As I was driving my truck today, with the stereo dialed to my favorite oldies channel, a song began playing and I was instantly transported back to 1966. The song was “Homeward Bound” by Simon and Garfunkel. I could see myself, clear as day, a fifteen year-old boy lying face down on the concrete floor of the solitary building in the Oklahoma State School for Boys at Helena, Oklahoma.
I lay my head close to the door so I could listen to the guard’s radio playing. His desk was at the end of a corridor with isolation cells on either side. There was no way to see out of the small window, because it was covered with a metal door, but I could still hear the music through the crack at the bottom. That was the only good thing about the “no talking” policy. It provided absolute silence except for the jingling of keys when the guard made his hourly rounds to ensure we were all still breathing.
As I listened to the song I made up my mind that I was going homeward bound as soon as I was released back into general population. After my time in the hole was served I was sent back to my dormitory and was welcomed back by my friends. I told them that I was leaving and they could have whatever they wanted out of my lock box after I was gone. Two of them, Gary and Jimmy, smiled and Gary said, “You’re not leaving me here.” Jimmy made the same declaration so we started watching the different night shift guards to figure out the best time and night to leave, and how to get out of the third floor of our dorm. The institution was wrapped with a very high chain-link fence with three strands of barbed wire, but we were young and knew we could make that climb, easily. We would worry about the barbed wire atop the fence when we got to it.
After a few days we discovered that a guard named Mr. Hess was our best bet, because he always went down to the second floor to visit another guard after lights out.
The windows were covered with metal louvers, but they were on the inside of the actual windows, so we could work on loosening those without having to raise the window sash. Jimmy brought a screwdriver from the shop in which he worked and as soon as Mr. Hess left the floor we began working on the louvers. I was surprised how easy it was to spread the sides of the metal frame and remove the louvers. After taking out three of the slats we squeezed through the opening and dropped to the ground three floors below. It was a very dark night and I could not see the ground, so I had to guess as to when I would land. I guessed wrong. My legs were too relaxed and when I hit the ground my knee came up and caught me below my left eye nearly knocking me unconscious. After a few seconds, staying in the shadows as long as possible, we made out way to the fence.
Thanks to adrenalin and fear of being caught we scaled the fence in no time, but then we came to the barbed wire. One thing I can tell you about barbed wire, that is slanted inward, at the top of chain-link fence is you either go over it or you don’t. If you go over you will get cut. We tried our hardest to make it over clean, but that didn’t happen. When we hit the ground on the outside of the fence we were all cut in several place. Luckily, the cuts were mostly superficial, but there were cuts on our hands, legs, stomachs, and my face. With the bloody cut under my chin and my black eye I looked as though I had just went twelve rounds in a boxing ring. However, I was out and homeward bound. Or, so I thought.
Nineteen hours later I was caught and returned to the hole. I only spent two weeks in solitary and was released back into gen pop. My friends asked when I was going to jump the fence again, and I informed them that my fence jumping days were over. Later on in life I attempted to take a couple more unauthorized road trips, but that is for another day. Several Simon and Garfunkel songs make me think of those days at Helena, Oklahoma, but I still listen to them today.
“Youth is wasted on the young.” George Bernard Shaw.