An excerpt from
For more information about The Getaway Man, click here.
I learned that when I was just a kid, when I first started getting locked up. Once that happens the first time, it's like that's your destiny. They let you out, but they know you're coming back, and you do, too.
Inside, some guys get tattoos, so that when they get out, other guys will know where they've been. I never wanted one. I figured people can always tell, anyway.
Every time they sent me to the kiddie camps, it was for stealing cars. I never stole cars to keep; I just wanted to drive them. I wanted to learn how to do that more than anything. The reason I took the cars was so I could practice.
When you're in one of those places for kids, guys always ask you what you're in for. The first time I went in, before I learned, I told them the truth.
I found out quick how dumb that was. When I told other guys, that first time, why I took the cars, they said that wasn't even stealing, it was just joyriding. That's what a kid does with a car, joyriding. A man wouldn't do that.
It sounds weird, but the worst thing you can be in the kiddie camps is what they call a "kid." The word means something different in there. Something very bad.
Right after I told the truth that first time, I had to fight a lot. So I wouldn't get taken for a kid.
By the next time I went in, I was smarter. I knew nobody would understand if I told them I took the cars so I could practice my driving. So, after that, when they asked me, I always said, "Grand Theft Auto." I wasn't some little joyrider; I was a thief.
A thief steals cars to keep. To sell, I mean. The really good thieves, they get a reputation, and people hire them to steal certain cars. Like ordering food in a restaurant, and the parking lot is the menu.
It's good to be known as a thief when you go Inside. It's even better to be known as a killer, but only a certain kind. Like if you killed someone in a fight, that would be good. Or if someone paid you to do it.
It's pretty unusual, to be in one of the kiddie places for a killing like that, but I know one guy, Tyree, who was. A drug dealer paid Tyree to shoot someone, and he did it. Everyone respected him for doing that. It was something a big-time criminal would do.
But not every killing got you respect. The sick-in-the-head kids, they were nothings. Nobody was afraid of them. Like the one who chopped up his mother with an ax. Or the one who went to school with a rifle and shot a bunch of other kids who were bullying him.
After that one got locked up, he still got bullied, only much worse. The kind of bullying they do in here.
Sometimes, a killing happens right where they have us locked up. The one I most remember, it was a little kid who did it. Devon, his name was. A bigger kid, Rock, had done something to him.
After Rock did what he did, he told everyone that Devon was his kid.
Everybody knew what had happened, but nobody said anything, even the ones who weren't scared of Rock.
After Devon got out of the infirmary, he got a shank—that's a piece of metal you sharpen into a knife. One day, he came up behind Rock in the cafeteria and stabbed him in the neck. Everybody saw it.
We knew Devon had stuck him good, because they didn't send Rock to the infirmary—they called for an ambulance.
The guards charged in and locked us all down, so we couldn't see what happened after that. But, later, we heard that Rock died before the ambulance came.
If they had let Devon stay in there with us, he would have been all right after that. Nobody would have tried to do anything to him anymore, even with him being so little. But they took him away, to the prison for grownups.
I didn't actually know Devon. Just his name. But I hoped, wherever they sent him, he found another shank real quick.
I always wanted to be a driver. It was just something that called to me. Even when I was practicing to be good at it, I wasn't sure where it would end. But I knew I had to do it.
Where I come from, lots of guys dream about racing stock cars. But that was never my dream.
Dreams are for kids. And I never wanted to be a kid. There's nothing good about being a kid.
I had faith. I knew if I kept practicing, if I got good enough, I could be the driver.
The very first time the cops caught me, I was so little they thought someone else had took the car, then ran away and left me holding the bag. They kept trying to get me to tell who had done it.
I told them the truth; it was just me. One cop slapped me. It wasn't that hard, but it hurt. I didn't cry; I was used to stuff like that.
Another cop said I was being a chump, taking the weight for the older boys. He said they would all be laughing at me while I was in jail. But they didn't even send me to jail at all, that first time.
All cops lie. All thieves lie, too, when they talk to cops. That's the way it is.
I knew that good thieves didn't lie to their partners. I wondered if cops did.
I don't remember much about the first time they locked me up, but I know it was only for a few weeks.
After that, they locked me up every time they caught me.
The first few times, it was because I didn't know how to drive. I know that sounds stupid, and I guess it was.
What I mean is, I didn't know how to drive like a regular person, so I kept bringing attention on myself. One time, I got pulled over for going through a stop sign. The cop didn't even know the car was stolen until he saw how old I was. Then he knew the car couldn't be mine.
Another time, I was just speeding, and they got me. That time, it wouldn't have mattered even if I had looked old enough to drive, because I didn't have any of the papers the cop wanted.
After a while, I figured out: If I was going to take cars, I had to drive them like I was a regular person, going somewhere.
But if I drove like that, I couldn't practice the way I needed to.
The longest they ever locked me up for was six months. Until the time I ran from the cops.
On that crazy night, I was driving past this roadhouse at the edge of town. I usually went out that way because there's a lot of places to practice. It's pretty much all two-lane blacktop with no streetlights, and even a lot of dirt roads off on the sides.
I saw a bright orange Camaro with white stripes slam on the brakes and slide on the dirt in the parking lot. I stopped the car I was driving to see what was going on; I thought maybe the Camaro was challenging someone to race, and I wanted to watch. But all the other cars around there were parked.
All of a sudden, the Camaro's door opened and a girl jumped out. She walked away, fast. The driver got out and yelled something at her, but she kept on walking. He started after her, and she turned around and ran. He chased her all the way around the side of the building.
He had left his door standing open. I could see smoke coming from the exhausts. I didn't really think about it—the next thing I knew, I was behind the wheel of the Camaro, peeling out of the parking lot.
The Camaro was a terrific car, the first truly fast one I'd ever driven. I was a little disappointed that it had an automatic transmission. By then, I knew how to drive a stick real good.
I knew I wouldn't have any couple of hours that time. But it seemed like only a couple of minutes had gone by when I heard the siren and saw the flashing lights in the mirror.
That's when I made them chase me. I don't remember much about it except that I couldn't hear anything—it was like I had gone deaf or something. But it didn't scare me. Nothing scared me that night. I was driving. They were chasing me, and it felt like that was how it was supposed to be.
I was running, but I had no place to run to. And I was doing all right, until the spike strip they laid down blew out my tires.
By the time I got the Camaro stopped, it seemed like there was a dozen cop cars surrounding me. They kept coming, more and more of them. They shined big lights so bright I couldn't look at them. They were screaming things at me, but I couldn't understand what they were saying.
I got out of the car, and put my hands up, like I'd seen people do on TV. I saw a lot of guns pointed at me. I walked toward them. They kept screaming at me.
I never saw the cop who tackled me from behind. Then there was a lot of them. Some were yanking my arms behind my back for the handcuffs. The other ones were punching me, or kicking me, or hitting me with sticks ... after a little while, I couldn't tell.
That time, nobody said anything about joyriding. They put a whole bunch of charges on me. The heaviest one was resisting arrest. The lawyer who came to see me in the hospital told me that.
I never had a lawyer before. Not a real one. The lawyers I had before, they were like people who worked for the court. They would be standing behind tables when I was brought out, with big stacks of paper in front of them. All they ever asked me was my name, so they could check it on their papers.
This lawyer was a little fat guy with a mustache. I told him what happened. He shook his head. Like I was stupid, and he couldn't understand what I did.
I wasn't stupid enough to try and explain it to him.
The lawyer told me I had to plead guilty to everything. If I did that, they wouldn't be too hard on me.
When I got out of the hospital, we went to court.
A couple of the cops were there. They told some lies and some truth. I did what the lawyer said. The judge asked me some questions, and I said either yes or no, depending on what he asked.
I answered the questions about how my face got all banged up and my ribs broke by saying it was from when the car crashed, even though I never hit anything.
The lawyer had told me to say it that way. When I was answering that question, I saw one of the cops looking at me. I could tell by his face that the lawyer had been right.
The judge said a lot of things about me. By the time he let the lady probation officer talk, there wasn't much point in her saying anything.
There wasn't anything good to say about me, anyway. Except that I was just a kid, and my lawyer said that a lot.
The lawyer said I had panicked when I heard the siren. That made me real mad, but I didn't say anything. He was the lawyer.
Then the judge really hauled off on me. He said I hadn't panicked at all—I was a cold-blooded felon and he didn't want to hear any excuses for my behavior. I really liked when he said that. It was like he canceled out what the fat lawyer said. I was glad I had kept quiet.
The judge said he was putting it in my record that I couldn't have a license even when I got old enough, because I was dangerous behind the wheel. I wished guys from the last place I was locked up could have been in the courtroom when he said that: "Dangerous behind the wheel."
The place they put me in after the Camaro was for the older kids. It was like a farm. We all slept in dormitories, and we had to work in the daytime.
Every dorm has a boss. A kid boss, I mean. The boss is either the toughest or the smartest, or even both. Sometimes, there's two different bosses in the same dorm—like when there's enough white guys in there to have their own gang, they would have a white boss.
There was a kid named Hector who was with us. He wasn't white, but he wasn't black either. A Mexican, is what one of the other guys said about him, but I never heard him speak Spanish. Hector said, where he was from, they called a gang a "car." So if a kid was going to join a gang, they would say he got in the car.
That sounded cool to me, except that the boss got called the driver. I didn't want to be anybody's boss, but I had to be the driver.
It was on the farm that I first met guys who did jobs. Jobs where they would need a driver, I mean. Stickup men. Those guys were in the other places I got put before, but they never mixed with amateurs like me. Joyriders. But, when I came in after the Camaro, I came in as a real thief. A thief who made the cops chase him.
Everybody wanted to know about that chase. By the time I got done telling the story, it got changed a bit. I had it lasting a hour, with them shooting at me the whole time.
I wasn't worried about anyone checking on me. I had heard that some of the kid bosses could get one of the guards to look at your records, but I knew mine was good. When I first came in, the lady who asked me a lot of questions about school and stuff also asked me about getting banged up.
"It says you received all those injuries when the car you stole crashed, Eddie. Is that true?"
The way she looked at me, I could tell she was ready to believe me if I told her different. But I said, "No, ma'am, not exactly."
She leaned toward me a little, said, "Well, what did happen?"
"I was okay when I got out of the car," I told her. "But then, when the cops tried to put the cuffs on me, I fought them."
"You assaulted police officers?" she said, leaning back from me, then.
"Yes, ma'am," I said.
I watched her write something on my records. I was glad. She was a nice lady, but it didn't matter what she thought of me. It didn't matter what the judge thought of me, or the cops, or anyone. Just the guys I was locked up with.
© 2003 Andrew Vachss. All rights reserved.
For more information about The Getaway Man, click here.
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