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Death of the Voles | 2016 | The Convicted Dan Jurow


Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.  

-James Baldwin

To My Recidivist Student

You are visiting the facility for a second or third time. You had been through the system once before, sacrificing six months of your childhood because you were too busy on the outside pretending to be an adult. But you aren't a man. You have no context for what a man is supposed to be. In your brightest moments with us, you are a boy, something you never let yourself be on the outside.

You think I cannot handle how "real" you are, but it's the opposite. What you consider reality is death over a cliff. I see it, everyone around you not strung out or awful does, but you are only concerned with getting your momentum up before the plunge. You will die soon or you will cripple someone as you plummet and be placed in a prison that will be as good as death. I have known far more of the latter than the former. I cannot say that it is a better way. I want to reduce the number of underage corpses and prisoners in the world. I know that this is likely your last chance to turn back, and you will not take it. You cannot believe survival is a possibility for you.

You come back to the facility and you blame us for your failure. Maybe we should bear some portion of the guilt. However, your choices that put you with us again. You are the one who drank and smoked in public on aftercare, the one who cut off your ankle bracelet that you would only have had to wear for another months before you could walk unsupervised, the one who cared more about posturing in court than leading your life. You are the one who couldn't stand to resist your addictions, whether to drugs or violence. Maybe that is how you were brought up, a concrete condemnation. All I know is that you let yourself be arrested again and decided to react by hating everyone who had ever tried to help you. As far as you see it, your only friends are people who think you are garbage, albeit garbage they will use to get money or rank in a gang.

Psychologists who will never visit you in the facility have a label for you: callous/unemotional. It used to be "psychopath" but the term lost its pathology as it grew to an insult. No matter the term, the meaning behind it remains. It is a label for the impossible to fix. However monstrous your actions, I don't want to believe you are beyond redemption or what is the point in trying?

I try to ignore what sins you have accrued in your short life because no one should be abused the way you were. You never knew "mom" and "dad" as anything but obscenities and lies. You turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the memories of molestation that started before you learned to speak. I leave my job for the day and feel hollow sometimes, unable to process the horror of your life, the dimness I see before you if something doesn't change within you.

I don't cry for you anymore. If I let myself, tears would creep into my voice when I am trying to teach you. However much you deserve my pity, you would only give contempt in trade and shut me out.

Prior to taking this job, I had never seen so many broken people and felt so much disguised rage for the people who broke them.

I knew they were out there. The world is too flawed and violent, too venal, to imagine otherwise, but it is a world different from hearing your animal wails as you push to get restrained again today, your growls becoming sloppy weeping, because being trapped beneath a pile of men is so familiar to you - even when none of the YDAs are going to violate you. That is why you force these men to reenact your trauma. For once, it doesn't end with you raped by the same family member to whom you write letters daily, the one who breaks your heart when they "forget" to visit you yet another weekend. When your parents have killed one of your siblings in front of you, how can you ever find safety enough to develop into a functional person?

I won't lie to you and say that I don't miss normal children, the ones who cry because their boyfriend of three days broke up with them the period before. I miss the trivial. I miss not having to know about my students' bowel movements and awkward erections under the guise of therapeutic open communication.

I miss children whose worst concern is too much homework or a failing test grade, not those who have been too concerned with survival to hand in a single assignment prior to being locked away.

I want you to understand what it is to be a kid. I want a better past for you so that I can believe you have any future outside the brick of our walls, beyond doors locked against you. I want you to leave us in a few months, our lessons held tight within your chest, and never need imprisonment to feel free from abuse and want for another stint.

Soon in Xenology: Art.

last watched: Ava's Possessions
reading: The Penultimate Peril
listening: Regina Spektor

Death of the Voles | 2016 | The Convicted Dan Jurow

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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