He raises his hand. It’s only 9:30am and he knows he should have used the toilet before he was ushered into this room. It’s going to be embarrassing and disruptive now, but he’s desperate so he puts his hand up to ask permission anyway. It’s granted – it always is – but rules are rules, and the process must be followed.
Back at the same table he’s been sitting at daily for – 8 months? 10? he’s losing count – he’s starting to mentally drift. The group he’s with – the same faces since he arrived – have been working on something he’s found uninteresting for almost two hours. Usually the activities are chosen for them, but even when there are options they’re so curated and limited that choice is simply an illusion. He looks around the room. Some seem engaged and almost content – lucky them, he thinks, as he suppresses his need to move.
He sits bolt upright as the yard buzzer goes off. He’s not sure he’ll ever get used to that sound, but at least today it has broken the monotony. It’s worse when he’s actually getting into something he’s enjoying and is then forced to stop. He doesn’t know why they need these control mechanisms, but he does know that they frustrate him to the core.
He’s feeling restless. He walks toward the area designated for letting out energy – the same equipment he uses at the same time every day – but is called back to the lunch table before he makes it there. In his keenness to shake off the morning he’d forgotten protocol – food consumption comes first. It always comes first. He isn’t hungry but eats mindlessly anyway, knowing his free time is slipping away. He glances up at the big brick building with its maze of hallways, toilet blocks and confined spaces.
He has his lunch cleared by a supervisor and hits the equipment. Finally, some release. He’s unwinding, starting to feel like himself again, smiling…until the buzzer mercilessly rings out. Is it early? It’s not, he knows that, it’s always on time. It’s just that he’s not. He looks across at the building again, watches the lines of people streaming through the doors, and…stays where he is. He knows there’ll be consequences but he’s not going back in. He carries on, listening for the inevitable footsteps of authority coming his way.
He sits in front of the person in charge, scolding eyes and words bearing down on him from behind the big desk. He’s been here before, and he’ll be here again. He puts his head down and nods in agreement with their statements – yes, he’d broken the rules…yes, he was disruptive and problematic…yes, he’d hurt the supervisor’s feelings by not listening…no, he wouldn’t show such blatant disregard for authority again.
(though he knows he will)
Back in the small room with his group he senses talk about him. Just whispers, but he doesn’t need to hear the words to know. Reputation is currency, and he is penniless. It’s not so important while the supervisor is around, but just wait until afternoon yard time. It would matter then. A rolled up ball of paper hits the back of his head. Hushed laughter. Tears well in his eyes – at the pressure to conform to the routine, to the supervisor’s expectations, at the social isolation, at the enormity of the next 12 years. He grits his teeth, pushes back the tears, and hardens his mind and heart one step further.
No – this is not an inmate, and this is not a prison.
This is a real child, and this is a real school.