I sat on a steel folding chair near the men’s room in the back of the Nassau County Probation Department. Around me, the delinquents of our society waited for their names to be called by their probation officer.
The officers appeared from a doorway beside the reception desk, often holding a plastic cup for urine samples and directing, “Come with me.”
Sitting away from the others, I watched the faces of different criminals. Some were younger and perhaps there for the first time. Some were older and more experienced.
In the front row, a tall thin woman stood next to her frail looking son. The boy sat in the first chair in the front row. He was short, with a hooked nose, and his hair was unfashionably curled in a rusty-colored ball that puffed over his ears.
His freckles were muddy brown and the wiry steel from his braces were crusted with food.
The mother wore a loud multicolored dress, with shiny red boots that came up to her knee. Her age had not been kind and the sagginess of her breasts, pushed from the top of her low-cut V-neck, exposing the crinkled stretch marks and loose skin.
“You’re gonna end up just like your father,” she told the boy.
His blue eyes were fixed on the tiled floor and his orange colored eye lashes flickered as he blinked in silence. It was clear that he had been crying.
His face was red, as if he was slapped, and his oversized polo shirt seemed ripped to the side, as if he were dragged from his shoulder and made to sit down.
The mother’s teeth were yellow and her long, poorly dyed hair appeared to be broken. Her voice was raspy and loveless, and her long fingernails curled with yellow stains, perhaps from smoking long cigarettes with a curved ash that dangled at the end.
She scolded, “You better hope this goes well!”
Finally, after being degraded in front of his fellow convicts, a short man with a comb-over hair style, wearing brown pants, a light brown shirt, and brown orthopedic shoes, appeared from the corridor and called the young boy’s name.
“Get up,” said the mother.
She tugged on the shoulder of his baggy shirt, and still averting his eyes from his whorish looking mother, the boy stood and followed direction.
Sitting nearby, an overweight man with long hair and a long beard folded his arms and blurted, “I’d rather do time than have to go home with that bitch!”
Some of the others in the waiting room laughed, but I kept quiet.
I knew what the boy was in for. I knew his probation officer.
I knew all about his bad breath and the flaky dandruff that mingled in the strands of his combed-over hair.
I knew because I had been visiting the same probation officer for nearly three years. And each visit, he asked the same questions. He told the same jokes, and he looked as if he wore the same clothes.
After several minutes, the waiting area returned to its normal quiet.
Suddenly, a slamming noise came from down the hall and the odd looking boy stormed out from the corridor.
His shiny metal teeth snarled and his fists clenched as he marched like a child sent to his room without supper.
He anxiously poked at the elevator call buttons, and as his mother shouted for him while clapping her heavy boots against the floor in an awkward run, the boy ducked into the elevator, and then he nervously pressed the buttons until the doors shut.
As she stood in front of the elevators, the overweight man mumbled, “Run kid, run,” and then he laughed.
The woman looked back over her shoulder. Her eyes closed slightly with rage as she charged, “He’s your son, asshole!”
Suddenly, my life wasn’t so bad….