(real menacing-looking teenage boy right here ^^^)
This was quite the eye-opener for me, and I think one of the more timely and presently urgent pieces of e-lit that we have experienced thus far. I have always had a fascination with unjust punishment, and whether or not most punishments fit certain crimes. I think that this comes from my early love with Iron Maiden’s Hallowed Be Thy Name as a pre-teen – which presents the narrative of a man on death row for a crime he did not commit.
Still, throughout this piece, and as I shifted through each case, I tried to envision and fill in certain unanswered gaps with my own imagination. What crimes could have been committed? Murder? Assault? Petty theft? I tried to run an entire span from what I may consider to be petty little crimes to severe offenses. Regardless, I felt a great amount of empathy, and not even just for the prisoners who may or may not have committed whatever crimes assumed or not, but just for human existence within this whole societal system – I felt sympathy for the whole.
I feel a sense of paranoia for how slow and lacking in progress the powers that be, whatever you might wanna call them, are in ensuring a just outcome. The consequences of their justice system weigh down more than just the offenders, and whoever they most potentially think is an offender, they weigh down those surrounding them. Friends, family, extended acquaintances, people they may not even know. To view certain people as a social currency, a most valueless one, during a pandemic is absurd to me. They get sick, a guard gets sick, their family gets sick. The lack of care itself is a disease, it spreads, it consumes, and it gives nothing back.
In high school I remember being assigned the task of creating a video essay on WW1, one that I intended to convey how the horrors of what happen to soldiers on the front line (which are often propagandized through uplifting motivational packages that feed into the ego death phenomenon or whatever), but more so how they affect those back home as well. So I spliced authentic WW1 footage with the barber shop scene in Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, where a woman emotionlessly gets her eyeball slit by a razor blade. My AP English class was disturbed and confused and some appalled, but I thought it was a success in challenging students’ perceptions of this trinkling of suffering idea that I was getting at.
Coincidentally, that same day some students were talking about Columbine in a class that I was in, I never found out who said this, and who reported it, but the students were making some sort of list of students that they thought were most likely to “shoot up the school.” I topped the list, which is not completely a shocker to me. I was very brash, edgy, and looked like I could have roadied for SLAYER back in ‘83. All of my band tees had pentagrams on them, my hair was long and nappy, I always seemed on-edge unless you tried to talk to me, and my brother was missing from school for over two years at that point (mental health issues and bullying due to sexuality led to him being transferred, not my business to share).
Apparently, the teacher who reported me reported me as “threatening to shoot up the school,” and the woman who ran the behavioral department ran with it, and an investigation through my submitted school work commenced about half-way through the school day (my presentation was during second period). I was called down to the office (a rarity that confused the class and the teacher I had, I think it was 5th or 6th period) and told to sit in a room, facing the wall. I was told that I was there for some threats that I made, then told that I was there because some students were listing off names of school shooters and their teacher confronted them once my name was mentioned. Very muddy waters. What really was it? I’ve had to piece it all together because the people questioning me and reporting me absolutely didn’t know all the details. What the fuck?
I was in that room for hours when the woman running the behavioral department told me that she came to the decision to send me to Trinitas to be evaluated, and that if things didn’t check out right then I would be committed. Terrifying for me, I don’t want to get too personal, but if you read prior closely you can piece things together, and I knew the nightmare that that was. The idea stressed the living hell out of me. She began typing up a police escort on her computer, trying to hover the screen away from me, but I saw the time request that she put, and called her out on it. “2:35, isn’t that when school lets out?!?” I panicked. She tried to act all nonchalant about it, and explained that that is when I was to be escorted out by the police at the front entrance of the school.
Great, she is making an example of me, everyone is going to see the cryptic metalhead edgy kid getting shoved into a cop car at the time of day where parents and students and faculty surround the front of the school. Why? The time she set wasn’t even an hour plus! If I was some school shooter wouldn’t they want me escorted ASAP? She was visibly frustrated when I exclaimed “can’t a parent or guardian come pick me up and escort me instead? I can call my mom!!!” Turns out that was a rule! Why are you throwing a visible temper fit because I can’t get escorted in front of everybody by the police?
Anyway, I sat staring at that wall for four hours, and my teacher, who was not fond of the video I submitted herself came by, crying. Apologizing because she had no choice but to show them the video. I almost cried, I didn’t like seeing such an important and influential person in my life that stressed, even though I was a tad miffed earlier in the day that she didn’t get the edginess of my video entirely. While in the room I overheard her arguing with the principal at the time and my IEP case manager, they were all heated. I was shocked, it sounds like the other two are defending me. That almost made me cry. The phrase that did make me cry was her shouting “I do not know this kid, I have never seen this kid, I don’t trust the way he looks, I do not trust this kid!” If you never saw me shouldn’t that be a good thing!?!
To make things worse, the woman saw the video (which was praised by the principal for being “college appropriate” by the principal at the time, but not necessarily high school appropriate”) and through him I was told that her big problem with it was the anti-semitism she saw in it, and that she was upset about my inclusion of Nazi’s burning Jews in concentration camps. Interesting. I immediately told him that all of the footage that I used was simply WW1 footage found on YouTube of American soldiers fighting in trenches, an art house surrealist film, and Opeth music videos that show Satan. When he got back he and my case manager apologized for the confusion, they were visibly frustrated, and annoyed with this woman – I had a sneaking suspicion she had wrongly sent kids to Trinitas before … after telling this story many times in the seven years since I have learned that she did.
I thought I was in the clear, they looked back at the video and knew that she was lying, but by this point school had ended hours ago, and had long gone home. Apparently once she submitted the report only she can take it back. A few moments later the principal came back with a black and white polaroid from the 90’s of two white boys and I shuddered in fear. “Oh no, is he about to randomly turn against me?” He asked me if I knew who the two young men in the photo were, and I legitimately gulped that I was so shitting bricks. Before I could answer “Erik and Dylan” he told me. “That’s me in high school,” he softly revealed, “I know what you’re going through.”
My new hero.
My mom eventually came. Don’t think she didn’t haul ass because she did, she just worked a few hours away that day, and left work instantly and as early as possible to save her Baby Bear (so edgy amirite). She took me to the Trinitas in Elizabeth after, where I would sit in a chair for four-plus more hours, staring at another wall because it was either that or Family Feud, and nah, I hate Family Feud. Note: my case manager was such for my IEP, which I had because of my ADHD. He knew how excruciating all of this chair sitting was for me.
It was scary sitting there. Every now and then some kids would pass by, all of which were there for reasons that nearly made me cry. It was sad sitting there. I felt violated, ashamed, and insulted – just for being. My evaluation went well, the two women evaluating me were shocked that I was there. My mom recognized them from last week, actually, which was funny because when they asked me about mental health in my family, I answered none whatsoever. I was really scared.
On the ride home I kept thinking about how mad I was that I had to go through over eight hours of 16-year old paranoia, which is very exaggerated, and while sitting at Trinitas the woman who sent me there was at home enjoying her night, eating dinner, watching television, whatever. Simply because of a wrong accusation and her lack of trust in my appearance, she cost my mom pay, wasted hours of her co-workers time, made an educator cry, and further stigmatized me for simply being. Did she ever face any sort of consequence for this? Not because of what she did to me, that’s for sure, but simply because she deemed me a bad kid I was suddenly disposable and expected to be humiliated and made an example of, regardless of whether or not she actually had the time or presentation to prove whether or not I was actually intending to, or did, any of the things that I was being falsely accused of. A cynic she made of me.