My Mother did her very best to make sure I attended school but I skipped continually. I always felt so tired like I hadn’t slept in days and just couldn’t get up in the mornings. Every dern morning when my Mother left to catch the bus to work, I’d jump right back into bed and sleep. Mom always got calls at her workplace saying I wasn’t in school then one day she was served papers for a court hearing because I missed so much. I had never been in any kind of trouble with the law before; never on probation or anything. Now, thinking back, the Judge was probably would have put me on probation if only…..

The probation officer, Joe Ottenio, was at the hearing. So was the Dean of Girls from the High School, ole Miss Thompson (whom I hated with a passion). Everyone in the room was blaming Mom because I didn’t attend school even though she’d done everything she could. It wasn’t her fault. She sure couldn’t carry me to school and put me in a seat. I had never seen my Mother cry so when she broke down, oh my God! I “SNAPPED” on all of them. I called them every bad name I knew for making my Mother cry!!! When I started cussing Miss Thompson out, the Judge just smacked down his hammer and sentenced me to 1 year in the Department of Corrections, Geneva, Illinois. Off I went, straight from court to Geneva. I had a wonderful Mother and she worked her fingers to the bone trying to do for us kids. I will regret to my dying day ever causing her such grief and heartache.

The probation officer driving me to Geneva was a very nice fella. When we first arrived, they took down all my information at the administration building then we went to the dispensary where I was kept in an isolation room for 10 days. They covered me from head to toe in DDT powder to “delouse” me. I’m sure DDT powder tossed all over us would be illegal nowadays but not then. After I got out of isolation, I was taken to another building and was fitted for a pair of brown oxford shoes. The pair they gave me didn’t fit and rubbed blisters on my feet. Then I was taken to “Willard Hall” where I met the lady in charge, a Mrs. Duncan. She was a small, older black lady and she assigned me to a room. The room had a bed, a chair and a small table to sit at while we wrote letters. The big door automatically locked and had a “transit” up at the top which stayed open about half a foot. A transit was a register type metal thing at the very top of the door. The doors make a loud “clunk” when they locked behind us. Mrs Duncan lived in a small apartment right there in the same cottage.

We all wore dresses with small, cuffed sleeves and a small v-neck. They had a lot of wear and tear on them. Anytime a girl had a visitor, they had to change into the same type of dress only new looking. As soon as we came back from our visit, we had to change back into our old dress. All of the girls’ doors opened at the same time when we were allowed out for our meals. I guess the matron had some kind of switch in her room. When the doors unlocked we were told to line up outside of our doors and were lead downstairs single file to the dining room where everyone was assigned to a certain table and chair. I’m thinking there were about 10 girls at each table.

Everyone had to either work at some job or attend school… guess which one I chose lol! The first job I had was at the “Butcher shop” where I had to slice meat off bones. Then I worked in the beauty shop where we washed girls’ hair and learned how to maintain black girls’ hair. I always thought the grounds at Geneva were just beautiful. It sorta looked like a small college campus. We all were told from day one, running at anytime, anywhere would be considered an attempt to escape so we’d best never run anywhere on the grounds. Zero tolerance with that rule. When I was there in 1955 there were no fences around the grounds so I always thought it would be so easy to just walk away…WRONG! I don’t know where or how the guards watched over the grounds but they didn’t miss a trick. They saw everything at all times, day or night. I was reading someone’s account of their Geneva experience and my mouth dropped open! A swimming pool?? And a place to roller skate?? In the Geneva training school for girls???? I’d have to see that with my own eyes to believe it. There sure wasn’t anything even close to those things in the 50s, trust me. Gosh I’m jealous. Must of been nice is all I can say.

Everyone on the campus had a nickname. Mine (for some unknown reason) was “LUCKY”. So one night out of sheer boredom from sitting in my room I took the rubber tip off of a bobby pin and cut L U C K Y in my left forearm. That won me a trip over to “Willow Hall”, the punishment cottage, for a week. Willow Hall was just like the other cottages except there was only a thin mattress on the floor, no pillow and one toilet pot with a lid to “go in”. The worse thing about Willow Hall was what they gave us to eat. Every single day was the exact same thing for all 3 “meals”. (YUK!). Breakfast consisted of one small bowl of plain oatmeal, one piece of toast (cold and burnt) and a small cup of milk, period. Dinner was a bowl of red beans (kidney beans), a plain slice of bread and a cup of milk, period. Supper was 1 boiled egg, a slice of bread and a cup of milk. Those were our daily meals and they never changed.

While I was in Willow Hall, a counselor came in to inform me my Father had passed away. I guess Mom never told him I was in Geneva and I was glad she hadn’t. My Dad was only 46 years old when he died; I was 15. The staff took me to my Dad’s visitation in Chicago complete with handcuffs, but took me back to Geneva right after the visitation so I didn’t get to go to his funeral or burial site. To this day I have no idea where my Dad is buried. I’ve never even found out which cemetery he’s in. That was really embarrassing going to the funeral home in handcuffs.

When a girl went to Willow Hall for something, the days they stayed there increased anytime they went back again. Like the first time there, it was for a week. If I went again for something, the days increased each time. Some girls were there for months on end eating the same food day in and day out. The staff would write back home to inform whomever was on their visitation list that they could not have any visits during that time. Our family (or whoever) could send us “goodie boxes” but there was no commissary to buy things. I have no idea when that started but, it wasn’t there when I was. My Mom sent me boxes every time I asked her to. Bless her heart. I know one thing I’d always ask for when I ran out of it was a big jar of Noxzema because that’s what I always washed my face with….and an orange and some candy.

Mom came to visit me every chance she could which wasn’t a easy thing for her to do, as we never owned a car nor had my Mother even ever learned how to drive. She’d have to pay for gas, etc to have someone drive her up there. Visitations were on weekends and I always knew if I was going to have a visit or not, because we could hear our “good dress” being hung on the hook on the outside of our door. Visits were always held in the administration room. This makes me sad thinking back now 56 years ago and seeing my Mother and lil brother sitting there on a bench, holding a sack for me. I miss my mom so very much.

The floors in the cottages were all wood and every day the Matron would call out “who wants to scrub the floor today??” Everyone did! Lol! Anything to get out of the room for a bit. We scrubbed it on our hands and knees with a scrub brush and a bucket of water. We had those floors almost white.

Once a month whichever girls didn’t have any ‘write ups’ would get to go down to a big building on the end and watch a movie. All the girls, from every cottage, would file down there and see the movie. The others would have to stay in their rooms. I think I got to see a total of maybe 2 movies in the whole time I was there! And why??? I have no idea! I hadn’t done anything wrong but it never failed, when the Matron unlocked the doors of the girls that got to go, mine never opened. I’d just sit and cry and watch them out the window as they walked over to the building to see the movie. I thought for sure, I could go each time because I hadn’t gotten in any trouble or done anything bad but, nope! I guess they had their favorites for sure. I do know, one time when they had all left to go see the movie, I was so depressed I sat on my bed and cried and pulled handfuls of my hair out by the roots. I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown. I couldn’t stop pulling my hair out. That was a bad time for me.

Probably the reason Mrs. Duncan didn’t like me if she didn’t, was because I had written my Mother a letter telling her how those shoes were hurting my feet and rubbing blisters on um. I also had told her the lil boxes of cereal we sometimes had for breakfast had little black bugs in um!! Which they really did! Well, Mrs Duncan walked all up and down the hall outside our doors reading my letter out loud as loud as she could making sure everyone heard it!!! OMG, talk about embarrassing. But that’s ok too, because it wasn’t no time and they fitted me into a new pair of shoes that fit really well. Thanks to my mother.