By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
For Ricky, next to seeing his family, the biggest thrill was getting back to school. His friends gave him a warm welcome - Steve Bachrach held a party in his classroom, complete with sparkling cider. One teacher who spotted him in the hall stopped her class in midsentence and ran out to greet him. In recent senior-class elections, he was voted most popular, most outspoken and most likely to succeed. "I never knew so many people even cared," he says. "That was cool."
In class, though, Ricky was overwhelmed. "I felt lost," he says. "I really didn't know what they were doing." Sometimes he would doze off. Now, several weeks after his release, Ricky has recovered some of his confidence. He's outgoing in class and asks a lot of questions, but he's still struggling to catch up. His midterm grades were less than stellar - two B's, three C's and a D. "With math you have to know all the little stuff, and I missed a month of that," he says. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man remains in his locker, unread.
Ricky's not sure if jail changed him, and he's tired of talking about it. "The way I see it, I went to jail and I'm out now, you know? I'm just trying to forget about it."
He does appreciate things more - his mother's cooking, his friends, his family, his freedom. "I got home and my grandma was crying," he says. "That's the first time I'd seen her crying in my whole entire life." His hair is longer - he has hair now - and he's started wearing more conservative clothes, shirts with collars and pants that aren't quite so baggy. He also has less patience for his classmates. "At times when I see kids who are disrespectful or not paying attention, I think, man, they need to go to jail," he says. "They need to see what it can really be like. They take their freedom for granted."
But Salvador worries that his son has been damaged in some irreparable way. "He doesn't discuss his experience," Salvador says. "He doesn't talk about it. I don't really know exactly what his true feelings are. If he comes up with a nice answer, I just think he's trying to appease me. Most of the time I think he's confused. I don't know too much about these things, but he's just not as sharp. It's like his mind went to sleep on him, like it didn't want to take in all the stuff that was happening to him."
More and more, Salvador finds himself thinking, "If only . . ." If only they had moved when Ricky was a boy. If only he had forced Ricky not to wear those baggy pants and cut his hair so short. If only he hadn't hired that private attorney. If only someone had bothered to find out that Jorge Bautista was cleared right away. It's a cruel game of self-torture, one that Salvador is trying to put an end to.
"Right now, I'm looking for the good," Salvador said one afternoon as he turned to his son, sitting next to him on the blue-and-brown flowered sofa in the family living room. "Rick," he said, "God has been taking care of you for a long time. Everything seems to go against you, and then, right at the very last moment, things fall into place and you come out of it all right. And this thing, you're gonna come out of it all right too."