"It's your choice what you tell them."

I look up at the brick building that I lived in for almost a year. I had to get up at six thirty and shower in front of others, I had to eat when they said eat, and when I needed to use the facilities during juvie school, I was escorted into the bathroom so I could crap. It was pathetic.

Just like back then, it doesn't seem like I have any choice in the matter. I follow Yates and the other ReSTART guys towards the male sector, but look back and watch Ms. Bushnell escort the girls to the other sector. Maggie is limping behind her. Very soon she's going to see the reality of how I lived for a year. I wish I could stop her from going in there.

When I was in the DOC, the girls and guys never saw each other. We had school a few hours a day, went to group therapy, were assigned chores, went outside for an hour, ate three meals, and had the rest of the day to chill in our cells. We were encouraged to read a lot or study to pass the time, but a lot of the guys hated reading or couldn't read worth shit.

In the intake center waiting room, my hands are shaking a little, so I shove them into my pockets as I stand and scan the security guards and security cameras and securely locked doors. I glance at the waiting cells, where you get locked up before they register you. Bad memories come flooding back.

After registering as an offender here, they confiscate every single piece of clothing and personal item and keep them locked up until you're released. The strip search is next, and let me tell you, the guard who does it makes sure you're not hiding any contraband in any crevice of your body.

Yates holds out a clear plastic bin. "Empty all your pockets. I mean everything, including pens, pencils, money, wallets, and paper."

We all do as instructed, then we're escorted through a bunch of locked doors and corridors. We come to a room where inmates meet their families and friends on visitors' day.

"We've decided to pair you off," Yates says. "You'll each be meeting with our residents one-on-one. That way, we can have shifts and you guys can share your stories in a small setting. No cussing or lewd comments are allowed. No touching the residents."

Damon, Matt, and I all look over at Lenny, who puts his hand on his chest. "You guys think I'm lewd?"

Is he kidding me? The kid urged me to pull his finger so he could fart, he fans his sweaty ball sacks in front of us, and doesn't clean his wayward pubes off the toilet seat. If he's not lewd, God help us all.

I roll my eyes.

"No comment," Matt says and laughs.

Damon gives Lenny a sharp stare. "Keep it appropriate, Lenny, or you'll find yourself on bathroom cleaning duty for the rest of the day."

Lenny mocks Damon by saluting him. "Yes, sir."

Damon shakes his head. He's probably counting down the days until this program is over and he can kick us to the curb.

Yates sits on the edge of one of the tables in the room and points to me. "Caleb will attest to the fact that some of our residents come from broken homes and/or gangs and don't have a grounded filter when it comes to making good choices. A lot of these kids will trust you if you've also gone through tough times like they have. They think hardships are a badge of honor."

My hardships are a pain in my ass, not a badge of honor. And make no mistake about it, the guys locked in the DOC are far from residents. Yates makes it sound like these guys are paying rent for their living quarters. What a fucking joke. In reality, they're locked up like animals.

We're each assigned a table. It's eerily quiet as the first round of inmates join us. They walk in the room with their hands behind their backs as required by the guards, their expressions blank. The familiar dark blue polyester jumpsuits take me back to the first day I was here. That suit was a constant reminder my life was not my own anymore ... while I was locked up, it was owned by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Department and the Department of Corrections.

Their heads are all buzz-cut or shaved, a requirement for all new inmates. When the final person walks in the room, it's like a ghost appears right in front of me.

It's Julio, my old cellmate. He's wearing an orange jump suit instead of the regular blue one, meaning he's under harsh restrictions for getting into trouble in the DOC.

I haven't heard from or talked to Julio since I left this place. He was a complete ass when we were first assigned as cellmates, but after he realized I wasn't afraid of him and saw me stand toe-to-toe with gang member Dino Alvarez in the exercise yard when he cornered me, we got along just fine.

Julio, tattoos on his neck peeking out of his suit, sits opposite me. "Long time no see, amigo."

"How you been?" I ask.

"Chillin' in the DOC. I get released in two weeks, if not sooner," he says with a grin. "Hoo-rah. Just got to stay out of trouble."

Not easy for a guy like Julio.

Julio was the one who hooked me up with his cousin Rio. I lived with Rio until... "Rio got busted."

Julio shakes his head. "I heard. Fuckin' shame. My cuz ain't gettin' out anytime soon 'cause he's a repeater. I'm screwed too, 'cause I was gonna live with him. My ma moved back to Mexico with her boyfriend."

"I got busted too," I tell him. "That's why I'm on this program. It was either this, or get locked up again."

I watch Julio lean back in his chair as the news sinks in. "What you gonna do after you're done?"

I shrug. "Don't know."

Damon walks over to us. "Sounds like a reunion, guys."

"Julio was my cellmate," I explain. "Julio, this is Damon. He was my transition counselor."

Julio nods to Damon and shuts up immediately. There's no way Julio is gonna be friendly or chat with anyone who works for the DOC in any way, shape, or form. Julio is a gang member with connections inside and outside this place, and he doesn't trust anyone outside of his circle. I'm surprised he still trusts me, but then again we spent almost a year as cellmates and slept, ate, and shit in close quarters.

Damon walks over to Matt's table. Matt is talking to a kid who looks like the typical newbie. He's scared as hell to be here but is putting on a tough front.

A guard stands right by the solid metal door, a stun gun on one side of his belt and a shoot-to-kill gun on the other. I notice that one of the guards has his eyes trained on Julio. This isn't the typical juvie. This place holds bigtime offenders who just happen to be underage. Yates is on the opposite side of the room, his arms folded on his chest as he narrows his eyes at us. They're watching us like hawks like they did when I was an inmate here.

Julio leans in and whispers, "Yates thinks this shithole is the Club Med, but it sucks. I can't wait to get out of here, man. Hell, maybe I'll come visit you in Paradise. I've always wanted to know how the hicks in the boondocks live. I hear the chicks in Paradise are easy."

"Some are," I say, thinking about my ex, Kendra, "and some aren't," I add, thinking about Maggie.

My thoughts turn to Maggie. She's probably freaking out meeting tough girls who eat innocent girls like her for breakfast.

Yates passes our table and gives us the evil eye.

What does the guy expect, that I'll slip Julio some drugs or a shovel so he can dig his way out of here?

I clear my throat and lean toward Julio. "So I'm supposed to share how reckless driving has changed my life and caused pain to others. It's part of the program."

Julio rolls his eyes and snorts. "All right, hit me with it.

"Reckless driving changed my life and caused pain to others," I say, as if I'm reading off a cue card.

Julio grins. I'm making a joke of this visit and Julio gets it. But the truth is, it's not a joke. It's reality. Suddenly, I get serious.

I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I guess I, um, never told you what really happened the night I was arrested."

"You never talked much about it."

"Yeah, 'cause I didn't do it." I shrug and look at my former cellmate. "I pled guilty even though I wasn't guilty."

Julio chuckles. "You're shittin' me, right?" He says it low so nobody can hear him cuss. Yates doesn't take cussing lightly, not in his jail. Luckily Warden Miller isn't here, or Julio would probably get some sort of punishment for cussing. Warden Miller takes his rules seriously and expects everyone else to. If not, you better be prepared for extra chores, early bedtime, or even solitary.

I shake my head. "Nope."

"Why'd you plead guilty? To protect someone?"

"Yeah," I whisper. "Something like that."

"Wow. Can't say I'd do the same thing." Julio looks at me sideways. "Unless it was family. I'd die for my family."

I nod slowly. "Me too."

Julio nods back in complete understanding, because even though we come from totally different backgrounds, we're cut from the same cloth. He knows just by my nod that I sacrificed myself and went to jail for a family member.

"You regret it?" he asks.

I pause to think about what my life would have been like if I hadn't been arrested. "Yeah, I do. Fucked-up thing is, I can't say I wouldn't do it again."

"Loyalty and honor and all that shit really screws with your head, doesn't it?"

"Yeah." I wince, because images of Maggie aren't far from my thoughts. I don't want to think about her now. "And girls really screw with your head, too."

Julio raises an excited eyebrow. "My boy Caleb's got a girl? Nice goin', dude. Who is she? Last I heard, you and your skanky ex broke up 'cause she was gettin' it on with your best friend."

"One more minute guys," Yates bellows. "Wrap it up!"

"I don't have a girl," I say, chuckling at the thought. "Besides, the only chick I might want hates me. I never say the right thing around her. Hell, I try and push her away so I don't have to deal with the drama. And she pisses me off most of the time."

"Sounds like a match made in Heaven to me." Julio leans across the table. "Take advice from a guy who hasn't seen a girl under twenty in over a year-the only female I've talked to lately is the cafeteria worker, and she's so fugly I'm not even sure she's female. You only live once, so take advantage of what you got when you have it."

"You too."

"I hear you loud and clear. No regrets anymore, okay? Live every day like it's your last. jComprende?"

Yates orders the inmates to line up at the door.

I crack a smile. Julio is right. I've been living every day with regret, when it should be the other way around. "Yeah, I understand."

"See you on the outside, Caleb." He holds up two fingers. "Peace." With those words, he shuffles out of the room.

I'm ready to live my life without regrets. I've just got to figure out a strategy to make that happen.



'm sitting across from a girl with dyed-blonde hair and dark roots. She's wearing blue sweatpants and a blue T-shirt like the other girls in jail. Ms. Bushnell assigned her to my table. The girl is staring at me as if she doesn't want to be here.

"I'm Maggie," I tell her.

"So, Maggie, what's your story?" she asks impatiently, totally uninterested.

I tell her how I was hit by a car in a hit-and-run accident and spent a year in hospitals and rehab. Her eyes glaze over and at one point I think she might be falling asleep.