Road Trip to Hades

At 3:20 a.m., I was dressed and standing in front of the mirror in my bedroom.  My bedroom was not large, about fifteen feet by ten, with a window facing west, and several posters on the wall.  There was one of Don Mattingly, the Yankees’ first baseman, his glove on the ground waiting to stop any baseball from getting by.  Another was of Debbie Gibson, in concert, as well as a poster of a topless Samantha Fox.  I stared back at the mirror and smiled.  Today was supposed to be the beginning of something special; today was the beginning of my mother and I reconnecting.

My mother and I used to be really close.  We could talk about anything.  We would stay up late watching television and drink hot chocolate with marshmallows.  This changed, however, when I was fourteen years old and she decided to come out of the closet by having her lover tell me that she was gay.

My mother walked into my room and seemed to be in a good mood.  “I didn’t think you would be awake,” she said, fixing my collar.

“What? Shit, mom, I’m not gonna miss this trip for nothin’,”  I said.

“Good, I’m gonna have a cup of coffee, want some?”

I nodded and she left the room.

We had grown apart.  Arguments and disrespect dominated the airways of our tiny home.  After my mother came out, Isabel, her lover, moved in with her “entourage” of four kids cramming eight people into our two-bedroom apartment.

We exited the building and were greeted by the cold winter morning air.  The wind was blowing fiercely, and I loved it.  The streets were filled with mountains of dirty snow, and the pavement had that white coating left behind by the snowplows.  My mother had borrowed her best friend’s car: a blue 1983 Chevy Nova.  It was three years old with light-blue cloth seats and the Puerto Rican flag hanging from the rear view mirror.  It was very clean, smelled like cinnamon, and it had a cassette player.

We were on our way to Buffalo to visit a lady, a lady my mother was playing dirty with behind Isabel’s back.  The lady was named Jennifer, and my mother had met her in a gay club called Aries, in the Bronx.  Jennifer, a court stenographer, had been in New York City visiting her friends for the weekend.  They hit it off, and the affair soon followed.  My mother’s philandering never surprised me.  It would not have been the first time she strayed.  My mother was also having an affair with a lady that lived on the fourth floor of our building.  All this despite being in an “exclusive” relationship with Isabel.  My mother sat in the driver’s seat, placed the key in the ignition and turned it on.  The inside was freezing, and she quickly turned on the heater.

“Mom, does Isabel know where we’re goin’?”
She paused and said, “No, she just thinks that were gonna go upstate for the weekend. So, when we get back keep your mouth shut, got it?”
“Yo, ma, I ain’t no rat. I’m not sayin’ nothin’.”

Why would I say anything?  As far as I was concerned, Isabel was driving the wedge between my mother and me.  I hated her with a passion.  She was a short woman, five-two, with a thin build.  She had shoulder length hair that she dyed in different colors.  She had blotches on her face and a thin mustache that she would bleach every other day.  She had buckteeth and dark circles around her eyes.  I never understood why my mother was attracted to her.  After Isabel moved in, my mother stopped asking questions about my day, as she became more involved in the day-to-day activities of her lover’s kids.  That was about to change though.

We were driving on Interstate 87 North and were moving at a good pace.  Traffic was light and the sun had not come out to greet us yet.  Buffalo was four hundred miles away.  The graffiti-filled walls along the highway gave way to clean ones, a clue that we were on our way out of the Bronx.  The gloomy, depressing housing projects, with their familiar bricks, gave way to condos.  I stared at my mother driving and thought of the fights we’d had since she came out.  We fought for many reasons: my staying out too late, being on the phone too long, too many people calling, or friends visiting. She was mostly upset because I wouldn’t listen to or respect her lover.  “When I’m not home,” she would say, “Isabel’s in charge, and what she says goes.”
Never being one to back down when I felt something was wrong, I’d say, “Yo, mom, that’s bullshit. I’m not gonna listen to her. She’s your bitch, not mine.”

That time: PUNCH!  She swung her right arm sideways and connected her fist on my chest.
“Don’t you ever talk to me that way again you little shit. Show me some fuckin’ respect!”
I gasped for air, coughing. I looked at my mother as I held my chest.
Disgusted, I said, “You can hit me all you want, and I’m still not gonna listen to that bitch!”

That’s how my mother dealt with me and my brother.  Since I would never hit her back, I did what any other kid in my position would have done: I acted out.  I was a regular at hooky parties all over the area; school was no longer a priority and cutting classes became an art form. My mother never bothered to meet with any of my teachers, so she never even knew.

Two hours into our trip, we stopped for food.  The suburbs had given way to mountains and rows of trees.  I had never seen so many trees in my life.  Even though they were all bare, they were still beautiful.  I also saw my first road kill: a poor deer whose fate had been sealed when it tried to cross the road.  My mother parked the car in the lot of what appeared to be a mom-and-pop diner.  It wasn’t a name I’d recognized, like a McDonald’s or Denny’s.  The place had a brown roof and yellow exterior walls.  You could smell the fresh-brewed coffee from outside.  It had windows all around and Christmas lights still hanging from the shingles.  It was a little past six in the morning and the rush was in full effect.  Men in pullovers and plaid shirts with their John Deere caps filtered into the diner.

We were sitting in a booth next to the window and could see our car from our seats.  The place was alive with customers eating, talking, laughing, reading the newspaper.

“Morning there, Hank.  The usual?” a waitress asked.

“You got it, babe, ” he replied.  Hank did not need to be seated.  He was one of those customers that was like family.  He just walked straight to a stool and sat.  He had his newspaper under his arm, took it out, and began reading it.  My mother had ordered scrambled eggs with ham and coffee.  She was savoring her coffee while reading the directions she had written on a sheet of paper.  I ordered a short stack of pancakes with sausages and was savoring a nice cup of java myself.  I looked at her and asked what she had in store for the weekend.

Smiling, she said, “I don’t want to spoil it for you but, believe you me, you’re not gonna ever forget it.”
I picked up the syrup, drenched my pancakes, and took a big bite.  According to my mother, her friend had a daughter. The plan was for all of us to hang out and for the daughter and me to hook up. “Ma, you think that your girl’s daughter’s gonna like me?”

Without skipping a beat she said, “I guarantee it.”

We were back on the road, and it was buzzing with morning traffic.  The sky was blue, and the air remained frigid.  My mother lit a cigarette and lowered the window a bit.  She had stopped smoking for a number of years but relapsed a year prior to our trip.  As she inhaled, I began wondering if I was the one who had pushed her off her wagon.  I knew that I was not the perfect son, and more than likely, I was responsible for half the headaches she had been experiencing.

“Mami, why you smokin’ again?”
She turned to the opened window and exhaled.
“I’m stressed, nene.” While she talked, some smoke escaped from her mouth. “Things are a little rough right now.”  She took one last drag and flicked the half-smoked cigarette out the window.

“Yo, ma, if I did somethin’ to stress you out, I’m sorry, alright?”  I said.
She stared at the road and said, “It is what it is.”

We stopped for gas twice and had lunch at a Burger King.  The blue skies had turned gray and the wind had picked up.  It looked like it was going to snow.  It was hour four of our journey, and my mother was getting restless.  She asked a local for better directions, but it just looked like the man pointed west.

“Are we cool or really lost?” I asked.
“Un poquito, but we’ll be back on track rapido.”  A missed exit and a few wrong turns later, we were back on track.

An awkward silence had taken over, and it was killing me.  I needed to break it up so I said:  “Do we have enough money to hang out this weekend?  I mean, I got a couple of hundred bucks, but that’s all.”
I ran numbers for my uncle.  He would pay me six hundred dollars cash every week. “Numbers” was an illegal lottery racket known to the locals as Bolita.  “Running numbers” meant that I would take the orders of my uncle’s clients along with their money and bring it back to him.  The winning numbers would be telephoned in from an unknown location.  Well, unknown to me.  My mother didn’t know that I was working for my uncle and thought that the money I was making was from a part time job I had.

“Don’t worry, nene, I got money. You keep your money and take out my friend’s daughter.”
Then there it was: the sign I had waited to see for the past eight hours, the Buffalo exit.
“Check it out, ma, just six more miles.”  We looked at each other and smiled.  At that moment I didn’t know it but we were smiling for different reasons.

We reached our destination by noon, but it seemed later than that.  We drove behind a large building and parked in a large, half-empty lot.  The Gothic building had walls made of stones with rough edges, and it seemed they had been placed there by hand, one by one.  The color of the stones was dark gray, matching the early afternoon sky. There were tall, gated windows all around and gargoyles on the corners.  The parking lot seemed like it didn’t belong—as if it was added recently.  It seemed like it was built for something other than what it was being used for. Sensor lights were strategically placed around the property.  There were three oscillating cameras on the side of the building.

“Yo, ma, your girl works here? What the fuck, I thought you said she worked in court rooms ‘n shit.”

She chuckled and said, “She has a part time job here.  She needs the money.”  As we were getting ready to turn the corner, I looked back and saw that the property was surrounded by tall trees. They had branches that looked like arms ready to grab me and take me away. There were small hedges all around the property, too.
The front of the building looked like a castle.  A long staircase greeted us at the bottom.  The balusters were wide and flat and they went all the way up to the top of the steps.  On the left side of the steps were three flagpoles.  One held the state’s flag, one the American, and the third, the organization’s.  The wind was blowing so hard I could only see, for a few seconds, the silhouette of three figures in the organization’s flag.

I remember standing at the bottom of the steps looking up, frozen.  Two large doors were waiting at the top.
My mother tapped me on the shoulder and said “ Vente nene, we’re not that late.”
“Not that late for what?” I asked and, as usual, her answer was swift.
“To catch my friend before she leaves for lunch.”

By the time I realized it, my mother was nearing the top of the steps.  I reached the top shortly after her and saw two massive metal brown doors.  The doors did not match the building.  There was a bulletin board screwed onto the door.  The board had a black background and white lettering.  The letters spelled, “Buffalo Home For Boys.”  My mother had threatened me a few times with putting me in a home, but I thought she was joking.  I turned to her and said while raising my voice “Yo, ma, what the fuck?  You puttin’ me in a home ‘n shit?”

“Don’t be silly, nene. I knew you would think that.  My friend just happens to work here. You need to trust me. I’m your mom and I wouldn’t do that shit to you.”  I gave her a look of mistrust but her last words did comfort me.  She pulled the door open and we walked in.

There was a circular reception desk waiting for visitors once you came in.  A guard stood post, and, when we reached him, he greeted my mother.  “Good afternoon, ma’am. How may I help you?”

“Yeah, good afternoon,” said my mother, trying to sound proper. “I’m here to see Ms. Jennifer Schwartz.  I’ve got an appointment.”  What was said after that I don’t know because I was giving my undivided attention to the lobby.  It was breathtaking to say the least.  The ceiling had to be about twenty feet high and there was a huge chandelier in the middle of it.  Crown molding added to the interior beauty as it was all over the lobby.  The molding was painted brown, and the walls beige.  The floors were made of ceramic tiles.  I saw my mother display her driver’s license as she signed a book. I heard my mother’s voice yell to me. “Mira, nene, let’s go.”

I sat in a waiting area admiring the décor of the room.  Three large windows provided the view and whatever daylight was available.  The color scheme in this room was the same—brown on beige—with some motivational posters on the wall.  The posters showed the importance of teamwork and positive thinking.  Four rows of chairs were placed in the middle, each with the capacity to hold eight people.  I was one of eighteen people waiting.  My mother had asked me to wait while she got her friend.  A clock hung nicely right above a set of doors that had a sign that said “KEEP CLOSED AT ALL TIMES.”

My eyelids became heavy, and my head started bobbing.  I had lost track of time and woke up suddenly.  It was 12:30 PM, and my mother was nowhere to be found. Two security guards walked out of the double doors, clearly looking in charge, one of them holding a clipboard. They were in their early thirties, medium tall and medium build.  The man with the clipboard looked at me and back to his clipboard. Without introducing himself he said, “Alright kid, let’s go.”

I stared at him as if he had made a grave mistake.  “What, bro?”
The man, raising his voice this time, said again, “It’s time to go, kid.”

Thinking that an error had clearly been made, I started explaining myself.  “Yo, check it out, I’m here with my moms ‘n shit, you know? We’re here visiting her friend and we’re gonna be leaving soon, so, you guys must be making a mistake, ok?”  The guard looked at me like I must have been full of shit.

He once again looked at his clipboard and read the name, this time out loud. “ Ra-fe-al Or-tez?, Is that you?”

I hated it when people mispronounced my name, so I corrected him, “Rafael Ortiz. Rah. Fye. El. Or. Tees.  Not raffle ORtez.”

The guard stared at me and simply said, “Whatever, you know that’s you, right? Let’s go.”

I was either confused or in deep denial because I had no clue what he was saying. I looked at the guy dead in his eyes and said, “Yo man, what the fuck are you talking about ‘let’s go?’ Go where? I’m waiting for my moms, I told you that shit already, bro.”

The guard’s patience ran out and he handed the clipboard to his partner.  He reached for me and grabbed me by my right arm.  That’s when I lost it.  If there was something I couldn’t tolerate, it was someone putting their hands on me.  As he pulled me, I kicked him in the nuts.  I was only sixteen years old but wasn’t afraid to defend myself.  He let go of his grip and his partner tried to grab me, too.  I closed my fist and punched him dead on his nose.  I whacked him about four times.  I tried choking him by pulling on his tie, but it was a clip on.  His partner regained some strength, got up and tackled me like he was a linebacker playing for the Jets.  I hit the ground on my side and began to move like a fish.  The guard held one of my arms while his partner tried to hold the other.  He was grabbing me by my wrist but his grip was not tight, so I got loose and as the other guard was on the floor with me, I grabbed his nuts and squeezed them like my hand was a vise.

“Ahhh, you little motherfucker!”  His partner came from behind me and placed his nightstick right above my sternum.

I let go of the guard’s jewels and tried to loosen myself.  The guy had a firm stance, which made it difficult for me to shake him. His partner once again stood and with the tip of his nightstick hit me in the stomach.  I lost my breath and fell to the floor.  A hand grabbed me by the neck and lifted me.

“I guess you like doin’ things the hard way, little man.” Said the out-of-breath guard. “That’s cool, I got you now, though.” I looked at my surroundings and saw that the other people in the room had stood up and moved to the side.  The physical struggle that had taken place moved the chairs that were in the way.  ‘They win this round,’ I thought. ‘I’ll win the next one.’

The guards pushed the double doors and in we went.  I looked around for my mother and saw her behind another door with a square glass window in the middle. She had a stoic look and kept staring at me until we could no longer see each other.

I was sitting in an office with scraped knuckles and a bloody nose.  My body was beginning to feel the effects of my confrontation with the guards.  I was in front of a desk that was overwhelmed with files. There were a couple of degrees hanging on the wall behind the desk, one from SUNY Buffalo, the other from Syracuse.  After sitting for about ten minutes the door opened, and a woman walked in.  She was slender and wore glasses.  She wore a dark gray suit and had her hair in a ponytail.        The woman sat down behind the desk.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Ortiz.  My name is Jennifer Schwartz, and I will be your social worker while you’re staying here with us.  I see that we’re starting off on the wrong foot,” she said.

I tried to talk without crying. “Where’s my,” My voice cracked. “You know, my umm…” I told myself that I was not going to cry.  No, no, no, I will not cry!  I bit my lower lip and felt a lone tear roll down my cheek.  It wasn’t lonely for long.  With my swollen hand, I covered my face.

“Mr. Ortiz, I’m really sorry how things turned out here today, however, your mother felt that this was the best thing for you.”  I looked away, not listening, as she kept talking.  I looked around her messy office and tried to forget she was there.  As my eyes wandered around her office, I saw piles of files on the floor.  Her cabinets were overflowing to the point that they could no longer close. “Mr. Ortiz,” continued the organization-challenge counselor,  “I need you to understand what’s going on here.”

I turned my attention to her and said, “You need me to understand what’s goin’ on?  What’s goin’ on is that my punk ass mother tricked me and put me in jail!”

“This isn’t a prison, Mr. Ortiz,” she said.
“It’s not? Cool, then I’m leaving!” I said.
“I’m afraid it’s not that simple,” she replied.
I stared at her like she had three heads and asked her why not.

Without skipping a beat she answered me.  “You see, while this isn’t prison, it is a correctional facility of sorts. There are two ways one can be sent to this place—”

“What place is this,” I interjected. “Where the fuck am I?”

“I can understand that you’re upset, even sympathize with you, but please ease up on the profanity.  Before you interrupted me I was going to tell you.”  The telephone rang, and she answered it so casually, “Jennifer Schwartz speaking.  No sir, everything’s fine and under control.” She smiled as she held the receiver to her ear and twirled her hair. “I’ll let you know when he is settled in. No, that’s ok, thanks.”  As she hung up the phone I had no doubt in my mind that phone call was regarding me and my behavior earlier.  “Mr. Ortiz, you are in a home for boys. The only way you can be sent here is if you are ordered by the courts or by your parents.  Your mother signed you up for two years.”

With those words my heart sank, and a hatred for my mother was instant.  “I didn’t do nothin’ to be sent here. What the fuck did I do?”

“For starters you have not been to school in months.”  She continued saying that my behavior at home was also unacceptable.  That I was too wild.  That my drug use was getting out of control, and that I was being disrespectful to my mother’s lover and her kids.  Only the last one was true.  Once the paper work was finished, we walked out of her office.  The guards were gone as were the inspirational posters on the walls.
The walls were painted beige with some off white on the ceiling.  This part of the building looked far more modern than the front.  It was not beautiful and breathtaking like the entrance.  The hallway was long and desolate with lines of doors leading to other offices.  Jennifer peeked into one of these offices.  “Hey, Marie, are you ready?”

A voice answered “ Just a minute, Jen.” We waited outside for her colleague.  It wasn’t long until Marie came out.  She was a redheaded woman, about mid- to late-twenties, wearing a black turtleneck with a black skirt and matching long boots.

There was a kid with her, a black kid.  He was about fourteen or fifteen and a tad shorter than me.  He was wearing a dark blue ski hat, a blue coat with a gray sweatshirt, and dark jeans.  He had a tough look to him but I could tell that he, too, was afraid.     The social workers were walking ahead, talking and laughing.  The hallway seemed like it would never end.

We reached a set of stairs and walked down.  At the bottom of the steps were the same guards I had the fight with, and we just stared at each other.  One of the guards removed a key from his pocket and unlocked the door.  Clank, clank! The guard pulled the door towards him and we walked in.  He picked up his walkie-talkie radio and said, “You’ve got two incoming.”  We kept walking and heard a loud SLAM!  We walked inside what appeared to be a glass tube, which gave you a view of the outside world.  It had begun to snow and the bare trees and hedges were being blanketed.  We reached the end of the tube and were greeted by another guard who unlocked the door.

We went up an elevator and got out on the second floor.  We found and entered the office of the Resident Assistant.  The R.A was a tall white man with a medium build with short hair.  An Italian and American flag were among the many items he had on his desk.  There were several files on his desk as well, but not as many as Jennifer had.

“Hi Angelo, how are you?” said Jennifer.

“Hey, ladies, how’s it going?”  The ladies each handed Angelo a file, one for me, the other for the kid.  He placed them on his desk and addressed the ladies.  “Its there anything I should know about these gentlemen?”

“Mine got into a minor squabble with two guards in the waiting area,” said Jennifer.

“Ok, I’ll have a little chat with them and break them in.”

Jennifer looked at me and said, “You’re in good hands now.  Should you need anything, talk to Angelo and he’ll contact me, ok?”  With that Jennifer and Marie walked out and Angelo closed the door.

“Rafe-el Ortez and Tyrone Wallace.  Aren’t you guys a couple of winners.”  He picked up a couple of binders and tossed them to us.  “Alright dickheads, I’m Angelo Esposito, your Resident Assistant.  I’m the one you come to when shit hits the fan.  A nigger and a spic, believe me, shit’s gonna hit the fan.  Anyway, those are our rules so read them and learn them.  Your time here can be easy or hard, your choice.  Personally, I don’t give a shit. The more you fuck up the more punishments I give you, so be my guest.”
Angelo began to paraphrase the book.   There were penalties for breaking any of the rules.  Having sex with a boy, fellatio, fighting, doing drugs. The penalties included punishments of five hundred hours of “in-house service.”  Basically, in-house service was cleaning dishes in the kitchen, snowplowing, raking the leaves, painting whatever needed painting, every chore that you could possibly imagine.  These, of course, needed to be done for the total number of hours you were given.  At four hours a day, you would be working for a while.  Not every infraction carried such high hours.  Getting caught masturbating only carried a hundred, making out with a guy three hundred, smoking cigarettes in unauthorized areas a hundred.  He got up and had us follow him.  We were going to stay in zone two hundred.

The entire floor had chores to do every day.  The chores were broken into sections with the newer guys getting the shittiest ones.  These chores included, but were not limited to, cleaning the main bathroom, sweeping, mopping and waxing the floors. These were the chores outside of your room that changed every week.  Every morning, your bed needed to be made in such a manner that they could bounce a coin off it.  The entire room needed to be cleaned—sweeping, dusting, mopping, etc.  We were given a tour of our floor and shown where everything was located.  There was a lounge area directly across from my room.  It was large enough to fit at least sixty guys.  We stopped in front of room 207.

“Alright dickheads, this is your room. Settle in and meet me back in my office, and I’ll take you guys to the cafeteria to have lunch. Your room leader will be around after four.”

The room leader was the senior person in the room and was responsible for handing out the room chores.  “You’ve got five minutes.”  The duffel bag I had packed was on the floor of the room.  Someone had brought it up for me.  I picked it up and placed it on one of the beds.  The room was about 30×30 with three beds.  There were two large windows, both with gates on the outside, and each bed had a desk next to it.  The room was painted in off white and all beds had the same color blanket, blue.   The room was impeccably clean.  The floor was shining so bright you needed sun glasses.  There was a locker at the end of the bed and I threw my bag inside the locker in disgust.  We met Angelo back at his office, and he took us to the cafeteria.

The cafeteria was loud and large.  There had to be about one hundred kids in there.  The moment we walked in I felt everyone’s eyes staring, sizing me up.  My roommate and I got our food and sat at the same table.  We sat across from each other never uttering a word to one another.  I stared at my plate and moved the food around with my fork, wanting to eat it but too angry to do so.  I looked around and saw that most of the cafeteria was split into ethnic groups.  You had the Puerto Ricans on the right side, the blacks on the left, and the white kids on the far end of the lunchroom. Where I was from, we weren’t fans of white people, and I was sure these guys weren’t fans of my kind, either. My roommate ate without a care in the world.  My stomach was growling louder, and the hunger won.  I placed the first forkful of mashed potatoes in my mouth.

After lunch, my roommate and I were escorted to the ID room to have our picture taken.  All inmates needed to carry their ID’s at all times and it had to remain visible.  Once our mug shots were taken, we went back to our room.  When we got back, my roommate was putting his things away.  I was on my bed with my hands behind my head trying to make sense of it all.  I knew that I wasn’t a perfect son, however, I felt that my mother was overreacting.  Her accusations of drug use were false, and it hurt that she would tell people that I was a user.  I was guilty of truancy at best.  My truancy had been a cry for help that my mother was too busy to see, or maybe she had just ignored it.  Her coming out really affected me and she never talked to me or my brother about how we felt about it.  We just had to accept it, just put a big “H” on our chest and just handle it.  It was a little past four when our room leader walked in.   A tall, skinny black guy, about six feet tall..

“Well, well, I got me some newbies ‘n shit.”  His bed was in the middle of the room with girl pictures all over his locker.  He wasted no time laying down the room rules.  “Bust it, yo.  My room never fails inspection.  If you motherfuckers get lazy on me and stop pulling your weight, I’m just gonna have to whoop some ass.  I got one more year in this motherfucker and I’m not gonna let you dipshits fuck it up for me.  Don’t start nothin’ won’t be nothin’.”  His rules were simple.  “Leave my shit alone. This is my side ya can hang over there.” He was pointing to our little section.

He sat on his bed and dropped his bookbag on the floor.  He stared at us and gave us a warning about our new abode.  “Yo, bust it, this place can fuck you up if you let it.  Racism is alive and well in this fuckin’ place, so keep your eyes open ‘n shit.    What’s your name shorty?” Pointing at my roomie.

“Tyrone, but call me Ty.” Tyrone tried to look hard at the room leader, but he was not fooled.  “Ty, no problem, I’m Geoffrey.  Call me Gee.  Bust it, Ty, you’re black like me, and the white boys here ain’t gonna like you too much so like I said, be alert, yo. The whiteys here don’t play nice so save your hard looks for them.”  He stared me down and said  “What’s up with you? What’s your name?”

“Ralph” I said.

“Another fuckin’ Ricky Ricardo’n shit. Bust it—”

“I ain’t Cuban,” I interjected.  “I’m Puerto Rican.”

“Cuban, Puerto Rican, who gives a shit?” said Geoffrey.  “To these white motherfuckers, you ain’t nothin’ but a spic, so watch yo backs, newbies.”

It was six at night and I was staring out my gated window.  Snow covered everything, and I began to think about the weekend that never was.  The trust was broken, and I felt like I had no one on my side.
The purpose of this facility was to teach me a trade and help me obtain my G.E.D.  The trade and G.E.D classes alternated from week to week.

Roll-call took place every night right before lights out.  Lights out was promptly at 10 P.M. Everyone gathered in the lounge and waited for their names to be called.  If you were not around for roll-call they would mark you Absent Without Leave, AWOL.  AWOL carried a punishment of five hundred hours.  Once we were in bed, we were looked in on every hour.

In the lounge I leaned on the wall and stared at the floor.  I could hear the other guys laugh and joke around.  When I looked up, I saw faces staring at me without saying a word.  Even the few Puerto Ricans on the floor didn’t speak to me.  That was fine by me because I didn’t want to make any friends.  After leaving the lounge Angelo called me to his office.

“Hey, Ortez get in here.”  I walked in to his office and he handed me the telephone.  “It’s your mom. She wants to make sure that everything’s cool.”

I placed the receiver on my ear.  “Hello?” I said and my mother answered quickly

“¿Como estas, nene? You have to understand that you didn’t give me no choice. This is for your own good, mijo. You—”
Click.  I hung up the phone.

In bed, facing the wall, it finally hit me that this was real.  I was going to be here for a while.  Tears rolled down my face, and I did nothing to stop them.  My great weekend with my mom turned out to be a fraud.  My first road trip outside the City of New York led me straight to Hell.