It was the end of the first year of my life in the pen (penitentiary); well that’s what attending a boarding school felt like. It wasn’t an open campus so I was confined within the premises of the oldest boarding school to date, Chemawa Indian School, in the same area with the same people doing the same routine every day. Every day for about three years but that’s nothing compared to the age of the 112 year old school. It was initially a manual labor school that to helped integrate Native people within mainstream culture back in 1835. Jason Lee, a Methodist missionary, assembled the school to help Native students develop skills for trade rather than assimilate. It wasn’t until 1927 that it became a legitimate high school that encouraged Native culture. So much for the original plan, guys. I was mentally liberated while physically limited in space. My perspectives were free (I got to talk as much shit as I wanted and no one minded) with the people I’ve chosen to build a strong bond with, a consequence of restricted places. These people represented states from all over the U.S., helping shape the demographic of Chemawa. Some states included Alaska, Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, and, of course, the Pacific Northwest states. If anyone wanted to leave, they would have to be checked out by a family member or someone at least twenty-five years old. Don’t get me wrong, there were town trips that allowed students to go shopping, but that was usually on the weekends on a first come first serve basis so, it wasn’t a guarantee that one would get to interact with civilization again. There was a time that I didn’t know what was going on in the outside world. All of us honor roll students would sometimes be granted a trip to the movies. On these trips I wouldn’t realize the five latest movies that were out, I didn’t know about, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire being one of them.
Opportunity. An option that many students turn to, to release their selves from these temporary shackles was to make an escape route. If it wasn’t for the damn campus’ 86 acres being fenced in, sneaking off campus would be a lot easier. Oh, they had gotten us good, the school that is. On many occasions, the pals and I would accompany the fences along a lonely but noisy, dirt road that was off limits. To our discovery, there were patches of holes in the fences, giving evidence of others making a prison break. But they had gotten us again; we were required to check in every three hours and knowing that the campus was about an hour away from places actually worth going to on foot, there wouldn’t be enough time to get back before we were considered A.W.O.L.
May 17th 2006. It was track season still. Everybody on campus had gone home except the dedicated track stars. It was the Tri-River Conference taking place at Western Oregon University that kept me here an extra week. It was the fact that I wanted to go home. But it was me who felt punished for being strong in shot and discus. This is why I ended up placing 3rd for shot put. It was to prevent me from going to state which would cost another week. It was also my coach who aggravated the pressure of going to state. He knew I wanted to go home so he bribed but not even a bribe of being treated to Bullwinkle’s every day worked to keep me here longer.
Yard Time: Our Opportunity. Two out of ten dorms were open. Fewer dorms meant fewer staff. Fewer staff and students meant a free campus. A free campus with no one around sounds appealing enough to take advantage of the space, but it only increased the mischief in my mind to do other things. Bored out of our gourds, my buddy Brooke and I thought this was the best time to escape the usual scene, momentarily. Brooke was a runner in the 4K, making her a vital person on our team; there weren’t many females on the team that were long distance runners. I, on the other hand, represented the field events for our team. Anyways, this idea of ditching the home base seemed possible because we didn’t have to check in. As a spur of the moment type of thing, due to a craving of Hot Cheetos, we headed in search for a hole in the fences.
Prison Break. The trail we took was behind the football stadium. Behind it were rusty old sheds, with broken desks and tables piled outside, where I thought maintenance kept their equipment. Every time I crossed paths with these sheds, I could never shake the thought of a student back in December 2003 who died of alcohol poisoning in a mysterious cell on campus, intoxicated. Wow, of course something like this would happen at Chemawa. I always imagined that she was locked in one of these very sheds in delirium and no one knew where she was. This area was convenient because it was covered in trees that couldn’t be seen from the main campus. It was also bad because it was beside one of maintenance’s headquarters. They weren’t necessarily keepers of us but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t report us if given the chance. Sometimes it felt like the school was always waiting a student to do something bad. On our way searching for a fence hole, the trail’s trees were covering us for some time, walking until we hit uneven land that was higher than the rest exposing us on a prairie-like plain as if we were easy lion’s prey on the Savanna. I feared staff would spot us out from the main campus. Once we found a hole on a corner where two fences intersected, we jumped through the fence as if the campus was about to explode. There isn’t any other feeling compared to knowing you’re doing something wrong with severe repercussions. It’s very arousing but thinking of the consequences kills the mood. It left me worried, thinking of how fast we needed to get back rather than worrying about where the hell we were going in the first place.
My feet felt light allowing me to keep speed and my heart hit hard in my chest as Brooke and I searched for the nearest store. As I looked back towards the campus, I saw the millions of trees that had us hidden from view but on the other side, it wasn’t any better. Warehouse after warehouse, storage after storage with no sign of fresh greens or vegetation, everything was surrounded in golden, dead weeds that reminded me of the country side of home. Guess it was the downside of being on the outskirts of Salem. The sunset livened up the dead weeds, giving them an auburn glow. It gave us something a little pretty to walk through. We walked through the neighborhoods of storages, trying to find the nearest street that we could convoy, making it easy and safer to find a store. After passing a long building that ironically connected a casino and a church, we spotted a lonely gas station across the street and headed in the same direction. When we got to the store, we rummaged as fast as we could. I wondered if we looked out of place. We grabbed our intended items: Hot Cheetos, Dr. Pepper, and Winterfresh gum, then hurried back.
May 18th 2006: The day after. The campus was lonely, and boredom came at the wrong time because we just got back from the first day of the meet and had nothing else to do. Brooke was craving Hot Cheetos again. That would mean only one thing, to eat Hot Cheetos. Besides the obvious that meant we would have to escape once more. I wasn’t too sure about this time around. I thought we were cutting it close the first time and we only had a few more days in the pen. We came to a conclusion that we would go unless signs pointed against it. This idea came about when Brooke tripped on the way behind the stadium. Okay, that’s not too much of a big deal and was a common thing that could happen to anybody. We headed toward our newly discovered escape route. Right by the eerie maintenance shed with busted desks was the most cliché sign ever, a black cat that ran across our path. I remembered us screaming silently, No to ourselves rushing to get ahead of the cat. We knew this was only the second sign so we continued through the familiar trail. Before we approached the intersecting fences, I ducked a reflex I developed because of cases of almost getting caught in wrongdoings. Just then we saw one of the maintenance worker in a cart parked right outside of the fence. That was the last sign and the most obvious. We took off back to the main campus, scared shitless as though we’d got caught.