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The little boy part 3 : a man now by thadeusz
When Johnny came back, on the double, from the "clothes room” wearing rather proudly his blue uniform, he was smiling which had never been the case during his 7 months in juvenile boot camp, plus isolation time. Johnny had probably stopped smiling since a long time ago, as many spoiled brats like him did. He was assigned to another working group : making parcels and loading trucks. This work was done inside the boot camp, Johnny was thus no longer chained every morning to a fellow cadet since he was not leaving the camp. This work was still repetitive, but it was tiring and less heavy ! Johnny was also allowed now to speak with his fellow phase two cadets during the working hours, which was new for him. And most important : he had no longer to go to the barber every week for a "total haircut” but simply once every 3 weeks for a "serious haircut”, this means that he started again to have some visible hair. There was no mirror inside the boot camp, but he could see how his fellow phase two cadets looked like and he could also feel it (but this he could only do at night, because the DIs kept telling the cadets "Keep your arms along your body when you are not working”).
Johnny started to work very well. He obeyed nearly automatically all orders from the DIs. When he had to speak to a DI, he always used the correct formulation, but he did it now effortlessly, as if this was the way he had always used to address people. Before, he had used the correct formulation to avoid being punished again, but the DIs could feel that this was not natural. Now all that was changed : Johnny's respect for the DIs, and for the other cadets he was working with, was natural, and no longer forced as it had been. At the end of his 8th month in the boot camp, DI Robert took him apart and started to speak with him :
"Cadet 205.536, you have been sentenced for stealing a car and speeding. Correct ?”
"Sir, Yes Sir. Sir with your permission there was also resistance to arrest and driving without license, Sir” came the answer.
"205.536, do you still like driving ?”
"Sir, Yes Sir”
"Well, a driver must know something about his car, otherwise he is a danger for other. As of now, you change workshop and go to the mechanics workshop. They will teach you there how to take care of car. Be careful, a mistake there could cost the life of a driver. So any mistake will be severely punished since that is the only way to make you understand. Understood”
"Sir, Yes Sir” said a beaming Johnny : he really wanted now to learn about cars and did not take DI Robert last comment too seriously : he knew that DI Robert was aware that he now accepted very well the remarks made by the DI leading the workshop. There were now other ways to make him realize he had made a mistake and should change his attitude.
Johnny's general attitude kept becoming better until he went directly to DI Robert :
"Sir, cadet phase two 205.536 asks permission to ask for a special authorization, Sir”
DI Robert was intrigued and replied : "You may speak, 205.536 but keep it short you have work to do and when you don't work, it costs money to the boot camp”
This was purposely misleading : Johnny was now training as mechanics and thus his "work” was no longer bringer any cent to the juvenile boot camp, on the contrary Johnny's education was now costing a lot, and that was part of the contract with the Correction Department.
Johnny went on "Sir, as phase two cadet, this cadet has only to go to the barber once every 3 weeks, and he only gets then a very short haircut, but no shorn head, Sir”
"Go on, 205.536”
"Sir, this cadet is pleased with the haircut, but waiting 3 weeks is a long time and at the end he feels that his hair is too long, Sir”
"And then ?”
"Sir, this cadet asks respectfully the permission to go every week to the barber without having a shorn head, Sir”
"Why, 205.536 ?”
"Sir, this way this cadet would have shorter hair permanently, Sir. Sir, this cadet learned to like to have short hair but not a shorn head, Sir”
"205.536, you are here to be re-educated, not to have what you like. Anyway, as phase two cadet, you are not supposed to touch your hair nor to look in a mirror. So the answer is NO. You will have what the boot camp authorities decided will be good for you. Understood ?” DI Robert was now speaking in what looked to be an angry tone.
"Sir, Yes Sir” came the sad, but also anxious answer : Johnny had started to like DI Robert and did not want him to be dissatisfied. He did not know what DI Robert had in stock for him !
"Cadet 205.536”, continued DI Robert, "since you dared ask for an unrealistic favor, you will go now to the barber and have your head shorn. Go to the clothes room where they will give you your old phase one uniform and you will go to isolation for five days, to think about your audacity”
Johnny was really unsaddled : he had done everything according to the rules, at least he believed he had done so. He had simply asked for a favor concerning his hair and now he was sent back to phase one and in isolation !
Johnny did not discuss the order, obeying orders was a second nature now ! In his cell he started to review the film of the last events and after a certain time he understood why he had been punished : he had asked for a favor concerning his hair ! First of all a cadet was not supposed to ask for a favor and secondly he, cadet 205.536 as he now called himself, was not supposed to think about his hair since he arrived in juvenile boot camp with a mask made of hair!
To his great surprise, and pleasure, when Johnny came out of isolation he was immediately sent back to phase two and instructed, because of his bad behavior, to have an haircut every week. Whether it would be a shorn head or not was left to the DI barber. Johnny started to smile when he heard that. DI Robert had a less pleasant news : a message from the Chief DI saying that since Johnny had been once again in isolation, he had to repay the time lost for work by a one month ADT. But Johnny kept smiling. DI Robert asked him : "205.536, why do you smile ? Do you like getting more ADT and having to stay longer here ?”
"Sir, this cadet smiles because he is pleased to know he will have a haircut every week, Sir. This cadet is also pleased because he knows that if he has to stay longer in boot camp, it is because the DIs believe he needs it. One more month in boot camp will enable this cadet, if he can stay in the mechanic workshop, to know more, become a real mechanics and have a real job when he leaves this boot camp, Sir” and the last "Sir” was said loudly and proudly.
Johnny was 16 years and 4 months old, he looked like an adult, accepted an apparent punishment which helped him to go on with studies he now liked : Johnny had now positive plans for the future !
After 11 months in boot camp, cadet 205.536 was promoted to cadet phase 3. He was now wearing a green utility uniform, looking very much like the DIs Marine style utility uniforms. He was studying mechanics as well as he could. He had not had a single contact with his parents since he had been arrested, and only very limited contacts with his fellow cadets, except during workshop hours. One month later he was called to the Chief DI office, and the Chief told him that he would start studying for his GED and thus spend less time in the workshop. Johnny was pleased, but knew better than to say so : he knew now that the only reaction that would be acceptable was "Chief, Yes Chief”. He nevertheless knew that a GED might be important for the "job” he now had in mind. He did not know that his parents were well aware of all the events happening inside boot camp thanks to reports sent regularly by the Chief DI.
Johnny was now, 16 years and 7 months old. He had since years refused to learn what was taught in school but he had spent a full year in juvenile boot camp and there he had learned a lot about personal behavior and working techniques. Johnny started to learn with voracity and made fast progresses. It was obvious that he was good, but also that he was behind and might not get his GED before having to leave the boot camp. Johnny realized that and asked, respectfully, DI Robert what he could do. DI Robert answered that he had to study anyway, and he added jokingly that, if worst came to worst, i.e. if Johnny failed his GED exam while still in boot camp, it would still be time for him to "tell one of his DIs that he was an asshole”. This way, Johnny would get at least one other ADT which would give him more time to study. DI Robert wanted to be funny, and Johnny laughed, but he did not forget this strange idea.
About one month later Johnny was told that he had served all his (present) ADT and that he would meet his parents for the first time since entering the boot camp. Johnny did not like the idea : firstly it was a loss of time for his studies, and secondly he was slightly anxious about what his parents would say about him being sentenced for one year and having to serve more than two. He really did not think about his former idea to ask for an appeal : the boot camp was his home now, and the strict discipline imposed by the DIs made him feel reassured and comfortable.
The parents visit was very strictly organized. The cadets had to reorganize their mess hall in such a way that there would be one big table forming a sort of "U” in the center leaving a place for the parents to sit on the outside of the "U”, while the cadets would remain standing on the inside. Moreover the cadets and the parents would not enter through the same door, in order to avoid any physical contact between them. Hugging by the parents was strictly forbidden, the cadets were not allowed to have any physical contact with their visitors, nor to receive goodies or another parcel from them. They also had to address the parents in the same respectuous way they were using with the DIs, except that they would not start and end their sentences by "Sir” for their mother, but by "Madam”. Johnny was surprised when he discovered how this visit worked: it was his first time in 13 months, the first time he would see again his parents and he did not know, not having a mirror, that not only his moral attitude had changed, but also his physical appearance !
The cadets had to line up in one line, phase one cadets in front and phase three cadets last. They were all closely inspected and two phase one cadets were ordered to leave the line, one because his uniform was not well ironed and the other because his boots were not shining. They were instructed to do 50 pushups and report to the Chief DI for 5 days of special isolation plus a month ADT "for lack of respect of their uniform”. A drum started to be heard. The remaining cadets were told to start moving their feet "in step” with the drummer, but without moving themselves, then a DI gave the order "March” and the cadets started to progress, "in step”, towards the inside door of the mess hall. They came inside this way and every time a cadet could spot his parents on the other side of the table, he stopped his progression but did not stop to move his feet. Of course all cadets kept looking straight forward, and not on the side towards their parents. Then came the orders "Halt”, then "Left turn” : the cadets were now facing their parents and were in the position of attention. Then came the orders "Salute the parents”, which the cadets had to do in a military fashion, followed by "Cover off” : the cadets took simultaneously their cap off and put it in their trouser pocket. Finally came the order "At ease” followed immediately by "Start speaking with your parents”.
Johnny was now facing his parents. Johnny had not prepared this meeting and did not know what he could tell his parents after such a long separation. Neither did they, so Johnny, looking straight in front of him as he had been taught, started by saying the first sentence that popped up to his mind, the regulation opening sentence for a cadet: "Madame, Sir, cadet phase three 205.536 reporting as ordered, Madam, Sir”.
His mother asked him : "Why do you call me ‘Madam' and not ‘mama' as you used to say ? Am I no longer your mother ?”
"Madam” replied Johnny in a rather roboting way "this cadet is not allowed to use the word mother, or any word other than ‘Madam' when speaking to you, Madam”
Johnny's mother started to feel bad and to cry. She inquired whether Johnny had been well treated, whether he had received corporal punishments, whether he was well fed, whether his room was comfortable but Johnny kept answering: "Madam, everything is well for this cadet, Madam”
His father then simply told him:
"Boy, I am proud of you. You made good progresses. Would you like me now to get a good lawyer and get you out of this boot camp”
But Johnny, to his mother's surprise and to his father's satisfaction said: "Sir, this cadet created this situation. He must remain here and pay completely for it in reparation for the mess of which he is sole responsible, Sir”
Johnny did not know that his father had been in contact with the Chief DI who told him that the best solution to get Johnny quickly out was to get a pardon from the governor, provided Johnny's father had good political acquaintances (which was the case), but that it would be sad to interrupt the progresses Johnny was making including his work for a GED.
"Boy” continued his father "you have been punished by a Judge for your stupid behavior, and you got extra punishment from your DIs for your rebellious attitude. I hope you will use this lesson well.”
"Sir, this cadet surely will, Sir. This cadets has plans for a future where his past attitude would not be acceptable, Sir.”
"Which plans, my Johnny ?” asked his mother.
"Madam, If you insist this cadet is going to tell you about his projects, but since these projects might be inaccessible since he has now a police record, this cadet asks you the permission to remain silent, Madam”
Johnny's mother did not insist. This was the end of the conversation. Johnny's parents kept looking and admiring their "new” son, and Johnny waited respectfully for another question : he knew that cadets must answer all questions completely and honestly, but that they are not supposed to start a conversation with adults or superior. But there was no other question before visiting time was up.
Then came the order "Stop talking” followed by "Cover on”, "Salute the parents”, "Right turn”, "Start marking the steps” and finally "March”, and all the cadets left the mess hall "in step” while the drum could again be heard. After that, Johnny went back to the room where he was studying with 7 others phase three cadets for his GED and his parents left the institution. His mother was rather sad to leave her only son in a juvenile boot camp, but his father was rather pleased by the boys answer and by his decision to stay and "clear himself completely this mess”.
Johnny was now ready to start his last year in boot camp. He was in a small group of phase three cadets, all in green utility uniform, in a smaller hall. The bed and the box had exactly the same size as before, the disciplinary rules had not been changed, but being in a small group of serious cadets, all wanting to get their GED, changed completely the atmosphere. All these cadets were studying ferociously for their GED, trying to make up for the time they had lost. Johnny did not spend lots of time in the mechanics workshop anymore, but every month he took part to the "visit of the parents” ceremony. His parents asked now more questions and Johnny was able to give longer answers, while respecting all the rules, rules he told his father he had started to appreciate and even liked. A change occurred in Johnny's relation with his parents. His mother kept asking questions concerning her son's well being, his food, his last meal, his clothing, his friends if any, etc and johnny answered politely but his answers were repetitive and started to become more and more vacuous. On the contrary, his father's questions were serious and concerned the way Johnny was studying and the fact that he was getting closer or not to reach his "future project”, without describing it. Johnny gave always detailed answers. Some times he was cheerful, that were the months when he had made good progresses, on other occasions he was tensed and sad, that were the days when Johnny had the impression not to be able to learn and thus not being able to get his GED. After a few months Johnny realized that although he had always been very close to his mother, who gave him everything he wanted, he was starting to like more his father who took the necessary time to discuss with him and try to understand his problems.
Weeks and months passed, discipline had become automatic for Johnny who would have been really astonished if he had seen a video of the unruly, but very hairy, 15 year old he had been in the past. Johnny did no longer obey rules and orders because he was afraid of a possible punishment, but simply because he felt comfortable that way, because it now appeared to him as the right way of doing it, because it was elegant. The not so little boy any more was doing all this in a very natural and effortless way.
The time had nearly come for Johnny to leave the juvenile boot camp as a free man. The day came to take the GED test. All cadets learning since months were nervous. DI Robert passed by and tried to de-stress Johnny who told him, jokingly : "Sir, in case I fail, I will do what you told me, Sir”. DI Robert, very puzzled, did not remember what he had, stupidly, told Johnny and left the boys working thinking about something else. Johnny did his best, but was really nervous about it: he knew his father really wanted him to get his GED and he was now very fond of his father. So, when a DI came into the "students room” with the results of the tests, nervously remembering DI Robert's stupid joke, Johnny said, half serious and half joking : "Sir, did this cadet get his GED or should he tell you that you are an asshole, Sir ?” The DI, who did know nothing about the joke, immediately stopped, shocked by Johnny's expression, and reacted as DIs are meant to react.
"Cadet 205.536, you are not out of boot camp yet and discipline is still applicable to you. Go immediately to the barber, get a phase one haircut and go to isolation for 5 days of special isolation to be added to your normal time here. That will give you the possibility to think about the use of profanities and vulgar language with a superior. You will also get an additional 3 months ADT and be reduced to cadet phase one. And you will not know now your result.” Johnny realized his mistake, but he knew there was no point in trying to excuse himself. He still had short hair, but no longer very short, and he liked it the way it was. Nevertheless he did not discuss the orders, had his head completely shaved, went to the clothing hall to get a phase one uniform and finally, very sad but facing the music as the young adult he was now, he went to isolation and was locked in undies in a cell.
After his five days in isolation, Johnny was extracted from his cell and, to his great surprise, told to put on his phase three uniform. He was then marched by DI Robert to the Chief DI office. The Chief DI told him that the DI who had punished him did not know about DI Robert's joke. He then added : "Cadet 205.536, I hope that these five days in isolation made you understand that a superior is always allowed to joke with his subordinates, but that a subordinate, even when he is under stress, should never, never, never do the same. So I decided to cancel your reduction to phase one because you are a good cadet. I must also congratulate you : you worked hard and you got your GED. Nevertheless, I decided to maintain your ADT, but I transformed it into a one month ADT. During this period of time, you will get two other certificates, or get more ADT. The first certificate will be your driving licence and the second certificate will be your certificate of mechanics. Now, within less than two months you will leave Pearlow juvenile boot camp, unless you really misbehave. Do you have plans for the future or do you want to go back to your parents?”
"Sir, this cadet does not know if it will be possible since he has a police record, but he would like to join the US Marines, directly from this boot camp, without going to his parents, Sir”
"Cadet 205.536, you don't have a real police record since you were a minor when you arrived here, and also since you have not been sentenced to prison. I will see what can be done. Dismiss.”
Johnny made a perfect half turn, left the office and said nothing but was smiling while DI Robert marched him to the hall where he had stayed while working for his GED.
Getting his driving licence was easy : Johnny had already known how to drive a car, and you don't forget that ! He had to learn about the rules to be respected, but that was easy. He had to work harder to remember all the lessons he had had on mechanics, theory and practice. Finally he was ready, and less than one week before his time in boot camp, all ADTs included, was up, he took the exam and got his certificate. He was then sent back to work in the packing and loading workshop. The day before he was supposed to leave the boot camp, he was again called to the Chief DI office. He did not know what he was supposed to expect, but he knew fairly well that he was still "cadet phase three 205.536” and that boot camp discipline was still applicable to him, with possibly more ADT.
When Johnny entered the office, another man was sitting next to the Chief DI, a Sergeant in Marine uniform. Johnny saluted both men, took of his cap and waited in the position of attention. He was very excited by the presence of a US Marine.
The Chief DI told him : "Cadet 205.536, your behavior is now good and you know what it means to joke with a superior. You have your GED, your mechanics certificate and your driving licence. Congratulations on your achievements. You also want for the future to join the US Marines if they want you, despite your stay here. Well they do ! This Sergeant is going to do what is necessary with you, and since you are not 18 yet I got your parents consent.”
The Sergeant was a recruiter : he let Johnny take the ASVAB, presented him an enlistment form on which it was foreseen that the Marine Corps would use him as mechanics, and told him where he should sign.
Before Johnny could sign, the Chief DI told DI Robert to take the now young adult to the "clothes room” because "you don't sign such an enlistment form in a not very fresh uniform. DI Robert marched Johnny to the clothes room where the boy had to give back his uniform and received a jean and two white T-shirts. Since he asked for it, he was allowed to keep his boots.
DI Robert marched Johnny back to the Chief DI office where Johnny presented himself again as cadet phase three and wanted to salute. But he had no cover anymore ! The recruiter told him : "Boy, never salute when not covered !”
The Chief DI told then DI Robert to "do the necessary” and the DI, ceremoniously, took off Johnny's dog collar. Suddenly Johnny felt naked : he was so used now to this unpleasant dog collar, it had become a part of himself, that the young man felt the absence of the dog collar as much as he had felt its imposition years ago.
The Chief DI then said: "Mister John Daniel Merion, since this is your complete and correct name, you are a free man now and it is only as free man that you can confirm you desire to join the US Marines. The recruiter presented Johnny with the enlistment form and asked him to sign it, which Johnny did. He also let Johnny take the oath of enlistment.
At that point, the Chief DI said : "John Merion, you are no longer a cadet but a free man. Remember what you learned here and be a good man. Accept here my congratulations for this important step, starting point of your future life. You have nothing more to do here and as far as I am concerned, there is no cadet 205.536 in this juvenile boot camp. You will leave us today, one day early, but exactly in time to go immediately to another boot camp, your Marine boot camp.”
Very moved, Johnny replied : "Chief, this cadet thanks you and all the DIs for everything you did for him, including punishing him when he deserved it, Chief”
"Merion, there is no cadet anymore in this room, simply four free men, one of whom just joined the US Marines. Go now.”
Johnny left the juvenile boot camp with his recruiter and was shipped to the Marine boot camp he dreamed of since a long time, without saying so. He finished this boot camp as PFC and then, but only then, went to his parent's home for his 10 days leave. His parents were very happy to have him (temporarily) back and his father gave him the present he had bought for him when he got his GED : a new car. It was thus in his own car, with his driving licence, and in uniform that Johnny paid a visit to the juvenile boot camp that had so well transformed him. After greeting the Chief DI and DI Robert, and some others, PFC John Merion left for his first assignment as a free and happy man.