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Woodview Detention Center [1961/Grandpa’s House]
Scene: A holding cell at Woodview Detention Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, the summer of 1961. The cubicle, cell or room, however one wants to see it, is furnished with an iron cot, and I, the occupant; I’m 14 and I have to be here for my first 24 hours in the facility before I go to a bigger cell with (maybe) other kids (or as they call us, criminals). The cell is clean, maybe too clean, and there isn’t much. The floor shines, like the substance of the tile, as do the walls, brick style. It’s late in the evening, there’s a lingering breeze, it’s chilly, a little mist perhaps from the nearby Mississippi River.
I’m quiet in the cell, a little drunk, a little disoriented, crazy in a t-shirt, worn jeans, my hair must be a mess, I really can’t see clearly, although the small window in the door with a screen on through him; I can see the thinking of the other cells, and I seem satisfied with my look, my appearance. I am well toned, my muscles that is, from weight lifting, running track and gymnastics. No tattoos; I’m considered a pretty boy, for the most part.
–My brother, Mike, went to Redwing, a few steps up from where I am, in the prison camp, similar to ‘Boys Town’, I guess (he’s two years older than mine).
In a few days I will go to court for underage drinking – the judge, he is the key here, my mother will be with me, especially the judge will want to give me mercy (my first offense), but I will say ‘No !’ to this offer of kindness (perhaps at this moment he saw it as a pity); this will be the only time we will ever see my mom cry in her life (I know ((luckily)) she has cried before, but I’ve never seen her do it.
“Because?” asks the judge “you torture your mother like this and cut me with pride?”
I had told the judge to send me to prison, to Redwing, like my brother, who was there at the moment. The judge said with difficulty trying to figure me out, “The police found you sitting on a beer crate in the playgrounds on Cayuga Street next to your house called Indian’s Hill,” drunk, and all you had to said was: an old drunk bought you beer.”
I don’t know if it was a question or a statement, but I didn’t say a word, I felt bad that my mother was crying, and the judge was right, my pride had gotten in the way, so I didn’t leave no choice but to do so. lock me up And here I am in this cell looking left and right down the hall.
strange Chick or Dennis, as they called me [ds]. Nobody gets much fresh air in a cell, it seems, and it’s worse in the summer. I walked the floor, knowing there was no way out. I was counting the bricks of the cell on each side of the walls, 245, that’s when I stopped counting and heard the sounds of the corridor. People are snoring, talking, staff doors are opening and closing, flashlights are checking everyone, even me; all night long. I heard Pat Boones new song “Moody River” that fit this time and place, it was like it was written and sung just for me. They must have been playing in the office down the hall.
In the morning. “Do you want breakfast?” said a voice standing outside my door; I stood up, “Yes!” I said, and the door opened and he put the test on a steel gray looking desk in front of my bed, and he left.
I was surprised that morning came so quickly. I thought: Is there a guardian in this place? Then I saw people being taken to the outside area at the back, closed of course for sports. I saw a little envy, and yet I had 18 more hours left in this cell before I could join the rest.
At this point in my incarceration I had asked myself “why” and left it at that. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would spend two weeks here, almost a death sentence. And at the end of the two weeks, my attitude would change. I learned from this experience, if you change something, or there will be people willing to spend a lot of time trying to change you. But this, of course, would require a readjustment of mentality and/or way of thinking.
I felt like I was inside an eggshell, with two windows, and I was witnessing the world go by. I knew I was in a holding area after a week, and the judge would come out to see me. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to stay here for two weeks, but I was wrong, the judge wanted to make a point, and he did.
The most interesting thing I found out was that I asked to be allowed on the second day to scrub the entire building, the facilities, the floors, just to be out of the eggshell. And as the few Sundays came, I went to church, to get out of the cell, and on Saturday I went to the craft store for the same reasons. When they locked me up, I felt like I needed to throw up, I was gasping for air. I said to myself, calm down, be calm, like everyone else, and I did, I went to the big aquarium, the corridor cell with the four teenagers, like me; I thought it was a great reward.
Written on 5/18/2006, at Café Angello, Lima, Peru
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