Rehab – Vam

“Here at MacDonald High we don’t have a drug problem: we refer any suspect students to the Teen Residential Rehabilitation Unit and they have excellent results,” The principal, Mr. Whelan, began the new teacher orientation. “Here we have a zero tolerance policy. The same policy holds for students who exhibit violent or anti-social behavior. We send them to boot camp, also known as Camp Bustyerbutt and 90 days later we have a reformed child.”

Macdonald High is a suburban high school, where the vast majority are white upper-middle-class kids. Drug abuse is pervasive in the community and students traveling into the inner city are the primary source of cocaine, speed and the most popular drugs marijuana and hashish. Each group had its drug of choice: jocks preferred pot and of course, beer; the “cool kids” who could afford it preferred coke; the “beauty queens” or “valley girl wannabes” preferred speed, usually pills; geeks and nerds liked to get wired and their drug of choice was speed, and the small minority of black kids who identified with reggae music only used ganja. In spite of Mr. Whelan’s assurance, that he was keeping the school “drug free”, it was a virtual drug market.

I am a graduate of Macdonald and 7 years ago when I was a student here the school was known locally as the “Drug Store”. Not much had changed since my days here, except that now students dumb enough to get caught were sent away to rehab or to boot camp. This story examines the fate of two victims of “zero tolerance” and the lessons they hopefully learned from their ordeal.

Jennifer was one of the most attractive – long blond hair, blue eyes, an athletic body – and popular girls in the school. She was a cheerleader, member of the National Honor Society, captain of the girls’ tennis team and secretary of the senior class. She was a perfect Canadian teenager, always dependable, smart, popular, witty, very pretty, a girl with everything on her side. Jennifer and her clique were the best and the brightest, every teacher wanted to have Jennifer or one of her cheerleader clique in their classes. Joan Horton, senior English literature teacher, used to refer to Jennifer and her friends as the “Beautiful People”, they were all kids with everything to gain and nothing to lose: good families, intelligent, all attractive and, we all believed, all straight and drug-free. I had become close confidant of some of the kids in the senior class, Jennifer being one of them. She often came after school because she had so many things on her mind and she needed an adult to talk to about them. In some ways I had become her surrogate father and although we were only separated by 8 years, she trusted me and my advice.

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The came the fateful day. It was a Friday afternoon, just after the 6th period bell. The school fire alarm went off, we kept our classes calm, realizing that this might be a surprise fire drill. I called the office after the bells continued to ring for about 90 seconds. The secretary said, ” No this is not a fire drill, the OPP are searching all senior students lockers for drugs. They got a tip about a drug ring in the senior class. Keep all your seniors in class until we call for students to come down to the office, and don’t tell anyone what is happening in the halls, we don’t want to start a riot”. I thought to myself, it couldn’t be any of my kids, not the “Beautiful People”. Then an announcement came over the P.A. system.

“Students remain in your 6th period classes until your teachers dismiss you, we have a police emergency in the hallways, do not leave your classroom.” I repeated the information and told the class not to leave. I noticed that some of the girls appeared to be very nervous after the P.A. announcement. Two of the so-called “jocks” raised their hands and asked to go to the bathroom. I told them that until I got the word no one was to leave the classroom.

Then I got a phone call from the office. “Please detain the following students: Wesley DeBonder, Tim O’Conner, Jonathan Welton, Maria DiCiccio and Jennifer Van Marks. The OPP will be coming to your room to speak to those students. Those students’ parents have been notified that drugs have been found in their lockers, and that they will be taken into custody, thank you for your attention.”

I was in shock. The jocks, De Bonder, O’Conner and Welton, were so eager to get out of class probably to hide what was still in their pockets, but not Maria and Jennifer. I read out the names of the kids who had to await their fate and dismissed the rest of the class.

Jennifer and Maria were the last students anyone would have suspected, they were so perfect. Jennifer appeared to be very nervous, she asked me what was happening. Just as I was getting ready to say that there must have been some mistake, two constables appeared at my classroom door, one male and one female. The male constable called out the boys’ names and told them to follow him to the boys’ room. Reluctantly they obliged, realizing that resistance would only be a futile gesture. The female constable, called out “DiCiccio and Van Marks, you come with me,” then she led the girls out of the classroom to the girls’ room across from the faculty room.

Then the female constable came back and introduced herself. “I’m Constable Ruth Marlboro. I work with Narcotics Rehabilitation, the Teen Residential Unit. Looks like we’ll be taking these girls in, they had enough diet pills in their lockers to keep downtown Toronto awake for a month.”

I said, “I’m Russ Westwood. I know these girls, they are obsessed with their weight, but what teenage girls aren’t? These girls aren’t druggies, they can’t be they’re both honor students!”

“Well, we sent constables to their houses when we got the tip and found the rest of their stashes. Their parents have already signed the papers, these girls are ours now for the next 90 days. They sure had you fooled, these girls were the drug ring, the boys just had a few joints in their lockers. They’ll be suspended for a week and have to go to lectures, like that will solve the problem.”

The girls were met by another constable and the woman from Teen Rehabilitation in the girls room, where they were strip-searched. When no drugs were found on them or in their purses and knapsacks their clothes were collected and put into two plastic bags. Then they were each handed a denim dress, two pairs of gray panties, a gray bra, a pair of sneakers, a toothbrush, a wash cloth and towel. The woman from Teen Rehabilitation said to the girls, “I’m Ms. Thomas, Intake Coordinator for the Center. Ladies, look what we found.” She held up two bottles of black and red pills. “You’re going to be our guests for the next three months at the Center. Dump all of your personal belongings into these bags and you’ll get them all back when you leave the Center.” The girls followed the directions. “Now get dressed and come with us.”

When I saw the girls leaving the girls room in tears, I rushed down the hall to she what was happening. “Maria, Jennifer,” I yelled.

The constable said, “They’re coming with us.”

I said, “Can I see them before you take them away?”

“Sure, in the faculty room.”

I rushed down to the faculty room and saw the woman from Rehab and the constable, each standing behind an armchair in the center of the room. Ms. Thomas said, “O.K. girls, this is where your straight life begins, take a seat,” and she pointed to the two chairs.

Constable Marlboro said as she opened a black bag on the table, “First to go in your recovery is your vanity, we care more about what’s in your head than what’s on your head and so will you.” With that she pulled out two pairs of electric clippers and handed one to Ms. Thomas. Jennifer looked at her long blond hair and started to sob. She knew that she was about to lose her crowning glory. Maria looked into the faculty room mirror as tears came running down her cheek.

“Let’s get it over with,” said Ms Thomas as she held Jennifer’s shoulder firmly, wrapping the towel around her neck.

Jennifer clenched her eyes and said, “Please not too short, please.”

Maria was able to see the mirror as Constable Marlboro tied the towel around her neck, then she said, “Are you ready?” to Ms. Thomas, who replied, “Ready as I’ll ever be.” Then they each turned on their clippers, “Pop-BUZZ”, held the girls’ necks down with their hair hanging around their faces and shoulders. As soon as the clippers made contact with the girls’ hair they both started screaming almost in unison. After each pass of the unguarded clippers locks of blond and black hair dropped to the floor. Ms. Thomas was slowly and methodically shaving away all of Jennifer’s hair, and Jennifer stiffened and flinched with each pass as more and more blond locks tumbled to the floor. Jennifer’s hair was clinging to her teary cheeks until Ms. Thomas made the last passes across her scalp, before she picked up a small electric shaver and said, “This will do you Jennifer. Every time you think about drugs from now on I want you to look in the mirror and remember this moment.” With that she shaved Jennifer’s scalp completely bald, all of her blond hair had been shaved off and Ms. Thomas handed the shaver to Constable Marlboro.

She had taken her time clipping Maria’s thick black, shoulder-length Italian hair. She had finished clipping most of the hair down to a black shadow, the shorn locks had built up like black snakes coiled up in Maria’s lap. Her barbering was very conscientious, each stroke was measured. She dramatically dropped each lock as she lifted the clippers for another pass. She took her time, obviously enjoying her task. When Maria opened her eyes and saw her head being shaven bald, she began to sob softly. When both barbers had finished, they brushed the fallen hair off the chairs and led their girls out to the police car.

Ms. Thomas said to me, “Let your kids know that drugs lead to this,” and she picked up handfuls of shorn blond and black locks. “Tell the girls it ain’t worth it – at Rehab they get shaved like this every week, it gives them a reminder of why they’re there, Mr. Westwood.”


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