“What are you in for?” She asked, shuffling the cards. I learned within a few days that card shuffling is relaxing, hypnotizing. The cards were dealt to six teenagers sitting at a round table. Had it been a year ago? A decade ago? Last time I checked, I was still sixteen. It had only been three days.
“Prostitution,” one girl said.
“I beat up a dumb bitch,” said another.
“They found eight hits of acid on me at school,” said a girl next to me. “They fell out of my bra.”
Luckily, before I could answer, the floor security came in. “Alright, everyone get into your cells! Now!” she yelled across the hall. My cell, just as all the others, was a small room with a cemented floor, a tiny window close to the high ceiling, a metal toilet with a small sink connected to the top, and a cement block with a thin mat to sleep on—my hotel room for five days.
What was I in for? It was hard to tell. My brain was frozen from the cold cell. Without my glasses or contact lenses, I was naked. And because I feel so blind without them, my mind squints to see its thoughts, just as my eyes did for five days.
I was in juvenile jail in San Antonio for something I didn’t do. Or maybe it was something I did, but was punished anyways. I save my mother's life, and the thanks I get is a miserable trip to a juvenile detention hall, aka hell. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if my hall was warmer, or if the food was actually food — the oatmeal for breakfast was gray, powdery lumps and the hamburger beef for lunch looked like yesterday's hot dog meat. But I filled up on oranges which I secretly traded my milk for under the table. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if the girls were actually girls rather than beastly animals from another planet. I never felt so innocent in my life- I was like the Virgin Mary in a strip club, a shaking poodle next to wild wolves. It was especially hard because I didn’t belong- I did nothing wrong, or so I felt. The police thought differently.
But I learned a few things as well. I understood the meaning of waiting, And waiting. Patiently, I sat for my next court date for the judge to tell me I should have earned a gold medal instead of a week behind bars. I learned that in order to keep the head lice away, which flourished in juvenile hall, pour a bottle of lotion on your head each day. And never leave your plastic sandals out of sight, because some fat-footed bully will be quick to steal, replacing them with her over sized squeaky ones.
I found out early in life that there is a completely different world out there, a world in a cage, and I was part of that. I think of how being locked away from life must be the same feeling as the moment before you die. Stuck in an eternity of thoughts and looking back at life for what seems like centuries within a single moment. I sat in my lonely cell, dwelling on the simple things life offered: lying on soft grass, running into my mother’s arms, laughing with my father, sunrises at the beach, and watching a storm with fierce lightning from my bedroom window and with all the lights off. Breathing, laughing, loving.
What was I in for? For being misunderstood. And if it was to save another life, I’d do it again.