Most of us 14-17 year olds hated school for one reason or another and the Plan served as an ugly reminder of that antipathy. It was a boring task made worse with the fear of what happens to those who can’t complete the essay and those bold enough to refuse.
Failing to write a plan for any reason got you sent to an ICP cold cell without clothes or light and a hole in the floor for a toilet. After being put into this cell with the air-conditioner on high there was nothing to do but wait for six long hours. If at the end of this time you still refused to write the Plan, staff gave you a pair of skivvies, a blanket and thin mat, and put you in solitary confinement for seventy-two hours. Continued rebellion increased the time to fourteen days with reduced meals, then thirty days. If at that point, after a month with nothing to do but count cracks in the floor and you still wouldn’t give in, they moved you to the Security Threat Unit, a much more brutal form of solitary confinement.
Most kids were ready to write the Plan after a trip to ICP, especially the younger ones. It’s not like you were allowed to sit in silence during this time; staff typically attended to your miseducation with noise, threats and physical assaults. A few kids went to the ICP cells for three days. Nobody wanted to endure STU. Wherever you ended up, the staff meant to break your will and when that was done, the Plan was waiting.
The easiest way to write a Plan and escape the pressure of the hole involved using a lot of description. Elaborate and verbose details that had little to do with the event under question, or misspelled, half-remembered words glimpsed in a National Geographic magazine – whatever it took to reach the bottom of the page and sound vaguely coherent. With most of the space used to describe the incident, less was needed to explain the “why” of the infraction or the “how” it wouldn’t happen again. It was quicker this way and required minimal thought about personal accountability. In my four stays at the Maine Youth Center, I only wrote a few plans. The last I remember was for talking during a silent period.
“Mr. May, “ said Mr. Lemry. “You’re talking when you should be silent. Grab a pencil and piece of paper, sit in the corner, and write a plan about your runaway mouth and arrogance.”
It helps to have an imagination when writing a plan, and to actually like writing. Some kids broke down in tears at the thought. I didn’t mind writing. By the time I reached the bottom of the page, I had composed an extravagant story about Al Bundy being secretly married to Pamela Anderson’s body double, who also happened to be either Miss September of ’94 or Miss October. I couldn’t remember which and this is why I asked Jeremy. He didn’t know either but had sense enough to shrug. To prevent such a misguided and grievous error in judgment in the future, I would most certainly endeavor to keep my arrogance in check and avoid the displeasure of staff by keeping my mouth shut.
I have often wondered what the staff thought of our Plans. We never received grades or feedback unless it was a demand to write another plan. I thought I saw a staff member smile once but she saw me looking and quickly stopped. In the end it didn’t matter. The Plan was merely a second chance to submit to the will of the authorities and a last chance to avoid the misery of the hole.