“Evening Mister,” the guard glanced at Jeff’s badge, “Herman.”
Jeff grunted in reply, submitting to the body frisk, the wand waving over him, the opening of his briefcase for inspection. He still couldn’t believe he was here at Madison Jail. The clanking of metal doors was unnerving. What a dismal atmosphere! Whatever brought these kids here, he was sure they deserved their punishment.
Frowning, Jeff followed the guard. He was annoyed and knew it showed. He didn’t belong here! He wasn’t a criminal. All he did was text on his phone while driving, resulting in a minor accident. He had asked the judge if his sentence of community service hours could be done at his church. But because he was a college professor, the judge assigned him to teach GED classes to high school dropouts, juveniles incarcerated as adults for crimes they had committed.
The bravado and testosterone was so thick, it was palpable. They made wisecracks, snickering or glaring with disdain, each of them carefully eying the guard while they waited for the “teach” to arrive. Most weren’t serious about a GED, except maybe Jeremy, the only one not covered with tattoos and piercings. The others considered him a wannabe – not really one of them.
Tyrell, Carlos, Anthony, Marcus, and Jeremy talked of their girls and hommies. The guard stood, arms crossed, a bored look on his face. He had heard it all…and then some.
“Yo, Johnson, is our teach?” Anthony’s hands formed the shape of a woman.
“You wish,” the guard snorted, his expression remaining the same.
Jeff plopped his briefcase on the table, looking with dismay at the five boys. He’d read their profiles. All were incarcerated for either murder, assault with a deadly weapon, or armed robbery.
What a wasted cause! He just hoped the weeks passed by swiftly.
Finally the hour was up. “Give me your essays before you go,” Jeff said, anxious to leave this place.
“Jus one them do-gooders! He don care bout us.” Marcus said, walking with an exaggerated swagger as they were being escorted to their cells by the guard.
“My homeboys got ma back! Ain’t needing nobody else.” Carlos thumped his chest.
“Mister Man be shocked what I wrote bout me.” Anthony boasted.
Tyrell laughed while Jeremy said nothing.
“Three of these boys are barely literate. They write like second graders,” Jeff said to Karen that evening as he flipped through the essays the boys had written about themselves. Jeff hoped to gain insight into their grammar and writing abilities. “Tyrell’s got decent grammar skills. Jeremy seems on par with his grade level.”
“What’re their stories like?” Karen asked.
“The same: no dad, neglectful or abusive mother, surviving on the streets by doing and selling drugs, gang violence, robbery and murder. Jeremy says he was raised in a good home, got in with the wrong crowd, and didn’t know the car he was driving was for an armed robbery where a grocery clerk was killed. Humph!”
“Oh, Jeff!” Karen touched the papers. “It’s all so sad.”
“They’ve committed serious crimes, Karen.” Jeff’s voice was irritated. “I just hope I survive for three weeks with these thugs.”
“Hello Jeff! How’s it going with those boys at the jail?” Jeff and Karen were leaving Sunday when Pastor Brown stopped him.
“Okay, I guess. Only two are even possible candidates for a GED. It all seems pointless; they’re already hardened criminals. Why get a GED?” Jeff didn’t care to discuss this. He had no interest in these boys except to fulfill his community service hours.
“Praise God, Jeff! You have the opportunity to be a ray of light to them. Have you read The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson? Powerful story about how God lead one man to the hardened gangs in New York City fifty years ago. His message of hope changed lives and an international ministry was founded. I have a copy; wait here, I’ll get it for you. I’m sure it’ll inspire you.”
Jeff frowned as Pastor Brown hurried away. “Thanks,” he said, politely taking the book when Pastor Brown returned.
He had no desire to help these boys. The jail had plenty of visiting ministers for inmates wanting God.
“Hey, Teach! Last day! Gonna miss us?”
Jeff shrugged, gathering his papers.
“Yeah, we thought so!” Their derisive laughter sounded hollow; their sad, hopeless eyes carved into their hardened, boyish faces.
Jeff snapped his briefcase shut, and without a glance, walked out.
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