Nothing Laurel had talked about could of prepared me for the panic, fear, and doom that engulfed my soul as the van drove into Geneva’s locked gates. I trembled once again with terror as I walked into the Administration Building, returning to a life locked in a tiny room.

I was whisked through the returning process and taken to the Dispensary. The air still carried that heavy lingering stench of iodine and rubbing alcohol. Instantly, the memories of being locked away in the little pink room came flooding back making my whole body shake. I was given the routine and humiliating treatment of a shower then deloused with white powder thrown on me from the doorway. I remembered this nurse. She was the nurse that accused me of trying to seek attention when I was sick from being overdosed with Thorazine. Her robotic movements, along with her cold and stern demeanor, felt threatening to me. Would it of jeopardized her morals if she had shown a little compassion or said a kind word?

While walking to Hope Cottage, it dawned on me. I was afraid of the girls in Geneva, but not nearly as scared as I was of the staff.

My room was on the short hall upstairs, the last door on the left. It was another pink room with a view facing the backside of the campus. I waited in my new room for lunch, dreading the trip to the dining room where all eyes would be on me. My last meal in Geneva’s dining room resulted in a stabbing. I sat worrying that maybe the girls here knew this and had taken Smokey’s side while I was away. My first meal on Hope Cottage, I sat with Sage, Celia and Emma. I was polite and quiet. No one reached for my food or mentioned Smokey.

I went to school taking reading, math and home economics. The same reading teacher was still there. I ignored him when he glared at me licking his lips. When asked to help put away the books, I remained outside the closet handing over the books. Soon he realized I wasn’t going to be bought for a cigarette or a piece of hard candy and quit asking me to help him.

I loved math. It was hard and made me think about what I was doing, which kept my mind off of being locked up. In home economics my fudge and banana bread was entered in the Kane County fair, earning me a ribbon for both. On weekends I worked in the kitchen. It kept me out of my locked room.

Sage, a Native American from Chicago, taught me to crochet and like Molly, Sage braided my hair during rec time. The other girls didn’t seem to like Sage, but I found her to be fearless. She never backed down from a fight or walked away without shouting the last insulting words, even if they were directed to the cottage supervisor.

Celia, a small, dark haired, olive skinned girl claimed to be a gypsy. She was the storyteller on Hope Cottage. Celia told us she traveled alone from India to Chicago looking, for the people who kidnapped her mother. She said she was sent to Geneva for setting fire to the Projects where she lived. No one ever knew when Celia was telling the truth or fantasizing.

Emma, a tall white girl, looked older than thirteen with bleached blond hair and neatly tweezed eyebrows. She had tattoos of roses winding around her lower legs. She was sent to Geneva after being arrested with her mother for prostitution. Emma spent most of her time combing her hair and talking about the men she had met in her profession.

The summer seemed to drag on forever. I remember swimming in the pool next to the gym. I noticed only a few of the black girls got in the water, and those that did stayed in the shallow part of the pool hugging the wall. Celia told me, “Blacks couldn’t swim. They have too much oil in their skin so they could only float.” I believed her.

One day I was walking back from school and seen a lot of security cars and guards running across campus. Sage wasn’t at the lunch table. Someone said she had jumped the fence and was caught trying to get back over it. Sage spent three days in the hole on Oak before returning to Hope Cottage. She had large wounds on her legs and arms from the razor wire on the fence. I asked her why she didn’t keep running instead of climbing back into the school. She told me a bear was chasing her, and she had to come back over the fence.
I believed her too.

I asked everyday if I had mail and got the same answer everyday, “No Mail.” I wrote letters to Laurel and my mother, but didn’t hear back. I had no idea what was going on in the world outside of Geneva or even if the world was still there. I tore blank pages out of books at school when no one was looking and continued to write every day. I hid my writing in my room or in the soul of my state stompers, afraid all the time I’d get if caught with my words exposed.

Late September I had my first and only visitor. It was a lady from Mattoon, Illinois scouting for girls to come live on her farm. Her name was Janet. She talked about her big, beautiful home in the country and the horses she had. She talked about how she has a daughter my age and all about the school I’d go to. She told me how they go to church each Sunday and Wednesday to thank God for their wonderful life. I was sold and told her I’d be so grateful to come live with her and her daughter.

A little over a year after arriving at Geneva, I was leaving. I had taken a test for school and was handed my eighth grade diploma. I didn’t sleep the night before leaving. I was so excited to finally be leaving.

That morning I gathered all my writings from my room and state issued clothes. I walked to the Administration Building crying. I was finally leaving this dreadful place, and I’d never be back! Miss S. handed me a check for 48 dollars, money I had earned from working in the kitchen on weekends. I was given the box Laurel promised she’d send with my notebooks. I was hoping there was a letter from my mom in the box, but there wasn’t.

I sat on the train filled with excitement, writing in my notebook as the train traveled south on the tracks. I had a check for 48 dollars, more money than I had ever had. I spent that money a dozen times in my head before arriving in Mattoon.