To Wounded Arrow: Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight
Something from Nothing
1982-1990 (26-30 years-old)

I was nine-years-old when I first sat in front of an old, dusty typewriter and hammered out my first story. I remember it well, too, for the Dog Days of a Nebraska summer had sent me to the cool of the basement of my childhood home, and there in my retreat from the sweltering heat, I typed out The Lost World.

During the process, the D key stuck constantly, and in the story, Professor Gray and his body-guard, Steve, drove a space ship underground and rescued a little yellow dude named Spock. I drew 10 pictures for the 10 page story and stapled them into a booklet. My babysitter and her two sisters were my only audience for that particular work, but I still have that booklet to this day.

In sixth grade, I remember my teacher phoning my mom and telling her that I didn’t seem to be there with the rest of the class. When my mom interrogated me about my space-off sessions, I told her I was bored out of my mind. But the truth of the matter is, I had been sitting there at my old wooden desk, when I started poking the end of my pencil into this perfectly round hole that some other bored kid had evidently drilled into the pencil tray long before I was destined to sit in that particular desk. Suddenly, in my head, I heard, “No! No! Stop!”

Fascinated, I withdrew my pencil from the hole, and in my “mind’s eye” I watched as a tiny gray mouse named Tuffy popped out. He was a friendly little fellow and he flew around my classroom in his airplane. Mind you, this is two years before I even thought about dabbling in any kind of mind-altering substances. Thus another story was born.

When I was 13, I began wearing that cut-off jean jacket with an American Flag on the back, and in goal to become a biker, I began to write with pen and paper, and I filled up three entire note books with a 900 page story that I named Wings like Eagles.

At 14, I cut the flag and motorcycle patches off of my jean jacket and rode my dirt bike out to Steven’s Creek. There I started a huge fire, and I removed all 900 pages of that biker story from my backpack. I then wrapped them in my flag, along with all my patches, and I tossed the whole bundle into the fire. I watched those writings burn, and like a Phoenix that rises from the ashes, I vowed to write something that would hopefully change lives.

I re-wrote Wings like Eagles, then added a manuscript called Scratchin’ on the Eight Ball to my collection and began sharing them with clients confined at the Attention Center. Little did most of those kids know that I had been exactly where they were and that is why I wrote stories addressed specifically to them.

I eventually submitted those two stories to publishers but never got a bite. I remember having a sit down with my friend, Dan Newton’s mom, and she showed me an entire drawer full of rejection slips, and told me to hang on because being a writer was a rough and rocky road.

When I was 25, I produced a slide presentation called, Love that sticks like Bubblegum on Tennis Shoes. It was presented with two slide projectors, a dissolve unit and a full musical background. Kids performed the dialogue and I included lots of strange sound effects such as motorcycles, vacuum sweepers, crunching ice cubes, and cows grazing on dried corn stalks. One scene included a kid throwing a soccer ball across a school playground and accidently beaning his teacher in the head. Her glasses flew off and shattered when they hit the ground. I used a large mayonnaise jar to get the right sound effect for that particular shot, and the first time I presented the show at Huntington Elementary, one elderly teacher walked up afterwards and grinned as she asked, “Just how thick were those glasses, anyway?”

For the next 2 years, I continued to present Love at schools, institutions, and at dozens of private showings. Until one day my friend, a barber by trade, was cutting this guy’s hair and telling him all about my slide show. The guy getting his hair cut was Jerry Kromberg, the President of Media Productions. He wanted to see my presentation. So my friend arranged a meeting between us. Although Jerry was impressed with Love, he rejected it as a future project. However, I left him with two manuscripts to read, Wings and 8-Ball.

A month later, Jerry asked me to meet with him, and he agreed to publish Scratchin’ on the Eight Ball. He wanted to start with 5,000 copies as he had a wide-range distribution with schools all across the nation. He set me up with an English Major, Arda Pounds, and she and I worked late night hours getting my 345 page story ready to go to press.

At that point in time, I had no clue where the quotation marks went, how to use commas, how to make a paragraph break. God forbid, if getting that book published involved passing a test on nouns, pronouns, verbs or even Proverbs, I would have been doomed! I had a slight case of ADHD when I was a kid in school, and when I should have been paying attention to the lessons on grammar and punctuation, my mind was elsewhere, oftentimes flying around the classroom with Tuffy in his plane.

I remember when the manuscript was finally done, and my artist friend called me and said, “Your publisher wants me to include a large marijuana leaf on the front cover of your book. The trouble is, I have no clue what one looks like. Could you do me a favor?”

So, I drove out in the country and picked some ditch weed. I drove all the away across town, sweating it and thinking I was going to get caught for possession! And yet because of that harrowing trip, with weed plants crammed beneath my driver’s seat, the artist, Russ Wahl, ended up with a nice rendition of his marijuana leaf on the front cover of the book.

***

The same year 8-Ball was released, I took on one of my most challenging cases.

His name was Steve. I met him when he as 13-year-old runaway was placed at the Attention Center. Steve had actually run away from over twenty different placements. Due to an unstable home life Steve was a Ward of the State. His biggest problem centered around the fact that he wouldn’t stay put at any of the places the State placed him at.

Later, I visited with Steve about giving me the heads-up on Bill’s very real threat. We ended up talking at length, and I heard Steve’s rather long story about being removed from his home because he was uncontrollable and also about the many placements he’d been in. At the end of our conver-sation, Steve told me his caseworker was looking for a new placement for him. He bluntly asked if I had room at my house. I told him I would give the idea some thought and that I would also speak to his caseworker, Dirk Sasso.

Dirk, a real down-to-earth caseworker from the Department of Social Services, spoke with me at length about Steve. He then made a deal with the boy, telling him that he would be allowed to come and live at my place if only he could accept another placement at a special home in Omaha. Dirk told Steve that if he could remain at this home for a thirty-day evaluation, that he would then be allowed to move into my house.

For once, Steve stayed put where the State put him, and within the next month he was placed in my home in Havelock.

Having dealt with Special Needs foster son who had lived with me for two years, I thought I was prepared to handle Steve as well. So I figured I could handle anything that Steve dished out. I soon found out, the care of my first foster son had been a walk in the park compared to the whirlwind of negative activity that often erupted out of Steve when he was on a roll.

Steve had a rage inside that wouldn’t quit. One day, he’d broke the bathroom door. Another time, he hurled a pole lamp across the room and smashed it to pieces. Another time, he broke three cupboards in the kitchen. One time, he burned himself while cooking on the stove, and he threw a pan of frying bacon at the kitchen wall. That wall glittered for years if the morning sun hit it just right. And this was just the first week I had him.

One day during his second week in my home, Steve had a violent episode in which he trashed his room. When I went to investigate and find out what had set him off this time I discovered Steve had broken into my gun cabinet. There he stood in the center of his room with a .22 rifle in his hands.

As I entered the room, Steve pulled the bolt back on the rifle, locking it into a firing position. He then turned to face me, tears streaming down his face as he put the gun to his head.

I froze and quietly asked, “What’s going on? Why are you doing this?”

Steve wept, “Because you hate me! Because I know you want to get rid of me! I don’t deserve to be here! All I am is a pain in the ass to you. I should just be dead!”

We must have stood there for nearly thirty minutes as Steve continued to cry and I tried coaxing him to put the rifle down. The manner in which he kept his finger on the trigger didn’t allow me any margin for error. I didn’t know what to do.

Finally, in desperation, I tried a different tactic. Rather than gently plead with Steve to hand me the gun, I raised my voice and inflected anger in my tones.

It threw Steve off guard. Up until that point, I don’t think he ever heard me cuss or swear. So that fact alone was shocking to him. But where he was desperately acting pout to receive sympathy, he was no longer receiving it. I had run out of sympathy, and Steve was a little surprised by the heat in my words. Surprised enough to slightly lower the rifle.

And that’s when I rushed him and latched onto the rifle. I wrestled it out of his grasp, fighting to keep his fingers from slipping back into the trigger guard. When I finally ripped the gun out of his grasp, Steve dropped to the floor and began to cry.

It took me quite some time to bring him back to a relative comfort zone. After I did, Steve told me he was just testing me to see if I really cared about him, telling me that at all his other placements he’d worn out his welcome and no one wanted him around. He wanted to see if I really wanted to keep him or not.

It was a helluva way to get my attention.

***
One day I came home to hear crashing and cracking sounds coming from the backyard. When I opened the gate to my stockade fence surrounding the yard, I discovered Steve heaving an axe at my Doberman pincher. Bummer moved out of the way barely in time as the axe narrowly missed her. She ran and hid beneath the deck where Smoky and Sam, a shepherd and husky, were already cowering in terror.

I had seconds to examine the dozens of boards Steve had broken on the fence before he ran to rip the axe out of another shattered board. By the time I reached him, Steve spun around, axe in hand, trying to determine where Bummer had run off to. Ignoring me completely, Steve set his sights on the Doberman crouching beneath the deck. He then raised the axe over his head and prepared to give it another throw. At that point, I latched onto the axe handle.

It was as Steve just noticed I was standing there as his smoldering eyes locked on me. Steve then snarled, “Let go! Let go of the goddamned axe! Let you go, you stupid bastard!’‘

I struggled to maintain my grip on the axe handle. “What in the hell is going on? Why are you doing this?”

Steve angrily spat, “Bummer snapped at me! She pissed me off and I’m gonna kill her!”

I stood there remembering the night before when Bummer actually snapped at Steve when I caught him rubbing her vagina with his foot. I had walked into the den to find Steve performing this perverse act. During out talk afterwards, Steve told me that he had once used the handle of a horse whip on a horse at a farm he’d been placed on. Steve thought it was funny to watch the steam rising from the horse’s privates. He also thought it was funny to see Bummer the dog run around humping things because he’d turned her on. I was disgusted and told Steve in no uncertain terms that he would not be practicing this bizarre behavior again. Evidently though, my talk did little good.

As I wrestled the axe away from him I asked, “Why’d Bummer snap at you? What did you do to her this time?”

“Fuck you, you stupid bastard!” Steve growled as he continued to yank violently on the axe.

He finally lost his footing and I pried the axe handle out of his grasp and Steve fell to the ground.

Seconds later, he came up off the ground and launched himself at me with his fists flailing.

I often thanked God for the self-defense training I learned while working at the Attention Center. We had a good trainer who was an expert in martial arts, and he taught the staff there many defense moves as well as restraint techniques. If I hadn’t learned so well from this 1st Degree Black belt, I would have gotten seriously hurt many times over as I had to deal with ranting and raving lunatic kids. As Steve attacked me that day, I had to employ many of those defensive moves or I would have taken a painful battering.

Many times in a crisis situation with an out of control kid, I literally slipped into a sort of auto-pilot mode. I don’t know how many punches he actually landed before I placed him in an arm lock and took him to the ground. (Youth workers who read this will more than likely relate to this situation and readily agree that when under attack your adrenalin starts pumping and you never quite feel the kicks and punches until afterwards.) So it was with Steve’s violent attack on my person. He punched, kicked, bit and spit on me. It was not pleasant, but it all comes with the territory when dealing with an outraged, emotionally disturbed kid.

After restraining Steve for thirty minutes, I finally sent him off to the house, still sputtering like a mad, wet cat. After calming the dogs down, I examined the wreckage caused by Steve’s rage. He’d actually broken more than a dozen boards all up and down the length of the fence as well as shattering several of the deck rails.

Did I keep Steve after that?

Sure. That violent incident only happened during the first year he lived at my house. Steve was in my care for a total of two more years after that memorable incident.

***

Dirk Sasso was one of the best caseworkers the Department of Social Services had. It was because of his constant support that I persevered with Steve. Aware of Steve’s uncontrolled rages and the destruction he caused, Dirk was very sympathetic to my plight. Unlike most caseworkers (who you can never seem to reach by phone when you have an emergency), Dirk made himself available to me 24/7. He even invited me to his house to see the two wolf-dogs he owned, and there we could often talk about case plans in regards to Steve. Dirk often was instrumental in raising my Special Needs payments as an incentive to continue caring for Steve, and yet he also continued to ask whether I had had enough and whether I wanted Steve moved to a different placement. He never made me feel obligated and because of his easy-going manner, I was able to work with him and feel my work was appreciated.

The following year, Steve began to really settle down. He attended school regularly and had absolutely no trouble with the law. He adjusted and compared to the twenty three different place-ments he’d previously run away from, he never ran from my house once.

The third year with Steve is when things turned really bizarre.

I had always gotten along well with his mother, Barbara. She was fairly young and attractive, and she and I had never had any disagreements about home visits or anything of the effective ways I dealt with her son. Many biological parents feel very left out when it comes to a foster parent raising their own son or daughter, and oftentimes relationships between foster parents and the real parents is strained. But not so with Barb. In fact, she constantly invited me over for Sunday dinners after Steve’s weekend visits and phoned me to ask for help dealing with many of his violent episodes. However, during one of these Sunday dinners, things turned a little weird.

After finishing our meal, Steve got up from the table and grinned wickedly as he told me, “I’m going to go ride my bike until we get ready to leave to go back home. While I’m gone, you can pay my mom back for having you over for dinner!”

The moment Steve made this announcement, Barb’s one foot snaked out beneath the table and somehow found its way in between my legs!

Barb offered me a seductive look and rubber her foot against my crouch. I immediately shot up from my chair. Grinning sheepishly, I muttered, “Thanks for dinner, but I think Steve and I need to be heading home now. Right now.”

Barb simply offered me a pouting look and calmly purred, “What? You don’t want to snuggle with me? That’s all we have to do. I just want to cuddle with you. How about it?”

I turned down the “cuddling” and “snuggling” offers, and Steve and I promptly left.

When I reported this to Dirk, he simply laughed and said, “How do you get so lucky? I just get the fat and ugly mothers who hate me with a passion! And you? Hell, you get a slender and attractive mother who wants to cuddle with you! Consider yourself fortunate!”

We both had a good laugh over the incident, but neither one of us laughed three weeks later when Dirk received a visit at the Department from the police.

Dirk phoned me to say, “The Lincoln Police and the Department of Social Services are investigating both of us!”

“For what?” I asked in disbelief.

Dirk replied, “Martha, Steve’s grandmother phoned Crime Stoppers and reported both of us for several things. For one, the raise in payment you received. For another, the trucks we just purchased and our house improvements. And believe it or not, Martha also reported that you sexually assaulted Steve’s twin brother, Scott, when he stayed at your house last month on the emergency stay. She also reported that you were putting drugs in Steve’s food because she’d never seen him acting so calm before. This is a real mess!”

I shook my head in stunned disbelief.

In those days, regular foster care payments were $98.00 per month. On Special Needs kids the pay was a little higher. When Steve first came to me, I received $365.00 per month. But because of Steve’s destructive behavior (which no home insurance policy covers), my pay went up to $410.00 and finally up to $550.00.

In those days, that was high but justified payment for providing care for a difficult youth.

Coincidently, Dirk and I both took out loans to buy new trucks. We also both involved in home improvements on our houses. Again, another pure coincidence. Through Steve, Martha, his grand-mother, found out about these two facts. She also learned about my foster care payment. She immediately suspected that Dirk and I were frauding the State and splitting this foster care payment in order to finance our truck loans and home improvement loans.

Sounds ridiculous, but that’s exactly what Martha reported to the police.

For years, she’d seen nothing but hyper-activity out of Steve, and so was more or less in shock when he visited her and remained calm (like he was at my house). Her suspicions arose again, and she determined that I was putting drugs in Steve’s food to control him and keep him calm. And this is what she reported.

These first parts of her accusations were actually humorous. At least, Dirk and I knew how absurd they were, and though we had to submit to Police and Department questioning, we both knew how totally bizarre this report had been.

But as to the allegations of sexual assault of Steve’s brother, Scott, I knew exactly how that story had come about. In fact, I reminded Dirk about it as we spoke, both of us wondering how far LPD and DSS would go in this investigation.

“Do you recall when Charlie Burdett had to remove Scott from my home during that emergency placement?” I asked Dirk.

“Last month, during that snow storm?” he responded.

“Yeah. The allegations of sexual assault probably have to do with that night,” I told him.

I then recalled the events of that evening in January. I had received a phone call from Charlie Burdett, another one of the better caseworkers at the DSS. He shared with me that Scott, Steve’s twin brother, had gotten into a violent confrontation with Barb at their house. Charlie asked me if I’d be willing to take Scott on an emergency basis for several days until they could get the situation figured out. I did so reluctantly because I knew how much negative influence Scott was capable of adding to Steve’s already turbulent nature.

When I arrived at Barb’s house to pick Scott up, she was in a rage. “Get him out of here or I’m gonna kill him!” she snapped.

Barb then led me around the house to show me the pictures and lamps and walls that Scott had shot up with his BB pistol. She didn’t tell me what the fight had been about. Only that Scott had went on a shooting rampage. Barb still held the pistol that she had wrestled out of Scott’s hands. She was still fuming and threatening to put a BB in Scott’s butt if I didn’t get him out of her sight.

On the ride home, I overheard Steve and Scott conversing about what had started the altercation between he and his mom.

“She wouldn’t do it with me,” is what Scott told Steve.

I remained quiet after that, knowing it was best to just to listen. But no more was said on the matter. When we arrived home, I drew Steve aside and asked him what Scott had meant by his comment. He shocked me as he casually said, “They do it together all the time. Scott was just pissed because mom didn’t want to do it tonight.”

“But he’s her son!” I said. “And he’s only fifteen-years-old!”

Steve simply laughed at my shock and went off to play Atari in the other room with Scott.

Shortly before ten o’clock that night, I heard a loud commotion coming from Steve’s bedroom. Both boys were shouting and cussing, and by the time I reached the room, Scott and Steve had ripped the controllers out of the Atari console and were attempting to whip each other with the cords. I had to wade into the middle of the swinging cords to stop either twin from hurting each other. I managed to retrieve both controllers from the boys and settled them down. After talking them down, I left them to continue their game while I returned to the den to finish a movie.

Thinking that I’d probably hear another altercation breaking out before my movie was over, I was surprised when I head dead-silence coming from Steve’s bedroom. So I went quietly down the hall to investigate. It was then that I had probably the most strangest experiences in my foster care career.

As I reached Steve’s bedroom door I heard, “Suck it till it stings!”

Mystified as to the meaning of such words, I entered the room to find both 15-year-old twins stark naked and performing oral sex on each other.

The moment I said, “What the hell are you doing?” Scott leaped up off the bed and came directly at me, masturbating as he charged at me.

I managed to back away just in time as Scott ejaculated all over the floor.

I am not certain what I said after that, but I know I did a lot of swearing. In fact, neither one of the boys knew what to say after the incident. You would have thought they would have been majorly embarrassed or ashamed. But that wasn’t the case as Steve explained to me later that night that Scott and their older brother, John, did these activities quite often. That night, I phoned Charlie Burdett to report the incident, but due to the severe snow storm hitting Lincoln, Charlie could not remove Scott as I requested and place him in another emergency placement. Stuck with Scott for the rest of that night, I sent him off to Steve’s room to sleep while I had Steve sleep in a sleeping bag on the couch in the den.

The next morning, before Charlie could drive out and remove Scott, the brothers got into another violent altercation. Scott went after Steve with a pool cue and hit him with such force that he shattered the pool stick on Steve’s arms. He left six inch slivers of shattered wood up and down Steve’s forearms and shoulders. He then literally shattered my front door and my back door as he bolted to get out of my house. That was how Scott ended his stay at my house.

“So,” I said to Dirk, wondering if LPD or DSS would even believe Martha’s story, “that could be the sexual assault allegation.”

***

In the end, the Lincoln Police and the Department of Social Services determined that all the allegations against Dirk and I were unfounded. Dirk continued on as a caseworker, and I kept my foster care license. And Steve remained with me six more months after the investigation.

The death knell came to his three year stay when he went into another raging fit and attempted to take down the wall he had built in my room. He picked up a hammer and went to tear it down.
I got in his way.

He swung the hammer at me, and I planted the palm of my hand into the center of his chest and catapulted him back and off his feet.

Before he could fully recover I snatched the hammer out of his grasp, and tossed it aside.

I then stood there, determining if indeed I needed to pursue restraining him, but I think he was so shocked that I had actually struck him, he simply got up and walked outside to the front porch.

We talked for awhile after that, and I told him of my plans to take a trip to visit friends in Colorado. Steve begged me to take him along.

But Harold and Paula, both foster parents themselves, had earlier forbid me to bring Steve into their home. They had also invited me out to the mountains because they knew I had nearly burned out on this kid, and they wanted me to take a much needed break away from him.

Before leaving for Colorado, I made arrangements with Steve’s dad to have him stay there with him. He agreed to take him, and that was the last time I saw Steve again until three years later.

Just after his first stay in the State Pen.

To Wounded Arrow: Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven
Kamikaze Kids
1977-1980 (20-23 years-old)

It seemed that once I started working with kids, I was driven. I not only worked the many shifts required of me at the Attention Center, I also privately contracted with the Department of Social Services as a Family Support Worker. My job involved getting truant kids to school, taking those on probation to court, to drug treatment and allowing them to spend time with me. My job then was to do wake-up calls on some of the most difficult, counter-cultural kids in the city. By the time I saw any of these kids, they had been to countless meetings at school and hearings at court, and had been made wards of the state.

During each work day, I had many highly volatile time-bombs placed in my path. Each one, an accident waiting to happen.

I connected with caseworkers, probation officers, teachers, counselors, administrators, parents, and Judge Nuernberger, who gave every kid who came before him a Second Chance.
***

One morning while working at the Attention Center, 13-year-old Rocky informed me that Mike was plotting to lure me to his cell and use a razor blade in an escape attempt. He would have done a considerable amount of damage, too. At 17, Mike was 6 feet tall and all muscle. As it turned out, Dennis Banks and I confronted Mike, who turned the blade on himself and stood us off for two hours until giving it up.

Two days later, Rocky and his brother attacked our director in another escape attempt. Both boys were sent to Kearney. Remembering that Rocky had told me of the razor blade, I felt obligated to do the kid a favor. So I wrote Judge Nuernberger a letter, asking him to suspend his sentence, and allow him to come back to Lincoln to live with foster parents, Harold and Paula Conwell, who had agreed to accept Rocky in their home.

Judge Nuernberger ordered Rocky transported back to Lincoln. However, just before court, Harold and Paula backed out. So there we sat in juvenile court. Rocky with no placement. The Judge with no home to send him to. And me feeling like a fool for even attempting to help the kid.

Judge Nuernberger looked up at me seated in the back of the courtroom, and asked me to join him at the table. I did so, and he asked me if I would be willing to become a foster parent to Rocky. I was only 20 at the time, so age was an issue as I needed to be 21, but Judge Nuernberger told me he would issue a letter to the foster care review board to ask them to make an exception in my case.

They did so, and Rocky came to live with me for the next 2 years.

He turned out to be a decent kid. He had no law violations, went to school regularly, and didn’t use drugs or alcohol. However, 2 months after leaving my home, Rocky assaulted his neighbor lady during a home invasion and ended up being sent to Kearney.

Second chances meant nothing to that kid.
***

One day, I rushed into juvenile court 10 minutes late for the hearing of one my kids. I slipped quietly into the courtroom, and was surprised when Judge Nuernberger looked up in the middle of the proceedings and said, “I am pleased to see Tom Frye in court this morning. Would you please join us at the table?”

Curious as to why the Judge had summoned me to the table, I looked to 14-year-old, Chris, a troubled Havelock boy who had obviously been crying his eyes out. Just before I arrived, the Judge had sentenced him to the Youth Development Center in Kearney. However, the Judge had an alternative in mind. He looked at me and smiled as I sat down at the council table.

You see, Judge Nuernberger and I had a history. As a kid, he had once sentenced me to six months probation for the runaway incident. As an adult, the Judge’s recommendation letter allowed me to work at the Attention Center. And once after my presentation at a foster care banquet, the Judge asked me for a tape of my music as he was attending a judge’s convention and Johnny Cash was the keynote speaker. I still have the photo of Judge Nuernberger handing Johnny my tape. It hangs on my wall to this day.

There, that day in court, the Judge said, “Mr. Frye, if I allow a 30 day suspended sentence for Chris, would you continue to work with him?”

I failed to look in the direction of my supervisor from the Department of Social Services, who earlier had informed me that our time helping Chris was up. Six months with Anthony as his family support worker and under no circumstances was I to continue. At least not on the dime of DSS.

Ignoring her furious glare, I smiled at Judge Nuernberger and said, “Yes.”

Judge Nuerberger returned my smile and suspended Chris’s sentence.

I had never seen that done before.

Later, I asked Chris’s PO, Marti Barnhouse, what prompted the Judge to take this route. Marti told me the minute he had sentenced Chris, the kid broke down and started crying, “Please give me one more chance. Let me work with Tom Frye. He makes me feel so good about myself. Please give me one more chance!”

After receiving a verbal ass-kicking from my DSS supervisor, I set out to keep Chris out of Kearney. Three nights after the court hearing, Chris broke into his neighbor’s garage to steal tools. He was caught and ended up back in court. Judge Nuernberger sadly shook his head and lifted the suspension. Chris ended up going to Kearney.

Second chances meant nothing to this kid.

***
I first met Phil when he was 7-years-old. Two days before that meeting, Phil, temporarily blinded by his shaggy black hair forced down into his eyes by the baseball cap he was wearing, had a bad crash on his bike. He had broken his left arm and he wore a cast. To add insult to injury, Phil was searching all over Havelock for his lost dog, Barney. We found his dog out at the pound, and Phil and Barney were reunited. Phil became my shadow after that.

At 9, Phil smoked his first joint. At 11, he started dropping acid and taking speed. At 14, he found himself in trouble at juvenile court. At 16, he was confined to the Attention Center. While there, he and another boy I had been working with, Dearle Alexander, had a clash one night over who knew me better. Dearle, at 14, had recently murdered an old man over on Lake Street, and since being con-fined, he had read several of my manuscripts and became my friend. Dearle called Phil a liar for saying that I was his uncle, and the fight was on.

After their slug-fest, Dearle ended up in solitary confinement. And Phil ended up being restrained and placed in his room, where he climbed up onto his desk and started hissing like a scalded cat. I got a call from fellow staff who asked me to come in before they were forced to send Phil to the Regional Center. I could hear Phil in the background, meowing at the top of his lungs.

The moment I walked into his room, Phil climbed down off his desk and sheepishly said, “Hello, Tom. What are you doing here?”

I said, “Trying to keep you from being sent to the Regional Center, Phil.”

“The nuthouse?” Phil said, incredulously. “Why? They only send loons to the looney bin! And I ain’t no loon!”

And this coming from a kid who had just freaked out the staff by turning into a rabid cat?

It turned out to be a long night, as I first settled Phil down, and then ended up talking to Dearle to settle him down. Before stepping out of Dearle’s cell, he bid me good-night, saying, “See you later, Uncle Tom.”

Which was how the fight started in the first place.

A week later, Phil was sentenced to Kearney, and I had to be the staff member at the center who sent him on his way in leg shackles and handcuffs. It was a sad day.

One year later, Phil ended up putting a shotgun to his chest, and doing a stand-off with his girl friend. She managed to pull it away from him several times, but Phil put the gun to his chest one more, and this time, it went off.

Second chances meant nothing to this kid.

***
Two months after he turned 17, Chad broke into a tavern in a small town. He got busted and ended up in small town court. The Judge there was lenient and was in the middle of sentencing him to three months of jail time, with work release at Chad’s dad’s during week days. An easy sentence, right? Well, right in the middle of the Judge’s sentencing, Chad shouted, “Fuck you!”

He then ran out of the courtroom, and ended up with a felony charge that automatically carried one year in the State Pen. Chad ended up there. Twice so far in this lifetime.

Second chances meant nothing to that kid.

Another kid I worked with, Bryce, and his three friends skipped school one day. They stole a car and went for a wild joy ride. They ended up flipping the car off of the I-80 overpass out on 27th Street. Two of Bryce’s friends were crushed and killed. Bryce, however, lived and ended up in juvenile court half a dozen times after that, until he was sent to Kearney, because he just never realized how lucky he was.

Second chances meant nothing to that kid.

***
To provide wake-up calls for some of the most belligerent kids in the system, oftentimes, I went to their homes with squirt gun in hand to wake them up.

“Oh my God!” some might say. “He actually shot kids with a squirt gun to get them to go to school?”

And I would say, “Yes, I did. Got any better ideas on how to wake the living dead?”

Squirting them with water caused a lot less stress than shaking the crap out of them, in which case most kids came out of bed like rabid wild cats. It was a full-time job making sure my kids were transported to school, to court, to drug treatment, and to anger management. If they were ready for me in the mornings, I would reward them with Micky D’s. If not, they usually woke up drenched from my Super Soaker, muttering curses at me.

My caseworkers were cool enough to realize we needed to take a different approach with most of these kids, so they agreed with my plan to pay them $1 per day to go to school. I carried a pager and I frequently received calls from assistant principals who informed me if a kid had skipped. My job was then to track them down and take them back. When I ended up getting lucky, and found a kid to transport back to school, they always asked, “How did you find me?”

And I would grin and say, “Your mom had a tracking band sewn into your underwear, so I just followed the blip on my screen.”

***
One day I received a call from my friend, Roy Nifousi, juvenile probation officer, about Shane, who had not been to school for 3 months. Roy informed me that if I didn’t get him to school as ordered by the court, he was going to file neglect charges against DSS. My caseworker in charge of Shane told me then to do anything humanly possible to get him to school. I was forewarned by Roy that Shane with the big green Mohawk and the big green stud in his nose, had wailed on his own mom in the past when wakened from a sound sleep, so I devised a way in which to safely wake him up.

So out came the squirt gun for the first time.

I scored a direct hit directly up his left nostril. Shane sprang out of bed, cussing and shouting, “Jesus Christ!”

I simply stood there, smirking as I said, “No, it’s just I, Tom Frye!”

Shane came at me then, fists flailing. I crossed my two fingers as one would ward off a vampire and I said, “Back off!”

Shane snorted, and that green stud in his nose came flying at me with incredible force. It struck the wall above my head with a thacking! sound, and I am sure that stud would have impaled me had it struck me. Needless to say, I got Shane to go to school, and Roy backed off with his threat, and my caseworker was relieved.

My next client wasn’t so willing. I had been forewarned by the caseworker in charge that Tim had been accused of killing the neighbor’s cat. So I had no great expectations when I entered his bed-room. But I had no idea he would pull a knife on me. I reacted, having been trained by martial arts instructors at the Attention Center, and that one move where a defender uses both hands to disarm a knife-wielding attacker, actually worked!

I was as surprised as Tim when I did my kung fu move, and the knife went flying out of his grasp.

I then made him go to school.

Next morning, Tim pulled a BB gun on me, and so once again, I used my hands, applying pres-sure on his wrist that sent the gun flying out of his grasp. I ended up restraining him, with a wrist behind his back, the heel of my palm beneath his neck, and Tim with nowhere else to go but to school.

The third morning I went to wake Tim up, his Grandma came to the door and said, “Timmy is not here this morning. He went to school, because he didn’t ever want to see you again!”

I laughed all the way to school, and five minutes later when I saw him in the hallway I waved at him. Tim took one disgusted look at me and hightailed it in the other direction. But he did stay in school and managed to get there every morning without my assistance. So mission accomplished.

One morning I went to Tyson’s house and knocked on the door. I heard a lock being put in place behind the door. Then the smirking face of a messy-haired kid appeared in the door’s window. Tyson gave me an evil grin and flipped me off, sending, “Ha! Ha! Ha!” echoing through the door.

The next morning, I went back there and after knocking on the front door, I heard the back door slam shut. By the time I reached the backyard, Tyson was running toward the alley, grinning back at me, flipping me off, and sending, “Ha! Ha! Ha!” echoing down the alley behind him.

So I made up a contract for Tyson’s mom to give me a house key in order to get a jump-start on my most unruly case. I simply went early enough to catch him in bed, quietly opened the front door, took aim with my squirt gun from the hallway, and sent a spray of cold water into his face. Tyson sat up in bed, and I saluted him with my middle finger, and said, “Ha! Ha! Ha!”

The strangest morning of all was when I picked up five kids from a group home to transport them to Whitehall school in my Mazda mini-van. We had just pulled up to a red light, when I glanced in my rearview mirror and saw this lady writing down what was obviously my licence number, for Joe was mooning her from his place in the backseat! I pulled away from the light, and hit a two-lane on Vine, and as some burly guy in a Mustang shot past us in the other lane, Jason flicked a penny out the window. It traveled through the guy’s open window, beneath him and his girl friend’s nose, and right out of the other side of the car! He followed us all the way to school. And when I parked to let the kids out, his girlfriend struggled to hold him back from coming over to my van. It was quite a struggle too, and all the while Jason was fidgeting in his seat, saying, “Go, Tom! Just go! Get us out of here!”

Jason about had a heart attack, but eventually the enraged boyfriend finally drove away without further incident. Jason sighed and looked at me, saying, “You were just gonna let him beat me up, weren’t you?”

I grinned and said, “No, but maybe you can now see there is always a consequence to your actions, dip-wad.”

As a reward to my kids who actually stayed in school for a 90 day period, and earned $90 on the $1 per day plan, I took them out to buy skateboards. I not only had a four-foot half pipe in my back-yard, but I took them out to the skate park two nights per week, and once made a trip to Mahoney Park on I-80.

On this particular trip, after the kids skated, I bought them all a pop and we went over to the observation tower, and with pop in hand, proceeded to climb. I was talking with some friendly guy I had met down below when I heard a garbled curse word from beneath the 9-story tower. I then saw some older man getting splattered with pop raining down from high above him. Coke on his pure white shirt splotched it brown in several places before I could call the hounds off.

When I passed him to climb up after the boys, he grabbed me none-too-gently by the arm, and snarled, “Where are these children from? Boy’s Town?”

I removed my arm from his grasp and growled back, “No, sir! They are children from hell!”
***

Like Kamikaze pilots, these kids have managed to send themselves careening out of control, until at last they crashed. Even though I was willing to reach out and help them, they were hell-bent and determined to throw it all away on their self-absorbed suicide missions.

Why? What drives them? What motivates them to destroy themselves and to be so foolishly ignorant or so stubbornly stupid? Anyone who can answer that, please do so, because I ended up searching for an answer to that question for the next 35 years.

Perhaps, I will never know.

I will never forget Phil or the impact his tragic death had on my life. I often wonder what would have become of Phil if he had taken advantage of all the second chances he’d had, or how life might have turned out for him. I often wonder about all the others who were given second chances, and foolishly blew them off.

I eventually started calling these misfit kids, Children of the Corn.

Out of frustration, I began writing stories for them.

He had tears in his eyes the day he snitched on his brother. Two days earlier, his older brother had pulled out a .22 pistol, placed one bullet in the cylinder, spun it, and then pointed it directly at eight-year-old Shawn. 13-year-old Steve then pulled the trigger.

The hammer fell on an empty chamber, and so Steve spun the cylinder again and aimed the pistol at ten-year-old brother, Jack. He thumbed back the hammer and pulled the trigger. And again, the hammer fell on an empty chamber. Relishing the terror he was inspiring in his two younger brothers, Steve pulled the trigger a third time. Fortunately, he flinched when it fired and the bullet passed above Jack’s head and embedded in the wall above him. Steve simply laughed and walked away, leaving his two younger brothers quite shaken.

As a private contractor with the State, I knew I was obligated to report this incident.

As it turned out, my report resulted in Shawn and Jack being removed from their home. They were sent to live with their dad down in small town Crete, Nebraska. The two brothers blamed me then for ruining their lives and for them being stuck in another bad environment. I even got blamed for the machete fight they had on their dad’s farm, and the finger that Shawn lost to Jack’s wild swing of the sharp blade. Yes, they blamed me for the sucky turn their life took. But despite the blame game, both boys took with them to Crete my manuscript they had been test reading. The work was a tattered, spiral-bound booklet named, Scratchin’ on the Eight Ball.

Shawn and Jack introduced the manuscript to their mentor, Professor Beef Torrey, and a year later, when 8-Ball was published by an educational publisher, Shawn and Jack carried their own autographed copies into class and shared them with Beef.

A year later, while shopping at Nebraska bookstore, I noticed a long-haired David Crosby look-alike staring at me from down the aisle. While conscious of his close scrutiny, I continued to check out books. Suddenly, the guy excitedly declared, “Far out, man, you’re Tom Frye!”

Jarred by such usage of hippy jargon, I turned as the hairy fellow approached me. He was beaming and amused that he’d finally met the author of the book he had come to love due to my two former state wards who had ended up in his classroom in small town Crete. “My name is Beef!” he said. “Professor Beef Torrey of Crete! And I read the manuscript of 8-Ball! Congratulations! You’ve written one helluva book, Tom!”

During the writing of this book, I was informed that Beef died of heart failure this past July. I thought it strange that one so full of life passed on, and I was not even aware of his death until 5 months later. His was a great heart and I shall miss him.

 

To Wounded Arrow: Chapter Six

Chapter Six
Crisis Interventions
1976-1977 (19-20 years-old)

Back then, the word crisis intervention never entered my vocabulary. Now, looking back on it, I was involved in one crisis after another for the better part of that next year. The first one after Kevin’s episode, turned into one helluva disaster.

I was sitting at home minding my own business when I heard a knock on my door. Two fifteen-year-old boys stood there on my front porch, both bombed out of their gourds.

“You need to come with us,” one boy said in a drunken slur. “Some girl wants to commit suicide and she took a whole mess of pills! You need to hurry, Tom!”

I stepped outside and said, “Where is this girl?”

And one boy pointed away to the north, while the second kid enthusiastically jabbed his finger off to the west.

I shook my head and said, “Get on your bikes, I’ll follow behind you in my van.”

So we tried that for the first two blocks, until both boys drunkenly collided in the middle of the street and crashed their bikes.
So I loaded their bikes into the van and loaded the drunk boys in, as well, and we drove off down the street for another three blocks. “Right there!” the one boy said as we pulled up next to an old adobe apartment building over on Ballard street.

The boys led the charge inside, and I followed reluctantly when I heard loud rock music pounding out of a cranked stereo. The boys burst into the room, both pointing at a rather hefty girl seated on the floor in a drunken, drug-induced stupor. She had at least ten cellophane wrappers scattered about her on the floor. I sorted through them, and noticed the crowd in the room were giving me hostile looks.

“Look,” one girl said, “if she wants to killer herself, just let her! Besides she only took like forty diet pills! She can’t die from that, just turn skinny!”

I ignored her and the comments of others in the room, and tried to get the hefty girl to her feet. She didn’t resist until I had her up on her feet. She then tried to push me away, and so I placed her in a basket hold, where I crossed her arms across her chest, and thought I had control of her.

The loud-mouthed girl walked up, blocking our path. “You’re so stupid to try to kill yourself with diet pills! You’re just a fat, stupid bitch!”

The hefty girl I was holding suddenly came to life and she hollered back, “Shut your mouth! You’re the stupid bitch!”

So loud mouthed girl hauled off to slap hefty girl, and hefty girl ducked and Whap! I got struck right in the face.

Hefty girl took that moment to twist free of my hold and plopped down on the floor, refusing to go anywhere.

The two boys who had summoned me seemed to be the only ones in the whole place who had any sense, and as drunk as they were, they tried to help me get the girl up off the ground.

Then, the party crowd turned ugly, and despite my best efforts to rescue the hefty girl, I ended up shoving my way out of that crowded room.

Followed by the two boys, I walked out of that party and drove down the street to Castle’s liquor store where I phoned a Havelock cop that I knew to be on duty. He met me and the two boys back at the party, and he and I went in and escorted the girl out of there.

While I went home and went to bed, the officer drove the girl to the hospital where she had her stomach pumped, which basically saved her life.

But the next day, word on the street spread like wildfire. I had narced her off to the cops, and therefore I was a damned narc.

The hefty girl’s brother, Fisher, is the one who started the nasty rumors, and before the week was out, my van was spray painted with the word NARC in bright yellow letters, nails were shoved into my tires, and someone actually smashed in my windshield.

Who said life was fair? Oh, some of the stories that spread after that were quite funny. Someone claimed I had kicked in the door to this drug dealer’s apartment, and that I and a team of cops put a gun to his head and made him narc off all his contacts.

And every time, Fisher, the hefty girl’s brother would drive by me in his car, he would shout, “Narc!”

***

So for all my trouble, I started to get this bad reputation. It didn’t help when two weeks later, two older guys bought liquor for these two fourteen-year-old girls. They planned to get them drunk so they could have sex with them.

I happened to be driving by Ballard swimming pool, when the two girls, Julie and Candy ran out into the street and were nearly struck by the car in front of me.

I parked my van, and leaped out and snagged both girls and led them over to the pool. Both were so drunk, and Julie barfed and then threw up green grapes all over my new sandals.

Some young boy came up then to talk with me, while I kept the girls seated next to the fence to keep them running off. The kid pointed to Bob and Kent standing over by the bike racks, and he told me what was up and why they had plied the girls with alcohol.

I ignored them and went to use the phone in the pool office. I phoned Julie’s father and told him the situation, including the fact that the two hoodlums had planned to take advantage of his daughter. I suppose I could have left that part out, but I wanted him to get a clear picture of what was up.

Lyle Hunter came flying down there to the pool in his van. When he squealed to a stop in the parking lot, he leaped out holding a .12 gauge shotgun.

Lyle then started shouting at me to point out who had bought the alcohol for his daughter.

It would have certainly been a Kodak moment to point out Bob and Kent frozen by the bike racks, but had I done so at that point, I think both would have been severely mauled by the buckshot of Lyle Hunter’s shotgun.

I managed to calm Lyle down long enough to get his shotgun away from him. He then ran back to his van and pulled out a deflated bike tire. He ran at his daughter and her drunken friend and as he proceeded to whip their butts with that inner tube, he shouted, “Spare the rod and spoil the child! Spare the rod and spoil the child!”

I had to keep myself from laughing out loud, while the kid with me asked, “What is he spouting off about?”

“It’s a verse out of the Bible,” I told him. “Those girls are lucky they outlawed stoning rebellious children, or else Julie and Candy would gotten stoned for sure.”

The kid just looked at me, puzzled.

As Lyle drove the two girls away, I turned to find that Bob and Kent had hightailed it, so I went looking for them.

When I found them down at Havelock Park, I was pretty heated up, so I grabbed hold of the front of their shirts and slammed them back against the stone wall of the north shelter.

Before I could properly lecture them as I had planned to do, this big guy named Tom Simants came from out of the shelter, eyeing me rather sheepishly. He said, “I don’t really want to fight you, Tom. But if hurt my friends here, I am going to have to do something. Understand?”

I turned to see I had quite a crowd by then, and no one was glad to see me there, having heard the rumor that I was a narc.

So I explained to Tom Simants what these two goons had done, and when I finished making my case, Tom said, “For that, I am just going to stand back. Go ahead and kick their asses. You have my permission.”

Later on, Tom Simants became Al Simants in my book Scratchin’ on the Eight Ball.

That night is the night I formulated the idea to include real characters in the book.  And I included several kids I had worked with as main characters, Roy, George, Phil, Jack, Julie, the two Kevins, Tom, and Wendy. Each of them made an impact on me and that is why they found a place in my book.

Jack Davis called me late one night to say Kevin, (Kevin who took the horse tranquilizer), was off on another rampage. He had attacked Wendy down at the park, claiming she had the Devil in her and his mission was to beat him out of her.

Shortly after Jack called, I got a call from Kevin’s parents, and they read me the suicide note that Kevin left them. They then asked me if I could go out and find him and bring him home safely.

So I went and recruited Jack, and we ended up driving 30 miles away to Linoma Beach along the Platte River. We drove up to the gate, but we couldn’t drive through because they had these spike strips up across the driveway. We spotted this huge bonfire and a mob gathered around it, but we didn’t see any sign of Kevin. So we drove on back to Lincoln.

Jack said we ought to check with Joe Venhaus because he was the last person to have known to be with Kevin that night.

So I drove us over to Joe’s, where I had Jack walk up to his basement window to knock and get Joe’s attention.

I saw Jack walk up to the window, but before he pounded, he got this strange look on his face and came walking back to my van.

“You want to talk to Joe,” Jack said, grinning, “you go wake him up because he’s laying there sprawled on his bed naked as a jaybird!”

“Jack,” I said, “just go back and wake him up. Please. I can’t go back to Kevin’s parents and tell them I didn’t find him. Just bang on his window and ask if him where he last seen Kevin at.”

Jack muttered all the way back to Joe’s window, but he did manage to wake him up, and all the while he was talking  to him through the open basement window, Jack had his head turned to one side, because Joe was so drunk he didn’t even realize he was naked.

Jack came back to my van, laughing about it, saying, “Jaybird Joe said Kevin is still out at Linoma! So we probably need to drive back out there and get him, right?”

“Damn!” I said. “Yes, and this time we need to go in there to that party and find Kevin.”

Jack said, “What if he doesn’t come with us? I mean, you know how stubborn Kevin can be.”

“Oh,” I said, “he’ll come with us, because we ain’t giving him a choice.”

And that’s pretty much the way things turned out, as well.

Jack and I made our way back to Linoma, and we ended up walking right into the middle of a party thrown by a gang of bikers from Omaha.

Jack and I found Kevin seated in a drunken stupor on a picnic table beside the raging fire. I tapped him on the knee and said, “Kevin? Hey, Kevin, you need to come with us, okay?”

Kevin looked up at Jack. “Holy shit!” he said. “It’s Jack Davis!”

He then looked up at me. “Holy shit! It’s Tom Frye!”

I said, “Kevin, get up now and come home with us. Your mom and dad are worried about you. You left them that suicide note, and they want to see that we get you safely home.”

Kevin stuck out his chin and defiantly said, “No way! I ain’ going home! I am partying with my friends! So you two just pack your asses back up in your van and drive on back to Havelock!”

Jack tried to grab onto Kevin, and several of the bikers nearby took note of Jack’s gesture. I knew things would spiral out of control, so I leaned down and got right in Kevin’s face, and I snarled, “You get your ass up and you pack your ass into my van, or I’ll be kicking your ass all the way back to Havelock!”

And somewhere in Kevin’s drunk and befuddled mind, he realized that I was serious, for I had never talked to him like that before. He even grinned at me and asked, “Are you serious,  Tom? You would really hit me if I don’t go with you?”

“Try me,” I whispered to him, giving him my best crazed Mel Gibson glare I could offer.

Kevin then allowed me to lift him up off the picnic bench and Jack and I led him back through the crowd, all the while aware we were getting angry looks from all those bikers.

But we managed to get Kevin home, where he was confronted by his mom and dad about his suicide note.
Jack and I left there that night, both of us wondering if Kevin would ever make it to twenty.

***
It was a cold December night. Snow was falling in mad torrents just outside my den window. When the phone rang, I answered it and the mother on the other end broke down and started crying, then asked me to go find her son who was wandering around Havelock with a loaded pistol.

I found 16-year-old Josh down at Havelock Park, seated in the middle shelter, his pistol clutched in his grasp. “Hi, Josh,” I said, stopping ten feet from the shelter. “Can I sit down?”

He raised the gun, waving it carelessly in my direction. “That depends,” he said. “You gonna try and stop me?”

I glanced at the gun. “You know I am. That is why I am here. Can I sit down?”

“Suit yourself,” Josh said, pointing the pistol at his head. “But you try to stop me and this gun will go off.”

I crossed those ten feet, thinking any second that he would pull the trigger. But he didn’t, and as I sat down across from him I said, “What the problem?”

“I am all fucked up,” Josh muttered, tears in his eyes. “My whole fucking life is all fucked up, and I just want to die.”

I said, “Tell me about it. But do me a favor while you’re talking. Put the gun down.”

Josh cocked it, placed the muzzle beneath his chin, and said, “Promise you won’t try to grab it from me?”

I made a slow gesture with my hand. “Put it down, Josh. I promise I won’t touch the gun.”

And he did, thumbing the hammer back in place, and putting it on the table between us. He talked then about his mental illness, Bi-polar Disorder, Manic Depression, Obstinance Defiance Disorder. Josh was plagued by demons, and they were legion.

“I just want to die,” he said with a heavy sigh.

“Okay,” I told him, “I get that part. But what am I going to tell your mom if you do that? How am I going to explain to her that I failed to stop you?”

“Is that who called you?” Josh asked. “My mom sent you out in this snow storm to find me? How did you know I would be down here?”

I told him, “Lucky guess. And now that I can no longer feel my feet, I don’t know how I am going to manage to get out in the street to my van. Got any suggestions?”

Josh eyed me blankly at first, and I thought for a moment that I had lost him. He then reached down and picked up the gun. And for long moments, his life hung in the balance. I could not grab for it, because I had promised him I wouldn’t touch it. No, I could only sit and watch as he finally handed it across the table to me and said, “It’s loaded. Be careful.”

I unloaded it before we climbed into my van. We talked some more on the ride back to his house. His mom was relieved when he walked in the door and I handed her the gun and the six bullets. Josh went on down the hallway to his bedroom and closed the door.

“How can I ever thank you?” Katie asked.

“There’s no need for that,” I said, but as I stood there I spotted a stone lion head resting against the kitchen wall. “What is that?” I asked her.

“It’s lion head,” she said. “Josh made it. Would you like to have it?”

“Sure,” I said, picking it up and looking it over. “I’ll put it in my backyard. Thanks.”

Two months later, Josh’s mom drove down my alley one day, finding me at work in my backyard. Katie told me Josh was now on meds and doing much better. When she finished, she spotted my stone lion head spewing water into my fountain and she jokingly said, “Hey, that is really cool. I want that back.”

“No way,” I said, smiling. “I love that thing.”

Katie drove away, promising to keep me posted on Josh’s progress. I went back to work in my yard, lulled by the flow of water from my lion’s head.

That lion head ended up in her backyard two months later on her Birthday.

***
In those next few years I became involved in youth work around the clock.

I went from one crisis intervention to another, all the while picking up lessons for days ahead.

To keep things in perspective, I often drove past the spot on 37th and St. Paul where Dennis Grant had slammed into that truck and left this life. The impact his death had on me was enormous in the scope of things. I would see a kid heading for a dead-end, and I could not help but reach out and attempt to steer him away from such a tragic ending.

Driving past that corner, I would look back to places on the map: Juvenile Court, the Detention Home, the hospital room where Kevin was placed after taking four different drugs, and the fire I had out at Stephen’s Creek, when I burned my flag and 900 pages of Wings like Eagles, vowing I would write stories to impact the lives of troubled kids.

Looking back in time like that, fully convinced me there was a purpose in the old days; a purpose in me being a juvenile delinquent; a purpose in Denis dying and bringing me to a crossroads in my own life.

As a youth worker, I often felt like that little boy who discovered a hole in the dike, and placed his finger in it to stop the water from rushing out, only to find that more holes were appearing as the dike began to crumble.

Although I started my career at 16 as a volunteer for the Juvenile Court system, at 18, I proposed a runaway shelter to the YMCA. The powers that be there were very receptive to my idea, and although I was too young to become a counselor there, I became a street contact for the Freeway Shelter for runaways. It was my first paid job working with youth. I was paid to go to concerts, sporting games, recreation centers, and middle schools and high schools to pass out flyers and offer kids information about the shelter.

Shortly after that job ended, I applied for a job at the newly developed Jennie B. Harrel Attention Center. I remember being told that at 19, I was too young to become a Juvenile Care Specialist at the center, which was ironically named after the same lady who had locked me up in the old Westview Detention Home.

Determined to work there, I went to juvenile court’s Judge Nuernberger and asked him to write me a recommendation letter. The Judge did so, and I was hired as the youngest member of the staff there.

On one of my training days, the other staff and I were passing through the lobby of the center when we spotted a huge framed picture of Jennie Harrel hanging there on the wall. One female counselor remarked, “She looks like my grandma. I bet she was a sweetheart.”

I surprised everyone there when I said, “Hell, no, she was a royal bitch! I should know, I spent two nights with her locked up at the old detention center! And believe me, she was far from being a sweetheart!”