The Best Book Ever

A few months before I left my full-time job, we received two enormous boxes from our distributor––a larger publishing company––that contained more than 200 copies of a book by Paul Volponi called Riker’s High.  The book is about––you guessed it!––a seventeen-year-old who is sent to the high school ward of Riker’s.  When we called the company, they told us to feel free to “donate or discard” the books.  How could they possibly let go of such precious prose?  Below, our hero Martin Stokes tells us about the hierarchy of his unit, what makes a thug, and how to chew when your face has been slashed down the cheek.

A minute later, that kid with the chiseled muscles bounced into the room like he owned it. 

            He looked us up and down and a couple of the kids even took a step backward.  I was sitting on the floor, leaning up against the wall, so I didn’t move.

            “The name’s Cedric, but everybody calls me Brick,” he said, flexing a forearm.  “That’s ‘cause I fall down hard on people.”

            Brick probably wasn’t any stronger than a lot of kids with a decent build.  He just looked harder, and had his thug act wrapped supertight [sic].

            I kept my eyes on him as he talked.  And once it looked like he had everybody else in that room backed down, he began to bark at me.

            “Don’t listen to what the Cos tell you.  I run this house.  You want to use the phone during prime time?  You need a loan till commissary comes?  That’s all me,” he bragged.

            I’d seen kids like him before.  He was a straight-up gangster in what was looking more and more like a soft house.

            “I heard what you did to Jersey,” said Brick.  “I don’t hold it against you.  I could use a real fighter on my payroll.  We’ll talk later.  Okay?”

            But I played him cold and stiff and didn’t say a word.

            That’s when Brick turned to the other kids and said, “Maybe they cut his tongue out, too.”

            They all laughed with him, except for Ritz.  I guess he’d got used to standing alone on Rikers.

            Most kids understand what a thug like Brick can do.  They don’t want to get caught on the wrong side of him.  So they usually play it safe, going along with whatever he says.

            “I’ll check you chumps later,” Brick said, bouncing back out.

            About an hour after that, the Cos called the house out for lunch.

            The mess hall workers were mostly kids from our Sprung.  Brick and his crew had spots at the front of the mess hall line, while I was almost at the rear.  I could see from the mountain of food on their plates that they carried a lot of weight in the house.  We had franks and beans all mixed together, with white bread on the side.

            It hurt like anything to eat with those stitches.  And though I’d shoveled everything into the left side of my mouth, the right side moved along whenever I chewed.

            I finished what they gave me and was still hungry.  But none of the mess hall workers would serve me seconds when I went back. 

            “Who you?” one of them asked.

            “Nobody,” another one answered.

            And I had to stomach watching Brick and his crew toss their trays in the trash, still half full of food.


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