Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Junior Court

I was involved in a school disciplinary trial during the middle grade.

I would also receive my very first bribe not to attend the trial.

First, I need to set up the scene of the crime. Eighth grade Study Hall. We had it on the third floor in the Social Studies room at Greensburg Salem Middle School. I sat in the third seat from the back, second aisle row from the wall farthest from the teacher’s desk, when we actually had a teacher in class. Usually he ducked out seven minutes into the period; I think to catch a smoke break or gab with the other Social Studies teacher or perhaps even humping the Home-Ec teacher on the sewing tables on the second floor. Who knows? But his lack of attendance to the study hall allowed the kids to do whatever we wanted as one kid played lookout at the door.

We weren’t all-and-out bad. We didn’t even run down the halls and throw stuff. We talked, at a normal tone, and occasionally roamed around out of our seats. But, all and all, we behaved ourselves (when we did get a little loud, the other teacher would come in and ask us to quiet down before returning to his class - what does that tell you about our behavior?)

I suppose, in essence, the incident could be blamed entirely on the teacher. But it wasn’t.

It was blamed on two students, almost three but I’ll get into that part later. Of the two students, only one of them (Chris) was in my particular study hall. The other boy (Larry) had a different period to his study hall but in the same room. The source of the incident involved the Social Studies books. In that particular classroom, all the extra books were kept in a large UNLOCKED file cabinet. On occasion, a student would take one out and flip through the pages...

No, of course we didn’t study. We found out that previous students from long-ago grades had done a very entertaining activity inside those books. . . sort of like a "follow-the-leader" type game where they would mark down a number to follow at the bottom of the page, and a student would flip to that page only to be lead to another page, sometimes given clues on what they might find - like riddles. Then, on the final page, there would be a very entertaining drawing.

Yes, some of the drawings were of people. And yes, some of them didn’t have on any clothing. Others were amusing anecdotes on the racier side while some were gags toward the student: perhaps a picture of a fist with the middle finger raised.

A student never quite knew what they would find, and there were plenty of books in that cabinet to go through. I spent most of my study hall time perusing those pages. Chris did too. But what got him in trouble was picking up the pen and deciding to imitate what previous doodlers/game creators had done.

I suppose what he did falls within the grounds of school vandalism to property. The administration frowned upon this, although I’m not sure how they found out or why they never stopped the original doodlers or even better, locking the cabinet. But they caught wind of it this time and prepared for the trial. Both boys were told to attend.

During the study hall on the day of the trial, Chris asked to talk with me. He didn’t inform me about the trial, which might have made me sympathetic toward his cause since we were "sort of" friends where we shared the books to read. But he hadn’t, and his weird demeanor made me nervous.

“Hey, Michelle? Could you do me a favor? If someone asks you to go with them later, could you say not to? Just say you don’t know anything.”

I had no idea what he was talking about and I asked him for more information. But Chris just shook his head. I thought he was playing some type of gag with me, so I decided to turn all Al Capone on him.

“Okay, what’s in it for me?”

That’s right. I asked for compensation for my silence. I thought he was trying to do some gag. But, playing it cool, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a quarter.

“Here. This is all I have on me.”

A quarter? Damn right I took it. Then I really thought about the situation. He was willing to give me a quarter for not saying anything. That seemed too strange for my comfort level.

I stood from my desk, walked to his seat, and gave him the quarter back. I said I didn’t want it. Then I returned to looking at my book.

I thought that was the end of it, and it seemed to be. But Chris tried something even sneakier later on.

“Hey, Michelle. Instead of reading the games, why don’t you make one of your own? You’re a good drawer.”

Well, I was a good drawer even at that tender age. The art teacher said so. I picked up my pen and... experienced a major case of “artist block.” When it comes to writing, I can proudly (arrogantly?) claim I can write anything on any subject. But when it comes to drawing a picture, I have zero imagination, or at least at a lower level where I rarely make anything of original content.

But I really didn’t need original content. I could help the previous illustrators in another way. Many of their sketches had faded from age. So I re-inked a few in before the bell rang to dismiss us from study hall.

During that afternoon, Kirsten came to one of my classes (I can’t remember which) telling the teacher that my presence was needed in an official school matter. I was released into her custody.

I made that last part sound so uppity. Really, we gabbed through the halls toward the designated classroom turned into a courtroom. She told me the reason why I was summoned and the lightbulb clicked over my head on why Chris was acting so strange. I let it slip to her that he had even tried to bribe me about it, laughing over the incident.

Even then, I thought it was just a mock trial. Something fake. I mean, could they actually hold it against us without teacher supervision for things that previous students had done and gotten away with in the past?

Obviously, yes.

She told me to wait in the hallway until she called me into the room. Then I walked in, swore to tell the truth - the whole truth - and nothing but the truth - so help me, God. I took a seat with the student council sitting on one side, the prosecution on the other side, and the defense attorney in the opposite row (students I didn’t know playing like lawyers - this mock trial was something!)

I was asked to tell them my name and if I know the defendants. Then the prosecution asked if I had seen them do any of the drawings.

Well, yes and no. Chris had shown me what he drew, but I didn’t actually see him do it because he sat behind me. I had no knowledge concerning Larry. Then the prosecutor asked the big question. “Did the defendant try to bribe you to keep quiet during the trial?”


It was the truth. He had. I swore to tell the truth, which I did. He asked how much. I said a quarter. There were stifled chuckles in the room.

Then the defense had a chance to cross-examine me. He asked only one question: one damning question. Did I ever draw pictures in the books?


I said no. It’s up to others on how to view my answer. Was I covering my own ass when finally realizing that this court case could find me in serious trouble along with Chris and Larry? Sure as hell I finally figured that out. But did I lie?

Depends on how a person looks at the situation. How I see it is on whether or not I drew in those books. I hadn’t. All those pictures where there long before I opened them. All I did was ink in a few lines that had faded. This doesn’t count as drawing, in my opinion. If it did my name would be Picasso, I would have my own art studio, and I would be living in a mansion by now. Then again, so would a lot of other people with no talent or imagination who took it upon themselves to follow a line with a pen.

No. I didn’t draw any of those original pictures in that book. I had no guilt over my answer, and still don't. The defense attorney should have reworded his question. If he had, perhaps by asking if I ever placed a pen on paper in that book, I would have had to tell him a different answer.

I got off due to a technicality in wordage.

Anyway, to wrap up this overly long story, the council found both defendants guilty for school vandalism. Part of their punishment was paying for the books, something in the range of two thousand dollars. I think they also got school suspensions.

So ended my time in school court.


  1. I was with you on the "I didn't see him draw in the book" argument, but I'm having a much tougher time with "I didn't draw in the book." Whether or not it was your original creation, I'm hard pressed to absolve you on that one.

    Still love ya, though!

  2. I'll tell ya, principal copper. I was tricked into doing it! Tricked so I'd take the fall with him and have to keep silent for the trial! Ya can't pin it on me! You can't!

    (It was only one pic, a teeny-tiny one. Honest! And I didn't even fill in the whole thing. AND I used an eraseable pen.)

  3. I'm not good at court stuff. blah...It's hard for me to keep track of it all.

  4. There's a valuable lesson to be learned here, isn't there?

    You can't roll with slimeballs without getting slimy. . .


  5. This is such a good story. It has laughs, drama, intrigue, crime, retribution... I see a movie of the week deal in your future.

    (Of course, I predicted that I'd have a recording contract by 1977 and I'm still waiting.)

  6. Heh! Good tale.

    Kind of like "Unforgiven" meets public school.

  7. Oh, I'm horrified...$2000? Your poor friend!!! You were a smart kiddo!! And what a tale this makes!!! You had me smiling at the beginning...and gasping at the end! As always, a terrific read! Love, Janine XO

  8. lol, you missed your calling as a lawyer!


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