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Chapter 3: The Trial


ThinkLink: Did you ever have to sleep someplace uncomfortable?

       I wake up to a ray of sunlight in my eyes from a window too high up to see out. I'm laying on this metal shelf, supposed to be a cot , that's bolted onto the wall . All I got is a pad underneath me and a gray wool blanket to pull over me. A sink sticks out of one corner and a funny-looking toilet hangs right off the wall, both of them metal, too. The clothes they gave me are in a pile on the floor.

       Two men are talking somewhere down the hall. I go and push up against a wire screen over an open square in the door. "Came in on an Assault ... sometimes the quiet ones... ."

       Yeah. Like I'm some kind of desperado . I sit on the edge of the cot and breathe in and out slow, like Dad showed me once when I fell out of a big tree and got the wind knocked out of me. I remember him bending me over and telling me, "In through the nose, out through the mouth, breathe deep and slow." Only the next week he was on his way to Texas, leaving us at the ranch .

       After I pull on the baggy jeans and shoes, I flop back down on the cot and get a whack on the back. Damn! Damn it to hell anyway!

       I can't believe I'm here. Yesterday, I woke up a ranch kid in my own bed. Then we went to the hearing in Wheatland where nothing went like I expected. I figured Mom and me would go in, the judge would give me a mean talking to, and maybe put me on probation and I'd go home.

       We walked into the courtroom, me, Mom and Mr. Jackson, the lawyer Pete told her to hire. Jackson took me up to a table in front and Mom sat behind us in the first row of chairs behind a wood fence. Jackson had this plaid jacket on and a tie even. Nobody wears ties in Wheatland except maybe at funerals and not always then. I bet Pete don't even own a tie. Jackson plunked a brief case down on the table, like he was somebody important. He pulled on me to stand up when the judge came in.

       Old man Shields just won election for judge . He's a lawyer, but a wheat farmer, too, like most everybody else in Carroll County . He still has a white forehead and a sunburned face. We see him all the time in town, but when he came in he looked different, mostly because he had a black robe on. He sat down at a table higher up than ours so he could look down on us.

       Then the judge said the hearing was open and the whole pack of them started in on me. The juvenile officer , the judge, the sheriff , and worst of all, Roy Fletcher.

       John stole money.

       John knocked Roy Fletcher out.

       John smarts off to his uncles at home.

        Like that's a crime .

ThinkLink: Have you ever beenn a situation where everyone but you was deciding what would happen to you?

       While Jackson thumbed through a pile of papers in his brief case , trying to come up with something good to say for me, I looked around at Pete and Red in the back row. It surprised me how much they look alike, almost like it was my first time seeing them. Same sharp noses, and chins that stick out, only Pete has dark hair and Red's hair is sort of faded orange. Pete looked at the ceiling and Red looked out the window. I'd had the crazy idea they'd come to speak up for me, to tell how I could go back to the ranch with them, but they hadn't said word one.

       Roy Fletcher leaned against the side wall, hands greasy, like always, but at least wearing a clean shirt. He had this little smile on his face like, "I gotcha now, kid."

       And why was Norman Ryan, the guy Mom met at the Grange Hall , sitting in the back row? Guess so he could go back and talk about us to all the nosy old folks there. Last thing Mom needs is a guy around. Between my dad and Pete, you'd think she's had enough pushing around.

       Even Mom didn't look like herself. Because she was in a dress, maybe, instead of jeans. She just sat there picking at a piece of dry skin next to her thumbnail and listening to all the bad things they told on me. She looked so worried it scared me.

       I thought Mr. Jackson would defend me or object like they do on TV, but he just listened, too. Looked like it was up to me. " Judge , I can explain. It wasn't like they said."

       "John, what about this don't you understand? Don't you know you're charged with a serious offense ?"

       Dumb question. Of course, I knew it was serious. A drop of sweat ran down my face and onto my neck. I rubbed it away. Judge Shields held up some papers. "These reports confirm what I've been hearing this morning. You may not have been in any serious trouble with the law before, but you're headstrong . Down right pig-headed from the sound of it."

ThinkLink: Have you ever tried to tell your side of a story but nobody would listen?

       I tried to tell him my side again, but he waved the folder at me and I slid back down on my tailbone.

       He thumbed through the pile some more. "Our county juvenile officer , Mr. Bradley, reports you have a record as a runaway ." Where'd they'd dig that old stuff up?

        "Close to two years ago, the Oregon State Police picked you up near the California border," the judge said, sounding like it was for a shooting or something. "According to this report you were on your way to Texas, and you were only thirteen." He glared down at me. "Running away is an offense for children, not a criminal charge , but it does tell me you need some sort of close security."

       "All I was doing was going to find my dad and get him to come back to Oregon with me."

ThinkLink: Did you ever say something that came out different from from what you meant?

       "I understand you said that was your reason, but it's another example..." He held up another paper. "Your uncles, Pete and Red Steele, say you give them too much lip ." Must've been Pete said that. He's the one who gives me grief . Red and me get along OK. He wouldn't bad-mouth me that way. At least I don't think he would.

       "Back talk's not a crime , is it?"

        Judge Shields got all red in the face, like he was having a fit. "That's enough."

       Last thing I wanted to do was make him mad. "Please, your honor ," I said, trying to sound respectful like they do on lawyer shows on TV.

       "You heard me. Maybe we don't have many people living in Carroll County , but we know the sorts of things going on in the world. And we'll have none of that here."

       "I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."

       He ignored that. "I figure you're too much for your mother to handle."

       I turned around and looked at Mom; Did she tell them that? She keeps saying I'm the man of the family since Dad left us. I do more than most guys. I watch Nick and Lori for her and most of the time I do what she tells me. Not as quick as she wants, sometimes. But I do it.

       The judge made a noise, and I looked back quick, to let him know I was paying attention. "Now for the charge you assaulted your employer , Mr. Fletcher, who was good enough to give you a job at his service station. When he caught you stealing from his cash register, you knocked him out. Young man, if an adult had done this it would be a felony , aggravated assault during a robbery. You being just short of fifteen I've chosen to try you as a juvenile offender . But juvenile or not, people around here are getting plenty fed up with crime . Why three times in the last month..." He rambled on in a speech like the one he made at the Grange Hall right before the election . "John, are you getting all this?"

       "Yes, sir, but it wasn't like he told it," I said, careful not to make it sound like I was arguing.

       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."

       Mr. Jackson stood up and snapped his briefcase shut. His eyes looked watery. "Did what I could," he muttered . I stared at him. Had to chomp on my tongue to keep from telling him he'd done almost nothing.

       "I'm sorry, John," he said and turned and walked out of the courtroom.

       My uncles started to leave, too, but Mom called after them. "Pete, Red, can't you do something?"

       Red went on through the door, ducking out like always, but Pete stopped to have the last word. "Now, Marilyn, this is probably for the best. Make a man of him."

       He started to walk out again, but Mom didn't let him get away with it like she usually did. She went over and grabbed hold of his elbow. "Don't say that. He was trying to help me. He just got mixed up."

       Pete snorted. "He's mixed up, all right. Just like his old man when he brought the whole bunch of you back to us. John'll probably turn out to be a loser, same as Johnny, and ruin our name clear across the county to boot."

ThinkLink: Do you think that what others think about you is important?

       That's all Pete cares about -- what folks like Roy Fletcher will think of him. He's right about everybody in the county , though. To them, I'll always be that no-good Hanson kid, son of lowlife Johnny Hanson.

       Pete stomped out and Mom walked back to the front of the courtroom, her shoulders slumped down. I checked out the sheriff and he shrugged, so I guessed it was OK to go over to her. I started to walk through the little gate in the fence but he put his hand on my shoulder. "Marilyn," he said, "if you'll come around here and sit at the table with John, I'll let you have a couple of minutes before he goes with my deputy ."

       Mom choked back her crying and walked around through the gate, watching me every minute like maybe if she looked away, I'd disappear. She put her arm around my shoulders and hugged me hard. "I didn't say it like that ... it wasn't the way the judge made it sound ... I never thought they'd ... I'll do something. I promise."

       Mom turned around to the sheriff . She went all through school with him, so she knew him pretty good. "Henry, would you go talk to the judge ? Tell him if he lets John come home with me, I'll keep him there all the time. I'll see he doesn't get in any more trouble." Her voice cracked. "We'll work things out."

        Sheriff Deetz shrugged. "Sorry. You haven't got the say over John anymore. The juvenile authorities have that now, Marilyn. Nothing I can do."

ThinkLink: Have you ever tried and make someone feel better, even though you were sad yourself?

       I tried to make her feel better. "Hey, I'll make out all right. And you get another lawyer for me, you hear? Jackson sure didn't do me any good." I tried to smile at her, but how could I, when I was scared to death myself?

       She wiped her nose and stuffed her handkerchief in her pocket. "I will. I'll go over to The Dalles or Hood River or maybe even into Portland to find a lawyer. I should never have let Pete talk me into getting that paper pusher Jerry Jackson. I'll ask Norman."

       The sheriff came over to the table and stood next to me. He pulled out handcuffs . Handcuffs.

       " Deputy's here, kid. Time to go." I tried to stand up, but my legs weren't working right. The sheriff pulled me up by one arm and told me to hold my hands out in front of me. He put the handcuffs , cold and hard, on my wrists and clicked them shut.

       "Henry, please," Mom said. "Do you have to do that?"

       "Afraid so, Marilyn. Regular practice. Kids squirm away sometimes if we don't." He pulled on my arm to make me go with him. I looked back, and the last thing I saw of Mom, she had a look on her face I'll always remember. Kind of like I died.


A key scrapes in the lock and Kelly opens the steel door. "Report to the dayroom , Hanson. It's time to eat."

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 Updated on 9/30/03

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