The Truth About Charter Schools

Intro

I have not pissed myself in years. The only time I ever came close to pissing myself as an adult was not from a night of binge drinking, nor from a moment of shock or terror. No, it just happened on a really bad day at work.

I had been stuck in the same room all day where I was only granted one piss break at lunch. By this time my bladder had reached critical mass and I was also being bombarded with threats against my family and insinuations about my sexuality from all angles. The most quotable threat of the day was when a 6’1″ mountain of an 18 year old girl screamed, “It aint over until I drop a bomb on your whole family and your faggot ass.” Was it not for my sense of professionalism, I would have spat in the girl’s face, but teachers rarely get away with something like that. Plus a white teacher spitting on a black student is problematic on so many levels, not to mention just bad press for teachers.

Had the security guard not been present at the time I am not certain how the event would have transpired, although I do not think I was in any real danger. No, anyone who is really out to kill you won’t shout they are going to do it in front of a classroom full of witnesses. No, I believe there is a saying amongst soldiers, “You never hear the one with your name on it.” All this with a bladder ready to burst. This was not every day at my job, but it was a common thing to expect at my job. Rowdy dispositioned youth, armed guards, and minimal bathroom access are common motifs of charter schools. I endured and witnessed more than I had ever wanted to or planned to, and I did it all for $20 an hour.

What I did

Being a teacher is a hard job. Being a substitute teacher is a weird job. Being a substitute teacher for charter schools is a weird, hard, and very real job in in our era of capitalism, test scores, and Betsy Devos.

Let’s begin our dialogue with a few details and stories about how I got the job and what it actually required of me. Before I begin I would like to mention that some names have been changed. For example the name of the company I worked for, a sub pool for charters and private schools, for the sake of legality let us just call it “Sub Pool.”

A sub “pool” for those who do not know is a reference to the list of people a school has on call for when they need a substitute teacher. Most schools and districts are required to account for their own subs but Sub Pool saw an opening in the market and took advantage. Charters and private schools contract out their pools to Sub Pool and the company then acts as a sort of teacher agency, where dispatch agents get calls from schools and then call the teachers in order to assign us to schools. Some assignments could last 4 hours, others 4 weeks. Some assignments you would get three weeks in advance, others you would have twenty minutes after your call to be out the door.

I ended up with this job when I moved to LA in 2014. I was following the old California cliche of going to Hollywood and making it in the film industry. Needless to say I was going to need some supplemental income, so after some tips from friends and family I was granted an interview with the current owner of Sub Pool. After a 45 minute Skype interview where I wore a nice purple button up with no pants, unknown to my interviewer, I got the job. I was then subject to the hell we all endure in the on boarding process, the long winded monotone over advising training video.

In this video I was taught what my dress code expectancy was and got tips and tricks on how to handle a class. They also told me what was expected of me when I arrived at a school. Here is the short version of what I thought was expected of me by the end of “training” : 1) Although every school has a different dress code, I was always supposed to dress in business or business casual attire, 2) I needed to have ready transportation at all times and, 3) if I did not have an assignment scheduled the day before I was to be on call from 6-9 am, which was unpaid time I may add. The minute I got a call I was expected to get ready and be out the door asap, if i got no call that meant there was no work for me that day.

There were other little things, don’t be late, fill in your time cards, etc. The things they were most adamant about though were don’t be a creep and answer your damn phone or you’re fired. It all seemed simple enough. From the lack of personal warmth during this whole on boarding process one gets the feeling that all you need to do to be a qualified sub is breath from both nostrils. “Is your heart beating? Good then get in there our regular teacher has the flu and we are desperate.” This was my first job out of college. I had no interest in being a regular teacher, I was simply trying to eat and pay rent, like all other post college millennials, I just wanted to stay afloat.

After I was hired, “trained,” finger printed, and background checked, I was initiated into the world of charter schools. My first assignment was a two week stunt not as a teacher but rather as a test proctor, there is a lot of temp work in the educational industry these days. Make no mistake by the way, capitalism has made education an industry.

The assignment seemed simple enough. I was to go to the school every day the next two weeks to be a proctor for what is know as the CELDT the California English Learner development test. It is a test where immigrant children or any child who is learning English as a second language have their English skills ranked by a professional, a professional like my stoned jaded self. This rank will be used later when it is decided which English class they are to be placed in. My assignment was to proctor with 3 other Sub Pool employees at a school in South Central. I arrived promptly for the job, dressed to impress as I thought was expected of me per the training videos. I figured slacks, a button up, and a nice Van Hausen tie would show everyone I was a professional, I may have just been trying to eat, but I was definitely a pro.

The school itself looked less like a school and more like a professional mall. One of those office suite buildings that just happened to be equipped with a tasteful central courtyard. It looked a bit a out of place amongst the rest of its neighboring buildings on MLK blvd. The decaying and aging two or single story bungalows bordering this four story, sleek steel and plane glass model of modernity were in stark contrast to one another. Were it not for all of the parents and children filing in and out of the main entryway there would be no sign at all that this was a school.

I had thought the assignment was simple enough, but it was a front row seat to many lessons I needed to learn about my new job, about the world, about life. It sounds like one of those cliches that The Kinks or Simon and Garfunkel should be playing over as Dustin Hoffman wanders the post grad world and Wes Anderson tracks him with high, isolating angles. Put in a backdrop of South Central Los Angeles and you would have my life at the time. In a way this sort of was my first lesson about the reality of capitalism. For here was a stoney white boy, 22, out of school, and entitled? If you mean to healthcare and a living wage? You are damn right. Yet again here you have an entitled, bearded, white (very important to mention) hipster dropped into the capital of Facebook poverty tragedy porn, and I was deemed responsible for using my listening skills to help file and rank these kids English careers.

First hand I saw the reality of all those pro immigrant Facebook posts I had been sharing, here in front of me were children, new to this country, new to this world filled with corporate Machiavellians, political denial, and blatant racism, and these kids can’t tell me which picture is an apple or a carrot.

Most of the kids I had in my group were teens, 13-17. There is nothing more sobering than talking to a perfectly capable and cognitive boy or girl, and yet they can’t use words you have used for what feels like forever, and you have to stay patient with them because it is no way shape or form their own fault for not speaking the language of a land you probably were not always planning on moving to. When I was three I made my objections to moving to a new house quite clear to my parents, yet in truth since I was so young I had very little to say and very little to argue with. Imagine being 14 and living in a country where you have very little to argue with, save for your own native language.

Nonetheless, the Spanish language seems to be a way to bond, a way to unite in solidarity in this white world for these kids, for when people at this school could not communicate with the likes of me or teachers, they definitely could communicate amongst each other. Where we were not providing solace, they were finding it in each other.

Another thing I learned from this assignment was that the dress code warnings in my training video were bullshit. Out of all my fellow proctors I was the only one in slacks, the only one in a tie, the only one who followed the company standard for what they defined as “business casual.” It was then that I learned from the more experienced fellow subs, all of whom loved reminding me I was the rookie, that no school reports you for dress code, unless you show up in “FUCK YOU” or “FRANKIE SAYs RELAX” t shirts. I’m paraphrasing but my point is clear. I did not have to wear a tie, but I would later learn ties actually made the job easier. Kids just listen to you more when you wear a tie, they make you look like you know what you are talking about.

That was all I learned just from the first two weeks. Once my tenure was done at this school I was ready and willing to go to the classroom. I waited by my phone from 6-9 on a Monday, not receiving word I was to work until 8 a.m. The call was for what was to be my first job in the classroom as an actual sub, and it required me to brave the LA traffic at its peak only to arrive at a gentrified as fuck charter just a few streets down from FOX studios in the northern regions of LA. This normally would be no problem, save for the fact I lived in Gardena and was looking at 40 minutes on or off the highway and was faced with the World of War that is LA traffic. When I arrived I was given bizarre and frustrating parking instructions, apparently this was one of those yuppie neighborhoods where they all got together and voted on requiring a pass to park. If only the left were as organized as homeowner associations. I digress.

Referring back to my 1st classroom assignment and second job for Sub Pool, I arrived late for a day of work as a 7th – 8th grade English sub in a yuppie as hell neighborhood. I was then subject to the perks and drawbacks of these charters that are exploding on the CA job market. This was a school that offered perks for their employees in the lounge, like free coffee and an espresso machine, donuts and free oatmeal breakfasts, but I would not be surprised if they were being tossed that over any kind of union benefits they could be getting. The campus was top of the line and my classroom was equipped with two smart boards, a projector, and a Blu-ray player. All the books the kids were using looked new or newish, and there was no shortage of school supplies. This is the truth of the suburban white collar white privilege capitalism class of charter. This school, which later would ban me I might add for smelling like beer on a later assignment, would prove to be a stark contrast to my following school.

My second teaching assignment, like my first, came the next day near the very end of my unpaid on call shift. I was told it would be a short 4 hour day of teaching PE. It sounded like the easiest goddamn day of work in the world. It turned out to be one of the most bizarre, painful, and revealing days of my life.

After I received the call, I was ecstatic when dispatch told me I could wear gym clothes to the job so long as I wore my company badge. I arrived for a job and was immediately confused. The address for my previous assignments had brought me to campuses that were clearly marked, and because of their size and the style of their neon storefront signs they were clearly charter schools. This time however I was brought to the campus of an immense public school. Those who have not seen LA public schools should know they look less like schools and more like compound fortresses equipped with huge fences and barbed wire, taking up at least a whole city block. I saw no signs indicating the school I was looking for which was Pathway Community School, but I figured the charter had been contracted out to run the school. I had read that was a commonplace thing and was prepared for it at the time. What I was not prepared for was two little old black church ladies to be sitting out in front of this school in the middle of Watts with a sign in sheet. When I told them I was hear to sub I heard what to this day I consider one of the weirdest, yet all too real, questions I ever heard.

“Which school,” the one in her purple Sunday best said. “We have three schools on this campus”

“What the fuck?” I thought, hopefully not showing it on my face. “One campus, one school.” That was how I understood the world at the time. But I was not about to let any ignorance show. Not any where on this stretch of San Pedro Street at least. So I faked it that I knew what they were talking about and said I was for “Pathway.” They then spattered something into a walkie talky and I was told to wait while someone from the school would come get me.

A quick digression, I would just like to quickly note that this was my introduction to a concept called “colocation.” Colocation is the term used for when a traditional public school shares a campus with a charter, usually because the charter is paying rent to the campus or school district. I spent a bit of time on Google looking up how two schools could exist on one campus as I waited by the front entrance, the act of staring at my phone was a great excuse for not making eye contact with any of the students, and sometimes even the faculty, gawking at me as they went by.

Something that happened to me frequently was being gawked at when I was in schools where white people were the minority. I became a sort of side show attraction at these schools. Here as students were filing in and out of the entrance where I waited, I was glared at and gawked at. I knew the predominant question was most likely, “Who is the white boy with the hipster beard?” At the proctor job I cannot tell you how many comments and questions I got about my eyes. I knew that the whispers I saw during the glares wear along the same lines. Blue eyes are hard to come by in places like Watts, I learned that first hand.

Eventually after enough students had gotten their five cents worth of the ring side white guy, I was escorted to the school by a young Mexican American woman who was about my age and about as tall as Bilbo Baggins. She was dressed professionally but not so professionally you would think she was the principal. She wore fitted capris, tasteful makeup, and hair pulled back and clipped to a bun. It was the look of someone who has to move around too much to be a principal. This woman was taking me to meet the principal in her office, which was the same room as the counselor’s office, the tutoring room, the student lounge, and the computer lab of this quote, unquote school. Essentially the whole school was one floor in the back corner building of the campus, which I think was otherwise unused by the school. Five classrooms, and this one makeshift center of operations at the end of the hall way. The computer lab corner was using Mac computers I had not seen since 2006, and the lounge where students sat had what were clearly donated couches and bean bag chairs, cracked vinyl and all, with copies of books like Goosebumps that looked so worn it was as if they had survived a trip to rural Honduras. I was instructed to sit at one of the tables and wait, where I was again gawked at by the students coming in and out.

I was then given a walky talky and some instructions by the young woman. I was to take the kids out to the track, which was on the other side of the campus, and follow the lesson plan left for me. One thing that complicated the day was that there was no lesson plan, and the walky talky did not work, and no one told me that these kids were at Pathways because they could not handle being within the regular school system. In other words, these are the kids who are so damaged that districts just don’t know what to do with them, so they shove them into the back corner where this charter is, and they let potheads like me handle them.

I’ll give you the short version. I was stuck on a tarmac track & field in the middle of a 100 degree heat wave with no shade, in charge of a group of emotionally damaged teens with histories of behavioral issues. I was heckled, I was disrespected, I yelled, I had no backup since my walky talky did not work, and out of a moment of anger and poor judgement, I told two students as they were storming off to the office that, “You have no future!” So it is needless to say I am not proud of myself or my work on this day.

This was my whole job though. It was two and a half years of this. One day at gentrified as fuck Santa Monica schools, the next I’m in the heart of Watts, Compton, South Central, or even as far as East LA. I have subbed at small, liberal charters that were inclined to the arts and were pinnacles of educational efficiency and I have subbed at underfunded ghetto hovels where between the poor lighting, the armed security forces, and the two story fences, it feels less like a school and more like a prison day camp for black and brown kids. I have subbed at well known charters such as Aspire, which is one of the largest charter chains in California. I have subbed at Alliance schools, which were in the headlines in 2015 when one of their teachers was arrested for handing out pro union pamphlets in the parking lot. I subbed at Green Dot schools, one largest networks of schools that is happily endorsed by Netflix founder Reed Hastings, an avid charter advocate and notoriously anti- board of education patron of pro charter causes. The founder of Green Dot by the way is Steve Barr, a man who is ran for Mayor of LA and wants to expand his charter more into LA unified district, already one of the largest charter school districts in the country.

I subbed at private catholic schools and private yuppie schools. Yet more than anything I have been to charters all across the LA area. From Downtown Los Angeles where the campuses tend to be compact and usually rented out spots that previously were thriving catholic schools. That is another group cashing in on charter school’s needs for campuses, the Vatican. Since charters are essentially independent schools they are responsible for using their own funds for maintenance and operation of their grounds, meaning they are a very popular prey to land developers, landlords, and property owners such as the Catholic church. The corporations are not the only ones cashing in on our kids.

The schools in places like Mar Vista or Culver City where much more avant garde. Sleek with modern architecture, which makes most buildings look like a Panera’s or Chipotle in my opinion but again I digress, and they are almost always well equipped with the latest technologies in the classrooms. The schools downtown would be lucky if they had things like fields for the students to play on. The schools in the yuppie neighborhoods would be lucky if they had any contact with a world outside of money, which they really don’t. The schools in the hood would be lucky to have just a taste of what those yuppie schools get.

Another thing I have yet to mention is the personal chaos that comes from dealing with a different school on different days. Some schools treated me as if I was a gift, a much needed and appreciated cog in the wheel to keep things efficient. Others treated me as if I was just a warm body there to send attendance sheets, they spat at my orders, then rushed me out of the office, because they had more important things to deal with than the subs.

There were other things about the job that made it difficult. One was the faceless interaction with Sub Pool, getting all my jobs over the phone and never coming face to face with dispatch or management save for my one Skype interview made everything feel so impersonal. I learned that subbing is actually a very impersonal job. They didn’t seem to care how far you were from any assignment, just so long as it got filled before 9. One day I would be sent to work just around the corner from my house, the next I could expect 40 minutes and three highway changes to get to and from my assignment. Despite being a California company, they seemed to know or care very little about the realities of driving through LA traffic.

I subbed for 2.5 years, and everyday on the road did I had a road rage incident. I have punched and stabbed the inside of my front door so many times there is a gaping hole next to my door handle. I cannot tell you how many times I was cut off, how many people I had to cut off to get to my exits, how many near misses I endured, how much wear I had on my brakes, how many flats I had, and how many self entitled Lexus, BMW, and Mercedes owners seem to be religiously opposed to using turn signals.

Combine this with the fact not a day went by when I was not high. After every call, once I was dressed and ready, it was time for at least five or six sativa bong hits then I was out the door. The coffee I was drinking probably added a little tension but any teacher will vouch that Coffee is life. Coffee is the gasoline that keeps teachers going. If you think you can handle 30-120 kids a day without either caffeine to start the day or alcohol to end it, you are either an idiot or a Mormon. Not only do I digress but now I repeat myself…

Between the coffee, the THC, and the lingering tension left from daily road rage, I was always in a, shall we say, interesting headspace every time I arrived for work, no mater what kind of school it was. Yet what I remember most, and this is true of any school, and I’m sure any teacher can vouch for this to, was how much I always had to pee.

Word of advice Dear Reader, if you have ever had issues with continence, don’t teach. Some schools provide ample breaks and bathroom access to their teachers, others expect you to stay in a classroom 5-6 hours at a time before you even think about resting. It was just another one of those things that made the day to day of this job so chaotic. Yet even when the access was ample, between the water I was drinking to clear my throat and the coffee I was drinking to stay at a pace with the students, I feel like I was always keeping an eye on my bladder.

This was what being a sub entailed, at least as far as what was required of me on the job. Being a sub, or teacher of any kind, also entails a front row seat into the reality of our youth of today.

What I Saw

When I was an 18 year old high school senior I had a foul mouth. Every other sentence off of my tongue was about weed, and sex was also a common topic for me. I used to think my teen years were the universal experience, but this job taught me otherwise. There is no universal experience except for birth and death, but there are commonalities between teens as there always seems to be commonalities between us all in this umbrella term overgeneralizing culture of ours.

One thing I saw at every school was a blatant addiction to screens. Anyone born post 1998 seems to be glued to either a phone, a computer, or both. May god help them if their parents have a TV at home too, which let’s face it they all probably do, those of them that had homes I mean. I often think about how each generation since the birth of cinema has been addicted to staring at screens. The silver screen of the early 1900s, the tv screen after the 60s, then came the computer in the 90s, and then the iPhones of today. We are a world glued to our screens, and at the rate I see our boys and girls leaping to Instagram and Snapchat it is almost a wonder those apps don’t crash 24/7.

I will also be honest, it seems to be the ones the most addicted to Snapchat filters are young girls. I never confiscated phones, yet if I ever say the words “Please put your phone away,” again I will develop callouses on those muscles in my tongue. I admire the level of self love in these girls, for while some scoff at the selfie obsession, I applaud those who can love themselves enough to share genuine pictures of themselves for the sake of sharing pictures. That is not a vindication of the Instagram narcissist who puts 5 hours into one photo, but I digress. What I can also say is that this sense of self love does drive a greater sense of tolerance in these girls. I do not know how to explain it, but it seems to me that because these girls are so ready to accept themselves as they are, they in turn are ready to accept others. I wish I could say the same of our boys.

I have always considered myself a feminist, but I did not realize how alive and well sexism and patriarchy is in this horse-hell society of ours until I was forced to sit in classrooms for eight hours at a time. The old enabling cliche of “boys will be boys” is alive and well. I remember one school where the boys were like a New York City construction crew, hooting and hollering at what was on there phones for an entire class period. I was at another school acting as a teachers aid in Compton, and apparently my way of being an aide was to sit there as an extra adult to keep the kids on task. Literally just sit in a desk all day by the teacher and look like a professional, that was the job, and on this job I was able to hear Mrs. Clearly goes Clubbing too Much on the Weekends say to almost everyone of her non gender conforming students, “act like a lady.” A 14 year old stands up for themselves against a room of boys, and what did I keep hearing from the responsible adult in charge? “Act like a lady.” Please excuse me while I vomit.

If the blatant sexism was not enough to drive me mad, the blatant classism was going to be what pushed me over the edge. I have mentioned before how the gap between rich and poor showed itself from school to school, and no where would the differences be more noticeable than in the schools grounds. Something you may not know is that school districts are funded via property taxes from the surrounding area, the more expensive the houses the more money for the nearby schools, so you can imagine how well funded schools in Watts or Compton are compared to that of Westchester or Santa Monica. I have subbed at schools that were just fixed up abandoned churches, schools that were in office suites next door to insurance agencies, pristine monuments to classic academia, and behemoths of LAUSD public schools now taken over by charters. Another school was your standard CA public school campus equipped with a central community garden, it was run so efficiently by the students it was better than any co-op I have ever seen. Yet still the nicer campuses were always reserved for the nicer neighborhoods, and for the whiter neighborhoods to.

Combine all that with daily being a witness to the modern drama’s of teen life, which in case you are wondering have not seemed to change much or ever if they do actually change. Your daughter is still struggling with her break up, your son is still under the pressure of proving himself to his comrades, everyone is curious about who likes who, who is dating who, did they go all the way, will they go all the way? Yet what has changed is that trans men and women are thrown into the mix, and so many young men and women have a more dominant sense of who they are than I ever did at that age. I have met several bi or even poly teens, when I was a kid I did not even know the word “polyamorous” existed. So if anything has changed since my time, it is that we are actually talking about the gender confusion of our classmates now, which is a very good thing. Not to reiterate an earlier point, but I also notice the most tolerant of the trans population are our girls and young women. This is not to to knock boys down, it is just a statement of something I observed when I was sitting behind the teacher’s desk tapping my thumbs on my phone and making sure teens were not texting too much or over sharing memes they made. That is something else I learned, the meme is supreme.

Yes I saw much from this job, and from what I saw and heard I learned more than when I was a student myself.

What I Learned

The list of things I learned as a substitute teacher is almost endless, but I will try to list the important things here;

C.R.E.A.M. – For those of you reading not familiar with the way of WU, that stands for Cash Rules Everything Around Me, and no one knows how true that is until they are forced into the front-lines of post college adulthood, but it is an even worse experience when you work in the classroom. I have seen it in all dimensions of the job. From the corporatization of education to the wealth gap between schools in South Central versus schools in Westchester. Within the difference between the classes and schools you see the differences among race and schools as well I have seen the predominant effects of capitalism. My need to get paid out weighing my need to pee is another verification that wealth comes before health in modern America. The list of public services at the hands of capitalist mercy when a school goes charter are endless. The contracts for providing the schools lunches are in a competitive market. Property owners ranging from venture capitalist privateers to the Los Angeles School District to the goddamned catholic church are all cashing in on the charter school explosion. I even cashed in myself when I was working for Sub Pool. Like I said before, I needed to eat and pay rent.

Do not come to work hungover, especially without tenure! – I learned this lesson the hard way. I remember at one school, who shall remain nameless to cover my legal ass, I arrived twenty minutes late, for the third time. The same one outside of FOX studios as I mentioned earlier. The night before was one of debauchery with friends and family. I was out like a tequila filled oil lamp by 3am and had become a hungover, drudging monster by the next morning smelling of night sweat and beer. The whole day consisted of me leaning my body against the white board in order to give my instructions at the start of each class, followed by uncomfortable eye contact with students as I tried to keep my slinking tequila heavy headaches from making me pass out, and just sitting behind the teacher’s desk fighting the nausea. I was asked to leave early by the front office. A week letter I got a letter from Sub Pool that said the school found me unprofessional, that multiple students had complained, about what I do not know, and I was never to sub there again. I was not fired but that gentrified school on the white side of LA will never see me again. In a way I should be grateful. There would be other schools were I would be banned for trivial disputes with administration, however this is the one school where I will cop to wrongdoing. If you are responsible for more than a hundred kids a day, it is okay to have a few at the end of the work day, just make sure you know your limits. Also for the love of god, fight for tenure! Fight for yours and the tenure of others! Without it a school can decide just how expendable you are.

I’m Racist – Don’t worry, so are you to. I have seen the racism that is rampant in all of our society. I have seen the self perpetuated racism of those living within racist structures, I have seen the legitimized structures of classism intellectualized. I have seen first hand the difference in treatment between white, black, and latino immigrant heavy schools. There is not a single school with a high white population I have taught at lacking any true resources. Latino and immigrant schools can either be state of the art or a pure shit stained dog house, it depends on how good the school’s organizers are at fighting for funds. You don’t want to know what the black schools are like. But more to the point, I noticed my own behavior was different at these schools. Yes there was a more positive attitude from students in white or rich schools and as such I had less issues dealing or managing classroom behavior than I did at black schools. For the longest time I chalked this up to the attitudes black students had about their education. Then I realized I could not blame anyone for the attitude they had. I realized one day that there was a difference in how I treated my poor black students versus my rich ones of any race, though most were white needless to say. I do not know what made me realize it but I soon did realize that I was quicker to send a black girl to the office at schools in the hood with heavy security than I was a kid of any other race at schools with more equitable resources. Was it the school, my own veiled racism, the subtle prejudice that is ingrained in us all whether we are conscious of it or not? Who knows? The point is this job made me realize I was both doing racist shit, and that it was making me do that racist shit. All those FB posts and tweets that I had used to validate my leftist ego for years were now faced with the reality of their content. It is one thing to post something about racism and classism, it is a whole other thing to face it for the first time. It makes you realize just how much white skin and a white penis can get you without asking.

Sexism is rampant to!- The worst part is that it’s everywhere. Whether it is at a school in Compton where the teacher is telling her non gender conforming students to “act like a lady’ or if it is a group of rich white trust fund bros telling someone to “be a man.” Or if it is Mexican teens still using “that’s gay!” as a derogative, the wounds and realities of our fragile masculinity and sexist infrastructures run so deep that even teachers, the agents of change and new thoughts in youth, are perpetuating it. Whether they realize it or not, they are sexist, and they are keeping our sexist structures alive.

Stop Ignoring Charters – I know we are living in the age of “alternative facts” but why do we still pretend that all our kids are going to schools like we did. Some of these charter kids are grown up and in college now, but we still act like all our children are just off to another day at a quaint brick house with a multipurpose gymnasium and cafeteria. In reality they are going to office buildings, old churches, and any place else they can get squeezed in. I do not know what it will take, leftist articles and a John Oliver video have elaborated on charters to the point where almost no new info can be shared about them. Yet the public, especially establishment liberals and conservatives, act as if we are still running on the model of education espoused from President Johnson, something that is no longer true with the explosion of the charter market. These charter schools have been around long enough that they are now turning out graduates into the ranks of college students. Very soon a large body of the population of college students will have had a primary education mostly from charter schools. If we are going to keep sending our kids to charters, it is time to start talking about unions and regulations.

Warm Bodies Are All Some Schools Want – Hell maybe if I had been a careless corpse some of my days would have gone much easier. This ties into what I was saying before about regulations, in actuality I feel I was very under-qualified to work with kids when I got this job, but as I said I thought it would be like babysitting and I needed the money. I have lost count of all the schools where the kids were on the verge of a lifetime of criminalization, no teacher wanted to deal with such wounds and scars, not even one day at a time, so they bring in me. They bring in a pot smoking pro sex socialist punk rock fan with no previous experience working with children to attend to your kids.

Kids are commodities (school to prison) – We criminalize our kids to promise a consistent work force that we cash in on throughout their whole life. I know because I caught myself doing it. I cashed in on the charter explosion to pocket my $20 an hour, all at the price of your child’s humanity. There is little room for humanity in a capitalistic education system. Cash is king, and if a kid’s test scores are low he won’t yield much cash. Charters have leeway in who they let in and who they kick out, and test scores are one of the ways they keep their profit margins up. California is also one of the states that allows EMOs to operate charter schools. EMO stands for Educational Management Organization, and while charters are required to be nonprofits, EMOs which can be contracted to operate charters do not have to be. EMOS see their stockholders as the first priority, the quality of a child’s education is second only to the fact that it says they get one on the paper work. If the paperwork says they pass the tests and graduate, then business is good so who cares about anything else. Our self perpetuating prejudice, or the declining quality of education, or the exploitation of teachers, the EMO will still see a healthy margin despite any of that. And when the kid is no longer profitable after graduation it is either because they were lucky enough to make it to college or because they have finally been initiated into a life of criminalization thanks to all the armed guards they went to school with.

Teachers Need To Pee – I’m honestly amazed I never got kidney stones or an infection. My temper would often become short as I had to clench my inner groin muscles more and more with hour upon hour on some days. Between being in some classrooms 3 hours or 5 hours at a time with no breaks until lunch, I was often only given a single 20 minute window to pee on 8 hour days. This was not at every school, but it was at every school that only had one bathroom for all the teachers and did not provide subs with keys. Yes, some of these schools actually refuse to give us keys to restrooms and require you to ask the other teachers, who are also short on their allotted time to go pee. There options are usually during lunch or their prep period. May god help any teacher that does not have a prep period. Something I also learned is the less you pee the more you sweat. I remember in my youth always wondering why, especially my male teachers, always had sweaty pits. Then I became a sub. So if you ever wonder why your teacher is irritable, sweaty, or on edge for seemingly no reason, odds are they just really need to pee. So be nice to your teachers, they really need to piss.

Some listen to you, some learn from you, some laugh at you – It’s the worst when it’s a fellow adult who did it. Several students took me seriously, and most adults were professionals and grateful I was there to help keep the lesson plans moving and the peace in the classroom. But there were some who treated me as that “just a sub they thought I was. Either with passive aggression or rude enabling of dangerous students. In any case however I survived at times, dare I say it, I made a difference in a student’s life.

They Privatized Our Kids -There is no realm of education that has not been reworked to enable profiting of some kind. The standardized tests? They contract for the supplies and scoring goes to private companies. The need for campuses? Property owners and developers. The need to operate charters? EMOs step in. Teacher’s want benefits? Boom, how about a private insurance mandate instead? Oh the kids are hungry? How much is the contract for breakfast and lunch with your charter chain? There is virtually nothing that has not been left for capitalists to cash in on in the world of education, and our kids are the driving force in this market. They do not see them as citizens to be molded, but as agents of profit. They are commodities in their operation for gain. They have indeed privatized our children.

Conclusion

So there you have it, the short version anyway. I’m currently working on a novel about this, which will go way more in detail, be way funnier, and way more honest about my experience. Yet everything in here is the truth of my experience. From the armed security guards to my own racist bullshit, every word about what you just read is 100% true and every single off hand remark about charters cashing in on kids whether it be property owners or EMOS can all be verified by simple google searches. I opened this article with a brief yet true story that I think personifies the worst of what I both witnessed and enabled. I confessed that I acted as a cog in this capitalist wheel because I needed to eat and survive and that $20 an hour was to kushy for any millennial to pass up, especially post college. So in summary, charters are exploding, for better or worse it is happening, and I now live life knowing that I was a front row witness to the first death throes of American education.

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Trash of the Gods.  Chapter 6. Junior Year, a chunk of life in 300 words or less.

Junior year I didn’t see much of Robert, I still hung out with Steve and the guys but Robert was rarely around, he had some girl friend junior year, Vicky, and he still had the heroine.
I still didn’t know about the heroine yet, but every time I did see Robert, his arms and legs were bruised. I would later realize these were track marks. Either I was in denial or really ignorant of the reality of the situation, or maybe I was too fucked up, in any case I just had no idea Robert really needed help.
 Some of the time, on days we’d actually see him, he’d be light hearted and warm, and I just thought he was super stoned.  
On other days he would just be out right vicious. It was as if he had to either fight someone or break something, he just lashed out at everyone like he had to destroy for the sake of destroying.
And he started to bully his friends, especially me.
That would be his days going through withdrawal.
And while all that went on; 
I was high and drunk most of the year.
I almost failed physics.
I got into a fight with a fat racist kid who was obsessed with Glenn Beck.
I almost dated a blonde republican girl who tried to get me clean. I didn’t get clean. She went back to her boyfriend. He looked very smug at me as he walked to her car one day.
That’s all I can remember from junior year.

 

Trash of the Gods  Chapter 2.  The Tao of Conversation

After that, Robert and I began to hang out more at his house after school. We would score our weed at the Strip mall then kick it in his room, doing the same thing we did at school. Get high and talk about literature. Ever since middle school, it felt like Robert and I were the only ones who actually read.
Robert was always the one to introduce me to my favorite authors, he always knew about things before I did. He was the one who turned me on to Tom Waits and Tool, he introduced me Hunter S Thompson and my life long love affair with Gonzo, everything from Danielewski or Palanuik was a part of his library, and would eventually become part of mine.
Today we were taking bong rips as Robert regaled tails to me of how he made out with Elise at the party a few times. Elise was yet another girl I had a crush on and he knew it, but of course he didn’t care. I was eager to get us off of the topic.
“I had a thought Rob,” I told him.
“Lay it on me dude.” He replied. I knew this would succeed. He was always eager to engage me in conversations. I think he enjoyed the break from our groups usual conversations of drugs, other drugs, and sex.
“Language.” I said. “I want your thoughts on language.”
He look somewhat confused by this statement. I enjoyed that. I always enjoyed the moments I felt smarter than him. “Like, what do you mean?”
Perfect the ball was in my court. I took my professorial lead. “Well, I was thinking the other day Everything, and I mean everything, that we have come to know, started when we created language. Like I think as long as we’ve been conscious we’ve had ideas but it wasn’t until we had labels that we could attach to these labels and communicate them that anything meant anything.”
“So language kind of created the illusion?”
“Yeah, I mean I wouldn’t call reality an illusion but..”
“Why not…” He interrupted me, I always hated it when he interrupted me but I was usually too stoned to react on time. So off he would go on some other tangent and there I would sit listening, like a meager college freshman listening to a pretentious tenured hack who wasn’t any smarter than me, just more well read. “you just said it your self, nothing meant anything until we had labels fixed to them, and if that’s true that mean’s these labels are fluid, subjective in truth and only as objective as we see fit to make it.”
I would always want to find a way to refute whatever Robert would say, even when I had no choice but to agree with him. I just got tired of him always sounding like the smarter one, but I couldn’t find anything to refute. He was right, reality is in a sense an illusion.
We had lots of conversations like this before, but this one is sort of my awakening. This was when my third eye was starting to get “pried open and scrubbed clean,” as Robert would figuratively put it.
“I’ll agree the labels and reality are subjective, but we need some way to communicate with each other right?”
“Oh yeah absolutely,” he agreed, I always felt validated when I got him to agree with something I say first hand.  
“So in the end where do these illusions come from, and does it really matter what we make up to explain our reality?” We both liked to provoke each other with questions like this.
“Hmm,” Robert pondered for a moment, “I guess not, because I think these illusions come from a number of places, the two main things being the void, and physics.”
The latter of the two had caught me off guard. “Physics?”
Robert nodded with the excited smile he got when he prepared for a new tangent. “Check this out man,” he said with the empathic hand gestures we both used when we got professorial, ” Everything, and I mean everything on the planet is built on both duality and singularity both existing at the same time. Both are the same thing and one that lead into each other, they are two sides of the same coin. Real and not real are both the same thing because each depends on the existence of another, up cannot exist without down because then up would just always be up, and because there is no converse to it we wouldn’t acknowledge its existence, it would just be. So everything, good evil, up down, relative concrete, all these things are not opposites, not separate things but the same thing existing at the same time within the same place much like, a coin, two sides, opposites, making one whole. Duality and singularity existing at once. That is the core of everything in existence, everything is structured around this because the same holds true in our atomic structure.”
He took a moment to catch his breath, by which I mean to take a bong hit, he held his hit in for five seconds then slowly exhaled as he talked, “What we were talking about was the void, and this is where the physics enters into it, this duality and simultaneous singularity exists within our own atoms, all of which make up all forms of matter, making them inescapable from this make up. An atom, is made of particles made up of a positive and negative and neutral charge, all of which come together as a whole, this singular whole bonds with others to create massive interconnectivity, that is what I mean.”
I feel we always got a little all over the place when we talked about these things when smoking weed, but for some reason no matter how off topic and tangental we got, we both always understood each other. It was like we were always on the same wavelength. Something Robert would go on a tangent about later on I’m sure.
I had enjoyed our conversation, but we adjourned from the brainy stuff, and moved on to our girl problems, and by ours I mean mine, I had only had sex once so far and had zero confidence at the time, Robert had two girlfriends at this point, one at our school and one our “rival” school. At the time I thought that was the coolest, now I feel sorry for how badly those girls got used, each never knowing about the other one.
We scored a huge chunk of kief from his aunt and got so baked we could lift our heads off the couch at one point. This was usually the point I would say my goodbyes and march onto the bus home.
It was after I left for home that Andy would show up with a stash and fresh needle for Robert.
  

Gramercy, The Journey of Jack Lewis. Chapter 6

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Chapter 6  Bored in Boise

Jack didn’t leave Sacramento as fast as he would have liked.  He merely wandered the streets trying to find his way out, and in the process he somehow he ended up back downtown.  He decided to take in what sights he could.  He visited Old Town Sacramento and J and K streets.

 

He walked past the capital and saw a group of people following one old bald guy with a hawk nose, as if he was the most important man on the planet.

 

“Must be the new governor,”  Jack thought.  He knew Arnold was finally out, but he didn’t know who had replaced him.  He was pretty sure that it was some schmuck who was already governor once before.  Jack didn’t really care either way, he didn’t have a stake in it anymore.

 

Eventually, Jack finally made it out of the city, and he just walked down a stretch of endless highway, it said north, so Jack followed the signs and headed north.

 

He passed through a few small and mid-sized cities.  After he found a junction heading East, he decided to turn and head inland.

 

It took Jack days, and countless chapters in Moby Dick, but he pushed through both as he walked all the way through Nevada and the top corner of Utah.  He then didn’t realize it, but he had made a full loop and was now headed towards Boise.

 

When he got to Idaho after weeks of hitch hiking and camping out, Jack felt bad for scorning Sacramento.  Boise was way worse than Sacramento.  Sacramento at least had the beauty and pristine of rivers and trees, and had plenty of art galleries and music stores.   There was culture to that city.  The fact Boise was the big city of Idaho just disappointed and almost depressed Jack.  He felt the town was pathetic and lacked any sense of life or mind.  He didn’t care for it much, but he was tired of wandering, so he decided to settle here for awhile.

 

He managed to keep his spending only on meals.  Which were still only cheap fast food meal deals, which still didn’t make Jack fat.  His beard and hair and grown and he had even lost so much weight that he didn’t even look like the Jack that left prison.  He looked like a true drifter, a cross between a hippie and Jesus.

 

He definitely wasn’t the Jack that left prison.

 

Jack hadn’t thought about prison for awhile now, other than comparing the luxuries of his new life to the things he considered luxuries in the pen, he now just didn’t think about jail much.  When Jack settled into another skid row motel for fifty bucks a night, he laid on his bed and thought long and hard about his old days back in the joint.

 

He remembered his first sentence, those five months in county.  Then he remembered watching his so called “friend” get iced in the gut for cutting in the lunch line.  Jack couldn’t believe he ever considered that jackass a friend.  He knew now that he wasn’t a friend, a friend doesn’t get another friend locked up in prison for shit they didn’t even do.  Kobe, Alex, Fiona and Alice, he could call these people his friends maybe?

 

But Jack did have one person, who in retrospect, he could call a true friend.  Russell his old cell mate from his second strike.  A nice guy, a black guy, a crip who got ten years for selling pot and crack.

 

He saw Judge Bachman for his trial.

 

Jack missed Russell.  He knew Russell was still serving time back in Folsom.  Jack hadn’t realized it until now, but Russell did do Jack a lot of favors.  Russell rolled with the other crips in the pen, it was his safety.  Prison is a lot like high school, the more friends you have the safer you are, as long as you don’t piss your friends off or they’ll fuck you, literally.

 

Jack had always convinced himself it was his icy stare and fearless step that had kept him alive throughout his sentences.  However the more Jack started to think about his time as Russell’s cell mate, the more he realized he had Russell to thank for getting out alive.

 

Russell was a lovable guy, even as a prisoner.  He charmed his way to basically being second in command to the Folsom Prison crew.  Jack didn’t roll with any crew.  Jack never agitated the crews, but Jack was always alone.  He always saw other inmates staring at him in the prison yard, and Russell would always go up and talk to them.  Jack had forgotten about this for so long that remembering it hurt Jack’s ego just a little bit.  He had worked his whole life to be so tough that he didn’t even show the most remote emotion when he was about to crush someone’s throat, and he had the bragging rights of being locked up three times and never needing a crew to get by.  Now Jack realized it was probably Russell.

 

Jack missed sharing his cell with Russell.  He was such a friendly, helpful guy.  It was thanks to Russell that Jack knew where to go to sell that weed.  He remembered all of the drug dealing advice he got from him when they were sharing cigarettes and some wine that they traded for cigarettes.  That was the other helpful thing about Russell was that he was rich in cigarettes, making him basically a billionaire in the eyes of prisoners.  Jack reminisced about all the booze they used to sneak and the stories they would exchange and Russell’s advice, Russell had advice about everything, from drugs, to prison, to girls.

 

“Go where teenagers hangout.  Malls are the easiest places to unload.  Outside high schools work too, but not right in front, go about three blocks away and ask the kids as they walk by, your less likely to deal with a cop that way.”

 

Jack just replayed all his old moments with Russell.  He actually missed something from prison.  Jack wished he could write Russell, he knew his prison number and the mailing address to Folsom.  But he knew he couldn’t write a letter without giving the feds an idea of where he is.

 

Jack started to regret escaping just a little bit now.  He didn’t think about how at the time he just walked out of Lampoc, he basically made himself a permanent pariah unless he wanted to go back to jail.  But then again he knew it had its advantages.

 

 

Jack also wondered if the media had caught onto his story, and if they did how well were they covering it.

Out of embarrassment, the Justice Department was trying to keep quiet about their search and his escape.

 

They were far behind.  They were still in California.

 

Jack took a few deep breathes and decided to get prison and its memories, both good and bad, out of his mind.  He just repeated to himself his usual mantra, “I don’t care.”

 

He picked up Moby Dick and continued reading, he liked this book a lot and was glad he picked this one.  Jack felt a connection as he did with Hamlet.  He also admired the bond between Ishmael and Quiquag.  It reminded him of his friendships with Russell and the trio in Southern California.  It also made him think of Alice.  Jack started to feel he was too cold to her when she was so grateful and nice to him.  But Jack shook his head, he knew there was nothing he could do about it now, so he pushed it all to the back of his mind and kept reading.  The whale was about to ram the boat and the giant book was building up to what Jack could tell was its epic climax.  Finally, when the dead of night set upon Jack he had finished the book, he simply patted it, thought it over and played out what he learned from the book in his mind, and he debated what to read next.

 

Jack woke the next day and paid for another night in his room, under the name Herman Melville this time,  Jack found it funny he still got away with this.  Either motel clerks aren’t very well read, or they don’t care as long as you’re paying in advance.  He asked the clerk if there was a used book store near, the clerk said there was one in the mall downtown.  So Jack walked for a good forty-five minutes until he reached the mall.  There was indeed a used bookstore in the mall, but it was so small and cramped in a little closet store that didn’t even have a front window besides the door.  It was jammed in between a Banana Republic and a Forever 21 that looked gargantuan in size compared to the book store.

 

Jack went in, it reeked of moldy pages and dust, Jack knew if he exchanged the books he bought in exchange for store credit on some used books he could save some money.

 

The older woman behind the counter, who seemed like a friendly old librarian who loved sharing literature with the minds that walked into her little closet of a store, gave Jack ten dollars of store credit for Hamlet, Moby Dick and Alice in Wonderland.  Using his credit, he bought a copy of Ivanhoe, which he was supposed to read in high-school, and two new Shakespeare’s to see if they were as good as Hamlet.  He settled on Macbeth and Titus Andronicus.  These three only covered six of his ten dollars.  The copies were fairly old and tattered so they came very cheap.  He wanted to get at least one or two more books, and eventually he settled on one that he had never heard of before, but it had a cool title and was apparently about a criminal running from the law, called Crime and Punishment.

 

With his new stack of books, Jack was excited.  He wondered what new things he would learn about the world and himself from these books, what perspectives would he gain.

 

As he checked out the lady commented, “Very Nice selections.”  She then looked at Jack through her thick glasses and smiled.

 

“Thank you,” he said actually smiling back.  He smiled because the sweet old lady reminded Jack of his grandma.  But Jack shook the thought out his head because he started to miss his grandma, his one beacon of love and safety as a child.  The one person who actually had any kind of faith in him, or ever trusted him.

 

Jack also felt guilty when he thought of his grandma, he was serving his first sentence when she died and he couldn’t go to the funeral.  He shook the thought out of his head once he was settled in his motel with a copy of Dostoevsky.  He then stuck his nose in the book until he had no more energy to read on and he passed out.

 

He dreamed of his Grandma, of the day she found out he got arrested, of the next day when she had a heart attack, and of the day after when she died.  Jack had this dream before, it was the first time he had it since he left Leavenworth, but every time he awoke saying to himself.  “I killed her.”

 

That was something his mom reminded him of when she actually used to visit him.  It wasn’t soon after Grandma that his Mom’s heart stopped and his Dad’s liver would fail.

 

Jack shook the thoughts out of his head when he had himself a large gulp of the whiskey he had bought on his way to Boise.  It was Sunday so all the bars and liquor stores were closed, which annoyed Jack but he soon got over it with a bottle he remembered he had in his bag.

 

After the alcohol calmed his nerves, he went back to sleep and decided it was time to get his mind onto other matters, it was time to leave this city.

 

Jack awoke the next morning, packed his bags, checked out, and walked away.  On his way towards the road out of town, he ran into a group of girls, between the ages of 18 and nineteen.  As he walked past them just standing on the street, he overheard their conversation which was nothing more than teenage blubbering and bitching, but to them it was the intellectual discussion of the century.

 

There was a short girl with brown reddish hair.  A tan girl with long black hair and an incredibly pleasing to the eye ass.  The third who was obviously the younger of the three had tan skin and black hair and eyeliner and mascara on.  Her hair was more curly than the others.  They were dressed for what looked like a house party that got busted too soon.

 

When Jack approached them at first he paid them no mind and was intent on walking past and getting out of Boise as soon as possible.

 

Until he heard the girl with the huge ass say this, “There is no place in the country worse than Boise.”

 

Jack immediately stopped and didn’t even hesitate to join the girls conversation.  He immediately interjected, “San Quentin!”

 

“What?” said the short girl with reddish hair as all three turned around.  The only one smiling at him was the girl in the make up.  The other two looked at him like two mother bears and Jack had just made a move for one of their cubs.

 

“San Quentin Maximum Security State Penitentiary, Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary,  Folsom Prison.” Jack continued ignoring the girl’s with the big ass attempted interjections. “Or Sing Sing, hell Lampoc and that’s a minimum security which are basically resorts for convicts…”

 

“Well no duh the prisons are worse than here,” said the girl with the nice ass.  “But you can’t…”

 

She trailed off but the girl with reddish hair saved her. “You can’t make that big of a leap.” Jack felt that was a cop out.

 

“But it’s in the country and I can tell you they are all worse than Boise.  Plus there are places worse than here that aren’t prisons.”

 

“Like what?” said the girl with make up, genuinely interested.

 

“Del Paso heights in California, South Central,Compton.”

 

“Well…” the tan girl was stuck and so was her friend.

 

“I’m Jack.”  he said trying to be nice, putting his hand out to shake.  The red hair girl eased, the tan girl with the nice ass still sent him vibes of resentment and prayers of torture, and the girl with make up was genuinely friendly, and she introduced the tan girl and herself.   “This is Tammy. I’m Lori.”

 

The girl with red hair was kind enough to introduce herself and even smile.

 

“I’m Maddie,” she said.

 

“Did you just get into town?” said Lori, pointing to the bags.

 

“No.  I’m on my way out,”  he said.

 

“Lucky,” they all said in the weird unison girls’ choir.

 

“Yeah,” he muttered.  “Well sorry to bother you.  Have a good night.”

 

“Bye!”  Said Lori.  They all waved as he walked away.

 

Jack soon forgot about the girls, and he wondered what was going to happen at the end of Crime and Punishment as he walked into the dead of the night and the middle of nowhere.

Gramercy, The Journey of Jack Lewis. Chapter 4

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Chapter 4  Jack Lewis, Meet Lewis Carroll

Jack didn’t awake to the sounds and smells of a fresh breakfast.  This time Jack awoke to Alex’s loud vomiting in the bathroom.  It was 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning, Kobe and Fiona were still slumped in a hangover coma on their respective claims of the couch.

Jack wasn’t even nearly in as much pain as any of them.  Jack had been a regular drinker since he was 12, he could chug half a fifth of anything and still wake up the next morning feeling as if he hadn’t drank at all.  The only alcohol that ever made Jack sick was the wine he would make or buy in prison.  His stomach would burn for days after drinking that stuff.

So to say the least, Jack had a better tolerance than his friends.  He even poured himself a Jack and Coke before they were awake.  Alcohol this good would have been a treat in the joint for Jack and the other inmates.  Jack remembered how excited they would get when he could get some prison wine made under his bed.  Needless to say, he was grateful to finally have a drink bought at a store.

 

When Fiona, Kobe, and Alex, were finally strong enough to slump into the kitchen, Jack had surprised them by making breakfast this time.  This breakfast was one thing worth while that Jack’s father had taught him.  It’s the perfect hangover cure, besides weed.

 

Buttered wheat toast, orange juice, ice water, fresh sausages and eggs with cheese for protein.  Jack was glad to finally share something he made with the group.  Jack at times felt guilty he didn’t have more to offer these people who were so nice to him, but he reminded himself it wasn’t his fault because he was fresh out of jail.  He knew the mantra didn’t make sense, but it was enough to clear his head so he could return to his traditional state of indifferent balance.

 

The weather had turned south on them, it was raining so hard it actually hurt to go outside and it wasn’t even hailing, it was just incredibly heavy rain.  So they decided to laze about inside.  The three would do what homework they had to get done, which didn’t take long, and the afternoon was free for just sitting in a circle, listening to music, watching movies, and smoking.

 

They got into conversations about who was better, Stevie Wonder or Barry White.  Fiona  spoke for Stevie and Alex for Barry.  Jack settled the argument by saying they were both amazing artists who changed music for the better, but they played different styles and were therefore not suitable for comparing and contrasting.

 

It was the smartest thing Jack had said since he had gotten out of jail.  For a few seconds he was very proud of himself.  He could never think of another time where he actually used the word “therefore.”

 

The topic soon shifted to the power of psychedelics and their emphasis in Alice in Wonderland.  Jack told the group he had never read it and they looked at him in a wide eyed shock, as if he had kicked their puppy.  Then they laughed, they teased and assured him it was worth reading, along with Through the Looking Glass.

 

“In fact,” said Alex as he stood up.  He walked to the shelves of pipes and grabbed a book that had been resting behind a bong and handed it to Jack.

 

“You can have this, I got an extra copy.  They are must reads.”  Alex handed Jack a Barnes & Noble copy of Lewis Carroll, both books in one, just for Jack.

 

The conversation shifted more into literature and Jack was once again left outside the trio’s ring on this subject.  He just sat and listened, feigning interest but not really caring or understanding.  Although when they got incredibly enthusiastic about Cornel West, Sinclair Lewis, and Moby Dick Jack did become curious.  “I should remember those names,” he thought to himself.

 

Suddenly, there was a loud bang on the front door.  Then a bellowing yell, “FIONA!”

 

“Shit,” she said to herself as she scattered and ran into her room.  Jack thought she was going to hide and lock the door but she came back out with a baseball bat.  Jack immediately smiled, “I love this woman,” he told himself half joking and half serious.

 

He stood alongside Alex and Kobe, forming a human wall between her and the door.  Jack looked back at her to see the hatred, and fear in her eyes.  Yet for some reason, she wasn’t about to run and hide.

 

The bangs and yells continued until Kobe opened the door with Alex standing behind his shoulder, both were in plain sight, and tried to look tough, Jack just stood between Alex and Fiona looking naturally intimidating as he usually does.  Soon the door was open and the whole crew were exposed to Fiona’s drunken abusive ex from high school.

 

“Fuck off George!”  Kobe told him.

 

“And a hello to you to,” slurred George in a drunken stupor.  When he saw Fiona with the bat he just laughed smugly, “What you gonna do with that? Huh?”

 

Kobe and Alex tried to push him back as he stepped forward into the door, but George punched both of them in the stomach so hard they began to gag.  When he stepped towards Fiona, she gave one swing into his ribs, and for a few seconds he was hunched over.

 

Before Fiona could swing again, it was as if Jack had awoken from a coma.  In a matter of seconds Jack had leaped out, grabbed George by the front of the neck, and with one hand had him pinned against the wall and off his feet, at least three inches off the ground.  The rumors about all the muscle you build in jail, if you do it right, are true.

 

What made it all the more terrifying was the fact that Jack didn’t show even the slightest sight of anger or any other emotion on his face.  He was less than an inch away from crushing this drunk’s windpipe, and he wasn’t even showing a hint of anger, stress, or hesitation.

 

“Listen,” Jack began. “I’ve served time in the hardest of prisons with some of the most dangerous of people. You see me standing here now?  That means I had no problem surviving.  I have no problem going back, and I especially have no problem going back for crushing your throat  until your arteries burst and spray like liquid fireworks.  You got me, fuck face?”

 

George gave what he could of a nod as his face was turning bright blue. Jack let go and the pathetic man slumped onto the floor, he wondered who the hell this guy was, why he was so quick to defend these people, and what the fuck was wrong with him.  George was violent, but he had no idea anyone in this world could be so ruthless.

What Jack said terrified george.  George had been threatened before, but never had he believed it.  He genuinely believed this guy, the fact someone could say something so horrific with absolutely no emotion was capable of anything.  George attempted to stand up and leave but Jack forced him back onto the floor with a kick down.

 

“No,” Jack declared.  “You crawl out of here, or you don’t leave at all.”

George obeyed, and he crawled out of the house on all fours, like a sad wounded pup, and into the harsh rain.

 

Alex and Kobe recovered and stood by Fiona, who had just watched the entire scene both gratified and speechless.  She was thrilled to see George finally get what he deserved, but she had no idea Jack was capable of such terror.

Immediately after the crisis had been handled, Alex,  Kobe, and Fiona could nothing but just stare at Jack.  Jack hadn’t even noticed them, he was in the kitchen pouring himself a drink when he turned around to find them all staring at him.

 

“Nice Job with the bat,”  he said to Fiona.  “Good choice for home defense, I used to have one back when I lived with my folks.”

 

The three still stood speechless.  They all sat immediately when Jack did.  Jack finally asked through his drinking, “So what was the deal with the bastard?”

 

“He was my ex from high school, I was with him all four years, which was a mistake, he was just a drunk bastard who just, had this power over me.”  Fiona seemed almost ashamed to talk about him.  “I can’t explain it, but it wasn’t until I finally got him out of my life that I could make something out of myself.”

 

She paused for a moment, searching for the words.  “I can’t explain.”  She said again continuing, “But when I was with him at first there were these moments when he just made me so happy and feel so special, then he would just go off on some booze and ecstasy binge and remind me of how quote, “I’m nothing without him.”  Eventually I got away.  Eventually I realized I don’t need a man to make me whole.  No girl does, and men don’t need ‘better halves’ for that matter.”  She was just thinking out loud at this point, but the boys let her speak, they knew she had been holding this in for a while.  “Security starts with the self, you know?  I’m not saying love isn’t real or important, but you have to love yourself before anyone else can. You know?”

 

Fiona was silent.  She apologized for going on a tangent.  Kobe and Alex looked stone cold serious and empathic at Fiona’s painful reminisce.  Jack could tell the painful memories were not just her’s but theirs as well.  Kobe rubbed her shoulder in a comforting manner.

 

Jack felt empathy for Fiona.  “I wish my mom was as strong as she is,” he thought.  “Then maybe she wouldn’t have taken all of dad’s bullshit out on me, she could have gotten away.”

 

Jack rubbed her other shoulder and assured her she didn’t need to explain herself.  She thanked him, but the look of caution was not going to be wiped off of their faces any time soon.  Jack could tell his actions weren’t comforting them.  They did thank him for getting rid of the guy, but Jack could see there was a mild fear in them, and it made him feel shame.  He knew that they would never look at him the same way again.  They knew what he was capable of now.  Although Jack would never hurt these three, he knew they would forever be afraid of the chance.

 

They said their goodnights and all went to bed.

 

Except Jack, Jack did not go to bed.  Instead he lied on the floor staring at the ceiling playing the events over again in his head on a loop, and he cared a little less each time he replayed the events.  He didn’t over react, he did what he had to do to keep them safe.  He did, however, decide it was time to walk on.  He had made a share of money from the pot sales, and he didn’t want to bare the looks of his friends knowing that behind the friendly exterior they fear a murderous potential.

 

Jack packed his bags, counted his agreed share of cash out, and took a few ounces of the less potent weed, knowing they wouldn’t mind.  He also grabbed a few bottles of Jack Daniels, and he left a note that said, “Thank you for everything, you were the first people who were legitimately nice to me in years.  Thank you again. I will always be in your guys’ debt.”

 

Then, shaking it all off and quickly resolving back to not caring, Jack was out the door and back on the road.

 

He stopped quickly to check his bag to make sure he didn’t forget something.  He was relieved to find the book they gave him when he opened his bag.  Sighing, he closed his bag again and continued in what he believed was North or North East.  He was glad the rain had stopped and the wind had parted the clouds, so he could see the stars as he walked.

Gramercy, The Journey of Jack Lewis. Chapter 2

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Chapter 2  Jack’s New Friends

For the first few nights Jack just crashed, tentless, in empty lots and beaches.  He had pinched and saved little bits of money over the years by trading with some of the other prisoners, but it certainly wasn’t much and it certainly wouldn’t last very long.

Eventually Jack decided to move his wandering inland, and he ended up in Los Angeles.  He wandered through East LA, down to Gardena, and even found his way to his old neighborhood in South Central.  Three cop cars drove past him while he was there and they didn’t even look at him.  He wondered how long it took them to get his APB out.

Jack’s wandering eventually led him to a bar.  “The GULP” in Hollywood, it was one of the places where the bohemians and the young of LA came to drink and discuss whomver was the new band on the scene.  Jack overheard the conversations and thought they were mostly rather self important.  

Except for one girl, the one with the Sailor Jerry hula dancer tattooed on her forearm.  She had tan skin and black hair, and she went on about how the state of the will has always been non existent and has only been the illusion of the mind.  Jack didn’t have any clue of what the fuck she was talking about, but he was interested.

But then some jackass who overheard her and who completely misunderstood her point got offended started yelling something about the existence of God and called her “SKANK,” at the top of his lungs.  

When he grabbed the girl by the forearm, Jack did not hesitate to bash his glass against the prick’s head so hard that a shard almost made it through the crack that was made in his skull.

The bar went silent except for the man’s cries of pain.  Blood stained the bar and the floor as the man clenched his burgundy stained palm to his forehead, and Jack had no sign of emotion on his face.  He simply put on his coat, paid his tab, nodded and muttered “Ma’am,” to the girl as if this was a scene out of a John Wayne movie.  He then turned and began to walk out.  As he walked out the girl yelled, “My name is Alice.”

Jack didn’t stop walking or even turn around.  All he said, loud enough for everyone in the bar to hear was, “That’s nice.”

He then walked into the night’s cold wind, stepping over homeless slumps on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Kermit the Frog was now home to a disturbed Vietnam vet, and Lucille Ball hosted a schizophrenic who thought Ivanhoe and Dr. Faust were his associates.

Jack walked on and he gave what little change he could to every cup that he saw.

Jack had no place to sleep in the city, so he settled for one of those transient hotels on the underside of town.  He got an almost free room there, he lied and said his name was Lewis Jackson.  He slept on the hard mattress and pillow and was thankful to have a roof over his head again.

For a brief moment, he wondered what had become of his old room at his mom’s, and what happened to all of his belongings.  But like usual he didn’t care, he merely shrugged and went to sleep.

The next morning he was awoken by a knock on the door.

Jack had no peep hole so he had to crack the door to find that it wasn’t the police but the girl with the tattoo on her arm.

Jack was annoyed.  “Can I help you?” Jack grunted, drunk on gin and sleep.

She was timid but eventually she found the words.  “I wanted to thank you.  I never thanked you properly and I just wanted to…”

“How did you find where I was?” he interjected.

“I followed you last night…”  She was still timid.  Jack’s tone wasn’t helping her nerves.

“And why didn’t you just thank me last night?  Why wait until the morning?” He interrupted again.

“You seemed like you wanted to be left alone, plus it takes a little while to gather up the courage to thank someone for shoving shards of glass into someone’s face.”

“Fair point.” Jack conceded, “The girl is smart,” he thought, “a little weird but smart.”

“Well, Alice was it? You are welcome, but listen I don’t know if you have any other intentions or anything else you want to say or ask or anything like that.  So, please do it now and then please do me the favor of fucking off.  Don’t take it the wrong way but I’m not the kind of guy a girl like you should be getting involved with in any way shape or form.  You got it?”  He said this with his usual lack of anger, stress, or any other remote emotion.  He simply stated it as a straightforward matter of fact.

She rubbed her arms and conceded that she only wanted to know if there was anything she could do to repay him?

Jack said that he hasn’t had sex since he left prison, so she gave him head, and they had three rolls in the hay.  She left doing something she wasn’t when she arrived, smiling.

Jack felt sorry for the girl as she left, in Jack’s mind anyone who was willing to have sex with someone who would bash another person’s head in must have some serious issues.  Jack was grateful to finally have gotten some tail though.  But he didn’t let it stop him from packing up and moving on to the next town.

Jack went back to his aimless wandering and ended up on the coast, Jack could have sworn he was walking south, but it didn’t matter, a change in venue was a change in venue.

Jack had a problem now though, Jack was out of money.  He could steal some, but until he had cash Jack settled on shoplifting random foods and bottles of water.  He spent his whole childhood shoplifting, and he never got caught, he was practically an expert at it.

He managed to get ten pre wrapped sandwiches, plenty of canned goods, and any bottle of whiskey he could sneak.

After he stocked up on food he wandered about the town, and eventually ended up back on the beach.  There he saw a group of college kids smoking pot and drinking beer.  Jack was in the mood to socialize so he walked up to the group, introduced himself using only his first name and offered some whiskey if they would smoke pot with him.  

The obvious leaders of the group were a long haired thin white hippie in a baja sweatshirt, and a tan black haired kid in a grey Cosby sweater with a hawk-like nose.  The leader of the females of the group was a brown haired Amazonian who had long flowing hair and thin square hipster glasses.  Jack immediately wanted to sleep with her, but for the first time in his life Jack was actually intimidated by this woman.  He didn’t know what it was but she was so beautiful, in a strong way.  

The three did not hesitate to smile and welcome Jack to the group, and invited him to not only enjoy the pot but to also enjoy the marshmallows they were roasting, the fire to keep warm, and they even offered to let him crash at their beach side house that night.

Jack was taken aback by their open friendliness. It was a warmth that Jack hadn’t felt in a long time, not since he was a little kid visiting his grandma who would spoil him with Oreos and Pizza Rolls and tell him how special and imaginative he was.

The atmosphere was so open and welcome, that for the first time since he was a child, Jack genuinely smiled, laughed and had a good time.  Eventually he pointed out to the others “You know you guys never told me your names.”

The others laughed and apologized, and all the three leaders introduced themselves along with the others who seemed more or less to be the followers of the group.  The thin kid with long hair was Kobe, “Not pronounced like the ball player. Not kobie, kobAY.” He giggled like the stoner he was, the tan kid with long hair introduced himself as Alex.  The girl leader of the group was Fiona, and she smiled what Jack thought was the most beautiful smile he had ever seen.

“So where you from?” Alex asked Jack.

“South Central.” Jack replied as he inhaled a joint.

“That’s rough dude,” said Kobe.  Jack could immediately tell that he was the social butterfly of the group, he interjected on any conversation casually and naturally.  Jack wished he had social skills like that, and conceded to himself that if he had gone to college maybe he could have developed them.  But he remembered that no one with criminal records get financial aid, and college like everything else in the US, except air, costs money.

But Jack liked Kobe nonetheless, it was impossible not to like him.

Their conversation went on for a while, and Kobe revealed they were students at Santa Monic College.  Eventually, Fiona joined the conversation by asking, “So where did you do your time?”

The whole group was taken back by the question, except for Jack, he just smiled one of his rare smiles and said,“Smart girl, how’d you know though?”

“You can’t seriously tell me that I’m the first one to point out the bar code tattooed on the back of your neck. Bar code tattoos either means you really like some product and have an odd way of showing it, or you did time and got your number tattooed under a barcode.  It’s a common prison tattoo.”

Jack could not feel stupider.  He had forgotten all about his tattoo, which no one had in fact mentioned.  Jack never saw his tattoo because it was on the back of his neck, and in prison tattoos are so common no one bothers to mention them to each other so you eventually forget you even have one.  Jack just smiled, and replied, “Lampoc, for larceny.  Don’t worry, I’m clean now.”  He felt no need to list his whole record, or the fact he was on the run.  He didn’t want to trouble them with that fact.

Fiona smiled back, “Dude it’s cool.”

Alex added, “Totally,” as he coughed excessively.

“Forgive and forget, that’s what I say.”  Kobe said with his friendly smile.

“Thanks,” said Jack. Jack couldn’t believe it.  Most people in the world would shun him faster than anyone could.  But they didn’t, Jack almost wanted to cry, but managed to stay in high spirits.  They didn’t even withdraw their invitation for him to crash at their place.

When it came time to pack up, Jack helped them and sat in the back seat next to Fiona, whom he always smiled to and who always smiled back.

The house was a simple cottage, with a kitchen and living room and pot plants growing and drying all over, and a whole wall decorated with every kind and color of smoking utensil imaginable.

The minions had dispersed to their homes, and Jack was left with the three leaders in their home.  They circled up in the living room exchanging stories and hitting a vaporizer.

Jack hadn’t smoked pot since his second strike.   By his second hit he was so high he felt like he was floating.  When he passed out  he felt like he was floating even in his dreams, which consisted of Fiona and Alice.

Gramercy, The Journey of Jack Lewis. Chapter 1

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Chapter 1 Jack Lewis, We Hardly Know Ye

Crime to Judge Bachman was a choice.  It does not matter what you see Judge Bachman for, you will see the fullest sentence for it.  May god help you if it’s your third strike.

It was Jack Lewis’ third strike.

Jack Lewis in the eyes of the law, or rather Judge Bachman, was a good for nothing thief.  First offense; when he was nineteen a buddy of Jack’s broke into a house and didn’t tell Jack of his intentions.  Jack was standing outside when the cops rolled up. He and his friend both got five months.

Jack’s friend got knifed three days into his sentence and died on the way to treatment.  He didn’t even live past the cellblock doors. 

Jack served his sentence, then two weeks later Jack got caught trying to grab $500 cash from the front seat of a car by reaching in the passenger side window.  It turned out to be a sting operation.  Jack tried to claim entrapment and failed.

He got 5 years for attempted larceny and for violating his probation.

He got out in three years, but then he pulled another job and stole $5,000 cash from a Beverly Hills family home at gun point after a failed break in woke up the father.

The cops rolled up on Jack before he could even make it past the drive way.  When Jack lived in South Central and he called the cops on his dad for beating the shit out of his mom, it took them twenty minutes.  Here they were practically waiting for Jack to leave the house. 

He never even knew the guy had a silent alarm.  He also had no idea how much they cost.

Now Jack was here, about to stand sentence for breaking and entering and armed robbery for his third strike and was about to be sentenced to 25 to life.

When Judge Bachman banged the gavel and made the sentence official, Jack didn’t even flinch.

There was no surprise, no shock, fear, or worry in Jack’s face, and Bachman didn’t like that one bit.  Bachman was used to making the baddest and toughest criminals hang their heads low in despair, yet Jack didn’t cede.  Bachman couldn’t understand why, and for the rest of his term on the bench he would always be a little self conscious that he would have another Jack Lewis in his court.

Jack got into the orange line of men being put into a big iron caged bus with tinted windows.  The man in front of Jack was a bank robber and the guy behind him was a child molester.  He would get his throat cut before the night was over.

Jack still had that emotionless look on his face.  Completely unfazed by the world around him, it didn’t matter that he was in a bus full of men who would never see the light of day again.  His face was almost set like a stone statue, no fear, and no remorse.

Jack was a model prisoner.  No guards ever fucked with him more than they did with any of the other inmates.  It’s pretty much required in the job that you torture them all just a little bit, but you reward the quite ones by torturing them just a little less.  Jack also never got into any scuffles or got on anyone’s bad-side, nothing happened to him when he took a shower, and he even enjoyed conversing a little with the other inmates in the smoking sections.  They would exchange cigarettes and stories, but that was the extent of Jack’s socializing.  He was a loner outside of prison and he was going to stay a loner in prison, no matter what.

The warden rewarded Jack’s behavior by pulling some strings and convincing his superiors that Jack was suitable for a minimum security “resort,” so they complied and Jack was transferred to Lompoc in California. 

Jack’s lawyer appealed day in and day out as he did for all his convicted clients, but nothing could be done to get the sentence reduced.  Judge Bachman also had a way of pulling strings, making sure every sentence he ever makes, even if it’s proven wrong, stands. 

It wouldn’t matter because Jack would be out soon any way.

One day when the guards were doing a head count they noticed the irregularity in Jack’s cell, not only was he gone, but so was every single shred of Jack’s existence in the cell, even the blankets and the pillow from his bed.  All of his possessions had been cleared out as if he was scheduled for release, he wasn’t even scheduled for a parole hearing for another five years.

One day, Jack Lewis, simply tired of the prison routine, packed everything up in bags and backpacks.  He then put on street clothes he stole from laundry, and he just walked out the front door.  The guard even waved to him and wished him luck as he walked out.

Jack was now at an impasse, he didn’t know what to do now.  He didn’t care about the fact that he was now probably going to become one of the most wanted men in the country, as far as the prison matter was concerned it was the past.  Jack never gave a shit about the past, all he cared about was now.

So, Jack simply decided to keep walking.  All his worldly possessions in one overstuffed backpack.  He didn’t know if he was going north south east west or whatever.  Jack simply decided to walk.

He wasn’t stupid though.  He knew that he should probably change something with his hair or do something to disguise himself, so he wore a pair of glasses to mess up any facial recognition programs the feds might use, he saw it in an episode of Law and Order.  He decided to grow his hair long and to grow a beard.

Jack was now ready to continue walking.  He wandered until he found the Pacific Coast Highway and just walked and watched the beautiful beaches and sun stained cliffs, and in a rare moment of emotion, Jack couldn’t help but crack a smile and couldn’t help but chuckle and be amused about the blank new life he had before him.

NEW CHAPTER NEXT SUNDAY!