From Crooked Grow the Trees by Carmel Hanes
She heard the rhythmic pounding long before she reached the source. Panting from the exertion of running up a flight of stairs, Sophia leapt the remaining two steps and quickly opened the door with her key. Rushing into the staff observation room, she tried to catch her breath while scanning the scene through the glass.
Beyond the wall Quinn slammed a chair repeatedly against the wall. THUD…THUD… THUD echoed through the unit as the plastic chair quivered with each contact. The doorway into the unit was barricaded with a bookshelf and couch. Books and papers lay strewn across the floor between upended chairs, sogging in water from an overturned cleaning bucket. The unit’s television lay on the floor among glass shards.
Four of Quinn’s peers huddled in the corner farthest away from the staff window, their faces reflecting a mixture of excitement and trepidation as they stared at Quinn. Stripped of power, the residents were impressed when one of their own rose up to seize control. But, like a tornado a safe distance away which suddenly changes course to come your way, they knew rage’s funnel could shift without notice and touch down on whatever was near and accessible. None of them wanted to find themselves in the crosshairs of his emotional rifle, having witnessed his previous escalations with staff.
“Come on you rent-a-cops!” Quinn taunted. “Come on in. What’s stopping you?” THUD…THUD….THUD. “Bunch of sissy girls? S’matter….you afraid of a plastic chair? Who’s big and tough now? Hiding behind that glass…you ain’t NOTHIN’!”
The yellow blur of plastic chair smashed against the window, making Sophia jump. Quinn’s hand followed the chair and slammed against the glass as he glared through to those inside. Spotting Sophia, he stopped abruptly as they stared at each other for a frozen moment; Sophia, hoping her presence might make some difference for him, and Quinn, startled enough by the unexpected that his fight momentarily froze. His face contorted as a tug-of-war ensued between years of pent-up rage and hatred, and his desire to earn his freedom from places like this, people like these. An avalanche of thoughts tumbled…images, feelings, experiences… screaming voices; the smell of burnt flesh, feces and stale beer; the welting pain of belts on his body; unable to move, or to breath; and fear, overwhelming, paralyzing fear. Quinn’s entire body trembled as he covered his face with his hands and turned from the window. An anguished roar erupted as he paced through the unit, head down. Passing items in disarray on the floor, he kicked them aside, but did not pick any up to throw. As he paced he gave a wide berth to the four continuing to watch warily from the corner.
“I want to go in and talk to him,” Sophia asserted quietly to Eliza, the unit manager.
“Are you NUTS?” Eliza’s reply was immediate. “Absolutely NOT! I’m responsible for safety here, and no one is safe going in there to talk to that lunatic. I’ve already called for backup from MSU. He’s going into lockdown!” Eliza crossed bulky arms over her chest with an expression that dared disagreement.
“I don’t think he will hurt me, and I’m not afraid of him,” Sophia countered. “I can already see he’s coming down, and I think I can help him continue to do that. If you bring in staff from MSU he’s likely to escalate again.”
“Well, if he does, it just proves what I’ve been trying to tell everyone; he’s dangerous and he doesn’t belong here. Maybe now someone will listen, before someone else gets hurt! I’m not going to try to open that door without backup!” Eliza replied stubbornly.
“Can I try to talk to him through the med slot?” Sophia knew when she was in a standoff. Although not ideal, talking to Quinn through a small opening was preferable to not being able to talk to him at all, and this was a critical moment for him.
Eliza raised an eyebrow at Sophia and made a small derisive noise, but simultaneously nodded in consent. “If he throws something at you through there, just remember that I warned you.”
Carmel Hanes worked as a school psychologist for over thirty years in public school and detention centers with students identified as being the most challenging for classrooms. She provided evaluations for special education, consultation and training for teachers and parents, and counseling with students. Upon retirement, she wrote the novel, Crooked Grow the Trees, based on her years of experience and observations of the challenges faced by many of us, young and old
Q1. Sweet or savoury? When you are heading for that midnight snack are you looking for cake or cheese? Tell us your secret craving
While I usually try to eat healthy, my culinary nemesis is potato chips with cottage cheese, an old family favorite, and no meal is complete without a bite of chocolate at the end.
Q2. If you had to choose the three people whose influence on your life and writing was greatest, who would they be? One author. One inspirational person. One person who just loves the heck out of you.
My husband of 38 years gets first mention, for his steadfast support, encouragement and understanding. He is the calm that keeps me from running aground in a turbulent world. Although fictional, Atticus Finch gets next mention, as he was my role model as a father and a fine human being, modeling values I continue to hold to this day. It’s impossible to choose one author who influenced me, so it’s a three-way tie between Harper Lee, Barbara Kingsolver, and Sue Monk Kidd; each offering something that stuck with me over the years.
Q3. What achievement are you most proud of? And what makes you cringe just thinking about it?
The thing I most appreciate is being told by a student that our contacts were helpful, and to see a person being more functional and feeling more happy. I cringe thinking about all the things I might have done differently if I knew then what I know now….about life in general, but especially in my work with kids.
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