By Michael Wayne Hunter
"Hey, Mike," Golden, an Education Clerk, called. Walking across the soccer field, he added, "Got a minute?"
Taking a break from picking up trash, I pulled off my gloves and took a seat on a wooden bench. "What's up?"
"Some floater cop came out of the Program Office and saw copies of porno in a student's hands. After he ordered the class down, he radioed Officer Cope. Man! Cope's really mad. Pulled Rey and me into his office, said one of us had to cop to making the copies or we're both fired. Rey's taking the bullet. Mrs. Kitt wants you to take Rey's spot."
"Got a job."
"You're joking. Picking up trash on the yard crew is not a job. Don't even got a pay number."
I had just graduated from the prison college program with an Associate's degree and completed the Office Services and Related Technology training, so walking around on the yard in the sunshine picking up trash was kind of cool. I wasn't in any hurry to return to Education.
"I like Mrs. Kitt," I said lazily. "If she needs someone to fill in for awhile, I'll do it. But you need to recruit someone else, I only want to do it for a month or so."
Pulling my gloves back on, I picked up the plastic bag and walked more meandering circles picking up wrappers. Eventually, the yard opened, prisoners came flooding out of housing units, and I dropped the plastic bag into a trashcan and hung out with my hoodlum friends.
"Mike, Mike," Rey got at me and told me the same story, except his version had Golden taking the bullet.
Keeping the conflict to myself, I agreed to fill in very temporarily.
In the morning, I was on the early education release list and went off to breakfast before reporting to school.
"What's up, Cope?"
"You're taking Anderson's place," Officer Cope clued me.
"Thought I was working for Mrs. Kitt?"
"Caught Anderson copying tattoo patterns, so he's falling for the porno too. You're working for Mr. Less."
Stopping by the janitorial closet, I stuck my head inside. "What's up, Evil?"
I first met Evil when I was assigned to the G.E.D. class as a student. Now graduated, he stayed on working for Officer Cope, keeping the place clean When he wasn't cleaning, he had a desk in the janitorial closet where he worked on drawings.
"Heard you were back. Big mistake working for Mr. Less."
"Man's got problems. Need anything?"
"Could use a couple of pencils."
In the classroom, I met Mr. Less. Late thirties, early forties, pudgy, red face, and although his breath smelled of mints, it didn't disguise the sour smell of alcohol boiling out of the pores of his skin. A hardcore drinker.
Introducing myself, I fell into the chair next to Timm, my fellow education clerk. A tall but slight prisoner, he moved in a quick, nervous way.
"Johnson," Timm called to a teenaged prisoner with fresh prison tattoos on his neck and arms, "where's your I.D.?"
"I'm holding onto it. Trying to get into the canteen at break."
"I'll try to get it to you at break." Timm held out his hand for the I.D.
"Are you deaf? Not giving it to you." Johnson turned and walked away.
"Hate this," Timm whispered to me. "Cope will flip if all the identification cards aren't turned in."
"Count is safety and security of the institution," I replied. "Prisoners aren't s'pose to collect I.D.'s."
"Mr. Less won't do it."
Shaking my head, I started going through student files and found a haphazard mess. Files for students no longer on the class roster, no files for students on the roster. No file was complete. Sighing, I started typing termination chronos for the students no longer in the class and created files for the students who didn't have one. As I typed, I glanced around the classroom. No assignments had been handed out. One student, apparently on his own, was studying from the G.E.D. math book. The rest of the students were socializing, the noise was a living, breathing entity, prowling 'round the room. Not exactly an academic atmosphere. Mr. Less opened a diet soda, but did not lift the drink to his lips. Bending, he brought his lips to the drink. The alcoholics trick to thwart trembling hands.
"Keep it down," Officer Cope ordered from the classroom door. Noise died away. "Where's the count?"
"Johnson's I.D. isn't there," Timm flat out told.
"Johnson," Cope barked and held out his hand and received an I.D. from Johnson.
"Fuckin' rat!" Johnson growled at Timm after Cope was gone.
"Cope would've seen your I.D. wasn't there and come back for it," Timm defended himself.
Mr. Less kept drinking diet soda with a single-minded focus and ignored everything going on around him.
"We're not the I.D. police," I said dismissively to Timm. "Just write I.D.'s on a box, put it on the side of your desk and have the students drop them off. Any I.D.'s not in the box aren't your problem."
Timm looked stubborn, but didn't say anything although he did place a box marked I.D. on his desk.
"Mr. Less," I approached him awhile later and he was on a third or fourth diet soda, "I've updated the student files and need you to sign the termination chronos."
"Don't sign 'em."
"Don't sign anything."
"Really? I shouldn't send the files to the Education Office without your signature."
"Bastards are always out to get you," he said harshly with a distant look on his face. "Can't get you for what you don't sign." Didn't seem angry, just full of poison eating away his mind.
Shrugging, I packed up the dead files without his signature and addressed the routing slip to the Education Office. Slipping a few pencils in my pocket, I dropped them with Evil and delivered the files to Officer Cope's office for the interdepartmental mailbox.
"How's it going in there?" Office Cope asked.
"Zoo. I'm not down for this job."
"Well, you're mine for now. Don't do too much."
As I went back to class, I wondered, what in the hell does, "Don't do too much" mean?"
"Where are the class assignment sheets?" I asked Timm.
"We don't have any."
"No lessons? This is a classroom. How do you generate quarterly progress reports? Hell, how do you teach anything?"
Helplessly, Timm raised his hands palms up.
You need to worry a little less about Count, I thought, and a bit more about educating someone. A student came up and asked me for paper, and I gave him a half dozen sheets.
"Mr. Hunter," Mr. Less stopped drinking soda and called me over.
"Do not hand out supplies without authorization."
"Just some paper for a student."
"Don't do it again."
As I went back to my desk, I noticed the paper I had handed out was morphing into airplanes and soon they were soaring around the room.
"Screwed me," I got at Golden and Rey during break. "Said I would help Mrs. Kitt and now I'm stuck with a drunk. I think Anderson got caught on purpose and rode your beef just to get out of there."
Golden and Rey grinned and did not deny.
Hitting the yard, I asked the yard crew officer for my job back, but she said not unless Officer Cope released me.
Alarm. The yard went down. I looked around and Timm was getting bombed on by one of our students. Hitting the ground, Timm curled up in fetal position, pummeled until guards came, chemically sprayed, stopping the beating.
Alarm cleared, I went back to class. Only a handful of students were there, the rest were hiding out on the yard. Less didn't seem to notice or care.
The sole student who had been studying approached Mr. Less with his math book. Jerking his chair back, Mr. Less said, "Mr. Hunter, tell the students not to come to my desk unless ordered."
Waving the student over. "Mike," I introduced myself, "What's up?"
"Terry," he replied and we shook hands. "Having trouble memorizing the geometry formulas. Is there a trick to it?"
"Don't have to memorize them. When you test, they give you a formula sheet."
"Mr. Less said I had to memorize them."
I had Terry pull up a chair to my desk, and we worked through the G.E.D. math book. Not the best or worst student, but Terry worked hard.
Officer Cope told me Timm had locked up over safety concerns. I was on my own with Mr. Less. I did the Count and turned in whatever I.D.'s were in the box. If someone held their I.D., that was Cope's problem.
A series of prospective clerks came and went. The ones who were qualified took one look at Mr. Less and didn't want it; the ones who wanted the job weren't qualified.
Rene came to visit me and I told her I was about to quit. If they wrote me up for refusing an assignment, so be it.
"Didn't you say a student was working hard, preparing for the G.E.D. exam?"
"People aren't apples or oranges, you don't quantify them with numbers. One student is as valuable as a whole class. If you have a student who wants to learn, you have to teach him. If not you, Michael, who?"
I went back to work. Evil came to the classroom and let me know the class's supplies were in Officer Cope's office. In the hallway, Evil told me, "Two of the reams in your box aren't on your inventory. They're cardstock for my drawings."
Checking the inventory form, Evil was right, two of the reams weren't listed. Evil showed me three red dots on the labels his homeboy in supply had placed to identify his reams.
"Where did he get the cardstock?"
"Graphic arts print shop," Evil said easily. "Rewraps them as typing paper and puts them in your box."
Handing over the reams to Evil, I brought the rest of the supplies to our classroom and had difficulty placing them in our supply cabinet because it was filled to overflowing with paper, pencils, markers, highlighters, folders, envelopes, typewriter ribbons, erasers, glue sticks and much, much more. Mr. Less never issued anything.
"Where are the other two reams?" Mr. Less paused from guzzling diet soda.
"This matches our inventory."
"Thought there were two more reams in our box."
"Thought I was going to work for Mrs. Kitt," I said somewhat offensively, "guess that's why they're called thoughts not facts."
Over the next few weeks a series of event kept cancelling class. Mr. Less' alarm broke, the classroom power blew, the bolts on the door latch sheared off, we missed day after day.
Studying carefully the sheared bolts, Officer Cope told Mr. Less, "Just prop the door open and have class."
"This's a safety and security issue," Mr. Less argued.
"Yes, you're right, and I'm in charge of safety and security. You're having class."
"Those bolts must have been deliberately sheared off," I observed.
"But I don't see how a student could have done it."
"It was on purpose, but not by a student," Officer Cope said levelly.
Mr. Less turned even redder than usual, closed his eyes and slumped in his chair.
"Oh," I said.
Quarterly progress tests were dropped off by Mrs. Wells, the testing coordinator, and Mr. Less locked them in his desk.
"Think we should hand the tests out now," I told Mr. Less, thinking how most of the class didn't return from break.
"You have our roles confused, Mr. Hunter. I'm in charge here."
A few days later, Mrs. Wells came back for the tests and they weren't done. After Mrs. Wells and Mr. Less argued for a few minutes, Mrs. Wells turned to me. "Didn't you do the testing for Miss Mills?"
"Can you have them by Friday?"
"If I'm given access to them."
Under her intense stare, Mr. Less unlocked his desk and gave me the tests. Using the student files, I started filling out the student test registration forms.
"Mr. Hunter," Mr. Less said 'tween sucking sips of soda, "the students need to fill out the forms."
"You want the forms filled out by the students or correctly?"
"Filled out correctly by the students."
Rising out of my chair, I stood over Mr. Less and he visibly shrank back. "I'd like you to fill out my time card correctly," I said sharply.
"Even with the days off due to the mysterious sabotage, I worked 97 hours and you paid me for 73 hours."
"Can't prove that."
"Sure, I can. I do the Count sheets and have the records right here. You stole exactly four dollars and thirty two cents from me."
"Maybe, I need another clerk."
Putting aside the test forms, I typed an unassignment chrono for myself, gave it to Mr. Less for his signature, and then went back to work.
At the end of the day, Mr. Less gave me back the chrono, and said, "I can’t sign it without cause. You could appeal unassignment and win."
Placing it on his desk, I replied, "Guarantee you I won't appeal. Unassignment would be a blessing. Anytime you want me gone, just sign it and send it in."
Less never did sign the chrono nor did he stop shorting hours on my time card.
Predictably, the only one to take the testing seriously was Terry. Although the test only had 38 questions, the scantron had 50 answer blanks and most students randomly filled in all fifty. Packing up the test materials, I sent them to Mrs. Wells.
Johnson was caught smuggling supplies out of Education. Handing the confiscated bag of supplies to me, Officer Cope said, "Looked like he'd gained weight around the middle so I searched him."
The bag had Elmer's glue, packing tape, and a few other items I knew hadn't come from our supply cabinet, but I put them away anyway.
"Give me back my stuff!" Johnson pressed up on me the next day at my desk.
"Back up!" I snapped.
"Deal with this in the bathroom," he challenged me.
Sliding a sharp brand new pencil in my back pocket, I reluctantly followed him.
Knuckling up, Johnson advanced on me in the bathroom threatening, "Give me my stuff. Not telling you again."
"You all right, Mike?" Evil came out of the janitorial closet.
"Don't concern you," Johnson barked.
"This's my house," Evil said evenly, almost disinterestedly.
Looking back and forth at each of us, Johnson finally pleaded, "Look, I got debts. Need the stuff back."
"You need something, ask," I said, "don't start demanding."
“Just like Timm,” Johnson replied angrily and started stomping out. "Covering for Less."
"Strapped?" Evil inquired.
Feeling really foolish, I showed him the pencil.
Laughing, Evil lifted his shirt, displaying a six-inch stainless steel bone crusher.
"Pencil was all I could get in a hurry," I explained defensively.
"Next time stop by, I'll front you steel."
"This's crazy! Lots of drama over some tape and glue worth maybe twenty dollars on the yard."
"Twenty is a lot if you owe and don't got it," Evil observed. "Mike, why you sweating state supplies?"
"Not," I denied, but as the words came out I realized I'd been sitting on supplies for Less. For what? I wondered.
"Always got your back, but remember you're not Less' boy."
Nodding, walking out, Officer Cope short stopped me. "Johnson just checked in for drug debts."
"I'm close to retirement. Don't wreck yourself or me."
"Got you, Cope."
As I started to walk by, he added, "Don't do too much, but that classroom is your house."
I loosened up on supplies. After all the cabinet was bursting at the seams. As I handed out paper, I told them I better not see any paper airplanes. Only Terry studied, but other students drew, wrote letters or rap lyrics. Others created origami figures and turned them into mobiles. The chaos got a bit calmer. Of course Mr. Less objected to it all, but I ignored him and he gave up and focused on his sodas.
"Mr. Hunter, are you a spiritual man?" Mr. Less asked one day, he seemed a bit clearer than usual.
Thought about telling him it was none of his business, but then said, "I'm a Deist."
"A reasoned belief in God," he mused in an abstract way. "The clockwork universe fits you. I studied Deism in seminary."
Seminary? Never thought of Mr. Less as spiritual. Communing with a glass of spirits, but never the Holy Spirit. What path led him here? But then what path led any of us here?
Terry passed the G.E.D. and I planned on attending his graduation.
"Once again you're confused about your role," Mr. Less said pompously when I told him my plans, "I'm canceling class and attending as his teacher. You're not invited."
Your title is teacher, I thought savagely, but Socrates would not recognize you as one.
With Terry graduated and not one student preparing for exams, I was ready to bounce, but Mr. Less beat me to it. Transferred to a position at a minimum-security prison.
"How do you think he'll do there?" Office Cope asked, as I closed out student files.
"Well, Mr. Less is taking himself with him, so I suspect it will be all bad."
Through the interdepartmental mail, an evaluation came to my cell.
Perhaps the only one Mr. Less had ever written. Fighting the impulse to throw it away unread, I must confess I peeked. "Mr. Hunter is an excellent education clerk..."
My eyes drifted downward, it was unsigned.
Laughing, I threw it away.
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Wayne Hunter. All rights reserved.