Come Break Me Down
Knock. Knock. Knock. Boom. Boom. Boom.
“You all okay?” I remove the woolen blanket wrapped around my head to see no one outside of my door’s vertical window. I stare at the door in bewilderment for a few moments. I have no idea what is going on. From down the hall I hear it again, now muffled by some distance.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
“You all okay?”
I can feel the vibration through the steel tubing of my bunk as my roommate moves around on his. I can picture him removing the blanket from around his eyes.
“What the fuck was that?” He asks in annoyed exhaustion. I hear the woman’s grizzled voice yet again from further down the hall.
“You all okay?”
“Some lady’s goin’ around bootin’ doors askin’ if we’re okay then left before I could get my head up.” I respond in stupored grammatics. I’m so tired that I sound as if I am about to break down into tears.
“What fuckin’ time is it?” I look over at my watch, one of my most prized possessions, resting on the windowsill, silhouetted by pre-sunrise luminescence.
“6:20.” I answer.
Standing by the door window, my roommate speaks:
“What the fuck is up with yard?”
“I don’t know.” I answer.
“They ain’t lettin’ no one out?”
I am still sleepily light-headed, though it is 12:30 in the afternoon. I came back from lunch at 10:30 AM, our first time out yet today, and fell back asleep. My roommate and I stayed up until two last night watching Mad Max, and there wasn’t anything to do between lunch and 12:30 PM anyway. Now we want to go outside.
“Goddamnit!” He says.
“There comes Cross and a bunch of cops. They ain’t lettin’ us out anytime soon. Sonofabitch!”
Boom. Boom. Boom. Guys are kicking their doors, now from the inside.
LOUDSPEAKER: “GUYS, GET OFF YOUR DOORS. YOU’RE NOT GOING TO BE LET OUT UNTIL EVERYONE HAS BEEN TO THE DAYROOM FOR A SHORT GROUP. WE GOT SOCIAL WORKER CROSS TO TALK TO YOU ALL. WE’RE GOING TO LET OUT A QUARTER OF THE UNIT AT A TIME, AND AS SOON AS WE’RE DONE YOU GUYS CAN GO TO YARD. WE’RE GOING TO START WITH ONE THROUGH TWENTY FOUR, AND GO FROM THERE. THANK YOU GUYS. THAT WILL BE ALL.”
“Goddamnit. We’re missing our yard for this shit. I don’t want to go to group,” says my roommate to me. “Arrrgh! We’re in the last group too!”
Each bunk represents a “room,” and the rooms go from 1 to 96. We are in 77/78.
“Did you see them bring the stretcher out yesterday?” I ask, trying to pass the time since I know he is going to stand at the window until they let us out. “Everyone was looking sad, so you could tell whatever it was wasn’t good … Then Parker runs up acting all concerned and starts hitting the kid’s chest even though everything was done with. The sheet was already over his head!”
“He wanted to show off for the camera.”
“Parker’s a douche.” I comment. He really is.
“He’s a piece of shit. Remember how he wrote Jeff an ‘Out-of Place’ and ‘Interference with Administrative Rules,’ all for standing on the ‘No Smoking Past This Line’ … Goddamnit! I’m sick of being in this room!”
“Bro, we’ve been here 10 minutes longer than normal,” I say, attempting to calm him down.
“I know, but that’s beside the point. Sometimes I don’t even want to go out, but that’s different from not being able to go out. Why the fuck do we have to go to the dayroom anyway?”
“Because that kid in Franklin unit killed himself yesterday and they don’t want the hassle of more people doin’ it.”
“I wonder who he was,” he says.
“I don’t know. How’d he even do it?”
He turns back to me after having stared blankly out the window for the past few moments. “Huh?”
“I mean, what is he going to tie anything to in Franklin? It’s not going to be the sprinkler head. Those go off, and there’s nothing else high up.”
He ponders the question. “It had to be the lockers.”
“Yeah, but do you know how hard that would be? It’d be hard to tie anything around them, and then it’s still going to be below neck level.”
“That’s what it had to be. There’s nothing else in the room to tie anything to. Maybe the bunk, but that’s no taller. It was probably the lockers though.”
“He would have had to tuck in his legs and hold his knees though!” I say, acting out the necessary position for my own investigative satisfaction.
“That’s fucked up,” he chuckles.
“Well, the lockers aren’t that tall, even to me, and I’m like the shortest person here after Chipato and Sonic. Even with the shortest rope he still would have been standing.”
“Ain’t that crazy?” says my roommate.
I hear the teeth of the key scrape against the pins of the lock before a final click into place. It turns audibly, and the door is kicked open.
“Would ya guys head to the right dayroom?” asks Officer W, who is near retirement and the same voice that was on the loudspeaker. “I’m tryin’ to get ev’ryone in there with Cross so we can finish and get ya’ll to yard.”
“No problem,” I say.
“Can I go make some coffee, man?” asks my roommate.
W shakes his head. “After the group we’ll let ya’ll out for yard and ya’ll can make it then.”
We walk to the dayroom: a glass-walled scalene triangle with a TV in one corner. There’s Lock, my best friend, and his roommate, Price, shuffling out of their room a few doors down from ours.
“This shits stupid, dog,” says Price.
“Let’s just get it over with,” says Lock.
We are the first few people in the dayroom. The gray molded plastic chairs are against the walls, in what could potentially be called a circle. There are blue chairs here and there as well, but not as many as gray because the Bloods won’t sit in them. Lock and I sit in one corner, my roommate sits in another, and Price sits in the third. More teenagers drift in and fill the seats between us. Conversations initiate upon entry.
“This blows,” says Lock.
“Yeah,” I respond.
Finally Cross the social worker limbers in. He is so tall that he always seems close to bumping his head in the doorway, if he didn’t slouch so much. He appears to be in his late twenties and is somewhat soft-spoken. His appearance is reminiscent of an elongated teddy-bear.
He clears his throat. “Hey guys, can I get your attention?”
About half the room grants his request. The other half continues their preoccupation.
Cross tries again. “Hey, the rest of you guys—I know you want to get to yard, but we’ve all got to talk first. So if you guys work with me, we can be done all the much sooner.”
Everyone grants him their attention for the moment. Most seem anxious to leave the room, and we are curious as to what he has to say.
“Okay, so how many of you have some idea as to why I wanted to talk to you all here today?” asks Cross.
Every hand shoots up.
“Because that lil’ dude killed hisself,” says someone.
Cross seems startled by the young man’s frankness. “That’s, uh, correct. Last night a young man in Franklin passed away. Everything possible was done to revive him, but unfortunately he did not make it.”
“How’d he do it?” asks a new voice.
“He fuckin’ hung himself,” says another.
“Guys, guys, guys,” Cross says while pushing his hands down, looking as if he were trying to get out of a pool. “I don’t really want to get into how he did it. I want to know if anyone has any feelings about this situation. Some of you may have had family or others you know attempt suicide, and this event may bring up strong emotions.”
“I had an uncle who killed himself.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“And how do you feel about this?” asks Cross.
The room is silent.
Cross clears his throat again. “Do any of you want to share how you feel about this incident?”
“I heard that the kid was talking about it for days and that he was yelling out his door about it before he did it.”
“Dog, what I thinks fucked up is how you didn’t do nuthin’ to stop him.”
“N***a wants to kill himself, he gonna kill himself no matter what.”
“Yeah, but they coulda done somethin’. He was just all alone in there, all depressed like.”
“You guys, I can assure you that the staff here did everything possible,” says Cross.
“And some that wasn’t…” I mutter sarcastically.
“This was a terrible tragedy that no one wanted to see happen. Without trying to place blame, do you guys have any thoughts about this?” asks Cross.
“Muthafucker, you coulda done something.”
Cross just shakes his head.
“Man, I kinda feel bad, like, for his family. Lil’ homie just wasn’t thinkin’ about them.”
Three simultaneous “Yeah[s]” in agreement.
“It’s just really sad.”
“Why the fuck did he do it?”
“Dude only had 3 years left. That ain’t shit!”
“Cross, you think he coulda gone to heaven still?”
“I don’t know,” answers Cross. “I’m not qualified to answer that. You should consider talking to the chaplain or your religious leader.”
“Did anybody know him?”
“I don’t even know who we’re talking about.”
“My man’s locked near him and he said that dude didn’t kick it with no one; he just was quiet and stuck to himself.”
“What was his name?”
“Look,” interjects Price, pushing his hands up as if to raise the roof. “I think that I speak for everyone when I say that I don’t give a fuck that some kid who none of us knows killed himself. I’m just pissed off because now you’re taking my yard for it. We shouldn’t be punished because of somebody else. You should just let us go now so that we can all be on our way. Does everyone agree?”
“Shut up Price.”
“Yeah, shut the fuck up.”
“Hey, fuck you motherfucker,” responds Price. “If you want to stay to talk, that’s cool, but I want to leave.”
“Well,” inserts Cross. “Do any of you have anything you want to discuss while we’re all here?”
Nobody moves. Nobody says anything. A chair scrapes against the floor.
Cross again appears surprised. “I don’t want to keep you guys too long if that’s all. But I want you to know that you can always kite or just ask me when you see me if there ever is anything that you might just want to talk about, and I will do everything I can to get with you that same day. If any of you guys want to stay after, we can talk after everyone else leaves.”
“Can we go now?”
“Yeah, can we go?”
“Yeah … you guys can go,” finishes Cross.
We all walk slowly out. One might think that we would move quickly, but everyone wants to see if anyone else will stay behind. No one does.
I am walking up the two flights of stairs to get to the school on the second floor of “Building 300,” and my eyes are mostly shut as I walk because it is 7:30 AM. They are open wide enough, however, to feel the grainy texture of solidified sleep at their limits. I pause and use my hand to clear them, and now I open my eyes a little wider.
I walk down the right corridor of the hallway that forms a rectangular moat surrounding the library. I enter into the classroom I work in at the end of the hall straight ahead.
“Morning Mr. E,” I say.
“HeyHowYaDoin’?” he responds in one syllable.
I walk to the back cabinet in the left corner of the room and pull out the First Hour box of folders. I set them on the table in the middle of the room.
Will is in the corner.
“Hey, did a little dude try to kill himself the day before yesterday on your guy’s side?” asks Will, who is on the Adult side.
“Yeah, he did it though. I watched them take his body out on a stretcher,” I respond.
“Man, that is too bad,” Will says. “There ain’t nothin’ in life worth killing yourself over. Too bad nobody had the chance to talk to him.”
The students float and flow in, swaying in the current created by the air conditioner. I am not quite sure that some of them are actually awake, though they are walking. One walks directly into a table.
More students walk in. My group sits down at the three tables forming a horseshoe around me. I have six students that I work with.
“What’s up ya’ll? You guys want to grab your folders so that we can get started?” I ask.
I receive a few “Yeah[s].” After a pause long enough to make me wonder whether they are actually going to comply, one by one they stand up and walk to the folder box. Upon retrieval of their manila folders, they return to sit down, dropping their folders to the table so that they smack loudly against it. I look the group over.
“You guys don’t look too enthusiastic today,” I comment.
“No, we’re alright. C’mon, let’s get it.”
“Did you hear about the kid who killed himself?” Twon asks me.
“Yeah, I watched them bring him out,” I reply.
“Not that I care; that shit’s crazy though,” says Twon.
“Did you see anything?” I ask since he brought it up.
“Man, lil’ homie locked right across the hall from me,” responds Twon. “He was real quiet, but for the past couple of days he been talkin’ about killing himself. It wasn’t no secret that he was thinkin’ about it. Then on the day he does it, he was yelling out his door that he was going to kill himself.”
“Did you see what happened?” I ask.
“Naw,” answers Twon. “He covered his door window with wet toilet paper before he did it. I couldn’t see nuthin’.”
“I talked to that lil’ n***a before, man. Dude was only 16,” says L.
“16. Jesus Christ,” says Taylor.
“He only had 3 years left to go, but he was telling random-ass people that he couldn’t do it, that it was too much and that he was going to kill himself,” adds L.
Twon is looking down at the table with his head in his hands, appearing to be covering his ears or rubbing his temples. He is subtly shaking his head back and forth.
“Man, I SAW him,” says Twon quietly, his voice trembling. “When they opened the door to tell him to take the toilet paper down. They didn’t know what was going on. But I saw him, just hanging, man. He wasn’t moving, and they rushed in to pick him up, but it was too late. That’s some shit you’re not supposed to see, man.”
“Why did he have to do that?” asks JR, who was in group with me yesterday.
“I don’t know, bro. I don’t know,” I answer.
My roommate is watching South Park with me. My clear-cased television does not have a speaker, so he is listening to the right earbud on his bed while I listen to the left one above him on mine. “I hate this place. I hate this place so very, very much,” says my roommate in his best Eric Cartman impersonation.
“Screw you guys, I’m going home,” I respond in my own Cartman voice, though knowing full-well that there is no other home for me to go to.
“I wish I could go home right now,” he says.
“I wonder if when you die, you feel like you’re going home?” asks my roommate.
I shrug my shoulders, though he cannot see me above him.
“I don’t know.”
“That shit’s just crazy about that little guy in Franklin. Do you realize how dedicated you would have to be to hang yourself while your feet still touch the floor?”
“I know, bro,” I respond.
“He kinda gave the ultimate ‘Screw You’ to everyone here,” he says. “He basically said that our world sucks so much that he is better off not in it, and that we’re stupid for going along.”
“I never really thought of it that way,” I say.
“I don’t know. I guess the world’s all right most of the time. I don’t really want to kill myself, but if the time came then I wouldn’t complain. Know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I feel ya.” The episode ends. It is now 11:00 PM, and they force us to wake up and walk to breakfast at 6:30 AM. I am ready to go to sleep.
“I’m going to sleep, bro,” I say.
“Okeedokie,” he retorts.
“Yeah, goodnight,” he responds. “I hope I see you in the morning.”
I turn off my TV and turn on my 10-inch personal fan, which is above my head. I lie down and wrap a sheet around my eyes. I try to envision hanging myself from a locker that is shorter than I am. It seems impossible even in my head, despite any amount of dedication. I decide to think of other things. As I fall asleep, now thinking of the beach, my right hand lightly rubs against the few year old scar on my left wrist, caused when I sliced it open with a razor blade.