When I was seventeen I did something that earned me thirty days in Remann Hall, a juvenile detention facility in Tacoma, Washington. It was pretty serious, and I was lucky in the end to just get the thirty days–in an absolute worst-case scenario I might have done twenty years. As it was, this experience nearly prevented me from graduating high school and subsequently starting college that fall. However, as things have a way of doing, everything turned out all right in the end.
The experience was profound: a watershed moment in my life, and I can trace who I am today in part to my days in Remann Hall. I carry them with me still.
I think a lot about the people I met in that place: the broken children–a collection of feral Lost Boys in a cancerous Never-Never Land, with only their dead-end futures on the horizon; and our keepers, the only-slightly-less broken adults who, through a series of poor vocational choices had come at last to serve as essential but interchangeable gears in that remorseless, child-devouring machine.
There was the small, gray public defender I had for about thirty seconds before my mom scraped up the money for a real lawyer. The PD couldn’t be bothered even to pretend any concern over my fate at the hands of the legal system, but still managed to give me advice which I regard as invaluable to this day. “Don’t tell them anything,” she urged me, “Just keep your mouth shut.”
One of the guards was a big black dude who had supposedly played a couple of years in the NFL. Everybody called him Brobocop, just not to his face. Brobocop didn’t like anybody, but he took an inexplicable–and obvious–dislike to me. He was invariably a contemptuous ass on those occasions when he would speak to me, and I quickly learned to avoid him to the extent that I could.
Somebody told me that the reason Brobocop had it out for me was that he thought I was a phony. He saw my sunny disposition, good manners and polished diction as a front, merely the affectations of a clever con. For a long time I accepted that explanation. Now that I’m older, and know a little bit more about people, I wonder. I sometimes think that Brobocop knew quite clearly that I didn’t belong there (which is not to say that I didn’t deserve to be there; I most certainly did), and just didn’t care.
The very first kid I met in juvie had the cell across from mine. He was there for molesting his little sister. “I didn’t do it, though,” he said. I told him I was innocent as well. The place was full of liars.
There was only one girl at Remann Hall when I was there, although I think there may be more now. I don’t remember her name, but I remember that she was beautiful: even in the baggy blue jumpsuit they made her wear you could tell she had gifts. She had bright red hair, so exuberantly springy that it typically defied her attempts to pull it back and fell about her face, which was pale and comely, highlighting lush lips. A swath of sunny freckles ran just below her eyes, which were blue and bright. She was sweet and funny, and the handful of times we were together (and never, ever alone) the minutes burned away too quickly. She was such a lovely girl.
She was there because she had killed her father, a charge that she never denied. So far as I know, she never gave a reason for it. One of the guards told me that they’d asked her repeatedly if her father had abused her in any way–she said he hadn’t–and I could sense a little bit in the guard’s voice how much he wanted that this girl should say something–anything–that would make her not guilty of this terrible crime. I wasn’t the only one who thought she was special. I don’t know what ever became of her, but she’s still breaking my heart a little all these years later.
Some of my memories are funny. There was one kid who told everybody he was the half-brother of the lead singer of Warrant (he had said “brother” until someone pointed out that they didn’t share the same last name). I didn’t know the first thing about Warrant, and didn’t think he was the lead singer’s brother anyway, but along with others who couldn’t have believed it any more than I did, honored the fiction by mutual consensus. Sometime after I got out of Remann Hall, with Warrant now on my radar screen, I finally saw an image of the band on MTV (which played music videos at the time). I’ll be damned if that kid from juvie wasn’t the spitting image of now-deceased Warrant frontman Jani Lane.
Among all the fading faces of that long-ago place, there remains only one to which I can still attach a name: a scrawny, twitchy half-wit who gained some notoriety throughout the wing through his unpredictable–and often disturbing–behavior. He was the juvenile delinquent iteration of the creepy paste-eating first-grader, and he would tell lies so fantastic that I don’t think he even intended that we should believe them. His bizarre behaviors were myriad, and had assumed the status of legend around the cell block, but the thing he was best-known for was sticking his dick through a small opening in the cell door and whacking off into the hallway. And that’s the reason I still remember that crazy fucker’s name and probably will until I die–his name was Ed Pettit.