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Daniel - part 2: Commander's sentence by thadeusz
Because of a train ticket - part 2
This Story is "part 2" of a set of 5 stories. It is suggested to read them in order.
The Chief finally led us to a big courtyard and shouted:
"COVER ON. IN STEP." And he marched the three of us, now in uniform, to the office where the Commander was reigning. We entered this office in silence and the Chief shouted:
"SALUTE THE Commander. COVER OFF".
We did what was requested and placed our cover where we had been told to place it.
The Commander started:
"Cadets, you are in this institution because you have done something against the law. If you had been older, you might have been sent to prison, but the Judge considers that it is still possible for you to redeem yourself. That’s why you were sent here to learn a trade and get a diploma. Those of you who don’t have a middle school diploma, have one year to acquire the required knowledge: a special exam will be organized at the end of July next year."
I immediately realized that I was not concerned by this exam: I did not have the middle school diploma but I had already been admitted in 9th, 10th,11th and even 12th grade without special exam.
But the Commander continued his speech:
"I will now review each case starting with the smallest number, 3,753 Cadet Paul Roulle, one step forward, QUICKLY," the Commander was also able to shout when he thought it might help !
The Chief pushed a frightened little Paul forward. In fact it was an easy case, even if Paul was still sobbing. The Commander went on:
"Paul, you have been arrested because you stole bread."
"Commander, that was because I was hungry."
"I know that, Cadet, you were hungry and you had no good place where to sleep because of the job of your mother. Moreover you had only rags when you were arrested. That is why the Judge dropped the charge of stealing bread. He decided that you had to be protected, so you will stay here, have decent clothes, even if you don’t like them. You will have food and a place where to sleep. Moreover you will go to school in the morning and you will learn a job in the afternoon. The job I selected for you is plumber. A good job enabling you to help building the houses our country need. And you will have a school diploma."
"Commander," sobbed Paul, "I know nothing about this job. "
"In that case, you will learn. It can be a good job. Later you will become an apprentice and have a really good job. You will be freed from this reformatory as soon as you start your military service."
"Commander, that’s a very long time. When shall I see my mother again ?"
"Not now, Cadet Roulle. The Judge considers that she is a bad example for you."
"But Captain I love my mother" said a crying Paul.
"Don’t discuss my orders and the Judge’s orders. A guardian has been appointed for you and he will see you regularly on weekends, if you are not punished. Now, Cadet, one step BACKWARDS. MOVE."
The Chief, who could also behave kindly, pulled Paul backwards and nearly in one move pushed me forward.
I had had time to realize that the situation was not bad. Paul was simply separated from an unworthy mother and placed in a situation where he could learn at school and get what was needed to have a job. So I assumed that it would be similar for me: I would be locked up, as my father wanted, and forced to study to get my BAC. Since the Judge had given visiting rights to Brigitte, I might also have the possibility to be with her even if it was in a dreadful uniform and with an ugly haircut.
The Captain looked in my file and suddenly was silent during a minute or two. He then spoke as such:
"3,754, Cadet Ferrière, you are the eldest Cadet of this reformatory. I thus expect you to set the good example and to help younger ones, like Paul. In any case your problem is double: you took a runner and you did not pay a train ticket. Since you are nearly 18, it should not be too bad, but since you failed your BAC you will have problems. Your father require us to punish you severely for the train story. I give you two weeks in isolation for that. After that you will spend the rest of the holiday working hard as cleaner and helper and your pay will be sent to your father to repay him for the fine he had to pay to the train company. You father require us also to keep you locked up as long as you don’t have your BACA. So, as soon as your punishment is over, you will start to study for your BAC in the morning. If you don’t have it rapidly, you will stay here as long as needed: your minority will be automatically extended by one year each time you fail. Every afternoon you will try to to acquire professional abilities, as foreseen by the rules of this institution. You will thus learn to be a mechanic. You will go to the military service as a minor with all associated consequences. Now the Chief is going to bring you back to the barber, who will shave your head according to regulations since you must go in the isolation cell. Have courage, after this summer you might have visits."
Suddenly it dawned on me that I was going to lose what remained of my great mane. My cobweb broom haircut would disappear and I would be shaved. Like Paul. I now completely realized that in this institution, I was not simply a boarder locked up in his school and forced to study, I was really a prisoner. And I would be deprived of visits during two months. I could not resist and I complained:
"I am not going to be shaved like Paul ! I don’t have lice !"
The Commander looked upon me and simply said:
"One more word and it will be two more weeks in the cell. BACKWARDS NOW."
I remained silent and started to cry, like little Paul, the Chief pulled me one step backwards and pushed Thomas forward.
The Captain went on:
"Cadet 3,755, Cadet Thomas Crestel," he looked in Thomas’ file and went on "your case is the worst one. You have been sentenced to at least 1 year in prison because you were an accomplice in a bank robbery. I think you deserved more, but the Judge was wiser, he sent you here for a year but he left me decide if I wanted to keep you longer for disciplinary reasons. I can do that because you are a minor, and in any case the Judge has decided that you will remain a minor until you reach 25 or have a decent job and have done your time for the military service. You just gained 3 weeks in isolation, that implies that I add to your year a minimum of three months in this institution."
"But, Commander," said Thomas, "I was supposed to go to adult prison as soon as I turned 18 ?"
"That’s what you thought, but you will remain here and learn to become a carpenter." The big and solid Thomas was also on the verge of crying: he had dreamed of going to adult prison like his friends and he just learned that he would remain a ‘junior’ until he reached 25 !
"But Captain, I don’t want to become a carpenter."
"Thomas, this country has been destroyed by a war and we need houses. You will build them in order to repay for your bad behavior. If you say one more word, I double the sentence. Now Chief, take Thomas and Daniel with you and place them in isolation after doing the usual business." And Thomas stepped backwards, in his uniform, clearly but silently crying like a baby.
Paul was led by a Guard to the room where we would normally stay, but the Chief took us through the big courtyard back to the barber. When we left the Chief he had shouted:
"CADETS, cover ON, salute the Commander, and come with me."
We left Paul at the entrance of another building where a Guard took him further (later I learned it was to our common bedroom). We kept going, marching more or less in the step while the Chief kept shouting: "ONE, TWO, ONE, TWO, …"
On the way he added:
"Check the position of your cover on your hair. You won’t be able to do that for very long."
I had understood the essence of what the Head had said: I had to have my head shaved too. The Chief told the barber:
"Meursault, these two are punished. Give them an appropriate haircut."
He then pushed me towards the barber chair but I asked:
"Chief, may I speak now ?"
The Chief had guessed what I wanted and said yes. So I addressed myself to the barber and said:
"Guard, let me please look once to what you did to my haircut."
The barber Guard, Guard Meursault, produced his small mirror, I looked and finally, I liked it, I was now a cobweb fighting tool but I also started to look like a soldier. Then I sat in the chair, hands on the arms of the chair, and I spoke again:
"Guard, ready for strapping, as ordered by the Chief."
This seemed to please the Chief and the barber whispered something like "This little brute does not know what’s going to happen to his hair" but he did what had to be done. I was thus completely attached to the chair.
The barber caped me and started working. He first got control of my head with one hand, then took his clippers with the other hand and showed them to me without any guard. He then pulled my head towards my back and started to cut a path on my forehead towards my neck. He then pushed my head rather briskly forward and shaved the end of this path in my neck. He continued that way, alternately pushing and pulling, always rather brutally, and turning to one side and then the other, which forced me to keep my head bent at rather strange angles ! Finally, he changed clippers to finish his work (at least I thought so) with smaller clippers for the base of the neck and for the ears. Finally he said:
"Good, I am done with the clippers."
I felt relax, but it was too early for that. The barber put some water on my head, no foam, and added:
"Water, that’s all you deserve, you little brigand. I will make you feel how nice it is to be shaved by me."
He then took a big old fashioned razor and started to cut the last stubbles I had left on my head. When he was finally done, I wanted to place my hand on my head to feel at least ‘how I looked’. I could not do it, the Chief shouted:
"Don’t touch your head Cadet and come here. I can assure you that you are completely bald."
I moved towards the Chief without seeing Thomas who had been pushed in another armchair. No need to say that I had not been able to evoke Brigitte during this second haircut.
The Chief told me to undress and to put on my duty uniform, adding:
"Without cover, nor socks, nor shoes !"
He then gave me wooden clogs and told me to keep my hands in my back, without even trying to touch my head. I was afraid by this new situation.
When the barber was done with Thomas, the Chief told him to stand next to me and I noticed that he was already dressed like me. The Chief looked at us and shouted:
"That’s the uniform you will wear every time you are punished. NOW, KEEP YOUR HANDS JOINED IN YOUR BACK."
He came behind us and rapidly he handcuffed both of us.
He told us to start marching on step, shouting "LEFT, RIGHT, etc" and made us make a complete turn around the main courtyard to reach a door marked "Isolation cells". We walked down a few steps and reached a passage with many closed doors. In front of some of them, there were clogs like the ones I was wearing. The Chief stopped in front of a door marked "Cell number 3", opened the door and told me to leave my clogs outside. He then pushed me inside and locked the door behind me.
The cell was small. There was a plank attached to a wall where I assumed that I would have to sleep, a small sink and a pot to be used probably as toilet. The walls were high and dark and there was a small opening, provided with bars, high in the wall opposed to the door. I later learned that it was a small basement window opened on the main courtyard. I did not know what I could do there, especially since the Chief had left me handcuffed, with my hands in my back. It was cold in this cellar and I was hungry, but no food was available. So I sat on the plank and there I started once more to cry, and I continued to do so for a long time. I don’t know how long since I had been deprived of my watch after my arrest.
After a long time, the door opened. A Guard entered with some food. He freed my right hand, but not the left one and told me to eat. He also told me that he had to remain present while I was eating in order to leave nothing with me, just in case I wanted "to do something stupid". I ate rapidly, it was not good but at least it was some food. I also got something to drink. The Guard told me then to undress partially and to use what he called "the potty" while he was there, checking if I behaved well. I really needed that and behaved as ordered. He then handcuffed me completely again, took ‘the potty’ with him and disappeared after locking my cell door. I could hear that he was doing the same thing for the other cells.
There was nearly no light coming through my tiny window, so I decided that it was time to sleep. Because of my handcuffs in my back, I layed down on my belly and before I had had time to think I was asleep.
The next morning, a bell woke me up. Shortly after that, the same Guard came in my cell with bread, water and a clean ‘potty’. He took the handcuffs of my right hand and told me, as he had done the previous day, to eat quickly and to use the potty. He then told me:
"Now, use the basin and clean your dirty face."
He then handcuffed me again and told me to go out of the cell, put on my clogs and wait without moving.
He did the same with 7 other Cadets. When all of us, Thomas included, were ready, he told us to march (in step of course) to the courtyard. There we had to march in step during about an hour: this was our daily exercise. We were then sent back, without clogs, to our respective cells.
The Guard came three times a day and did exactly the same thing with food, water and ‘potty’. The washing and marching occurred only in the morning. I kept a count of the dreadful days spent in my cell. The only good moments were those when the Guard brought me my meal, always the same, bread, something looking like meat, indescribable vegetables and water. After seven awful days, the Chief came and told me to get ready for the barber: I had to have my face shaved. The barber told me to sit without strapping me: I still had my handcuffs. He also checked the top of my head and decided that an additional shaving "would do you good". It was again shaving with a big razor and only with water, no soap !
After that, the Chief marched me back to my cell, still handcuffed, and gave me a big push to force me to enter my cell. I fell on the floor and I heard the Chief laugh. I remained there, doing nothing except thinking about my fate, during another full week.
When the week was over, the Chief came, took the handcuffs off and told me to put on my socks and shoes. He then gave me my jungle hat and took me to the barber for my weekly shaving. I asked him:
"Chief, will these weeks in the cell also be added, as months, to my sentence ?"
"Cadet Ferrière, your case is not the same as that of Cadet Crestel. He is really on the verge of becoming dangerous and must be saved, you are an honest kid with an over rigorous father. Now stop making me tell you what I should not tell." He then asked me:
"Did you like your two weeks in isolation cell ?"
"Do you know why you got them ?"
"YES, CHIEF, because I stole a train ticket."
"Well, now you know how to avoid that in the future. Ready for that, Cadet ?"
And really, I was ready to do everything possible to avoid another stay in the cell.
When we arrived at the barber, I asked him to be strapped knowing that once the Chief had set a rule he would not change it, and also asking to be shaved. When that was done, I was taken to the clothing room where I could have clean undies and shirts twice a week. Then it was time to start the chores, and there was lots of work to do. During all this period, the Chief kept me running from one corner of the reformatory to another, cleaning the dorms, making the toilets extra clean and then washing my dirty clothes (with cold water), serving the meals, and many other things. The Chief was constantly behind me and he used his stick to hit me on the legs whenever I was not working fast enough or well enough according to him. He did the same for the boys who were on the daily chore, but these boys had to do it during one or two days only. I had to do it during 6 weeks to repay my father. Twice a week I had clean undies and tee-shirt, once a week a cold shower. I felt miserable. I must confess that after the first month, the Chief hit me less often. Luckily, despite the fact that I was still permanently in duty uniform, I had no longer to be handcuffed and I could eat and sleep in the "Duty room", a room specially reserved for those who had to perform chores. This means that our bunks were much more comfortable than my former plank and that we could speak with one another at night.
This lasted until the end of the summer. During all that time I had to go weekly to the barber for my face shave, but my hair had the possibility to grow a little bit and I regained somehow my "cobweb broom" haircut. I had also discovered my permanent room: it was a big dormitory with 12 double beds and no cupboards. There were actually 23 boys sharing this big room at night, and we were always locked in. I don’t know what would have happened in case of fire.
We, the cadets, did not need cupboards since we had nothing to keep. The clothes we were wearing were on us during the day and in a box, with the duty uniform, at night. We slept in undies and with our long shirt ! I discovered that Thomas was not in the same row, but that young Paul had the bunk just underneath mine.
When the end of the summer arrived, my hair had grown but neither the Chief nor the barber had said a word about it. The last time I went to the barber in overalls, I asked as usually to be strapped and I added:
"Guard Meursault, I think it is really time for me to have a haircut. Could you please redo the sculpture you had done the first time ?"
The barber smiled and started to work, shaving included, but the Chief interrupted him saying:
"I think that this Cadet does not need to be strapped anymore. So he does not have to ask for it."
"Chief, and if I want it ?"
"Then you get it if the barber agrees, it is your choice."
In fact I really wanted it, it helped me to concentrate on Brigitte during my haircut, even if this sounds strange it was like that. I could imagine her holding me in her arms and I did not want to miss that.
After that, I started to lead a normal "reform school-boy" life. We were woken up at 5:00, had immediately after 30 min period of gym in the same courtyard as the punished Cadets, but they were already gone. We had to do it in our briefs, since we had no sport uniform. It could be explained by the fact that my country was still suffering from restrictions due to the war. After sport we had a short period to get washed, clothed and to clean perfectly our dormitory. Breakfast came later and was also rather short, but we had enough food. Immediately after that, we went to classes, all the boys of a given section were together with good teachers explaining everything at many different levels, depending on our level of knowledge. There was no interruption and remaining concentrated was difficult.
Around noon, we had our lunch, again bad food but sufficiently, followed by a short playtime. The afternoon was devoted to our respective workshops and I had to spend hours learning to become a mechanic even if I wanted to work for my BAC and be able later to become a singer. After the workshop, we had another short break and then dinner followed by a study session without teacher. At 10 pm we were in our beds, lights were off.
During the morning sessions I was seated next to little Paul. I noticed that he had an excellent memory: he was able to repeat without problem everything that had been told to him. He also knew how to read and write digits and numbers, but I soon realized that he had problems with reading and writing. Our teachers did not notice it and anyway were not prepared for that.
Sundays were visiting days, so on my first September Sunday I expected a visit by my parents. I was now decently dressed in my "prison style" grey uniform and my hair was again cut in order to make me look like a cobweb fighter. To my great surprise, my parents did not come but Brigitte came. When I entered the visiting hall and I saw her, it was as if the light had suddenly changed. According to the rules, she was seated on one side of a wide table and I could sit or stand at the other side, but not touch her. I moved towards the table and suddenly, I was driven to do something strictly forbidden: I took my forage cap and put it squarely on my head, making sure that the front of the cap was exactly at two fingers of my eyes. It was forbidden since we were inside, but I wanted to give a complete image of my new look to my best beloved.
I moved one step forward, saluted as we had been taught to do, took my cap off and placed it under my left shoulder pad. I then waited in the position of attention. Brigitte looked silently at me and said nothing. After a few minutes, the Chief came, gave me a nearly gentle hit with his stick and told me:
"Sit down Cadet if you don’t want to get more of my stick."
I sat in front of Brigitte and looked at her saying nothing. After a moment, she extended her hand to try to touch mine. I told her:
"Touching is strictly forbidden, Brigitte."
But the Chief, who was able to look in many different directions simultaneously, interfered:
"It is forbidden and it will be punished, but only if I see you and I am busy looking somewhere else."
I extended my arm and took Brigitte’s hand, still saying nothing. Then, she spoke:
"You changed haircut, Daniel."
"Well, I was forced to do so. Regulations. You know, the president said ‘long hair, short discipline’."
"Daniel, you look much better like this."
"Like a cobweb fighter ?"
"Yes, and with your uniform."
"It is not very comfortable, you know."
"Maybe, but you look more manly with it. And all this will soon be over."
"Not before I get my BAC."
"I did not get mine, do you nevertheless love me."
"Of course Brigitte, and for ever." I wanted to kiss her, but the Chief made a lot of noise close to us and we suddenly both took our hands back on our side of the table.
The Chief then said that visiting time was over, but that Brigitte could come back next month. He finally added:
"Cadet Ferrière, put on your cap and salute your lover: she likes to see you like that. Maybe she likes military men. Remember to behave well enough so that I don’t have to send you to the barber for a baldy."
I did as the Chief had suggested, made a nice about turn (or at least I thought it was a nice one) and left Brigitte for a full month.
Life went on rather smoothly. I spent my mornings studying, I tried to understand why I had to become a mechanic every afternoon, and I did the chores which were assigned to me. Every Wednesday and Saturday, I got clean undies and shirt, but every Wednesday I also wrote the compulsory weekly letter meant for my parents. Thomas had explained that he had no contact with his parents and wanted to write to his elder brother who was in jail, so he had to send his letters to the Judge who acted as censor. Little Paul had now a guardian assigned to his protection, so he tried to write letters to his guardian who came and visited him every other week. The problem was that Paul could not read nor write, so he only made drawings. The Chief mentioned that casually to me adding:
"You don’t like to study, but you are very lucky to be able to read and write."
I took the hint and started to spend some time, every day, with Paul, trying to teach him the letters of the alphabet in one of my schoolbooks. It was not easy and when Brigitte came back, I told her what I was doing with Paul. She reacted immediately:
"Daniel, you won’t be able to reach your aim with one of your schoolbooks. Next time, I will bring you a special book for young children learning to read and write."
"Brigitte, you cannot do that. It is strictly forbidden to bring books from the outside for us, the detained cadets."
She looked at me, bewildered, and said:
"Even if it is to teach one of your fellow cadets how to read ?"
The Chief, who happened to be near us (but he was always everywhere) reacted:
"Giving gifts to prisoners is strictly forbidden. But you could mail me such a book. After that, I could lend it to one of our cadets willing to help another."
One week later, the Chief gave me such a book. Paul started to learn to read and write. He made rapid progresses: he really wanted to be able to read and write. His guardian congratulated me, telling me that I should become a primary school teacher. I replied saying that for the time being I was losing precious study moments learning to become a mechanic. The Chief heard that and gave me ten of his stick for "bad behavior", but not more. I was still going every week to the barber to get strapped and have a facial shave, I could keep my "cobweb fighter" haircut which Brigitte liked.
Needless to say, my parents never answered my weekly letters and never visited me.