An hour later the cars stopped at a large building surrounded by a wire fence. The police officers herded Sally and her brothers and sisters through double doors into a large room. A sign over the door read “Juvenile Hall.”
Suddenly another door opened. A tall man wearing khaki pants and shirt marched across the room. “You three, come with me,” he said, pointing to Lynn, Glenn, and Bob.
Sally tried to scream, but no sound came out. Another door opened and crashed against the wall. A large woman, wearing an identical uniform, burst into the room. The metal taps on her boots clicked on the wooden floor as she walked toward Sally and her sisters and little brother, Grover.
The woman towered above Sally and looked at her through dark, close-set eyes that sat on each side of a hawk beaklike nose. She pinched her lips into a thin line and pushed a stray lock of hair into the clip that held her hair in a bun at the back of her head. She picked up Alice and snarled, “My name is Iona. Come with me.”
They followed Iona meekly into a long, dark hall. She opened another door and pushed Sally, Grover, Alice, and Anita inside the room. “Go to sleep. I’ll come for you in the morning.”
Two single beds sat under a barred window. Anita removed their shoes and tucked them under one of the beds. She climbed into the other one. Alice and Grover fell asleep immediately, but Sally lay silent, staring into the darkness. She heard muffled cries. “Are you all right?” she asked.
Anita didn’t answer. After a long time the sobbing stopped.
Sally awoke just as a narrow band of light formed on the horizon. She got out of bed and stared through the window. Suddenly she realized that she was wet and smelled like urine. “Grover and Alice both wet the bed, and it’s all over me,” she groaned.
The door opened and Iona walked in. “It stinks in here,” she said, grabbing Sally’s hand. “You’re going to the showers.”
Sally wanted to explain that Grover and Alice wet the bed because they felt frightened, but Iona just yanked her toward the door. She turned and looked back at her brother and sisters. Tears ran down her cheeks. She didn’t bother to wipe them away.
Iona stripped Sally and shoved her into a shower room with water jets on two walls. Ten other girls her age stood beneath them. No one spoke. They stared at her. She wanted to scream and run away, but Iona grabbed her. She pointed to a large room where 20 cots lined the walls. Tall, metal cabinets separated each cot.
“Dry off and go in there,” Iona instructed. In the room a dozen or so girls stood in line. A woman, wearing a white apron over her uniform, smiled as she gathered clothes from cubicles that lined a wall and handed them to each girl. One by one they took their clothes. With drooping shoulders and sad faces, they returned to their own cot and dressed.
Sally put on a faded blue dress that hung off her shoulders and reached well past her knees. She pulled brown-and-white shoes over baggy socks. She looked at herself. Who is this girl? she thought. Why am I here?
When everyone finished dressing, they walked to a dining hall. The woman with the white apron and kind eyes piled eggs and cereal onto a tray. She handed it to Sally. “Try to eat some breakfast,” she said, smiling. Sally looked up at her. She wanted to say something, but she couldn’t speak. She turned away and flopped down at a table.
“You’d better eat quickly,” a girl, as thin as her voice, urged. “My name’s Marty. I’m 10.”
Ten minutes later a voice rang out. “Girls!”
Everyone stopped eating, stood up, then formed a line at the doorway. Iona stood there, glaring at them. “You’ll be late for school,” she growled.
The girls moved forward. Outside they stumbled along a cracked concrete sidewalk past a row of wooden houses, eventually stopping at a chain-link fence. Iona opened a gate and they entered a schoolyard.
“Look!” a boy yelled through an open window. “The juvie kids are here!”
A girl made faces at them. “Murderers!” she cried, slamming the window shut.
“What’s a juvie kid?” Sally asked Marty.
“We live at Juvenile Hall. That’s why they call us that.”
“But why did that girl call us murderers?” Sally asked, staring wide-eyed at the children clustered at the windows.
“I killed my father,” Marty said. Her eyes looked at some distant place, and a tear slid down her face.
“But you’re only 10!” Sally gasped. Marty didn’t answer.
Iona led Sally into a classroom. She handed the teacher a sheet of paper and marched out of the room without looking back. Sally had never felt so alone in all her life. She sat rigid and silent at her desk. A great black cloud drooped over her. She wanted to break out of the darkness, but she couldn’t. Why am I here? she wondered. Where are my parents?
The days followed each other, tumbling together in a jumble of fear. One afternoon Sally heard familiar voices. She spotted Lynn, Glenn, and Bob shooting baskets in a court beyond the chain-link fence that surrounded her building. “Bob!” she cried out.
The boys stopped playing. They ran to the fence and grasped each other’s fingers through the wire. “We live in that barrack,” Glenn said, pointing to a long, two-story building behind him.
“We live with criminals,” Bob announced.
“I do too,” Sally sobbed. “But we aren’t criminals, are we?”
“Of course not,” Anita said, coming up behind Sally.
Sally threw herself into Anita’s arms. “Mother and Father are going to get us out of here. When they got back to “the building,” the police had already taken us away. It’s true that juvenile hall is a jail for kids, but abandoned children, like us, stay here too.”
“Mother would never abandon us!” Sally shouted.
Anita went on. “I asked one of the guards to tell me why they brought us here. She told me that Mother went with Father to take care of some business. He didn’t want to come back when he promised her that he would, and Mother had no way to come back until he was ready. A neighbor called the people at juvenile hall and said they saw children in a small building with no parents around. So they came and took us away.”
A siren blew. “We have to go,” Bob said. The boys turned and walked toward the gray building. At the door, they waved and went inside.
That night when Sally sobbed into her pillow, a thought came to her. God just eased your way. You got to see your brothers and sisters. Be patient. God will fix this problem.
The next six months passed slowly. Sally couldn’t shake off the sadness that had settled over her. One night she awoke coughing. Her head ached, and she gasped in short, shallow breaths.
Marty sat up. “What’s the matter, Sally?” she asked.
“Oh, my chest hurts!” she responded, trying to stand up. She felt dizzy and fell onto the floor.
“Help!” Marty cried out. “Somebody help Sally!”
A light flipped on. Iona stood in the doorway. She ran toward Sally, picked her up, and hurried down the hall.
Moments later an ambulance roared up to juvenile hall. A man in a white suit carried Sally to the ambulance. He placed an oxygen mask over her face.
“Hurry,” Iona commanded, slamming the ambulance doors shut.
“Ease my way, God,” Sally whispered, and then she passed out into darkness.