The Riot Act

People get locked up on the street for way less than what transpires at my school on a daily basis. I mean, these kids throw DOWN. And their fights are not your typical school yard tussles. They are vicious beatings, often from the blind side, that spray the walls with human fluids and send people to the hospital with stitches and blurry vision. They’re assaults, plain and simple. And on top of that, you have the gang initiations, the robberies, and the death threats to staff members.

But while arrests are rare at my school, expulsion is even rarer. I have never heard of it happening anywhere in the city, ever. The closest we ever come to it is getting an involuntary transfer, of which we only get about one a year approved. Instead, suspension is the norm. But considering what really goes on in our building, I would say suspension is relatively rare too. After all, we can’t suspend everyone (sad face). So a lot of things that could be suspendable just result in “a talking to” instead.

In disciplinary circles, the preferred term for “A Talking To” is “Reading The Riot Act”. For those that don’t know, The Riot Act is a little nugget of history that I never actually studied. They certainly didn’t teach it during the four weeks of summer training I got before being tossed head first into a high school classroom and changing almost instantly from “Guy Off the Street” to “High School Teacher”. But that’s because The Riot Act is, of course, not taught in schools. It’s something I guess you’re supposed to just pick up sometime during the process of becoming a real man. I really don’t know. One thing I do know, however, is that a reading of the Riot Act is usually prefaced by a dean calling the Head of Security and asking how he wants us to handle some kid who has just performed some vile act.

“Read’m tha Riot Act!” He’ll growl over the phone and then hang up.

My version of the Riot Act goes something like this: “Listen, man. You can’t do that in school. People get arrested for doing that. The boss says that he’s gonna give you a chance this time but this is the last one. I’ll have to suspend you next time. Do you understand?”

It’s a pretty bland version, admittedly, which is probably a result of the fact that I’m not particularly passionate about my role. But there are a lot of people at Patriot who were born to play it.

Introducing Safety Agent Hernandez:

“Because if you and him, or ANY of his boys fight in this buildin’ again? I will PERSONALLY lock you up! An’ I will make SURE you don’t like the way I do it. I will make SURE you get locked up. And I can GUARANTEE you will see IRON. TRUST ME. You WILL spend the night on the island. I’ll make SURE you don’t see a judge that night. You will see a sight you NEVAH seen before! Undastand?”

That packs a little more punch than my version, but since I’m not Safety and don’t work with the police department, I can’t just plagiarize it word for word because I’d be making empty threats with all that arrest and prison talk. But that’s still no excuse, because there are other deans who don’t have any problem using their own ingredients to whip up something nice and spicy.

One time, back before I was a dean, a kid named Mahmoud was giving me a hard time in my class. When I mentioned this to a dean who has since left Patriot, he started to warn Mahmoud. But Mahmoud started to back-talk. The dean instantly exploded on him. “BOY, I WILL FOLD YOU UP LIKE A PIECE OF PAPER!” Mahmoud zipped it up quick. That was a good one, but lines like that can actually kind of get you fired so you really have to have the right knack (and bulk) for them, of which I fear I have neither.

Another line from that dean that sticks in my head is, “Boy wasn’t that you in my office last month cryin’ and slobberin’ like a baby? Now you tryin’ ta act tough? Big ol’ ears lookin’ like Dumbo! Sittin’ there lookin’ stupid!”

I remember marvelling at the time 1) at how big that kid’s ears actually were and 2) how this dean was getting away with this stuff. If I said something like that, I would have a hit put out on me that very day by this kid and his boys. That is if I wasn’t murdered with a number 2 pencil that very second.

But now that that dean is gone, I would have to say that Dean Jake has comfortably taken the number one spot as Best Riot Actor in the deans office.

Just the other day there was a girl sitting by his desk, back straight and hands placed sweetly on her knees. Jake tossed her discipline file to the side in disgust. “I’M TIRED OF YOAH B.S. !!!” he yelled in a voice loud enough to be heard for a three room radius. Then he just stared at her for a few seconds with raised eyebrows and his mouth shut tight as if waiting for a response. But she continued sitting there with her good posture, politely waiting for him to finish. So he started back in on her, “YOU LAW-EE! AND YOU LAW-EE! AND YOU LAW-EE! LAST TIME YOU WUH IN HEAH, YOU SAT DOWN IN FRONT OF YOAH MOTHA, AND YOU SAID IT WAS YOAH BLOODY PERIOD THAT MADE YOU DO IT!”

That one sunk her posture slightly.

So this was the girl Jake had told me about? I remembered him saying one time that he had told someone to do something or other and that she had screamed at him, “I’m bleeding out of my vagina and I’m not in the mood!”

The girl sitting at his desk sure didn’t seem like the type who would act like that, but I guess you never know.


The girl’s cheeks were wet with tears now, and her hands were trembling on her knees.

“AND I WOULDN’ CAYAH HOW MUCH YOU CRIED!” Jake boomed as he lept out of his chair and bounded out of the office, slamming the door behind him, sending a graceful tremor across the surface of my coffee. “Damn,” I said, and kept filling out my paperwork.

A few seconds later, the door opened slowly. Jake walked in and in a tone as close to subdued as he can get, he said, “Oh. My. Gawd. You’re the wrong girl.”

I closed my eyes and dropped my pen.

The girl had already stopped crying, and she just looked up at Jake, smiled, and said softly, “It’s okay.”

“NO!” Jake bellowed, back in his normal tone again. “I OWE YOU A LUNCH!” He leaned forward, and with his hands on his hips he stared at her intensely for a couple seconds. “IF YOU EVAH GET IN TROUBLE! YOU COME TA ME!” Then he turned to the rest of us and anounced, “SHALEEZA CHOWDHURY EVERYONE! GOT IT? YOU SEND HUH TA ME!”

“She gets a lifetime pass,” Dean Dave muttered with a chuckle.

Maybe I should stick to my version of the Riot Act after all, I thought to myself.

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