison and Reps. George Flaggs, Earle Banks and John Hines. As a result of these efforts, Mississippi has drastically reformed its juvenile justice system. The Columbia Training School has been closed down; community-based sanctions have been created in all 82 counties; and the Oakley Training School is a safe, humane place for our children. It’s a place that we need in order to keep our juvenile justice system functioning. I never thought I would be able to say that seven years ago.
With the Walnut Grove crisis, there are many similarities: there’s a prison that is subjecting young people to unspeakable abuses, a U.S. Department of Justice investigation and a private lawsuit. We have also strong leadership from some of our local legislators. But there is an important difference – Walnut Grove is a for-profit prison. The Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility is operated by the GEO group, the second largest for-profit prison company in the country; it has a long track record of abusing the people in its custody. The GEO group has projected that its 2010 income will exceed $1 billion. Some of that comes directly from Mississippi taxpayers – who pay more than $14 million annually to operate Walnut Grove.
Better Mississippi Report: Please explain how the city of Walnut Grove gained oversight of a state juvenile correctional facility. Is this arrangement repeated anywhere in the state? Or in the nation? If so, is this a better way of providing for juvenile correctional facilities than the state government route?
Bedi: The town of Walnut Grove created the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Authority specifically for the purposes of administrating a private, for-profit youth prison. This is a highly unusual arrangement. It appears that the facility was built purely to provide additional profits to the Correctional Authority and the private prison operators. Mississippi taxpayers pay Defendant Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Authority $31.40 per youth per day to operate the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility.
The facility opened in 2001 with 500 beds and was authorized to house “juvenile offenders” between the ages of 13–19. Since then, approximately every two years, the Mississippi Legislature has amended the facility’s authorizing legislation to increase its bed capacity and to raise the maximum age of those who are eligible to be housed in the facility. In 2002, the Legislature amended the law to allow 20 year olds at the facility.
The legislature then doubled the facility’s size in 2004 – allowing it to house 500 more for a total capacity of 1,000 beds. In 2005, lawmakers raised the maximum age and the facility began housing people until shortly after their 22nd birthdays. The facility’s capacity was expanded again in 2007, when the Legislature added another 500 beds. The facility is currently authorized to house 1,500 individuals between the ages of 13 and 22. These amendments have significantly increased its income and tripled the size the prison.
In 2004, the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Authority subcontracted with Cornell, a for-profit corporation, for the management and operation of the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility. Under its contract with authority, Cornell had responsibility for providing humane care and treatment consistent with all constitutional and ACA standards. In violation of these duties, Cornell incarcerated youth in extremely dangerous conditions, resulting in the serious injury of numerous young prisoners and the death of two youths.
Until its recent acquisition by the GEO Group Inc., Cornell was a for-profit corporation incorporated and existing in the state of Texas and maintaining a principal place of business in Houston. Upon assuming control of the youth facility, GEO management retained almost all of the employees who were formerly employed by Cornell. The management structure and staffing assignments remain identical to those in place before the acquisition.
A for-profit youth prison, like Walnut Grove, has a strong financial incentive to imprison as many young people as possible on the cheap – cutting essential safety, health and educational services in order to increase profits. In Mississippi, youth as young as 13 can be tried and convicted in the adult criminal justice system – and eventually thrown away into abusive prisons.
This combination of a profit-hungry private prison and a bad law that allows too many teenagers to enter the adult justice system has created a public safety crisis in Mississippi.
This is a crisis that destroys young lives and has wasted over $100 million in taxpayer dollars the past nine years.
Better Mississippi Report: Why was this suit filed in federal court, rather than state court?
Bedi: This is a class action and the majority of the claims included in the complaint are federal claims. In this case we are only seeking an injunction – a court order requiring the facility to operate in compliance with state and federal law.
Better Mississippi Report: Was there a “tipping point” in events at the facility that led to this lawsuit?
Bedi: Two youth have lost their lives in this facility over the past three years. Countless others endure daily threats to their safety as a result of the prison’s dangerously deficient security policies and the abusive prison guards who torment the youth in their custody. Many judges order youth to finish their high school education at Walnut Grove. But less than half the youth imprisoned in the facility attend school.
Better Mississippi Report: The State Superintendent of Education is named as a defendant in this suit. Can you explain why?
Bedi: The Mississippi Legislature established the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility with good intentions: to ensure that young men in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections would have a second chance and receive rehabilitative services. Unfortunately, these good intentions were never realized. While state law requires that all young men at Walnut Grove receive educational services throughout their incarceration, less than half of the youth actually attend school. Youth with disabilities are also denied the special education services to which they are entitled under federal law.
As the superintendent of education, defendant Tom Burnham is responsible for ensuring education services for all youth in Mississippi – including those youth who are imprisoned.
Better Mississippi Report: Are there other alternatives to incarceration for juvenile offenders? If so, what evidence is there to support these alternatives as being more beneficial than the “jail” model for these juveniles?
Bedi: There is no justice, or should you say “logic,” in treating a 13-year-old child as if he were a 30-year-old man. Yet Mississippi courts are prohibited from making any distinction between adults and children in criminal matters. Mississippi’s laws ban children from voting, entering into contracts, getting married, or dropping out of school. But the law often treats children as adults in the criminal justice sphere. Neither science nor common sense justifies this paradox. Recent brain science research proves that, compared to adults, children’s brains are underdeveloped.
This is particularly true for the part of the brain children use to weigh the future consequences of their decisions and to navigate complex legal process. Common sense tells us that society does not benefit when a child spends his most formative years behind bars – influenced not by teachers and parents, but by hardened adult criminals.
These laws don’t even effectively reduce crime. Many studies, including one commissioned by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, have concluded that children tried and punished in the adult system have recidivism rates up to 40percent higher than youth sanctioned and rehabilitated in the juvenile system. Intending to keep us safer, the laws that try children as adults do just the opposite.
U.S. Department of Justice research shows that youth incarcerated in the adult criminal justice system are eight times more likely to commit suicide than in youth locked up in juvenile facilities. Youth housed in adult correctional facilities are nearly five times more likely to be sexually assaulted, three times more likely to be assaulted by prison staff and 50 percent more likely to be assaulted with a weapon than youth in a juvenile facility.
Better Mississippi Report: What kinds of offenses qualify a juvenile offender to be placed at Walnut Grove? What ages and genders are housed there?
Bedi: Walnut Grove is a prison for youth ages 13-22 located in Leake County, Miss. Sixty-seven percent of the young men at Walnut Grove are incarcerated for committing non-violent offenses. It is a facility for youth who are tried and convicted in the adult criminal justice system.
Better Mississippi Report: In a perfect legislative session, what kinds of changes to the statute would you recommend to improve the administering of justice for juvenile offenders in Mississippi?
Bedi: We’re collaborating with the legislators to develop a number of measures that would, No. 1., put some additional judicial controls on the process that allows children to be transferred into the adult criminal justice system; No. 2, reform some of the laws governing Walnut Grove that force youth into a paramilitary program that contributes to abusive conditions; and No. 3, create comprehensive standards for juvenile detention centers.
Better Mississippi Report: Although you no longer live in Mississippi, please describe your previous role here in the state as it relates to juvenile justice issues.
Bedi: Previously, I was lucky enough to serve Mississippi’s youth as the co-founder and co-director of the Mississippi Youth Justice Project, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. In that capacity, I worked with Mississippi’s youth, families, legislators and juvenile justice stakeholders on a number of initiatives that improved Mississippi’s juvenile justice system – including the Juvenile Justice Act of 2005, the Mississippi Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Act of 2006 and several class action lawsuits over conditions. In 2008, I left Mississippi to work in Washington, D.C., for the Justice Policy Institute, a criminal and juvenile justice policy organization. I quickly realized that I missed the work in the Deep South, and I rejoined the Southern Poverty Law Center as a deputy legal director in 2009.
I live in New Orleans and I supervise the work in SPLC’s New Orleans and Jackson offices. I spend a lot of time in Mississippi and work with our amazing Jackson-based staff on reform campaigns throughout the state. It’s great to be home. I spend a lot of time of the road, but I’m energized by my incredible colleagues, (many of them who live here in Mississippi), and the inspiring youth and families we work with and for.
pamReply21. Dec, 2010 at 2:11 pm
by Pam Kulig on Sunday, November 28, 2010 at 10:26pm
WGYCF, a goldmine of despair, is no place for kids. It’s known as a “gladiator school”. I’ve been supporting an inmate at Walnut Grove for the past 4-1/2 years and have “watched” him grow up and adapt to the depraved and inhumane conditions at this facility he calls home. He’s serving life. He arrived there at age 15. He says the place is like a cancer of the soul.
He says he’s seen and heard things he’ll never forget, things he said no one should ever see, let alone someone his age. He’s never been to high school, yet he longs for his innocence. We talk almost every day. For the past 4 years I’ve experienced through him life at Walnut Grove: violence; the constant THREAT of violence; non-existent and mediocre medical help; sexually charged environment between inmates and female guards; dishonest, brutal and vengeful officers; indifferent captains, majors and wardens; corrupt company officials; cover-ups of inmate deaths; mace attacks; inmates left to burn after the attacks; and the daily fights, stealing and predatory behavior of inmates toward other inmates; loose security; inmate-run zones; gangbanging; shabby visitation schedule and shabby treatment of visitors. And much more. From what I can tell, it’s a warehouse where teenage males with raging hormones are sent for punishment, living in deprivation with nothing to do and no rehabilitative services, anger and resentment bubbling and building like a time bomb.
It’s a recipe for disaster (or more disaster). Rehabilitation? Non-existent. Psychological help? No way, partly because most inmates believe everything they tell the psyche doctor will be held against them and partly because there IS no psyche doctor. Without gang protection or affiliation, an inmate is screwed, literally. Even some of the officers are affiliated. Drugs? as available as on the streets. Contraband? for sex. Weapons?
Most of these kids would make good ironworkers. Yes, Walnut Grove YOUTH facility (correctional n/a), is a really good place to sink millions and millions of taxpayer dollars if you are GEO where half the kids leave without a GED and a new violent criminal mindset making guaranteed repeat customers.
The taxpayers paid $41 million to build a facility that a private company has mined for gold ever since on the backs of the youth of Mississippi (mainly black youth, based on the fact that I can count on two hands the number of white inmates at visitation in a room with at least 100 inmates).
A cellmate of the young man I’ve been helping had a similar experience to the inmate in the complaint who had activated the sprinklers to get medical attention who was then charged with a crime. Apparently necessary destruction of property for medical attention is not an isolated incident. In this case, the cellmate had a severely infected spider bite and was ignored for weeks without the antibiotic treatment he was prescribed.
Unable to walk and vulnerable in GP, he was wheeled to the “hole” because the medical unit was full. Left in the hole for over a week, suffering in 24 hour isolation, in excruciating pain, in fear of losing his leg and no working panic button, he eventually resorted to starting his mat on fire to create smoke to set off the smoke alarm. It worked, the guards came, beat the crap out of him, brought him to medical, and over 2 years later as he was about to go home he received an indictment for 3rd degree arson.
A jury convicted him and the judge, while admitting Walnut Grove wasn’t fit for anyone, gave him the max, 3 more years at Walnut Grove. Among the many things that didn’t seem to matter were his medical intake form which we obtained for trial that noted he was severely allergic to spider bites having spent 2 weeks as a child hospitalized and an employee at Walnut Grove who falsely testified that the panic buttons worked fine.
The result of WCYCF unchecked negligence is that a $25 mat cost the taxpayers another $33,000 and this young person 3 more years in maximum security prison. That’s on top of the $10,000 it cost to defend him and who knows how much to prosecute him. The judge and jury took it out on him and the taxpayers, not the facility at fault. I had heard from other inmate accounts that spider bites were rampant that year and many inmates had infections that they took care of themselves mainly by having other inmates squeeze the pus out in the showers while they screamed in agony. That’s because immediate medical care was non-existent. This is the WGYCF that I have been exposed to and have been dealing with for over 4 years. This is a place that has contempt for the inmates, contempt for their visitors and contempt for basic human decency.
When I go down there I see kids sitting at those tables, not adults that look like kids. I don’t see menacing hardened criminals. I see young people and kids. Some of the kids are small, immature and I shake my head in disbelief, I just can’t imagine what in the hell they are doing there. They still have baby faces, don’t even shave, are short, seem to be only interested in the pile of snacks and candy piled up on the table in front of them.
I’m puzzled and confused. These kids wearing stripes and MDOC shirts look like they haven’t taken a shower in weeks. Kids whose whole bodies fit into their Daddy’s arms, who look like they are going to cry when they leave. I say to myself, WTF? Is this the best we can do? Whatever these kids have done to society, society has done worse to them and this is the lesson they have learned at Walnut Grove.
http://www.myspace.com/savebrettjones Walnut Grove Survivor Brett Jones-5 1/2 years and counting-actually innocent
pamReply21. Dec, 2010 at 2:21 pm
October 23- Visit to Walnut Grove and the New Stip Search Policy
It’s been four long months since Brett had a visitor. I try to see him every season. Tis the season, so over the meandering river and through the woods I go, past the prairies, farms, and fields of Illinois Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi, an overnight in the birth place of the King, and on into the deep South to the sleepy hollow called Walnut Grove. At the end of a winding road, beyond the Fish House, nestled in the tall trees and surrounded by a double row of fences topped with a halo of razor wire stands Brett’s home. It’s a gated community.
Every visitor is greeted personally by The Devil in Blue with a Shotgun. She’s a small white woman, a white helmet of hair, who drives a small white truck with a spinning light on the top. Believing it’s strictly a privilege to go beyond the razor wire, she works the gate like St. Peter. Swift consequences are handed down for any perceived disobedience. She forewarns, she’ll shoot any kid in stripes who tries to escape. I don’t doubt she’s a dead eye.
The Devil likes to have fun and the fun starts right away. The games are always different and of course seasonal. In the summer she enjoys herding the visitors-grandmothers, infants and small children alike-into the broiling hot parking lot to wait in the drenching heat. The shade is only a few steps away at the entrance, but baking us in the sun is much more fun.
If anyone wrongly speaks, we start all over back in our cars, or worse, banished from the premises. What crime have we committed? The Devil only knows.
In the fall, when the parking lot is nice and cool it’s a different game. Instead of lining us up in the cool parking lot, The Devil orders us to sit in our hot cars. Anyone who dares step out of their vehicle is quickly ordered back in faster than you can say Mississippi justice. Eventually, 20 minutes after we are supposed to be inside visiting, she signals that we can leave our cars. Hundreds of anxious people, infants, children, grandmothers, grandfathers, moms, dads, girlfriends, friends, sisters and brothers pour out into the parking lot.
Everyone jockeys for position in a line that will move slower than a clipper ship on a windless day. Running of course is against the rules and equals either back to the car, to the back of the line, or total banishment. The Devil watches in glee. See, The Peoples aren’t allowed to bring anything into the party and since boys love sweets it takes a long time to check everyone for pies, cakes and cookies. I’ve never seen a happier person than The Devil.
See, this is the only place of its kind in the land of Mississippi so people come from all over hill and dale to enjoy a few short hours with a loved one. I come from over yonder 900 miles, due north as the crow flies, so become anxious when I see rare visitation minutes senselessly ticking away in the parking lot. Where’s the sympathy Devil?
I noticed the decor in the lobby had changed slightly since the last time I was there. The pictures on the wall had changed. Gone were the colored pictures of the wardens, majors and captains who work at the facility. Even Epps, the Big Boss, was gone. Black and white photographs of eight smiling white guys now hung there. Ahh, the hosts of this evening’s soiree; pleased to meet you. As I stood in a sea of sadness where no one was smiling, I wondered what they were so happy about. Maybe they had just seen the quarterly reports; proof that other peoples’ disasters and devastation equal sparkling profits for them. Illegal aliens, war on drugs, and crime sure make these guys all smiley faced.
As I stood there in a gold mine of despair, the photographs on the wall reminded me of a song from the children’s tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, “hi- ho, hi- ho, it’s off to work we go…..”, and there they were- Dopey, Sleazy, Doc, Happy, Creepy, Crappy and Greedy- la,la,dee,da, la,la,dee,da, hi- ho, hi- ho.
Past the pictures, beyond the wall, through the sliding gate, lives the Prince. The Prince of Walnut Grove. I feel safe. He carries himself like a warrior; his face as serious as a soldier guarding the tomb of the unknown. Proud and strong and tall he stops to give me a warm hug before he takes his seat on the opposite side of the table. He’s not smiling but he seems happy. He informs me that I’ve woken him from his sleep. It’s so good to see him.
The room starts to fill to over-flowing. Soon we can’t hear. Children are everywhere. Children of the children who live there; brothers and sisters of the children who live there; daddies, mommas, step-dads, step-children, grandparents and God-parents of the children who live there. A little girl with beads in her hair sitting next to me grows restless in her seat and starts to dance as she sits there. The Prince does the party-boy dance with her from across the table. It made her giggle. It made me smile. Her little brother wore a t-shirt with hot rods on the front and wrestled with a big bottle of soda as he sat on the table facing his big brother with his feet dangling over into his lap. He sat that way for hours.
Enjoying candy, bakery, snacks and pop together, they seemed like a happy family. Next to me on the other side, were a grandmother and a teenage girl who were visiting the boy sitting next to Brett. Occasionally, he and Brett would lean together and talk. I think it was some kind of insider business.
Brett’s caretakers come over to say “hi”. Most are friendly, some are not. He points out one hugely obese caretaker wondering the room in black rubber gloves. The Prince says he’s the one who conducts the strip searches. I looked over; he definitely didn’t look friendly. The new rule is that every inmate who enters and leaves the visitation room is strip searched.
Brett is very squeamish now about getting visits because he doesn’t like that guy violating him. This could be the reason for the warrior look when he comes in. He’ not guarding the tomb of the unknown, he’s guarding his ass. Since most of the inmates are minors, we both agreed it’s just a little creepy. A reasonable person knows it’s highly unlikely that an inmate will want to stick anything up his butt during visitation especially when most everything and anything can be brought in through the back door by the caretakers. And it’s pretty impossible to stick anything up one’s rear with all the cops swarming the room. Plus every visitor goes through a metal detector and a pat down before entering. At the end of visitation they hold the visitors until every inmate has been strip searched so that if anything is found, the visitor of that inmate can be charged with a crime. This started when GEO took over…it must be those new smiling white guys’ idea. Maybe that’s why they are smiling; it can’t be straight money that makes these guys happy.
We talked for 3-1/2 hours. It’s funny how the voice I hear on the other end of the phone doesn’t match the voice in person. It’s strange how Brett sits so still for all that time never appearing restless. He remarked that free world people move strangely, their bodies so free flowing. He says we move without purpose. I think he means we move freely without every movement needing purpose. We eventually talked about the copy of the AG’s response to our appeal which he had just received the day before.
It depressed him. He felt discouraged and defeated. He said it repeated the same old wrong and twisted facts that they referred to as “chilling”. There was hurt in his eyes. I told him those same wrong facts have been argued over and over at every stage. His lawyer has said they keep arguing the facts because they can’t argue the law. She said what’s chilling is the jury never heard the facts. I agree, chilling indeed. He told me about his job and that he cleans the place from top to bottom every week. Who would have thought concrete could shine like marble. He takes extreme pride in his job. He does all kinds of maintenance around there. When something is broken, he fixes it.� He gets privileges for working so he works as much as he can. Very few in there carry as much time as he does. He struggles with that every day. He does his time honorably, like a man; he’s fought to survive since he was barely 15 years old.
He’s made more out of nothing than anyone I know. Confined to an 8×10 concrete box he’s accomplished more than some people who have the world at their feet. I’ve been told I’m his ray of sunshine. He calls me “citizen soldier”. Yes, were shining the light and the hope is that the liars, cheaters and bluffers will be held accountable.
As we sat there, Brett pointed out his enemies in the room. He’s been there longer than most and has acquired enemies. He pointed out his worst enemy. He didn’t look so bad to me. I suggested we go sit out in the sunny courtyard to get away from them. He said the tables had bird poop on them so I wouldn’t want to sit there. So we stayed inside. His enemies didn’t look menacing at all compared to the strip search dude. I would have risked sitting in bird turds to get away from that guy.
We shared a Dr. Pepper and a bag of Skittles, pretzels and Sweetarts. (I gave the rest of my quarters to a little boy in the lobby on the way out. He smiled and quietly thanked me. I wish I could have given him more). I told Brett in the future he should ask for Vitamin water since he helps fill the vending machines. He said, no, we were lucky to have bottled water. He said The Peoples want soda. But I need vitamins because that place is so draining. Except for him of course, he’s life-giving. I feel a certain sense of happy fulfillment when I visit him. All too soon the lights flash.
It’s time to say goodbye. We avoid goodbyes, we just say see ya later. He tells me to have a safe trip back. I give him a hug and he’s gone. He disappears back into the secret gulag where he’s been non-existent since 8th grade. Hated and forgotten by society he’s grown up like an orphan in the Warsaw ghetto. Carrying a sentence that would break a Spartan, he isn’t even close to being broken. In fact, he gives me strength.
As I leave I tell him everything will be okay and try not to look back. I look forward, towards the gate. Back in the lobby I tear up. There are those dwarfs again. Maybe a picture of Jesse Jackson or Martin Luther King or Honest Abe or Clarence Darrow or Jesus Christ would be enlightening. Ahh, well, it’s no secret justice, hope, faith and love don’t inspire these creatures; disaster, devastation and destruction are their compass.
Have a nice day and come again. Pam-zilla