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Spheres of Influence

I would not have considered myself a genius by any means, but I went to school during the summers; I received enough credit to skip my junior year of High School and graduated ahead of my classmates. This was a decision I made. My parents advised the pros and cons of taking the risk of getting out of school yearly and losing my friends. My reasoning was that I would rather get out of school so I can move. If my friends are truly my friends, they will understand. I was right about my decision and thankful that my parents did not push any agenda on me.

After I graduated, I went to college for the summer when I received financial aid. However, we could not afford me going to college another semester. I wanted a new life, a new identity, now that I was starting to take education seriously again and wanted to explore the world. While I was there, I was able to do a work study program with the Business Office, Counselors Office, and Administration Office.

At the age of seventeen, I moved out of the house with the blessing of my family. My older brother had joined the Army and my little brother was entering high school. I moved to San Marcos. Out on my own going to a school that promised to pay for my education, promised to have all debts paid, and even promised to pay me an allowance for staying there. The facility was called Gary Job Corps. I was free from Freer; I was out on my own, but not in good hands.

The school counselor assured me that I would be contracted to receive an Accounting Degree with all expenses paid. It sounded like a great venture, so I signed up and moved to the facility. My first bus ride to the location was liberating. I was really doing this. I had very few belongings packed as I assumed I would have time to shop for new things when I arrived in the new environment.

I arrived on September 20, 1991, to a place that reminded me of Alcatraz. Barbed wire covered the top of the fence line that surrounded the facility. A large water tower was on the facility that seemed to be the marker when anyone asked where the place was. A security guard opened the gate to let the white bus in and then I was patted down, my bags were searched, and some of my dormitory items were confiscated.

This was not like my previous college experiences at Texas A and I or Bee County College. The dormitory was not the typical one bedroom, two bed or suite. It was a large squad bay with over 50 beds in a prison-style barracks. The locker was big enough for a few clothes and belongings. It was no use bringing a lock because the lockers were broken into daily. The smell of bleach and mold lingered. The linoleum floors were industrial styled buffed and waxed to an immaculate shine.

Daily duty schedules were posted for all the residents. Detailed cleaning was expected on Thursdays. The seniors in the facility were creative in how they would avoid having to clean. Threats and bullying motivated the younger students to relinquish the seniors from their responsibilities. Cleaning was complete after a thorough inspection from the dorm master. It was not an easy task to get delinquents to collaborate.

I tried my best to make a new life and study hard. I knew my family could not afford an education for me. This was the avenue for what was my new life. I did well in my first week. I followed the rules, stayed out of trouble, and did my homework. As promised, I received my first paycheck for going to Gary Job Corps.

The line was long; it was cold and rainy. Hundreds of students waited in line anxiously. As soon as they were paid, they cashed in their check and went to the depot to purchase items. The students did not remind me of college students but rather looked like a police lineup. The majority of the students looked like thugs, gangsters, and drug addicts. The individuals who looked more like college students were foreigners from Ethiopia, Vietnam, Pakistan, and the Ukraine.

The check was just a couple of dollars. What? What was that for, why did I get a small check? The recruiter never told me how much I was getting, so I had to go with it. Maybe the checks would increase with my studies in Accounting, labor, and time in the unit. I went to the depot to buy some Pringles and salsa that lasted me a while and I saved my money. I took up smoking for a while to blend in with the crowd. I didn’t like it, so it was a habit that lasted three months.

I knew a group of residents who did not have an opportunity to buy items from the depot because they would get out of class after the depot closed. Sometimes the items would be scarce. Mostly it was that the individual was on restriction for bad behavior and were not allowed to go.

I would buy a carton of cigarettes and sell single cigarettes to the individuals. Higher cost of course. If I bought two cokes, I would sell the other for more than I bought it for with a markup price. If I bought a box of Little Debbie snack cakes, then I would sell individual packages with a markup price. I always made some extra money on the side.

When I found some women who did not want to do cleaning duty, I would make a deal with them and ask them to pay me to clean on their behalf. It was a deal; I was making money and staying out of trouble. I cleaned a lot and made friends, so it would seem that they were my friends. Most importantly I was making most of my Accounting class skills to use.

After about a month, I had stashed away enough money to buy some clothes. It was the first time I was able to go off the campus. I went into the white bus with a few more individuals. The gates opened but not until we were all searched before we got on the bus. When we got off the bus to our destination, again we were searched, then again when we got back into the bus.

Unfortunately, someone was always caught with stolen items, drugs, or weapons. It was an uneasy feeling that I was treated like the thugs were. I became accustomed to it if I wanted to have some freedom outside the gates and on the other side of the train tracks that separated the campus from town.

The women in the barracks seemed to approve of me and I gained senior status and their trust. Anytime there was a chore to be done, I would do the task for a price. One of my tasks was to report any hazards or violations to the dorm master. That was not easy because it was hard to know who I could trust. I knew not to do anything wrong in the barracks because people were always watching and telling on each other. Everything I did, I did alone or sneaking between classes to get my stash of weed or alcohol.

During inspections, drugs, and drug paraphernalia were found in one of the lockers. I witnessed one of the friends of the owner of the locker stage the items before the inspection. The owner of the locker was reprimanded, and the friend talked and laughed about it with a group of other women.

The longer one stayed in the facility, the culture was inevitable to ignore. It became evident that I had to blend in in order to keep from becoming the victim in the malice that occurred on the grounds. Alcohol, cigarettes, and sexual misconduct was openly apparent. The teachers, counselors, and staff would fight for their life daily to escape a potential robbery, assault, or insult. You could see fear on their faces. The sphere of influences in the area were full of triggers. I tried to stay away, to no avail.

It was a mild October in 1991; hell broke loose. The night was eerie in silence, highly unusual for a bunch of young hormones that typically littered the streets. My foreign friends spoke to me about a plot that was stirring around the facility. I was not aware of the magnitude of the subversion. My instincts put me on guard and I did not trust anyone. No one was safe. I was asked to pick a side for a riot that rose quickly as if to bet on a winning team. I had friends from all races, religions, and lifestyles. I did not have favorites. I was not going to pick a side.

I had been friends with some Crips, Bloods, Latin Kings, and other gangs from different races. I had acquaintances from Ireland, Greece, Ethiopia, Honduras, and England. I did not associate with any of them at the same time, and no one knew I was friends with any of the other groups. I knew how to be tough or friendly when I needed to blend in. I also knew how to act when the leaders of the gangs came around. I got out of sight, out of mind. I was not about to ever get heavily involved with any gang. Thankfully, I escaped any initiation and never really was a member. I did have a couple of boyfriends at that time just so that I could somehow feel protected.

During the riot, I instructed my friends to stay inside the building for the night if they heard anything suspicious outside. The voices escalated quickly with racial slurs, cussing, and screams of pain. Fighting broke out among the throng. Handmade weapons and guns were used. Not all students were involved, but those that were did not relent. The cause for such an uprising was a hate crime. Those who decided to watch were in the line of fire. It was hard to see who was fighting whom.

When the security came in to break up the chaos, several students were sent to a medical facility on site. A few gunshots were fired; some were shot, but no fatalities. Serious wounds require stitches, but it could have been much worse. One of the individuals who were from Ireland, a young man, was in the line of fire but not a part of the gang had contracted a case of traumatic laryngitis. He just happened to be watching too closely. He could not speak for six weeks after the event. A teacher was attacked and stabbed just because he was trying to get out of the way of the conflict.

Maybe the Gary Job Corps recruiter and school counselor left out a few minor details about the true criminal activity. Maybe they needed to meet a quota for the state-funded school. Whatever the reason, I would never suggest anyone go, ever. The management has since changed administration but the students that are approved for attending are of a minority, delinquent, or juvenile character. They may be assigned by court order as an avenue to get a GED or out of a prison sentence. Now I know.

I did not call home often. We did not have access to cell phones at the time. When I did call, it was usually very brief to tell my parents that everything was code green. They knew that meant things were good. If I told them things were code yellow, they knew I was having a hard time. If I mentioned a code red, it was time for me to come home.

However, in late December I called to give them a code red. I needed help. I needed my parents' help to get me out of there before I ended up in a terrible situation. It was imperative that my parents be the ones to pick me up and drive me out of the facility. My parents made the trip to pick me up and get me back to Freer. I did not share with them the things I experienced there. I felt they did not need to know because it was in the past and there was nothing left to do. That chapter ended. I was so glad when it was over. Consequently, I moved on to my next venture.

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