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Chapter 1: Intake


ThinkLink: Have you ever had to go to a new and frightening place?

       The steel door clangs shut. The guard doesn't get close enough to touch me, but he stays right behind my back. On one side are windows so high up I can't see out. Doors line the other side. I keep thinking about what my mom said at the hearing . "It's a dangerous place. A dangerous place."

       " Intake area ," the guard says. "This's where they do tests. Medical, teeth. See if you can read." He slows down. "These are offices the POs use. Yours'll get to you in a day or two."

       He waits to see if I'll ask, but like the deputy who drove me here from Wheatland told me, I keep my mouth shut. Every time I open it, I get in deeper.

       "PO's a Parole Officer ," he goes on, explaining anyway. "They got the say. Don't forget it."

       When we get to the end of the hall, he reaches past me and pushes a button on the wall. A buzzer goes off and he pulls the door open. "Move on through." He puts his hand on my shoulder and I jerk away. "Cool down, kid. That won't earn you Brownie points here."

       My feet are heavy, hardly able to move, like when my work boots get stuck in the mud out in the pasture after a heavy rain, rain that comes all at once instead of regular like we need it.

       "I'm coming, I'm coming."

       "Watch how you talk. That'll get you in trouble."

       "Like I'm not already in trouble."

       "What'd you expect? It's no fancy girls' school here, you know."

       No fancy boys' school either, no matter that the sign out front says Fire Oak School for Boys , State of Oregon. Everybody knows it's a jail, only this one's for kids.

       The guard herds me through the door like I herd the milk cow at the ranch , crowding her, moving her along. My little brother Nick'll be bringing her in now, turning her into a stall in the barn so Mom can milk her. A stab of hurt goes through me so hard I bend forward.

       "Watch it," the guard says. "No funny stuff. Sit down here while I get Mr. Kelly."

       I flop down on an old, brown vinyl couch and it gives a big whoosh. At Wheatland High , I'd have grinned, making kids think I'd cracked one , but nothing is funny anymore. I look around at the other guys. There aren't many. One average-looking kid, brown hair falling over his face, slumps over asleep, his mouth hanging open. Two rough-looking guys further on down have their shaggy heads together, talking so quiet I can't hear their voices. The fourth one, a good-looking black guy, sits off by himself, like me, but when I glance over at him he glares at me, so I look around like I'm sizing up the place .

       I stand up to go over to the guard behind the desk, but he jabs his finger at me and I plop back down. Sit where I'm told. Wait like I'm told. I'm here and I can't get out. My nose starts to run and I wipe it off on my arm. I sag down on the couch and turn my face away from the other kids. Damn. I can't let these guys see.

       The man I guess is Kelly lets the guard out the door and goes back to a desk. He's forty, maybe more, partly bald, about my Uncle Pete's age, maybe my Uncle Red's. Pete's likely checking the cattle in the back pasture about now. Red's probably working on machinery in the tool shed . As soon as they've cut the wheat , Pete starts working on things for next year. "Ranch work's never done," he says practically every day.

ThinkLink: When have you ever felt as nervous as John is right now?

       Kelly's face stiffens when he looks at me. He buzzes another man in and they come over. The guard who brought me in is the only one who wears a uniform so it's hard to tell who these guys are. I don't know if I'm supposed to stand up, or what. I move up to the edge of the cushion and hope it's enough.

       "John Hanson?"


       "Come with us, Hanson. I'm Mr. Kelly, in charge of intake and this is Mr. Merten."

       I stand up and they fall in behind me and we go down another hall. Kelly motions me in at a door marked Shower. A steel bench hangs on one wall, a toilet on the other and a shower spigot at the back. Everything's white tile up to the ceiling. Merten rummages around in a cardboard box and comes up with some clothes and an old pair of white tennis shoes.

       Kelly pulls on a pair of rubber gloves like doctors wear. "Time for a body search . Ever done this before?" I shake my head. "Give me whatever you've got in your pockets."

       "They took everything off me at the courthouse . There's nothing but this." I take out a wad of tissue and hand it to Kelly. He shakes it out, tosses it into the toilet and flushes.

       Merten comes over and stands on one side of me and Kelly stands on the other. "Strip down. Everything. Put it in this basket."

       I feel the back of my neck get hot. Kelly stands there, waiting for me to begin. I unbutton the shirt Mom bought for me to wear at the hearing . Seems like it happened months ago, not just this morning. My jeans are new, too, and still stiff. Crazy time to get new clothes. Like I was supposed to dress up for my own hanging . I look down at my boots. I was going to buy some new ones before school started with money I'd earned at the gas station . I pull them off and stuff my socks inside. I straighten up, look at the wall, and unzip my jeans.

       When I stand there in my uns , Merten says, "Those, too."

       Oh, God, they're really going to do it.

       Kelly tugs up his rubber gloves and gets right in my face. "We go over you for contraband -- drugs , weapons ."

       "That's crazy. I don't have that kind of..."

ThinkLink: Have you ever worked really hard to find a good hiding spot for something? Tell about it.

       "Open your mouth." He pulls my lip up and runs a finger along my gums . Then he pokes under my tongue . Goose bumps jump out all over me. He runs his hands through my hair, fingers spread out, feeling all over my head. I try to stay still, not act chicken , but I want to puke all over him. Then he slides his hands under my arms and along my sides. What'd he think I could hide buck-naked? He leans over and lifts one foot at a time, running his fingers along the bottom and between each toe. Stop it, damn it. My foot jerks away, but he hangs on.

       I think he's through and I gasp for air. "OK. Assume the position ." I stare at him, not knowing what to do next. "Against the wall, arms and legs spread ."

       I bite down on my tongue until I taste blood. Mom, I scream in my head so loud he must be able to hear. Mom!

       Then it's over. Kelly strips off the gloves and throws them in a bin in the closet. Merten goes over all my stuff and puts it in a cloth sack. Kelly turns on the shower and hands me a little bar of soap. "Wash good. Hair, too." I step under the hot water and stay under as long as I figure I can until I feel almost clean.

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 Updated on 9/30/03

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