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Chapter 3: Scene 11: The Sentence


       He ignored me and talked to Mom. "Marilyn, the district attorney has filed a motion to authorize John's detention. If this matter didn't involve violence, I'd be inclined to send John to a group home , maybe. But we don't have anything like that here and so John would have to leave the county in any case. Roy Fletcher testified this was Assault , pure and simple. This requires stern measures ."

       I sat there stiff as a spooked steer . I looked around to see what Mom would say, but she was crying, not out loud, but with tears sliding down her face. Oh, God, what if she can't get me out of this?

       The judge's voice turned soapy. "You don't know how it pains me to do this, Marilyn, but this boy needs some good old-fashioned discipline . With no father in the home..." He looked back at me. "I want you to understand this is for you own good, John. I'm putting you under the supervision of the juvenile authorities of the state. You'll be taken today to Fire Oak School for Boys ."

       I couldn't believe it. Fire Oak's for gangs , for God's sake, not for ranch kids. He kept on talking and I had to make myself listen. "We consider this a form of treatment , not punishment , John. I expect you to come out of there having learned your lesson. You'll remain under the control of the state juvenile system until they see fit to release you." I looked at Mom again. She lifted her hand and started to say something, but he frowned at her and she pulled it down and put it over her face.

       Shields wasn't through. "We have a peaceful community with good respectable people. We're not going to have juvenile delinquents setting a bad example for our young people."

       Finally, Mr. Jackson came to life. " your honor , isn't that a little more than is called for? I've presented John's explanation for what happened. I believe there are extenuating circumstances . I'm asking you to put him on probation and maybe order some counseling ." He looks over at me. "You didn't mean to bring any harm to Mr. Fletcher, did you, John?"

       "No, sir," I choked out. "I only went over there to get what was due me."

       "Yes, yes, we've heard all that, Jerry," the judge said. "That's what troubles me about his case. John continues to justify himself. No, this calls for more than probation . He'll get straightened out at Fire..."

       Mom broke in. " Judge , please..."

       "Yes, Marilyn?" he said, real polite now.

       "I know what John did was wrong and he knows it, too, but he's just fifteen years old." Her words came in gasps. "That ... reform school ... a dangerous place ... give me a little time ... I'll get a job ... rent a house in town." That was more like it. Finally she'd move us off the ranch , get our own place. The judge ought to buy that.

       "I know how you feel, Marilyn, but John won't be in Fire Oak all that long. You let us handle this," he said, like he was her dad or something. "John will be all right. The state will find a placement for him. They have lots of programs for boys like him -- group homes , foster homes , you know."

ThinkLink: Have you ever said something when you should have kept quiet?

       When I started to stand up, Jackson grabbed my arm and pulled me back down. I knew I was yelling at the judge , but I couldn't make myself stop. "It's not fair. It didn't happen the way Fletcher said. Damn it! You can't take me away from home."

        Judge Shields' voice turned hard as nails. "I can and I have." He stood up and pulled that black robe-thing down over his backside. Then he hooked a thumb at the sheriff . "Henry, have your deputy take John over to Fire Oak today."

       I had to get him back. " Judge , please," but he went into a little office back of the bench and closed the door. I turned to Henry Deetz. " Sheriff , I got to talk to him."

       "Too late, John. I'll give you a couple of minutes with your mother and then you'll be on your way. I'll be right here, so no funny stuff."

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