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Daniel - part 1: arrested by thadeusz
Because of a train ticket : part 1
The events I describe in this story are old, very old. They occurred in France a few years after the end of WWII. In those days, there was still conscription in France: when it was my time to go to the military service, all boys had to spend 2 years in the Army. In these days, one did not come of age at 18 but the legal majority was at 21. Before that age, one needed a parental consent for everything.
When this story starts, De Gaulle was President of the Republic and France still had colonies and permanent troops in Africa. Boys were starting to have long hair, in a hippie way, and I had semi long curly blond hair going down (when I came out of the barber) below my ears but usually floating in all possible directions as if there had been static electricity to attract them in all possible directions. My parents considered that it was bad and every time they said so, defiantly, I told them that I would let my hair grow longer. At the time of these events, I was very proud to have a small mustache and a nascent beard: this gave me the impression that I was more grown up, that I looked nearly adult despite my 16 years of age !
My name is Daniel Ferrière and my parents were so glad to be together at the end of the war that they made love, as often as they could. I am the result of these numerous actions and my parents got married as quickly as they could but … after the fact.
I am the eldest brother of a family of three children: my sisters Caroline and Jane were named after the girlfriends of two English aviators my parents had hidden during the war. I was the only one to have a real French name. We all lived in Avignon, in the South of France.
My parents wanted to be able to send me later to one of the French "Great School" in order to make an engineer of their only son. I did not want to do that: I wanted to be a poet or a singer. I was rather a dreamer with my long curls. My sisters wanted to study but in those days, it was not usual for girls to study after high school, except if they wanted to become primary school teachers or nurses. This was not the case, so my sisters got married and forgot about studying while I did not want to study and was more or less forced to do so ! These were the uses of the time.
For my 16th birthday, I had received a small portable radio, a transistor radio: this was new and very fashionable among youngsters like me. We all listened to "our" show, every day: "Salut Les Copains", a radio show named in English "Hello the mates" and featuring only what were then the new songs of our "idols". A show really created for teenagers ! With my transistor radio, I was one of the kings of my high school.
I was never the good student my parents dreamed to have as son, my sisters were much better. During my 11th grade, my parents realized that I had very bad marks and that I would never get my BAC, this famous high school diploma which is nationally organized in France. If you have it, you have nothing (except the possibility to become rapidly NCO in the Army), if you don’t have it, you are a miserable sufferer.
So my parents decided, for my 12th grade, to send me as boarder in a private boarding school kept by priests, with a very tight discipline. I did not really like it, but there was nothing I could do to resist: I was a minor ! I started to really dislike their choice when I realized that I would be separated from all my friends (which was in fact their main aim) and that I would have to wear a uniform. I was rather anxious when my father told me that fact, especially because I expected to have to cut my hair in a way which was NOT fashionable.
My mother took me to a specialized shop in Avignon. There I received short grey pants, white shirts to be worn with a blue tie decorated with my new school logo: ST for "Saint Thomas". The "ST" was embroidered on the tie and it was ugly. On top of this came a blue sweater, a blue jacket with the same logo on the left breast pocket and a blue heavy cape. The socks were high grey woolen socks and the shoes were heavy black boots. To add to the ridicule of the situation, I received a small blue cap which looked like a cub scout cap except that mine had in front again the same stupid embroidered school logo !
I felt that it was a ridiculous situation: having to wear short pants at the age of 16, nearly 17. The rest of the uniform looked also too boyish for me, but once again I could not resist. So when my mother told me to put on my new uniform to go home, dressed that way, in order to make a surprise for my father, I obeyed despite the fact that I considered this completely stupid. I often considered my parents’ orders as "stupid".
We went home by bus: my mother had then no car, like most of the women I knew. I felt very bad. I was tall, slim with a long neck hidden by a wonderful mass of hair. Below that, I was wearing a uniform which was adapted to a 12 year old boy and on top of my mass of hair, a tiny school cap. Moreover I was carrying one big bag with my new clothes, the official school bag, and a smaller bag, given by the shopkeeper to put my old and comfortable clothes and shoes. Finally, my mother had bought for me a small rucksack to carry my books to the different classes: this bag was temporarily empty but my mother had decided that I should get used to it, so I had it on my back in the bus!
When we arrived home, mother told father:
"Look at your son. Isn’t he wonderful in his new clothes. I really like that uniform: we should have sent him there earlier."
Father replied, very seriously:
"You are right, but there remain one thing to be done: Daniel, you will go immediately to the barber and get rid of that ridiculous heap of hair, and as well get rid of your beard and your mustache."
"Father, you cannot do that. You send me to a boarding school and I will loose all my friends."
"We discussed already that."
"But father, you promised earlier that if I behaved well, I could have a beard."
"Precisely Daniel, you did not behave well at school and that’s why your mother and me are forced to send you to a boarding school. I don’t want you to arrive there as an I-don’t-know-what. You have now a nice uniform, try to have a haircut adapted to it, especially to your cap."
"Father, I am still on holiday. I will not go to the barber before I have to go to school."
I felt safe saying that: the school year started only a fortnight later and that was enough time to make father change his mind. At least that’s what I thought. But father was now furious because I had resisted his will and he told me:
"Daniel, go and fetch your books in your room. We go NOW to that boarding school."
"But father, it is still holiday, you cannot rob me of my holiday."
"They will take you and lock you up. They will discipline you. There the good fathers will find a way to break your will and to master you." He was now shouting. "Go to your room, you have five minutes to take your books and say goodbye to your sisters. If it takes longer, I will completely shave your head myself, like they do in the army."
I knew that my father was capable of doing that, especially now that he was in a rage. So I rushed to my room, got my school books and pushed them in the little rucksack. Below the books, I had hidden my transistor radio hoping that I would be able to listen to it. I said goodbye to my sisters who laughed when they saw my uniform and my little cap on top of my hair. I rushed to kiss my mother who was already in the kitchen preparing the dinner, the first dinner without me. Then my father grabbed me by my jacket collar and led me to the family car. He forced me to sit in the back, so he could lock the doors, and he drove towards the boarding school which was in fact inside a monastery. A monk opened the big entrance gate, my father drove the car inside a big courtyard while the monk closed and locked the gate. I was now a prisoner.
Father, still holding me by the collar of my new jacket, entered a big building. There was a big indication in golden letters: Saint Thomas Institute. There another priest led us to the office of the headmaster, who was also a priest: Father Benedict. My own father was suddenly very polite, nearly a child speaking to his parent:
"Good father, I have been a boarder here and I learned a lot. Now I bring you my own son. I can no longer compel him to obey me, as a son should obey his father. He even refused to go to the barber before coming here. I hope you can help him as I have been helped here."
"So", said Father Benedict, "this is the boy you want to confide to us."
"Yes", said my father, "this is my son Daniel who does not want to study nor to have a haircut."
"We can see to that."
I felt it was now time for me to speak:
"Sir, my parents promised me that I could enjoy my holiday and now my father wants to bring me here early, and to cut my hair, and my mustache and my beard. Despite their promise."
"We can see to that, Daniel, since this is your name, isn’t it ?"
"Here, when speaking to me you should say ‘Good Father’ but we can see to all this later. Now Mister Ferrière, it is time for you to retire leaving your son in our hands. Go please."
Nobody had ever spoken like that to my father who indeed kissed me goodbye and saluted very politely the ‘Good Father’, leaving me alone with the Headmaster.
The Head explained me rapidly the situation:
"Daniel, you are here in a school depending on a monastery. Most of the teachers and supervisors are ‘Father’ and you will address them like that. Some people here are less educated but deserve the same politeness. You will address them as ‘Brother’ and show them the respect they deserve. Personally, as Head of this community, I am called ‘Good Father’ and you will address me as ‘Good Father Benedict’ like your father did. You will soon see the difference in our cassocks. Did you get all that, young Daniel ?"
"Yes, Good Father Benedict", as long as the problem of my haircut had not been solved I was ready to make an effort.
"As far as your haircut is concerned", continued Father Benedict, "I do not mind your long hair provided they are clean and perfectly combed. So we are going to make a deal. You can keep your hair, but every morning you must comb them perfectly, then you must flatten your haircut and keep it flat with a gel I am going to give you. Finally, you will attach them them in the back with a small ribbon I am going to give you."
"But Good Father, I will look like a girl with her ponytail !"
"That’s your problem Daniel. Either you accept my small ribbon and the ponytail solution, or I send you to Brother Johan who will shave you completely. The choice is yours, but you have to make it now and rapidly."
I realized that this man who looked so kind was in fact inflexible and adamant. I did not have a real choice, even if the Good Father had said that I had one. So I replied humbly:
"I accept the gel and the ribbon, Good Father."
"Are you going to flatten your hair every morning and make a ponytail in order to reduce the excessive volume ?"
"Yes Good Father Benedict, I will do it."
"Fine, now there is another problem to solve: your beard and mustache. Are you ready to shave them ?"
"Well, Good Father, I would rather keep them."
"I understand. You are 16 and you want to show that you are a man. Well you may keep them, provided that you trim them and clean them every morning. This means more work for you with your hair ! If one day, they are not well trimmed, Brother Johan will shave them, and your hair will be reduced to nothing the same day. Ready for that, young Daniel ?"
Well I had no real choice ! So I replied:
"Yes Good Father"
"Good. One last thing, your cap is well adapted to your head but not to your hair. Brother Matthew will give you another one adapted to your present situation. Before you try it, don’t forget to comb and flatten your hair and attach your ponytail. Here is your ribbon."
Father Peter led me to my room. Fathers had black cassocks and Brothers had white simple ones, that’s how I made the difference. I was now in a room for 6 boarders, clean and comfortable, without bars at the windows as I had thought. Some boys were already there: 2 boys coming from the colonies and one coming from Guyana. These boys needed more time to be ready in Avignon for the start of the school year. There was another boy who was punished, like me.
This year as a boarder was finally easier than what I had dreaded. The food prepared by the Brothers was good, the discipline enforced by the Fathers and the Brothers was acceptable and I had the possibility to listen very discretely to my favorite Radio Show ! I also had the possibility to keep my hair as it was and also my mustache and beard, provided I did not let it grow more than what it was when I entered the boarding school. The Fathers were excellent teachers, they never compelled a pupil to learn, but they intelligently convinced him that learning was precisely what he always dreamed of doing ! The same approach was used for discipline. There was of course a Holy Mass every morning and confession was compulsory every Saturday. The Fathers noticed my voice and made me sing a lot in the choir, at church and I liked that: I had the impression that I did well !
I left Saint Thomas Institute only for the Christmas and Easter holiday. The remaining usual holidays were spent inside the Institute, first praying and then … studying. Finally, I was not too unhappy far from my usual chums, but contrarily to many others, I tried to learn but I was not really succesful according to my teachers: I had tremendous liabilities as far as knowledge was concerned, especially in maths. The Fathers could help me regain some of the lost ground, but not all of it.
Each time I left the Institute, the first thing I did at home was to get rid of my uniform. Immediately after that I took a big and long shower, not because we had no shower in the Institute, but because I wanted to get my hair free of all the gel I had to put on it. These were great moments. But I kept trimming my beard and mustache: I felt more masculine like that.
Finally came the big moment I was really afraid of: I took the written and oral exams of the BAC. I came home from the Institute with very little hope because of a particularly bad maths exam. My parents questioned me and I said I had good hopes. My father simplified our relationship by saying the following:
"Daniel, I did not tell you, but I applied to an engineer school for you. If you get your BAC, you go there immediately: it is another Catholic boarding school. But if you fail, I send you immediately back to Saint Thomas, without holiday. You will stay there, locked up, until you get this precious BAC. Even if you are now 17. If necessary, I will keep you there until you are 21."
I knew my father could do something like this and I had met in Saint Thomas Institute another boy who was there, without any holiday, since three years. In any case, I did not want to become an engineer but a poet and a singer.
Two days later, the results were available in the schools. I walked to the Institute and learned that, as I feared, I had failed. I did not have my BAC, but to my great surprise, I had only failed in maths thanks to the Fathers. But failing in maths meant failing all together. This meant that I would sleep this evening in the Institute and spend there all my holidays until I got that damned BAC. I went home, took a small suitcase and ran away. I had no money, no identity papers and of course no diploma. I had decided to go to Paris and to try to find a job, any job, in the big city. In those days, finding a job for an unqualified person was still possible. I hoped that after that I could become a singer.
I walked to the train station, which was far away and arrived just in time for the evening train to Paris. I jumped in the train, without money and thus without ticket. I found a compartment with an empty seat and I left my luggage there. I was sitting in front of a beautiful girl. We started to discuss and she told me that she was also 17, that she was working as secretary in Paris where she had her own independent room in a house (she insisted that she was independent and had her parents permission to work and live alone). Her name was Brigitte. I also told her my complete story and the events that led me to run away.
When the ticket inspector arrived, Brigitte helped me to hide in the toilets. In Paris, she offered to let me sleep on a sofa in her room, saying:
"If my mother knew it, she would die."
Of course we both slept in her bed, and what was to be expected arrived ! After that, Brigitte said:
"Now, my mother must be dead."
"Did you ever do it before", I asked and she replied:
"Never and it was marvelous. Let’s do it again."
After that, we decided that I should stay with Brigitte without letting her parents nor mine know about it. It was also decided that I should go and try to find a job. Of course, love was not forgotten in our program.
I tried to find a job during several days. The problem was that I did not know what to do, except study. Moreover I had no papers and that made the search more difficult. Several people understood the situation and tried to help me, but the lack of identity papers kept creating a problem. Finally I found a sympathetic employer. He told me that he could use me as waiter. When I told him about the lack of identity papers, he told me:
"I had guessed that much. You failed your BAC ?"
"And now you are on the run ?"
"Well yes, that’s true."
"That’s nothing, we are going to arrange all that. Go in the next room and wait there for a moment."
I waited confidently during long minutes. Eventually two policemen arrived and arrested me. I could not even say goodbye to Brigitte, nor did I really want to do it because she would have been implicated.
The policemen brought me to their police station where an inspector asked me several questions. He was very good at questioning and discovered easily my name, my address and the name of my parents. He finally asked me:
"Do you have money ?"
"So how did you survive since you left Avignon ?"
"Someone offered a shelter and food."
"A girl ?"
"I cannot tell you."
"You must speak if you want to see her again, I promise that she will not be in trouble for giving you a shelter."
So I gave Brigitte’s name and address, reluctantly, but I did it. The inspector was true to his word: my best beloved has never been in trouble because of me. But the inspector wanted to know more:
"How did you come from Avignon to Paris ?"
"Did this girl, Brigitte, pay for your ticket ?"
"No she did not. I managed to travel without ticket."
"Well my boy, that’s bad: it is stealing the money of the train company. I don’t know how they are going to react."
I was then placed in a cell, nearly completely closed. The inspector had warned me:
"Since you are a minor, you must remain in isolation until we have spoken with your parents."
I had to wait there alone during two solid days. On the third day, I was taken to a small room where a lady interviewed me. She told me that she was a psychologist in charge of my "case". She had to determine my possibilities to be recuperated for the society. Then it was back to my cell. After three more days, probably the time needed by the lady psychologist to write her report, a policeman came into my cell and told me that I had to appear in front of a Juvenile Judge. He added that this Judge disliked long hair, so he suggested that I let him attach them in the back of my head, in a sort of pony tail. I accepted and he used an elastic to that extent !
He then told me to place my hands behind my back. He handcuffed me and led me, through several passages to a Juvenile Judge. Before entering the Judge’s office or court, this policeman gave me a good advice:
"This Judge wants to be respected, so when you speak to him don’t forget to call him ‘Your Honor’ and not simply ‘Sir’. He will decide upon your fate, so be very polite." The policeman then took the handcuffs off and pushed me in a big office that did not look like a courtroom, at least not like the courtroom I had visited with my school when I was in 11th grade.
I was rather afraid, I had first thought that I would be sent back to my parents and that my father would lock me up in Saint Thomas, but this seemed much more threatening since the police inspector had clearly told me that I had stolen the money of my seat in the train. Now, this policeman, who had entered the room just behind me, had warned me that the Judge would "decide upon my fate."
The Judge was seated behind his desk and on the side a clerk was typing on an old machine. The Judge showed a seat in front of him and told me to be seated. My parents were not there and I had no lawyer. The policeman remained behind me. The situation was not really stressful, except that I was anxious for me and for Brigitte who after all had been my accomplice !
The Judge, who looked very serious, started by asking me:
"Your name is Daniel Ferrière, boy ?"
"Yes, your Honor"
"And you are 17, isn’t ?"
"Well, you Honor, I am nearly 18. I will be 18 in 2 months."
"Don’t correct me when I am not wrong, boy. I hate that. You are aged 17 and that’s it."
The Judge looked further through a file open on his desk and said:
"So you came here in Paris without your parents’ authorization. How did you travel ?"
"By train, your Honor."
"Yes, and a girl, a certain Brigitte Lemaire, helped you to travel without ticket."
"No, your Honor, Brigitte did nothing of the sort."
"Don’t lie to me. In any case there is no charge against that girl. But why did you come to Paris ?"
"Your Honor, I have failed my BAC and I was afraid my father would lock me up."
"Well, you must know that your father is now very angry. You left home, as a minor and without authorization and you travelled without ticket. Your parents had to pay for that ticket, plus an important fine. Did you know that ?"
"No, your Honor. But why did they have to pay ? I was not caught."
"You were not caught, but you told it to the police who had to tell it to the train company. Now your father is so mad at you that he officially asked me to send you to prison and lock you up there until you reach your majority. That means, he wants me to lock you up until you are 21. Do you realize what that means, boy ?"
"Not really, your Honor."
"Since you are nearly 18, it means that your father asks that you be first sent to a juvenile prison but that in two month you should be sent to an adult prison for three long years."
The Judge stopped talking, probably to let it sink in me. I had heard about the adult prisons and about the way prisoners were treated. I was horrified.
After a few minutes, the Judge spoke again:
"Luckily for you, I am here. The psychologist told me that you have a great potential. So we are going to bank on it. For leaving home and do a stupid runner, I send you now to a disciplinary institution for young boys, a reform school or reformatory as you prefer. There you will be able to study and get your BAC. If you don’t get your BAC next year, your minority will automatically be extended by one year in order to leave you more time to study. And so until you get your BAC. It is not a present, the discipline is very strict in this institution. You will remain there after your BAC until you are called by the Army and start your military service. But there is also the train ticket problem. For that I order that you spend, inside this reformatory, a full week in a detention cell and that you spend the remaining part of the holidays working hard to repay your parents for the ticket and the fine. Did you understand all that, boy ?"
"Yes, your Honor. May I ask a question ?"
"Yes, you can, but a short one my boy."
"May I have visitors during next year, your Honor ?"
"It will probably take more than a year, but you can have one parental visit a week, during the weekend, if you are not punished."
That was not wonderful since my parents were probably very angry. Luckily the good Judge added:
"Do you like that girl Brigitte, boy ?"
‘Like’ in those days was used for ‘love’ and we had made love, and as much as we could, so I replied enthusiastically:
"Oh yes" forgetting the "your Honor" but the Judge seemed not to notice and simply said:
"In that case we will give that young working lady one visit a month, provided again that you are not punished. Go now and behave my boy. Policeman bring the prisoner to his new home."
The policeman made me turn and leave the Judge’s room (I don’t dare call this a ‘courtroom’ nor an ‘office’). As soon as we were out of this ‘room’, the policeman handcuffed me again, hands in the back, and made me walk further. Before leaving, I noticed a young boy, probably aged 14, in rags, waiting, handcuffed like me, in front of the Judge’s door.
Finally the Judge had not been as severe as he looked, but I was now exactly in the situation my father wanted: locked up till I got my BAC. I started to cry silently and, while he was guiding me, the policeman added:
"You cry now because you have been punished ? Well, that’s what happen to disobedient children."
He then led me to a typical prison van: a van with small cells inside it, I should say with small cages. He pushed me into one of the cages and locked the door. I could sit or stand, see through a tiny window fitted with with bars. I did not really feel in complete isolation since I could look through the bars defining my little cell. Three young boys were already in three small cells, all of them were sobbing.
A little bit later, the young boy in rags appeared and was pushed forcibly into another cell. He was sobbing and told me that the Judge had decided to separate him from his mother "for as long as needed to make a man of him". I learned later that his name was Paul Roulle. I did not ask any question because I felt very bad, and very uncomfortable with my handcuffs. I was also anxious for my future. Where were they going to take me and how are they going to treat me ? But most important for me, will I have the possibility to be reunited with Brigitte ?
A short time after that, two policemen appeared holding firmly a boy about my age. He was also handcuffed, but he had also a chain on his ankles. He had a defiant look and very long hair apparently parted in the middle, but also in disorder, rather messy and dirty. This boy told us that he was named Thomas Crestel.
Another policeman led then to the van three young boys, also handcuffed, who were placed in the remaining cells. They were obviously younger, they were silent and they were crying.
A guard in uniform entered the van which started to move towards our destination. Thomas started to speak and proudly said:
"My brother is a recidivist. He has previously been sent to a borstal, like what is happening to us. So I know how it is there. I tried to rob a bank with him and the Judge sentenced me to 1 year prison for what I did, a good robbery with my friends. That means that I will only spend a few months in the borstal. After that I will be sent to the adult prison. And you chaps ?"
The guard told us to keep silent if we did not want to be punished. But Thomas, who apparently did not care, added:
"So this time we have a rag boy and a dandy boy. Forget about all that. My brother has already been in such a place and he told me that they are dreadful. I will join him in a real prison very soon. But you will have to wear a special uncomfortable uniform and respect a very strict discipline. And you will lose your hair."
"Losing my hair ?" I asked. But the guard interfered.
"Quiet now, prisoners. You Crestel, I told you beforehand : you are punished for speaking in this car and you already earned one week in full isolation." These were the last words I heard before entering the institution where I had been sent.
Soon the van arrived in front of a door in a huge wall. Above the door was the inscription: "Disciplinary Institution for Boys Number 5". The door opened and the van entered in a sort of cage defining a small passage towards another wall and another gate. A guard closed the first door, which made an awful noise: I was in prison. Then the second gate opened and the van entered a very small courtyard, where it stopped. It had high walls without windows and on top of it there was barbed wire. I felt sad and oppressed by fear. This courtyard was just big enough for the van and a few men. Six men in a blue military like uniform were surrounding us. They opened our small cages and we were all told to get out in silence. Thomas wanted to speak but one the blue men warned him that it would cost him another week in isolation and that this "non productive time" would be added to his sentence.
A man wearing an elegant grey suit with a grey welcomed us:
"As of this instant, you are inmates of this disciplinary institution. It is not a prison, but it is the last step before the prison. For the time being, the Judge considers that you can still redeem yourself. That’s why you are here, you will learn in a school setting and you will also acquire a trade. Later, when I consider that you are ready, you will be placed as apprentice, and this should help you to get a decent job." He then turned to the three youngest ones and said: "I assign you to the first division. This guard will take you there and will lead you through the induction chain. GO NOW."
A big guard with stripes on his sleeves made a sign and the three young boys followed him, obediently, their head leaning forward, their hands still in their back and one of them at least was crying loudly. I have never seen them again and I don’t know why they were with us.
The man with the grey suit spoke further, looking at us, Paul, Thomas and me:
"For the time being, I assign you to the 3rd division. You will be called ‘Cadets’. UNDERSTOOD ?"
He had raised his voice for this question and we answered nearly simultaneously: "Yes, sir" except Paul who said "Yes, Your Honor".
The man then showed us the three men in blue uniform and added:
"These men are guards. They have a truncheon to stop you getting in trouble and to intervene between other inmates and you in case of emergency. You will address them as ‘Guard’. One of them has stripes on his sleeves. He is Chief Guard Morelli. You will address him as ‘Chief’. He has a stick to give you the required corporal punishment, whenever needed. As far as I am concerned, I am the director of this institution and you will address me as ‘Commander’."
He turned towards the Chief Guard and continued : "Chief, I leave them with you," and he left.
A guard with stripes on his sleeves, and a stick in his hand, told us:
"I am your chief guard and you are going to call me ‘Chief’. You will be called ‘Cadets’ as long as you have to stay in this disciplinary institution. This reform school is meant to transform you, little scums, into better citizens. You will now go through the usual chain in order to get your uniform. Each element of your uniform will have your number on it, so remember it. If you don’t behave the least I will do is to use my stick on you. But I can do much better if need."
The boy in rags, we learned, was called Paul and got the number 3,753. I was given the number 3,754 and Thomas the number 3,755. The Chief specified that we would not be called by that number, but simply that we had to use it to identify ourselves, especially to get our clothes ! Thomas tried to be funny, saying when his number was mentioned:
"Not for long, I am not going to stay here."
But The Chief started immediately to use his stick on him and Thomas remained silent thereafter.
The chief then simply said:
"Long hair, short discipline is the motto of this institution. I am going to take you through the induction chain and the first step will be the barber. Now follow me. In step. MARCH."
The Chief marched us thus to the first stop of our "welcome" chain: the barber. This was a small room with a barber’s armchair and a simple washbasin, but no mirror.
The Chief told the barber that he should take Paul first because he had the smallest number. Little Paul sat in the chair and was caped. Unluckily for him, the barber inspected his hair and noticed that it was full of lice. He thus took a special soap, washed energetically Paul’s head and then with an old fashioned razor, the barber carefully shaved completely young Paul’s head. Paul was now not only shorn to stubbles, but completely bald. He looked much older than he actually was. It did not take long, even with all the careful moves the barber had to do not to cut Paul’s ears, but Paul kept sobbing and calling "Mama, Mama" all the time. The chief turned towards us, Thomas and me, and said:
"This was done with a special razor. Should you ever misbehave you will be treated exactly like Paul. UNDERSTOOD cadets ?"
We replied obediently : "YES, Chief" but I thought, "He will never catch me at that game."
My turn came next. I courageously sat on the chair and I let the barber cape me. But I strongly reacted when the Chief said:
"Don’t leave him his mustache and take off that stupid beard."
I reacted: "You cannot do that, the judge did not sentence me to that."
The Chief came and gave me a brutal stroke with his stick saying:
"First you forgot to say Chief. Second, here I can do what I want with your hair. Thirdly, do you want me to replace my stick and give you a good whipping ? Reply NOW."
"No Chief, no whip. I agree Chief."
"Place your hands on the arms of this chair, quickly."
I did as he said and, with the barber, he quickly attached each of my arms to the chair using straps I had not noticed and he then attached my feet also. I was now in the impossibility to react … and I did not want to react anymore. I really felt physically that I was now a prisoner.
The barber first took care of my poor mustache. He pulled my head backwards so that he could, from behind me, have an easy access to my face. He took another razor than the one he had used for Paul, cleaned it, and after putting some cold water on my mustache (but no soap) he slowly and carefully destroyed it completely. He seemed to take some pleasure in that destruction. I could not see the result immediately, but I could see the long blade of the razor and feel the metal on my skin. It was really painful, especially with only cold water and no soap. I closed my eyes. I was full of rage but I could not do anything. I started to wonder what Brigitte would think of all this. And I suddenly saw her holding my strapped arms.
The barber then put some cold water on my nascent beard. With one hand he kept my head pulled back, with the other he moved his blade. I did not see it anymore, but again I could feel it and it hurt since he was not doing it smoothly. The barber pushed my head to the left, then to the right in order to finalize this severe shaving. I said nothing, knowing that I would be whipped otherwise. I kept my eyes closed and concentrated on the thought of my girlfriend.
When he was done, the barber turned the chair and without unstrapping me, he showed me a small hand mirror and asked me:
"Look, aren't you better looking like that ?"
I could now see my new face, which was also a not so old one. Pale, without the depth that my mustache and beard gave to it, I felt naked despite the fact that I was still completely dressed. I wondered whether Brigitte would still like kissing me now that I was clean-shaven.
"I don’t think so, Sir, but I respectfully accept what you did to my face."
"In any case, Cadet, you must come here every week so that I can keep you clean !"
"Chief," I said, "I realize that I disobeyed, but I am now ready for what’s coming for me. Could you please unstrap me, it is really uncomfortable."
"Cadet Ferrière, that’s your punishment. You will remain strapped and each time you will come here, you will voluntarily present your arms and feet to be strapped. UNDERSTOOD ?"
"Yes Chief" was my short reply to his barking.
"I did not hear you cadet. REPEAT."
"YES, CHIEF" and I shouted while replying.
"Proceed", said the Chief to the barber.
"Like the first one ?" asked the barber, and this was my fear.
"No, simply clean his head. The President said ‘Long hair, short discipline’, so give him short hair, but nicely cut he did not misbehave too much."
The barber examined my head and rapidly said:
"No lice, Chief"
"In that case leave him some hair."
The barber examined slowly and carefully my head and concluded:
"A nice skull. It should have a shortly adapted haircut, well sculpted."
I did not understand what he meant. He immediately started to work with his scissors. That was good for me, it meant that my hair would not be cut too short. In fact, I soon realized that the barber was simply getting rid, in very irregular way, of the excess of hair that did not let him ‘sculpt’ my haircut as easily as he wanted. The only thing I could see were my long blond locks of hair falling on the cape. I started to feel uncomfortable. The barber took then his clippers and I could feel that he had placed a guard. He placed one of his hands on my head (later I knew it was his left hand) to have full control of all my moves. I realized that I was no longer an independent human being with his choice of haircut, but a ‘thing’ held by the barber and moved in different directions, like he had done for the two others. That gave me a feeling of being in a way possessed. So I tried to console myself by thinking more intensely of Brigitte, my lovely girl. I suddenly realized that I was feeling well and, without saying more, that I had the impression that Brigitte was present. I kept my eyes closed. I let my imagination go, and I felt that Brigitte was leading me. I felt that my penis was growing and that was good. Luckily, I was able to control that strain of thoughts before I would have stained my trousers and get a punishment. Maybe get a baldy like Paul. I simply opened my eyes when I felt that it was too much. But I had also realized that I could make Brigitte be present for me, and only for me, and that this would help me during my detention.
Suddenly, the barber said:
"I am done, open your eyes. I will now unstrap you so you can feel how you are now after all that work."
I placed my right hand on my head and tried to guess what he had done. I had the impression that instead of hair I now had spikes, all over my head. But I could not see what exactly the barber had done with my nice haircut, and he did not let me look in his small mirror.
The Chief congratulated the barber who added that I should visit him once every week for the beard and once every two week to keep my hair clean. The Chief reminded him that:
"Each time, even if it is another barber, you must ask to be strapped to remind you of your first time."
"Understood, Chief" was my answer, a too obedient answer the Chief did not expect but which appeared to me to be wiser.
Thomas came last. He had no mustache so it was much quicker for him, but the process was the same as the one I had undergone. I could see the different steps taken by the barber to destroy the individuality of the boy, my co-prisoner. Thomas did not react, so he was not strapped, but the barber placed his huge left hand (that’s when I saw it) on Thomas’ head and started first cutting the long hair, and then shaving what was left. With his hand he had total control of the boy’s head, as if it were a gear change handle. He pushed it, pulled it, turned it, bent it until he had equalized all the visible hair.
In fact, he had made Thomas’s head completely round, with very short hair, probably 3 millimeters, like points in all direction but nicely organized. Thomas was thin and tall, his neck was long and that’s probably one of the reasons why, like me, he had let his hair grow. But now, he was really looking thinner and longer. On top of everything there was that a ball with points. He now looked like the brush that my mother was using against cobwebs. I assumed that the barber had done exactly the same for me. I realized what had been done to my hair and I started to cry, once more. I was thus no longer a gallant young adult with a mustache, not even an elegant teen with nicely displayed hair. I was a broom for cobwebs and a prisoner, with ears, ready to be used for cleaning. I hated the situation.
The next step in "this induction chain" was the disinfecting shower. The three of us were led to a shower room, told to undress completely and to abandon our clothes to a guard who would destroy them in case "there was some vermin" in it. That was also true for our socks and shoes. I objected saying:
"Chief, you cannot do that, these clothes are expensive and my mother bought them especially for me."
"Cadet Ferrière, again trying to rebel like with the barber ? I can’t strap you now, but I can bring you back to the barber and have your head completely shorn. Is that what you want ?"
"NO, CHIEF" was my rapid and loud reply.
"In that case keep quiet and obey."
We were thus completely in the nude when we were told to go each of us under one of the numerous shower heads. One guard came with a hose and sprayed each of us with what he called "a special product against vermin". We were then given a piece of soap and told to wash under the running water. The water was cold and as soon as I realized that, I jumped a side. The reaction came immediately: the Chief came next to me and started to hit me repeatedly with his stick, choosing my back and legs as aim. He said:
"You little scum, you don’t like to take a shower ? Answer immediately, dirty little scum."
"I like showers but this is cold water."
Another set of blows came immediately with those words:
"I told you to call me Chief, little scum. Say it and apologize."
"I apologize, Chief. I will not forget it."
"Do you like showers, even the cold ones meant for the criminals that you are ?"
"Yes Chief. I like it, but please don’t hit me anymore."
"I will hit you whenever it appears necessary. Go and wash."
This is how I got my first cold shower. It was not my last one ! After that we got a towel to get dried, "especially your hair" and we were taken to the clothing room. There each of us received a borstal boy uniform.
The uniform was simple. We first got white briefs, not very clean, one set each. Then a thick and itching and even scratching popover shirt, grey and very long. It was in cotton, but it was very uncomfortable. With the shirt came a black tie. We were told to button completely the shirt, which included the wrist buttons, and to put on our tie. The Chief had to help Thomas and Paul who did not know to put on a tie. He then explained:
"You are going to sleep with your briefs and shirt. At night, you are allowed to open the collar button but not the others. You can only open them when you wash in the morning. Immediately after that, you must button your shirt perfectly and put on your tie until it is bedtime" and he then shouted "UNDERSTOOD cadets ?"
We all shouted in reply: "YES CHIEF". Apparently the Chief was not able to speak without shouting.
Then came the rest of the uniform. Also grey and rather thick and itching. It was probably in heavy cotton, like real prisoners uniform. It was very uncomfortable. We got short pants without belt but with braces in the same cloth as the pants and attached to it ! Then came a sort of jacket, without any grace, with shoulder pads sawn to it. A piece of cloth, serving as belt, was attached to the lower part of this jacket. We were told to attach it tightly, after putting on our shirt and tie. The shoes were heavy black Army shoes, but the long socks were grey. I did not have the opportunity to see myself in a mirror but I could see Thomas and Paul. After this transformation, none of us looked like a teenager: the three of us looked like young boys, hairless very young boys. I had stopped wearing short pants until my parents sent me to Saint Thomas and I had gone back to long trousers since I was in Paris. Now it was back to ugly short pants. I really did not like the situation, but I had realized that I could not resist anymore.
None of the items I received was new. In it, I could see the numbers referring to the previous cadets who worn them before me, each of these number was now crossed and my number was written in it.
I expected to get also a grey beret, but the cover was a grey forage cap in a heavy cloth. We were told to place our forage cap under the left shoulder pad whenever we were inside, but to put it straight on our head, as soon as we were out; we were then supposed to check whether the bottom of the cap was exactly two fingers above our eyes !!! We also received a "duty uniform" meant for chores: it was simply a t-shirt, overalls and a plain jungle hat, all in orange and in a solid and rough fabric.
The Chief told us that the duty uniform had to be worn for chores and punishments. He also showed us how to march in step and how to salute "like good little soldiers". While he explained all that, he kept shouting. Later I learned that he had been Master-Sergeant in the French Army and that he had not forgotten the way he was giving orders there.