4 – Blog 02 – Up the River

No sign of Guard Meanie at chow that morning.

My 72 hours are up. I anxiously await my phone call and a possible release hearing.
“You’ll find out when we tell you,” is all I get from a guard.
I am pulled out of school (all we ever do is fill out worksheets). The guard marches me down to the admin office where I am locked in a meeting room by myself. Finally Dad marches in, with several County officials, and a guard to protect them from me, the hardened criminal.
“Dad,” I jump up.
“Sit,” he orders. My heart sinks.
Everyone sits down. The official pulls out a file and peruses the few pages of reports in it. At least my ‘record’ is not extensive. He then takes another file crammed with newspaper articles and photos. Celebrity is part of my record, I assume.
“I’m Mr. Perk, your social worker, Tim.”
I nod, then look at Dad. Does this mean I am being taken out of my home? Dad keeps his mouth shut.
“Your police record is clear until you were caught drinking at the concert.”
Instead of protesting, I keep silent. Dad finally gives me an approving look.
“One beer is not what concerns me,” Mr. Perk continues. “You’ve certainly been active promoting your band. While most press accounts speak highly of you, there are some issues of concern. Gables High Assistant Principal Proctor describes you as insolent and part of an ‘anti-social’ peer group. The photos of you kissing that New York artist can be troubling. You know that homosexual behavior is a crime in Florida. There is a police report of an incident in Coconut Grove in which you were attacked by an adult. You apparently subdued the man who was arrested and then released when you refused to press charges – something about you claiming to be Teen Jesus. I assume that is a publicity stunt that may have gone wrong.”
He pauses, expecting me to defend myself. After a few seconds he goes on.
“I can discount Mr. Proctor’s report due to the controversy reported in the press about allowing the Hialeah students to stay for after-school activities. Apparently, he felt you were criticizing his authority, which I do not find tenable.”
“What does that mean?” I ask, even though I know.
“Well, discrimination cannot be tolerated if we’re ever to fully desegregate the Miami schools.”
“Oh,” I continue to seem clueless. Dad is now giving me the evil eye.
“The homosexual activity may only be for publicity. Mr. Warhol has certain medical conditions that make it unlikely that anything could have happened. Anyway, he’s the adult here.”
“I didn’t know that he was ill. He was awfully nice to us when we were in New York. He never was inappropriate.”
“Well, that leaves the Teen Jesus story. Care to explain?”
“After my best friend Jace died, we started meeting with our bass player’s Baptist Youth Group. My family’s Catholic, so I was surprised when the kids were rolling on the floor and making noises. The first time, a girl said she saw a ghost, who looked like a teenager. I believed she saw the spirit of Jace, still alive in my heart. Then we were working at a clothing store in the Grove, playing hymns and talking about Jace. The fracas with the drunken adult took place. A police officer asked me about the Teen Jesus rumor. He said he’d always wondered what Jesus was like as a teenager, whether he was rebellious or not. It was just rumors, but it made me feel like I was keeping Jace’s memory alive.”
“So, you don’t call yourself Teen Jesus.”
“No. It’s about Jace and how he inspires us. Some people think I’m calling myself Jesus. The man who attacked us thought I was being blasphemous and became really angry. I think he had been drinking.”
“So you were turning the other cheek by not pressing charges?”
“Not really. I didn’t need to make an enemy. I just wanted him removed from the store.”
Mr. Perk turns to Dad and started questioning him.
“Tim’s side of the events seem very innocent – going to church, singing hymns, and avoiding fights. Is that all there is, or do you see real problems?”
Dad takes his time before answering.
“Tim had some adjustment problems when his mother and I divorced. I wasn’t happy about his defying me when I told him not to go on vacation with his friend’s family. It was while I was not living at home. I feel his mother did not supervise him adequately. We had some arguments after I moved back. I insisted he get a job, which meant he no longer was on the swim team. After some resistance, he worked at the clothing store and formed a band. Both have been money makers. His earnings are being held in trust for college. His religious revival was a complete surprise. The death of his friend may explain it. Tim has always been very independent. The shooting at the concert and the subsequent police involvement made him think more about the consequences of his actions.”
“You agree with the police that their band incited the riot that ended with your dog shot.”
The mention of Max makes Dad look vulnerable. He quickly goes back to business.
“I trust the police to get to the truth of a situation. Tim was too emotionally involved to see how his actions were to blame. We’ve talked a lot about it. He knows that what they started turned violent. It was fortunate no one else was hurt. Losing my dog was hard on all of us.”
“Is that how you see it, Tim?”
I have a choice, agree with Dad and go home, or, say what I really saw that night and probably not go home.
“I take responsibility for all our actions. I was the band’s leader. We were used to playing small venues – frats, clubs, churches, and the clothing store. There were thousands of fans that night. Our typical set caused the fans to go out of control, knocking down the fence and letting in hundreds of non-paying people. I have to disagree with Dad that the police are always right. They shot Max while he was protecting our friends when the police  let loosedogs  on the crowd. They killed Max.”
Dad is exasperated with me.
“You incited the crowd. Your friends were put in danger by your actions.”
“Shooting into a crowd of kids is not reasonable force.”
Mr. Perk stops our argument.
“Well, it seems to me that Tim is not ready to accept your authority,” he addresses Dad. “I think we need to keep him under County supervision until he is ready to return to the family. That is what I am recommending.”
Why must I be so stubborn?
Dad shakes his head.
“He’s just being obstinate. Maybe time in juvie will give him a chance to see the error of his ways.”
“I guess you won’t need me at your wedding,” I pout.
“Hang on. No need to convince me that you don’t see eye to eye. I’ll make my recommendations in my report. In the meantime, Tim, you’ll be placed in a juvenile facility in West Dade.”
I am too angry to respond. Dad just shakes his head. The guard takes me back to the cell.  I gather my few clothes and leave for the permanent juvenile facility out in the Everglades. The kids, especially Tommy, look anguished that I can no longer  protect them.


For the first two days I am kept in isolation. I mostly sleep, barely eating. Finally, they issue me detention overalls. I am put in another large cell with at least 20 other juveniles, all my age or older. The other kids look tough and street-hardened. They avoid me like the plague. The word has spread that I am a devil worshiper. I adjust by mostly sleeping. My dreams are haunted by images from my Samhein-Belladonna trip. One of the other inmates, a tall black kid, wakes me up when I start crying out in my sleep. He seems afraid of my dark powers. On the third morning, I wake up feeling more coherent. Looking at his inquiring face, I cringe from the memory of him waking me, mixing him into my nightmares.
“Yo, brother, I ain’t gonna harm you.”
“I know. You’ve been waking me out of my nightmares, man.”
“Sure. I couldn’t jist lay heah, listenin’ to them screams. You sure musta done sumthin’ to be screamin’ like that. My name’s Billy, Billy Johnson.”
“Thanks, Billy Johnson. I thought I’d never stop tripin.’ My name’s Tim.”
We look at each, wondering whether to shake hands or not. The moment passes.
“So you was trippin?’ Everybody says you’s a devil worshiper.”
“Naw. We just tripped on Halloween. We started a band called False Gods. It all spun outta control and the cops shot and killed my dog. I’m no Satanist.”
“You a rocker? Cops think all rockers are Satanists.”
All the memories of the concert rush into my head. They mix with my nightmares of the Belladonna trip. Adding to my panic are thoughts of the cops saying I am an evil Satanist. The thoughts of serious consequences seem too real.
“Well, maybe we got carried away,” I tell Billy.
“Hey, bro, you feel up to eatin’? You jist bin laying heah and missin’ meal call.”
My stomach turns over at the thought of food. Then hunger conquers my queasiness. I am famished. Soon we go off in a group for breakfast. The counselor escorting us notices I am on my feet and coherent.
“Castle. Stick around after eating. They’ve been waiting for you to come ‘round.”
It is almost enough to kill my appetite. But I have not eaten in three days. I devour the oatmeal and toast breakfast.

I go to an office, where a Mr. Downs interviews me. He starts out easy, assuring me that my folks have been told where I am and that they can see me later that day. That is hardly reassuring news. Then he starts interrogating me about my drug use. I deny being a drug user, admitting to smoking pot.
“That’s how it starts, son. You must’ve been on something at the concert, more than pot.”
“Everyone was drinking, but not me. I had one sip of beer but it tasted vile.”
He gives me a skeptical look.
“Then explain why you had to sleep for three days.’
“I don’t know. Maybe being in jail scares me.”
“This isn’t jail, son. You’re being held in protective custody as a juvenile.”
I look around. It sure looks and feels like jail.
“Well, can I leave then?”
“Once you’re released to your parents. But you’re in serious trouble. Gables Police suspect you and your friends were involved in an assault on two 10-year-old boys on Halloween. Their parents want you charged with sexual assault.”
“We caught them spying on our party. We teased them but nobody hurt them.”
“Well, why did they come home naked?”
“We cut off their costumes and let them go. Sure, we scared them, but again, nobody hurt them.”
“Well, who did what?”
Ah, the old turn in your friends, rat-fink ruse. Is Mr. Downs a counselor or a cop?
“I can’t remember that much. We mixed up some blood and flowers. There were no drugs involved. It gave me a headache. I was sleeping with Robby and Mary in the crypt.”
“Crypt? You mean like a gangster crip?”
“No, man. The party was in an abandoned cemetery we found. There’s an underground crypt. We came out when somebody found those kids hiding in the bushes, spying on us. We tied them up.”
“You mean you and who else?”
“Not me. I was just watching. The others. I can’t remember who. They were tied up. Robby cut the ties on their costumes. Then he cut the ropes holding them and they ran home. Nobody molested them.”
“So Robby was the one who cut them?”
“I can’t remember, but he had the sickle. It was part of his costume.”
“Sickle, like the Grim Reaper?”
“More like Father Time.”
“Do you boys worship Satan?”
“No. Who told you that?”
“I guess you really scared those younger kids. Their imaginations may have gotten carried away. But you’re sure you weren’t using drugs?”
“No way. We made up a witches brew of blood, spit and flowers. I think it’s called deadly nightshade. It was for Halloween.”
“Deadly nightshade? Is that like Mellow Yellow or Purple Haze?”
“Those are drugs, man. This was flowers we chopped up and ate.”
“How do you know those others are drugs?”
“Donovan and Hendrix, man. That was the 60s. Everybody knows that.”
He looks at me skeptically.
“Tell me about your friends. Do you know how much trouble they’ve been in before?”
“We all live in the same neighborhood. We climb trees and ride bikes. At night we listen to music. If someone has money, we go out for pizza. Nothing too heavy, man.”
“You sure seem to talk the talk. How much pot do you smoke?”
“Just every once in a while.”
“Who do you buy it from?”
”Somebody just has some and he shares. I’ve never bought any drugs, man.”
“Well, your school record is good. Tell me why there were so many absences this fall.”
“I fell on a trampoline and hurt my back. I’d go for a couple of hours, but I couldn’t sit down that long,” I lie for the first time.
“Well, Tim, I want you to see a drug counselor before we release you. You may not think smoking pot is bad, but it’s the first step down a long road to addiction.”
“Sure,” I agree to escape more interrogation.
“After that, I think we can release you to your parents. Does that sound okay?”
“Great,” but that prospect is not exactly comforting.

Once I return to the holding unit, I notice the other kids are shunning me. Billy comes and sits with me. I ask him, “Do I have the plague or something.”
“Yo, brother, you really a devil worshiper?”
“We were just foolin’ around for Halloween. We didn’t worship the devil, just trees.”
“Ya was worshipin’ trees?”
“Just nature. It got carried away.”
“Ya was neva tryin’ ta worship the devil?”
“Well, we all saw his face in a candle.”
“You seen the devil?”
“We thought we did. We were pretty high.”
“Ya gots the cocaine blues?”
“No, man. All we was doin’ was smokin.’”
“You be smokin’ that rock?”
“No, man. Pot.”
“Shit, that ain’t nothin.’”
“We ate some flowers called Belladonna.”
“I ain’t neva heard o’ that shit.”
“It was a total trip, man. I was flyin’ for hours. Saw all kinds of shit. I even died and went to hell.”
“What’s that like, bro?”
“Kinda like underwater.”
“Kin ya breathe?”
“Ya don’t need ta, man. Ya can’t feel yer body. Once I was in two places ‘cause my eyes were split apart. Each one was seein’ different things.”
“Yer eyes was split?”
“’Course, man. They split my head in two and I died.”
“My friends. It was only a hallucination.”
“Man, you was trippin.’”
The others are listening and begin to move closer. I recount all my dreams for their enjoyment. A fat white boy says I am a sinner and bound for hell.
“Bound for glory,” I counter.
They all laugh. The cell has bunks piled three high against the wall. They are all sitting in one corner, listening to me. I tell the whole series of events leading up to Halloween.
“That Robby is the one goin’ to hell,” one of the kids says.
“Haven’t you ever played with magic?” I ask.
“Yer playin’ with the devil if’n ya do.”
“Ain’t ya even curious?”
“Not if’n I gots to go to hell.”
“Well, it ain’t that bad, least what I saw.”

Soon we go to chow. Afterwards, I have to see the drug counselor. He is more concerned about how well I am getting along there. When we are through with those formalities, he asks me about the Halloween drug. I tell him it was Belladonna. He gets a book to look it up.
“Here it is. It’s also called deadly nightshade. It’s an herb that has a stimulant in it. They use it in Contact cold tablets. I guess it can’t be dangerous. Wait. Here it says when taken in large doses, it can cause blindness. Son, you’ve got to be more careful. There’s lots of dangerous stuff out there. What worries me is that you just did it because your friends all did, too.”
“They’re my friends.  All for one. One for all.”
“Look where that gots you.”
“Am I going to be able to go home soon?”
“You’re accused of sexual assault on those two boys.”
“We were just scaring them. We made them run home in their underwear. They were spying on us.”
“I think if you take drug treatment diversion, the charges will be dropped.”
“I just watched what happened. I’m not guilty of anything.”
“Nobody’s saying you’re guilty. But as a juvenile, the court has to protect you from harm. Look at you. You need protection.”
“I just want to go home.”
“Don’t worry, son. We’ll meet with your parents tomorrow and decide where you’ll go.”

That night, after being allowed to watch TV in the lounge, we go to bed with lights out at ten. I fall asleep quickly but awake to muffled moans and cries. I look over and see Billy looking at me. Across the cell, we hear the fat white kid molesting a younger boy who is fighting back. We both get up and go quietly over to the bunk.
“Stop it, asshole,” I whisper, pulling the fat kid away from the boy.
“You gonna stop me,” he challenges back.
“We’re gonna stop this,” Billy joins in.
The fat kid looks long and hard at both of us. Then he jumps down from the kid’s bunk.
“Fuckin’ mind yer own bizness, devil worshiper,” he spits at me.
I ignore him. We take the kid over to an empty bunk on our side of the cell. He has tears in his eyes but does not say anything. He does not want us to leave him. Billy sits him on his bunk while I go back to mine. In the morning, I notice that he slept with Billy. My life in hell goes on.

The next evening, my folks come to see me, meeting with both counselors. The folks are speechless that I was in so much trouble. They learn I skipped school. They agree that I had become a drug addict. Dad mentions that my ‘real’ mom was addicted to pills, suggesting I had inherited the problem. The drug counselor suggests I be placed on probation, dependent upon completion of drug rehabilitation. He suggests The Program in Fort Lauderdale, the place Jace dreaded. All this is discussed and agreed upon without my input. I realize I’m being tried, convicted and sentenced in this one meeting. Finally, I try to speak up.
“Why can’t you just let me go back to my regular life?”
“You’ve lost that privilege, son,” Dad counters.
“All this is happening because I took a sip of beer I didn’t really want?”
“You know there was more going on than that.”
“All you have to do is say I’m a good kid and that you trust me.”
“You still refuse to accept responsibility for what happened at the concert. Max is dead,” Dad sighs. “You put the younger boys at risk with your antics.”
“So, you’re going to send me off to be brainwashed in Ft Lauderdale? How much is that going to cost?”
The drug counselor answers, “It’s $1,100 a month. If you can’t pay, the County will pay.”
“You’re willing to pay to have me locked up?” I accuse Dad.
The other counselor chimes in, “I’ll remind you, Mr. Castle, there’s really little choice here. He’s facing serious charges. It’s either drug diversion or juvenile detention hall.”
“What did I do besides some Halloween pranks.”
“You’re accused of molesting two 10-year-old boys.”
“You wanna see molestation,” I yell. “Just check out what goes on in here every night.”
“Calm down, son. I’m sure your folks don’t want to think you’re in danger here. If you have accusations to make, we’ll take care of them.  Who’s been doing what.”
“We’ve got it under control. But I’m talking rape here, not scaring nosy little kids.”
“Who is we?”
This guy is the grand inquisitor.
“My friend and I. We stopped it last night, and it’s over. I’m not playing your games here.”
“If you don’t start cooperating, you may not even have the choice of where to go.”
“Yeah, between straight to hell and the long route.”
“I’m having you removed from this hearing to stop your disruptions, so we can come to some resolution.” He signals for a guard to take me out.
“You don’t wanna hear what I have to say because it shows how screwed up this place really is,” as I am pulled from my seat by a guard.
“You’re a juvenile, Castle, and you have no rights.”
“You just need to have the last word.” I shut up and am escorted back to the cell.

Billy looks up as they shove me into the cell. He and the kid we rescued are sitting on his bunk, across from mine. Billy lets me calm down before asking what has gone down.
“They crucified me on a stick.”
“The so-called counselors and my parents.”
“You ain’t gettin’ out, bro?”
“Naw. It’s drug program or juvie. I ain’t done nothin’ but smoke some weed.”
“I learned a long time ago ta jist let ‘em do what they wants to me. You white boys gots lots ta learn.”
“We white boys gotta learn to hang together with all the brothers to get along.”
“Ya gots that right, bro.”
We share a high-five. I smile at the kid on Billy’s bunk.
Later I notice that all the empty bunks near mine are now taken by the kids from across the cell. Two other black kids are also in our corner. The fat white kid is isolated by the empty bunks. The cell decides who the real Satanist is. There are no cries or moans that night.

Next: https://timatswim.com/4-blog-03-alligator-alley/